From St. George’s Cross to the Stars and Stripes — Unpunctuality — Incompetence —— A wretched night — Colonial curiosity — The fashions — A night in a buffalo robe — A stage journey — A queer character — Politics — Chemistry — Mathematics — Rotten bridges — A midnight arrival — Colonial ignorance — Yankee conceit — What ten-horse power chaps can do — The pestilence — The city on the rock — New Brunswick — Steamboat peculiarities — Going ahead in the eating line — A storm — Stepping ashore.
The ravages of the cholera having in some degree ceased, I left Prince Edward Island for the United States, and decided to endure the delays and inconveniences of the intercolonial route for the purpose of seeing something of New Brunswick on my way to Boston.
The journey from the island to the States is in itself by no means an easy one, and is rendered still more difficult by the want of arrangement on the part of those who conduct the transit of travellers. The inhabitants of our eastern colonies do not understand the value of time, consequently the uncertain arrivals and departures of the Lady Le Marchant furnish matter for numerous speculations. From some circumstances which had occurred within my knowledge — one being that the captain of this steamer had forgotten to call for the continental mails — I did not attach much importance to the various times which were fixed definitely for her sailing between the hours of four and ten.
A cloudy, gloomy night had succeeded to the bright blaze of an August day, and midnight was fast approaching before the signal-bell rang. Two friends accompanied me as far as Bedeque, and, besides the gentleman under whose escort I was to travel, there were twelve island gentlemen and two ladies, all supposed to be bound, like myself, for Boston. All separate individualities were, however, lost amid the confusion of bear-skin and waterproof coats and the impenetrable darkness which brooded both on wharf and steamer.
An amusing scene of bungling marked our departure from Charlotte Town. The captain, a sturdy old Northumbrian seaman, thoroughly understood his business; but the owners of the ship compelled him to share its management with a very pertinacious pilot, and the conflicting orders given, and the want of harmony in the actions produced, gave rise to many reflections on the evils of divided responsibility. On the night in question some mysterious spell seemed to bind us to the shores of Prince Edward Island. In an attempt to get the steamer off she ran stern foremost upon the bowsprit of a schooner, then broke one of the piles of the wharf to pieces, crushing her fender to atoms at the same time. Some persons on the pier, compassionating our helplessness, attempted to stave the ship off with long poles, but this well-meant attempt failed, as did several others, until some one suggested to the captain the very simple expedient of working the engines, when the steamer moved slowly away, smashing the bulwarks of a new brig, and soon in the dark and murky atmosphere the few lights of Charlotte Town ceased to be visible.
The compass was then required, but the matches in the ship hung fire; and when a passenger at length produced a light, it was discovered that the lamp in the binnacle was without that essential article, oil. Meanwhile no one had ascertained what had caused the heavy smash at the outset, and certain timid persons, in the idea that a hole had been knocked in the ship’s side, were in continual apprehension that she would fill and sink. To drown all such gloomy anticipations we sang several songs, among others the appropriate one, “Isle of Beauty, fare thee well.” The voices rapidly grew more faint and spiritless as we stood farther out to sea, a failure which might have been attributed to grief at leaving old friends on the chance of making new ones, had not hints and questions been speedily interchanged, such as “Do you like the sea?” “Are you feeling comfortable?” “Would you prefer being downstairs?” — and the like.
Cloaks and pillows became more thought of than either songs or friends; indefinable sensations of melancholy rendered the merriest of the party silent, and a perfect deluge of rain rendered a retreat into the lower regions a precautionary measure which even the boldest were content to adopt. Below, in addition to the close overpowering odour of cabins without any ventilation, the smell of the bilge-water was sufficient in itself to produce nausea. The dark den called the ladies’ cabin, which was by no means clean, was the sleeping abode of twelve people in various stages of discomfort, and two babies.
I spent a very comfortless four hours, and went on deck at dawn to find a thick fog, a heavy rain, the boards swimming with soot and water, and one man cowering at the wheel. Most of the gentlemen, induced by the discomfort to be early risers, came up before we reached Bedeque, in oilskin caps, coats, and leggings, wearing that expression on their physiognomies peculiar to Anglo–Saxons in the rain.
The K——s wished me to go ashore here, but the skipper, who seemed to have been born with an objection on the tip of his tongue, dissuaded me, as the rain was falling heavily, and the boat was a quarter full of water; but as my clothes could not be more thoroughly saturated than they were, I landed; and even at the early hour of six we found a blazing log-fire in the shipbuilder’s hospitable house, and “Biddy,” more the “Biddy” of an Irish novelist than a servant in real life, with her merry face, rich brogue, and potato-cakes, welcomed us with many expressions of commiseration for our drowned plight.
Who that has ever experienced the miseries of a voyage in a dirty, crowded, and ill-ventilated little steamer, has not also appreciated the pleasure of getting upon the land even for a few minutes? The consciousness of the absence of suffocating sensations, and of the comfort of a floor which does not move under the feet — of space, and cleanliness, and warmth — soon produce an oblivion of all past miseries; but if the voyage has not terminated, and the relief is only temporary, it enhances the dread of future ones to such an extent that, when the captain came to the door to fetch me, I had to rouse all my energies before I could leave a blazing fire to battle with cold and rain again. The offer of a cup of tea, which I would have supposed irresistible, would not induce him to permit me to finish my breakfast, but at length his better nature prevailed, and he consented to send the boat a second time.
