Recently I’ve been transcribing recordings of presentations given at Nanaimo Historical Society meetings during the 1960s and 70s. The one I’m working on now is an address by Patricia M. Johnson from 1968. The topic of Johnson’s presentation was Dr. Klein Grant, a pioneer doctor in Nanaimo during the city’s early days.
Johnson originally became interested in Grant after encountering his headstone in the pioneer cemetery at 10 Wallace Street at the corner of Wallace and Comox Road in downtown Nanaimo. This cemetery, Nanaimo’s original, is the third oldest in British Columbia after Fort Langley and Victoria. It was used up until 1895, and although it’s hard to think of it that way now, it was most likely considered outside the downtown core when it was established.
One hundred years after its first known burial in 1853, the cemetery had fallen into quite a state of disrepair, with overgrown grass and blackberry brambles, and damaged monuments and markers. The newly formed Nanaimo Branch of the British Columbia Historical Association1 was deeply concerned about the state of the cemetery. In 1953, the group, including Johnson, made a record of all the stones still standing and a sketch of their original positions.2
In 1958, as their B.C. Centennial Project, the Hub City Kiwanis Club cleared the site, grass was planted, and with the help of the Historical Society members, the remaining monuments were placed in a curved stone wall. By 1960, the project was completed and the site was officially converted into a memorial park by the municipality. Dr. Grant’s monument was one of the markers placed in the wall.
Patricia Johnson was curious about this little known Nanaimo pioneer. At the time of her visits to the cemetery, she could still read the inscription (today it’s very difficult to make out):
Here rest the body
KLEIN GRANT, M.D.
Who died May 27, 1873
Aged 68 Years
A learned man
A kind physician
A courteous gentleman
Johnson was intrigued and she wanted to know more. Who was this man with the marble headstone with such a beautiful epitaph?
So she conducted research and put together an interesting report on Dr. Grant. In brief: she found that before coming to Nanaimo he had been a prominent physician in England, with a home and office in Bedford Square, and an important position at the Aldersgate School of Medicine.
During her search Johnson came across the rumour that Grant had been the editor of The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. With the assistance of the journal’s staff, she found this to be untrue, but she was very curious about the fact that Grant had apparently lived on the same street as the man who was the editor.3 Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet, did indeed live at #35 of Bedford Square. Johnson speculated that the two men, being from the same profession, must have known each other, and wondered if Grant had in fact been a contributor to The Lancet.
In 1968 it was probably nearly impossible for Johnson to determine if Grant was a contributor to The Lancet without a serious amount of effort, possibly even a trip to the UK. But 50 years later, I can easily confirm that Dr. Klein Grant did publish at least two articles in The Lancet, just as she had suspected:
“Subscription for the widow and children of the late Dr. Ryan” was published on March 20, 1841 (Volume 35, Issue 916, page 903), and “The North London Medical and Surgical Institution at Islington” was published on May 21, 1851 (Volume 73, Issue 1864, page 522).4
In addition to these articles, Grant also published some longer material: in 1839, he produced a revised, corrected, and enlarged seventh edition of Lexicon medium ; or Medical dictionary. This was described on the title page as “containing an explanation of the terms in anatomy, human and comparative, botany, chemistry, materia medica, midwifery, pharmacy, physiology, practice of physic, surgery, and the various branches of natural philosophy connected with medicine,” and would most likely be the “medical treatise, for family use, which had an immense sale” that Johnson referred to in her presentation. On the title page of this substantial eight volume set, Dr. Grant is listed as “late senior physician to the Royal General Dispensary and lecturer on the practice of physic at the Aldersgate School of Medicine, extraordinary member, and former president of the Hunterian Society of Edinburgh.” Additionally, in 1842, he edited Memoir of the late James Hope, M.D., physician to St. George’s Hospital with historian Anne Fulton Hope (the subject’s wife).
Patricia Johnson also apparently found evidence that Dr. Grant had at one time had some poetry published (she doesn’t give any details). The library worker in me knows that this will be nearly impossible to find any more information about, primarily because of the typically poor indexing of poetry anthologies. Even without proof of his more literary pursuits, it is clear that Dr. Grant was a highly learned man, respected, and well published while he was in England.
