The author of this article, Mary Amanda Bell Campbell, b. 1869 Perth, d. 1968 in Perth. She was the spinster sister of Archie Campbell, the curator of the Perth Museum. These two Campbells were children of Maria Bell and Archie Campbell (the elder). Maria Bell was the only child of William Bell junior to survive childhood, marry and have children. However, neither of these two children did marry so the William Bell Jr. line ends with them.
Biography by Malcolm Sissons
By Mary A. B. Campbell.
A photocopy of this manuscript, dated February 17th, 1896, was found in the Perth Museum research files. Transcribed by Charles Dobie.
The section of country formerly known as the Perth Settlement in the District of Bathurst, was settled by the British Government in the years 1815 and 1816.
In the year 1814 the Home Government, in order to divert to Canada the tide of emigration at that time flowing into the United States from Great Britain, issued a proclamation making liberal offers of assistance, including a free passage to all intending settlers in the New Country. As a consequence of the offers, a large party of Scotchmen, mostly from Lanark and Renfrew shires, and numbering about seven hundred persons, embarked for Canada in the summer of 1815. On their arrival at Quebec they proceeded up the St. Lawrence, the greater number of them preferring Upper Canada. A few settled in Montreal, the remainder of the expedition proceeding to different points on the river, while about sixty families went on to Brockville. As the season was now so far advanced, it was determined that they should remain in the barracks of this town for the winter months. In the meantime the new Townships of Bathurst, Drummond and Beckwith were surveyed, and other preparations made for their settlement. A place for a Government depot and a town – a piece of land containing four hundred acres – had been laid out on the banks of the river Tay in the Township of Drummond, forty-two miles north from the St. Lawrence.
Early in the spring of the following year, 1816, a party of men, including several surveyors, under the direction of a Captain McEvar, set out for the lands on which they were to settle. They had to mark and cut out a road fully half of the way through dense woods to the new Settlement on the banks of the Tay, which they reached on the afternoon of the 22nd. of March. Here in the midst of this immense forest with snow several feet deep, they were obliged to spend their first night in the open air, on beds made of hemlock branches, with large fires built on either side of them. As soon as they got the road cut through to the Front, in a little less than a month’s time, they brought in their families and secured their lands. The most of these people settled together along what is now called the “Scotch Line”, the line between Bathurst and North Burgess Townships. There was a good deal of vacant land to be had also in the Townships of Elmsley and Burgess, which had been surveyed before the war.
The Perth Settlement being formed soon after the termination of the war with the United States and at a time when a great reduction in the army took place, peace having been declared after the Peninsular War, was to a great extent peopled by half-pay officers and discharged non-commissioned officers and men. It was a strictly military settlement, having been formed under the direction of the Commander of the Forces, and the expenses defrayed out of the military chest. A grant of one hundred acres of land was given to each head of a family, their sons to receive the same on their coming of age, also household and agricultural implements and rations for one year. An officer received double this amount. Those who wished to become farmers were settled upon their lands at once, but those wishing to remain in the village obtained town lots of one acre each, on condition of clearing and building a house on the land. Most of the privates settled in the country, the officers as a rule preferring the town. Many of these discharged soldiers did well but as many of them proved rather unpromising settlers and remained only until they had acquired the right to sell their land. Their previous life had not been such as to warrant the steady, patient toil demanded of settlers in a new country.
About the first person to draw a town lot of one acre was Captain Joshua Adams, a veteran who had taken part in the recent American War. On this lot he erected a tavern. Other settlers of all descriptions began to pour in, and pending the taking up of their allotments, camped on the island in the River Tay, which now forms the centre of the town. [Currently known as Stewart Park -Ed.] In the summer of 1817 the total population of the Settlement was 1890.
During the first summer the settlers lived in the rudest of huts roofed with brak and boughs, these being the first buildings of any description erected. The King’s Store where, on the twenty-fourth of each month, the rations were dispensed to the settlers, the Superintendent’s Office and a bridge across the Tay soon followed. During the year 1818 many of the settlers suffered great hardships. The crops of the two former years had been very poor. Even at their best there was not enough raised to meet the wants of the people, the extent of land under cultivation being so small. An application was made to the Government for assistance and after some delay, half rations were granted to those with large families, or who were in the greatest distress, this arrangement however, only lasting until the harvest, which to the delight of all was very abundant. Many families had, during this time, to take recourse to eating the buds and leaves of different plants and trees, and the wild leeks to be then found in great quantities in the woods. The first few years after the Settlement was formed, provisions were extremely dear. In the year 1818 there were only two or three horses in the whole District, and as there was yet no grass growing on the newly cleared land, hay had to be brought a distance of twenty or thirty miles. Oxen were employed altogether in the work of clearing the land, and continued to be in general use for a number of years. After a time both cattle and horses were more plentiful.
