Biography of Reuben Traveller (1788-1861)

In September 2006 an article in The Ottawa Citizen about the sale of a cemetery in Gatineau, Canada, just across the river from Ottawa, mentioned a colorful character named Reuben Traveller, reportedly a cabin boy under Admiral Horatio Nelson. His tombstone bears the following poem, apparently written by himself:

Reuben Traveller's tombstone
Photo by Scott Naylor

When Nelson fought at Trafalgar and fell
This ship-boy was afloat in active service,
Mid logging calms, light breezes and stiff gales
Hymned Debden's songs and buffeted the waves.
Throughout the drama of a lengthened life.
Mid ocean waves, that wash Ethiopians shores,
As when he roughed it on the northern seas;
While Murd'ros warfare waged in troublous times,
T'was his to tell.
Since then in various climes, and various ways,
Shared fickle fortune's favors.
Sinking mid quicksands, stranded upon rocks,
By trade winds borne:- by eastern scenery fed
Drenched by the spray of breakers sun ahead.
Now heedless of what currents, winds and tides.
His watch and ward below waiting the whistle,
Call to rigout, stud sails, lower and aloft,
To range in grand review time then no more.
Worlds on worlds, the witness of Christ the Lord,
The one despised, dispensing righteous judgement.

Reuben Traveller was born on 20 Feb 1788 in London, England, the son of Thomas and Sarah Traveller, and baptized in the Parish Church of St. Marylebone, St. Marylebone Rd., London.[2] He later married Sarah Veal on 6 Jul 1807 in the same church. Although several researchers have interpreted his tombstone poem as signifying that Reuben was Admiral Nelson's cabin boy, I think it is possible that Reuben meant simply that he was a cabin boy during the time of Nelson's final battle on 21 October 1805.

Reuben was clearly an energetic, enterprising sort of person. In Philadelphia, USA, where the family lived for a few years after leaving England around 1820 and before moving on to Canada around 1825, he apparently managed a tavern called "The Traveller's Rest" on Broad St., between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.[3] In the 1825 Philadelphia directory he appears as a tavernkeeper, living at 122 S. Front Street.[4]

In old Bytown (Ottawa) Reuben was at various times a notary public, a sheriff's bailiff, the town crier, and the town clerk. William Pittman Lett wrote of him, in his classic Recollections of Bytown and Its Old Inhabitants (1874),

And Reuben Traveller, who's tongue
Oft in the old assizes rung—
Though given to mirth, a wondrous crier,
Who lived near John Sweetman, the dyer
'Twas all the same, for either side
Or both old Reuben Traveller cried—
Cried for the man who won law's race—
Cried for the man who lost his case—
Cried for the criminal acquitted—
Cried for the guilty when outwitted—
He cried for loss or gain of pelf—
For every one except himself;
Reuben was a celebrity,
We seldom meet with such as he.

In addition, Reuben was something of a writer. In his will he bequeathed to his daughter Georgiana "my manuscripts, Commonplace Books, Scrap books, and my other writings," and in 1854 a poem of his was published in The Anglo American Magazine. Another poem, entitled "A Poem Descriptive of a Cruize in the Channel, and the Last Voyage of Mongo Park to Africa, with the Ships Return to England," published in 1814, was cataloged in the British Museum.[6] This poem may have expressed first-hand experience, since a brief obituary in the Richmond Daily Dispatch mentioned that he had accompanied Mungo Park in his African exploration.[7]

After the death of his first wife, Sarah, reportedly in Philadelphia in the 1820s, he married again, on 1 July 1832, to Rose Ann Cunningham, the widow of James Farrell[8]; and at the time of the 1851 census he was living with a third wife, Emily (born about 1817, in England), with whom he had a daughter, Georgiana, born about 1849. At the time Reuben wrote his will in 1858, he was not feeling very well--he mentioned that his life was hanging "upon a slender thread," but he survived three more years after that, dying on 14 February 1861.[9] He was buried in Sandy Hill Cemetery in Ottawa, but was later reinterred in the St. James Anglican Cemetery, across the river in Hull, Gatineau, Quebec.[10]

I am eager to find out what happened to Emily and Georgiana after Reuben's death. I believe that Emily may have remarried around 1880, to an Irish laborer named Thomas Smith. The 1881 Ottawa directory shows Thomas Smith living at 38 Kent St., which had been the address of widow Emily Traveller for at least the previous decade. The 1881 Canadian census shows the name of Thomas's wife to be Emily, born in England and the same age as Emily Traveller. This marriage did not last long; the 1883 directory shows Mrs. Emily Smith, a widow, still living at 38 Kent St. A Thomas Smith who fits the description of the Thomas in the 1881 census died on 30 October 1882.[11] I have not yet been able to locate Georgiana, unless she might be the widowed Georgina Fleming living with Reuben's good friend and executor, John Sweetman (sexton of Christ Church), at the time of the 1881 census.

