We know the names of the settler families who remained on Gabriola for several generations — older residents remember them, or geographic features of the island have been named after them. Others, now forgotten, lived here for a short time and moved on, or died without descendants who were willing to live and work here. Their passage is marked only by their names on a few pieces of official paper, or in the directories of the time.
One such was Robert Peel Dombrain, who pre-empted 100 acres at the northwest end of Gabriola on March 26th, 1870. The rough map which he drew on the back of his pre-emption claim was somewhat ambiguous, but showed his land to the east of Josiah Foster’s, a mile inland from what we now call the Twin Beaches. Apart from this pre-emption, we were able to find his name only in the Nanaimo directories for 1869 and 1871. We guessed that he had tried farming and didn’t like it, and we moved on to look at others for whom more information was available.
In January of 2001, the museum received an email from Nicholas d’Ombrain of New Brunswick, telling us that the name and family are Huguenot in origin and can be traced directly to a Jacques d’Embrun who fled France from Rouen in 1572 just before the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Nicholas suggested several candidates for the role of Gabriola’s Robert Dombrain, including a son of the Rev. Henry Honywood D’Ombrain (vicar of Westwell, in Kent, and one of the founders of the Royal Horticultural Society). This Robert died in Natal, South Africa on 8 April 1879 where he was serving in the Zulu War as a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Natal Native Contingent of the Keynsham Light Horse.
In April, sparked in part by Nicholas’ interest, a visit to the Anglican Archives in Victoria turned up two interesting baptisms:
James Dumbrain, born February 7. 1864 to Robert Dumbrain (a labourer) and See-ate-a-sult (a Sishel woman), was baptized September 18, 1864, by the Reverend John B Good, rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Nanaimo..
More than a year later, Lucy Dumbrain, born of Indian parents, was baptized as an adult, on June 11, 1865, also by JB Good.
As the birth of James would have required Nicholas’ favourite candidate to arrive in Canada at about age 14, we gave him up reluctantly. Nicholas suggested that we look for a marriage record which might tell us something of our Robert Dombrain’s parentage. This proved a good recommendation — another trip to the Anglican Archives revealed two relevant marriages at the end of 1865:
The first (#13 in the parish registry of St. Paul’s) took place on December 12, between Ambrose M Fletcher and “Mary”, born in “Seshel country”. Robert Peel Dombrain gave the bride away, and the bride’s maid was Lucy, “a Seshel Indian.” One of two witnesses to the event was Robert’s neighbour — Josiah Foster.
The second marriage (#14 in the registry), occurred two weeks later, on Christmas Day, between Robert P Dombrain, a bachelor of Nanaimo aged 28 (who gave his occupation as “gentleman”, his birthplace as “Canterbury, Kent, England”, and his father as William, “a hop planter”) and Lucy, a spinster of Nanaimo, aged 20, (who gave her birthplace as Seshel BC, and her father as “Indian”). The bride was given away by Andrew M Fletcher, Mary (Seshel) was the bride’s maid. There were four witnesses, including a future Gabriolan — Theodore LeBoeuf.
Armed with this age, birthplace, and parentage, Nicholas requested a search of the Canterbury Parish churches archives, In early August of 2001, he learned that a Robert Peel Dombrain was baptized on 25 August 1835 at St. Margaret’s Church, Canterbury. He was the child of William Dombrain (1803-1880) and Jane Seguin (1796-1864); William was a “wine and spirit merchant” according to the marriage certificate of one of his children, and was the youngest son of Abraham Dombrain (1762-1837) and his second wife Elizabeth Aldridge (1757-1820). William’s brother James, later Sir James, became the Commissioner of the Irish Coastguard. It is likely that Robert and Lucy’s child was named for him.
Although we now know more of the beginning of the story, we still don’t know the end. Did Robert, Lucy, and James move to Washington or Oregon when BC became a province in 1871? (Many who held republican views did.) Or did Robert fall victim to drowning or disease, before deaths began to be officially registered in 1872, and Lucy remarry? Or did they move on to another frontier, further north? Possibly. Because he lived in an isolated area, during a time when there were few public records and no local newspaper (the Free Press was not published until 1874), we might never know.
But…. we might. If you read this, and can provide more information, the Gabriola Museum and Nicholas d’Ombrain of New Brunswick would very much like to hear from you. You can send an email to history @ gabriolamuseum.org