SERIES OF LETTERS
REV. WILLIAM BELL.
MINISTER OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATION
PERTH, UPPER CANADA
ILLUSTRATED WITH A MAP AND PLANS
PRINTED FOR WAUGH AND INNES
TO THE READER .
The following sheets are submitted to public inspection, chiefly with a view to inform and assist those who are desirous of emigrating to Canada. Many accounts have of late appeared describing this important and rising colony; but the traveller has generally described the route from Quebec to Montreal; from Montreal to Kingston; from Kingston to York; from York to Niagara; from Niagara to Amherst or Detroit, without ever having seen the back settlements. Now it is evident that, to the emigrant, these must be of the highest importance, because one or other of them will, in all probability, be in future his place of residence. The Military Settlements, particularly described in these letters, have had much of the attention and care of Government, and now contain a large and increasing population. It is hoped, the account here given of these settlements, will be of use to the British public, as it is the result of daily observation and experience. During a residence of six years, in which time the writer visited not only the whole of these settlements, but almost every other part of the province.
The writer has no wish either to encourage or discourage emigration, being convinced that every person ought to judge and choose for himself. Success, in every part of the world, depends much upon prudence and good management. Those who emigrate with foolish and unreasonable expectations are generally disappointed, while those who make wise arrangements, pursue their object with persevering industry, generally succeed.
That emigrants may be fully aware of the difficulties they have to encounter, an account of the voyage to Montreal, and of the journey to Perth, is also laid before them. Many expect, that when they arrive at Quebec the difficulty is over, but they may rest assured, that unless they are carried up the country at the expense of Government, their journey to their land, in the Upper Province, will cost them as much as their voyage. That all who are proposing, from good motives, to leave their native country, may be directed by the wisdom which cometh from above, and be enabled to bring health, prosperity, and especially religion, along with them, is the sincere wish of the AUTHOR.
LETTERS FROM PERTH, UPPER CANADA.
My DEAR SIR,
When I took leave of you, a short time before I left my native country, you requested me to write you an account of my voyage to Canada, of the new settlements to which I was going, and especially of the state of religion in the colony, together with any thing else that might appear interesting. Though this was delayed it was not forgotten, and I now proceed to obey your commands.
You know that, in consequence of a petition addressed to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, by a number of Presbyterians settled at Perth, in upper Canada, I was, early in the spring of 1817, ordained as their minister. My family having arrived at Leith, and all being ready for our departure, on Saturday the 5th of April, we proceeded to the shore with a number of our friends. A gentleman belonging to the customhouse, though a stranger to us, had the kindness to offer the cutter to put us on board the ship, which lay at anchor about two miles from the shore. She was called The Rothiemurchus, and commanded by Captain Watson.
My reason for sailing from Leith instead of Greenock was this: I had been preaching in Edinburgh and Leith for some months before I embarked, by which I got acquainted with the owner of The Rothiemurchus, whose son was the Captain; and, expecting to be more comfortable, with him than with an entire stranger, I was induced to sail from this port.
Our feelings at this moment may be more easily conceived than I can describe them. Leaving our native country, perhaps for ever – having a numerous family of young children – and going to a part of the world in which we had not a single acquaintance, were all calculated to produce serious reflections. Mrs Bell and the children discovered some emotion, but, upon the whole, they supported themselves under this trial of their fortitude better than I expected. Having taken an affectionate leave of our friends on the shore, we proceeded with a few who accompanied us to the ship. In half an hour we were on board. Here we found the Rev. Mr. Taylor and his family, who were proceeding with us to Canada.
All on board was hurry and bustle, getting read for sailing. The passengers young and old, amounting to 105, were all on board. Some appeared lively and cheerful – some thoughtful and serious – while a few, by the tears which they shed, showed that they we’re not leaving their country and their friends without a struggle. At five in the evening the Captain came on board, and gave orders to get ready for proceeding. Before six we had weighed anchor and were under sail with a fair wind. But in half an hour it came round to the east, and blew rather fresher; so that about seven we were forced to come to anchor, not far from the place we had just left.
About half an hour before we sailed, a messenger at arms came on board with a warrant, to apprehend, and carry ashore, a man who had forgotten to discharge his debts before be came away. But, after searching half an hour below, with a lighted candle, he was forced to return disappointed. After he was gone, the man he had been seeking crawled out of the coal-hole below the lower deck, to the no small astonishment of his fellow passengers; many of whom congratulated him on his narrow escape from the hands of justice.
