The eldest Irish Gorby, that we know about, is Joseph Gorby. He was born
about 1800 and lived in Clara, Offlay Co, Ireland. He had four sons:
Joseph Gorby Jr. (born 1832) stayed in Ireland. He is the ancestor
of all the Gorbys in Ireland (all Gorbys that we know about).
The Potato Famine
The three Elder sons of old Joseph Gorby emigrated to Canada. They left
Ireland because of the results of the devastating Potato Famine of 1845, '46
and '47. In the years before the famine, the fine physiques of the Irish men
and the beauty of the Irish women were striking. The whole population was
healthy. Their food was plentiful, from gardens, dairies and farms. Families
were large. There were peat fires in every fire place. Every man's door was
open in hospitality. Story-telling, singing and dancing filled the evenings,
when the days work was done. Girls married at sixteen and had new babies every
second year. Then, without warning, on this happy land, famine struck.
In the early spring of 1845, there was no sunshine for two months. The land
became very wet from heavy rains. Gardens were not good. Although the potato
crop produced green leaves and some small potatoes, on being dug up, the crop
became a stinking black mass of corruption. The farmers sold their pigs and
cattle to pay their taxes to the English overlords, and sent the corn and
garden produce to England as previously arranged, when times were good. In
merely physical terms, this was one of the worst disasters ever to happen to a
people in the history of the world . It struck through the very soil of
Ireland itself, as if the motherland has poisoned her children. Death from
starvation was lingering and degrading. It left memories of children dying, or
left crying beside the emaciated bodies of their dead parents. It took the
proud, who could not beg, the generous who shared. It could have been avoided
had Ireland been free to live on the food and taxes sent to England. In the
space of five years, more than a million Irish died of starvation. Irish
emigrants by the thousands sailed for the New World.
Poor and unfortunate as they were, they had come from one of the world's most
beautiful and friendly countries. To exchange this for the uncertainty and
risk that lay ahead of them, was in itself a profound psychological shock. The
ships that carried them to the United States and Canada were small, often
unseaworthy and unsanitary. Our Gorby ancestors sailed from Portstewart, a
northern port of Ireland, where the rocks, like the neighboring Giant Causeway
on the Antrim Coast, are huge polygonal pillars of cooled cracked lava, with
lashing seas around. They would leave beautiful Clara, in the very center of
Ireland, near the Shannon Valley, travel north to Belfast, then up through one
of the most lovely coastal routes in the British Isles to Portstewart by the
sea. Here they would embark on a small ship in the harbor, sail out into the
North Channel, then west around the Malin Head, and straight out into the
northern Atlantic Ocean, for 2500 miles, toward Quebec. How desperate and how
brave they must have been!
They would find the ship on which they embarked disappointingly small --
perhaps only 124 feet long and 25 feet wide. Besides the Captain and Crew of
six, there might be seventy passengers, all emigrants to Canada. They were
used to solid land, awkward on a moving ship. The sea under them was moving up
and down as a wave rose, as a wave fell. The decks sloped lower to the rail,
higher in midship. Strong arms and backs were of little use on a ship. Each
passenger was allowed to bring seven pounds of food, mostly oatmeal for making
porridge, which was cooked on deck on wooden, brick-lined cases to hold coals.
some time in each day, one would try to have a bowl of half-cooked porridge,
and something baked from home - a cookie or bannock. Sleeping arrangements
were down in the hold. Bunks along the wall for single men. Large pieces of
canvas or blankets hung up to separate beds in the center with rough boards to
help. Straw was for mattresses on the wooden beds and chests. Each family has
a chest which held clothes, bedding, pots, and ax - only the necessities. Each
family had one bed. Food basket and coats were on the bed. The air in the hold
would be foul; but up on deck there would be fresh winds, storms of rain, lack
of wind, ice bergs to fear, sea sickness. Those who died were buried at sea.
The first emigrant ship to Canada arrived at Quebec on April 24, 1846. The
emigrants were reported to be poor. Lord Sydenham brought 600 on ships from
Limerick, at his own expense. Several other landowners sent tenants at their
own expense, 164 were sent by Lord Wyndham form Clare. By August of 1846, it
became evident that a second potato crop had failed and this time. completely.
Snow had fallen on Ireland. Public works failed. Emigration continued all
winter, and if the St. Lawrence were frozen over, the people were taken to the
On Grosse Island, where a Celtic Cross of granite rises 120 feet above the St.
Lawrence, where emigrants were dumped. this inscription is carved into one
side: "On this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,290 persons, who,
fleeing from pestilence and famine in Ireland, in 1847, found in America, but
a grave." On another side of this cross is inscribed: "Sacred to the memory of
thousands of Irish people who suffered hunger and exile in 1847 and 1848, and
who, stricken with fever, ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage."
A New Land
Fortunately for us, the Gorby ancestors made it to Canada in good health.
