Monday, 18 June 2018






        The readers of the Spectator, and indeed every Hamiltonian, will, no doubt, read with pleasure the story of a colored boy who began life in the Dundas cotton mill, and who has become a celebrated surgeon and lecturer in the training camp activities of the war department of the United States in the social hygiene division of the army section. It reads like a romance, yet it tells the story of what ambition and perseverance will do in the training of a life.

“Charles Victor Roman was born at Williamsport, Penn., on the 4th of July, 1868, the child of colored parents. His father was a slave in the state of Maryland, but made his escape from bondage along in the fifties and after many serious adventures finally landed in Canada, by way of the underground railroad. Here for the first time in his life, he could breathe the air of freedom. After the close of the civil war, which gave freedom to over four million slaves under the proclamation of the greatest benefactor of the century, President Abraham Lincoln, he returned to the United States with his young Canadian wife, and located at Williamsport. Dr. Roman’s father was a broom maker, a trade he had learned while in slavery, at which he was an expert workman. The Pennsylvania atmosphere was not quite clear in those early days after the war for a colored man, so the father, with his young wife and baby boy, hiked back to where freedom was alike for black and white, and they made their home in Burford, in the county of Brant, where his wife’s parents lived. Dr. Roman’s parents lived in Burford until 1876, when they moved to Dundas, where young Roman began life as a worker in the cotton mill. That young colored boy had ideas of life beyond a weaver’s shuttle, and when the opportunity for a education in the Dundas night school he took advantage of it, and after his day’s work in the cotton mill, he spent a couple of hours every night at school, and on his return home, studied far into the night.

“The colored boy worked in the Dundas mill for some four or five years, when his parents made their home in Hamilton, and here he entered the Cannon street school having for his teacher Professor Morton, who took more than ordinary interest in his colored student because of his bright intellect and his ambition to acquire an education. In the course of time, he became a student in the collegiate institute, graduating from there in 1883.

“To show the nerve and ambition of the boy, from his early days in the Dundas cotton mill, he had made up his mind to become a doctor of medicine, and with that end in view, all of his studies were directed along that line, and that he has reached the height of his ambition, the sequel will show. The story of his life can the better be told in his own way. After graduating from the Hamilton collegiate institute, the young cotton mill boy went south, and in the state of Kentucky began life as a school teacher, having for his pupils the children of black and white parents. While engaged in teaching in the daytime, he elevated himself with elementary medical works and spent the long nights in their study, till finally he gave up school teaching and entered a medical college, from which he graduated in the year 1890.He then entered a college in Nashville, Tenn., under the presidency of the Rev. John A. Kumler, where he took a full literary course, graduating with honors in his class.

“In order to come up to his ideal of what a doctor should know to become a master in his profession, Dr. Roman went to Europe and took a post-graduate course in the Royal London Opthamimic hospital in the diseases of throat and ear. Then he went to Paris, in France, to pursue other lines of study in a post-graduate course. Feeling that he had the foundation for a life study in surgical and medical research, he returned to his home in Nashville, where he was at once called to a professor’s chair in the medical college in that city. One of his pet research studies was in the line of social hygiene, in which department he is now engaged as an inspector and lecturer in the United States army. Dr. Roman has had conferred upon him by leading universities in the United States the degrees of A.M., M.D. and L.LD., none of which he would accept until he passed the most severe examination. He is proud of his degree titles because they have come to him as a recognition of his scholarship and his research in medical science.

“What better illustration of the actuality for the democracy for which the world is now contending on the battlefields of France and Belgium than that furnished by the career of Dr. Charles Victor Roman in his life history, beginning from his birth as the son of a Maryland slave who escaped to freedom via the underground  railroad to Canada, whose young life was spent as a boy in the Dundas cotton mill and worked his way to an education, graduating first from the Hamilton Collegiate institute into the ranks of a Kentucky school teacher, preparing himself for the special work of a surgeon and doctor of medicine; passing through all the preparatory departments till he reached the height  of his boyish ambition, and finally being called into the service of his native land as an official lecturer to the American army?

                    FROM A BOY IN THE DUNDAS

                      COTTON MILL TO BEING

                        RECOGNIZED AUTHORITY





“Here is the doctor’s story, as he told it to the General conference of the Methodist church in Canada the other afternoon as the representative of the African Methodist Episcopal church of the United States :

‘ A defense of democracy may justify a personal allusion, and a message may be illuminated by the knowledge of the messenger. The past rises before like a dream. The years recede. I am a boy again. The Dundas Cotton mill is a thriving actuality. It is the noon hour. A group of boys ranging in years from 8 to 16, discussing the night school just opened. Ambition is rife and imagination is active. Talk about your sunset of life and its mythical lore! Give me the golden decorations of youthful hope, when every byway is bowered with roses and every highway is arched with a rainbow of promise. The drama of the ambitious run from departmental bosses to managers, directors, even owners of mills. The hour is drawing to a close, and two boys have said nothing. ‘Arthur, what are you going to be ?’ was asked of the handsome-faced little fellow with curly hair and deep, dreamy blue eyes. There was a tinge of sarcasm in the question that showed the general resentment at the individual silence during the general discussion. It was given with a deliberate, if not defiant, clearness, ‘I am going to be a professor of music,’ he said amid uproarious and derisive laughter.

“The colored boy at his side was forgotten, but not for long. The same interrogation reached him from the same source, with added sarcasm. ‘I am going to be a doctor of medicine,’ he answered. It broke up the meeting.

“More than two score have passed, and many tomorrows have become yesterdays. Dread consumption’s ghastly form has borne away the aspiring young musician, not, however, before he led an orchestra. And the colored boy who wanted to be a doctor of medicine? He is an official medical lecturer to the soldiers of the greatest republic the world has ever seen. Just now he is a fraternal delegate to a religious body in session near the scenes of his youthful dreams.

“One other biographical fact. My forbearers reached Canada by the mystical underground railroad. Need I say anything more to interpret to you the spirit of the message I bring? My soul is full of music, and I bring to you a fraternal message from a million hopeful hearts whose parents in the dark days of chattel slavery had the courage to sing ‘Ride on, Jesus, ride on.’

“The African Episcopal Methodist church is one of the spiritual lighthouses of the twelve million colored Americans who now have 350,000 of their number marshaled for the right to be free. The African Methodist Episcopal church not only desires fraternal relations with the great Canadian church, but desires this great church to take a fraternal interest in harmonizing and energizing colored Methodism in Canada.”


“Dr. Roman closed his hearty fraternal greeting to the conference by expressing the sentiment that is a universal longing of the human heart : it is the soul of democracy, and is free from the taint of selfishness or desire to dominate the sense of superiority, by quoting the thought happily expressed by Kipling:

                   ‘When earth’s last picture is painted,

                      And the tubes are twisted and dried,

                    When the oldest color has faded

                      And the youngest critic has died

                    We shall rest; and faith, we shall need it;

                        Lie down for an aeon or two

                    Till the Master of all good workmen

                      Shall set us to work anew.

                    Then those that are good shall be happy,

                       Shall sit in a golden chair,

                    And splash it at a ten-league canvas

                       With brushes of comet’s hair.

                    They shall find real paints to draw from,

                        Magdalene, Peter and Paul.

                    They shall work for an age at a sitting

                        And never get tired at all.

                    Then only the Master shall praise them,

                       And only the Master shall blame.

                    And none shall work for money,

                       And no one shall work for fame.

                    But each for the joy of working,

                       And in each in a separate star,

                    Shall pint the thing as he sees it,

                       For the God of things as they are.


          At the conclusion of the fraternal greet to the General conference on that afternoon, Dr. Roman was agreeably surprised by a group of ministers and laymen who had been boy students with him in that Dundas night school long ago. What is more fraternal of hearty than a meeting of old boys renewing their youth as they come together after many years? Dignity of titles or conditions are forgotten, and instead of reverend or doctor, or even a common mister, it was Charley and Josh, Tom and Bill, and so on. It was a happy half hour those ancient Dundas boys spent in the church vestry, and it will never be forgotten by them. Blest be the ties that unite old boy friendships.”

Thursday, 3 May 2018


Usually, Richard Butler, aka the Old Muser, confined his writings in the Hamilton Spectator to his weekly column, Saturday Musings.

However, on October 29, 1918, a review of recently-published booklet appeared. The review was not credited to anyone, but the style and reminiscences were completely in the Old Muser style.

Richard Butler had lived in Hamilton in the 1850s, and worked as a printer, before leaving the city soon after the beginning of the American War between the States in 1861. Butler served in the Union Army, and after the war entered in the newspaper publishing field, first as an editor, later as an owner. After his retirement, Butler returned to Hamilton as the American Consul. In the 1890s, not long after returning to the city of his youth, Butler started writing the Saturday Musings column which dealt with aspects of the City of Hamilton’s history, including a number of personal reminiscences.

The booklet review which appeared in October 1918 contained references to the first arrival of a Great Western Railway train to Hamilton (an occasion which Butler surely witnessed), plus a look at a photograph taken in 1864, and finally memories of a Hamiltonian, Jack Quirk.

The Review follows :

“The Trail of the Swinging Lantern is the title of a bright booklet of 150 pages, the author of which is J. Copeland, traveling agent of the Chicago and Northwestern railway, 45 Yonge street, Toronto. Mr. Copeland is one of those Canadian boys who took to railroading with the Grand Trunk company, and whose fund of railroad history and humor makes a charming chapter that one can take up at any time and put in a pleasant hour reading over the names of Canadian boys who have made their mark in the railway world. The names of well-known Hamilton men take one back beyond two generations, when the Great Western was built from the Niagara river to the Detroit river.

“In 1853, Hamilton heard the joyful scream of the locomotive that hauled the first passenger train into the Stuart street depot, loaded with passengers from across the Niagara river and from the towns that intervened between the river and this blessed city, which causes every native-born Hamiltonian proudly to lift his head and throw out his chest when he hears its name mentioned. Those strangers from the outside world wanted to see the town and the people where the first important railway had its inspiration. Every man, woman and child in Hamilton was down at the Stuart street depot that forenoon to cheer themselves hoarse when the signal was given and the smoke of the coming locomotive was to be seen climbing the hill in the east and then descending like a frisky young colt for the home run into the depot. It was a wonder that half the population was not maimed and slaughtered, for they crowded the track and could hardly be entreated to give the locomotive a chance. That was a history-making day for Hamilton and for Mr. Copeland, in the Trail of the Swinging Lanterns, has caught the spirit of it and revives for his readers a delightful picture of an almost forgotten past.

“There are not many of the ancients of the Great Western walking the streets of Hamilton today: probably only two who are prominent in the photograph reproduced of the first mogul built in D. C. Gunn’s railway engine shops. When Sir Thomas Dakin, English chairman of the Great Western, and whose name appears on the mogul, made an official visit to this city in 1864. It was made a gala day down at the shops, and the photograph in question was taken. As a matter of ancient history, we will call the roll of them who proudly stood on and in front of the locomotive that their happy faces might be handed down to prosperity fifty-four years later in Mr. Copeland’s booklet : W. A. Robinson, assistant mechanical superintendent; George Forsyth, general foreman of the shops; Wm. McMillan, fuel purchasing agent; Samuel Sharp, mechanical superintendent; William Paine, locomotive foreman; Dick Furness, conductor; Aaron Penny, messenger official car; Geo. L. Reid, civil engineer; William Wallace, traffic agent; G. Harry Howard, booking agent; William Orr, district freight agent; George B. Spriggs, through freight agent; John Howard, general purchasing agent; Thomas Swinyard, general manager; Brackstone Baker, English secretary; Thomas Bell, treasurer; John Hall, foreman running department; John Weatherston, track superintendent; John A. Ward, mechanical accountant; Peter Neilson, station agent; William Wilson, track foreman, James Fawcett, call boy. They were a proud lot as they stood before the camera, to be handed down with that Gunn engine to posterity as being part of Canada’s first great railway

Of the above list of officials who were alive and active, only two are left – W. A. Robinson and John Hall. Mr. Copeland, the author of the booklet, must have a warm heart for John Quirk, an old Hamilton boy, who was a shoemaker by trade, and who was in partnership with George Steele. They had a shop on York street sixty years ago. Added to his ability to pull a wax end, George Steele was Hamilton’s fiddler in those days, and as there were balls and parties two or three nights a week. George did the fiddling while Jack Quirk took care of the shop. Jack was a stuttering Irish lad, and one of the most genial cobblers that ever hammered a sole of a shoe, and left the pegs sticking up to torment the feet of the unfortunate customer. But we are not writing a history of Jack Quirk; this is only an introduction to the days when he began as a baggage smasher on the Erie and Niagara railway, running from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake. That was in 1867. After Jack had smashed up about half the trunks on that line, the managers said, ‘Well done, good and faithful baggage master, we will make a conductor of you before you bankrupt the company in paying damages for broken trumps.’ Well, to shorten the story, Jack punched tickets on the Great Western and the Grand Trunk roads till it was time for him to quit, and now he is living a life of leisure at Wingham.

        “The book is a good history of railroading in Canada.”1

1 “Swinging Lanterns : When Hamilton First Heard the Shriek of a Locomotive”

Spectator October 29, 1918.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018


Saturday Musings

Spectator October 26, 1918


        Seventy years ago last March, there passed away in Hamilton a great and good man – eminent in his profession and generous to the poor. Dr. William Case, a native of the United States, settled in Hamilton long before the town had even a name on the map, save the designation, the Head of the Lake. He came to Canada in the days when the United Empire Loyalists were seeking a home where they could enjoy such political rights as was at that time denied them, although they were mainly natives of the United States. Dr. William Case was born in the state of New Hampshire, studied medicine in Philadelphia, and practiced in his native town till about the year 1810, when he came to the Head of the Lake, and bought a farm in Barton township, about one mile east of the then limits of this village, but years ago taken in as part of the corporation of Hamilton, where he practiced medicine, and looked after the cultivation of his farm. There was not much profit or demand in those days for the services of a doctor, and Dr. Case had to do quite a bit of farming on the side to pay the family expenses. Although an American born, he took sides with Canada in the war of 1812, and for two years, his house was converted into a military hospital for the care of sick and wounded soldiers. The patriotic doctor not only physicked the sick and dressed the wounds of his patients, but his good wife prepared the nourishing food that restored them to life and health. This was done without expectation of fee or reward from the Canadian government, but as an act of humanity by the doctor and his wife. Sometime after the close of the war, the government made an appropriation to repay the doctor for his outlay, but the doctor positively refused to accept a dollar more than the actual costs. A few years ago, the ancient home and hospital was torn down in the march of improvement, but fortunately we are permitted the use of a photographic view of the old homestead, taken by Colonel McCullough, of the Ontario Engraving Co., a week or two before the house was demolished.


          Up on the mountainside, at the head of Ferguson avenue, the Hamilton family had a private graveyard, for in those days such a place as a cemetery was not even dreamed of as a burial place for the early settlers. It was first used as a sepulcher for the wife of Captain Durand, the original owner of what was afterward the farm and homestead of George Hamilton. The Durand farm, of one hundred acres, descended from the mountaintop down to Main street, and in the year 1813 was platted and sold in town lots to comprise the original town of Hamilton. When Captain Durand and his wife, in 1805, were moving from Simcoe to this farm, in driving down the mountainside, Mrs. Durand was upset from the carriage, and the lady killed, dying almost at the moment of the accident. She was buried on the farm in that mountainside graveyard. Captain Durand, some years afterward, had his wife’s remains to the Ancaster graveyard, where he is also buried. After George Hamilton bought the farm, he continued that spot as a family graveyard, and also permitted a few of his personal friends to bury their dead in it. Dr. Case was the Hamilton family physician, and when he died in 1848, the only cemetery in Hamilton was owned by the English Protestant church. For some reason, Canon Geddes, who was then incumbent of Christ’s church, would not give his consent to the burial of Dr. Case in the cemetery, and George Hamilton tendered a place in his private graveyard. It was a costly place in which to dig a grave, as the mountain stone came up close to the surface, with not more than a foot of earth as a covering. So popular was the good doctor case that the people came from far and wide to do honor to his memory.

