Skip to main content

Chettle's John West

John West is an almost completely forgotten cleric who was the Rector of Chettle from 1828 to 1845. In fact, he is far better known in Canada for his pioneering missionary work than he is remembered in his home country. In the Canadian Calendar of Holy Persons, 31 December each year is John West Commemoration Day.

Yet in the 1830s, he helped many poverty trapped families from the Blandford villages secure a far better life in New South Wales, Australia. Families helped included agricultural labourer, George Butt and his wife, Charlotte and their six children from Winterborne Stickland. Emigrating with them were his brother, Stephen and his wife, Martha from the same village. There were also Samuel and Ann Arnold from Child Okeford and their baby daughter, Sarah Ann. Samuel was a wheelwright by trade and became a successful businessman. His inn which he founded, the Plough & Harrow just outside Sydney is still open for business today.

John West had worked with the Australian landowning Macarthur family to identify suitable North Dorset young families to emigrate. For the times, and known as the Bounty Immigrant Scheme, the terms were both generous and progressive. In return for working for the Macarthurs for a fixed period, there was a free passage, a wage, accommodation and the gift of livestock. The first North Dorset families arrived in Sydney in April 1837. In total, over five years, the Reverend John West helped over 230 people leave in search of a better life.

In Chettle Church, there is a tablet dedicated to the Reverend John West and his wife, Harriett. While on a far grander scale in St John’s Cathedral, Winnepeg, which he founded, there is the John West Hall. Born in 1778 in Farnham, Surrey John West did not have a rugged appearance yet in one frozen Canadian journey he walked 240 miles. Another church in Manitoba has the John West Bell.

John West had been appointed chaplain to the Hudson Bay Company in 1820 where he set up a school for the children of settlers, Indians and those of mixed race. However, he became unpopular with his employer as he was critical of both the liquor and fur trades which were staple businesses for the company. He also shamed some of his congregation into marrying their Native American partners. Much respected by the local Native Americans, he was given by them a small collection of local artefacts. The extremely rare early items are now on display in a Manitoba museum. These were returned to Canada by a descendant of the Chettle clergyman.

John West returned to England in 1824 when he had his contract cancelled as he had upset too many people. He was also responsible for setting up a school for gypsy children in Farnham. Opening in 1847 after his death, it remained in existence for eight years. 

John West died in Chettle on 21 December 1845 having survived his wife, Harriett.

(Illustration: John West)





  1. Wonderful history, really enjoyed reading it , thank you .


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

True Lovers Knot - a Tragic Tale

True Lovers Knot public house describes itself as a traditional  inn set in a picturesque Dorset valley in Tarrant Keynston. Yet, this historical hostelry is said to have gained its name from a particularly tragic tale and still to be haunted by a distressed former publican. This publican’s son met and fell in love with the daughter of the local squire. Because the young lad was not from the gentry they decided to keep their relationship secret from her father. Unfortunately, a stable hand saw the two young lovers together and told her father. Set firmly against this friendship the squire made plans to send his daughter away from the district. Not able to face up to life without her boyfriend, the young girl decided to commit suicide and hanged herself from a tree in the village. So upset was the publican’s son of hearing of his girlfriend’s death he too hanged himself from the same tree. The Tarrant Keynston publican had, himself lost his wife at child birth and now losing his son b

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw