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Mudge Island

I would describe Mudge Island as my "little piece of Heaven". It is peaceful and quiet, usually sunny and surrounded by beauty and wildlife.

Captain George Richards of the H.M.S. Plumper named this lovely little island after his lieutenant, William Fitzwilliam Mudge. Unfortunately, lieutenant Mudge drowned off the coast of New Zealand in 1863 while serving on the HMS Orpheus. Captain Richards, RN, was given the task of establishing the exact location of the 49th parallel, and surveying around the waters of Vancouver Island. It was during this time in 1859, that he took it upon himself to name the many islands, inlets, harbours and passages, including Mudge Island.

Mudge Island is approximately 1/2 mile wide and 2 & 1/2 miles long. Gabriola Island lies to the North East of Mudge across False Narrows, and the Cedar By the Sea area of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island lies to the South and West. The famous water passage known as Dodds Narrows passes between the North West end of Mudge Island and Nanaimo's Cable Bay Trail. It only takes a few minutes in a small boat to cross False Narrows from Gabriola Island to Mudge Island. There are several spots on Gabriola where one can park, the most popular being El Verano or the alternative Green Wharf at the bottom of Wharf Road. There is a private marina on Mudge known as Moonshine Cove and visitors must check in with the wharfinger and pay quest docking fees. Those folks traveling to the Stuart Channel side of Mudge can travel from Nanaimo Harbour through Dodd's Narrows in about 30 minutes. From Cedar boat ramp, many kayakers cross to South Beach in less than 30 minutes or by powerboat in less than 10 minutes. The closest marina on Vancouver Island for access to Mudge is at Boat Harbour in the Cedar-Yellowpoint area south of Nanaimo.

You can always fly in by floatplane from Nanaimo or Vancouver, right to your own private beach, if you are so lucky to own Mudge Island waterfront.

There are no stores or retail businesses on Mudge Island. Many Mudge residents operate small businesses including backhoe operations, lumber milling, tree topping and falling, and various types of construction. There are also many artisans including glass crafters, painters, cottage crafts and furniture builders. Most summers and usually on the August 1st long weekend, Mudge-ites host a craft fair and hotdog sale and sometimes a dance featuring local musicians. Proceeds go toward maintenance of the island's fire truck.

There are a series of dirt roads on the island, connecting north to south. Many island dwellers have barged vehicles to the island, including a growing number of golf carts in addition to a variety of trucks, SUV's and even a Cadillac.

There are approximately 60 full time residents on Mudge Island and blossoming to over 200 in the summer months on warm weekends. Mudge is one of the few Gulf Islands in the Decourcy Group the offers hydropower, telephone and cable services. High speed internet is on its way to the island soon too! The RCMP's Gabriola detachment keep a cruiser on Mudge, just in case they are called to investigate a complaint of some kind. There is no ferry service to Mudge Island and residents prefer it that way. For years, developers and politicians have been threatening to build a bridge over Mudge Island to Gabriola Island. If island dwellers have their way a bridge will never be built. Mudge Island property owners are a unique group of fortunate folk who love the slow pace of the island. There is a real sense of community and a willingness to help one another when a project is at hand. The property owners come from all areas of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland area of Vancouver to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife, the fresh salt air, and the quiet. You have never seen the night sky's true depth until you have seen the stars from Mudge Island.


David Samuel Reece Roberts & family of Mudge Island

David Samuel Reece Roberts was born on December 3, 1846, in rural England, to John and Jane (nee Prosser) Roberts. He immigrated to Canada from Wales in 1871. We have no record of how or why he came to Canada.

David first appeared in the 1881 census for Gabriola, Mudge, and DeCourcy Islands, living on Mudge Island. He was listed as unmarried, and head of his household. He was living with Mary, a 22 year old unmarried Native.

On June 12, 1883, David married Mary Isabella Martin, the 22 year-old daughter of Jonathan Martin, an established Gabriola settler. Her mother was recorded as "Kelley of Stikene" on the marriage certificate. The wedding took place at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Nanaimo, the Rev.J.B. Good officiating.

Within the next seven years, David and Mary Isabella had four sons--all born on Mudge Island; on May 3, 1884, Llewellyn Martin; on January 10, 1886, John David; on November 29, 1887, Edward Voltaire; on January 25, 1890, Ivor Prosser.

