Susannah Gagen’s forgotten grave

Dark, damp late November in Vancouver, 1890 as thirty-two year old Susannah Fuller Pinnicks Gagen was buried at Mountain View Cemetery. Mother to four children, she had travelled across the Atlantic by steamship three times, lived in rough settlements in Manitoba and Ontario, and travelled by the transcontinental railway to the new city of Vancouver. And then her heart gave out. It’s only because the family saved her burial permit for over one hundred years that I first learned about Susannah and decided to try to reconstruct her life.

“Grandma Gilman” (born Lottie Gagen) and my great-grandma Ethel. When Lottie was the same age as Ethel, her mother Susannah Gagen had just died.

Susannah (also known as Susan) Fuller Pinnicks was born on November 27 1858 in Enfield Highway, a rural hamlet north of London. Her family appears to have been living in the Enfield area for some time. Her father John Pinnicks was born in Forty Hill, Enfield in 1821; her mother Elizabeth Fuller was born in nearby Edmonton around 1830. The name is written as Pinnick and Pinnicks — unclear which, if either, is the “official” version.

Enfield had been forested enclosures in the medieval era. John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) notes: “… in the time of Charles I., -its timber cut down, its deer destroyed, its land parcelled out into small farms; and after the Restoration it was once more enforested, -was reenclosed, replanted, and restocked with deer; but in 1779, by act of parliament, it was again disforested, and its land laid out for cultivation.” (A Vision of Britain Through Time, History of Enfield in Middlesex,, accessed March 6 2020) This map shows Enfield and Edmonton area circa 1805, but it was not much changed by the time Susannah Pinnicks was born.

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Detail from Ordnance Survey First Series Map, 1805, from A Vision of Britain Through Time.

Yet, there were changes coming to the Enfield area. The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) notes “The government factory of small arms at Enfield Lock is partly in the parish [the famed Enfield Rifle]; and an extension of its works was the cause of the increase of population between 1851 and 1861.” The 1861 England census shows that the Pinnicks family were still involved in an agricultural landscape. John Pinnicks was an agricultural labourer and 13 year old William was a plough boy. There was a farm labourer boarding with them. Yet, the 1871 England Census shows Benjamin J Pinnicks, 21, working as a “beamer” (someone who winds the warp on the roller before putting it on the loom in the textile industry,, accessed March 6 2020). Elizabeth E Pinnicks, 19, was a sacking weaver and Thomas, 16, was a packer. It looks as if there was a sacking factory in the area.

In the 1871 England Census, Susannah was 12 years old and a scholar. She would soon finish her education, and given the occupations of her siblings, probably followed them into some kind of semi-industrial work. Note though, that her brother Benjamin went back into agricultural work — the 1891, 1901, 1911 censuses show him working as an agricultural / farm labourer in the Enfield area. This suggests that the Pinnicks family, who’d been living in Enfield area since the early 1800s were there at least until the early 1900s. But not Susannah.

On August 1 1880 at the Parish Church of West Hackney (St James), Susannah Fuller Pinnick (as it is written in the record) married George Michael Gagen. Why was she now in West Hackney? I had first assumed that the Pinnicks family had left Enfield, but given Benjamin Pinnicks location in Enfield Highway for over 30 years, I wondered if Susannah had left the area to work in “service”? Or…perhaps it was just a matter of convenience to marry at this particular church, because it was connected to her her new husband, who was a building carpenter and joiner (perhaps he was working, living there?)

George Gagen was born in 1859 in Tottenham, just south of Enfield. George’s father John Bradshaw Gagen born in Terrington St Michael, a village in the “Wash”, just west of King’s Lynn, Norfolk. John Bradshaw Gagen was a carpenter and joiner who had apprenticed in Norfolk, then moved south for work. George’s mother Frances Crisp was born in the next village, Clenchwarton, Norfolk. In 1850, John and Frances married in Haggerston, London (an industrial area near Shoreditch) but by 1857 were living in Tottenham.

Tottenham was probably a good place for a carpenter like John Bradshaw Gagen to base himself. In the mid 1800s, the population had dramatically increased. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales noted “Pop. in 1851, 9,120; in 1861, 13,240.” (source A Vision of Britain Through Time, A History of Tottenham, accessed March 6 2020). The England Censuses show that the Gagens were living in mid-Victorian brick terraces (Prospect Place in 1861, Wiggin Terrace in 1871). I had wondered if the Gagens had moved to West Hackney (where George was married) but found they were still in Tottenham in 1881, so I assume that George had left home for building construction work. The Parish Church of West Hackney where he was married was right on the Stoke Newington Road, in an area that was rapidly growing in the late 1800s.

