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Down Memory Lane: Magistrate and artist


Joseph (Josiah) Blackburn painted Grand Bank and Fortune in watercolours back in the 1860s

While the history of photography and cameras can be traced back to 1839, it wasn’t really until the 1880s, when George Eastman started a company called Kodak, that this new way of accurately recording images became available to the average person.

Before that it was only for professionals and the very rich.

But it was only a matter of another few years before photographs of people and events were being taken and preserved all over the world.

For example, we have in our possession several top-quality photos of my wife’s grandfather, Aaron F. Buffett, taken when he was a member of the Mount Allison rugby football team way back in 1895-96.

There are many good black and white photos available of Grand Bank and other local communities dated from 1900 on, showing their people, buildings and ships.

However, before photos were the norm, the only way to take a “picture” or an “image” of a person or place was by drawing, sketching or painting.

The oldest authentic image of both Grand Bank and Fortune dating back to pre-photography days that I’m aware of is a watercolour showing both towns, painted in 1868 by the stipendiary magistrate here at that time, Joseph (Josiah) Blackburn.

He signed his paintings as J. J. Blackburn.

William K. “Bill” Buffett owns the approximately 21 by 19-inch framed painting I’m referring to.

In reality, I guess it would be referred to as a montage, because it’s a sequence of different scenes of Grand Bank and Fortune painted on a single canvas.

The 1868 painting was given to Bill by his father; it would be fair to assume it was passed down from an earlier generation.

When it came into Bill’s possession, the glass in the frame was broken and the canvas soiled with a water stain.

Realizing the historic significance of this piece of art, he had it re-framed and for years it has hung proudly in his home.

The largest area of the painting gives a panoramic view of Grand Bank from the top of “the Cape,” showing Admiral’s Cove in the foreground and the town in the background.

Another scene, viewed from the opposite direction, shows the downtown area including the first two Methodist churches, built in 1817 and 1846, as well as a schooner under construction.

A different scene is entitled “Distant View of Fortune” and shows the topography of that area, as well as several schooners entering the harbour with the houses in the background.

With Bill Buffett’s permission, I photographed the entire painting and then took the liberty of separating and enlarging the different scenes so buildings would be more easily distinguishable.

Josiah Blackburn was born in Scotland in 1750. He has been described as a master carpenter, merchant and justice of the peace.

He moved to Placentia where he assumed the position of magistrate.

He and his wife, Margaret, are said to have been the parents of two children: a daughter, Margaret, who married in Placentia; as well as a son, Joseph Josiah, who became a magistrate at

St. Mary’s and eventually moved to Grand Bank.

Josiah J. Blackburn held the position of stipendiary magistrate for 31 years. He died at Grand Bank on Jan. 12, 1868, at the age of 69 years and three months, and is buried in the Frazer Park Cemetery there.

As a reminder of this magistrate and watercolorist of yester-year, we have a street in Grand Bank named Blackburn Road; in fact, that is where I live.

Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.

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