After allowing my pocket to be filled with “notions” by the generous “Biddy,” I took leave of Miss Kenjins, who is good, clever, and agreeable enough to redeem the young-ladyhood of the island — nor was there enough of pleasant promise for the future to compensate for the regret I felt at leaving those who had received a stranger with such kindness and hospitality.
I jumped into the boat, where I stood with my feet in the water, in company with several gentlemen with dripping umbrellas, whose marked want of nasal development rendered Disraeli’s description of “flat-nosed Franks” peculiarly appropriate. The rain poured down as rain never pours in England; and under these very dispiriting circumstances I began my travels over the North American continent.
I went down to my miserable berth, and vainly tried to sleep, the discomfort and mismanagement which prevailed leading my thoughts by force of contrast to the order, cleanliness, and regularity of the inimitable line of steamers on the West Highland coast. Wherever the means of locomotion are concerned, these colonies are very far behind either the “old country” or their enterprising neighbours in Canada; and at present they do not appear conscious of the deficiencies which are sternly forced upon a traveller’s observation.
The prospect which appeared through the door was not calculated to please, as it consisted of a low, dark, and suffocating cabin, filled with men in suits of oilskin, existing in a steamy atmosphere, loaded with the odours of india-rubber, tobacco, and spirits. The stewardess was ill, and my companions were groaning; unheeded babies were crying; and the only pleasing feature in the scene was the gruff old pilot, ubiquitous in kindness, ever performing some act of humanity. At one moment he was holding smelling-salts to some exhausted lady — at another carrying down a poor Irishwoman, who, though a steerage passenger, should not, he said, be left to perish from cold and hunger — and again, feeding some crying baby with bread and milk. My clothes were completely saturated, and his good offices probably saved me from a severe illness by covering me up with a blanket.
At twelve we reached Shediac in New Brunswick, a place from which an enormous quantity of timber is annually exported. It is a village in a marsh, on a large bay surrounded by low wooded hills, and presents every appearance of unhealthiness. Huge square-sided ships, English, Dutch, and Austrian, were swallowing up rafts of pine which kept arriving from the shore. The water on this coast is shallow, and, though our steamer was not of more than 150 tons burthen, we were obliged to anchor nearly two miles from shore.
Shediac bad recently been visited by the cholera, and there was an infectious melancholy about its aspect, which, coupled with the fact that I was wet, cold, and weary, and with the discovery that my escort and I had not two ideas in common, had a tendency to produce anything but a lively frame of mind.
We and our luggage were unceremoniously trundled into two large boats, some of the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, forcing their way into the first, in order to secure for themselves inside places in the stage. An American gentleman offered our rowers a dollar if they could gain the shore first, but they failed in doing so, and these very ungallant individuals hired the first waggon, and drove off at full speed to the Bend on the Petticodiac river, confident in the success of their scheme. What was their surprise and mortification to find that a gentleman of our party, who said he was “an old stager, and up to a dodge or two,” had leisurely telegraphed from Shediac for nine places! Thus, on their arrival at the Bend, the delinquents found that, besides being both censured and laughed at for their selfishness, they had lost their places, their dinners, and their tempers.
As we were rowing to shore, the captain told us that our worst difficulty was yet to come — an insuperable one, he added, to corpulent persons. There was no landing-place for boats, or indeed for anything, at low water, and we had to climb up a wharf ten feet high, formed of huge round logs placed a foot apart from each other, and slippery with sea-grass. It is really incredible that, at a place through which a considerable traffic passes, as being on the high road from Prince Edward Island to the United States, there should be a more inconvenient landing-place than I ever saw at a Highland village.
Large, high, springless waggons were waiting for us on this wharf, which, after jolting us along a bad road for some distance, deposited us at the door of the inn at Shediac, where we came for the first time upon the track of the cholera, which had recently devastated all the places along our route. Here we had a substantial dinner of a very homely description, and, as in Nova Scotia, a cup of tea sweetened with molasses was placed by each plate, instead of any intoxicating beverage.
After this meal I went into the “house-room,” or parlour, a general “rendezvous” of lady visitors, babies, unmannerly children, Irish servant-girls with tangled hair and bare feet, colonial gossips, “cute” urchins, and not unfrequently of those curious-looking beings, pauper-emigrant lads from Erin, who do a little of everything and nothing well, denominated stable-helps.
Here I was assailed with a host of questions as to my country, objects in travelling, &c., and I speedily found that being from the “old country” gave me a status in the eyes of the colonial ladies. I was requested to take off my cloak to display the pattern of my dress, and the performance of a very inefficient country modiste passed off as the latest Parisian fashion. My bonnet and cloak were subjected to a like scrutiny, and the pattern of the dress was taken, after which I was allowed to resume my seat.