It was a bright, sunshiny day in the closing days of the month of March when the funeral cortege climbed up the John street hill to the place of burial. Hundreds were there to pay the last token of respect for one who was not only a friend of everybody, but especially to the poor, for no night was so stormy that the good doctor would not turn out to answer a sick call. If the patient was able to pay, the doctor got his fee, but there were scores in Hamilton in those days who were not able to pay much; but they got the same care and attention as the wealthiest class. After the burial service was read and the pallbearers were about to consign the coffin to the rocky sepulcher, the sky suddenly became overcast, the thunder rolled, vivid lightning flashed, and the rain came down in torrents. There was a wild scattering of the audience, and the coffin was left unburied. Some of the superstitious ones attributed the fierceness of the storm as evidence of the Almighty’s displeasure at the burial of the good doctor in unconsecrated ground. When the storm passed over, a few of the mourners returned and consigned the remains of the doctor to his rocky grave. Many years later, the remains of the Hamilton family that had been resting in that mountainside graveyard were moved to the cemetery, where stands a monument to the memory of George Hamilton and his family.


In that lonely grave on the mountainside, the remains of Dr. Case have rested for seventy years as peacefully as though he had been buried in Canon Geddes’ consecrated graveyard. The passersby are attracted to it and ask many questions about it. Some old Rip Van Winkle, whose head is frosted with a few score Hamilton winters, delights to sit on the stone wall at the head of Ferguson avenue and tell the story of that stormy day seventy years ago and recount the charitable deeds of mercy performed by the good doctor in caring for the indigent sick. As a covering to the rocky sepulcher there was placed a slab on which was carved, ‘Sacred to the memory of William Case, M.D., who died on the 24th of March, 1848, in the 72nd year of his age.’ Only that and nothing more. As the good old doctor was simple in his habits, living only that he might do good in his day and generation, may it be as well that no eulogy should be placed on the stone.

Dr. William Case was the father of the venerable Dr. William I. Case, who died a few years ago. From time immemorial the doctor the later generations knew occupied an ancient frame house on the southwest corner of King and Walnut streets. Old timers involuntarily look across to where the frame building stood in full expectation of seeing the face of the doctor, with his long white beard, peering through the window facing Walnut street. Mrs. Robert Land, who was close to one hundred years old when she died, was the daughter of Dr. William Case and the sister of the Dr. Case that later generations knew. A granddaughter, probably the last one of the family, still survives and makes her home in Hamilton.


The Hamilton vandals, some of whose grandmothers Dr. Case many a time attended in sickness and never received a penny for his services, cannot keep their vile hands from desecrating the grave that has for seventy years been his resting place. Recently the stone slab was ruthlessly torn from the grave and broken, and leaving a gaping hole in the rocky sepulcher. It is not creditable to the city officials of Hamilton that this condition should exist. The patriotic doctor of the war of 1812, who freely gave his professional services to the sick and wounded Canadian and British soldiers, and also opened his home for a hospital, deserves better treatment from a community in which he spent his life in doing good to the afflicted. His grave should be the care of the city and protected by a substantial mausoleum, carved to tell the story of his life, and so surrounded that the vandal and ghouls of Hamilton can nevermore despoil it.
Case Sepulcher Date of photo unknown



It is with pleasure that the Muser tells the story of a thoughtful son who has provided for the future comfort of his father and mother. The son is a young man in years and is the loving husband of a dear wife, their joint possession being the sweetest baby that ever was born. Naturally all parents think the same of their babies. We are not going to tell the name of the son, for the reason that we do not think he would like to be made a hero of, though he is a hero all the same. He is not a native of Hamilton, but was born within fifty miles of this town, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. He was an ambitious boy when in his teens and declared that as soon as he arrived at man’s estate, he would hie him to some foreign country and make a name for himself as well as some money, both of which he has been successful in doing. He is an architect by profession, and in the years of his foreign residence has had charge of the construction of many costly public buildings as well as private residences. That he has made money goes without saying when we consider the handsome provision he has made for his father and mother, as well as laying by for the future of his own family. He has two sisters, one married and one single, the single one holding a responsible position in Hamilton.

The other day, the younger sister was happily surprised on receiving a letter from her brother, containing a foreign draft for $15,000, with instructions that his sister invest in some long-time bonds of undoubted security. Now this dear young lady has all the confidence in the world in the financial standing of the city in which she is making her home, so she called City Treasurer Leckie on Tuesday last and subscribed for $15,000 worth of long-time Hamilton bonds, making them payable to her father and mother jointly or to the survivor, thus insuring to them an income during their lives of $900 per annum. This, added to what his father and mother have laid by for a rainy day, as well as being the owner of a good home in the town in which they live, will make the burden of years fall very lightly on them, and provide them with not only the comforts but many of the luxuries of life.

Then there was no string attached to that splendid gift, for when it has done its beloved work for the care of father and mother, that loving son and brother directed that after their death, the money be divided equally between the two sisters, so that it would continue to be a blessing and a provision for those near and dear to him. On that foreign draft was a premium exchange of $285. The young lady will add to that the balance of $15 and purchase Victory Bonds worth $300, and the interest on those bonds will be payable to father and mother.

Those dear parents can never cease thanking God for being the father and mother of such a son and such loving daughters. This little story is told in the hope that other sons and daughters will not forget the father and mother who cared for them during the years of childhood, providing them with every comfort.