This tattered marriage certificate (below) ended up with one of Lottie’s grandchildren. It’s not clear to me whether this is an original or a copy. When I look closely at the style of writing, it seems to be all of one hand. Possibly the copy was picked up at a London records office by Lottie when she returned for a visit in the 1950s? Note the witness Jane Gagen. This was George’s elder sister, born a twin (sister Charlotte had died as a baby). In the 1881 England Census (and presumably at the time she attended the wedding, Jane was living with her parents, but working as a “general servant.”

Michael Gagen and Susannah Fuller Pinnicks’ marriage certificate

It’s not clear how long George and Susannah lived in West Hackney. Their first child, Charlotte (Lottie) was born on May 3 1882 at St. George’s Villas, Lower Streatham. I learned that the Gilman family did not really know where Lottie was born. Jack wrote in a 1922 letter that “my wife was born in Wimbledon.” Daughter Edith put on her wedding certificate that her mother was born in Wimbledon. Much later, daughter Ethel wrote a family profile for Ladysmith: A Colourful History, in which she stated that her mother was born in Maidenhead! (all of this suggests that the Gagens could have been moving about quite a bit in the early years of their marriage).

At the time of Lottie’s birth, George Gagen was not even in London…but on a steamship trapped in ice of the St. Lawrence River! On April 19 1882, George Gagen left on the SS Scotland, headed for Ottawa. The journey was longer than expected. He arrived on May 16 1882, after being stuck for one week in the ice of the St. Lawrence River.

George wrote a graphic account of his journey, “Notes Taken by George Gagen on the voyage to Canada.” Initially the journey started well, as he spent time singing and playing cards. But then the ocean got rough. George got almost smothered by a wave, and was later thrown down the stairs against an iron door and hit his head. The boat reached Newfoundland and George saw “great icebergs four or five times as big as the ship.” Soon they entered the St. Lawrence River and got stuck in the ice. The stop was initially an adventure. George and some other men walked across the ice to visit another boat. “Found them a nice lot of chaps.” However, things turned bad. The ship was put on “half rations,” which later became ice and ship’s biscuits. George and some others decided to go out and look for food. They trudged through ice and snow for 7 hours and found nothing. On May 9 1882 he wrote: “We are all getting hungry and savage. Captain had to come down to make peace. They were throwing coffee in one another’s faces.”

By Tuesday May 14 1882, they got through the ice. A pilot met them on board and told them about other ships’ perils. When hearing these he said “we can think ourselves lucky getting out of it as well as we did.”

Having escaped from the ice, George Gagen went to Manitoba, where he took out a homestead in August 1882. Susannah and Lottie soon joined him. Lottie’s sister Fanny was born on May 1884 in Rat Portage (later Kenora), Manitoba. The Gagens then moved eastwards to Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario. Baby George William Gagen was born there in March 1886.

Now it seems that Susannah and 4 year old Lottie, 2 year old Fanny and baby George went to back to England! A passenger list for the SS Parisian, sailing from Liverpool to Canada in July 1887 gives the names of Susannah, Lottie and Fanny. There is no mention of baby George. When I searched the Free BMD database, I found that a death had been registered in January, February, March 1887 for a George William Gagen, aged 0 (ie. under 1 years old). This death was registered in Blean, Kent. This registration district encompassed the North Kent coast, including Whitstable. If it is indeed the same baby Gagen, how / why would Susannah Gagen and 3 babies be there in wintertime? The following spring, in late April 1888, Edith Gagen was born in Port Arthur, Ontario.

Years later, Lottie’s daughter Ethel wrote a family profile in Ladysmith: Our Colourful History, “Mother came to Vancouver at an early age. She had vivid memories of the Great Fire.” The dates of this statement just don’t add up. Unless the family had suddenly gone out to Vancouver after baby George’s spring 1886 birth, been there for the fire, then gone back to England and then back to Ontario…. this statement seems pretty impossible. However, we know that by November 1890, the Gagens were in Vancouver.

On November 23 1890, just 5 days before her 33rd birthday, Susannah died in Vancouver. Her death certificate says “acute rheumatism” but more likely means rheumatic fever, or the after effects (weak heart). A note on rheumatic fever – it occurs a few weeks after a streptococcal throat infection. Fever, multiple painful joints, involuntary muscle movements… it can damage body tissues, causing them to swell. More than half the time this leads to scarring of the heart valves. (Texas Heart Institute and Wikipedia accessed July 30 2019). I also remember reading an article in a 1940s text book that noted rheumatic fever was often caused by damp air conditions (ie. Victorian buildings).