Interrogatories about England followed, and I was asked if I had seen the queen? The hostess “guessed” that she must be a “tall grand lady,” and one pretty damsel that “she must dress beautiful, and always wear the crown out of doors.” I am afraid that I rather lessened the estimation in which our gracious liege lady was held by her subjects when I replied that she dressed very simply on ordinary occasions; had never, I believed, worn the crown since her coronation, and was very little above my height. They inquired about the royal children, but evinced more curiosity about the princess-royal than with respect to the heir to the throne. One of the querists had been at Boston, but guessed that “London must be a pretty considerable touch higher.” Most, however, could only compare it in idea with St. John, N. B., and listened with the greatest appearance of interest to the wonders which I narrated of the extent, wealth, and magnificence of the British metropolis. Altogether I was favourably impressed by their intelligence, and during my short journey through New Brunswick I formed a higher opinion of the uneducated settlers in this province than of those in Nova Scotia. They are very desirous to possess a reputation for being, to use their borrowed phraseology, “Knowing ‘coons, with their eye-teeth well cut.” It would be well if they borrowed from their neighbours, the Yankees, something more useful than their slang, which renders the vernacular of the province rather repulsive. The spirit of enterprise, which has done so much for the adjacent state of Maine, has not yet displayed itself in New Brunswick in the completion of any works of practical utility; and though the soil in many places has great natural capabilities, these have not been taken due advantage of.
There are two modes of reaching St. John from Shediac, one by stage, the other by steamer; and the ladies and children, fearful of the fatigue of a land journey, remained to take the steamer from the Bend. I resolved to stay under Mr. Sandford’s escort, and go by land, one of my objects being to see as much of the country as possible; also my late experiences of colonial steamboat travelling had not been so agreeable as to induce me to brave the storms of the Bay of Fundy in a crazy vessel, which had been injured only two nights before by a collision in a race. On the night on which some of my companions sailed the Creole’s engines were disabled, and she remained in a helpless condition for four hours, so I had a very fortunate escape.
Taking leave of the amusingly miscellaneous party in the “house-room,” I left Shediac for the Bend, in company with seven persons from Prince Edward Island, in a waggon drawn by two ponies, and driven by the landlord, a shrewd specimen of a colonist.
This mode of transit deserves a passing notice. The waggon consisted of an oblong shallow wooden tray on four wheels; on this were placed three boards resting on high unsteady props, and the machine was destitute of springs. The ponies were thin, shaggy, broken-kneed beings, under fourteen hands high, with harness of a most meagre description, and its cohesive qualities seemed very small, if I might judge from the frequency with which the driver alighted to repair its parts with pieces of twine, with which his pockets were stored, I suppose in anticipation of such occasions.
These poor little animals took nearly four hours to go fourteen miles, and even this rate of progression was only kept up by the help of continual admonitions from a stout leather thong.
It was a dismal evening, very like one in England at the end of November — the air cold and damp — and I found the chill from wet clothes and an east wind anything but agreeable. The country also was extremely uninviting, and I thought its aspect more gloomy than that of Nova Scotia. Sometimes we traversed swamps swarming with bullfrogs, on corduroy roads which nearly jolted us out of the vehicle, then dreary levels abounding in spindly hacmetac, hemlock, and birch-trees; next we would go down into a cedar-swamp alive with mosquitoes. Dense forests, impassable morasses, and sedgy streams always bounded the immediate prospect, and the clearings were few and far between. Nor was the conversation of my companions calculated to beguile a tedious journey; it was on “snatching,” “snarlings” and other puerilities of island politics, corn, sugar, and molasses.
About dusk we reached the Bend, a dismal piece of alluvial swampy-looking land, drained by a wide, muddy river, called the Petticodiac, along the shore of which a considerable shipbuilding village is located. The tide here rises and falls twenty-four feet, and sixty at the mouth of the river, in the Bay of Fundy. It was a dispiriting view — acres of mud bare at low water, and miles of swamp covered with rank coarse grass, intersected by tide-streams, which are continually crossed on rotten wooden bridges without parapets. This place had recently been haunted by fever and cholera.
As there was a slight incline into the village, our miserable ponies commenced a shambling trot, the noise of which brought numerous idlers to the inn-door to inquire the news. This inn was a rambling, unpainted erection of wood, opposite to a “cash, credit, and barter store,” kept by an enterprising Caledonian — an additional proof of the saying which ascribes ubiquity to “Scots, Newcastle grindstones, and Birmingham buttons.” A tidy, bustling landlady, very American in her phraseology, but kind in her way, took me under her especial protection, as forty men were staying in the house, and there was an astonishing paucity of the softer sex; indeed, in all my subsequent travels I met with an undue and rather disagreeable preponderance of the “lords of the creation.”
