Category: Smithers

Breaking Through My Shearman Brick Wall

In 2014, I wrote about the brick wall surrounding the Irish origins of my great-great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman.1 Thanks to the generosity of a new-found distant cousin, I have now demolished that brick wall, moved the family tree back another six generations and discovered additional Shearman family branches in New Zealand and the United States.

I knew that Martha Shearman was born in Waterford, Ireland, married Charles Francis Smithers there in 1844 and came to Canada three years later.2 Because of Charles’ career in banking, the Smithers family lived for several years in Brooklyn, New York, and I discovered that two of Martha’s brothers and a sister had also immigrated to Brooklyn. I knew nothing, however, about the Shearman family’s roots in Ireland. 

Shearman Esq. in Grange, lower right corner

I posted the article online and eventually Lorraine Elliott, who was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia, came across my blog. She contacted me to tell me that her ancestor Robert Clarke Shearman,3 a New Zealand policeman, was another of Martha’s siblings. The clue that helped convinced her that we were related was a photograph in her great-great-grandfather’s album identified as Maria Boate, Martha’s and Robert’s sister in Brooklyn.  

Some years ago, Lorraine’s research led her to a genealogy of the Shearman family written in 1853 by John Francis Shearman (I’ll refer to him as JFS). He was a cousin of Martha’s and Robert’s, an amateur archaeologist and a Catholic priest. (Some of the Shearmans were Protestants, others converted to Catholicism.) This document is in the archives of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, near Dublin. Lorraine sent me the notes she had on that document, along with some of her own research on the extended Shearman family.   

The JFS genealogy takes the Shearmans back to the mid-17th century when Thomas Shearman (c 1610-1704) came to Ireland from England with Oliver Cromwell’s invasion forces. He then settled in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, in southeast Ireland. Subsequent generations of Shearmans lived in and around Grange, not far from Kilkenny City. 

Lorraine’s notes stated that Martha was one of 13 children, and that their parents were Thomas Shearman (c. 1785-1850) and his wife, Charlotte Bennett Clarke (no dates available).4 Her research suggested that Thomas lived in Dunkitt, Kilkenny, near the city of Waterford, but other sources say that he was from the nearby city of Waterford. Perhaps he lived in Dunkitt in his early life, then moved to the city.

Ruins of Burnchurch, Kilkenny

I recently came across another Shearman genealogy on This 15-page manuscript was written in 1863 by a member of another branch of the family, George Shearman (1818-1908) of Penn Yan, a small town in New York State. It was clearly based on the family history written by JFS 10 years earlier, and it added more detail about George’s line and had less information about mine. It listed Thomas Shearman and named his sons, but only mentioned that he also had five daughters.

All this information comes with a caveat: neither of these documents meets the requirements of genealogical proof standards. The names and dates of birth, marriage and death were probably based on family records and anecdotes and parish records that existed at the time, but today there are no official records in Ireland to back them up. Nevertheless, Shearman family members can be found in various cemeteries, old Irish city directories, newspaper articles, Tithe Applotment Books and indexes of wills. Kilkenny researcher Edward Law found numerous records pertaining to Grange House, home to my Shearman ancestors in County Kilkenny, and the librarian with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House, Kilkenny was extremely helpful in my search for traces of the family.

This article has also been posted on the collaborative blog

Photo Credits: Rothe House; Janice Hamilton


  1. Janice Hamilton, “My Shearman Brick Wall”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 9, 2014,
  2. Janice Hamilton, “Waterford Cathedral: A Tale of Two Weddings”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2016,
  3. Robert S. Hill, “Shearman, Robert Clarke”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Note that this article says Robert’s uncle was William Hobson, first governor of New Zealand; Lorraine has been unable to confirm that. 
  4. Charlotte was the daughter of Waterford pewter manufacturer Charles Clarke and his wife “Miss Bennett, late of Bath.” This maternal line has now come to another brick wall.  
  5. “Genealogy of the Shearmans”, prepared by George Shearman of Penn Yan, New York, c. 1863

Charles Francis Smithers

On May 21, 1887, the day after the president of the Bank of Montreal died following a short illness, the New York Times reported on his death, noting that “the effect on the stock market was naturally to depress Montreal stock, though to a smaller extent than might be expected.”  Charles Francis Smithers, my great-great-grandfather, had been president of the Bank of Montreal for six difficult years and, according to a published history of the bank, was “noted for his devotion to business, his high principles and his brilliant direction of the Bank’s affairs during the trying period that had encompassed the building of the C.P.R.”

C.F. Smithers, 1881

Charles was born in 1822 in Surrey, just across the Thames River from the City of London. He was the youngest son of merchant Henry Keene Smithers (1785-1859) and Charlotte Letitia Pittman (c. 1785-1861). As a young man, Charles moved to Waterford, Ireland, where he met Martha Bagnall Shearman. They were married in 1844. 

He came to Canada in 1847 as the accountant of the Bank of British North America. He served in the Bank of Montreal’s Montreal office for seven years as accountant and sub-manager, he was sent to  be manager of the branch at Brantford, Ont. for two and a half years and was then promoted to the management of the bank in St. John, New Brunswick. But there may be errors in this timeline. His eldest son was born in England in the autumn of 1847, so perhaps Charles preceded his wife to Canada, or perhaps the family crossed the Atlantic in late autumn. The couple’s next child was born in New Brunswick in 1849. 