The T. H.& B. railway company must have more room in its freight yards to accommodate its increasing business in Hamilton. The only that stands in the way is the elegant Aged Women’s Home at the head of Wellington street, and this the company must have to carry out its plan of engagement. Probably it may not be a bad move after all that the managers of the home must search for a new location, for the freight yard is certainly a detriment to the property. There no doubt will be regret that a change must be made, for the home is fitted up with all the comforts to make it attractive and desirable to the dear old ladies who are spending the declining years of life free from care and worry. When Albert Bigelow endowed the Girls’ Orphan Home with $20,000, and which served its day and purpose till there were no orphan girls to need a home in That building, he probably never dreamed of the benevolent use that home was to be put to in the future.

Added to the $20,000 given by Albert Bigelow, there was another good angel to increase the power of the home to do good. When Mrs. John Thompson died, she provided in her will the sum of $10,000 for the Aged Women’s Home, and with this added income the managers were able to make improvements that have added to the comfort of its inmates. The property has largely increased in value in the past twenty or thirty years, and it will be difficult to find another location equal to it before the railway company occupied that part of town. There is one other location that would be desirable if it can be purchased at a price within the means of the managers, and that is the George Rutherford property, on the corner of King street and Sherman avenue. It has all the desired requisites on which to build such a home that would be an ornament to the city.

It may be interesting to give some items from the report of Mrs. W. C. Breckenridge, who had been treasurer of the Aged Women’s Home for many years. Before going into the report, let us state that in addition to the $10,000 given by Mrs. John Thompson for improvements on the building, she also gave $5,000 towards a trust fund, the interest on which was to pay the entrance fee of old ladies without money or friends. William Vallance generously provided in his will the sum of $1,000 to be invested as an endowment fund. No mention seems to have been made of the donation of $20,000 given by Albert Bigelow, and which was really the foundation upon which was built the Children’s Industrial school, the Hamilton Orphan asylum, and the Boys’ home. The Industrial school is now known as the Girls’ home, on George street, the Orphan asylum is now known as the Aged Women’s home, the Boys’ home has kept its original name. To each of the institutions named Albert Bigelow left $20,000.

Let us go back seventy years ago, when the Ladies’  Benevolent society, which was organized in 1846, established an orphan asylum, and I connection with it a day school for the children of the poor. The ravages of the cholera in 1847 left many destitute orphans who found a home in the asylum. A larger building was needed than was then occupied to accommodate the number of orphans and children attending the day school, and in 1851, Mayor John Fisher, the proprietor of the first foundry built in Hamilton, gave his year’s salary as mayor, $400, towards building an orphan asylum, to which was added a number of donations from the churches, and the surplus from a firemen’s ball. The city council voted $3,2000 toward the building fund, but for some reason it was not accepted by the board of managers. The site of the present Aged Women’s home was selected, and it was a lovely spot before the railroad came and despoiled it, and in 1854, the building was finished and occupied, at a cost of $6,408. The government gave a grant of $400 a year. When the Central school was opened, there was no necessity for the continuance of the day school. The home was liberally supported by the contributions of the people. It was in the year 1873 that Albert Bigelow made his will and made glad the hearts of the lady managers of the home by a contribution of $20,000. Mr. Bigelow was a prosperous businessman in Hamilton, being a dealer in china, glass and earthenware. He was a bachelor, but not from choice for it was told of him that in his younger days he was engaged to a beautiful young lady, and that all arrangements were made for their marriage when the prospective bride sickened and died. He had two sisters tgo whom he left $10,000 each, and to his housekeeper he left $1,000. The remainder of his fortune was left to found homes for the unfortunate. From all indications the Aged Women’s home will pass from its present location.  
Aged Women's Home ca 1878

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Saturday Musings

Spectator December 21, 1915

        "Marley was dead, to begin with.” It was thus that the gifted Dickens began his Christmas Carol. “Old Marley was as dead as a door nail … Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. Scrooge and he were partners for many years.”

          Dickens’ stories are not read nowadays like they were by the ancient Hamiltonians of the past century; and the more pity it is, for their reading would make a better world. The Christmas Carols tell us that old Scrooge was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, “ a squealing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”

Hamilton may have a few of the Scrooge tribe, but they are mighty few, as the history of the past four years can cheerfully give testimony. Very few have suffered from the high cost of living, for there has been hard work for everybody that wanted it, wages were good and liberal.

God bless the generous-hearted people of dear old Hamilton! They have always responded to every call from the time it was but a village and called the Head of the Lake. There has never been any need of suffering if the wants of the unfortunate were known, for the women of Hamilton responded to every call for help, especially for women and children. Every church and every society of women have their relief corps. When the influenza became epidemic, how quick the S.O.S. was organized, and the pastor nd official board of the First Methodist church promptly tendered to the ladies the use of their kitchen and outfit, and hundreds of baskets of delicate food were sent out every day to the homes of the afflicted. Those grand women of the S.O.S. left their homes, by units, happy in the thought that there was work for them to do, not only giving their time but also carrying to the church baskets of delicacies from their own larders. And the people who owned motor cars placed them under the direction of the S.O.S. to distribute their bounty in the homes of the afflicted. Let us change Tiny Tim’s prayer just a little, God bless them, every one.

This is not an unkind world after all, and dear old Hamilton stands in the front rank in every good work. Count up the tag days for the Red Cross, and for other benevolences since the dark days of 1914 overshadowed every home and country, and Hamilton has more than met every call made upon it, not only in brave men to answer the bugle call, but for money to provide for the dependent wives and children and parents of those who left home and comfort to create a new world of liberty.

Let us be thankful that the worst is past, and that

“When Johnny comes marching home again,

 We’ll give him a royal welcome then,

 The girls will cheer, the boys will shout,

 The people will all turn out,

 And we’ll feel gay,

 When Johnny comes marching home.”

