Friday, 29 August 2014

Westphal Brothers

If you use Metro Transit in Halifax-Dartmouth, you might be familiar with the #10 bus route which allows passengers to travel to popular destinations such as Saint Mary's and Dalhousie universities, the Dartmouth bridge terminal and Micmac Mall. If you pay attention, you'll see that the signs on the Dartmouth-bound 'tens' say 'Westphal.' What's that? Westphal is a subdivision of the former City of Dartmouth. It shares a name with a variety of Dartmouth institutions such as Admiral Westphal school and Westphal Family Music. Where, however, does the name come from? The answer will take the form of my latest blog post, one that my grandmother, Marie Jones, has encouraged me to write. Her uncle, Dr. John Martin, wrote a newspaper article in 1955 which described the fascinating story of two brothers, George and Philip Westphal, the namesakes of today's Westphal. I have included his well-researched piece below:

Thursday, October 20, 1955

Trafalgar's Sesquicentennial
Westphal's Association With Nelson
(by Dr. J. P. Martin)

Tomorrow, October 21st, the 150th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, has a particular interest for us in Dartmouth and immediate suburbs because of the fact that one of our native sons participated in that memorable naval engagement. He was George Westphal, the younger of two brothers who were born near Salmon River in Preston, and who both rose to be Admirals in the British Navy. (From this family the district got its present name.)
George Westphal was born in 1785. Like his brother Philip, he entered the navy while still in his 'teens. For a time he served on the North American station, sailing in and out of Halifax and Bermuda.
At the battle of Trafalgar, George Westphal was a midshipman on the flagship "Victory." Shortly after Admiral Nelson was struck by a musket ball, George Westphal was severely wounded in the head. When he was carried below decks, he was placed alongside Lord Nelson, and therefore was a witness to the last moments of the dying hero. An attendant in the cockpit on that day had hastily rolled up the great Admiral's coat and put it under George Westphal's head for a pillow. The bullions of the jacket afterwards became entangled in the matted blood from young Westphal's wound so that they had to be cut off before the coat could be released.
This coat is said to be still preserved in Greenwhich Hospital. And the bullions were for many years after, preserved by Westphal as a souvenir of Lord Nelson.
. . .
A bit of bullion fringe from Nelson's epaulet is also treasured up as a relic. George Westphal, born six miles from Dartmouth, N. S., who was a midshipman on board the "Victory" at the battle of Tragalgar, wrote to the United Service Magazine 37 years afterwards (in 1842), under his then higher designation of Sir Gerorge Westphal, and gave the following account of his experience on that memorable 21st day of October:

"When I was carried down wounded, I was placed by the side of his lordship; and his coat was rolled up and put as the substitute for a pillow under my head, which was then bleeding very much from the wound I had received. When the battle was over, and an attempt was made to remove the coat several of the bullions of the epaulet were found to be so firmly glued into my hair, by the coagulated blood from my wound, that the bullions, four or five of them, were cut off and left in my hair; one of which I still have in my possession."

This letter and most of the particulars described above, were culled from a lengthy account on Trafalgar Day which appeared in Chambers' Book of Days, issued in 1868. In that year, the writer of the article stated that the coat to which the Nelson epaulet belonged, "was apparently the coat now displayed to visitors at Greenwhich Hospital."
The site of the Westpahl birthplace on Old Preston Road is marked by a historic plaque erected by the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1928. At that ceremony were present Sydenham Howe, son of Joseph Howe, a near relative of the Westphal family, and several other prominent men who well remembered the old homestead. The late Dr. W. L. Payzant, who spent his boyhood summers with his relatives, the Silvers, whose property adjoined it on the west, once told me that the house was a 1 1/2 storey structure and had been long abandoned even in his youth, that is about 70 years ago.
The foundation walls and cellar, however, still remain, although the stones are gradually tumbling down with the years, despite my sporadic labors as a member of the N. S. Historical Society, to patch up the breaks every summer. The fear is felt with the march of time and the great expansion in land development in that direction that the precious foundation may one day disappear, and thus 150 years of history will be lost. The property should be acquired either by public or private subscription, for it will no doubt one day be a popular tourist attraction. No more appropriate spot in the whole of Canada, could be chosen  to hold Trafalgar Day celebrations, for instance.
Parents and teachers who read this article should take time tomorrow for a short instruction on the significance of the name of "Westphal", particularly explaining how two boys who grew up in our district, later joined the Navy and long played a prominent part in the preservation of the British Empire. Their names were Philip and George Westphal. Tomorrow we should pay tribute to George - one of the heroes in the great naval battle of Trafalgar, October 21st 1805.


Photo of Westphal brothers Nova Scotia Historical Society plaque; courtesy Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Additional information on the Westphal brothers (from John P. Martin's The Story of Dartmouth):

Page 95: There is a plaque of the N.S. Historical Society, on Old Preston Road just below the McPhee (Smith) farm near Salmon River, marking the 18th century birthplace of George and Phillip Westphal, both of whom became British Admirals.

Page 114: News of the naval battle of Trafalgar fought on October 21, 1805, was read by Dartmouthians five months later in the Halifax Weekly Chronicle of March 22, 1806. That paper published a two-column account of the engagement together with a casualty list of killed and wounded. Listed among the latter were:

    George A. Westphal, Midshipman of flagship "Victory".
    Lt. Robert Lloyd of H.M.S. "Conqueror", well-known in Halifax, and widely respected.

Page 120:
George Westphal was in the news again that year. He was then in command of the "Anaconda", and in the attack on New Orleans during 1813, had lost his right hand.

Page 122:
Phillip Westphal's ship H. M. S. "Junon," of which he was 1st Lieutenant, was in and out of port all that season. In November 1814, he was married at St. Paul's to Miss Frances Davis, daughter of the late Burrowes Davis, former commissary of stores.
Philip Westphal was noted for his heroism and many acts of personal bravery under fire. As Lieutenant of the "Amazon" in 1806, he was especially mentioned for gallantry during the engagement of the "Amazon" with the French frigate "Belle Poule" off the West Indies. After her capture, Lieutenant Westphal was placed in charge of this prize and navigated the French ship to England.

Page 124 (referring to 1815?):
George Westphal, now raised to the rank of Captain, came home that October. His companion was Captain Michael Head of Halifax. They had sailed from Liverpool, Eng., to Liverpool, N. S., in the brig "Fanny" which took 54 days on the passage.

Page 195:
Sir George Westphal, now Captain of the flagship "Vernon", was in this port from July until October. In recognition of his gallant services in battle, he had been knighted the previous year on the recommendation of Sir Robert Peel.
There is no record of Sir George visiting his boyhood haunts that summer, but he may have done so. Just prior to H. M. S. Vernon's departure for Bermuda, his name appeared among guests at a military and naval ball in Government House.

Harry Chapman, author of In the Wake of the Alderney, writes about the history of Westphal on page 381 of his book:
Westphal was settled by farming families in the late 1700s. The area was originally known as the Preston Road until 1935, when the Women's Institute started a petition to have the area named for George and Phillip Westphal, brothers who born near Salmon River and left home as teenagers to join the Royal Navy. . . .
Westphal was mostly a farming community, until the building boom began in the late 1940s and continued throughout the 1950s.


  1. This is so fascinating and well documented. Dartmouth / Halifax and Nova Scotia the birthplace of greats.Thank you so much for posting. Please keep up the good work.