In 1858, Charles became an inspector and, in 1862, he was appointed joint agent of the bank’s New York Branch. At that time, the bank’s official history says, his “quiet and disarming manner concealed a knowledge of banking equaled perhaps by only one or two other officers of the Bank.”

He left New York abruptly in 1863 to become branch manager of the London and Colonial Bank in Montreal. Three years later, he returned to New York City as a private banker and he rejoined the Bank of Montreal as its New York agent in 1869.  Charles, Martha and their growing family (they eventually had 11 children) lived in Brooklyn, where two of Martha’s brothers and their families lived. 

By the time Charles returned to Montreal as the bank’s general manager in 1879, he had been its senior agent in New York City for 10 years. Some people had criticized the bank for indulging in what they saw as risky speculation in a corrupt market. At the annual general meeting of the Bank of Montreal in 1880, Charles explained the importance of its New York business, noting that all loans had been based on good collateral with ample margins; meanwhile, there was a chronic lack of capital in Canada, and many loans were made simply on the basis of the borrower’s good reputation.

In 1881, Charles was elected president of what was then Canada’s most important bank. Over the next few years he faced two big challenges. The first was to steer the bank’s involvement in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) from Ontario in the east to the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The Bank of Montreal acted as fiscal agent for the railway, and it gave it loans for work in progress.

The C.P.R. project faced some political opposition and hostility from competing railway companies, and Canada’s overall economic situation was not strong at the time. But construction progressed rapidly and the railway needed a lot of cash. In 1882 — before the workers had even reached the mountains or tackled the rock and muskeg of northern Ontario — it cost $5000 a mile for delivered steel rails to Winnipeg. The railway spent some $99 million on construction and equipment, raising funds through a variety of sources, including the sale of stocks, mortgage bonds and land grants, and a $25-million government subsidy. The Bank of Montreal loaned the C.P.R. more than $11 million. 

Charles’ second big challenge was to direct the reorganization of the bank’s pension fund. Prior to 1884, there had been a fund to support widows and orphans of bank employees, but there were no guaranteed pensions for retirees or payments to those who became unable to work through illness. That year, the board of directors and shareholders approved a full pension plan for employees.

In a eulogy for his long-time friend, Rev. Dr. Cornish called Charles “a man of integrity and honour.” Following the funeral at Emmanuel Congregational Church in Montreal, Charles’ body was transported to the train station by horse-drawn carriage, then placed aboard a special train to New York City. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

Charles’ Siblings:

Charles was one of nine children, three of whom died young: Rosa Anne (1811), Henry Keene (1812-1874), Alfred (1814-1874), Francis Pittman (1815), Sophia Anne (1817-1883), George Clayton (1817-1821), John (1821-1893), Charles Francis (1822-1887) and Mary Keene (1827-1859).

Charles’ and Martha’s 11 children:

Charlotte:  b. 1845, Waterford, Ireland; m. Joseph B. Learmont, no children; d.1934, Montreal, QC. 
Charles Henry:  b. 1846, London, England; m. 1. Amaryllis Boerum, three children; 2. Emily Brett, two children; d. 1912, New Hampshire, buried Brooklyn.
Francis Sydney:  b. 1849, New Brunswick or Montreal (probably born in N.B., baptized in Montreal), m. 1. Louisa Bancroft, four children; 2. Mabel Stevens Bouse, two children; d. 1919, New York City.
Martha Dunkin:  b, 1851, Montreal; m. Henry Dawson, no children; d. 1928, Brooklyn N.Y.
Emily:  b. 1854, Brantford, Canada West; m. 1873, George W. Carr, one child; d. 1930, St. Petersburg, Fl. 
John: b. 1856, Brantford, Canada West; m. Kate Brett, no children; d. 1912.
Elizabeth:  b. 1858, Montreal; m. Walter Hemming, two children; d. 1931?, Montreal.
Clara: b. 1860, Montreal; m. Robert Stanley Bagg, three children; d. 1946, Montreal.
George Hampden: b. 1863, New York; m. Frances Cook, two children; d. 1933, Montreal.
Christopher Dunkin: b. 1865, Montreal; m. Mabel Brinkley, three children; d. 1952, Long Island N.Y.
Alfred:  b. 1868 New York City; d. 1890.

These dates have been difficult to find. I started with the incomplete dates given in the privately published Smithers Family Book. In cases where I could not find actual birth and death records, the 1870 U.S. census and the 1861 Canadian census helped. and headstones and records from Green- Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn and Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal helped, and I have my own photos of the Smithers family plot at Green-Wood.

Photo Credit:

C. F. Smithers, Montreal, QC, 1881 Notman & Sandham II-62438.1 © McCord Museum


Merrill Denison, Canada’s First Bank. A History of the Bank of Montreal, volume II. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967.

Elizabeth Marston Smithers. Smithers Family Book, Institute for Publishing Arts, 1985.

“A Montreal Banker Dead” The New York Times, May 21, 1887.

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Henry Keene Smithers, Non-Conformist,” Writing Up The Ancestors, Dec. 1, 2014.