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Shaw Street
St. John's, Newfoundland

Jack A. White. "Streets of St. John's", Volume Three, ISBN 1-895387-18-3. 

Page 159, chapter on Shaw Street:

To find the tradition associated with Shaw Street one has to go way back to
the days of good old Queen Victoria and a girl who worked in a millinery
store in London, England. The Shaws, according to the tradition, lived near
London Bridge. One of them was Ruth Shaw who worked in the bonnet makers
shop. Ruth Shaw saw Queen Victoria as a young princess and actually was on
terms with her - sufficient, according to tradition, to secure something
very important for Newfoundland in later years.

The Shaw family originally resided in Ross County, Ireland, and after the
battle of the Boyne, 1690, the forefather of the group moved to London. Ruth
Shaw is said to have been a member of that continuing family.

Still later, the Shaws moved to Newfoundland and apparently owned vast
tracts of land in the west end of the city. Now a family of Dempseys comes
into the picture. Sometime near the close of the 18th century James Dempsey
met and married Ruth Shaw.

...James Dempsey and Ruth Shaw wed in or near 1820*. In the days of Rt. Rev.
Bishop Fleming, that RC prelate found his way to the forge of James Dempsey
who was not only a farmer but a blacksmith as well.
[*Footnote entered here: "The apparent discrepancy in the marriage date can
be explained through an understanding of the times. James Dempsey was a
Roman Catholic who married Ruth Shaw, a protestant in the Church of England
in the late 1700s. When Ruth Shaw Dempsey became a Roman Catholic in 1820,
the marriage was sanctioned by the church."]

They chatted and found remembrances of London; indeed the Bishop is said to
have told how he went there to get a grant of land for what is now the great
Roman Catholic Basilica. But he hadn't been successful. He said that he
intended to go there again to get a personal audience at the Royal Palace.

According to a story in the centenary book of the Roman Catholic Basilica,
the Dempseys may have financed the visit of Bishop Fleming circa 1837. He
did get the grant, of course, but tradition says that Mr. Dempsey suggested
to him that should British officialdom try to block a royal audience, he
should go to Rotten Row, Hyde Park in the morning hours when Queen Victoria,
who was then seventeen, was wont to take an early morning carriage ride.

The tradition avers that this actually occurred. The carriage appeared, the
Bishop stood there and made the usual acknowlegdement and the young Queen
stopped the carriage to find out who he was. The Bishop told Her Majesty he
was the Roman Catholic Bishop of her Empire's first colony and, on the
invitation of the Queen joined her in her carriage and went back to the palace.

The Queen told him she would smooth out the difficulties and while he was in
Rome in 1838, he received the word that success was his.

The centenary book, which deserves many encomiums says the family tradition
receives corroboration from reports of Bishop Fleming that it would be a
memorial to that great Queen. Bishop Howley in 1901, on the occasion of
Queen Victoria's passing, also said the procuring of the land for the
Cathedral (now Basilica) was one of the gracious gifts of the Queen.

The Dempsey family tradition also says that Queen Victoria offered the
hard-working Bishop some money for the same purpose.

Continuing with the tradition, it is said that Her Majesty requested a
favour, that the new cathedral, when constructed would be called after St.
John the Baptist. She requested another favour, again according to the
tradition, that prayers should always be said for her there.

Her Majesty then escorted Bishop Fleming to the exit door and it was one of
those dank, cold night of London town so she, perceiving the Bishop was not
too adequately clothed to be warm, gave him a shawl (or scarf).

Eventually, the Bishop, who was a most modest man, thought he would give it
to Mrs. Mary Ruth Shaw Dempsey, for the family had been one to further his

In 1956, there are said to have been heirlooms of the Dempsey family still
at No. 4 Alexander Street. These included sacred objects of devotion and
art, cups and saucers brought from Ireland, an antique cupboard, small table
and mirrors.

So there is something - a tradition of two families, of the building of a
great Cathedral (Basilica) whose towers dominate the skyline of the city and
a gracious and very young Queen Victoria.


Contributed by Barbara Pederson (2001)

Page Revised by Craig Peterman ( Wednesday, 06-Mar-2013 10:22:18 AST )

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