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Mr. Bendelow’s Incredible Journey
by Julia Ashby

RIGHT - Map of Canada showing the 3,889 mile rail journey across Canada from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia.

Mr. Herbert Bendelow of Mexborough was born in Sheffield in 1857 and came to Mexborough when he was still a baby. Here his father took over the Plough Inn, situated next to Hillerby’s Tobacconist, and recalled the rhythmic beat of the cooper, across the road, as he hammered the hoops into place around the barrel. He well remembered: Barron’s Glassworks, when it was in its infancy; Emery’s Pottery, Garden Street; and the Don Iron Works. He went to four schools: Mrs. Anderson’s, Tap Yard, alongside the Civic Hall; Mr. P.W. Holmes’ School, which was situated in what is now a car park to the east of the fly over; he then attended Swinton National School and finally Mexborough National School. His father moved from the Plough Inn and converted a shop on High Street, close to Post Office Square, into a public house which he named the Sheffield House, the license of which was taken when  the Commercial Inn (now the Boy & Barrel) was opened.

Under the care of Mr. Tandy, school and choirmaster combined, he joined Mexborough Parish Church Choir rising to become lead tenor soloist. It was also at the National School that he became interested in athletics. He was one of the founder members of Mexborough Cycling & Athletic Club winning the first cycle race held at what was to become the Athletic Ground. He was also an accomplished footballer and played for Aston Villa.

In 1882 he married Harriet Clayton, of Sheffield, and they had five children together: John, who at the time of emigration, like his father, was a successful building contractor; Percy, Laurence, Victoria, and Harriet. All the children went with him to Canada but unfortunately, before Harriet, his wife, could follow them she died, in 1913.

Mr. Bendelow wished to give his family a better life by establishing a farm and a new branch of his successful building business Bendelow & Bennett, this to be in the fastly growing city of Victoria. He left Liverpool on 4th April 1912 for Canada, on ‘The Corsican’, a steamship of the Allan Line and from his descriptions I assume he travelled 1st Class as he states that where they were located on the ship was “like a floating hotel.

The voyage went well and the passengers: promenaded the decks; attended concerts in the Music Room; took part in the ship’s lottery and watched a boxing competition. But as they approached the Newfoundland Bank things began to change. Heavy rain, strong winds and high seas hit the ship and they ran into fields of ice, and Mr. Bendelow began to become very nervous. The captain had to stop the engines, reversed and then lay-to. There were large floes of ice in the sea, and Mr. Bendelow states that one berg, was like a great white cathedral standing up in the middle of a group. The temperature began to plummet, nearby could be seen three other ships, all of which had been ice-locked and the captain, wishing to ask advise, communicated with them, he then altered course for one more southerly. After a time, in the interest of safety, the ship was stopped again and they gave up any idea of reaching Halifax on time.

Mr. Bendelow wrote that the day which ‘The Corsican’ reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, is one which he would never forget, the relief he felt, to have come through the ice safely and to go up on deck to witness a bright fine morning, knew no bounds. Yachts, and ships were everywhere in the beautiful harbour, tugboats began to manoeuvre the ship alongside a wharf, steel ropes were attached, and with much shouting and clamour from the men ‘The Corsican’ docked and a band played lively tunes as they disembarked.

They alighted from their ship to begin the next leg of their journey. This was to be a marathon railway voyage of almost 3.900 miles across Canada. On this journey he was to witness Canada as a  country in the making at a never-to-be repeated time in history, on the cusp of civilisation.

At the ticket office Mr. Bendelow was to get his first surprise, when, instead of the customary ticket he was used to seeing, he was shocked to receive one 15in x 2.5in (45cms x 7cm). His next was on leaving Halifax when he saw that life, for the average settle on the

outskirts of Halifax was rough indeed. Firstly a shanty town  appeared, some of the homes being boarded up, then tiny, shabby, scattered wooden huts, but these were the fortunate as some were living in tents in below zero temperatures, the forestry was thin and spars, and the land rocky and swampy. But this was soon left behind them as they sped on their way past frozen lakes carrying horse drawn sleighs, hills, woods and larger better settlements, on their way to Montreal.

On arrival they discovered that they had missed their train to Toronto and stayed in the waiting room where they heard of the dreadful fate of the Titanic and thanked the captain of ‘The Corsican’ for his actions and thought themselves lucky that they had come through the ice field unscathed. They felt very sad for the men who had had to sacrifice their lives in order that their women and children could live, but, at the same time, felt proud of them.