Hamilton sent more than its quota – nearly 12,000. Many of the bravest and best will never return home again!

“In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow,

 Between the crosses, row on row,

 That mark our place; and in the shy

 The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

 Scarce heard amidst the guns below.

 We are the dead. Short days ago

 We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

 Loved and were loved; and now we lie

   In Flanders’  fields.


 Take up our quarrel with the foe

 To you from failing hands we throw

 The torch. Be yours to hold it high!

 If ye break faith with us who die

 We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

   In Flanders’ fields.”


In Flanders’ Fields is the tribute of the brave Lieut.-Col. John H. McRae to his Canadian comrades who have been “mustered out” on the firing line. Col. McCrae was born in Canada in 1872; passed from the glory of the battlefield in France in 1918. What a brave answer came back from an American comrade-in-arms, R. W. Gillard, herewith given !

The Red Cross society in Hamilton have done a service that will live forever in publishing the booklet, containing the original poem and the answer, with a handsome sketch of the growing poppy in Flanders’ Fields, drawn by Hamilton lady artist, and a photo of the gifted Canadian author.

Here is the answer:

“Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead.

 The fight that ye bravely led

 We’ve taken up. And we will keep

 True faith with you who lie asleep

 With each a cross to mark his bed

 And poppies glowing overhead

 Where once his own life-blood ran red.

 So, let your rest be sweet and deep

   In Flanders’ fields.


 Fear not that ye have died for naught,

 The torch ye throw to us we caught.

 Ten million hands will hold it high,

 And Freedom’s light shall never die!

 We’ve learned the lesson that she taught

   In Flanders’ fields.


The glory won by our Canadian boys will be told by future historians when recounting the story of the great war of 1914-1918. It cost the blood and the lives of the bravest and best of all in the allied ranks. In thousands of Canadian homes, there will be at least one vacant chair at the coming Christmas feast.

“At the fireside, sad and lonely,

   Often will the bosom swell,

 At remembrance of the glory,

   How their noble Willie fell;

 How he strove to bear our banner

   Thro’ the thickest of the fight,

 And uphold our country’s honor.

   In the strength of manhood’s right.”

The boys who responded to the bugle call, and will return home to future years, will proudly tell their children of the humble part they took in the great world war.

Cheers for the returning soldier! Tears for the dead !


