As part of our Vancouver Island Masonic History Project, with its sections on Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments and Deceased Brethren, here is a page on John Henry Edwards, a member of Lodge of Sincerity, No. 428, Northwich, Cheshire, England, who is buried in an unmarked grave in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

The story of John Henry Edwards is a tragic one; he drowned in Juan de Fuca Straight, along with his two young sons, aged 11 and 12, on 19 July 1891. He was aged 53 at the time of his death. Worshipful Brother Edwards had spent many years in the jewelry business in his native England. Following the death of his wife, W. Brother Edwards came to Canada with the intention of starting a jewellery business in Victoria.

He arrived in Victoria with his two sons, aged 10 and 11, about ten days before his death and was staying at the Oriental Hotel on Yates Street. On 19 July 1891 he and his sons went sailing in Juan de Fuca Straight with several other men. It appears these men did not know each well but simply got together as a group and rented a small sailing boat from a company operating on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. A few hours later, their small rented sail boat capsized in Juan de Fuca Straight off Victoria harbour. They were unable to right the boat and clung to the overturned hull as the cold water took its toll.

There was only one survivor. Everyone else in the party died of hypothermia. One of John Edwards’ sons was rescued but died shortly afterwards. The body of his second son was never recovered. About six seeks after the boating accident, W. Brother John Edwards’ decomposed body was recovered in the waters of Ross Bay, a few kilometres from where the boat had capsized.

At the time, Victoria’s Masonic fraternity had reason to believe W.B. John Edwards was a member of the Craft but, in those days of snail mail, could not confirm it before the burial. As a result, W. Brother Edwards did not receive a Masonic funeral.

W. Brother John Henry Edwards and one of his sons are buried together in an unmarked grave in Plot H 65 W 21 of Ross Bay Cemetery.

The following information on W.Brother John H. Edwards’ Masonic history was supplied by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London, U.K.:

John Henry Edwards, Lodge of Sincerity No 428, Northwich, Cheshire

Here are some of the reports on Worshipful Brother John henry Edwards’ last days in Victoria, his death by drowning and the recovery and interment of his remains about six weeks after his death, taken from contemporary accounts in Victoria’s daily newspapers:

Sad End of a Jolly Yachting Party on Sunday Afternoon
Only One person Left of Six to Tell the Terrible Experience

One of the saddest and most terrible accidents that have occurred in the neighborhood of Victoria, befell a yachting party that sailed out Sunday afternoon. The catboat Plug, was capsized about two miles off Brotchie’s Ledge at 5.10 o’clock in the afternoon, and five people lost their lives, only one, Edward Mutch, being rescued. Those drowned were J.H. Edwards, and two sons, aged 11 and 12; William Morrison, aged 26 years, and Gus McInnes, about 26 years. Edward Mutch formed the sixth member of the party, and he was rescued by a crew from the U.S.S. Marion, in a half dead condition. The lookout on the Marion sighted the wreck shortly after 6 o’clock and a small boat was at once dispatched to the relief of the sufferers. Mutch was found in an almost unconscious condition clinging to the traveller of the cat boat, and one of the Edwards’ boys was entangled in the sheets of the masts. When rescued, young Edwards was alive, but he died shortly after being taken on board the man-of war.

It is very probable that he perished of the cold and exposure, as he was above water all the time. Mutch, when taken aboard the war vessel, became unconscious, and did not recover until yesterday morning. The attention he received on board the Marion from the Surgeon and crew was all that saved his life. He was sent ashore about 9 o’clock yesterday morning, fully recovered but little the worse for his fearful experience. In conversation with a COLONIST reporter, he described his fearful experience:

“About 4 o’clock, Sunday afternoon,” said he, “Mr. Edwards, Morrison, McInnes and myself went to McIntosh’s boathouse and hired a sailboat, the Plug. We started for the outer harbor, and, when nearly out, came back to the foot of Johnson street, at Mr. Edwards’ request, for the two boys. After getting them we sailed out. When near the U.S. man-of war I gave the boat to McInnes, who had been beseeching me let him sail it. I hated to let anyone but myself sail the boat, as it was rather rough outside, but McInnes declared that he was used to a boat and knew all about it, and sailed it so well for several miles that I became reassured and felt secure.

“I had got but little sleep the night before and was dozing when McInnes turned the boat and made a tack. His effort woke me, and I saw him attempting to bring the boat about without slackening his sail. I made a grab for the sheet to let go the sail, but was too late, and the boat capsized, throwing us all into the water. The ballast in the boat moved forward, and she went down bow first and stern up. The entire party clung to her. She sank about four feet and remained stationary. The two boys were clinging to the mast, and I and the three men were holding on to the iron traveler at the stern of the boat. We were all cool and calm and Edwards asked me how long the boat would hold us up. I told him that it could not sink any farther, and that if we could only hold on we were all right.

The first man to go was Gus McInnes. He gave up about five minutes after the accident and sank before us all. Morrison was next and then Mr. Edwards. The body of Edwards only sank about a foot and remained alongside the sloop nearly an hour. The two boys remained until near the end. I do not believe either of them was drowned but believe they perished from cold and exposure. It was awful out there, and I am sure it was only my own immense strength that enabled me to last out until I was rescued by sailors from the Marion. I was conscious all the time and held by one hand to the boat. When that became numb and tired I would hold by the other. The steamer Geo. E. Starr passed me, but did not see me, and then I did not expect any aid until the Kingston came out. I knew it left the wharf at 8.30 o’clock and was in hopes of being able to hang on until that time and that she would see me. “Lucky for me, however, the lookout on the Marion saw the wreck and the sailors came to my rescue. I was just alive when they came and could not have held on much longer.”

