Reynolds: Probus to Ontario

William Walter Reynolds and his wife, Elizabeth Grieve, were born in England at the turn of the 19th century. They emigrated before 1852 to Uxbridge Township, Canada West, with their five surviving children, where they were tenant farmers. William and 'Betsy' died several years after Confederation, and are buried in the Stouffville cemetery. Their tombstones proudly proclaim 'Native of Probous, Cornwall, England' (photo).

So, where were the Reynolds' from, and what kind of a life did they have there? And what is the significance of the name 'Venten Berren' that appears on a hand-written list of family members and dates?


Lewis' topographical dictionary of 1840 describes Probus as a parish in the union of Truro, Cornwall, on the high road between London and Land's End. The population was 1,350. Probus is named for a Roman-Briton saint of the late 5th Century who was apparently a missionary to the area and founded a monastery.

Probus Parish ChurchThe present church building, where the Reynolds were baptized and married, dates from 1450. The slightly newer tower is the latest (Tudor) and the highest of the medieval Cornish towers. A free school, situated in the churchyard, was founded in 1688.

There are records of Reynolds in Probus from at least 1630, and a John Reynolds became vicar of Probus Parish Church from 1730 to 1758. However, we cannot trace William Walter's line back more than two generations. He was the eldest son of Charles Reynolds and Nancy Pellow. Charles was baptized in Probus on 1 Jan 1774, eldest son of Walter Reynolds and Elizabeth Walker. Walter and Elizabeth were married 31 Dec 1769 in Probus. Walter is recorded as being from Merther parish. The family lived in Merther for a time, because their second child, Anne Reynolds, was baptized there in 1777. Merther is 5 km SW of Probus.

Walter Reynold's line cannot be identified with certainty. Two candidates (from the IGI) are Walter Reynolds bapt 14 Jan 1737, Kenwyn Parish of Walter Rennalds and Ann Row; or Walter Reynolds bapt 21 Jan 1738, Saint Clement Parish, of Thomas Reynolds and Jane. The first possibility is more likely, since the names 'Thomas' and 'Jane' are not used in subsequent generations (whereas both 'Walter' and 'Ann' are). Walter and Ann were married 12 May 1723 in Kenwyn.

Elizabeth Grieve was likely the fifth generation of Grieves to live in Probus and neighbouring parishes. Her father was Philip Andrew Grieve (bapt 22 Oct 1770, Cornelly), son of John Grieve and Frances Broad. Cornelly is immediately south of Probus. John was likely baptized 16 Jan 1727, Probus, son of James Grieve and Jane. (He is less likely to have been the John Grieve who was baptized 21 Feb 1726, son of Thomas who was a younger brother of James.) James Grieve was bapt 14 Mar 1696, Probus, son of John Grieve. The earliest record for John Grieve is the baptism of his son, John, on 15 Jan 1692 in Probus. The elder John Grieve is called yeoman and tradesman.

The name 'Grieve' is from an Old French word for 'overseer'. Thus the surname was probably applied to numerous unrelated families when surnaming started in the middle ages. Variant spellings are Greave, Greive, Greve, Greeve, Grave and Grove. Many Grieves are found in Scotland. Only a small number are found in Cornwall (according to the IGI), and most of these can be related to Elizabeth's family.

Elizabeth's mother was Grace Hotten (baptized 8 Jul 1771, Probus), daughter of Melchizedec Hotten and Elizabeth. Her eldest son was named John Hotten Reynolds, in honour of his grandmother's maiden name. This caused some confusion at first, because the clerk wrote that John Hotten was the son of William Walter Reynolds and Elizabeth, formerly Hotten. I believe that this was simply an error, caused by having just written 'John Hotten' in the register. Her brother, Philip Andrew Grieve Jr. similarly named his eldest son 'William Hotten Grieve'.

Ventenberren and Trehane

In the parish register, William Walter Reynolds is listed as a farmer (1830), gardener (1832), gardener at Trehane (1834) and labourer (1836). In 1834 and 1836 his abode is given more precisely as Ventenberren.

Roy Elson, an amateur historian in Exeter, Devon, England, researched the Reynolds family and Probus over several years starting in 1982. Much of the following information on the significance of the placenames 'Trehane' and 'Ventenberren' is taken from his letters. He also furnished the photos of Probus.

Ventonberran CottageThere were two cottages at Ventenberren, which today have been converted into a single four-roomed dwelling (photo). The cottages are about 1/4 mile from Trehane house. Amazingly, the actual home that the Reynolds lived in still exists today.