Soon after the village was laid out, a saw mill and grist mill were erected in its vicinity by Captain Adams, who in these first mills of the Bathurst District did a brisk trade. In 1823, others were building in different parts of the Settlement and in course of time were all in successful operation. Dr. Thom established a grist mill on the site of the one now belonging to the Hon. John Haggart. Before this time, there being no means of having the grain ground, many of the people were forced to boil and eat it whole or bruise it imperfectly between two flat stones, while a few who could afford coffee and spice mills, ground small quantities of meal in that way. There was not oatmeal to be obtained in the District for a length of time, unless brought specially from Montreal. Indeed, some of the settlers had not tasted any for a period of eighteen or twenty years.
Fall wheat was grown in (for the time) large quantities in 1823 and the succeeding years. The only outlet and market for it was Brockville, to which place it was taken by ox-teams, a rude road having been constructed by this date. There was wheat sold at 33s. 6d. a bushel, and the settlers were paid in kind, taking home supplies for their families, – but a very small amount of money being afloat in those days, in fact, until some of the veterans applied for and obtained pensions from the British Government, nearly the whole trade was done by the barter system.
The making of potash became quite an extensive industry in the course of a few years, and large quantities were shipped both summer and winter to the Brockville Market. Potash brought a very high price and vast quantities of timber were cut down and burned for this purpose. This trade in potash was a very brisk one until that of lumber was opened up in 1834 by Rogers and Thompson, Porter and Gemmill, Alex. and Henry Montgomery, James Flintoff and others. The lumbering operations in the immediate vicinity of the Town of Perth were of a most extensive character, and the settlers then saw to their sorrow, the quantities of valuable timber which had been burnt by them while clearing their lots, and the thousands of dollars that had been literally thrown into the fire. The timber thus obtained was drawn to Brockville and thence rafted down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. Large quantities were also floated down the Tay to the Rideau, and from there to Ottawa, also enroute for Quebec. This business, while it performed the important office of clearing the land, was also the means of bringing large numbers of men into the Settlement.
The first Minister of any denomination in the Settlement was the Rev. William Bell, a Presbyterian, who was sent out by the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh as Minister to the Scotch settlers of the Perth District. A short description of their journey may prove interesting, as showing the difference in travelling facilities between then and now, and of what a journey from Scotland to this new country meant in those days. Mr. Bell and his family embarked at Leith and after a voyage of eight weeks, during which time they endured many unexpected hardships on board ship, landed at Quebec on June 1st, 1817, then after proceeding by steamer to Montreal, taking thirty-six hours for the journey and the fare for which was three pounds, the Government Commissary provided carriages to take them to Lachine. Here a batteau was placed at their disposal to carry them up the St. Lawrence, stops over night being made at points enroute, and great difficulty being experienced wherever the rapids were encountered, in addition to the boatmen, teams of horses having to be hired to help make the ascent. Prescott was reached after an eight day journey, Mr. Bell proceding from there to Brockville and reaching the Perth Settlement two days later in a rough wagon. Many families had to walk this distance, mothers often carrying little children in their arms, rough ox-teams bringing their baggage. Mr. Duncan McNee, when a very little lad, remembers being stowed away among the household effects in one of these waggons and jolting along the whole distance from Brockville to Perth, his parents having to walk. After much inquiry, Mr. Bell obtained a log house of only one room, at a rental of twenty pounds a year, and this continued to be their home until the following summer.
For more than a year Mr. Bell had to hold his services in the upper story of Adamson’s Inn, the only place in the village sufficiently large for such a purpose, as most of the settlers were still living in small huts. This room was not plastered and was very cold in winter, the only manner of entrance being by a ladder. The house is still standing, known as the “Red House”, and is perhaps the oldest house in the Town at the present time. From April 1819 the school house, then first erected, was used for public worship until August of the same year, when the new Presbyterian church was completed and ready for occupation. This church stood in the east end of the Town and was burned down in 1867. Mr. Bell travelled more than a thousand miles at his own expense, not only in the Settlement, but in various parts of the Province and collected the greater part of the money expended on the building of this church. During the first few years after he came to the Settlement, he travelled altogether over four thousand miles, over the length and breadth of the Provinces, visiting Mission stations, forming new congregations and going on various missions to Quebec and other distant towns, often travelling five hundred miles in making his yearly pastoral visitations. A just idea of travelling in those days cannot now well be formed, when rocks and fallen timbers had to be climbed over, almost impassable forests and swamps to be got through in some manner and rivers to be forded in every journey that was made. Roads were then very few, only rude paths through the woods, many of them being merely trails, and as horses were almost useless, even had they been generally available, a great deal of this travelling had to be done on foot. Walks to Brockville, a distance of over forty miles, were of frequent occurrence, as well as much shorter journeys. The mosquitoes in these early years were almost a plague and caused much suffering.