Not being inclined to sit in the “parlour” with a very motley company, I accompanied the hostess into the kitchen, and sat by the fire upon a chopping-block, the most luxurious seat in the apartment. Two shoeless Irish girls were my other companions, and one of them, hearing that I was from England, inquired if I were acquainted with “one Mike Donovan, of Skibbereen!” The landlady’s daughter was also there, a little, sharp-visaged, precocious torment of three years old, who spilt my ink and lost my thimble; and then, coming up to me, said, “Well, stranger, I guess you’re kinder tired.” She very unceremoniously detached my watch from my chain, and, looking at it quite with the eye of a connoisseur, “guessed it must have cost a pretty high figure”! After she had filled my purse with ink, for which misdemeanour her mother offered no apology, I looked into the tea-room, which presented the curious spectacle of forty men, including a number of ship-carpenters of highly respectable appearance, taking tea in the silent, business-like way in which Transatlantic meals are generally despatched. My own meal, which the landlady evidently intended should be a very luxurious one, consisted of stewed tea, sweetened with molasses, soft cheese instead of butter, and dark rye-bread.
The inn was so full that my hostess said she could not give me a bed — rather an unwelcome announcement to a wayworn traveller — and with considerable complacency she took me into a large, whitewashed, carpetless room, furnished with one chair, a small table, and my valise. She gave me two buffalo robes, and left me, hoping I should be comfortable! Rather disposed to quarrel with a hardship which shortly afterwards I should have laughed at, I rolled up my cloak for a pillow, wrapped myself in a buffalo-skin, and slept as soundly as on the most luxurious couch. I was roused early by a general thumping and clattering, and, making the hasty toilette which one is compelled to do when destitute of appliances, I found the stage at the early hour of six ready at the door; and, to my surprise, the coachman was muffled up in furs, and the morning was intensely cold.
This vehicle was of the same construction as that which I have already described in Nova Scotia; but, being narrower, was infinitely more uncomfortable. Seven gentlemen and two ladies went inside, in a space where six would have been disagreeably crowded. Mr. Sandford preferred the outside, where he could smoke his cigar without molestation. The road was very hilly, and several times our progress was turned into retrogression, for the horses invariably refused to go up hill, probably, poor things! because they felt their inability to drag the loaded wain up the steep declivities which we continually met with. The passengers were therefore frequently called upon to get out and walk — a very agreeable recreation, for the ice was the thickness of a penny; the thermometer stood at 35°; there was a piercing north-east wind; and though the sun shone from a cloudless sky, his rays had scarcely any power. We breakfasted at eight, at a little wayside inn, and then travelled till midnight with scarcely any cessation.
The way would have been very tedious had it not been enlivened by the eccentricities of Mr. Latham, an English passenger. After breakfast the conversation in the stage was pretty general, led by the individual aforesaid, who lectured and preached, rather than conversed. Few subjects were untouched by his eloquence; he spoke with equal ease on a difficult point in theology, and on the conformation of the sun. He lectured on politics, astronomy, chemistry, and anatomy with great fluency and equal incorrectness. In describing the circulation of the blood, he said, “It’s a purely metaphysical subject;” and the answering remark, “It is the most purely physical,” made him vehemently angry. He spoke of the sun by saying, “I’ve studied the sun; I know it as well as I do this field; it’s a dark body with a luminous atmosphere, and a climate more agreeable than that of the earth” — thus announcing as a fact what has been timidly put forward as a theory only by our greatest astronomers.
Politics soon came on the tapis, when he attacked British institutions violently, with an equal amount of ignorance and presumption, making such glaring misstatements that I felt bound to contradict them; when he, not liking to be lowered in the estimation of his companions, contested the points in a way which closely bordered upon rudeness.
He made likewise a very pedantic display of scientific knowledge, in virtue of an occasional attendance at meetings of mechanics’ institutes, and asked the gentlemen for “We’re all gentlemen here” — numerous questions, to which they could not reply, when one of the party took courage to ask him why fire burned. “Oh, because of the hydrogen in the air, of course,” was the complacent answer. “I beg your pardon, but there is no hydrogen in atmospheric air.” — “There is; I know the air well: it is composed one-half of hydrogen, the other half of nitrogen and oxygen.” “You’re surely confounding it with water.” — “No, I am as well acquainted with the composition of water as with that of air; it is composed of the same gases, only in different proportions.” This was too monstrous, and his opponent, while contradicting the statement, could not avoid a hearty laugh at its absurdity, in which the others joined without knowing why, which so raised the choler of this irascible gentleman, that it was most difficult to smooth matters. He contended that he was right and the other wrong; that his propositions were held by all chemists of eminence on both sides of the water; that, though he had not verified the elements of these fluids by analysis, he was perfectly acquainted with their nature; that the composition of air was a mere theory, but that his opponent’s view was not held by any savans of note. The latter merely replied, “When you next light a candle you may be thankful that there is no hydrogen in the air;” after which there was a temporary cessation of hostilities.
