Skip to content

English Quaker tells district Doukhobors of his great-grandfather’s support

Aspects of Doukhobor history, particularly the story of how a group of persecuted pacifists were able to leave Russia and come to Canada at the end of the 19th century, were discussed at Veregin on June 15 when a member of the Cadbury family of Engla

Aspects of Doukhobor history, particularly the story of how a group of persecuted pacifists were able to leave Russia and come to Canada at the end of the 19th century, were discussed at Veregin on June 15 when a member of the Cadbury family of England visited.

Bruce Cadbury, a member of the family which made its wealth and reputation in chocolate, is currently travelling through Canada, making his way from British Columbia to Veregin and on to Ontario, being especially interested in visiting Doukhobor communities.

Researching his family, Cadbury, a Quaker, has learned that his great-grandfather, John Bellows, was among the Quakers in Great Britain, who with Count Leo Tolstoy, the Nobel Prize-winning writer, helped the Doukhobors immigrate to Canada.

Arriving in the area on June 14, Cadbury was treated to a small shishliki reception at the home of Linda Osachoff and Alfredo Converso, north of Mikado, and then the next day he discussed his experiences and research at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin.

“I decided to delve into the records of the Quakers to discover the facts about Quaker assistance to the Doukhobors in their migration to Canada, and at the same time to find out more about my great-grandfather John Bellows, who was very active in this Quaker assistance,” Cadbury said in his Internet blog. “It has been a fascinating journey because I’m not an historian. I’m a retired businessman. The information I have gleaned comes in the main from the library at Friends’ House in London, but also from a number of books and the archives of Gloucester Library.

“The first recorded contact between the Quakers and the Doukhobors was in a letter sent in 1815 describing an encounter with some Doukhobors, and there were a number of subsequent contacts between Quakers and Russian minorities, including the Hutterites, Stundists and Mennonites, over the next 80 years but the amount of information is patchy, probably because the activity was deliberately ‘under the radar.’”

The story of the last decade of the 19th century starts in the Memoirs of JJ Neave, an English Quaker who was in Australia when he got a calling “You must go to Russia,” Cadbury said.

John Bellows felt compelled to join Neave on the journey and they headed for the Caucuses in December 1891. On their way back, they went to see Count Leo Tolstoy, and this started a life-long friendship between Bellows and Tolstoy.

Following the Doukhobors’ Burning of the Arms demonstration, a Doukhobor committee was established in London with Bellows as clerk, he said. The committee had a number of tasks, including: decide where the Doukhobors were going; negotiate for their arrival; organise transport; raise money, and get Russian approval for the emigration.

“The letter sent to the Tsar on August 28, 1897 is, in my opinion, the best letter I have ever read, and although it was signed by Albert Crosfield, the Clerk to the Society of Friends, I think I can detect Bellows’ style in its composition,” Cadbury said. “It worked, and by the spring of 1898, permission was granted and by this stage plans were advanced.”

An appeal had been sent out to all the Quaker Meetings and after discussion it had been agreed that the Doukhobors would go to Cyprus. The wheels had been put in motion for 7,000 Doukhobors to be received into Cyprus. This involved negotiation not only with the Colonial Office in London but the Cyprus Company. (Like many parts of the British Empire, Cyprus was run as a business, like Hudson’s Bay in Canada). The lease for some land had been negotiated and signed, an on-the-spot co-ordinator, nurses, doctors and interpreters arranged, and the financial arrangements with the Cyprus Company agreed. This involved not only a payment per head for all the arrivals but a further financial guarantee to be paid in reparations in the event that the Doukhobors didn’t stay.

As most Canadian Doukhobors know, Cyprus became a disaster. On arrival, there were no facilities yet available for them, the local authorities were hostile because they had arrived early and unannounced. They slept rough to begin with and very soon there was illness and death leading to the decision in London in August 1898 that another destination should be found.

Among the alternatives considered were Syria, Egypt and the United States, but on the balance of a number of factors (finance was a major consideration) Canada was chosen, Cadbury explained. “What then followed was, in my mind, nothing short of incredible.

“In the four months between August and December 1898, fresh negotiations had found the land in Canada; an agreement had been signed that the Doukhobors would be freed of military service; money had been raised, boats chartered and they were on board.

“There are various stories around the money raised by Tolstoy’s book Resurrection. Tolstoy gave Bellows the manuscript for Resurrection, saying that it had been banned in Russia but if Bellows could get it translated and published in England, the funds should go towards the Doukhobors’ emigration,” he explained. Bellows arranged this but was called in to resolve some technical translation matter on the book at which point he became aware of the slightly “racy” nature of the book. As a consequence, when the first royalty cheque arrived Bellows returned it to Tolstoy who wrote back saying, in effect, that Bellows was being a bit sniffy about it.

Tolstoy proposed that the Doukhobors receive some of the newly-established Nobel Peace Prize on the basis that they had done more by example than anybody had done, Cadbury said, explaining that significant contributions came from Quakers in Philadelphia and support from England was sent in the form of John Bellows’ daughter (Cadbury’s great-aunt Hannah) and a friend who went to Manitoba to teach.

A letter November 7, 1900, expresses gratitude to the Philadelphia Quakers from some Doukhobors in the “South Colony” (Saskatchewan) for the gift of 210 sheep but makes the firm point that they will be embarrassed by any further assistance since they were “on their feet” and there were others in the world who were more needy, he said.

“This was 18 months after they’d dismounted from the train in the middle of nowhere, broken the ground, built houses and established themselves. Wow!”

Cadbury briefly discussed other aspects of Bellows’ life. It was his daughter who married Henry Cadbury. Bellows had apprenticed to a firm of printers and made his fortune by printing the first-ever pocket dictionary for translating English into French and vice versa.

“Bellows was hugely instrumental in the activities of the London Quakers, giving assistance to the Doukhobor migration. While he was Clerk to the Doukhobor Committee he was also Clerk to the Norway Committee and at a similar time to petitioning the Tsar, the Quakers were petitioning the King of Norway to allow military conscripts to claim conscientious objection.”

Persons interested in Cadbury’s visits may go to