New Information: Jane Brett

UPDATED JULY 3, 2022 (to correct details about Robert George Brett’s lineage)

You might recall one of my earlier blog posts about Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry, my “first generation” ancestors from Co. Sligo, Ireland. We don’t know very much about Jasper and Celia but we do know that they had at least seven children: George, Jane, Cecelia, John (my ancestor), Catharine, Mary and Patrick. About Jane I wrote:

What little we know about Jane is found in George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875. In that letter, George asks about Jane and her husband Thomas Clark, who George appears to know. George writes to John: You said you expected to pay Jane & Thos Clark a visit this summer. If so ask them to write to me & let me (k)now how they are going on & how many in family they have. I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” There is no clue in the letters to tell us where Jane and Thomas Clark live, but they are most certainly in North America and are probably close in age to George.

It bothered me that I couldn’t find Jane anywhere in the census data. Searching for common names like “Jane”, “Thomas” and “Clark” is like looking for a needle in a haystack on, but I decided to hunt and peck my way towards success. And I did it! Here is what I found…

1861 Census – Montague, Lanark County, Canada West

Jane Brett’s Birth Date

According to the 1901 census for Onslow, Quebec, Jane was born on June 10. To my knowledge, this is the only documentation on the day and month of her birth.

The year of Jane’s birth is somewhat more elusive. The 1861 census for Lanark County, Canada West, reports her age as 45, which means her birth year was 1816. But the 1871 census for Pontiac South, Quebec, reports her birth year as 1821, the 1891 census as 1818, and the 1901 census as 1823. There are two factors that have lead me to the conclusion that she was actually born in 1819 or 1820.

First, her tombstone at St. Luke’s Anglican Church Cemetery at Eardley, Quebec gives her birth year as 1819. Unfortunately the tombstone does not appear on CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project website, but a clear photograph of it appears in John Finnegan’s book on early life in the Ottawa Valley called Tallying the Tales of the Old-timers. Thomas Clarke’s tombstone, on the other hand, does appear online and I conjecture that the inscription for Jane appears on a different face of the same monument as it simply says “His Beloved Wife Jane Brett 1819-1906.

The second factor to consider is the passenger list for the Britannia which gives Jane’s age as 22 in 1842, thus yielding a birth year of 1820.

Thomas Clarke’s Birth Date

In the absence of church records, it is often quite difficult to pinpoint an ancestor’s birth date. Census returns for 1861 and 1871 give a birth year of 1811 for Thomas Clarke, but the 1881 census provides a birth year of 1806. A different source, the 1842 passenger list for the Britannia, records his age as 27 which, if accurate, would mean that his birth year was 1815. However, his tombstone records his date of death as November 23, 1885 and his age as 76. From these details we get a birth year of 1809, which most closely aligns with George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875 in which he says: ” I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” As George Brett was born in 1811 and seems to have known Thomas Clarke fairly well, it is fair to conclude that Thomas was most likely born in 1809, just as his tombstone suggests.

Marriage & Emigration

The 1901 census entry for their son Uriah, living in Onslow, Pontiac South, Quebec, gives his parents’ year of emigration as 1833, but this seems to be incorrect.

According to the 1861 census for Lanark County, Canada West, Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett were married in 1838. This notation in the census appears to be the only recorded mention of their marriage. Although many marriages were recorded by the Killala-Achonry diocese of the Church of Ireland and survive today, Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett’s marriage is not among them.

The next time we see the couple, they appear on the passenger list for the Britannia, a barque that sailed out of Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland on May 21, 1842, bound for Quebec and arriving there on July 6, 1842 after a six-week journey. Thomas Clarke is recorded as being a 27-year-old labourer and Jane as a 22-year-old “matron”, which seems to have been a term applied to all married women on the ship. Thomas and Jane travelled alone. She was pregnant and gave birth to their first child, George, only a few weeks after they arrived in Canada.

