/Descendants from the Nine Ships: the search for Peter Robinson settlers
From left, Janice Stange, Janet Hamilton, Barbara Cain, Margo Phillips, and Judy Cameron have spearheaded the collaboration with the Nine Ships project and the search for Peter Robinson settlers in Trent Lakes, Haliburton County, and beyond. /THOMAS SMITH Staff

Descendants from the Nine Ships: the search for Peter Robinson settlers

By Thomas Smith

“My husband has ancestors who came over. Our farm that we live on, the farmhouse was built by Michael Cain who was five years old when he came over with the Peter Robinson settlers and it is still used today. It wasn’t in our family until eight years ago,” said Barbara Cain, president of the Greater Harvey Historical Society.

“He went over and made arrangements in England to transport just over 2,000 settlers,” said Cain. Age and able-bodiedness were required to receive land in Canada. Over 250,000 Irish settlers applied, says Cain. These settlers were given land with a shanty built for them and provided with flour, sugar, kitchen supplies and animals to start them off on the land.

“Most of them were all peasants. They lived on very small lots of land and they had to turn over half their gardens to whoever was in charge of the land. In my husband’s family’s case, it was Lord Kingston who signed off for a lot of the settlers to come. They settled all over. Many came up this way. After they had settled in Douro offered lots up here, like 100 acre lots. So a lot of them came up with the idea that they could farm until they found out it was rock country. They took other jobs but they had gardens and a cow and things like that,” said Cain.

“Some moved up as far as Haliburton. That is who we are looking for, people that know if their ancestors were Peter Robinson settlers,” said Cain “And some of their family trees too. Everything that’s going on will be big in 2025. That is the actual 200th anniversary.”

There were nine ships that came to Canada. The names of these ships included Albion, Amity, Brunswick, Elizabeth, Fortitude, John Barry, Regulus, Resolution, and Star. Peter Robinson was a Canadian politician responsible for the immigration of thousands of Irish settlers to Canada in the 1800s. Initially called Scott’s Plains, Peterborough is named after him.

Peterborough, Downieville, Douro, and locations in County Cork, Ireland are a small selection of places with plans to celebrate the arrival of Irish settlers to Canada in 1825.

“We are reaching northward because out of all the historical societies, we are the ones that are closest to Minden,” said Cain. “That’s why we want the information. We know they’re out there, we just need to find them.”

“There will be people coming from the U.S., out west, all over. People are getting very excited. A lot of them that know their family history are getting very excited. For the 150th anniversary, one of the fellows built a shanty.”

The Greater Harvey Historical Society (soon to be called the Trent Lakes Historical Society) is searching for descendants of Peter Robinson settlers in connection with the Kawartha Ancestral Association (KARA) and other efforts in Peterborough. The Greater Harvey Historical Society will also have a booth at the Kinmount Fair and have a book for people to provide contact info to give them information.

“It was a mass exodus of Irish peasants. These are people with a whole bunch of children who were starving to death. Peter Robinson saw this and got permission from the government to offer them land. It was a massive amount of people that came over at one time,” said Cain.

The landscape was not like the Trent Lakes and Haliburton County area that we know of today. Typically, the families had more than ten children, said Cain. “That is a lot of Irish descendants in the area.”

“I don’t think a lot of people understand how poor these people were. How they suffered. Look where you are now, it is because of them,” said Cain.

“Everybody knows that people come from immigration, that is what our society is primarily built on. It is a unique, large group that came,” said Janice Stange.

“We will try and record any and every piece of information we get,” said Cain. The historical society will also assist people searching their genealogy in the area.

“We are very lucky that we are supported by the Trent Lakes municipality,” said Cain. “They give us these two rooms, give us money every year to operate, not all historical societies have that.”

2024 is the 40th anniversary of the Greater Harvey Historical Society. With early beginnings in a garage, the Buckhorn Historical Society changed its name to include Buckhorn’s surrounding areas. There are intentions to change the name again to identify their organization with Trent Lakes. The historical society is entirely volunteer run and the public is encouraged to volunteer or join as a member.

It could be estimated that there are over 100,00 descendants of the settlers that arrived on the nine ships from Ireland. In an effort to maintain and celebrate Irish heritage, the Greater Harvey Historical Society encourages anyone that may have information or stories they would like to share, to contact them.