Vernon & District Family History Society

SHARING GENEALOGY KNOWLEDGE SINCE 1982

Richard Dobbyn edited by Allan Hooper

My Great Great Grandmother is Maria Jane Dobbyn Hooper (1852-1914), her father is William Dobbyn (1824-1917) and William Dobbyn's father is Richard Dobbyn (1794-1882). I have edited the original report written by Hopkins J. Moorhouse which appeared in the Chatham Daily News. The original report can be viewed in Google.

Please note: The spelling of Dobbyne should have been Dobbyn and Mariah took the name of Maria.

Richard Dobbyn (From Google)

  • Born: 22 Feb 1794, Wexford County, Ireland
  • Marriage: Mariah Bobier on 20 Apr 1815 in Castlecomer, Kilkenny County, Ireland
  • Died: 1882, Ontario aged 88

Notes for RICHARD DOBBYN: From the Chatham Daily News, December 1905. RICHARD DOBBYNE, EMIGRANT By Hopkins J. Moorhouse

This is the remarkable story of what truly befell one Richard Dobbyne in the year 1811. It tells the manner of his impressment aboard a privateer and his subsequent escape, settled in Western Ontario not far from Newbury and Bothwell and became one of the worthy pioneer settlers of Upper Canada.

Richard Dobbyne, a young man at the time, had given up school teaching in Ireland and gone to Bristol, intent on leaving for Canada at the earliest opportunity. His young wife was to join him a few months later, by which time he hoped to have a home prepared for her. It so chanced that a merchant vessel bound for Canada was swinging in the anchorage and the town crier was announcing in the streets the exceedingly cheap berths she was offering for a number of young men who were not afraid of roughing their way across the ocean. That night the vessel dropped down the tide with Dobbyne aboard.

It might have been four of the clock when he was awakened by a strange noise overhead. It was pitch black all around but he felt that dawn must be very near. He could hear the water lapping the wooden sides of the vessel and knew by her motions and the sharp jarring of the rudder on its pintles that they were well out in the heavy swell of the Channel.

Dobbyne went to the door and found it locked on the outside. He shook it vigorously and instantly the bolts were shot back. The entrance way was blocked by a big seaman with a naked cutlass in his hand, and on his face a grin that widened full into his whiskers. The young man realized the situation – he were trapped and all this offer of a passage to Canada was but a press-gang strategy. With a cry of despair Dobbyne sprang forward and would have had the seaman by the throat had not the door been slammed in his face.

When the sun arose the merchantman had vanished, but in her stead a British privateer was standing away to the south under a full head of canvas. Where the brass signal carronade had stood on the afterdeck the night before was now a long swivel ten-pounder. Fourteen guns ranged fore and aft and a number of small arms racks stood just abaft the masts.

Dobbnye’s wife would be in Canada within a month or two and he would not be there to meet her. Imagination was vivid and his helplessness maddened him. All sorts of desperate schemes were discussed to no purpose; then quite unexpectedly a way of escape opened.

More than two months had elapsed since the Wasp left British waters but she had fallen in with scarcely a single prize that was worth the chase. Even after reaching southern seas on the lookout for West Indiamen she cruised about in vain, and one day found her making what little headway she could, west by north in a light wind, with discontent aboard from the captain down. The wind finally dropped out altogether and when morning broke the sails were idly slapping the masts as the vessel rode the swell in long-drawn rolls.

Dobbyne crept through the porthole to where the hempen line dangled to the black brine below. Noiselessly the water closed over him, the line relaxed and he was gone. "What think you is that yonder?" The second Lieutenant paused with his hand on the poop railing and pointed to a phosphorescent gleam that for an instant broke from the water a short distance off. "See! There it is again." The third lieutenant who had just come up from below glanced carelessly at the streak of light, now half a cable's length further away. It came, went, and some distance beyond reappeared and again went. "Something is swimming out there, Pearson." "Pest! Shark!" The Officer of the watch laughed vaguely to himself as he said it, and lighted a cheroot. Rolling over on his back Dobbyn slowly swam away.