The boy, Edwards, was entangled in the ropes when the sailors reached the wreck. He was unconscious, but alive. All efforts to resuscitate him were futile, and he died shortly after being taken on board the war ship. Mutch and McInnes were employees of Mr. Broderick the stevedore. Edwards was an Englishman, who arrived here about ten days ago with his two boys. He had recently lost his wife, and had come over here to start a jewellery store in Victoria. Morrison, who was also a jeweler, accompanied him for the purpose of engaging in his service. All of the parties were stopping at the Occidental. The body of the boy was taken to Lockhart’s undertaking rooms, and an inquest will be held this afternoon.

The vicinity of the accident was thoroughly patrolled by the provincial police, but no other bodies were recovered.”

(Source: Victoria Daily Colonist, 21 July 1891, page 3)

Coroner’s Inquest Held and a Verdict Returned, Yesterday, In Accordance With the Facts

            An inquest was held, yesterday afternoon, at the provincial police court by Coroner Morrison, on the body of Albert Edwards, the boy who was drowned on Sunday evening by the capsizing of the sailboat Plug. The first witness examined was Capt. Dan McIntosh, the owner of the boat, who testified to having hired it the parties, and who also identified the boat as his property.

Edward Mutch testified to the facts of the accident after the capsizing of the boat. Mr. Morrison, Mr. Edwards and the other little boy hung on to the traveller. They kept hold for two or three minutes. Mr. Edwards pulled him off, but he was the first to get back on it. Mr. Edwards also got back. The boy swam around and got caught in the sail. McInnes was drowned within a few minutes. He continued, “I looked round to see the boy and he was gone. I saw Mr. Edwards drifting away about two feet under the water for at least 15 minutes afterwards. There was no one but myself and the boy left. He was on the peak of the main sail and remained there until within about 10 minutes of the time the boat was sunk. The steamer George E. Starr passed about half a mile away. I tried to make her hear me. The boy inquired would she come after us? I said ‘I didn’t think she would.’ I hung on by the traveller. I calculated the Kingston would pick me up. The crew from the Marion came out and rescued me.”

In answer to Mr. Erskine, witness said: “We had something to drink before we left the hotel; but none of any account. The sail was all right.

To the foreman: I believe the boy died of chill. I could not assist him. He was in a better place than I was.

Provincial Constable McNeill testified to the Provincial Police having been notified of the accident, and to his proceeding in search of the men. The steam launch of the U.S.S Marion brought in the body of young Edwards, of which took charge and delivered it to Undertaker Lockhart.

The jury, which consisted of Messrs. Erskine, F.G. Norris, W. McKeown, Cooke, Jones and Marshall, brought in the following verdict: –

“We find that the boy, Albert Edwards, came to his death by the capsizing of a boat, about three miles outside Victoria harbor, on the evening of 19th July 1891, about 5 o’clock, and consequent exposure.”

The funeral of the boy’s remains took place, yesterday afternoon, from Messrs. Lockhart’s undertaking rooms.

It is believed to be hardly probable that the other bodies will be recovered.”

(Source: Victoria Daily Times, 22 July 1891, page 3, column 1)

The Body of John Henry Edwards Recovered by Indians

The body of John Henry Edwards, who, with his two sons, formed three of the party drowned off Victoria harbor on the 19th of July, was recovered yesterday morning, and will be given a respectable funeral this afternoon, at 4 o’clock.

Mr. Edwards was a man of ability and education, who for years carried on business successfully in Northwich, England. He had a wife and four children, in whom all his thoughts and happiness centered. A prevalent fever took from him his wife and two of his little ones, and to escape the bitter memories which made his place of abode no longer home, he decided to emigrate, with his two remaining boys. In time, he reached Victoria, and in a squall in the Straights of Fuca, he and his sons went down to their death.

The bodies of the boys are still missing; that of the father is so badly decomposed and destroyed by the fish that it could not be identified. It was found floating off Ross Bay by a party of west coast Indians on their way home from Westminster, and by them towed to Ross Bay beach, where it was tied. The provincial police were communicated with by telephone from the cemetery, and officer Hunter brought the corpse to the city. In the pockets were found numerous papers identifying the remains, and certifying to the high character and worth of the deceased.

There were also a number of valuable pieces of jewelery, $23 in American bank notes, and a gold watch and chain. The $350 diamond ring which Edwards wore upon his finger when he left port, on the day of the catastrophe, had dropped off as the hand rotted away. No inquest will be held, as the one does for all. The Masons of Victoria have been under the impression that Mr. Edwards was a prominent member of the order, but having no proof of such being the case, cannot take charge of the funeral. [Emphasis added]

(Source: Victoria Daily Colonist, 1 September 1891, page 5, column 2)

“The body of the late J.H. Edwards was interred beside that of his son, in Ross Bay cemetery, yesterday.”

(Source: Victoria Daily Colonist, 2 September 1891, page 8, column 2, under heading “Little Locals”)

John Henry Edwards is buried in an unmarked grave (Plot H 65 W 21) in Ross Bay Cemetery.

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