The Bayfield Family Topographical Phenomenon: 1841 – 1866

Henry Wolsey Bayfield (21 January 1795 – 10 February 1885)

The British Navy produced an impressive list of surveyors, some of whom, like Samuel Holland, we have visited in earlier posts. Henry Wolsey Bayfield (21 January 1795 – 10 February 1885) was another great hydrographer who produced charts of extreme clarity and accuracy for the Saint Lawrence River and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence that were still in use in the early Twentieth Century.

Bayfield was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, a port city in East Yorkshire, to a family with ancient antecedents in nearby Norfolk.  Little is known about his early life and education, how many years of schooling he had before he joined the Navy, and what training the Navy gave him in surveying. He had been inspired to join the Navy by the exploits of Admiral Lord Nelson and served in various capacities until 1817, when he joined the team of the admiralty survey for North America. He surveyed Lakes Superior, Erie and Huron and in 1826 returned to England to complete the work of drawing and having these charts engraved. He was promoted commander in that year and the next year he travelled to Quebec to work on the surveys of the Saint Lawrence River. Here is a portrait of the youthful officer, probably from the National Gallery in Ottawa, but I have not yet been able to confirm this.

In 1834 Bayfield was promoted again, this time to the rank of captain and in 1838 he married Fanny Wright, with whom he had six children. They moved to Charlottetown in 1841 where, a few years later they bought the fine Greek Revival house at 269 Queen Street from the Countess of Westmoreland. Here is a circa 1850 view of the house found on the internet. It occupies the  southwest corner lot of Queen and Euston Streets. Other buildings, which can be identified, can be seen in the background. It is a fine watercolour sketch, about which I have no information at this time. Its disciplined layout of topography suggests the very fine birds eye views being done by Robert Harris in the early 1860s when he was working on his map of Charlottetown.


Bayfield also built, perhaps in the early 1850s, a large country house at Keppoch, overlooking Charlottetown Harbour. Promotion after promotion in the various ranks of Admiral followed him from 1856 until his retirement in 1866. After long intervals at sea, he would remain in Charlottetown for the rest of his life, living on to be ninety. Here are photos of the Admiral in old age and his wife Fanny, from their daughter Helen’s photo album.



The Hydrographic Survey

Bayfield’s entire mature life was spent in completing and taking on new surveys from the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, excluding Newfoundland. The charts that he produced, over 140 of them, are utterly austere in their presentation, with exact contours of land masses surrounded by the thousands of soundings necessary to mariners. These charts were meant to be used on a daily basis and were at a scale that facilitated navigation.

Armed with the latest surveying equipment, and carrying on his table, and in his mind, Holland’s survey of 1765, Bayfield must have been surprised  – shocked – again and again, especially in West Prince County, when the outline of the Island he drew did not correspond with Holland. Vast acreage appeared on the Holland map that simply did not exist on the land mass he was recording. First, Lockerby and Sobey (2015, pp. 44-46), and then S. Max Edelson (2018) superimposed the Holland Outline on a satellite view of the Island as it is today. Edelson used georeferencing techniques to fit Holland into the curvature of the earth.  Doing these superimpositions with the three maps having the greatest integrity –  Holland 1765, the Holland-Lewis 1765 and the lovely presentation map of 1767 – Edelson found significant variations in the overlay patterns. The most dramatic was the original manuscript shown here. Looking carefully you can make out the outlines of the satellite and the map, contrasted to about 50%.

In their measurements Lockerby and Sobey calculated that Thomas Wright, the surveyor of that area, had added over 20,000 acres to the Island’s surface just in the area west of the Portage Isthmus. He did similar things in other areas where he surveyed, along with neglecting various inlets with their configurations. Holland, in his wisdom and possible mistrust of his colleagues, distanced himself from future cartographic catastrophes by carefully cataloguing the precise extent of the work done by each of his surveyors on the big map itself. It must be said that he carefully documented his own survey work and its inaccuracies.

These mistakes would cause endless trauma to surveyors plotting out farm lots for new settlers until these issues were resolved after the middle of the Century.

So Bayfield, in those years, spending far more time than Holland had at his disposal on ascertaining precise dimensions and relationships, was able to create an outline of the Island that would serve as the basis of all subsequent maps of Prince Edward Island into the Twentieth Century.

Here is one of his sheets, covering quite a large area from the Miramichi Bay, the Northumberland Strait and the northwestern part of Prince Edward Island. Here we see the Island corrected, with a slimmer profile for Lots 1 through 10.


1839 (1846 reprint) – Bayfield, Captain Henry W., THE/ GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE/ Sheet VIII/ MIRAMICHI BAY/ AND WESTERN ENTRANCE OF/ NORTHUMBERLAND STRAIT/ SURVEYED BY CAPTN. H. W. BAYFIELD R.N./ 1839, inscription below the border, London, Published according to Act of Parliament at the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty Feby. 20th 1846. / Sold by R. B. Bate Agent for the Admiralty Charts 21 Poultry/ J. & C. Walker Sculpt. / 174, engraving, 63 x 49 cm. R. Porter Collection.

