David Samuel Reece Roberts was born on December 3, 1846, in rural England, to John and Jane (nee Prosser) Roberts. He immigrated to Canada from Wales in 1871. We have no record of how or why he came to Canada.
David first appeared in the 1881 census for Gabriola, Mudge, and DeCourcy Islands, living on Mudge Island. He was listed as unmarried, and head of his household. He was living with Mary, a 28 year old unmarried Native.
On June 12, 1883, David married Mary Isabella Martin, the 22 year-old daughter of Jonathan Martin, an established Gabriola settler. Her mother was recorded as “Kelly of Stikene” on the marriage certificate. The wedding took place at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Nanaimo, the Rev. J.B. Good officiating.
Within the next seven years, David and Mary Isabella had four sons — all born on Mudge Island; on May 3, 1884, Llewellyn Martin; on January 10, 1886, John David; on November 29, 1887, Edward Voltaire; and on January 25, 1890, Ivor Prosser
On January 9, 1884, while Mary Isabella was pregnant with their first child, David pre-empted land on Mudge Island. Presumably this was the land where he had been living since before 1881. His 160-acre claim was bordered to the South by Dodd’s Narrows and to the North by False Narrows. To the East, he was neighboured by Mr. Norris, and to the West by unoccupied Mudge land. Roberts cleared, cultivated, and built a barn and a house. Richard Norris of Mudge Island and Richard Chapple of Gabriola confirmed his land improvements on May 9, 1888. With this declaration, the estimated value of his land claim was $250.00. In 1887, he also purchased 40 acres of pastoral land on three small islands at the East end of the DeCourcy Group.
In 1884, the Nanaimo Free Press reported that David Roberts was growing large Baldwin apples on Mudge Island. These apples weighed in at one pound each. The NFP article asked a timeless question, “With such a showing of produce, why do we import so much?” Perhaps his father, John Roberts, an exceptional Welsh farmer, was David’s inspiration. Or perhaps his father-in-law, Jonathan Martin, Gabriola’s most successful apple grower, assisted him. The splendid growing conditions, combined with skill, were probably the success factors. The Roberts orchards were thriving. David was acknowledged for growing “splendid” plums in 1887, “mammoth” apples in 1888, and by the summer of 1889 he was congratulated for his “monster” Queen Anne cherries. By October 1889, his apples were “magnificent”, some weighing-in at 22 ounces, with 14 inch diameters. (It was the custom at that time for the award winning fruit to be tested by the staff of the Nanaimo Free Press, and the winners acknowledged in the newspaper.)
Although David and his family lived some distance away from Gabriola, they participated in local community activities and causes.
On August 9, 1884, in aid of the widows and children of those killed in the explosion at the Wellington Colliery, Gabriola families were generous with donations. Included in the list of contributers were the Roberts family, of Mudge Island, who contributed $1.50. Also, in June 1887, David Roberts was the collector for the Nanaimo Relief Fund, for the southern end of Gabriola and the adjacent islands. He collected $39.50 in aid for widows and orphans of Nanaimo’s largest mine disaster.
In 1887, David was polling officer, at the Gabriola School House, for a provincial by-election. Gabriola produced only 12 votes, perhaps because of a heavy snowfall. Three months later, in the federal election, he served in the same role, again at the Gabriola School.
On Saturday, September 7, 1887, the Free Press described a “heroic rescue” which took place “about halfway between the portage” (probably Biggs’ Portage across the neck of Jack Point) and Gabriola Island. Three local men — Alexander Shaw Jr., John Hamilton, and John Gimmel — were travelling to Gabriola in a small boat, when the boat overturned in the angry current during a sudden squall.
David Roberts and Joseph Chapple set out in a boat from Mudge to attempt a rescue, and although their efforts were hampered by strong winds and high seas, they were able to bring the three men safely to shore.
In the 1891 census, David Roberts was listed as a 45 year-old farmer on Mudge Island, living with his wife, Mary Isabella (aged 29) and four children: Lewelleyn, 7; John D, 5; Edward N, 3; and Ivor P, 1.
It is interesting to note that in 1892, the mode of transportation from Mudge, DeCourcy, and Gabriola to Nanaimo, and return, was aboard the steamer Esperanza. This boat made regular double weekly trips to each island, every Friday; leaving Nanaimo, in the early morning, and after returning by noon, leaving again in the early afternoon, and finally returning to Nanaimo by late afternoon.
On Feb 4, 1893, Mary Isabella, aged 32 years, died in childbirth, on Mudge Island, “leaving behind a grieving husband and four young children.” She was buried in the Gabriola Cemetery.