Their next stop was at the prosperous city of Toronto where, in order to take a rest, they visited three old Mexboroughites. The first two were Messrs Gibson & Ford, once of Garden Street, now both successful businessmen. The third was Mr. Albert Downing a Tenor Soloist. Then at 10.20p.m., they caught the express to Vancouver, the carriages of which were extremely luxurious with sleeping berths, hot and cold running water on tap and cooking facilities. Mr. Bendelow stated that “These facilities are better than some had in their homes”. They past through acres of land where the forest had been felled, cleared and burned, whereas in others miles of felled trees could be seen. They travelled by Lake Superior passing through tunnels. Mr. Bendelow describes ‘The Lake in the Wood’ as being the prettiest place he had seen in his life, dotted with tiny islands on which were the summer houses of the wealthy from Winnipeg.

They passed over the prairies, where miles of wheat are grown. Then trundled through the open farmlands of Saskatchewan and Alberta, and witnessed trains of wagons carrying the goods and chattels of emigrants from America.

In Calgarey, their next stopping point, they saw where 3,000,000 acres of land had been cleared, irrigated, divided into lots, and houses constructed on them. This in order that settlers could purchase them and convert them into farms. So successful had this been that the population of the town had increased by 20,000 in two years and property trebled in price.

He crossed the Rockies witnessing the never-to-be-forgotten, awe-inspiring sight of the sunset, with the flaming red of the setting sun casting a rose tinted hue over the snow capped peaks. They then began to enter the national park where they saw bears and vast herds of buffaloes. The snow-topped mountains and glaciers towered thousands of feet above them as they thundered through the river valleys. The train began to sway but it did not prevent him from donning his overcoat, muffler and gloves to stand on the viewing platform, found at the rear of the train, he states that the scenery was so stupendous that words failed him.

They travelled by the Columbia River which, at this point, showed no sign of the mighty torrent it was to become and that night passed the Great Divide where one branch flowed to the Atlantic, to become the Hudson, and the other into the Pacific. They began to descend and then joined the range known as the Selkirk Mountains, which he states, if possible, is even finer than the Rockies. They began to descend and travel through tunnels and, what he learned were ‘Snow-Slide Sheds’, made from wood they were constructed over the track to protect trains from avalanche. He also noticed many line-men, employed by the Pacific Railway, to ensure that the track was free of snow and safe to pass, these men carried an apparatuses which could be clipped to the telephone cables, by the trackside to give immediate warning of danger. At last they began to descend to sea-level and reached Vancouver.

But their journey was not at an end as they had another sea voyage to complete, in order to reach their final destination, Victoria. This was accomplished on the steamship Vancouver City and took another four and a half hours, until at last after travelling 6,620 miles they had reached Victoria, on the extreme southern point of an island off the extreme western coast of British Columbia, Canada.

But that isn’t the end of the story as, after one year, the family split up: his son, John, moved to the USA and became a profitable builder; Mr. Bendelow, finding that Canada was a place for the young, returned to Mexborough, taking the rest of the family with him, here he finished his working life, remarried, and settled down in Tickhill; Lawrence, his second son, became warden of Mexborough Parish Church and became an engineer of a water works; whereas three of his daughters married businessmen. He died, aged 73yrs., in a Doncaster nursing home, on 13th November 1930 and is buried in Mexborough Cemetery.

News From the Local History Room

Over the past few weeks I have been studying the travels of Mr. Bendelow and in an article found in the Mexborough & Swinton Times, dated 6th April 1912. It states that his greatest achievement, which he was known nationwide for, was that he ran to Paris, with Mr. G. Kemp, in celebration of the opening of the Paris Exhibition in 1878. In his obituary, in the same newspaper, dated 21st November 1930 it contradicts this by saying that he rode to Paris and back on an old ‘Bone Shaker’ bicycle, in less than two weeks. Whichever is the correct of the two it is still a magnificent feat of endurance.

An interesting fact I discovered, while researching Mr. Bendelow’s journey was that I expected, as I suppose many of you did, that the Titanic sank close to New York, its destination. It did if fact sink off the coast of Halifax, where Mr. Bendelow landed in April 1912 and this is where many of the unidentified bodies, from the Titanic Tragedy were buried, not at New York, where the survivors were landed.

Copyright: This newsletter may not be reproduced, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of J.R. Ashby.