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Children of Reuben Traveller and Sarah Veal

  1. Fortune, born on 21 Feb 1809, baptized 24 Mar 1809 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 15 July 1894, Victoria.
    Married John Grant (marriage bond posted 9 Dec 1829 in Bytown, District of Bathurst, Upper Canada).
    Married (2nd) Peter McGregor (Jim McGregor has good info on this family).

  2. Fortunatus, born on 12 Aug 1810, baptized 8 Aug. 1810 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 29 Jan 1865, probably Nepean, Carleton Co., Ontario.
    Fortunatus Traveller married Mary Dow.

  3. Reuben, born on 18 Aug 1812, baptized 6 Sept. 1812 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 31 Aug 1898, Nepean.
    Reuben Traveller married Henrietta Dow on 2 Jul 1835.

  4. Sarah, born on 13 Feb 1814, baptized 15 Mar 1815 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 23 Oct. 1903, London, Ontario.
    Married William Henry.

  5. Ruth Priscilla, born on 2 July 1816, baptized 18 Aug. 1816 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 27 Nov 1904 in Douglas, Renfrew Co., Ontario. Ruth Priscilla Traveller married a logger named John McLaren circa 1836, and was widowed within the year. I am descended from their son, John Reuben McLaren. She and young John lived for some years with her father, Reuben, in Bytown. She then married John McGregor on 15 Jul 1853 in the home of John's father, Peter McGregor (who had married her sister Fortune).

  6. Archibald Brown was born on 6 Jul 1818 and baptized 14 Mar 1819 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London. No further information; I suspect he may have died young.

  7. Marianne was born on 23 Jan 1820, baptized 16 April 1820 in St. Marylebone Parish Church, London, d. 29 May 1871, Nepean. Mary Anne Traveller married Daniel McEwen on 11 Jul 1839.

Children of Reuben Traveller and Emily (-?-)

  1. Georgiana was born about 1849 and was definitely still alive in 1871 (when she was working as a clerk).

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[1] "Strays," Ottawa Branch News, Ottawa, Canada, XXV, No. 4 (July 1992): 85, transcription of Reuben Traveller's tombstone.

[2] Reuben Traveller (Sr.) baptism, Church of England. Parish Church of St. Marylebone (Middlesex, England), Register of Baptisms (1788-1793), unpaginated. Originals held at London Metropolitan Archives, Clerkenwell, London, England (P89 MRY1 8). Image viewed on microfilm FHL 580906 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah). There is another baptism for a Reuben Traveller, son of Thomas and Sarah Traveller, dated 5 Jan. 1783, with a birthdate of 17 Dec. 1782. I believe this may have been an older brother who did not survive, but I am still working on this.

[3] "Trap Ball," Saturday Evening Post, Philadelphia, PA, 1 June 1822, p. 1.

[4] Thomas Wilson, ed., Philadelphia Directory and Stranger's Guide for 1825; Containing a Diagram of the City and Suburbs (Philadelphia: John Bioren, Printer, 1825), p. 141. FHL microfiche #6052901.

[5] William Pittman Lett, Recollections of Bytown and Its Old Inhabitants (Ottawa: Citizen Printing and Publishing Co., 1874). Retrieved May 13, 2008, from Project Gutenberg,

[6] The British Museum Department of Printed Books, Librorum impressorum qui in Museo britannico adservantur catalogus (London, 1817), p. 7. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from

[7] "Death of One of Mungo Park's Companions," Richmond Daily Dispatch, 21 March 1861, p. 1. Retrieved 19 February 2008 from (digital image).

[8] Traveller-Farrell entry (marriage #20), Basilique Notre-Dame de Ottawa Parish Register, 1825-1836. Retrieved 22 April 2008 from (digital image).

[9] "Strays," Ottawa Branch News.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Thomas Smith, death record #002327. Canada, Ontario, Registrations of Deaths, 1869-1934: Carleton Co., Ottawa, Schedule C, p. 345. Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (microfilm MS935-33). Digital image accessed at