The first evidence of a priest being in the Settlement to minister to the spiritual needs of the members of the Roman Catholic faith, was in the fall of 1817, a few months following the arrival of Mr. Bell. There is on record a letter to the Rev. Pierre de la Mothe, Chaplain of the late DeWatteville Regiment, dated 31st October of that year, from Mr. Daverne of the Settling Department, regarding the location of the former’s lands. Father La Mothe is supposed to have been sent here from Quebec. It was not, however, till 1823 that the first resident pastor came to the Perth Settlement, the Rev. Father McDonald. In 1819 came the Rev. Michael Harris, a missionary of the Church of England. Churches were built by both these congregations, the former on the Sand Hill on Harvey Street, the latter on the present site. The earliest preacher of the Methodist body was the Rev. John Griggs Peale who came in 1821. The Baptist congregation in this place was not organized till a much later date in 1842, with Rev. R. A. Fyfe as their first pastor. In 1830, a second congregation of the Presbyterian persuasion was formed with the Rev. R. C. Wilson as their pastor.
The early inhabitants, after a short time, were not without educational advantage, there being teachers in both Town and country. Mr. T. Halliday, father of Mr. James Halliday, was sent to teach the children of the Scotch settlers in the vicinity of Perth, in consequence of a petition sent by them to the Commander of the Forces for aid for the maintenance of a school master, the former having applied and being appointed to the position. In July 1817 the first school in the town was established, at the request of the inhabitants, by the Rev. William Bell, he finding it a necessity for the sake of his own children, starting with eighteen pupils, the school continued to be most prosperous under Mr. Bell‘s control. The Governor-in-Chief hearing of the circumstance, not only expressed his approbation, but ordered a salary of fifty pounds a year to be paid to Mr. Bell for his services as teacher. He taught in his own dwelling till there was such an increase of scholars attending, that it was a necessity to have a school house built. Things continued in this state till the end of 1819, when the Rev. Mr. Harris, the first Episcopal clergyman arrived. He preached the first Sunday and sometime subsequently in the school house until the church was built, and on the following Monday morning took possession of the school. The inhabitants unanimously petitioned against this measure, but without effect, the Deputy Quarter Master General stating that he had no fault whatever to find with Mr. Bell‘s management of the school, which had been most prosperous, but that he thought it right that a clergyman of the Church of England ought to have situation under Government in preference to one of any other denomination. The school under its new instructor did not seem to succeed as well, as the numbers of scholars gradually decreased, till at length it was given up and the school house stood empty.
The schools were about this time divided into two classes, the District Schools in which the classics, mathematics, etc., were taught, and the Common Schools, giving instruction in the ordinary branches of education only. Mr. John Stewart became teacher of the first District School in 1823 and Mr. Benjamin Tett of the first Common School in the same year. Mr. Stewart retained his position until 1834, when Mr. William Kay took charge. The school in the meantime had gained such a reputation in the surrounding Districts that many boys came from a distance, from Bytown, Richmond and other places to receive the higher branches of education. Many of the younger pupils, especially the girls, attended private schools, several of these being boarding schools where they taught the higher branches. Prominent among these were those kept by Mrs. T. C. Wilson, the Misses Jessop, Mrs. Jessop, Miss Buchanan, Mrs. Hughes, and later Mrs. Luard, the Misses Fraser, Mrs. McKenzie and the Misses Sinclair.
In 1820 when the first emigrants on the Government Grant arrived from Glasgow on their way to the new Settlement at Lanark, it became necessary to open a road between there and Perth. The superintendence of this Settlement was given to Captain Marshall, an arrangement to which it is indebted for much of its prosperity. About the same time the military road began to be opened from Point Nepean on the Grand River, to Kingston, through the Richmond and Perth Settlements.
Perth was growing all this time in size and importance, and was the capital of the whole Bathurst District, containing the gaol and Court House. Here as far back as the year 1824, before Carleton was made a County in itself, the Court of King’s Bench sat twice a year, and it was also here that most of Bytown’s law business was transacted. In the course of seven years after the Settlement was formed, wonderful improvements were made, luxuriant crops were growing in the place of the forests, the roads were improving and means of communication with other parts of the Province were becoming every year more easy. Within a few years the settlers had a postal service twice a week between the Towns instead of once a fortnight, as at first. The military superintendence of the Settlement was removed on the 24th of December 1822 and Perth had all the civil privileges enjoyed by the rest of the Provinces. It at that time contained four churches, seven merchant stores, five taverns, besides between fifty and one hundred private dwellings.