Ventonberren was situated on a very rich mineral lode or vein, and there was a mine there. It was very productive in the 1800's. According to the 1840 Tithe map, Ventonbarren was a farm owned by a Rev. Stackhouse. Although vicar of Modbury in S Devon, Stackhouse apparently returned to Probus to baptize several of the Reynolds children.

King James 1 had granted a large area of land to the Trehane family in 1614. The family established a very beautiful garden on a slope facing east towards Probus. It was sheltered from the westerly Atlantic winds by a large hill behind it. In the garden they planted all manner of trees natural to Britain. Despite the Atlantic winds, sheltered parts of Cornwall are very warm and Trehane is one such place. The Trehane garden today has fig trees planted in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and palm trees 30 feet tall. These must have been brought back from abroad by seamen. The port of Falmouth is nearby. Flowers are in profusion : rhododendrons and azaleas in full bloom.

Trehane GardenThe bell on the side of the house was used to call a Capt Pinwell in from the garden to have his meals (photo). Apparently being an ex sea captain, he used to get up very early in the morning and work in the garden. The date on the bell is 1749.

Cornwall is granite stone, the last rocky promontory jutting out into the Atlantic. Everything is made of granite : roads, houses, hedgerows, farm gate pillars, etc. It is most unusual to find a house made of bricks like the Trehane house. The bricks are mode of a clay layer found nearby.

Trehane GardenTrehane house and its coach house were built about 1701. A lead gutter catchment bears the date 1703 (photo).

In Sept 1946, Trehane house was burnt to the ground in a disastrous fire, and now only the ruins are left. A plumber left his blowlamp burning while he went to lunch and started the fire. It must have been a beautiful house. It was equipped with servants' quarters, large kitchen, wine cellar, etc.

The Trehane estate was very large at one time, and parcels of land have been sold off over the years to create modern farms such as Tregeagle Farm.


Around 1814, Philip Andrew Grieve Sr. is identified as living at Trethowa, and this is continued with his sons Philip Andrew Jr and William. Trethowa is a farm situated 2 km from Ventenberren in the direction of the village of Probus.

Most of the Grieve family disappeared from Probus sometime after the 1851 census and before the 1861 census. At about this time a lot of the tin and copper mines in Cornwall had closed down due to the import of cheaper foreign metals. This caused a slump and a lot of people, not only miners, emigrated in search of work.

One of Elizabeth's cousins, John Grieve Kessel, emigrated to Whitchurch Twp in the 1860's and married there before relocating to Michigan. Other Grieves left for Kansas and Australia.


The Reynolds family emigrated sometime after the baptism of their youngest child in May of 1845 and before the 1851 census which was actually enumerated in January, 1852.

In 1852, the family was settled in a one storey log house on Lot 4, Concession 1 of Uxbridge Township, Ontario County, Canada West. This was on the west side of the 2nd concession road, between Altona and Glasgow. William Sr. was a farmer, and William Jr., age 17, was living with the neighbouring family of James Chambers, blacksmith, to whom he was apprenticed. Charles, age 20, is listed as a labourer.

By 1861, only John and Richard were still at home. Both were in school. The farm consisted of 75 acres, of which 32.5 were under crops, 22 under pasture, 25 were wooded and the remaining half acre was on orchard (or garden). The farm was evaluated at a respectable $2,000. The livestock, consisting of horses, cows, sheep and pigs were valued at $255. Crops included fall and spring wheat, oats, potatoes, peas and turnips. The farm produced hay, wool, maple sugar, butter, pork and apples.

In 1861 the family's religion is given as 'Episcopal Methodist', and they probably worshipped at the chapel erected across the road by James Forsyth. The school was one lot north of the chapel, just south of Glasgow.

Ten years later, William was a widower of 72 years of age. Elizabeth had died the previous September of consumption. William was living on the farm with Richard, who was recently married and had an infant daughter. Five more acres had been cleared, and barley was added to the list of crops. Produce included 23 yards of home-made cloth. William died the following year.


[1] 1851 Census, Uxbridge Twp, Enumeration District 10, pp 25,26.

[2] 1861 Census, Uxbridge Twp, District 5, pg 65; and Agricultural Census, Con 1, Lot 4.

[3] 1871 Census, Uxbridge Twp, District A3, pg 44. See also schedules 2,3,4 and 5.

[4] Baptismal register, Parish of Probus, Cornwall, England. Original in the Register House, Truro, Cornwall, England.

[5] Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of England, 4th ed, S. Lewis & Co., London 1840

[6] Probus Parish Church - A Brief Guide

© 2000-2006 Russ McGillivray


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