But towards night, being still unwarned by the discomfitures of the morning, he propounded some questions which his companions could not answer; among which was, “Why are there black sheep?” How he would have solved this difficult problem in natural history, I do not know. Mystification sat on all faces, when the individual who had before attacked Mr. Latham’s misstatements, took up the defence of the puzzled colonists by volunteering to answer the question if he would explain how “impossible roots enter equations.” No reply was given to this, when, on some of the gentlemen urging him, perhaps rather mischievously, to answer, he retorted angrily, — “I’m master of mathematics as well as of other sciences; but I see there’s an intention to make fun of me. I don’t choose to be made a butt of, and I’ll show you that I can be as savage as other people.” This threat had the effect of producing a total silence for the remainder of the journey; but Mr. Latham took an opportunity of explaining to me that in this speech he intended no personal allusion, but had found it necessary to check the ill-timed mirth in the stage. In spite of his presumption and pedantry, he never lost an opportunity of showing kindness. I saw him last in the very extremity of terror, during a violent gale off the coast of Maine.
For the first fifty miles after leaving the Bend, our road lay through country as solitary and wild as could be conceived — high hills, covered with endless forests of small growth. I looked in vain for the gigantic trees so celebrated by travellers in America. If they ever grew in this region, they now, in the shape of ships, are to be found on every sea where England’s flag waves. Occasionally the smoke of an Indian wigwam would rise in a thin blue cloud from among the dark foliage of the hemlock; and by the primitive habitation one of the aboriginal possessors of the soil might be seen, in tattered habiliments, cleaning a gun or repairing a bark canoe, scarcely deigning an apathetic glance at those whom the appliances of civilisation and science had placed so immeasurably above him. Then a squaw, with a papoose strapped upon her back, would peep at us from behind a tree; or a half-clothed urchin would pursue us for coppers, contrasting strangely with the majesty of Uncas, or the sublimity of Chingachgook; portraits which it is very doubtful if Cooper ever took from life.
In the few places where the land had been cleared the cultivation was tolerable and the houses comfortable, surrounded generally by cattle-sheds and rich crops of Tartarian oats. The potatoes appeared to be free from disease, and the pumpkin crop was evidently abundant and in good condition. Sussex Valley, along which we passed for thirty miles, is green, wooded, and smilingly fertile, being watered by a clear rapid river. The numerous hay-meadows, and the neat appearance of the arable land, reminded me of England. It is surprising, considering the advantages possessed by New Brunswick, that it has not been a more favourite resort of emigrants. It seems to me that one great reason of this must be the difficulty and expense of land-travelling, as the province is destitute of the means of internal communication in the shape of railways and canals. It contains several navigable rivers, and the tracts of country near the St. John, the Petticodiac, and the Miramichi rivers are very fertile, and adapted for cultivation. The lakes and minor streams in the interior of the province are also surrounded by rich land, and the capacious bays along the coast abound with fish. New Brunswick possesses “responsible government,” and has a Governor, an Executive Council, a Legislative Council, and a House of Assembly. Except that certain expenses of defence, &c., are borne by the home government, which would protect the colony in the event of any predatory incursions on the part of the Americans, it has all the advantages of being an independent nation; and it is believed that the Reciprocity Treaty, recently concluded with the United States, will prove of great commercial benefit.
Yet the number of emigrants who have sought its shores is comparatively small, and these arrivals were almost exclusively of the labouring classes, attracted by the extraordinarily high rates of wages, and were chiefly absorbed by mechanical employments. The numbers landed in 1853 were 3762, and, in 1854, 3618. With respect to the general affairs of New Brunswick, it is very satisfactory to observe that the provincial revenue has increased to upwards of 200,000l. per annum.
Fredericton, a town of about 9000 inhabitants, on the St. John river, by which it has a daily communication with the city of St. John, 90 miles distant, by steamer, is the capital and seat of government. New Brunswick has considerable mineral wealth; coal and iron are abundant, and the climate is less foggy than that of Nova Scotia; but these great natural advantages are suffered to lie nearly dormant. The colonists are very hardy and extremely loyal; but the vice of drinking, so prevalent in northern climates, has recently called for legislative interference.
We stopped at the end of every stage of eighteen miles to change horses, and at one of the little inns an old man brought to the door of the stage a very pretty, interesting-looking girl of fifteen years old, and placed her under my care, requesting me to “see her safely to her home in St. John, and not allow any of the gentlemen to be rude to her.” The latter part of the instructions was very easy to fulfil, as, whatever faults the colonists possess, they are extremely respectful in their manners to ladies. But a difficulty arose, or rather what would have been a difficulty in England, for the stage was full both inside and out, and all the passengers were desirous to reach Boston as speedily as possible. However, a gentleman from New England, seeing the anxiety of the young girl to reach St. John, got out of the stage, and actually remained at the little roadside inn for one whole day and two nights, in order to accommodate a stranger. This act of kindness was performed at great personal inconvenience, and the gentleman who showed it did not appear to attach the slightest merit to it The novelty of it made a strong impression upon me, and it fully bore out all that I had read or heard of the almost exaggerated deference to ladies which custom requires from American gentlemen.
After darkness came on, the tedium of a journey of twenty hours, performed while sitting in a very cramped posture, was almost insupportable, and the monotony of it was only broken by the number of wooden bridges which we crossed, and the driver’s admonition, “Bridge dangerous; passengers get out and walk.” The night was very cold and frosty, and so productive of aguish chills, that I was not at all sorry for the compelled pedestrianism entailed upon me by the insecure state of these bridges.