There is no record of the arriving ships at this time. According to my Uncle
John Gorby, the three brothers who came to Canada at this time were: William
Gorby, b. 1820, with his wife Alice Jordan Gorby, and their little son Thomas
b. 1844 in Clara, in the county of Offaly (at that time called Westneath, as
the county boarders were often changed at the whim of the de Lacys); Edward
Gorby, unmarried, and Thomas Gorby. Uncle John corresponded with his cousin,
Emily Gorby Messer, and together, by comparing names of relatives, and places
in Ireland, they discovered that they were of the same family. After the
deaths of Emily and my Uncle John, both Cecil Gorby and I have corresponded
with the daughter Margaret Messer, who was head of the Art Dept. in the
University at Regina, and who regularly visited her cousins in Ireland. Just
before she and I had planned to meet in 1987, she had a severe stroke, was
hospitalized in Regina, and died a year later. Her mother, Emily, remembered
that three sons of old Joseph Gorby emigrated to Canada: William (b. 1820) and
Edward we have a record of, but of the third brother we do not.
So we know that then their ship reached Quebec, William, and his wife and
child, and his brother Edward disembarked. The men were the elder sons of
Joseph Gorby in Ireland, where the family had a pew in the Ardnurcher Church
in Clara. They were respectable and hard working farm people. After a portage
at the Lachine rapids, they traveled in a large, low, flat-bottomed boat with
a wide flat sail, used on the St. Lawrence at the time. It took them up stream
as far as Montreal. Disembarking once more, they changed to a long, light
craft; a long, narrow canoe, with a crew of experienced oars men, paddling
them swiftly up the still, dark waters of the Ottawa river, lined with deep
Near the shore, tall trees shaded them from sun, as the voyagers paddled in a
north-westerly direction up the Ottawa, where it flowed darkly through forests
where trees grew close together. The paddles flipped in rhythm, causing little
waves beside the canoe. Here and there between the dark forests, were glimpses
of a pier and a tiny settlement, or the isolated farm of a settler who had cut
down enormous trees to build a cabin and barn, make a clearing to grow
potatoes or grain. The banks on their right belonged to the French Canadians,
and the land called "Lower Canada," where French was spoken. Our ancestors
were headed for a place on the left bank where English was spoken. This was
Several miles past the settlement of Ottawa, they came to what is now Renfew
County, on the left bank. Here the two Gorby brothers each took a homestead. A
"homestead" was a certain acreage of land, given free, with the understanding
that the homesteader would clear the forest, build cabin and barn, break the
land for a farm, within a certain time, and eventually become the owner of
schools and bridges. They would use the ax, the dishes and clothing they had
brought with them. Homesteaders helped each other to get started. Oxen, sheep,
a horse, a cow, chickens, these would come as soon as they could afford them.
Neighbors would show them how to make soap, card wool, give them seed
potatoes, share knowledge and help each other. The pioneers were happy, all
working hard, and building a new country. They must buy a plow, one large
blade, with two handles to be held by the farmer, and a scythe, to cut the
grain. No news from home in Ireland -- they were in the New World now, and on
their own. The spirit of the Pioneers would support them.
Edward Gorby married soon after coming to Canada. His son, John Gorby was born
in Renfew County in 1848. This John Gorby married Mary Ann Moffatt in 1873.
There children were:
Annie Elizabeth Gorby, born in Renfew County 1874
William Herbert Gorby, born in Hensall, Ontario 1877
Errick Llewellyn Gorby, born in Hensall, Ontario 1881
Ellen May Gorby, born in Hensall, Ontario 1884
John David Gorby, born in Hensall, Ontario 1886
John Gorby, his wife and family left Ontario after the Railroad to Manitoba
was completed. They lived in McTavish, a small community a few miles south of
Winnipeg, Manitoba. John was still there in 1928, according to my Uncle John
Gorby. His two sons, William Herbert and Errick Llewellyn, formed the "Gorby
Elevator Company" in Winnipeg. This company installed elevators in apartment
buildings in Winnipeg and later in Vancouver, B.C. On retirement, they sold
their business for a considerable amount. Errick outlived his brother William.
He retired to Victoria with his second wife, Olive, who had been his
housekeeper. On his death, she inherited his fortune.
Of the third brother, Thomas Gorby, we have no knowledge. He did not settle in
Renfew County, as William and Edward did.
As for the eldest brother, William (b. 1820) and his wife Alice (Jordan)
Gorby, records tell us that their homestead was at Cobden, in Renfew County.
Their small son, Thomas (born in Clara in 1844) soon had brothers and sisters
born in Canada. Their family was:
a daughter whose name I do not know.
These children attended the nearest one-room school, helped on the farm, and
learned many skills from their parents, before and after school. Carpenter
work, care of animals, milking cows, sheering sheep, carding wool, baking
bread, spinning, gardening, plowing to name a few. Besides becoming a farmer,
Thomas, when grown, was an Agent for Branson and Weston. He was foreman in one
of the lumber camps operated by Bronson and Weston, at the mouth of the
Schuyan River. He had charge of the depot. He checked in supplies brought to
the Schuyan by steamer, up the Ottawa in summer, and by teams in the winter,
and checked them out again to the logging camps. and to the Company farms
about ten miles up the Schuyan River, When his father William died, Thomas
returned to the charge of the Cobden farm. His mother, Alice, lived there too,
long after her husbands death. At the age of 22, in 1866, Thomas married Mary
Jane Shaw in Castleford, Renfew County, in Upper Canada.
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