History 2016-12-30T12:20:36+00:00

HISTORY

Wentworth Villa, one of the oldest and most valued residential houses in Victoria, was built in the spring and summer of 1863. Done in Gothic Revival style, the sophistication of the design makes it likely to have been planned by an architect. It is believed that Wright and Sanders, the first architectural firm in Victoria, designed and supervised the construction of Wentworth Villa. It is a designated City of Victoria heritage building and is also listed in the register of Canadian Historic Places.

Architecture

From the time it was built in 1863, Wentworth Villa has been virtually unchanged through time. With its beautiful Carpenter Gothic style the house eventually became one of the first heritage-designated buildings in Victoria.

Learn More

The Two Families

In 1863 Wentworth Villa was built for Henry Bailey Ella, his wife Martha Cheney Ella and Mrs. Ann Blinkhorn, Mrs. Ella’s aunt. The Ellas had seven children; some of them lived in the house till 1930s although in 1922 the City of Victoria took ownership of Wentworth Villa for non-payment of property taxes.

In 1940 Faith Grant who owned an antique store next door bought Wentworth Villa from the city. She renovated it and relocated her store. The villa remained in the hands of her descendants till 2011 when they sold it to a developer; in 2012 they moved the store to another location.

The Ella & Blinkhorn Families
– 1863 to 1939

Henry Bailey Ella (b. 1826, Tower Hill, London, ENG) became an indentured seaman in training at age 14 and joined the Hudson’s Bay Company at 20. He arrived at Fort Victoria in 1847 as 2nd Mate aboard the HBC vessel Mary Dare, Captain Cooper in command. Ella sailed among the HBC Forts on the NW coast as far as present day Alaska (60° N lat.). In 1848, Ella was aboard the Cowlitz on its return voyage to London, via the Hawai’ian Islands (from a letter written by Ella at Woahoo [Oahu], dated 31 Dec. 1848. Original in the State Library NSW, Sydney). Ella returned to Fort Victoria as 2nd Mate on the Norman Morison during its 1st voyage (dep. 1849, arr. 1850). Although the record is incomplete, it appears that Henry Ella was also on the return voyage to London (dep. 1850, arr. 1851). Ella was on the 2nd and 3rd voyages of the Norman Morison as well, but only for one leg of each voyage; on the 2nd voyage, London – Fort Victoria (arr. 1851), and the 3rd voyage, Fort Victoria – London (arr. 1853).

Ella had Certificates of Competency as First Mate (1851) and Master (1853), both from England. It is also worth noting that when the Colonial Secretary’s Office issued H.B. Ella a pilots special licence in 1862, it was for HBC vessels only. In 1868, Ella was granted a regular pilots licence for British Columbia.

Walbran (1909), in his book British Columbia Coast Names, reported that Henry B. Ella assisted Captain Richards RN, with his coastal surveys of Vancouver’s Island (1857-1862). Whereas Ella may have assisted Richards with his knowledge of local coastal waters, he did not serve on Richards’ vessels, the HMS Plumper or HMS Hecate, in an official capacity as a naval officer or coastal pilot. Captain Richards private journal for the years 1860-1862 (Dorricott and Cullon 2012) makes no mention of Henry B. Ella. However, Richards did name Ella Point and Blinkhorn Peninsula after family members; both locations near Telegraph Cove on the NE coast of Vancouver I. It is also thought that Ella named his first son, Thomas Richards (b. 1861) in honour of Captain Richards.

Other HBC vessels that Ella served on between 1852–1863 included the Recovery, Otter, Beaver, and Enterprise.

After 1863, Ella was no longer with the HBC and worked in various capacities as a coastal pilot, temporary Port Warden for Victoria, and as Captain of the Robert Cowan (1867) shipping timber for the Muirs from Sooke to the Hawai’ian Islands.

Thomas Blinkhorn (b. 1806, ENG), his wife Ann (b. 1804, ENG), and their niece Martha Beeton Cheney (b. 1835, ENG), arrived at Fort Victoria on the HBC ship Tory in 1851. Governor Blanshard, in a letter dated June 1851, describes the conditions that the new immigrants found on their arrival.

“The ship Tory has just landed about one hundred and twenty persons, all with two exceptions, servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company…No preparations had been made here for their reception, beyond erecting a couple of log houses or rather sheds; in these the remainder are huddled together like cattle, as I have seen myself, to the number of thirty or thirty-five in each shed…”

June 10,1851, Blanshard to Grey “London Dispatches” C/AA/10.1, B.C. Archives

 

Captain Cooper had encouraged Blinkhorn to emigrate to Vancouver’s Island and assist him in running a farm in Metchosin (down the coast from Fort Victoria). However, Cooper had not secured the land (Section 1, 385 acres in Metchosin) by the time of their arrival at Fort Victoria, so the Blinkhorns and Martha Cheney lived at Fort Victoria from 1851–1853. In 1853 they moved to Metchosin and established Bilston Farm, which they ran for Captain Cooper on a portion of land Section 1. At this time, Governor James Douglas made Thomas Blinkhorn a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace for the District of Metchosin and twenty miles around (the hand-written appointment letter is in the BC Provincial Archives).