On October 20, 1893, Roberts married again. Mary Silvie was the 19 year-old daughter of Joseph Silvie of Reid Island. The wedding took place on near-by Kuper Island. Mary’s mother’s name is unknown. The couple resided on Mudge Island, at the Roberts’ farm, with David’s four children.
The 1901 census lists David, age 54, as household head at his farm on Mudge Island; John D, 15 years; Edward V, 13 years; and Ivor P, 11 years. Neither Llewellen, by now 17, nor Mary, by now 27, is included. We have no further information about Mary and David’s lives together.
In the 1920 Voters’ list, the Roberts family was no longer living on Mudge Island. Two new families – the Coxes and the Juriets – had taken up residence there. The list shows David as retired and living in Northfield (near Nanaimo); Edward V – an auto driver – was also living in Northfield, with his wife, Julie; Ivor P was involved with auto delivery, and living in Wellington (also near Nanaimo); and the oldest brother – Llewellen – an engineer, also lived in Wellington.
David Samuel Reece Roberts died, a widower, on March 14, 1925, in San Antonio, Texas, USA. We have no idea how long he had been in the USA, or if he had been living there permanently.
Edward Voltaire Roberts died on January 6, 1965, in Nanaimo, at 79 years. His wife Julie and one son, also named Edward, had predeceased him. Two sons, four daughters, 17 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren survived him.
In 1975, at age 92 years, Llewellen Martin Roberts died, unmarried. At the time of his death, he was the oldest member of The Loyal Order of Moose, No. 1952, Nanaimo. His brother, Ivor Prosser Roberts, who lived in California, and many nieces and nephews survived him. Although we know that Llewellen’s brother, John David Roberts, lived in Florida at the time of their father’s death, we have no other information about him.
BC Archives and Records
- Roberts, David Samuel and Martin, Mary Isabella
BCARS Reg # 1883-09-092535; MF# B11380; GSU# 1983708
- Roberts, David Samuel and Silvie, Mary
BCARS Reg # 1893-09-094228; MF# B11380; GSU# 1983708
- Roberts, Llewellyn Martin, born May 3, 1884, Mudge Island. BC
BCARS Reg # 1884-09-048298; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
- Roberts, John David, born January 10, 1886, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1886-09-048299; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
- Roberts, Edward Va(o)ltare, born November 29, 1887, Mudge Island, BC:
BCARS Reg # 1887-09-048300; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
- Roberts, Ivor Prosser, born January 25, 1890, Mudge Island, BC
BCARS Reg # 1890-09-049906; MF# B13809; GSU#2114717
- Roberts, Mary, died, February 4, 1893, Mudge Island, BC
BCARS Reg # 1893-09-044526; MF# B13084; GSU# 1927112
- David Samuel Reece Roberts died March 14, 1925, intestate
BCARS Probate files: GR-2213; 1881 – 1948, BC Supreme Court (Nanaimo)
Nanaimo Free Press
- Wedding: Roberts — Martin, June 23, 1883
- Mary Roberts; February 4, 1893
- John Roberts; Tycenol, Wales, father to David Roberts; October 12, 1887
via the Cardiff, Wales News
- Edward Voltair[e] Roberts; January 6, 1965
- Llewellen Roberts; Wed. July 2, 1975, p.11 (classified #36, deaths)
Large Fruit from Mudge Island
- “Monster” “Mammoth” and “Magnificent” Baldwin apples, September 27, 1884; October 7, 1885, October 20, 1888, October 5, 1889
- “Splendid” Plums, August 17, 1887
- “Monster” Queen Anne cherries, June 20, 1889
- In Aid of Widows Fund: August 9, 1884
- Nanaimo Relief Committee: May 21, 1887
- Provincial Election: January 5, 1887
- Vancouver Election: March 16, 1887
Heroic Sea Rescue: September 7, 1887
- Joseph Chapple was the son of Richard Chapple, a prominent Gabriola pre-emptor and settler. See Shale #3, page 18, for the Chapple family history
- Alexander Shaw Jr. was teaching on Gabriola at the time. His father had also taught on Gabriola, and his brother – John – in Nanaimo, where he later became principal of Central School
- John Gemmel pre-empted land directly across False Narrows from the Roberts farm on Mudge Island, including the Green Wharf area. From information in the 1882 – 1887 Directories, John lived on Gabriola for several years, finally returning to Nanaimo and work as a miner for the Vancouver Coal Mining Co.
- John Hamilton, another employee of the Vancouver Coal Mining Co., was in charge of the diamond drill looking for coal on Gabriola.
BC Voters’ List, 1920, transcribed by the Nanaimo Family History Society
Canada Census for British Columbia, Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy Islands: 1881, 1891, 1901 (microfilm)