The mercantile business was one of the most important forms of industry from the very beginning of the Settlement. The first store in Perth was opened in 1816 by Mr. William Morris, on the South side of the Tay — the proprietor sleeping on a buffalo robe behind the counter, which consisted of a piece of bark laid over two barrels. The next store, which is still standing, was established by Benjamin DeLisle, who came to the settlement in the summer of 1816. Others came in their turn and the place began to be in some measure independent of markets at a distance. Mr. Roderick Matheson was one of the next merchants to open a business in the village, this being in successful operation at the present day. In 1827 Mr. William Bell, jr. commenced business on Foster Street. The year following his brother John joined him and the firm was then known as that of W. & J. Bell. John carried on a branch of the business in Carleton Place for some years but afterwards removed to Perth, the firm being in successful operation for a number of years. In 1837, on account of the embarrassed state of commercial affairs and scarcity of specie, W. & J. Bell issued their notes in the form of bank bills, payable on demand in current bank bills. This fractional currency took the place of small coin, and their circulation at this time proved a great accommodation to the general public.
On the 10th of July 1820, the first election for a member to represent the County in the Provincial Parliament took place, the two contestant candidates being William Morris and Benjamin DeLisle, the former being successful.
In the summer of 1825 there was a great want of rain, the woods being on fire from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. So dense was the smoke for more than a week all over the country that the steamboats could not make their regular trips, and but for a dead calm prevailing, the country would have been ruined. In that and the following summer, fever and ague were universally prevalent, whole families being often stricken down with it at the same time. It was in the latter part of this season that quinine first began to be used. 1826 also was a year of sickness, which prevailed to such an extent during the harvest that on some farms the crops rotted on the ground for want of hands to gather them. Most of the emigrant population became greatly discouraged, and not a few talked of returning to their native land. In the early summer of 1832 and also that of ’33, the weather was excessively hot. Cholera broke out in the lower Province and began to appear on the lines of travel in the upper Province, thus spreading alarm over the whole country. In each of the cities of Quebec and Montreal over one thousand lives fell victims of this dire disease. In Perth every precaution was used to prevent its introduction, a Board of Health being established, including all the Ministers and Magistrates of the place. There were no decided cases in the Town, but several deaths occurred not many miles away.
Among the earliest physicians who came to the place was Dr. Thom, formerly of the Forty-first Regiment, and Dr. Reade, who was afterwards made Coroner of the District and Clerk of the Peace. Then came Dr. James Wilson, whose memory is green in the hearts of many to this day. Dr. O’Hear[e?] in 1825, Dr. Holmes in 1836 and the year ’37 saw Dr. J. S. Nichol, another well-beloved physician beginning his practice here.
In 1834 there were many fires near the Town. A description of one of these may prove interesting, as it was written by an eye-witness. “A shower of rain had checked the fires in the woods, but so dry had the ground become that they soon broke out again. One of these was raging in an extensive cedar swamp close by our house and presenting an alarming appearance. In the evening a breeze sprang up and carried a sea of fire over the whole swamp, destroying the timber and bushes for more than a mile square. It blazed like an immense furnace, rolling up vast masses of dark smoke to the sky. The crackling of the flames was terrific and their solemn roar through the stillness of the night was like that of the ocean.”
For years a canal had been talked of to connect the waters of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. This was begun in the year 1825, or ’26, and was completed in 1832. It passed through the Perth Settlement, some miles from the Town. About this time, the channel of the River Tay was, by private enterprise, deepened and made navigable for steamers to the Rideau River. A steamer called the “Enterprise” was built and launched in 1833, making but a few trips however, before being transferred to the Rideau Canal. In summer at this time, goods from Montreal consigned to Perth were brought in barges up the Rideau Canal, via Ottawa, and then up the Tay. They generally returned loaded with grain. In winter the goods were transferred in loaded trains. W. & J. Bell, in company with John Doran, owned a barge in which all the merchandise was brought to Town.
On August 12th, 1837, an interesting event occurred in the Town. The public proclamation of the young Queen, Alexandria Victoria, by the Deputy Sheriff (in the absence of the Sheriff). The order in which the procession moved was as follows:- The deputy Sheriff on horseback, the Clergy, the members of the Medical Profession, members of the Bar, Officers of Militia, Clerk of the Peace and the Magistrate, with the Perth Volunteer Artillery Company in uniform in the rear. When Her Majesty had been proclaimed in four different parts of the Town, the Artillery fired a royal salute on conclusion of the ceremony, after which three cheers being given by the loyal townspeople for the young Queen, the assemblage dispersed.