 

Martha Cheney kept a diary of her trip to Vancouver’s Island and time at Bilston Farm (James K. Nesbitt [1949] published an annotated version of the diary). Volume 1, covering the voyage out and the first two years at Fort Victoria, has regrettably been lost. The two surviving parts of Martha’s diary (in the BC Provincial Archives), Volume 2: 1853-1855, and Volume 3: 1855-1856 give a vivid account of life in the new colony. Perhaps Henry B. Ella was one of the frequent visitors to Bilston Farm and perhaps Captain Cooper introduced him to Martha Cheney. In any case, Martha first mentions Henry B. Ella in a diary entry dated 7 January 1855, which states, “Mr Henry Ella came down with a boat…..” The next entry dated 19 July 1855 states,

“I was married to Mr. Ella by the Reverend Mr. Cridge. We were married at home by special licence [written by Governor Douglas and now in the BC Provincial Archives]. It was a beautiful day but very warm. We had a large dinner Party, had a tent made out doors, it being too warm in the house for so many. The Governor and his family honoured us with their company ……….”

Living at Bilston Farm came to an abrupt end when Thomas Blinkhorn died on 13 October 1856 at age 50. He had been unwell since August. On the night of his death, Martha noted in her diary, “…..he had a good sleep, and awoke up coughing and with it broke a blood vessel and was suffocated he never spoke again.” Henry B. Ella was away in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’ian Islands) at the time. He returned to Victoria 1 Nov. 1856 and by 4Nov., all the farm livestock had been sold at auction. Together with Mrs Blinkhorn, the Ellas moved to Victoria, living in a house on Broad Street from 1856-1863. Four of their seven children were born here: Elizabeth Annie (b. 1857), Louisa Martha (b. 1859), Thomas Richards (b. 1861), and Marion (May) Florence Low (b. 1863).

Mrs Blinkhorn was active in Church work and was instrumental in helping establish a temporary hospital in early Victoria. Her nephew, Henry Reece Ella, wrote the following about her in a talk he gave to the Victoria Historical Association in 1936: “Prior to this (1863), Mrs. Blinkhorn had erected a building [in 1855] at the corner of Yates and Broad Streets, where the Whitney jewelry [sic] store is now. This was a two storey wooden building. Some time afterwards, when the crowds were coming from San Francisco, on their way to the Cariboo Gold Fields, quite a little sickness occurred amongst them, and there was no hospital to care for them. Mrs. Blinkhorn in her good heartedness, tendered to Dean Cridge, and the powers that were, this building as a temporary hospital, turning out her tenant and furnishing several rooms for the sick. This was the first hospital in Victoria.” (original notes in BC Provincial Archives).

In 1862, Mrs Blinkhorn bought a lot (#1096) on Fort Street and the following year Henry B. Ella bought the lot (#1097) beside it. These two lots were to be the future site of the family home, completed in 1863 and known as Wentworth Villa.

The architects for the project are thought to have been Wright and Sanders. The home was built in Carpenter Gothic style and on its completion was one of the largest family residences in Victoria, with 2 stories, 14 rooms including 5 bedrooms, and 9 fireplaces (Nesbitt, 1944). The Ella family continued to grow with the addition of 3 more children: Henry Reece (b. 1864), Frederick William (b. 1866), and Mary (b. 1868).

Tragedy struck in February 1873 when Henry B. Ella was working as a coastal pilot. He was leaving in a canoe from the Moody, Dietz, and Nelson Mill on the North Shore side of Burrard Inlet near Lynn Creek [present day North Vancouver]. Ella was heading to the Moody Mill on the south side of the Inlet [present day Vancouver] when the canoe overturned about 400 metres from shore (according to one eye-witness account submitted as part of the Will probate papers in 1874). Ella drowned, but his Chinese companion clung to the canoe and survived. Apparently Ella couldn’t swim and sank like a stone; his body was never recovered.

Henry B. Ella’s death left Martha Ella a widow with 7 children to raise (the oldest, Elizabeth Annie, would die the following year).

Mrs. Blinkhorn celebrated her 80th birthday at Wentworth Villa on 11 Aug. 1884. The dance card prepared for the occasion lists the following dances: Quadrille, Waltz, Polka, Lancers, Galop, Mazurka, Schottische, Sir Roger. It must have been quite a party! Dr. John Helmcken comments in his Reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken , Dorothy B. Smith (Ed.). 1975, p. 145: “When Mrs. B. reached her 80th year, she must needs have a celebration of the event, and numerous were the visitors — and presents. Poor woman, she was attacked with dysentery immediately after and died after a week or two. There was no one more liked or respected in Victoria than this ever-industrious kind-hearted old lady — one of the olden time.”

Mrs. Blinkhorn died 29 August, 1884.

On 9 February 1887, Marion Ella married Sam Nesbitt Jr., who lived in Erin Hall (built 1874) just down the road from Wentworth Villa on several acres in the area now known as Carberry Gardens. Sam’s parents were also early Victoria pioneers; his father, Samuel Sr. (b. 1829, Ballyhaise, IRE), arrived from California in 1858 aboard the vessel Commodore, his mother, Jane A. Saunders (b. 1843, London, ENG), arrived in 1862 aboard the bride ship Tynemouth.

