A Mystery Grave on West Redonda Island, BC

A forgotten gravestone gives us a lonely sense of the transitory nature of life. Quadruple the effect when it’s a headstone lost in a tangle of overgrowth on an uninhabited stretch of the BC coast.

Mike Moore of Misty Isles Adventures (http://www.mistyislesadventures.com/) was–I believe–the first to chance upon a grave for two children just south of Connis Point on West Redonda Island a decade ago. The commercially-made headstone, with its embossed angel says:

Disc Isls Tour '08 178In Loving Memory of
Lucey
Moses 1 year old
Marten 2 years old
They died 1892.

These are unusual names and the date, just one year after federal censuses were conducted in the US and Canada, should have made these people easy to track, but that was not the case. Moses and Marten Lucey’s names weren’t captured in either census. And nor did their parents register either their births or deaths—no matter which way I shifted the spellings of their names. Their family was not included in directories for the Discovery Islands and their father was not on the voter’s lists. The Luceys went to considerable expense to have a gravestone made and shipped up coast, probably transported on the newly established Union Steamship line—but they left no other trace.

There’s an irony here. There are random graves scattered throughout the Discovery Islands. Most are unmarked, their little wooden crosses long gone and the exact locales now unknown. We know about them because descendants still speak of these graves, but at Connis Bay we have a formal headstone with no story.

Digging for the Story of the Lucey Children

Map courtesy Farlyn Campbell of Mothership Adventures, from their annual Discovery Islands tour.

Map courtesy Farlyn Campbell of Mothership Adventures, from their annual Discovery Islands tour. The Lucey grave is marked on the northeast tip of West Redonda Island. Click to enlarge.

The site offers a few clues. This is the only gravel beach for miles around and it has year round streams at each end, so it is (and was) a natural as a camp site. Judging by the debris, there was a logging camp here in the 1930s or later, which is perhaps when a short metal fence was placed around the grave. This spot must have also served as the camp for a short-lived iron mine called Elsie, staked somewhere on the mountainous north end of West Redonda Island in 1892. Mine reports say 626 tons of iron ore was loaded directly onto ships via an overhead chute from the steep face of this island and shipped to Oregon in 1893, but work stopped after this. There was a deep recession at the time and the value of the ore probably didn’t cover the expense of extraction. There’s a good chance Marten’s and Moses’s parents were involved in this mine, given the dates. And it’s likely they had more money than most because a formal headstone was an expense others could not afford. Perhaps Mr. Lucey was an engineer hired by the mine’s owners, the DeWolf brothers of Vancouver.

Lucey, as I discovered, is an uncommon surname that originated in a small county in Ireland. There are only eight people of that name in Canada today so I wrote to all of them. Several responded, including a genealogist in England who got a copy of my letter—but no one could offer any clues. A descendant of a man named Acheson Lucey, a mining engineer who lived out the latter half of his life in BC, wrote to me. Acheson was married in New York State in 1896 and came to BC some time thereafter, where he married for a second time and had a family. If this is our man, he would have had to come to BC before his marriage in New York, with the children of an earlier marriage—which seems unlikely.

And that’s where this unfinished story ends. Maybe someone reading this will have clues or research leads to offer? Dr. Rod Nugent suggested tracing gravestone makers in BC for archival records. Anyone else want to weigh in with ideas?

Responses:

Thank you for your write-up on the grave at Connis Point West Redonda. I can’t help you with any historical background, but when I was young and living in Redonda Bay, we often went there for a picnic and to waterski in the calm bay. The grave was fenced but was always a source of interest, and I, too, wondered about the circumstances. I will be watching, with interest, for any updates! –Evy Mattson Werner

Thanks for this Jeanette, I really enjoyed the story of the gravestone on Redonda Island. –Nicky Good
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A thing I found odd about the tombstone is the lack of exact dates. Did they die at different times or together? If together it suggests an accident, perhaps with somebody to blame, or violence. It is perhaps melodramatic, but violence (abduction perhaps?) the exact date might be unknown. Perhaps there might be something in the newspapers.–Cheers, Tom

Hi Tom:  You raise some interesting questions, like the fact that an exact date is not given. This does seem to suggest the headstone was raised subsequent to their deaths. Or maybe they died within months or weeks of each other, succumbing to the same childhood disease.  That was all too common at the time.  The Manson family of Cortes Island lost four children within weeks, for instance, from diphtheria. Or maybe the children drowned at sea and their bodies weren’t recovered. That would explain the lack of a death certificate because such a record could not be registered without a body. More questions here, and the mystery gets deeper. –Jeanette

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We do remember this little grave well – we visited it with you when we were on the Columbia III some time back. It is a touching and somewhat sad story; I do wish for a good ending!

Please keep us on your Blog list as the reads are super interesting!

Cheers,
Trish