Watch Margaret's Story Mon. Nov at 8:30 PM!
Margaret Trudeau burst onto the scene in 1971 when she married Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. She was as radiant as Trudeau was charismatic. Even after their marriage ended, the media remained fascinated by her, and all her triumphs and private tragedies were fodder for public consumption. Margaret begins the journey into her past with the goal of solving a mystery on her mother's side involving a story about an Indian princess and a far-flung outpost of the British Empire.
Margaret Sinclair Trudeau was born in Vancouver, BC in 1948 to James Sinclair and Kathleen Bernard Sinclair. Growing up, the family history was all about the Sinclair men, thus Margaret is most interested in learning about her mother's side, the Bernards. Specifically, she wants to get to the bottom of a family legend. According to the story, the Bernards are descended from an "Indian or Hindu princess". Margaret's investigation starts with a visit from her sister Heather who has brought a treasure trove of photos and documents about the Bernards.
The story of how the Bernards ended up in BC is well known to the family. Margaret's grandfather Thomas Kirkpatrick Bernard was born in Indonesia in 1891. As a young man, his family moved to Pentiction, BC to be with his ailing grandmother. Thomas' uncle secured jobs for Thomas and his father on the Canadian Pacific Railway. In Penticton, Thomas met and married Rose Ivens.
Another document in Heather's archive describes the life of Thomas' mother, Annie Oliphant Bernard, and his father, Charles Bugdon Bernard. Annie was the daughter of Dutch colonists who lived in the Dutch colony of Batavia Java or what is now known as Jakarta, Indonesia. Charles was a British customs officer whose career would take him and his family from Indonesia to Perth, Australia. After Annie's mother (who had immigrated earlier to Canada) fell ill, the family moved to British Columbia to be with her.
Margaret also knows that she is distantly related via the Bernards to a noted figure, William Farquhar, the Scottish-born, British officer who worked for the East India Trading Company and who was integral to the formation of Singapore.
All these clues have fueled the rumours regarding Asian blood in the Bernard family. Margaret heads to Singapore to unravel the mystery once and for all.
In Singapore at the National Library, Margaret begins her search by learning about William Farquhar. Farquhar, she discovers, is her great, great, great, great grandfather. In 1818, William was given the task of helping the ambitious Sir Stamford Raffles found a settlement on Singapore Island on the southern-most tip of Malaysia. With 15 years experience in the British military in East Asia, Farquhar was considered well suited to the job. He helped negotiate the provisional agreement and later the more formal Singapore Treaty of 6 February 1824, which Raffles signed with local chieftain Temmengong and His Highness the Sultan Hussein Mahomed Shah, confirming the right for the British to set up a trading post as part of the East India Trading Company. The next day, Raffles appointed Farquhar as Singapore's first Resident with the specific task of developing the colony according to a plan Raffles had drawn up. Raffles left, leaving Farquhar in charge.
A historic feud began between Raffles and Farquhar. They disagreed on many aspects of the settlement; Raffles wanted to leave the waterfront land undeveloped for government use, while merchants put pressure on Farquhar to make the land accessible to them. Farquhar came up with a compromise that suited both, allowing merchants access to the waterfront warehouses. Trade increased and the settlement flourished under Farquhar's command. However, when Raffles returned some years later, he was furious that his plans had not been followed to the letter and Farquhar was summarily dismissed. After three decades in the East, Farquhar returned to Scotland where he was eventually promoted to General. The archivist shows Margaret an account of Farquhar's departure from Singapore - an event with much fanfare and sadness on both the part of Singapore's local residents and Farquhar himself.
To find out more about Farquhar's life in Singapore, Margaret visits the National Museum of Singapore. The museum features a large exhibit of natural history drawings and paintings commissioned by Farquhar. Curator, Iskander Khalid, tells Margaret that Farquhar had great respect for both the Malay culture and the natural history of the region.
Farquhar had learned the Malay language and was loved and respected by the local population. The museum's collection contains an ornate idol presented by the Chinese citizens to Farquhar to honour his contribution to their community. Margaret is moved by her ancestor's generous and kind persona and finds an affinity with the challenges he faced as a public figure.
Margaret next meets with Dr. Ernest Chew - a University professor and William Farquhar expert. Finally, the "Indian princess" mystery is unraveled. Dr. Chew tells Margaret that Farquhar married a woman named Antoinette Clement who was the daughter of a French officer and a Malaysian woman in his earlier post in Malacca. Antoinette was just one of the many "country wives" who married British colonists around the globe as the Empire spread - a common practice in the far-flung colonies. Antoinette and William Farquhar lived as man and wife for almost 25 years and had 6 children. Their eldest daughter, Esther, married a British Officer named Francis James Bernard (Margaret's great, great, great grandfather) making Esther the first of the Asian Bernards.
Now that she has solved the mystery of the Indian princess, Margaret is eager to learn more about her Esther's life as a Eurasian in Singapore. She visits the Eurasian Association in Singapore and is told the Eurasians were the first residents of Singapore and were therefore well accepted by all in the community. Their culture is rich and flourishing in present day Singapore.
When Dr. Chew meets with Margaret again to share further information he has uncovered about Esther, she learns that her ancestor's life ended tragically. Francis and Esther were married in 1818, just as Farquhar was about to take charge of Singapore. Five years later, Farquhar returned to Scotland leaving his Singapore family behind. While he did provide Antoinette with several homes and properties it wasn't enough to help Esther. In 1827, Francis left Singapore on a trading ship, never to return. With 5 young children to support, and no money from her father or husband, Esther was left destitute. She was forced to petition the governors of the East India Company for help. The results of her petition are unknown. Esther died 9 years later at the age of 41.
Margaret visits Esther's grave. She is saddened by her grandmother's struggle. As her journey ends, she reflects on the importance of keeping the legacy of one's ancestors alive. She is grateful for the opportunity to honour those family members who have passed, and vows to keep their spirits close to her heart.