The Ella / Nesbitt wedding was held in the Church of our Lord, with a reception following at Wentworth Villa. Marion Ella would eventually have three children: Lancelot Gilroy, b. 1887, Eileen Ella, b. 1895, and Cyril George Dickson, b. 1899. It is worth noting that Marion was the only Ella in her Victoria family to leave descendants.

Louisa Ella was a very attractive young woman and talented artist. She received a proposal of marriage from Arthur S. Farwell, Surveyor General of BC (and who the town of Revelstoke was initially named for), but turned him down, marrying Robert E. Dodds on 23 April 1888. The wedding reception was held at Wentworth Villa. The couple moved back east to Watford, Ontario, but when Robert died a few years later, Louisa returned to Victoria and worked as a seamstress out of her home at 1256 Monterey Ave. After Dodds died, Farwell proposed to Louisa again and was accepted, but he died before they were married.

In 1903, ownership of Wentworth Villa was divided amongst the six surviving Ella children (Stark and Barr, 2012). Martha Ella died in 1911. Thomas, Marion and Louisa had moved out by this time, but the rest of the Ella offspring continued to live in the Villa.

Mary Ella had mental health issues and was committed to the ‘Public Hospital for the Insane’ in New Westminster where she died in 1918.

In 1922, the City of Victoria took possession of Wentworth Villa for non-payment of property taxes, but the two brothers, Henry and Fred, continued living there as tenants of the City. Fred Ella was a bartender and co-proprietor of the Grotto Saloon. He married in 1925 and moved out of Wentworth Villa for a few years, but returned when he and his wife separated (Stark and Barr, 2012).

Henry Reece Ella had various jobs over the years. A 1932 letter, sent to his nephew George Nesbitt, has a letterhead that states ‘Accountant, Auditor, Financial Agent and Adjuster. Timber, Piling, Logs. 501-2 Sayward Building, Victoria, BC.’ Henry R. Ella also deserves credit for being the first family historian. He gave talks on Ella family history to the Metchosin Pioneers group in 1928 and to the Victoria Historical Association in 1936. Henry continued to live in Wentworth Villa until 1939, when he moved to the Pacific Club, on the 5th floor of the Pemberton (now Yarrow) Building (Stark and Barr, 2012). Henry died in 1941.

Dorricott, L. and D. Cullon (eds.). 2012. The private journal of Captain G.H. Richards. The Vancouver Island survey (1860-1862). Ronsdale Press: Vancouver. 271 pp.

Nesbitt, J.K. 1944. Noted homes of early-day Victoria. Victoria Daily Times, 20 Dec., 12-13.

Nesbitt, J.K. 1949. The diary of Martha Cheney Ella, 1853–1856, BC Historical Quarterly 13: 91-112, 257-270.

Smith, D.B. (ed.) 1975. The reminiscences of doctor John Sebastian Helmcken. UBC Press: Vancouver. 373 pp.

Stark, S. and J.N. Barr. 2012. 1156 Fort St (ex-268 Fort) Wentworth Villa, pages 69-71 In: Victoria Heritage Foundation, This old house: Victoria’s heritage neighbourhoods. Vol. 1: Fernwood & Victoria West. Victoria Heritage Foundation for City of Victoria, 256 pp.

Walbran, J.T. 1909. British Columbia coast names 1592-1906. Their origin and history. Government Printing Bureau, Ottawa. 546 pp. [1971 reprint by J.J. Douglas, Vancouver].

The Grant & Graham Families
– 1940 to 2012

Faith Grant and her husband George “G.C.” Grant had opened an antique business known as “The Connoisseurs Shop” in 1929, next door at 1162 Fort Street [now also a Designated Heritage House]. In 1940 Faith Grant heard that next-door Wentworth Villa was for sale, and paid “a quarter-century of back taxes” to acquire the house. The Grants added a generous two room and bathroom extension in 1956 as living accommodation “behind the shop”. “G.C.” died later that year, and Faith continued to operate the business until her death in 1985. In that time, few alterations were made to the 1863 house, apart from layers of white paint and the demolition of a rear shed, resulting in a remarkably preserved residence. In 1977 Faith Grant was presented a Hallmark Society Award of Merit “for pioneering heritage preservation in Victoria”.

In 1963 ownership passed to Faith’s daughter Joan Felicity Graham. She died, aged 56, in 1979, and the business passed to her children – Faith Grant’s grandchildren – brother and sister Heather and Forrest Graham. In 1980 a second floor was added to Faith Grant’s 1956 wing. Forrest and Heather sold Wentworth Villa in 2011, but continued to operate Faith Grant The Connoisseurs Shop Ltd. at Wentworth Villa until April 2012, when they moved their business to Oak Bay Avenue. Wentworth Villa had been an antique shop for 72 years.

Wentworth Villa was sold in 2011 to convert the building, with additions, into suites. It was purchased again in 2012 to preserve and restore the house for a future public use.