QUIRK, JOHN, sailor and businessman; b. 12 Jan. 1783 near Peel, Isle of Man, son of John Quirk and Sarah Cowin; m. first 8 Feb. 1821 Eliza Chipman (d. 16 June 1833), and they had six children; m. secondly 1 Feb. 1834 Phebe Tupper, widow of Robert FitzRandolph, and they had four children; d. 17 Oct. 1853 in Bridgetown, N.S.
One of seven children, John Quirk grew up on his father’s farm, attending school in nearby Peel. His copybooks show a fascination with the sea. Rude sketches of ships and nautical equipment are interspersed with exercises relative to ships’ supplies and the West Indian trade. Little is known of his early life at sea but it would not have been an easy one for a young sailor. When the Napoleonic Wars depleted the reserves of the Royal Navy, mercantile ships were frequently harassed by press-gangs. In 1814, Quirk’s ship, on a voyage to Jamaica, put in to Queenstown (Cobh, Republic of Ireland) and he was pressed into service. His enforced career lasted barely a year. In July 1815 he was on a naval vessel in Plymouth harbour where he saw the defeated Napoleon aboard the Bellerophon.
From November 1815, when Quirk immigrated to Saint John, N.B., British North America was his permanent home. He retained a great affection for his native island, however, and assisted fellow Manxmen in establishing themselves in his adopted land. The Quirk household became a place of refuge and a stopover for many of them. He was joined in Saint John by his younger brother Matthias, and together they engaged in building and sailing coastal trading vessels. Quirk began visiting settlements up the Annapolis River to the head of navigation at Hicks’ Ferry, trading primarily in lumber and agricultural produce. Here his white vessel flying the Manx flag attracted crowds. Captain Quirk’s name appears in the account-books of the local merchants beginning in 1820. The next year he married the youngest daughter of a Baptist clergyman, gave up the sea, and purchased a lot in the town at Hicks’ Ferry, laid out that year by John Crosskill*. He built a house on his land in 1822 and settled down, becoming a leading figure in the community which was named Bridgetown two years later. Beamish Murdoch*, recalling only a house or two on the site in 1822, returned in 1824 to find that “quite a town had sprung up in the interim.”
Quirk sold his river-front home in 1827 and the next year purchased a house at the town’s main intersection where he “commenced keeping entertainment.” He named his hostelry the “Golden Ball Inn,” although it was familiarly known as “Quirk’s Hotel.” Acquiring the lot next to the inn, he put up a building in 1829 at a cost of £225. Housing two stores at street level and a “long room” upstairs, it became, along with the inn, the social centre of the new town. Coaches stopped there at the last stage between Halifax and Annapolis Royal after that run was inaugurated in 1828. The long room was the only public hall in Bridgetown for some years and was the scene of much activity. In 1840, at a dinner honouring Joseph Howe*, who was then at the beginning of his political career, 80 gentlemen are recorded as having sat at table.
Quirk’s second marriage in 1834 had brought six stepchildren into the household. To supply the needs of both his growing family and the inn, he assembled 80 acres of farm land north of the town at a cost of £325. A devout Anglican, Quirk none the less purchased pews in the Baptist and Methodist meeting-houses, and his name appears as a leading contributor to every effort advancing the prosperity of his community. At a time when those Nova Scotian establishments professing to be inns were found by army officer William Scarth Moorsom* to have “little idea of acting up to their profession,” Quirk’s hostelry was noted for its high standards. A traveller described it in 1843 as “a very nice clean hotel in the pretty town of Bridgeton.”
Quirk died in his Bridgetown home in 1853, leaving an estate valued at more than £1,600. He had contributed to the life and prosperity of the community since its founding. His widow survived until 1873.
Annapolis County Court of Probate (Bridgetown, N.S.), Q3 (estate papers of John Quirk). Annapolis Valley Regional Library, Bridgetown Branch, “Book of Bridgetown pictures,” comp. E. R. Coward (ms photo. albums, 4v., plus scrapbook, 1958), 1. PANS, MG 1, 238; MG 3, 28; RG 14, 73. Private arch., F. H. Hicks (Ottawa), Memoranda written by John and James Quirk. [James Lumsden], American memoranda, by a mercantile man, during a short tour in the summer of 1843 (Glasgow, 1844), 57. W. S. Moorsom, Letters from Nova Scotia; comprising sketches of a young country (London, 1830). E. R. Coward, Bridgetown, Nova Scotia; its history to 1900 ([Kentville, N.S.], 1955). [When writing this book E. R. Coward had access to ships’ logs and family papers that have since been lost. f.h.h.] Beamish Murdoch, A history of Nova-Scotia, or Acadie (3v., Halifax, 1865–67), 3: 516–17. John Irvin, “History of Bridgetown . . . ,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 19 (1918): 31–51.