Okanagan historical past: Lucy Freeman’s Okanagan journey, half 1 | Life
This series of three articles is dedicated to my mother Wilma Doreen (nee Clement) Hayes, who was rightly proud of her Okanagan
Pioneer roots. Mom took a special interest in the life of her maternal grandmother, Lucy (nee Freeman) Whelan (1852-1911).
On page 54 of The 20th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society (1956), Nellie Florence Bell (nee Whelan) briefly recounted the details of her mother’s epic journey from England to British Columbia:
“In 1882 my father (George Whelan) decided to get married and sent his fiancée, Miss Lucy Freeman, to England to come and see him (in Ellison, BC). She sailed from Liverpool via Cape Horn to Victoria. From there she took the boat to Yale, then the stagecoach to Cache Creek. Here she switched to the Kamloops stage, which took her to the Spallumcheen Valley, where she stayed at the Fulton Farm. My father met them and they were married by the justice of the peace …
Aunt Nellie provided an overview of the journey her mother (my great-grandmother), Lucy Freeman, made in 1882 from her relatively comfortable home in southern England to the wilderness of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Nellie’s description is the “naked” version of her mother’s trip; It is time to “complete” the story.
Lucy Freeman was born on January 2, 1852 (some records show her date of birth as January 1) in Great Chesterford, Essex, England, the second of 10 children – only four of whom reached adulthood – to chimney sweep Samuel Freeman (1825) -1904) and Lydia Purkiss (1827-1867).
When Lucy was born, Great Chesterford was an old village and
former market town, had about 1,000 inhabitants.
Lucy was 15 years old when her mother died of tuberculosis. The following year, 1868, Samuel Freeman married Sarah Bird (1840-1905) and they had seven other children. Lucy and her stepmother and her younger half-siblings, who were born between 1869 and 1885, were not close, their youngest half-sister (Edith) was born three years after Lucy left England.
Lucy left home in 1866 when she was 14 and found work as a domestic servant with local families and later in a London residence where she worked as a cook. She learned this craft well and passed her cooking and baking skills on to her daughters Nellie, Margaret, Laura and Minnie.
Lucy met Florence “Nellie” Whelan (1861-1905) while working “on duty”. Nellie told Lucy about her older unmarried brother, George Whelan (1844-1927), a rancher and farmer in the distant Okanagan Valley. Lucy and George began to correspond. He then mailed her a proposal and asked Lucy to come to British Columbia to be his wife.
A year before Lucy Freeman came to Canada, she was erroneously listed in the 1881 English Census (Barnet, Hertfordshire) as “Sarah Freeman,” general domestic servant to George Whelan’s widowed mother Sarah, his younger sister Mary Ann and her husband John D. visited .Patch.
In the spring of 1882, Lucy Freeman – 30 years old, unmarried and with few reasons to stay in England – accepted George Whelan’s proposal, boarded a steamer in Liverpool and embarked on the long voyage to her new home in western Canada.
Little is known about Lucy’s sea
Travel. Extensive research did not reveal the name of the steamer on which she sailed. The journey from England to western North America usually took about four months, so Lucy probably said goodbye to her family in May 1882, having settled in the Okanagan in late September.
Lucy traveled on the tween deck – cramped common areas below deck – where the passengers lived, prepared their food, and ate and slept. As a single woman, Lucy did better than many of her fellow travelers because she had more space and privacy. The Victorian customs of female decency certainly benefited Lucy on her four-month voyage at sea.
A story passed down through the Whelan family says that Lucy’s father warned them not to speak to anyone on board the ship except the one
Captain. If Lucy took her father’s advice, it must have been a lonely one
traveling, spending her days alone on the tween deck, or walking on deck wondering what lies ahead of her in British Columbia.
The ocean liner made its way west across the Atlantic and south to the tip of South America, where it circled the Cape of Good Hope, left the stormy Atlantic behind and entered the calmer Pacific. Lucy and the ship of her fellow travelers then followed the west coast of South America, possibly stopping in Valparaiso, Chile, to pick up coal for the final leg of the voyage.
Further north, the steamer reached San Francisco, where many of the passengers disembarked and the rest stayed on board for their ship’s final destination, Victoria.
The 1881 Canadian census recorded Victoria’s population of 7,295. Lucy arrived in mid-September 1882 after a month-long sea voyage.
Victoria was and is very British in her looks and feel, so Lucy may have felt more comfortable regaining her country legs in a more “familiar” setting.
Lucy’s long journey continues in next week’s article as she takes a boat to mainland British Columbia and travels up the dangerous Fraser Canyon stretch of Cariboo Road. In Cache Creek, she makes her way to North Okanagan, where she meets her fiancé, the rancher George Whelan.
This article is part of a series submitted by the Kelowna Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society. For more information, welcome to PO Box 22105, Capri PO, Kelowna, BC, V1Y 9N9.