(By Donald Fraser, Victoria, B.C.)
The old red house is entitled to the distinction of being not only the oldest house in Perth, but I believe it was one of the finest houses built in the settlement. It was built in 1815. With the exception of the massive logs with which its walls are built, all the materials came from Kingston. If Mr. Thompson has not improved his house on the opposite corner out of existence, that is to say if there is any of the original building left, it can claim an equal distinction. It was built by Col. Taylor about the same time. I don’t know the year in which it was painted, but the story is that the Duke of Richmond was stopping at the house at the time the matter of color was under discussion. He is reported to have said, “Mrs. Adamson, paint your house red and you will never have to paint it again.” Had it not been for the fire in the sixties his words would have been literally true; as it was, the original painting stood without a fresh coat for more than forty years.
It was the only house of any size in very early days, I believe it has been a public house, court house, church, printing office, school house, public hall, ballroom, and if there were any other uses required of it I dare say it accommodated itself to them also. My grandfather Adamson was an army man. I am not sure whether he drew the property in Craig and Gore streets, but he was entitled to and drew twenty-five acres beginning on the west side of Foster street and extending to the west side of D’Arcy street. The story about this property is that in a moment of good nature he went on the marriage bond of a man about whom he knew nothing and who it appeared had a wife in the old country. The wife came out and prosecuted, my grandfather then wished to settle and I believe could have done so for a trifling sum, but his lawyer would not permit him; the usual result followed, the property passing into the hands of the lawyer who divided it into lots and called one of the streets his own name.
In olden days when a ball was on the tapis one half of the upper part of the old house could be thrown into one room, one of the partitions being on hinges was lifted up and fastened to the ceiling by an iron hook. Folding doors were not then in fashion in Perth. In one corner of the room is a high permanent seat which tradition says was the fiddler’s seat. If the old house could speak what a tale it could unfold. While no one now living can remember it as a ballroom, many will remember the narrow escape it had by fire in 1865 or 1866. The fire originated in the house adjoining, owned by Frank White, which was completely destroyed. Owing to the heroic efforts of the Fountain and Union fire companies the old house was saved, but badly damaged. Captain John Murray was seriously injured at this fire, part of the roof fell upon him, and at one time it was thought he might not recover, but owing to his fine constitution he pulled through.
What old-timer can forget John Murray! What a public-spirited citizen he was! I knew him well, gentle, true, and brave, one of the finest citizens Perth ever had. One of the ludicrous scenes of the fire was R. T. Livingston and Sam Revans struggling with a barrel of flour on the stairs; they were met by a full head of water from the branch pipe at close range. They were rescued, the flour was not, but they could never wear their suits again. Warren Botsford was active in seeing about the repairs to the house and while the repairs were going on the whole family was sheltered under the hospitable roof of Judge Deacon. After the fire my father divided one of the larger bedrooms, furnished it specially, and called it the “Prophet’s Chamber”; this was for ministers. He also built a small addition to the back kitchen; this was for waifs and strays. No one was ever turned away who required a night’s rest, and it was no uncommon occurrence to see two or three squaws huddled round the hall stove on a cold winter’s morning. The last thing a Highlander parts with is hospitality. On Sunday mornings he would pack out all the available drinking bowls in order that the country people coming to church could refresh themselves from the old well, which stands by the gate. Many will remember the large balsam tree which stood before the house so many years. My father cut it down and put a sundial on the stump; he thought it would be a convenience to every passer by. Of the large family of eleven persons who called the old red house their home only two remain and they are three thousand miles away from the old spot. One is forcibly reminded of the words of Tennyson :
“Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand,
The sound of a voice that is still.”