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The legacy of Capt. John Pipon

Ann Newton, Hank Williams and Malcolm Newton at Capt. John Pipon's gravesite at the Old Burial Ground in downtown Fredericton.
Ann Newton, Hank Williams and Malcolm Newton at Capt. John Pipon's gravesite at the Old Burial Ground in downtown Fredericton. (McKnight photo)

By Gisele McKnight

It’s a safe bet that Capt. John Hodges Pipon of her Majesty’s Corps of Royal Engineers would be surprised, and perhaps pleased, that people still talk about him 160 years after his untimely death.

The young man lies in the Old Burial Ground in downtown Fredericton. His stone slab is worn from the elements and largely illegible. But there is a large and beautiful marble plaque inside St. Anne’s Chapel of Ease on the grounds of Christ Church (Parish) Anglican Church in downtown Fredericton that tells the story of how a 28-year-old from Jersey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of France, died and was buried in New Brunswick.

It was Christmas Eve, 2007 when Ann and Malcolm Newton learned his story. The service at St. Brelade’s Anglican Parish Church in Jersey was full, and their usual pew was taken, so they chose seats in the north nave of the church.

“I was waiting for the service to start and as I’m waiting, I look up above my head and read this plaque, and I see the words ‘Fredericton, New Brunswick,’” said Ann.

“I knew I was going there for holiday in September after attending a stamp convention in Halifax, so I said, ‘I’m going to find this young man’s grave and acknowledge him.’”

The plaque, similar to the one in Fredericton, told Ann and Malcolm that Capt. Pipon drowned in the Restigouche River Oct. 28, 1846 after “attempting to save the life of a fellow creature.”

He was conducting an exploration survey for a railway to connect the Maritimes and Quebec, acting as “Her Majesty’s commissioner for the settlement of the boundary between Canada and New Brunswick,” says the Fredericton plaque.

2008 visit
When Ann and Malcolm arrived in Fredericton in 2008, their tour stop was brief, but they wanted to look for the captain.

“I didn’t know where to find him, but we took ourselves off to find a cemetery. We found Christ Church Cathedral, and standing near the doorway was Hank,” said Ann.

“It was fate. The angels pushed me toward Hank.”

Hank Williams, verger of the cathedral, was eager to help, not only because of the curiosity of it all, but because his mother was a Poindexter, and he knew that all Poindexters in North America are descended from George Poindexter, who left Jersey in the 1600s for the new world. Hank felt a connection to the Newtons.

They tried their best, but with fading light and little to go on, they ended up at Hank’s apartment to find the captain via Google.

They learned about the plaque at St. Anne’s Chapel, but by then the church was closed. The Newtons were leaving the next morning, so they exchanged email addresses and Hank left them with a promise: “Do not worry. I will find him for you.”

By the time the Newtons got home to Jersey, Hank’s email, with information and photos, had arrived. With the help of a three-volume book by Miss Louise Hill called The Old Burial Ground, Hank had found the grave and, of course, the plaque in the chapel. The mystery was solved.

“I was so pleased. It’s just a bit of Fredericton history that I bet nobody’s heard of,” said Hank. “This is the real meaning of the word ‘immortality.’”

Fredericton plaque
It’s sometimes difficult to find emotion in words carved in cold, hard stone, but it seems that Capt. Pipon was much-loved and his death difficult to bear.

The Fredericton plaque says:
“His early death and melancholy fate will be a source of deep and lasting sorrow to his many attached friends. His best memorial is in the hearts and affections of those who knew and loved him.

“The Province of New Brunswick has erected this tablet to his memory, to testify to his friends, and the distinguished Corps to which he belonged, its respect for his character, and its regret for his loss. RESURGAM (I shall rise again).”

2012 visit
In 2012, the Newtons were off to another British North America Philatelic Society convention, this time in Charlottetown and taking the same Maritime bus tour, which brought them to Fredericton for a second time.

They emailed Hank and the group arranged to visit Capt. Pipon’s grave.

“Hank very kindly had gotten flowers,” said Ann. “We had a little service there. It was really quite moving.”

They met Sebastian Edwards, tour guide for St. Anne’s Chapel. It happened that Sebastian’s mother worked with Rob Lunn, who had catalogued the graves in the Old Burial Ground, so they met him too. Strangely, the Newtons had previously met Rob at a stamp convention in the UK.

2016 visit
This September, the stamp convention was in Fredericton, and the Newtons were eager to make their third journey to the city, to catch up with Hank and visit Capt. Pipon once again.

“Even though we’d been here twice before, it was a good opportunity to come over and renew acquaintances,” said Ann.

Once again, Ann, Malcolm and Hank met at Capt. Pipon’s grave, left flowers and Ann thanked the captain for the friendships his discovery has created.

The Newtons are in awe of the path that has brought them to Fredericton three times.

“What intrigued me was I sat under him that Christmas Eve. I could have sat in so many places in the church. We’ve attended this church for over 20 years and I never noticed it.”

Ann regards that Christmas Eve as the starting point of an important journey.

“I just read it and knew I couldn’t ignore this Jersey man,” she said. “He died in a far-flung country and I couldn’t ignore him.”

Whether it was fate, coincidences or the angels, as Ann says, Capt. John Pipon is not forgotten.

“When I walk through the cemetery, I always look over in the direction of the grave and say ‘Good morning, Captain Pipon,’” said Hank.

From Fenety’s Political Notes p. 259
March 30, 1847 – Sixty pounds were placed at the disposal of the Government for the purpose of erecting a monument to Captain Pipon, a young officer of the Royal Engineers, who was buried in Fredericton.

This officer had been on the Inter-Colonial Railroad survey, as an associate with Lieut. Henderson, and was drowned in descending the Restigouche River under the following circumstances:

The canoe in which he and the canoeman were, was overturned, and both swam to the shores which they reached in safety. The former, on gaining his footing seeing a fisherman in a canoe which they had passed at the head of the rapids, a considerable distance off, and that the boy with his head just above the water, and clinging to the bow of the canoe, was being rapidly carried downstream, Capt. Pipon immediately plunged into the rapids and swam straight for the canoe.

He found, however, from the weight of his clothes and the strength of the water, that he could not reach it, and he turned to regain the shore; scarcely had he done so when he suddenly gave up swimming, his hands paddled convulsively above his head, and the strong deep waters swept him down; and although the man who had swum ashore with him at first, seeing his danger, at once plunged into the water, his efforts to reach him were fruitless, and Capt. Pipon sank to rise no more in life.

His remains were recovered and brought to Fredericton for interment.

More pictures and more eNews ...

Gisele McKnight is the communications officer for the Diocese of Fredericton.

Diocesan Communications
18 October 2016