We now proceeded to examine the accommodations which the ship afforded. These were not of the first order. She was fitted for the timber trade, and had no cabin except a small one on the quarter deck, called by seamen a roundhouse; but as there was a good deal of room between decks, and as we were not overcrowded with passengers, we expected, at this season of the year, to make a tolerable shift. Mr. Taylor and I had engaged a part at the stern, in which were the two windows which usually light the cabin. For this part we paid Ł120. The Captain had engaged to divide it from the rest of the ship by a temporary partition; this however he never performed.
On each side of the ship were ranged two tiers or stories of bed-births; the passengers providing their own bedding. Along the open space in the middle, were placed two rows of large chests, which were some times used as tables, and at other times as seats. When evening approached, a good deal of noise and confusion took place before all the passengers were arranged in their births; and the Captain was obliged to interpose his authority, and to determine which bed ever one was to have. This was an arrangement which ought to have been made sooner, and the want of it occasioned much unnecessary trouble, both to the Captain and passengers. We now began to feel what it was to be at sea with so much company. The crying of the children, the swearing of the sailors, and the scolding of the women who had not got the beds they wanted, produced a concert in which it was difficult to discover any harmony. Its disagreeable effect was heightened by the darkness of the night, and the rolling of the ship; which, at this time, began to be agitated by a sea somewhat rough. I almost envied the happiness of many a poor but pious cottager, who, at that moment, at his peaceful fireside, and surrounded by his family, was worshipping the God of his fathers – a privilege which we could not then enjoy.
Next morning, which was Sabbath, I got up at seven, and found that we were still at anchor. The wind was easterly, and blowing a fine breeze, so that numbers began to be affected with seasickness. I had agreed with both the captain and the passengers, that we should have worship morning and and evening every day, and preaching on Sabbath. This morning we met at eight o’clock for worship, for the first time, the bustle and confusion having prevented us the evening before. A lot of the passengers and sailors attended, and behaved with the greatest propriety, with the exception of two young gentlemen who were passengers, and two or three of the sailors, who were not a little amused with the idea of having worship on board a ship, and wished to turn it into ridicule. But as they observed there was a great majority against them, they soon composed themselves, and behaved like the rest.
The manner of our worship, not only at this time, but during the whole passage, was this: A few verses of a hymn or psalm were read out, and sung by the whole assembly; a portion of Scripture was read, and then Mr. Taylor or I engaged in prayer, the one in the morning and the other in the evening.
After breakfast I began to be sick; but, by the advice of a sailor, I took a drought of salt water, which operated as an emetic, and I soon got better. As we had made an arrangement for preaching twice every Sabbath, I was just about to commence, when the Captain requested me to defer it till the afternoon, as he wished the passengers’ luggage put below and the decks cleared. With this request we found it necessary to comply. Most of the passengers observed the Sabbath as decently as circumstances would permit; but the sailors were hard at work, stowing away chests, or fastening them down to the lower deck, a good part of the day. But what annoyed us more than even this, was the arrival of boats from the shore with persons, who brought liquors on board, that they might have a parting glass with their friends. Of this the sailors were always sure to have their shares, so that before dinner-time, some of them were quite intoxicated.
In the afternoon, the necessary arrangements being made, Mr. Taylor preached between decks. All the passengers, and most of the sailors, attended. Not an instance of levity was observed during the whole time, excepting in the conduct of the young gentlemen above alluded to. At six we met again for worship. The evening was delightful, and my feelings at the moment were such as I am not able to describe. The service in which we were engaged, the sight of our native shore, which in a few hours we were to leave, perhaps for ever, and the recollection that many prayers had, in the course of the day, been presented to God in our behalf both by churches and individuals, produced emotions of an unusual nature.
At five next morning, we weighed anchor, and set sail with a fair wind. The morning was fine and the ebbing tide in a few hours carried us out of the river. During the day, the wind, though light, continued favourable, and we had, literally speaking, a pleasure sail. Every heart was light, every face wore a smile. Some were reading the books they had the precaution to take along with them; some conversing about their prospects in America, or the friends they were leaving behind; and, between decks, a part of young people were dancing a good part of the day. As we scudded rapidly along, the coast of Fife, with its numerous towns and well cultivated fields, was soon left far behind. About sunset we were opposite to Stonehaven, and before midnight passed Aberdeen; but as I had retired to rest, I had not an opportunity of seeing the Guid Town.