My young charge seemed extremely timid while crossing them, and uttered a few suppressed shrieks when curious splitting noises, apparently proceeding from the woodwork, broke the stillness; nor was I altogether surprised at her emotions when, as we were walking over a bridge nearly half a mile in length, I was told that a coach and six horses had disappeared through it a fortnight before, at the cost of several broken limbs.
While crossing the St. John, near the pretty town of Hampton, one of our leaders put both his fore feet into a hole, and was with difficulty extricated.
Precisely at midnight the stage clattered down the steep streets of the city of St. John, to which the ravages of the cholera had recently given such a terrible celebrity. After a fruitless pilgrimage to three hotels, we were at length received at Waverley House, having accomplished a journey of one hundred miles in twenty hours! On ringing my bell, it was answered by a rough porter, and I soon found that waiting chambermaids are not essential at Transatlantic hotels; and the female servants, or rather helps, are of a very superior class. A friend of mine, on leaving an hotel at Niagara, offered a douceur in the shape of half a dollar to one of these, but she drew herself up, and proudly replied, “American ladies do not receive money from gentlemen.” Having left my keys at the Bend, I found my valise a useless incumbrance, rather annoying after a week of travelling.
We spent the Sunday at St. John, and, the opportune arrival of my keys enabling me to don some habiliments suited to the day, I went to the church, where the service, with the exception of the sermon, was very well performed. A solemn thanksgiving for the removal of the cholera was read, and was rendered very impressive by the fact that most of the congregation were in new mourning. The Angel of Death had long hovered over the doomed city, which lost rather more than a tenth of its population from a disease which in the hot summer of America is nearly as fatal and terrible as the plague. All who could leave the town fled; but many carried the disease with them, and died upon the road. The hotels, shipyards, and stores were closed, bodies rudely nailed up in boards were hurried about the streets, and met with hasty burial outside the city, before vital warmth had fled; the holy ties of natural affection were disregarded, and the dying were left alone to meet the King of Terrors, none remaining to close their eyes; the ominous clang of the death-bell was heard both night and day, and a dense brown fog was supposed to brood over the city, which for five weeks was the abode of the dying and the dead.
A temporary regard for religion was produced among the inhabitants of St. John by the visit of the pestilence; it was scarcely possible for the most sceptical not to recognise the overruling providence of God: and I have seldom seen more external respect for the Sabbath and the ordinances of religion than in this city.
The preponderance of the rougher sex was very strongly marked at Waverley House. Fifty gentlemen sat down to dinner, and only three ladies, inclusive of the landlady. Fifty-three cups of tea graced the table, which was likewise ornamented with six boiled legs of mutton, numerous dishes of splendid potatoes, and corn-cobs, squash, and pumpkin-pie, in true colonial abundance.
I cannot forbear giving a conversation which took place at a meal at this inn, as it is very characteristic of the style of persons whom one continually meets with in travelling in these colonies: “I guess you’re from the Old Country?” commenced my vis-à-vis; to which recognition of my nationality I humbly bowed. “What do you think of us here d own east?” “I have been so short a time in these provinces, that I cannot form any just opinion.” “Oh, but you must have formed some; we like to know what Old Country folks think of us.” Thus asked, I could not avoid making some reply, and said, “I think there is a great want of systematic enterprise in these colonies; you do not avail yourselves of the great natural advantages which you possess.” “Well, the fact is, old father Jackey Bull ought to help us, or let us go off on our own hook right entirely.” “You have responsible government, and, to use your own phrase, you are on ‘your own hook’ in all but the name.” “Well, I guess as we are; we’re a long chalk above the Yankees, though them is fellers as thinks nobody’s got their eye teeth cut but themselves.”
The self-complacent ignorance with which this remark was made was ludicrous in the extreme. He began again: “What do you think of Nova Scotia and the ‘Blue Noses’? Halifax is a grand place, surely!” “At Halifax I found the best inn such a one as no respectable American would condescend to sleep at, and a town of shingles, with scarcely any sidewalks. The people were talking largely of railways and steamers, yet I travelled by the mail to Truro and Pictou in a conveyance that would scarcely have been tolerated in England two centuries ago. The people of Halifax possess the finest harbour in North America, yet they have no docks, and scarcely any shipping. The Nova–Scotians, it is known, have iron, coal, slate, limestone, and freestone, and their shores swarm with fish, yet they spend their time in talking about railways, docks, and the House of Assembly, and end by walking about doing nothing.”
“Yes,” chimed in a Boston sea-captain, who had been our fellow-passenger from Europe, and prided himself upon being a “thorough-going down-easter,” “it takes as long for a Blue Nose to put on his hat as for one of our free and enlightened citizens to go from Bosting to New Orleens. If we don’t whip all creation it’s a pity! Why, stranger, if you were to go to Connecticut, and tell ’em what you’ve been telling this ere child, they’d guess you’d been with Colonel Crockett.”