Saturday Musings
Spectator December 21, 1915
        This was the nom de plume of Alexander Somerville, who lived in Hamilton away back in the early sixties. He was born in Scotland in the year 1811, and died in Toronto in 1895. His parents were in humble circumstances, and at the early age of eight years, he had to earn a living by herding sheep on the grazing lands in Scotland. He had no school advantages, but, having a natural desire for an education, he studied while attending his flocks, and laid the foundation for a scholarship that resulted in his becoming learned in economic and political subjects. Early in the sixties, Mr. Somerville became a citizen of Hamilton, coming from Toronto, and earned a somewhat precarious living by writing for the newspapers, which, at that time, was not so profitable for either the owners of the newspapers or for the men who had educated brains to sell. The reader may ask, why is this resurrection of an ancient “penny-a-liner” at this time? A couple of weeks ago, an inquiry from Toronto came to the editor of the Spectator as to the matters of history that could be dug up of the time when Mr. Somerville was an occasional contributor to the columns of the Spectator, over the nom de plume of “The Whistler at the Plow.” There is not a man who was connected with the paper sixty years ago now living to answer it, for about that time, when Mr. Somerville lived in Hamilton, this Old Muser was sojourning down in Dixieland, shouldering a musket and standing up to be shot at for the magnificent sum of $16 a month, a corporal’s pay, and getting fat on hardtack and “sowbelly.” Let me here suggest that if the clock could only be put back to my age at that time, gladly would I feast on government rations, not to be a soldier again mind you, but to be young once again and have the promise of fifty years more of life in this beautiful world. But what has all that dreaming got to do with the story about ‘The Whistler at the Plow?” The only man in Hamilton  the Muser could think of that would be able to give an answer to the Toronto inquiry was H. B. Witton, who has lived continuously in Hamilton for more than sixty years, and, who, at one time, was connected with the Canadian Illustrated News, in which paper appeared the literary contribution of Mr. Somerville away back in 1863. Mr. Witton was able to furnish the information the Toronto man desired, for one of Mr. Somerville’s sons worked under him in the Great Western railway paint shops as an apprentice boy, and afterwards was in business for himself in Hamilton for a few years.
          In Mr. Witton’s private library – one of the most select, as far as rare and costly books are connected in Canada – is Somerville’s Diligent Life, “One Who Has Whistled at the Plow,” one of the many works of that writer. Mr. Somerville’s early life was spent in laboring work in Scotland, and, not having the advantages of learning a trade, he naturally fell in the ways of the indigent young men of Great Britain, preferring the queen’s shilling and a soldier’s life and two meals a day to digging ditches and other laboring work for a shilling a day. In the year 1831, he enlisted in the Scots Greys, known as the Royal North British Dragoons, one of crack horse regiments in the British service. In those days, young Scotsmen smitten with military ambition, and not less than five feet ten inches of upright bulk, talked vauntingly of the “Greys;” of the horses with long tails, of scarlet coats and long swords, the high bearskin caps and the plumes of white feathers encircling them in front, the blue overalls with the broad yellow stripes on the outside, the boots and spurs, the carbines slung at the saddle side, the holster pipes and pistols, the shoulder belts and the ammunition, and the long scarlet cloaks flowing from the riders’ necks to their knees in wet and wintry weather, and the grey charges with white tails. It was an easy matter for the recruiting sergeant to fill up his quota of recruits with such a picture to present to the young Scot, who had no desire to shoulder his spades at daylight and take to the ditches. And then King Billy, of blessed memory, was paying a bright English shilling, with two meals a day, a comfortable barracks to live in, and a uniform such as only the gentry could afford to wear. It was a temptation that not many could withstand. Somerville saw the day, and not long after his enlistment in the Scottish Greys, he wished he had never straddled a horse in that regiment.
          On the first day of March, 1831, the first reform bill was introduced into the British house of parliament, which resulted in a threat by the anti-reformers that they would stop supplies. It is not our purpose to peer into the history of those stirring times any further than to introduce into this brief chapter the mistake of a soldier entering a discussion of political affair of the government under which he was serving. Alexander Somerville had given some attention to political economy in his readings while herding sheep, and, unfortunately for him, he gave expression to his ideas in one of the leading newspapers, which were copied widely and led to his undoing. London and every town in the kingdom were the scenes of riots, and the windows of the home of the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and other leading anti-reformers were broken with stones by the mobs. The Scots Greys were booted and saddled for three days, ready to turn out at a moment’s notice. Not since before the battle of Waterloo had the swords of the Greys been rough-sharpened, and old soldiers spoke of it as threatening dire calamity to the rioters. The soldiers had no desire to be called out to shoot or saber down their own countrymen, and many letters were written by them to that effect and dropped in the streets. Somerville sent his letters to the newspapers.
          Up to this time, Somerville’s standing in his troop was first-class; and then even the suspicion did not rest upon him as being the writer of the objectionable letter that was widely published in the newspapers. Some innocent men were suspected, and while it might not be possible to prove what was denominated a military crime, the sergeant-major, adjutant, riding master and commanding officer had them watched until they were driven into some fault for which they could be punished. To save his comrades, Somerville confessed to the major commanding the regiment that he was the writer of the objectionable letter, and from that time forth, every effort was made to catch him in some delinquency that would bring him to a court martial. One day the riding master was very cross with Somerville, and finally charged him with insubordination in not mounting his horse when commanded to do so. Somerville had been put through this part of the drill of mounting and dismounting until the unfortunate soldier was physically worn out and unable to obey the command to mount. This was the desired moment the riding master was waiting for, and a corporal’s guard was summoned and Somerville sent to the guard house. The next morning he was tried by court-martial, and, of course, convicted of insubordination, and sentenced to two hundred lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails, and that afternoon the regiment was paraded to witness the infliction of the punishment.
          It was an unusual proceeding to hurry the punishment immediately after the trial. The regiment was formed in four square, the sentence of the court read by the commanding officer, and Somerville was roped to an upright ladder with his wrists and feet fastened to iron rings in a wall. The regimental sergeant-major, with book and pencil in hand to count each each lash and number, gave the command. “Farrier Simpson, do your duty.” Simpson took the “cat,” as ordered, and swinging it twice around his head brought the brutal instrument of torture with full force across the bare back of the unfortunate Somerville. This was repeated for twenty-five times, and then another stalwart soldier took the lash and continued the punishment. The farrier and the trumpeter alternated till one hundred lashes were administered, and by this time Somerville’s back was raw. Figure in your mind, the number of strokes with a cat-o’-nine-tails with six knots in each tail, making 5,400 gashes on Somerville’s bare back. No wonder the commanding officer’s heart revolted at such brutality, and when the last of one hundred lashes were given, he gave the command “Stop! Take him down; he is a young soldier.” After cutting the man to pieces, he was then sent to the hospital for repairs. And all this brutal punishment was inflicted on the plea that Somerville had disobeyed the command of the riding master to mount his horse when he was physically unable to do so.
          That one hundred lashes sounded the death knell of the whipping post in the British army and navy, for in due time, it became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, and was prohibited by law. The authorities were slow in action, and it took several years before it was finally prohibited. A penny fund was raised in England with which to buy Somerville’s discharge from the army and a sum of 30 pounds was collected, and in 1833, he became once more a private citizen. Somerville was a man of excellent habits, free from the vice of drink, and always attentive to duty. Had it not been for that letter, he would have been promoted to be a non-commissioned officer, and in time further advanced to a commission.
