The Martindales – a family saga and the mystery remains

In the mid-1940s, Bill Martindale was the driver of the last horse-drawn milk delivery wagon in Southampton. He was a first cousin of my mother and the nephew of my grandmother, Martha Jean Martindale.

If attending the Marine Heritage Festival this weekend in Pioneer Park, at the mouth of the Saugeen River, you may see a plaque commemorating those that drowned in the waters off our shore. At the top of the plaque is the 1851 sinking of the Saucy Jack on December 14, 1851, with three names listed as being the first loss of life from Southampton harbour. Listed are Captain Alex MacDonald and Jonathan and James Martindale. Jonathan and James Martindale were the brothers of mine and Bill Martindale’s Great Grandfather David Martindale.

It all began in the early Spring of 1851 when nine members of the Martindale family arrived in the fledgling little village of Saugeen. They were led here, from New Brunswick by my Great Great Grandfather Jonathan Martindale Sr. The group included his wife Ann, his three sons Johnathan Jr., James, and David. Also in the group was Jonathan Jr.’s wife, Eliza and two young children Deborah and Jonathan III, and James’ wife, Mary Elizabeth.

Chantry Island lighthouse in the distance

The story of the sinking of the Saucy Jack is told in a number of local history books written over the decades. The book by David Kennedy Sr., for instance, is an excellent read. The short version is that the small sailing ship went to Goderich for winter supplies that November. Captain MacDonald had a friend there who was running for council and the decision was made to stay until after the election. Their return was left far too late however, and just off Chantry Island, the small ship turned over and all three drowned. The loss of all the winter food supplies then resulted in a large group of single men, estimated to be between 15 and 20, leaving for Owen Sound on the walking trail, with plans to return the next spring, and leaving all of their food supplies behind for the villagers who had remained here. It was only with the help of the First Nation Missionary family and the First Nation community of Saugeen that the villagers remaining made it through that most difficult winter.

This is not the story of the Martindales from then until today that I am writing but I do want to go into what happened, or what may have happened, to the three bodies that drowned on the Saucy Jack on December 14, 1851.

There are two excellent references to be considered.

The first is the small book PIONEER DAYS AT GUELPH AND THE COUNTY OF BRUCE, which was written by David Kennedy Sr. in 1903 and can be purchased at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre.  Kennedy tells about walking along the shore in the late winter of 1852, between what today we would call South Street and the town, and finding one of the Martindale boy’s bodies frozen in the shore ice.

The second reference to the bodies is in the marvellous writings of John Weichel titled FORGOTTEN LIVES, first printed in 2001, and also available for purchase at the Museum.

John talks about the “Original” cemetery, which we normally refer to as the Pioneer Cemetery that is to the north of Southampton’s current cemetery.  John made the following references under “EARLY BURIALS”.

“This was not Southampton’s first burial ground. The Owen Sound Comet of June 4, 1852, reported that Captain Alex MacDonald’s remains were buried in the burying grounds at the village of Southampton. The location of this burial ground is not precisely identified BUT we are given a hint by an early historian, John Maxwell McNabb who came here as a young lad, being the son of Crown Land Agent, Alexander McNabb. John McNabb, in his later years, recalled in his written notes that “Captain MacDonald’s body washed ashore in May of 1852 and that he was buried ‘back of Captain Spence’s residence’ on Huron Street.

His statement coincides with a surveyor’s map drawn by Charles Rankin about 1870, made at a time when lakeshore land along Southampton’s Front Street and the river harbour was being surveyed to iron out questions of ownership. Rankin noted and drew five rectangles on his map, marking them with the notation “Graves”.  A glance at an early map shows that they were directly behind the house of Captain Spence.

It is important to note that in 1861, the three-year-old municipality of Southampton passed By-Law 25 that made it illegal to bury a deceased person anywhere but in the new cemetery. It also ordered anyone with a friend or relative buried in the village to have the body removed and taken to the new Cemetery. No records tell how many heeded this order.

The question remains … are the graves of Captain MacDonald and Jonathan and James Martindale “back of Captain Spence’s residence” between the house and the lake?


With sincere thanks to David Kennedy Sr. and John Weichel – without their diligent research and writing, so much of our history would have been lost.

Written by G. William Streeter
July, 2023