Brehm de Gruchy

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'Brehm de Gruchy'

Perce drying.jpg

Cod processing in Gaspe

Abraham Walter de Gruchy, known as 'Brehm' left Jersey in 1877 at the age of 14 to work in the cod industry in Canada. This article by Alan and Dorothy ==Family== Gregory was first published in the journal of the Channel Island Family History Society

Abraham Walter de Gruchy (1863-1940), familiarly known as Brehm, was born in St Helier, Jersey. Brehm's father, Abraham de Gruchy (1827-1877), was captain of several sailing ships based in St Helier. He was born in Trinity, probably at Mont Billot farm. He grew up on that farm and went to school in Trinity.

He was 11 years old when his father, Jean, died in 1838. The widowed Betty Pallot and her eight children remained at Mont Billot. In 1851 Abraham, then an unmarried carpenter, was still living with his widowed mother. The following year at age 24, he signed on as a seaman with local ship owners and ten years later he was a master mariner, captain and owner of the brig "Canada" [1]

Brehm de Gruchy

Brehm's mother, Susan Harriet Hands, was baptised on 15 August 1838 in St Helier and married Captain Abraham de Gruchy on 26 March 1861. Susan's father, Edward Hands, is believed to have been an English sea captain. No trace of the Hands family has been found in Jersey between Susan's baptism in St Helier and her marriage.

After the marriage in Trinity, Abraham returned to the sea and Susan may have remained in Trinity, living the lonely life that sailors' wives know so well. By 1863 the couple lived in a dark grey row of two-storey houses at 21-23 Devonshire Place, St Helier.

The town had grown rapidly in previous decades while the cod fishing industry's demands had doubled the number of Jersey ships sailing from the island.

It was in St Helier that the first child of Susan and Abraham was born on 3 March 1863 and he was named Abraham Walter, though always called Brehm by the family. A sterling silver serving spoon engraved with his initials and year of birth is still in the family. Hallmarks on this spoon reveal that it was made in London in 1862 and that it was sold by John Le Gallais of Brook Street, St Helier. A sister for Brehm, Eliza Susan, was born in St Helier two years later.

Over the next few years the family moved to Trinity, where another son, Alfred Charles, was born on 16 December 1869. Over those early years, the children's father was Captain of the PRC, a 111-ton brig, and then of the Christopher Columbus, a 253-ton barque. Both ships sailed to the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries for Charles Robin and Company, of St Helier.

Father drowns

On 30 August 1877 Brehm's father was drowned in the wreck of the Robin ship George Peabody in a storm off Arichat, Nova Scotia. Brehm was fourteen at the time and had emigrated to Canada earlier in that year. It seems unlikely that Brehm had been aboard his father's ship at the time because there is no history of his surviving the tragedy.

As a widow, Susan would have received an annual pension of about 300 pounds from the Jersey Merchant Seaman's Benefit Society. However, she would have had to depend on other members of the family to help support her children in the manner to which they were accustomed.

She and her two younger children may have lived for a while at the de Gruchy homestead in Trinity. Sometime before 1880 Susan moved her family to the parish of St Peter and there became reacquainted with Charles Le Boutillier.

When she first knew him, Charles had been a bachelor shoemaker living next door to her family in Trinity; now he was a farmer. On 4 July 1880, Susan and Charles were married in the parish church at Trinity and moved to St Helier with her two remaining children, Eliza and Charles.

After the death of his father and the remarriage of his mother, Brehm continued to work as a seaman. He is not recorded in the 1881 census in Jersey and he has not been located in Canadian records for that year. He probably served as a seaman on the Robin ships that supplied the numerous fishing stations and summer outposts around the Gulf of St Lawrence.

These same vessels picked up fish from the company's fishing stations along the North Shore, Cape Breton, Gaspe and the coast of New Brunswick. Brehm may also have been a clerk at some of those stations as he is known to have been later.

Undoubtedly he was aware of the turmoil caused by the bank failures in Jersey in 1886, the related bankruptcy of Charles Robin and Company and its subsequent merger with the Collas Company.