“Well, I proceeded, in answer to another question from the New–Brunswicker,” if you wish to go to the north of your own province, you require to go round Nova Scotia by sea. I understand that a railway to the Bay of Chaleur has been talked about, but I suppose it has ended where it began; and, for want of a railway to Halifax, even the Canadian traffic has been diverted to Portland.”
“We want to invest some of our surplus revenue,” said the captain. “It’ll be a good spec when Congress buys these colonies; some of our ten-horse power chaps will come down, and, before you could whistle ‘Yankee Doodle,’ we’ll have a canal to Bay Varte, with a town as big as Newhaven at each end. The Blue Noses will look kinder streaked then, I guess.” The New–Brunswicker retorted, with some fierceness, that the handful of British troops at Fredericton could “chaw up” the whole American army; and the conversation continued for some time longer in the same boastful and exaggerated strain on each side, but the above is a specimen of colonial arrogance and American conceit.
The population of New Brunswick in 1851 was 193,800; but it is now over 210,000, and will likely increase rapidly, should the contemplated extension of the railway system to the province ever take place; as in that case the route to both the Canadas by the port of St. John will probably supersede every other. The spacious harbour of St. John has a sufficient depth of water for vessels of the largest class, and its tide-fall of about 25 feet effectually prevents it from being frozen in the winter.
The timber trade is a most important source of wealth to the colony — the timber floated down the St. John alone, in the season of 1852, was of the value of 405,208l. sterling. The saw-mills, of which by the last census there were 584, gave employment to 4302 hands. By the same census there were 87 ships, with an average burthen of 400 tons each, built in the year in which it was taken, and the number has been on the increase since. These colonial-built vessels are gradually acquiring a very high reputation; some of our finest clippers, including one or two belonging to the celebrated “White Star” line, are by the St. John builders. Perhaps, with the single exception of Canada West, no colony offers such varied inducements to emigrants.
I saw as much of St. John as possible, and on a fine day was favourably impressed with it. It well deserves its cognomen, “The City of the Rock,” being situated on a high, bluff, rocky peninsula, backed on the land-side by steep barren hills. The harbour is well sheltered and capacious, and the suspension-bridge above the falls very picturesque. The streets are steep, wide, and well paved, and the stores are more pretentious than those of Halifax. There is also a very handsome square, with a more respectable fountain in it than those which excite the ridicule of foreigners in front of our National Gallery. It is a place where a large amount of business is done, and the shipyards alone give employment to several thousand persons.
Yet the lower parts of the town are dirty in the extreme. I visited some of the streets near the water before the cholera had quite disappeared from them, nor did I wonder that the pestilence should linger in places so appropriate to itself; for the roadways were strewn to a depth of several inches with sawdust, emitting a foul decomposing smell, and in which lean pigs were routing and fighting.
Yet St. John wears a lively aspect. You see a thousand boatmen, raftmen, and millmen, some warping dingy scows, others loading huge square-sided ships; busy gangs of men in fustian jackets, engaged in running off the newly sawed timber; and the streets bustling with storekeepers, lumber-merchants, and market-men; all combining to produce a chaos of activity very uncommon in the towns of our North American colonies. But too often, murky-looking wharfs, storehouses, and half-dismantled ships, are enveloped in drizzling fog — the fog rendered yet more impenetrable by the fumes of coal-tar and sawdust; and the lower streets swarm with a demoralised population. Yet the people of St. John are so far beyond the people of Halifax, that I heartily wish them success and a railroad.
The air was ringing with the clang of a thousand saws and hammers, when, at seven on the morning of a brilliant August day, we walked through the swarming streets bordering upon the harbour to the Ornevorg steamer, belonging to the United States, built for Long Island Sound, but now used as a coasting steamer. All my preconceived notions of a steamer were here at fault. If it were like anything in nature, it was like Noah’s ark, or, to come to something post-diluvian, one of those covered hulks, or “ships in ordinary,” which are to be seen at Portsmouth and Devonport.
She was totally unlike an English ship, painted entirely white, without masts, with two small black funnels alongside each other; and several erections one above another for decks, containing multitudes of windows about two feet square. The fabric seemed kept together by two large beams, which added to the top-heavy appearance of the whole affair. We entered by the paddle-box (which was within the outer casing of the ship), in company with a great crowd, into a large square uncarpeted apartment, called the “Hall,” with offices at the sides for the sale of railway and dinner tickets. Separated from this by a curtain is the ladies’ saloon, a large and almost too airy apartment extending from the Hall to the stem of the ship, well furnished with sofas, rocking-chairs, and marble tables. A row of berths runs along the side, hung with festooned drapery of satin damask, the curtains being of muslin, embroidered with rose-coloured braid.
Above this is the general saloon, a large, handsomely furnished room, with state rooms running down each side, and opening upon a small deck fourteen feet long, also covered; the roof of this and of the saloon, forming the real or hurricane deck of the ship, closed to passengers, and twelve feet above which works the beam of the engine. Below the Hall, running the whole length of the ship, is the gentlemen’s cabin, containing 170 berths. This is lighted by artificial light, and is used for meals. An enclosure for the engine occupies the centre, but is very small, as the machinery of a, high-pressure engine is without the encumbrances of condenser and air-pump. The engines drove the unwieldy fabric through the calm water at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. I have been thus minute in my description, because this one will serve for all the steamers in which I subsequently travelled in the United States and Canada.