It is a wonder to study. Bayfield’s outline of Prince Edward Island takes up where Holland left off and provides massive corrections and refinements to that survey that was already seventy-five years old. I attach this detail of Lots 1 and 2, an area quite familiar to me, to show you the clarity and exactitude of Bayfield’s engraved lines and figures.

This chart of Charlottetown Harbour, of which I used to have a copy, was always exciting to explore and to marvel at the intricacies of the land outlines and soundings that were recorded. It is fascinating also to see the various land reference points to be used in aligning a ship in a safe channel – all this before the advent of lighthouses and range lights.

1843 – CHARLOTTETOWN/ HARBOUR/ SURVEYED BY CAPTN. H. W. BAYFIELD R. N./ Assisted by Lieuts. J. Orlebar & G. A. Bedford/ 1843. / Published according to Act of Parliament at the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty, May 12th 1845. J & C Walker Sculpt., Sold by J. D. Potter, Agent for the sale of the Admiralty Charts, 31 Poultry & 11 King St. Tower Hill, 47 x 61 cm, mounted on linen, McGill Library Digital Collection.

Here is a revealing detail of the centre of the chart showing how shallow Charlottetown Harbour was and how very low the elevation of the surrounding countryside.

At this McGill site you can view every chart Bayfield produced in his great survey.



The Bayfields – A Family of Topographers

Fanny Amelia Bayfield née Wright (1813/14 – September 11, 1891), the wife of Admiral Bayfield, was both an artist and an educator. In her years in Charlottetown she gave lessons in art and may have taught music as well. At some time in her early life, possibly when she was living in Quebec, she received training in art that permitted her to produce fine and exact portraits of flowers. A number of these survive in the collection of the Glenbow Museum. In the National Gallery in Ottawa there are a number of watercolour topographical views attributed to her that show an exceptional degree of refinement and fidelity to the topographical tradition in art, a form generally associated with the military. This view of the Lower City at Quebec is one of the best, showing a masterful command of perspective and composition, from the figures in the foreground to the distant view of the far shore. It is possible that Fanny Bayfield was trained by one of many topographical artists associated with the military and stationed in Quebec.

When she moved to Prince Edward Island she continued to paint in oil and watercolour, and – here we have it on faith alone, as she did not sign any of her works – she produced this pair of paintings of a country house in the Charlottetown Royalty looking across the North River to Lewis Point. It is “Warblington”, at one time the home of Frederic Gisborne (1824-92), a many-talented man who supervised the laying of the first underwater cable in North America in 1852. The land on which it was situated is now 303-305 North River Road. Here is the local topography in this detail of the Charlottetown Royalty map from Meacham’s 1880 ATLAS.

The house is beautifully situated in its extensive grounds in the Royalty and set up in the Romantic style popular at that time. It was built in the emerging Gothic Revival style with a tall centre frontispiece and with a pointed window. Unusually, for the time, the window opens onto a generous balcony on top of the veranda. The verandas have an elegant lattice design similar to those found on many Charlottetown houses of the time.

Bayfield – if she is indeed the artist of these two works – also did a view from the veranda looking out across the river to Lewis Point. It is a very unusual composition for the time and leads me to accept Bayfield, with her topographical training, as a likely candidate. Both of these paintings are in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery collection. The photographs are my own.

The value of these two paintings of Warblington house as sources of information in the history of gardening on the Island is most important. There is enough information provided to enable one to physically reproduce this garden.


There is yet another work of art that can be credibly attributed to Fanny Bayfield and that is a large watercolour in the Prince Edward Island Museum collection. It is technically brilliant in the English topographic tradition of Paul Sandby. It is ostensibly a view of a grand town house called Keswick House that once stood where the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel now stands. In the distance, in a purplish haze, is Fanningbank Estate with Government House and the Guard House at the entrance to the grounds. In the right middle ground is the Kirk of Saint James with its newly gothicised tower that was erected around 1850.

Here, photographed through glass unfortunately, you have a masterpiece of topographical art. All the elements are so exactly situated that you can go and stand on the exact location where the artist took this view. It is in the middle of Kent Street near the junction of Kent and Queen Streets. This rough (temporary) sketch done on a copy of Meacham’s 1880 map of Charlottetown, permits you to credit this artist with a topographical sense of space worthy of the military.

This detail of Government House set in the Fanningbank grounds is very precious from an architectural history point of view. We see the details of the bridge leading over the dam of Government Pond, the Guardhouse (persistently mistakenly called the Gatehouse) with drives leading to the front portico and another leading to the barnyards. The view of the House itself, seen from the East front, with its small Tuscan Doric portico set into the veranda, is unique and provides the only complete view of the approach and surroundings of Government House in all the existing documentation.