In 1888, Brehm's signature appears on most letters from the station at Cheticamp on Cape Breton though not in 1889. In the fall of that year, he was working in Caraquet, NB, from which he brought a raft of logs across the Bay of Chaleur by tugboat to Paspebiac, QC, which was the regional headquarters of the Robin company.

He did not remain in Caraquet, however. During the winter of 1889-90 he was moved back to Cheticamp to help in repricing all the goods in the company stores. At that time, company agents received a salary of 80 pounds per year, plus 10 pounds more for wintering over.

Cheticamp, in the 1890s, was the main centre of fishing activities for Charles Robin, Collas and Company on the eastern side of the Gulf of St Lawrence. It was a fishing village with about 2,000 inhabitants, about a quarter of whom were summer fishermen working the prolific inshore fishing grounds that occur within 35 kilometres of the harbour.

The fishermen and their families farmed the coastal plain, which was suitable for agriculture, especially when fertilised with seaweed. The village was dominated by the premises of the Robin company at Eastern Harbour on the north and the Roman Catholic Church to the south.

In 1763, the original company had first located at La Pointe on the southern tip of what is now Cheticamp Island. The island was cut from a peninsula when the federal government dredged the harbour and constructed a quay and lighthouses in the late 1880s. Shortly thereafter, the Robin Collas station moved to Eastern Harbour on the mainland.

Brehm attended the Old Jersey Church (St Paul's Anglican) along the coast at Point Cross. The frame church and steeple were built about 1884 with funds raised in Jersey for the support of Jerseymen in Canada. There were major cultural and social differences between the Acadians with families and the Jerseymen who were single.

The two groups worked well together though they did not mix after work, in part because the Jersey people were the transient managers who rarely developed a commitment to the community. Brehm, however, would prove to be an exception.

Visit to Jersey

In the spring of 1891 he made what seems to have been his last visit to Jersey. When the census was taken there, he was visiting his married sister and her husband, Eliza and Robert Stone, in St Helier.

While the Gulf fishing industry had begun a steady decline, farming in Jersey was prospering with the export of Jersey cows and potatoes. However, marine industries were declining, the population was decreasing and most Jersey merchants were directing investment to businesses other than fishing.

Perhaps Brehm had come back to Jersey just to see for himself. He returned to Charles Robin, Collas and Company and the Gulf of St Lawrence, where he was stationed as book-keeper in Arichat on the south coast of Cape Breton, sharing responsibilities with George Le Brun.

In June 1891, Brehm was temporarily managing fisheries at Caraquet once more, and a month later, he and Mr Le Brun were facing reprimand from George Romeril, their director in Paspebiac, for overspending on repairs to the company house in Arichat.

Mr Romeril reported that they tried "to put the blame on one another" and that "they are equally to blame" as both added items to the contract for repairs.

By December 1900, Brehm de Gruchy was agent in charge at Eastern Harbour and Cheticamp. He continued working through 1902 as a manager for Robin, Collas and Company in Cheticamp.

That year he married Laura Lettie Munro (1881-1947) who had been born on Cape Breton. After their marriage, they lived in the village of Cheticamp, where they raised a daughter, Dorothy, and a son, Reginald. Eventually, Brehm was promoted to manager in Halifax and he remained so when the company was reorganized once more to Robin, Jones and Whitman in 1910.

A decade later, the de Gruchy family moved to Portland, Maine, where Brehm became general manager and later president, of Lord Brothers. They also were fish merchants and customers of Robin, Jones and Whitman.

Following a steep decline in the price of fish, Lord Brothers disappeared in 1925. Brehm retired to the Halifax area with his family where he lived until his death in 1940. Laura lived for another seven years. The male line of this de Gruchy family ended with their son Reg, as Brehm and Laura had no male grandchildren.

Family tree


Brehm's family tree

Notes and references

  1. Brehm (Abraham) de Gruchy, master mariner, was not however "captain and owner of the brig Canada". The author has confused him with his namesake, Abraham de Gruchy, the merchant and St Helier retailer: see Jersey Shipping Register
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