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My Three Wives
A Story of Robert Roberts of Hermitage


Jean Edwards Stacey

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



In Hermitage, Hermitage Bay, in one corner of the graveyard next to St. Saviour's Anglican Church, there's a quartet of headstones that can't help but capture your eye and your imagination.

First is the headstone of Robert Roberts who died on May 18, 1920, at age 73.

Next to Robert is the headstone of Rachel, his wife, who died Feb. 12, 1883, aged 33.

A third headstone belongs to Rosanna, also a beloved wife of Robert, who died Feb. 22, 1889, aged 40.

The fourth headstone is for Miriam, yet another beloved wife. Miriam died Dec. 19, 1924, at age 72. "In loving memory of our dear mother," reads the inscription on her headstone.

Although you strongly suspect that Robert Roberts was the husband of Rachel, Rosanna and the Miriam who outlived him, you can't be absolutely sure just by reading the headstones.

Not long after visiting the cemetery, however, you end up in the home of a man who lives not far away who turns out to be the great-grandson of Robert Roberts.

Wallace Roberts confirms that his great-grandfather did indeed have three wives and is buried next to them in St. Saviour's cemetery.

While he's unable to shed much light on the women whom Robert wed, Wallace does know that his great-grandfather had seven sons by his three wives. One of the sons, James Henry, is Wallace's grandfather.

Robert Roberts was an entrepreneur of English ancestry who established a successful merchant business on the east side of Hermitage harbour in the 1800s. Over the years, the business was gradually phased out. By the 1950s, it had disappeared entirely.

Wallace himself was born and raised in Hermitage, then left for close to 20 years. In 1973, after years of working as an educator in Canada and the U.S., he and his Nova Scotia-born wife, Catherine (Guilderson), settled in Hermitage.

The couple bought a house across the harbour from what used to be Robert Roberts' home and business. The house they purchased was built almost 100 years ago by William Engram and his wife, Lydia.

The Engrams, like the Roberts, were businesspeople from England. Their endeavour at one time included a salmon fishery, a lobster cannery and a shop. The Engram business premises were located on waterfront property near their home. When Wallace and Catherine bought the Engram house, they also purchased the business premises. It's there that they established Seacraft Ltd., their fibreglass boat-building business.

The Engrams included merchants and carpenters, some of whom went away to build houses in the Boston states. The house that William and Lydia built is similar to those constructed in the U.S., but unlike any other in Hermitage. Including its front and back verandas, the house is 75 feet long and 35 feet wide.

The house is distinctive looking on the exterior. Inside, the long, central hall that runs from the front to the back make it equally unique.

The rooms on one side of the main floor hall include a kitchen, dining room, parlour and sunroom. The sunroom, in front of the parlour, is reached via a stained glass door.

Doors on the other side of the hall open into two bedrooms, a bathroom and a home office. There is, as well, a door to a side hall with stairs to the basement and the second floor. The main floor ceilings and wainscotting are in the original pine. The doors, too, are original.

Upstairs, the landing has seven doors. Two doors open into large bedrooms. The remaining five doors open into what Catherine calls "cubby holes," spaces good for storage and perfect for children's games.

In one bedroom, a door opens to reveal stairs to a third-floor attic with sharply sloping walls and two windows, one at either end.

The roots of the Roberts, as well as that of the Engrams, go back a long way in Hermitage.

In the 1700s, Hermitage was a French fishing station. In 1713, the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht compelled the French to abandon their fishing stations on the south coast of Newfoundland. When the French left, the English mercantile firm of Newman and Company established a fishing station in Hermitage.

By 1836, Hermitage had a population of 66, mostly people from Dorset, Devon and the Channel Islands. The economic base of the community was the small-boat inshore cod fishery, and the Bank fishery, which was undertaken in Newman-owned schooners.

Methodist missionary William Marshall had established a small school and chapel in Hermitage in 1844. A year later, there was an Anglican school with room for a chapel. A resident Anglican clergyman was appointed in 1854, the same year the original St. Saviour's church was consecrated.

Wallace likes to tell the story of how his great grandfather, Robert, helped build the initial St. Saviour's. Constructing the building was a community affair and when Robert, then seven, begged to help, he was given a job carrying bricks. He was, however, so small he could only manage to carry one brick at a time.

The church was a good-looking building.

The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador reports that in 1857, one Rev. J. G. Mountain described St. Saviour's as "a substantial and handsome church, the only one not built of wood within many hundred miles. It is of brick with stone facings, about 80 feet long and 30 feet wide, the style early English and in very good taste."

By the early 1900s, the church that had been constructed with stone from the south of England had greatly deteriorated.

A new church was built in the mid-1920s, and the original stone building was demolished in 1954.

The present St. Saviour's is a wooden building. The cemetery next to the church where Robert Roberts is buried beside his three wives is the final resting place of numerous Roberts and Engrams. Names on nearby headstones include: Rose, Mead, Vardy, Loveless, Francis, Parsons, Crewe, Wills, Miller, Cox, Gaulton, Ball and Simms.



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (September 2000)
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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