On January 9, 1884, while Mary Isabella was pregnant with their first child, David pre-empted land on Mudge Island. Presumably this was the land where he had living since before 1881. His 160-acre claim was bordered to the South by Dodd's Narrows and to the North by False Narrows. To the East, he was neighboured by Mr. Norris, and to the West by an unoccupied Mudge land. Roberts cleared, cultivated, and built a barn and a house. Richard Norris of Mudge Island and Richard Chapple of Gabriola confirmed his land improvements on May 9, 1888. With this declaration, the estimated value of his land claim was $250.00. In 1887, he also purchased 40 acres of pastoral land on three small islands at the East end of the DeCourcy Group.

In 1884, the Nanaimo Free Press reported that David Roberts was growing large Baldwin apples on Mudge Island. These apples weighed in at one pound each. The NFP article asked a timeless question, "With such a showing of produce, why do we import so much?" Perhaps his father, John Roberts, an exceptional Welsh farmer, was David's inspiration. Or perhaps his father-in-law, Jonathan Martin, Gabriola's most successful apple grower, assited him. The splendid growing conditions, combined with skill, were probably the success factors. The Roberts orchards were thriving. David was acknowledged for growing "splendid" plums in 1887, "mammoth" apples in 1888, and by the summer of 1889 he was congratulated for his "monster" Queen Anne cherries. By October 1889, his apples were "magnificent", some weighing-in at 22 ounces, with 14 inch diameters. (It was the custom at that time for the award winning fruit to be tested by the staff of the Nanaimo Free Press, and the winners acknowledged in the newspaper.)

Although David and his family lived in some distance away from Gabriola, they participated in local community activities and causes. On August 9, 1884, in aid of the widows and children of those killed in the explosion at the Wellington Colliery, Gabriola families were generous with donations. Included in the list of contributers were the Roberts family, of Mudge Island, who contributed $1.50. Also, in June 1887, David Roberts was the collector for the Nanaimo Relief Fund, for the southern end of Gabriola and the adjacent islands. He collected $39.50 in aid for the widows and orphans of Nanaimo's largest mine disaster. In 1887, David was polling officer, at the Gabriola School House, for a provincial by-election. Gabriola produced only 12 votes, perhaps because of a heavy snowfall. Three months later, in the federal election, he served in the same role, again at the Gabriola School.

On Saturday, September 7, 1887, the Free Press described a "heroic rescue" which took place "about halfway between the portage" (probably Biggs' Portage across the neck of Jack Point) and Gabriola Island. Three local men--Alexander Shaw Jr., John Hamilton, and John Gimmel--were travelling to Gabriola in a small boat, when the boat overturned in the angry current during a sudden squall. David Roberts and Joseph Chapple set out in a boat from Mudge to attempt a rescue, and although their efforts were hampered by strong winds and high seas, they were able to bring the three men safely to shore.

In the 1891 census, David Roberts was listed as a 45 year-old farmer on Mudge Island, living with his wife, Mary Isabella (aged 29) and four children: Llewellyn, 7; John D, 5; Edward N, 3; and Ivor P, 1.

It is interesting to note that in 1892, the mode of transportation from Mudge, DeCourcy, and Gabriola to Nanaimo, and return, was aboard the steamer Esperanza. This boat made regular double weekly trips to each island, every Friday; leaving Nanaimo, in the early morning, and after returning by noon, leaving again in the early afternoon, and finally returning to Nanaimo by the late afternoon.

On Feb 4, 1893, Mary Isabella, aged 32 years, died in childbirth, on Mudge Island, "leaving behind a grieving husband and four young children." She was buried in the Gabriola Cemetery.

On October 20, 1893, Roberts married again. Mary Silvie was the 19 year-old daughter of Joseph Silvie of Reid Island. The wedding took place on near-by Kuper Island. Mary's mother's name is unknown. The couple resided on Mudge Island, at the Roberts' farm, with David's four children.

The 1901 census lists David, age 54, as household head at his farm on Mudge Island; John D, 15 years; Edward V, 13 years; and Ivor P, 11 years. Neither Llewellyn, by now 17, nor Mary, by now 27, is included. We have no further information about Mary and David's lives together.