Lanark County Settlement

You might recall that Jane’s sisters, Cecelia and Catharine, emigrated to Canada with their brother John around 1841 and married men from eastern Ontario. Both were married in Johnstown, which today sits at the foot of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. Cecelia married James Uriah Rose on June 15, 1847 and Catharine married William Buell Nelson on January 1, 1849. The connection to eastern Ontario (which I’ve broadly called the Ottawa area in previous posts) was always a mystery until I found Thomas and Jane Clark in the 1861 census for Montague Township, Lanark County, Canada West, then a rural community near modern-day Smiths Falls. With this new information, it seems safe to conclude that Thomas and Jane Clarke came to Canada on the heels of her siblings and settled near them in Lanark County for an extended period of time, arriving in 1842 and remaining there until 1868.

During their 26 years in Lanark County, Thomas and Jane had seven children: George (1842), John (1845), William (1848), Uriah (1853), Thomas (1854), Catherine (1857), Jasper (1859), and Joseph (1864).

It is probable that Thomas Clarke’s land holdings were diverse during this time. In the 1851 census for Beckwith Township in Lanark County, Canada West (Ontario) a Thomas Clark appears to be farming on Concession 3, Lot 10. At the same time, in the 1851 census for Bristol, Ottawa County, Canada East (Quebec), a Thomas Clark owns 100 acres on Concession 4, Lot 3.

Migration to Onslow Township, Pontiac, Quebec

By 1871, the Clarks had moved about 100 kilometres northwest, leaving  Montague Township in Canada West for Onslow Township in Canada East. This region of Quebec fronts on the scenic Ottawa River across from Arnprior. A land grant of 50 acres in Bristol, Pontiac County was made to a Thomas Clarke on January 31, 1868.

Thomas continued to farm. A note in the 1871 census says: “This man’s produce belongs to Ontario.” What this means is not entirely clear to me, but I suspect it has something to do with having property in both provinces, living in one but trading in the other.

Tall Tales

The Thomas Clarke and Jane Brett story has a colourful side. In Finnegan’s book Tallying the Tales of the Old-timers, there is a chapter called “After the Beer was in the Tubs, All the Labels Came Off.” The chapter is based on a lengthy interview with Carl and Howard Clark about growing up in the Ottawa Valley. As great-grandsons of Thomas and Jane Clarke, Carl and Howard relayed the following details:

  • Tom Clark eloped to Canada with “Lady Jane Brett” whose brother was the first lieutenant-governor of Alberta.
  • Tom belonged to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and was known to be the tallest man in the regiment.
  • Being of nobility, Jane’s parents chased Tom out of Ireland.

I am not the first person to be quizzed about the truthfulness of these statements. Bill McGee’s assessment is particularly helpful in sorting out truth from fiction. I will assist in setting the record straight by offering the following points:

  • The Bretts were not members of the nobility. Like most of their neighbours, they leased and farmed small plots of land in rural Sligo. It’s anyone’s guess how Jane came to be widely known as “Lady Jane”. If Thomas Clarke enjoyed a fanciful story as much as his descendants, it is possible that the moniker started as form of endearment that naturally led to narrative embellishment.
  • Tom and Jane may have eloped but they were not chased out of Ireland. They married in 1838 but did not leave Ireland until 1842. When they did leave Ireland, it was at a time of mass departure by people seeking better economic opportunities. In addition, they appear to have followed closely behind her siblings who initially settled in eastern Ontario.
  • Tom could not have been a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as it was only established in 1922. But he may have been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. A Thomas Clarke appears in the service records for Galway in 1835. If there is some truth to this fact, then he was most likely the tallest man in his regiment.
  • Jane Brett was not a sister to Robert George Brett, the second Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Robert George Brett was born in 1851, the son of James Brett and Catherine Mallon. As already noted above, Jane Brett was born in 1819 or 1820, at least a generation before Robert George Brett. The connection between Robert George Brett’s branch of the Brett family and other Ontario Bretts is only tenuous (see James of Middlesex & James of Mono).

Loose Ends

After Thomas Clarke died in 1885, Jane lived with her sons Uriah and Joseph and her daughter Kate. She appears in the 1891 census as a widow of 73 and appears again in the 1901 census, still living with Uriah.

I have been unable to find the death records for Thomas and Jane Clark, but we know from her tombstone that she died in 1906 and is buried at St. Luke’s Anglican Church Cemetery at Eardley, Quebec.

2 thoughts on “New Information: Jane Brett”

    1. Ya, my Great Uncles liked to tell long tales. This was the story growing up, but there are a lot of long tales in that book

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