He travelled to Vancouver Island in 1862, acting as the ship’s doctor on the ill fated, Rosedale, which ended up running aground on Race Rocks, resulting in the doctor losing everything but the clothes on his back.5 He then came to Nanaimo for a job as the colliery doctor for the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company, replacing the community’s first physician, Dr. Benson. But Grant’s life in Nanaimo ended up troubled with drink; he died in 1873, and in the words of Canon John Booth Good, who served at the Anglican Church in Nanaimo until 1866, Grant was “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”6
This is actually a line of Sir Walter Scott’s, from his 1805 narrative poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel: Canto VI”:
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.7
In her presentation Patricia Johnson reads another excerpt from Canon Good’s journal which suggests Good knew more about the story behind Dr. Grant’s immigration to Canada: “He lost his standing, and the confidence of the public, compelling him to give up wife, home, and country, and flee away to where he was not known.” Was Canon Good simply using the “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung” line from Scott’s poem because he felt the words fit Dr.Grant’s sad end as an alcoholic in Nanaimo? Or perhaps he was making a larger comment on Grant’s exit from England after the loss of his “fair renown” – the loss of his reputation.
A very curious thing about Dr. Klein Grant is that he has another tombstone. In the graveyard of St. John the Baptist Church in Hope Bagot, Shropshire, England, his name is listed on a family stone along with Anne Morgan, who was the daughter of a former rector of that parish. The epitaph reads:
In Loving Memory of
KLEIN GRANT M.D.
who died at NANAIMO
27th May 1873, Aged 68 years
Also of ANNE MORGAN, his wife
Eldest daughter of the late
Rev. DAVID JONES
Rector of this parish
Died 14th May 1891, Aged 75 years
“In Christ shall all be made alive”
1 Cor. 15. 22
Very interesting! So Dr. Grant did leave a wife behind in England when he set out for Canada. Her parents, the Reverend David Jones and Joan Elizabeth Jones, are also buried in the same graveyard, and according to the inscription on their grave marker, Rev. Jones had been the rector of the parish for 28 years: from 1840 until his death in 1868. It is not surprising that with such a long family connection to the church at Hope Bagot that the graveyard there was Anne’s final resting place, but why didn’t she go to Canada with her husband?
When he left for Canada in 1862, Grant was about 56 years old; Anne was about 45, certainly old enough to make a contemplated decision. Was his drinking the issue that tore them apart? Or did his addiction only begin once he was alone in North America? Was the separation in fact related to a professional mishap? Did they have children? Did Anne place the tombstone in her home parish’s graveyard after she received word that her estranged husband had died in Canada, with her own name to be added later? Just like Patricia Johnson in 1968, I feel like there are so many unanswered questions!
But one thing is clear, even if Canon Good felt that Dr. Klein Grant was “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung”, this wasn’t actually true. Someone cared enough to purchase the lovely marble headstone in Nanaimo, as well as a second headstone in Hope Bagot…not bad for a guy who was apparently professionally ostracized, was estranged from his wife, and who drank himself to death.
1. The “Nanaimo Branch of the British Columbia Historical Association” is now known as the Nanaimo Historical Society, with the British Columbia Historical Association now called the British Columbia Historical Federation.
2. When introducing Patricia Johnson for her November 19, 1968 address, William Barraclough refers to a booklet that was printed with an inventory of the tombstones at the time of the restoration work.
3. Johnson’s research led her to information provided from a Miss Eleanor Grant, an assistant editor at The Lancet. Miss Grant researched Dr. Klein Grant (no relation) in British medical directories and found him listed in 1854 as living at #49 Upper Gower Street, Bedford Square, which she said was just two houses away from the first editor of The Lancet. It’s well documented that Thomas Wakley, the founder of The Lancet lived at #35 Bedford Square. A look at the Internet Archive’s full text version of the British Medical Directory for England, Scotland and Wales, 1853 also lists Grant at #49. The two men therefore lived reasonably close, certainly in the same neighbourhood, but they were not “just two houses away.”
4. Using the advanced search feature on The Lancet‘s website, and searching for Klein Grant in the Author field returns the two articles.
5. For additional details on the Rosedale wreck see: (1862, December 13). Marine disaster. The Daily British Colonist, p.3. Retrieved from http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist18621213uvic/18621213
6. Excerpt read from Canon John Booth Good’s journal by Patricia Johnson as part of her presentation to the Nanaimo Historical Society on November 19, 1968. Audio recording and transcript available in VIU Library’s VIUSpace at: https://viurrspace.ca/handle/10613/218
7. Scott, Walter. (1805). The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Poet’s Corner. Retrieved on 26 March 2018 from http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/canto06.html
Great article Dalys! I am very interested in Nanaimo’s medical history (or the history of medical practice in Nanaimo) and think this fascinating chapter in that history. I have a million questions about this guy 🙂
Looking forward to reading more of your posts – and I hope I run into you some day at the archives.
Quality writing! Your article should be published in a historical journal. I particularly enjoyed your high impact ending. You left the reader wanting more. Thank you for sharing your research.