Saturday, 16 July 2011

1905-11-04 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings Spectator November 04, 1905
        The veteran soldiers of the British army, the men who served during the American was of 1861-1865, the boys who shouldered a musket to put down the Riel rebellion, the raid of the Fenians in 1866, now and then tell stories of their first baptism under fire; and the true soldier will tell you that the first crack of a musket or a rifle took all the bravado out of him, and gladly would he be back at the home fireside and leave the glory to the other fellows. The boys in khaki who went from Hamilton to South Africa have probably more adventures to tell for war, with its improved arms that can shoot at a long distance, has got to be hell indeed. One of the boys who went out with the Hamilton contingent tells of his first experience under fire. “Our officers,” said the returned warrior, “kept us back, for we were not numerous enough, nor had we much confidence in our own courage to face the leaden hail of the Boers. Those old fellows were brought up with the musket, and their religious frenzy had no fear of the inexperienced young fellows who had rallied under the colours of Old England. It was prudent on the part of our officers, for the first murderous volley from those Boer sharpshooters sounded like the rattle of musketry along the line when our home regiment are out on the 24th of May and firing the national salute; but the sharp ping of the bullets as they whistled over our heads made us duck down like we used to bow our heads in certain parts of the church service when we were good boys and attended the cathedral down on James street. Our volley penetrated the ranks of the Boers, while theirs whistled past our ears and respected our sacred Canadian persons. It was the first I had faced fire, nor was the only one that dodged. I had often heard of the old Crimean soldiers tell their experiences, and everyone of them confessed to having been a dodger. It is a physical effect, independent of the will. If you could only feel how each shot electrifies you! It is like a whip on a racer’s legs. The balls whistle past you, turn up the earth around you, kill one, wound another, and in time you hardly notice them. You grow intoxicated; the smell of gunpowder mounts to your brain. Your eye becomes bloodshot, and your look is fixed on the enemy. There is something of all the passions in that terrible passion excited in a soldier by the sight of blood and the tumult of battle. Your comrade is shot down by your side, and this arouses the demon within you; you want to avenge his death. Every soldier testifies to the peculiar intoxication that is produced by being in battle. There is an infatuating influence about the smell of powder, the shrill whistle of a bullet, and the sight of human blood, that instantly transforms men from cowards to heroes and devils. None can tell of the nature and mystery of that influence, but those who have been on the firing line themselves. Did I ever kill an enemy? Well, that’s a question that no soldier wants to answer, even to himself. I hope not. It was the fellows who were always sick when the long roll sounded or who dodged when trouble was coming who did all the killing. The fellows who faced the bullets didn’t kill anybody.”

        In the year 1859, a young lady, whose home was in Toronto, in a fit of disgust with the worthiness of her surroundings, decided to enter a convent and spend her life in preparation for the world beyond the river of death. She was the daughter of a Protestant father and mother, and the parents and friends were much opposed to the course she had taken. She had traveled in France, and while being educated in a convent in Paris had seen Catholicism in its most attractive form. She had fallen in love with the spirituality of the nuns, and on her return to Toronto decided to renounce the world and retire from it. There was a jar somewhere in her home life – it may have been a disappointment in a love affair – but whatever the cause she went quietly out from home one day leaving a note to her parents, telling them of her decision. Naturally her Protestant parents rebelled and made every effort to secure an audience with their daughter, to try and persuade her to give up what to them was a mere fantasy of the brain. The girl was accomplished in all that made life bright and pleasant: fortune was in store for her, her father being prominent in business affairs. The newspapers discussed the question pro and con, and it became the theme of general conversation in Toronto. The Leader of that city took the ground that as the young had arrived at that age when she should be the judge of her own future, that no one, not even her parents, had the right to try and coerce her into their way of thinking. The pursuit of her parents became a matter of public interest, and she was taken from one convent to another to avoid their getting a sight of her. Evidently, the girl had decided for herself, and there was no evidence that she repented or had any desire to return to home and the world.