A Daughter joins the Family Topographic Tradition

One of the Bayfield children, Helen, was born in Quebec City in 1839 and came with the family to Charlottetown in 1841. Around 1858 she began to assemble a photo album with photographs and other material from various sources. At that time, in the early years of albumen prints on paper, shops sold prints from the studios of notable photographers such as Notman, and Helen bought a few of these. There also appear to be quite many photographs taken by a local amateur photographer, Henry Cundall, whom I will discuss in his role as cartographer in my next post.

The photo album was a completely new genre at this time. For centuries well-bred ladies had kept Albums or Commonplace books which were combinations of diaries and scrap books. Friends were often invited to write affectionate notes or insert poems. Helen’s photographic album provides a significant break from the old format in that nearly everything included is a photograph – for the first time easily available. One suspects that Helen’s friends gave her photos for her album in the way that in the past, friends wrote notes or poems. The photographic album marks the demise of the Commonplace book.

The quite exciting thing about Helen’s photo album is that, because of her choice of subjects to collect and paste in the 121 pages, she provides unique evidence to help us form a sharp image of some aspects of Island topography at that time.

The album was offered to the Heritage Foundation in the early 1980s and before it was accepted and accessioned, I was given permission to make of photocopy of the complete album for my files and to take colour slides of all the photos in the album that interested me. Later the Heritage Foundation accepted the album and sent it to the Public Archives where now, completely taken apart and with each page stored separately, it is no longer possible to study the original.

The first page of the album begins with a floral flourish! Helen has pasted a large photo of herself in the centre of the page and surrounded it with a thick colourful wreath of dried pressed plants. It is very striking.

To give you an idea of the rich variety of topographical material from the 1860 period found in this album I have assembled pairs of significant pages from my own photocopy of the album. They are pages 16, 28, 40, 84 and 93. Since they are reduced scans of a forty year-old photocopy, the quality is poor. But you do get an idea of how the album is arranged. The variety and geographical distribution of the images is astonishing. At this time scans are not available from PARO

The Bayfields were part of the highest society on the Island at that time, and it is obvious from the photos that they spent considerable time at Government House with Governor and Mrs. Dundas. The House is shown in summer and winter and groups of people are seen lounging on the veranda. Page 40 is dedicated to members of her family. Various buildings in the city are also shown, such as Province House, the Plaw/Smith Round market, celebrations for the Prince of Wales’ visit in 1860, streetscapes showing mercantile establishments, and a selection of portraits that seems to include every member of Charlottetown society.

A number of important houses, all carefully identified, are also included and we see some architectural wonders. First, the Gothic Revival house called Sidmount, just built in the new style, and which is still standing, was shown in its new grounds. Quite incredibly the new Gothic Revival church built as far away as Tignish in 1857-60 by the now Bishop McIntyre, has two pictures showing 3/4 views of its front and back. Most amazing of all are two photos of Mi’kmaq – a single one in front of his wigwam, probably at Lennox island, and another Mi’kmaq group with gawking tourists, probably at Rocky Point, which was a Reservation. Topography merges with ethnography. These intimate Island photographs are probably the work of the surveyor/photographer Henry Cundall whose diaries tell us he was in West Prince County in 1860.

Among Helen’s photos is this one, on page 75, of Henry Cundall who appears to have been a friend of the Bayfields and part of their social circle. It is likely that he provided Helen with most of her photos of Charlottetown city views and informal groups of various friends assembled at Government House. He must have given her this studio proof. There is a persistent rumour, passed on to me many years ago by Catherine Hennessey and the late Irene Rogers, of a persistent whisper that suggested that Helen and Cundall were an item.

Henry Cundall the cartographer will play an important role in a future blog post.


To conclude my remarks on the Bayfield family, I wish to stress very strongly once again that, together, as a family group – a most extraordinary thing – they provided material in the form of charts, works of art and a photographic record that brings the exciting days of the late 1850s – early 1860s alive in a most remarkable way.




Bayfield, Helen, Album of Photographs, 19 x 2.5 cm, 121 pp, stitched, circa 1858-65. Bound photocopy made by Reg Porter. Property of the DuVernet family. (Album subsequently donated to the Heritage Foundation, which placed it in the Provincial Archives where it was taken apart and stored in archival paper sleeves.)

Edelson, S. Max, Colonizing St. John Island: A History in Maps, internet site:

Edelson, S. Max, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Porter, Reginald, Government House and the Fanningbank Estate: A Guidebook, The Friends of the Gatehouse Cooperative, Charlottetown, 2015.

Rogers, Irene L., Charlottetown: The Life in its Buildings, The Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 1983.

Webber, David, A Thousand Young Men: The Colonial Volunteer Militia of Prince Edward Island, 1775-1874, Prince Edward Island Museum & Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 1990.