          There is a fascination about a soldier’s life that unfits a man who has served even for the short space of three years from settling-down to civil life after his discharge from the army. The boys who are now returning from the world war and are being mustered out will miss the bugle call and the daily routine of a soldier’s duty. This old Muser can sympathize with them, for he passed through the stages of returning to civil life and to his printing office at the close of the American civil war. There are three conditions that unfit a man for civil life – to serve as a soldier, as a fireman, or as a policeman. Somerville after his discharge from the Scots Greys became interested in newspaper work, as a writer on the Weekly Dispatch, but he could not settle down to it. In 1835, he again heard the bugle call and re-enlisted in the Eighth Highlanders, serving under General Sir De Lac Evans in the army in Spain. But we will not follow the history of Alexander Somerville, further than to say that on his return to civil life, he became an author of some repute, writing a library of books principally on political science.
          After retiring from the army, Somerville married and settled down to civil life, earning his living as a writer. In the month of July, 1858, he left England to make a home in Canada, intending to settle in Toronto. When they sailed from Liverpool, his wife and family were in excellent health, but shortly after arriving in Quebec, his wife’s health gave way and speedily developed into consumption. Eleven months from the day of quitting her native city of London, Mrs. Somerville died in Quebec. Out of work and with a family of six children to provide for, Mr. Somerville tried the lecture field as a means of earning a living, but it was not a success. After struggling as best he could, friends came to his assistance, and through their kindness, he was able to pay the fare of his family to Toronto. A year or two later, he came to Hamilton, and made a precarious living for a time as a contributor to the Spectator and the Canadian Illustrated News. Old-timers will remember “The Whistler at the Low,” but not many of that class are now living in Hamilton. One of his sons learned the painter’s trade in the Great Western shops, under Mr. Witton, and another son carried the business of manufacturing window blinds. Those who remember Mr. Somerville recall him as they used to see him in the streets with his luxuriant crop of gray hair streaming down his shoulders. Herbert Gardiner, one time editor of the Spectator, and later editor of the Times, remembers the old man well, and can recall many interesting incidents of the days when he lived in Hamilton.
          That cruel flogging of one hundred lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails that Alexander Somerville received, without cause, when he was a private in the Scots Greys in the year 1832, was the means afterward of saving the backs of hundreds and thousands of men in the British army and navy.
          In briefly telling the incidents in the life of Alexander Somerville, The Whistler at the Plow, recalls to memory a similar scene that occurred in the citadel at Quebec less than eighty years ago when this Muser was a child living in the citadel, his father being a soldier in the Seventieth regiment. An unfortunate soldier named Michael Macnamara drank too much liquor at times, and when in that condition would steal whatever he could lay his hand on. Michael was a member of the pioneer corps of the regiment, for in those days each regiment had a detail of six men whose duty was to keep the barrack grounds clean. Michael was a stalwart soldier of six feet in height and built in proportion, with a kindly face. Every child in the barracks loved Michael, for he always carried in his pockets a stock of candy for the young ones. But the poor fellow could not resist the temptation to steal, and the money he got from the articles he stole and sold was mostly spent in buying candy for the children. Every kind of mild punishment was tried on Michael, for the colonel of the regiment had a kind heart and looked with sympathy on the erring soldier’s penchant for stealing, especially as he knew that Michael stole to give pleasure to the children. Finally patience ceased to be a virtue, and as Michael was proven guilty of more than ordinary theft, and he was sentenced to fifty lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails. That was a sad day in the old citadel at Quebec, for almost every child in the barracks cried because their old friend was to be punished. To carry out the sentence, the regiment was paraded in the citadel and formed four square. In the center was the triangle to which poor Michael was tied up, and when the sentence of the court martial was read, a stalwart drummer was detailed to inflict the punishment. There was not a man in the regiment that was not in sympathy with the kindly old Irishman who stole mainly to give to the children. For years after, this old Muser could in imagination hear the shrieks of the children’s friend as the cruel lash tore the flesh off his back. When twenty-five lashes had been administered, the kindly old colonel could not stand it any longer, and he ordered the drummer to stop. That was the last soldier in the Seventieth regiment to be punished by flogging.
          Poor old Mike, when he came out of the hospital, fell back into his old ways. The love of liquor was his ruin. Finally he was again tried by court martial and sentenced to be drummed out of the regiment. That was another sad day for the children, who were dismissed from school that they might see their friend receive his punishment. Well do I remember that day. Poor old Mike was marched around the barrack square with a file of the guard behind him, the drum corps playing that old tune – the Rogue’s March :
 “Once, twice, for selling my kit,
   Three times for desertion,
 If ever I ‘list to be a soldier again,
   The devil be may be my sergeant.”
Twice in long years did we hear that same tune played when two men who had been incorrigible thieves were drummed out of camp during the American civil war. The days of flogging had long since passed, but there was another punishment that was inflicted in the early days of the civil war. Men who were incorrigible, and being put in the guard house had no terrors for them, used to be tied up by the thumbs and left suspended till such time as they would beg forgiveness and promise to reform. The company officer, who ordered the man to be tied up, suffered for his brutality, and many a one had his head punched, when he did not know who was his assailant. A general order was issued prohibiting the tieing up by the thumbs as a means of punishment
                   THE MONTREAL HERALD
          Having had an existence of 108 years, in a most forbidding constituency for an English newspaper, the Montreal Herald recently fell asleep in the hands of a receiver; and if there is enough left after it passes through the receiving process to pay a dividend of ten per cent to the creditors, the venerable Herald will not have died in vain. There was a time in the early history of the Herald when it was one of the brightest papers in Canada. This old Muser took the first lessons in the newspaper trade away back in 1846 in the Herald office, when that paper was published as a semi-weekly. Before daylight on a cold winter morning, we had to start out with a  route of nearly two hundred papers, and have them delivered at the home of the subscribers in time for the head of the family to read while at breakfast. The newsboys in those days were provided with a tin horn, which they blew loud and long to notify the householder of his approach. Then home to breakfast after the route was delivered, and back to the office before eight o’clock to take the first lessons in the rudiments of the typographic art, which were picking up the type the compositors dropped on the floor, sweeping out the office, and them sorting and distributing the pi. The remainder of the day was spent in learning to set and distribute type, or at the roller, for there were no marching presses in the Herald office in those days. And all this for the extravagant salary of one dollar per week for the first six months, and a promise of a raise if the proprietor though you were worth it. There were no extravagant salaries paid to boys or men severnty-two years ago. Eight years later, the four newspapers in Hamilton were paying from $7 to $8 a week, when in March, 1854, the printers plucked up courage, organized a union, and humbly asked for a slight advance to $9 a week. Now they are getting nearly three times that sum and are rolling in wealth. The old Herald could not stand the pressure. Farewell, the typographical mentor of my youth !