        Men think it a hardship nowadays if they have to pay 5 per cent for the use of money on mortgage, yet there are old-timers who can remember the hard times in the latter part of the ‘50’s when they had to pay 12 per cent, and put up first-class landed security to get it. The banks could demand almost any interest on short loans, while private parties with money had no difficulty in getting as high as one and a half to two per cent a month from very needy borrowers. Money is now so cheap that a man has to have a big wad of it if he expects to live on interest. There are some, however, who get fabulous interest for small loans.


        The death of Donald Dawson the other day recalls to memory of old-timers an experience that Donald had when he was a police officer in 1859. Nancy Duggan picked up a two dollar bill in the market, which had been dropped by someone in front of Kilgour’s stall. A bystander notified the constable of the find, and he went and demanded the money. Nancy refused to give it o anyone but the loser, but afterwards handed it over to Donald. Nancy then had the policeman brought before the police magistrate on the charge of forcibly taking the money from her, but the evidence was not strong enough to convince Ald. Browne, who presided that day in the police court, that any force had been used, and he dismissed the case. As there was no claimant for the two dollars, Ald. Browne decreed that the money should be turned over to her.


        In the month of August, 1859, there was a rumour of a mysterious occurrence having taken place in the custom house of this city. There was quite a discrepancy between the returns of shippers and the manifests of vessels passing through the Burlington canal, the returns affecting the amount of canal tolls very seriously. An inquiry had been in progress for several days, and things were looking dark for some of the officials who had charge of that department of the customs. But suddenly the labour of the inquiry board was brought to a close, someone who had access to the customs house during the night having stolen the incriminating papers and destroyed them. As the proof was gone, there was nothing further to investigate, but those connected with that department felt that their tenure of office was uncomfortably insecure. The thing was hushed up, but a hint was thrown out that any further discrepancies in canal tolls would become a serious matter.

        The first Catholic church built in Caledonia was formally dedicated on Saturday, July 31, 1859, by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Farrell, bishop of Hamilton, assisted by the Revs. Ladge and Northgreaves. Pontifical high mass was celebrated. The choir from St. Mary’s church, Hamilton, rendered the music, and the sermon was provided by Father Northgreaves. To the Rev. Father McNulty was due the credit of raising the funds for the erection of the church. It was a brick building and accommodated about 600 people. There was a large attendance of Protestants and Catholics at the destination, and the collections during the day’s services cleared up whatever shortage there was in the subscription list.


        More than half a century ago Wm. Edgar, a native of Annan, Dumfrieshire, Scotland, came to Hamilton, arriving here early in 1854, and to the end of his long life, which occurred the other day, he was identified with the growth and prosperity of his adopted city. In his Scotland home, he was connected with the United Presbyterian church, but after his arrival here he associated himself with the Congregational church, and was a liberal contributor to the building of the present edifice in 1859 and a warm supporter of the Rev. Thomas Pullar, who was pastor of the church for a number of years. For fifteen years, he was superintendent of the Sunday school and treasurer of the church. Shortly after locating in Hamilton, he formed a partnership in the building business with David Edgar, his brother, and William Sharp, which continued until he engaged in the lumber business on the corner of York and Caroline streets. Later he was connected with Hugh Melville in the manufacture of furniture, barrels etc. This factory building was near the corner of Queen and Barton streets, and was burned down in 1864. The big chimney of the old factory is still standing. He then resumed the lumber business for a time, and then sold out and went to North Carolina at the close of the war to work some iron mines in which he had large interest, but which did not turn a financial success. Returning to Hamilton, he went into the manufacture of engines at the Beckett shops, and at one time was associated with the late William Turnbull in the foundry business on Mary street. He was what might be called a diversified man, and he plunged ahead until old age called a halt on his endeavours to make money. In the days when the Sons of Temperance and the Good Templars were working to redeem Hamilton from its drinking habits, William Edgar was active in both organizations. For several years he represented St. Mary’s ward in the City council. In his younger days, he was a Liberal in his political views, but at the time of the election of the Hon. Issac Buchanan to parliament he changed his politics and became an ardent Conservative. At the age of 85 years, he ended life’s journey and joined the large majority at the end of York street.

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