That swim Richard Dobbyne remembered to the end of his life. It was only hours that he was in the water but it seemed days and weeks. The air became full of strange washings and through it all he was conscious of but one thing - that he must swim on and on towards the light that sat low on the water. He scarcely knew how, but at last he reached the brig. A lethargy was stealing over him, his limbs were numb and he had barely strength to crawl into the chainwales by means of a loose rigging-rope before he swooned completely away. When he came to his senses, he could hear voices conversing in low tones and somebody was pacing backward and forward with tiresome regularity.

Dobbyne was standing irresolute, when a figure came suddenly within the radiance of the skylight. He was very tall and his face was long, thin and sharp featured.

Dobbyne stepped boldly forth, his bare feet padding audibly across the planks. "That you, Hytes?" came shortly out of the gloom. "No, it's me," said Dobbyne, stepping alongside the skylight. "You!" The man swore a full round oath which startled the negligent watch in the bows and brought some of them hurrying aft. "Who'n blazes are you?" he snapped out. Dobbyne told him and asked for an interview with the captain.

"It's not the wind but a Britisher as swum aboard us an' would speak with you. Send'm down, Cap?" A moment later, Dobbyne was standing before a lively little red-faced man with a bald head, a very round middle and a turned up nose. For the space of a full minute this much astonished, greatly bewildered and intently staring person could do nothing but click his tongue against the roof of his mouth and say, "Well, well, well!" Not until Dobbyn was in dry clothes and sipping a stiff bumper of grog would he listen to the story. "And were you not fearful of Lawyer Shark?" asked Captain Braceby (for that was his name). "Sharks!" cried Dobbyne in dismay. "Not once did I think of them." "You may thank your lucky godmother for that, my young friend, or 'twould be a monkey's fist to me were you not now cruising under water, rather than being aboard the brig Madison of New York."

The whole-souled American skipper grasped him by the hand as he spoke and Dobbyne, feeling that he would not lack for friends aboard the brig, turned in with a thankful heart for a much-needed rest. Shortly after daybreak a breeze sprang up and no sooner did the breeze reach the privateer, than her courses filled on a northerly tack and she came bowling along, heading straight for the brig. A puff of smoke broke from her bow and the shot skipped athwart the American's bows. Captain Braceby frowned but he had anticipated something of the kind and made haste to arouse Dobbyne. "Let 'm come," he chuckled, "let'm come, but if they get you then I am a salamander.''

He quickly made his way to a small hatchway that led down into the run and after lighting a lantern he descended and called up for Dobbyne to follow. The place was a section of the hold, styled the "lazarette". The light revealed a few barrels of pork standing about together with rum casks, jars of lime juice, casks of flour and biscuit, and several cases of tinned meats. The captain presently returned to the deck, leaving Dobbyne securely boxed in an empty case. It was a desperate scheme but the American skipper was confident of its success and Dobbyne was ready for anything. He had reason afterwards to be thankful, as a search party boarded the brig amid the scowls and muttered threats of her crew and after examining her papers ransacked the vessel in the hope of finding him.

The lazarette was the last place searched and by that time Dobbyne was suffering much bodily discomfort. By that time also, the British officer in charge was thoroughly disgusted with the fruitlessness of his efforts and was partly of a mind to leave the brig without more ado. Nevertheless he ordered his seamen about and they made a hasty investigation. Dobbyne scarcely dared to breathe and the chills of suspense ran back and forth in his spine as he firmly braced himself and waited. No less than three times was the box shifted and once it was turned over on its side, but its secret remained unknown. At length the privateersman turned on his heel and strode toward the hatch ladder. "If there is aught else in which we can oblige you." began the affable Braceby, bowing low, "believe me -" "Curse him!" cried the officer. "The sharks have got him and welcome they are." A month later Richard Dobbyne was in Montreal.

An emigrant ship had sailed up the St. Lawrence not three days before his arrival and after some inquiry he discovered that his wife's name was on the ship's list. From a man who had come over in the vessel he learned that the party she had been with had left only the day previous for the Upper Province, but whether she had gone with them or not the man was unable to say. Then he went to the Government office and on the very threshold espied a familiar figure. Stumbling forward in his haste he shouted aloud, "Maria, Maria! Turning quickly she saw him and with a gasp of joy and a swift little run was in his arms. "Oh, Richard!"

(Signed) Hopkins J. Moorhouse