In the 1920 Voters' list, the Roberts family was no longer living on Mudge Island. Two new families - the Coxes and the Juriets - had taken up residence there. The list shows David as retired and living in Northfield (near Nanaimo); Edward V - an auto driver - was also living in Northfield, with his wife, Julie; Ivor P was involved with auto delivery, and living in Wellington (also near Nanaimo); and the oldest brother - Llewellyn - an engineer, also lived in Wellington.

David Samuel Reece Roberts died, a widower, on March 14, 1925, in San Antonio, Texas, USA. We have no idea how long he had been in the USA, or if he had been living there permanently.

Edward Voltaire Roberts died on January 6, 1965, in Nanaimo, at 79 years. His wife Julie and one son, also named Edward, had predeceased him. Two sons, four daughters, 17 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren survived him.

In 1975, at age 92 years, Llewellyn Martin Roberts died, unmarried. At the time of his death, he was the oldest member of The Loyal Order of Moose, No. 1952, Nanaimo. His brother, Ivor ProsserRoberts, who lived in California, and many nieces and nephews survived him. Although we know that Llewellyn's brother, John David Roberts, lived in Florida at the time of their father's death, we have no further information about him.


BC Archives and Records

BCARS Reg # 1883-09-092535; MF# B11380; GSU# 198370

  • Marriage Records
  • Roberts, David Samuel and Martin, Mary Isabella
  • Roberts, David Samuel and Silvie, Mary 

BCARS Reg # 1893-09-094228; MF# B11380; GSU# 1983708

  • Birth Records
  • Roberts, Llewellyn Martin, Born May 3, 1884, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1884-09-048298; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
  • Roberts, John David, born January 10, 1886, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1886-09-048299; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
  • Roberts, Edward Va(o)ltaire, born November 29, 1887, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1887-09-048300; MF# B13808; GSU# 2114957
  • Roberts, Ivor Prosser, born January 25, 1890, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1890-09-049906; MF# B13809; GSU# 2114717
  • Death Records
  • Roberts, Mary, died, February 4, 1893, Mudge Island, BC.
BCARS Reg # 1893-09-044526; MF# B13084; GSU# 1927112
  • Probate Records
  • David Samuel Reece Roberts died March 14, 1925, intestate BCARS Probate files: GR-2213; 1881-1948, BC Supreme Court (Nanaimo)
Nanaimo Free Press
  • Wedding Notices

Wedding: Roberts -- Martin, June 23, 1883

  • Obituaries
  • Mary Roberts; February 4, 1893
  • John Roberts; Tycenol, Wales, father to David Roberts; October 12, 1887 via the Cardiff, Wales News
  • Edward Voltair[e] Roberts; January 6, 1965
  • Llewellyn Roberts; Wed. July 2, 1975, p.11 (classified #36, deaths)
  • Large Fruit from Mudge Island
  • "Monster" "Mammoth" and "Magnificent" Baldwin apples, September 27, 1884; October 7, 1885, October 20, 1888, October 5, 1889
  • "Slendid" Plums, August 17, 1887
  • "Monster" Queen Anne cherries, June 20, 1889
  • Charity
  • In Aid of Widows Fund: August 9, 1884
  • Nanaimo Relief Committee: May 21, 1887
  • Political
  • Provincial Election: January 5, 1887
  • Vancouver Election: March 16, 1887

  • Heroic Sea Rescue: September 7, 1887
  • Joseph Chapple was the son of Richard Chapple, a prominent Gabriola pre-emptor and settler. See Shale #3, page 18, for the Chapple family history.
  • Alexander Shaw Jr. was teaching on Gabriola at the time. His father had also taught on Gabriola, and his brother - John - in Nanaimo, where he later became principal of Central School.
  • John Gemmel pre-empted land directly across False Narrows from the Roberts farm on Mudge Island, including the Green Wharf area. From information in the 1882 - 1887 Directories, John lived on Gabriola for several years, finally returning to Nanaimo and work as a miner for the Vancouver Coal Mining Co.
  • John Hamilton, another employee of the Vancouver Coal Mining Co., was in charge of the diamond drill looking for coal on Gabriola.
  • Other
  • BC Voters' List, 1920, transcribed by the Nanaimo Family History Society
  • Canada Census for British Columbia, Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy Islands: 1881, 1891, 1901 (microfilm)The Esperanza

Owned by Messrs. Forman & Campbell, the steamer Esperanza (Spanish for "Hope") made regular weekly trips to Gabriola and DeCourcy Islands. She is frist mentioned in the Nanaimo Free Press in 1892, as making a double round trip to the Islands every Friday, leaving Nanaimo early in the morning, returning to that city before noon, then leaving again for Gabriola late in the afternoon.