The city of St. John looked magnificent on its lofty steep; and for some time we had some very fine coast scenery; lofty granite cliffs rising abruptly from the water, clothed with forests, the sea adjoining them so deep, that we passed them, as proved by actual demonstration, within a stone’s throw. At one we arrived at Eastport, in Maine, a thriving-looking place, and dinner was served while we were quiescent at the wharf. The stewardess hunted up all the females in the ship, and, preceding them down stairs, placed them at the head of the table; then, and not an instant before, were the gentlemen allowed to appear, who made a most obstreperous rush at the viands. There were about 200 people seated in a fetid and dimly-lighted apartment, at a table covered over with odoriferous viands — pork stuffed with onions, boiled legs of mutton, boiled chickens and turkeys, roast geese, beef-steaks, yams, tomatoes, squash, mush, corn-cobs, johnny cake, and those endless dishes of pastry to which the American palate is so partial. I was just finishing a plate of soup when a waiter touched me on the shoulder — “Dinner ticket, or fifty cents”; and almost before I had comprehended the mysteries of American money sufficiently to pay, other people were eating their dessert. So simple, however, is the coinage of the United States, that in two days I understood it as well as our own. Five dollars equal an English sovereign, and one hundred cents make a dollar, and with this very moderate amount of knowledge one can conduct one’s pecuniary affairs all over the Union. The simplicity of the calculation was quite a relief to me after the relative values of the English sovereign in the colonies, which had greatly perplexed me: 25s. 6d. in New Brunswick, 25s. in Nova Scotia, and 30s. in Prince Edward Island. I sat on deck till five, when I went down to my berth. As the evening closed in gloomily, the sea grew coarser, and I heard the captain say, “We are likely to have a very fresh night of it.” At seven a wave went down the companion-way, and washed half the tea-things off the table, and before I fell asleep, the mate put his head through the curtain to say, “It’s a rough night, ladies, but there’s no danger”; a left-handed way of giving courage, which of course frightened the timid. About eleven I was awoke by confused cries, and in my dawning consciousness everything seemed going to pieces. The curtain was undrawn, and I could see the hall continually swept by the waves.
Everything in our saloon was loose; rocking-chairs were careering about the floor and coming into collision; the stewardess, half-dressed, was crawling about from berth to berth, answering the inquiries of terrified ladies, and the ship was groaning and straining heavily; but I slept again, till awoke at midnight by a man’s voice shouting “Get up, ladies, and dress, but don’t come out till you’re called; the gale’s very heavy.” Then followed a scene. People, helpless in illness a moment before, sprang out of their berths and hastily huddled on their clothes; mothers caught hold of their infants with a convulsive grasp; some screamed, others sat down in apathy, while not a few addressed agonised supplications to that God, too often neglected in times of health and safety, to save them in their supposed extremity.
Crash went the lamp, which was suspended from the ceiling, as a huge wave struck the ship, making her reel and stagger, and shrieks of terror followed this event, which left us in almost total darkness. Rush came another heavy wave, sweeping up the saloon, carrying chairs and stools before it, and as rapidly retiring. The hall was full of men, clinging to the supports, each catching the infectious fear from his neighbour. Wave after wave now struck the ship. I heard the captain say the sea was making a clean breach over her, and order the deck-load overboard. Shortly after, the water, sweeping in from above, put out the engine-fires, and, as she settled down continually in the trough of the sea, and lay trembling there as though she would never rise again, even in my ignorance I knew that she had “no way on her” and was at the mercy of the waters. I now understood the meaning of “blowing great guns.” The wind sounded like continual discharges of heavy artillery, and the waves, as they struck the ship, felt like cannon-balls. I could not get up and dress, for, being in the top berth, I was unable to get out in consequence of the rolling of the ship, and so, being unable to mend matters, I lay quietly, the whole passing before me as a scene. I had several times been called on to anticipate death from illness; but here, as I heard the men outside say, “She’s going down, she’s water-logged, she can’t hold together,” there was a different prospect of sinking down among the long trailing weeds in the cold, deep waters of the Atlantic. Towards three o’clock, a wave, striking the ship, threw me against a projecting beam of the side, cutting my head severely and stunning me, and I remained insensible for three hours. We continued in great danger for ten hours, many expecting each moment to be their last, but in the morning the gale moderated, and by most strenuous exertions at the pumps the water was kept down till assistance was rendered, which enabled us about one o’clock to reach the friendly harbour of Portland in Maine, with considerable damage and both our boats stove. Deep thankfulness was expressed by many at such an unlooked-for termination of the night’s terrors and adventures; many the resolutions expressed not to trust the sea again.
We were speedily moored to the wharf at Portland, amid a forest of masts; the stars and stripes flaunted gaily overhead in concert with the American eagle; and as I stepped upon those shores on which the sanguine suppose that the Anglo–Saxon race is to renew the vigour of its youth, I felt that a new era of my existence had begun.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48