Susan Gagen died of acute rheumatism aged 32.

Looking at the death certificate and the burial permit, I was hoping to find more about the Gagen’s life in Vancouver. My first instinct was to turn to city directories for 1890. George Gagen was not listed. But the 1891 directory listed George Gagen, carpenter, 453 5th Ave East, Mount Pleasant. That said, I wondered if George had a business premises “downtown” in 1890. The names of the physician, the informant and the undertaker suggested this. The physician, Dr. Carroll, was Dr. John T. Carroll with office and/or residence at 416 Granville Street. The informant of the death was F.L. Prior, bookkeeper, who had a business in the same building at 27-29 Cordova Street as the undertaker F. W. Hart.

On November 24 1890, Susannah Gagen was buried at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery. This burial certificate was saved by the Gagens, and made its way into my great-grandma’s family.

Susannah Gagen’s burial permit for Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver

Now I made my way to Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery — a short bicycle ride away. I chose a sunny day, so I could enjoy the views of the North Shore mountains.

Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery lives up to its name on this sunny summer’s day. The North Shore Mountains are clear in the distance. It’s a far cry from the scene in late November 1890 when young mother Susannah Gagen was buried

I stopped at the cemetery office, located near 37th Avenue and Fraser. I’ve used the office on other occasions to locate other family members, and always found the staff to be very helpful.

I asked about the note scrawled on the permit “this is a broken plot.” I learned that this meant the ground was already dug. So, the family didn’t have to pay the cost of a grave digger. (Remember this work was done by hand!) Of interest, I asked the office how much it would cost to dig a grave in 1890. There were no records for that year. However, a few years later in 1896 the cost of digging a grave was $3. I had been told that while there was stone kerbing around the grave site, there was no name carved on it. Given the “broken plot” note, it seems possible that this was an “anonymous” grave that was ready to be used by someone in need?

Mountain View Cemetery is big (their website says: 106 acres of land with approximately 92,000 grave sites and 145,000 interred remains). Fortunately, the office has produced maps of each section. Staff can locate the grave location and circle this on the map for you. They can also draw arrows of how to get to the particular plot.

Mountain View Cemetery is divided into sections

Now I had a marked map of Susannah’s grave site, I rode my bicycle about 5 minutes to the corner of 33rd and Fraser. Susannah is buried in the “Old Section”, the original part of the cemetery. (The cemetery was new at this point — it had only opened in 1886). Susannah’s grave is actually near the two earliest burials, those of Carodoc Evans and Simon Hirschberg). Since there was no name carved on the stone kerbing, I had to look for the names of marked graves surrounding it. I almost didn’t see Susannah’s grave. Grass and moss had grown up around the kerbing, almost obscuring it. A few days later, I returned to the cemetery with a trowel, a brush and some cloths. I set to work clearing grass and weeds.

Susannah Gagen’s grave as I originally found it
At my great-great-great grandmother Susannah Gagen’s grave in Mountain View Cemetery

What happened to Susannah Fuller Pinnicks Gagen’s family? Directories show that Michael Gagen stayed on in Vancouver as a carpenter for a few years, then moved to Washington State. He remarried and had more daughters and died in Washington State.

Eventually (and I have not been able to find out the details), Michael and Susannah’s eldest daughter, Charlotte “Lottie” Gagen returned to Vancouver (or perhaps she had always stayed there?) She lived in Mount Pleasant and attended the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (no longer standing) where she met Jack Gilman. Jack was a barber with a premises on Westminster Road (today Main Street in Chinatown). He had grown up in the East End of London and emigrated as a child to Nicomen Island in the Fraser River, where his Dad died of pneumonia and the family was later evacuated after floods. That is a whole other story that I’ve been exploring and plan to share later.

Jack Gilman and Lottie Gagen, 1901

Charlotte Gagen and Jack Gilman’s first daughter Mary Annie Ethel Gilman, my great-grandma, was born in Vancouver and later grew up in Ladysmith and Victoria. Lottie Gagen, unlike her mother, was able to live to see her children grow up and to meet her grandchildren.

The Gilman children in Ladysmith: Front, Ashley and Dorothy, Back, Ethel and Edith. Note the lovely hair – Dad was a barber who specialized in children’s haircuts!