Funerals on Gabriola were often scheduled for Fridays, in order that the minister and mourners could come from Nanaimo for the ceremony.

On January 6, 1893, the Nanaimo Free Press announced that "...Foreman & Campbell have taken their steamer the Esperanza off the Nanaimo, Gabriola Island route. This will be a great loss to the Island farmers, who have now no means of communicating with the city, except by sail or row-boats. The steamer has been taken off because it did not pay to run her, in fact the proprietors have been making this trip at a loss for some time past."

(Successors of the Esperanza, including the present ferry, the MV Quinsam, have maintained her proud tradition by also running at a loss.)

The steamer continued to visit Gabriola when chartered ( for funerals or inspection of the lighthouse ) as late as 1894.

In this photograph, the Esperanza appears to be in False Narrows, probably near the dock located there in the 1890's.

O Brother Twelve, where art thou?

Self-styled prophet's City of Refuge illustrates the danger of hiding from evil

National Post/November 20, 2001

By Roy MacGregor

It is the middle of the day, yet barely bright enough to read a map, let alone receive the heavenly " Invocation of Light" Edward Arthur Wilson claimed he was struck with at this lovely spot on a spring morning 75 years ago.

Nor is it possible to locate Wilson's infamous Tree of Wisdom among the shedding broadleaf maples that line these back roads just south of Nanaimo along the Strait of Georgia.

But somewhere down this quiet road the City of Refuge was once planned, and somewhere out there through the fog and mist and spitting rain lies little DeCourcy Island, and in these two isolated locations there can be found a story that some may find instructive in the difficult fall of 2001.

There is, unfortunately, no such thing as Utopia.

For a while, though, back in the late 1920's and early 1930's, a great many people believed it possible to build an impenetrable "Fortress to the Future" that would keep out all the evils that had caused and followed the First World War; and many hundreds of thousands of dollars were given freely by well-educated, sophisticated people to support a cause that, today, seems both laughable and incredible in its telling.

It is the story of Brother Twelve, Canada's self-proclaimed Prophet to the World who claimed--long before Shirley MacLaine was even born (or, as she may prefer, reborn) -- to represent "the first Trumpet-blast of the New Age."

It is a story that has attracted such writers as Pierre Berton, Howard O'Hagan and John Robert Colombo. It was the model for a sub-plot in Vancouver Island writer Jack Hodgins' brilliant 1977 novel The Invention of the World, and yet--oddly enough--it remains a tale never celebrated and rarely spoken of in these parts.

Hodgins first came across the story of Brother Twelve when he was teaching in nearby Nanaimo and one of his students lived in a house in which the strange prophet was rumoured to have hidden his enormous gold reserves, in a vault. Hodgins initially began thinking of a non-fiction book, but quickly passed on the idea.

"Once I started doing research," says Hodgins, who now lives in Victoria, "I quickly discover that people didn't want to talk about it--not even now, after all these years."

There is, addly, nothing at all about the City of Refuge on display at the rather charming Nanaimo museum, although they did mount a temporary exhibition a few years back with the relatively few artifacts--a "No Trespassing" sign among them--that survived from that time.

"There are alot of people from around here who will not talk about it," says Rick Slingerland, a display technician at the museum. "There are old grievances that persist to this day concerning the Brother Twelve."

The bare bones of this story can be gathered from what appears to be the fullest account, Vancouver journalist John Oliphant's Brother Twelve: The Incredible Story of Canada's False Prophet.

There is little agreement about his origins. Some say Edward Arthur Wilson was born in England around 1878. Others claim he was born in Wyoming, Ont., to a strict church-going family, and that he was banished when he impregnated a local girl. One account even has him born Julian Churton Skottowe, son of a church missionary and an East Indian princess. But no matter where he really came from, there is no doubt he showed up on Vancouver Island in the mid-1920's calling himself Brother Twelve.

