EASTSTAFF (Eastaff), THOMAS GEORGE WILLIAM, army officer, surveyor, and draftsman; b. in England, probably in 1772; m. Elizabeth (Eliza) —,and they had seven children; d. 13 Aug. 1854 at Quebec.
Following training at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich (London) from 1787 to 1793, Thomas George William Eaststaff served in several places as a royal military surveyor and draftsman with the Board of Ordnance. In 1795 he left for Newfoundland where he was employed as a military surveyor and draftsman with the Royal Engineers in St John’s. He also accepted a lieutenant’s commission in the Royal Newfoundland Fencible Regiment commanded by Thomas Skinner*, remaining with it until 1800. It was during this period that he accepted the part-time but important position of civil surveyor.
Eaststaff began his duties as surveyor at a time when St John’s was undergoing considerable change. Principally a fishing community, military strong point, and naval station in the latter part of the 18th century, the town was then confined to the immediate area of the harbour, with land set aside for fishing rooms, defence works, and an Ordnance wharf. By the turn of the century European wars had increased its strategic importance; at the same time, growth in its population and commercial activity placed new demands upon available land. As early as 1804 it became evident, not only to the residents but also to the governor, Sir Erasmus Gower*, that new areas for residential settlement were needed. Eaststaff was to play an important role in the subsequent planning. His first major project was to complete a survey of St John’s and mark out a new road dividing several large properties and opening up new areas for settlement. By 1807 the road, Gower Street, had been laid out and a plan for the town drawn up. The latter represented the first attempt by government to develop St John’s based on civil rather than purely military and naval considerations. It remained until the 1840s as the principal plan of the town.
Under Governor Sir John Thomas Duckworth*, a further demand for land led in 1812 to the leasing of fishing rooms for commercial and residential construction. Because of frequent encroachments on crown land, in 1814 Eaststaff was instructed by Governor Sir Richard Goodwin Keats* to undertake a survey to re-establish the boundaries of government property. An accompanying register of deeds and grants which Eaststaff prepared enabled the government to develop a record of legal grants and to determine what land was available for future allocation.
Eaststaff’s abilities were recognized in 1815 when he was appointed surveyor of lands for the colony; he continued, however, to work for the Ordnance department. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars his service in Newfoundland was abruptly terminated. In 1817 he was ordered to return to England, where he was placed on half pay pending reappointment. While in St John’s he had played an active role in the Congregational Church and served as secretary of the church’s auxiliary missionary committee.
For a brief period Eaststaff and his family waited in London for an appointment. Though strongly recommended by Governor Francis Pickmore* for the new permanent post of surveyor of crown lands in Newfoundland, a position he apparently expected to receive, he was ordered to Quebec in May 1817 to serve with the Ordnance office. He accepted the appointment “from extreme necessity.” A man with a large family, he had found the period on half pay financially ruinous and had been obliged to sell land acquired in Newfoundland. He took up his appointment in the summer of 1818. His work at Quebec differed markedly from that in St John’s: most of the assignments he received involved surveys and drafting directly related to military construction. Before 1830 he was employed on defence works at Quebec; after that date, when the military importance of the city began to decline, his activities shifted to defence projects elsewhere in the Canadas. At the same time an organizational change in the Ordnance department created a civil establishment for the Royal Engineers in Quebec, and Eaststaff was placed in charge of it. His work was now more varied, but it is impossible to determine the extent of his contribution to the numerous plans and surveys that bear, or include, his signature. It is more than likely that he simply compiled them on the basis of field-work and notes of others.
Nothing is known of Eaststaff’s activities after his retirement from the Ordnance service in 1839. He died at Quebec on 13 Aug. 1854, three years after his wife. It is perhaps a measure of the man and of his life’s work that his obituary appeared in the papers of Quebec, Montreal, and St John’s.
PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 381–495. PANL, GB 2/1, 1805–14, 1827–29; P8/A/11 (Congregational Church, St John’s, reg. of baptisms, 1773–1857) (transcripts). PRO, CO 194/44, 194/55–57, 194/59–60, 194/62–63. SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr., Nfld. (mfm. at PAC). Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 14 Aug. 1854. Newfoundland Express (St John’s), 23 Sept. 1854. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 26 Sept. 1854. Sun (Montreal), 18 Aug. 1854. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 23 Sept. 1854. E. H. Dahl et al., La ville de Québec, 1800–1850: un inventaire de cartes et plans (Ottawa, 1975). Quebec almanac, 1820–39. The book of Newfoundland, ed. J. R. Smallwood (6v., St John’s, 1937–67), 2. O’Neill, Story of St John’s. Charles Pedley, The history of Newfoundland from the earliest times to the year 1860 (London, 1863). D. W. Thomson, Men and meridians; the history of surveying and mapping in Canada (3v., Ottawa, 1966–69), 1. D. A. Webber, Skinner’s Fencibles: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1795–1802 (St John’s, 1964).