On the following morning, which was the 8th of April, I was awakened at an early hour, by the violent motion of the ship, and an unusual bustle on deck. On getting up, I found that we were likely to have dancing enough against our will. A gale blew from the north-west, the sea roared and foamed around us, the passengers became sick, and every thing began to wear a discouraging aspect. As we entered the Murray Firth, things began to grow worse and worse. Both wind and sea increased; two-thirds of our people were sick, and in a very uncomfortable condition. Consternation and alarm were soon visible in every countenance; children were crying, and women wringing their hands, and wishing they had remained at home. What a a change a short time produces! Fiddling and dancing were never once proposed.
The aspect of the sea in a storm is truly grand, though a sense of danger seldom allows one to contemplate it with leisure. Our ship had little ballast, and mounted on the waves like a feather. But sometimes a head sea broke over her with a shock that made every one stagger, and swept the deck of everything movable. The gale continued all day and about sunset it began to blow more violently than before. The sea roared, and ran tremendously high. The ship rolled so much, that we were often dashed from one side of our beds to the other, with great violence. She sometimes lay so long on one side, that I feared she would never rise more. Those who had young children, found it difficult to avoid crushing them to death in their beds. About midnight a woman lately married was taken with premature labour, and added much to the horror of the scene by her dismal cries. But before morning she was safely delivered of a male child, and in a few days was as well as before. The surgeon’s situation, during her labour, was scarcely less embarrassing, than her own. He was several times thrown down by the violent motion of the ship, and at one time the birth in which she lay, went to pieces with a crash, which made some people think that the good Rothiemurchus herself had uttered her last groan.
After a sleepless night, in which we received many a bruise, and uttered many a groan, the morning of the 9th brought us little comfort. On getting up, I was informed that a squall had carried away our main-yard, and damaged the rigging, and that we were on our way back to Leith to refit. The ship was going smoother, it is true; for she was going with the wind; but the gale was not in the least abated. What a sight was now presented between decks! Clothes, and vessels of all descriptions; spoons, knives, broken bottles, basins, and jugs, shoes and hats, with provisions of all sorts, were strewed over the decks, or lying in promiscuous heaps. At one time, when the ship lay on her side, several of the chests, though strongly lashed to the deck, broke from their moorings, and, in their progress downwards, carried destruction to every thing on which they happened to fall. The temporary births, made of rough boards for the passengers’ beds, cracked so much during the storm, that many thought the ship herself was going to pieces. Every now and then we were alarmed by a sea breaking over us, and pouring down by the hatches, which could not be entirely shut, for fear of suffocating the people below.
After breakfast, we left the Murray Firth, passed Peterhead, and proceeded to the southward. Having, arrived at the mouth of the Dee, the river on which Aberdeen is situated, the Captain directed the first mate to stand off and on, till he went ashore to try if he could procure a mainyard at that place. The wind was north-west, and the hills covered with snow; the weather was cold, and we were continually assailed with showers of rain and sleet. We could not meet for worship as usual, most being sick, and no one able to stand on deck. We had been told that a passage round the north of Scotland was generally disagreeable, but did not expect to find it half so bad.
On the 10th, the wind and weather became a little more moderate. About mid-day, the Captain returned with a mainyard dragging behind the boat, and, as soon as it was taken on board, we bent our course once more to the northward. But the wind being still against us, we found it necessary to stand out to sea during the night.
On the morning of the 11th, finding that we were a great way to sea, we put about, and stood for the shore, which, when we reached, we found that we had not advanced an inch to the northward. We were mostly all sick, and in a very uncomfortable condition.
Next day we found things no better, the wind being still ahead. Many were sick; some were grumbling about the provisions; and others wondering at their own folly in leaving a comfortable home to engage in such a dangerous undertaking. But they were in greater danger than they were aware, for in the course of the day the ship had a narrow escape from destruction by fire. A party of the passengers found their own provisions. One of them was melting tallow in a pot, when it caught fire, and the flames rising to a great height, the ship would have been in ablaze, had not the Captain heaved the pot, tallow and all, into the sea. With this I shall conclude the history of the first week of my voyage, expressing my hope that it may afford more pleasure to you in reading than to me in writing. The recollection of the uncomfortable situation in which we were then placed, still presents a gloomy picture to my mind.