Short and sallow but quitedapper--long before Pierre Trudeau, he liked a fresh rose for his lapel each day--the self-styled prophet claimed he had been chosen to establish a refuge here in which great minds could think great thoughts in total harmony and complete safety.

He was, apparently, a spellbinding speaker and held an uncommon attraction for those dabbling in the hot new belief of the day, Theosophy, which roughly holds that the "universal soul" can be constantly improved through an amalgamation of the best of world religions and a belief in reincarnation. Some of the best minds in Canada--Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris, Saturday Night magazine's literary editor William Arthur Deacon--bought into this "gobbledygook" (Berton's term), though few Canadians joined Wilson's planned Utopia on Vancouver Island. Rich and well-educated Americans and Brits, however, signed on by the score, and money began flowing in, to the point where Wilson's chauffer-driven car was taking him daily into the Nanaimo banks to make large deposits.

He built his first "refuge" in a maple grove at Cedar-by-the-Sea but soon expanded operations to nearby Valdes and DeCourcy islands. They came from all over the world to sit at his feet beneath the Tree of Wisdom and listen, or merely to stand at a distance and watch him go into trances in a cabin he called The House of Mystery.

His reputation and influence grew through the publication of The Three Truths--which he predicted "destruction cometh upon many"--to the point where he and his followers sought to found a Third Party in American politics and he claimed that he would personally be selecting the next president of the United States.

When the political movement fell flat at its founding convention in Chicago in 1928, Brother Twelve and his followers returned to the island to begin preparations for "the Day of Redemption." He tossed out his wife and installed, instead, his new mistress, Myrtle Baumgartner, a doctor's wife he had met and seduced on the train that had taken him from Seattle to Chicago. He claimed that he and Myrtle were reincarnations, she of the Egyptian goddess Isis and he of the Egyptian god Osiris, and that the two of them would be producing the next saviour, Hous, who would rise up--somewhere around 1975-- and save all true believers.

Their child turned out to be a girl, Myrtle went mad, and soon she, too, was tossed out and replaced, this time, with a love from Florida, Mable Skottowe, who soon changed her name to Madame Zee and took to walking about the compound with a bullwhip, which she delighted in using on people.

The insanity was becoming increasingly apparent.

Wilson still had money coming in from naive true believers, but life in the City of Refuge was more a hell than a Utopia. Residents were nearly starving while Brother Twelve and Madame Zee lived like royalty. Considering his first rule for discipleship was "The Surrender of Personal Possessions," even the most blindly loyal found it difficult to reconcile the fine linen and china of Brother Twelve's lodgings with their own spartan existence.

Some supporters took him to court on a charge of misappropriating funds, but the trial fell apart when Brother Twelve supposedly used his "black magic" to strike the opposing lawyer dumb, cause a key witness to vanish (never to be found) and have other potential witnesses throwing up in the washroom and unable to take the stand.

Brother Twelve, not surprisingly, became a bit paranoid. he became an early survivalist, packing in food supplies and stockpiling guns and ammunition. He set up night patrols and fired on wayward boats. He removed his money from the banks in $20 gold coins, stashed them in Mason jars, packed the jars in specially made wooden crates and began moving his fortune--estimated at $430,000 -- to various places about the islands, where to this day fortune seekers think boxes may still be hidden.

Others, however, are convinced it left with him and Madame Zee in 1933, when courageous followers once again rose up and took him to court. He never appeared, however; the two of them took off for Europe after first blowing up and destroying most of the island compound.

Wilson died, apparently, in Switzerland on Nov. 7, 1934, but there are those, to no surprise, who believe that, too, was a hoax.

One thing is certain--the money was not to be found on little DeCoucry Island, barely visible through the mists. Former residents did find the underground vault, but inside was only a roll of tarpaper with a single message chalked onto it: "FOR FOOLS AND TRAITORS--NOTHING!"

The City of Refuge was in ruins.

"He may have had Utopia for himself," says Slingerland, of the Nanaimo museum. "He had his money pouring in and he had his wives and mistresses--but I doubt it was Utopia for anyone else."

Slingerland sees the story of Brother Twelve as one that will never completely be known or understood.

"The trail has gone dead," he says with a shrug. "It's now more myth than fact. The story just keeps getting embellished."

And retold, coming back to life every now and then as a reminder of how impossible it is to create a refuge that has no connection whatsoever to the realities of a world supposedly left behind.