Whitstable is unique as the only town of this name in the world. An online search does reveal that the popularity of the name extends to a whole range of items including clothes, furnishing and even sheds, portraying a feel of casual comfort or old fashioned reliability. In addition, many new housing developments around the country now include Whitstable in the name of a road, close or avenue. Perhaps we should regard this as a complimentary branding exercise, based on the national perception of the ethos of our town.
Tankerton, a suburb of Whitstable, does exist as the name of a township in two other countries, Australia and Canada. Were these named after our Tankerton, or were they corruptions of a name such as Tank Town?
We’ll start with the Australian version, located on French Island, south of Melbourne, Victoria. On the nearby mainland we find settlements such as Hastings, Shoreham, Bitterne, Rye and Cowes, so there was definitely a south of England influence when this area was colonised. French Island has just 116 inhabitants in its settlements of Tankerton and Fairhaven, with 70% of the island now a National Park containing the world’s greatest density of healthy koalas. Geographically the island is in a bay which is fed by many fresh water sources.
The evidence of its connection to our Tankerton is circumstantial, but it was settled around 1895 and the area has all the requirements for oyster production. Its main industry became the production of chicory. It still has old chicory drying kilns in existence, resembling small corrugated-iron versions of our hop Oasts.
Now we’ll travel to Canada. Tankerton was a sub-district of Manville, Alberta, about 110 miles east of Edmonton. Primarily Mannville was an agricultural region, opened up by the railway in 1905/6 which brought in many immigrants to take up homesteads. A homestead was an area of wild land sectioned off to cultivate into a farm. Early settlers from Whitstable, who filed on homesteads in 1906 were John F. Reeves, baker and confectioner; Fred Humphrey, school teacher; Arthur Cox, bookseller; Charles Allen, bricklayer; Sid Dadd, carpenter; Albert Payne and Billy Coleman.
John Reeves returned to Whitstable for a visit in 1912 and his accounts of the settlement attracted many young men from Whitstable and Tankerton to take the same path. When the First World War broke out these men enlisted and all of them returned safely to Canada. Not all those that filed for Canadian homesteads managed to survive for the three years it was necessary to ‘prove’ or own them, due to inclement weather. Whitstable postman Tommy Allen, and his wife Mabel née Shingleston, took up theirs just as the ‘Dust-Bowl’ era commenced. Unsuccessful, like most at that time, of proving their claim, they travelled down through America looking for work and eventually settled in Detroit.
There is little doubt of the origins of the name Tankerton in this context. John Reeves was related to George Reeves who built many houses in Tankerton and Chestfield. When George visited John in the 1920’s he returned with a trophy – a Mousse’s head which he had mounted and fixed to a wall in the Chestfield Golf Club. The Whitstable Times covered the story, but unfortunately missed an ‘s’ from the word ‘Mousse’ in the title and caused much frivolity about the giant mouse’s head!
There are many more connections between Canada and Whitstable. In 2004 I was able to connect Canadian residents, Mark Foreman and Carolyn Kemp, both descendants of old Whitstable lines with shared ancestry that ended up across the pond. They are seen here meeting up in Edmonton and kindly sent the picture to me. The Foreman family were very involved with the merchant ships of Whitstable and were once owners of the Stag Inn, whilst Carolyn’s family line was an integral part of the Oyster Company. Her great-grandfather emigrated to become the Canadian government’s advisor on agriculture and fisheries. This provides more evidence about the stature of the Whitstable Oyster industry and how its men influenced oyster production around the world.