Wednesday, 17 July 2013


Mr. Henry Williams, son of James M. Williams, who was connected with carriage manufacturing business in Hamilton seventy and eighty years ago, thinks that the writer of ancient happenings in this old town erred in the little bit of history published in last Saturday’s musings, in which credit was given to Frederick W. Watkins and George Brown, as being among the early discoverers of coal oil in the regions west of London. Mr. Williams claims that his father was the first discoverer, and as proof says that to his father was awarded two medals, one given by Queen Victoria, and the other by the government of Canada, both of which are now in the possession of his sister, whose home is in Lockport, Now the medals are undeniable proof in favor of J. M. Williams, and we are not going to gainsay it. The writer of these musings has no data to go back to, depending altogether, or nearly so, on memory for what he writes. Sixty and seventy years is a long time for one to remember, and it is no wonder that at times errors may creep into these musings. None of us is infallible, and if we get as near the facts as possible, what more can the reader desire? The story of the discovery is somewhat along these lines : When J. M. Williams was in partnership with Mr. Cooper, he sold a wagon to a farmer who owned some land out in the neighborhood of Oil Springs. Money was scarce in Canada at that time, it being during the panic of 1857, and as the farmer was short of money when he was called upon to pay for the wagon, he offered Mr. Williams a strip of land at Oil Springs to liquidate the debt, which he accepted. The land was not considered to be of any great value, and Mr. Williams concluded that he would try and dispose of it at any price. To that end, Mr. Williams hired a well-borer to sink a hole for water, with the idea that if a good spring were found it would make the land desirable for pasture. Instead of striking water, the borer ran into a gushing oil spring, and this is claimed by the Williams family as being the first discovery of coal oil not only in Canada, but also in the United States. Now the reader has both sides of the story, and as this muser has no desire to do injustice to the memory of Mr. Williams, we leave it to some future historian to unravel its correctness.


In the year 1857, a few coal oil lamps were introduced in Hamilton by Robert Young, who had his plumbing shop in the Elgin block, on John street north, and they attracted a deal of attention from the curious. What was called rock oil, a strong-smelling oleaginous substance, had about that time been discovered down in one of the maritime provinces, and this Mr. Young burned in the lamp. It required a peculiar kind of burner for the lamp, and Mr. Young was experimenting in the construction of one in order to add the manufacture to his plumbing business. This was the first introduction of rock oil in Hamilton, and when later coal oil had been discovered west of London, it had the same smell as the rock oil. A lathe for making the burners was perfected, and Robert Young was the first to introduce it into Canada, and he was the maker of the first coal oil burners in Canada. The lathe is now the property of a master plumber in this city. Probably it was after the first “gusher” was discovered at Oil Springs that the prospectors flocked by the scores and hundreds up into the oil regions of Canada, but it is nonetheless this fact that the editor of the Globe with Frederick Watkins and hundreds of others sank thousands of dollars in the search for the precious oil, never to realize anything for their enterprise. To Mr. Williams belongs the credit of establishing the first refinery in Hamilton and in Canada, which later became the Canadian Oil company, with Mr. Williams as its president. Finally it became one of the great feeders of the Standard Oil corporation, and helped to swell the Rockefeller millions.


Before a man can lay claim to the title of Irishman must he prove an ancestral residence in Ireland, dating back to, let us say, the days when Brian Boru was king of Munster, or even go farther back to the pre-Adamite period? Some years ago an Irishman discussed this question in a Philadelphia newspaper, about the time when the English newspapers and politicians were claiming all the great statesmen and generals to be either of English birth or so crossed in their breed that it was nip and tuck as to their nationality. There is one thing certain, if the emigrants who remember the ancients that came over to Hamilton in 1847? Ah, but they were poor enough in this world’s goods. This old muser’s father and mother came across the sea in 1834, the father from Tipperary and  the mother from the county of Roscommon, and they landed in Canada in time to make their son a native of this country – and not a bit too soon, either. Well, those who settled in Hamilton in 1847 selected one of the choicest parts of town for their homes, and the few Scotch and English that had already settled down on the bay front  christened the spot selected by the Irish as “Corktown,” and by that name it has ever since been known. Dundas was really intended for an Irish town, for it was there that the first Catholic chapel was built, and the faithful who had settled in Hamilton used to walk out to Dundas every Sunday morning to early mass and walk back home after vespers. There is one thing about an Irishman – he is faithful to his religious convictions, be he Catholic or Protestant.
          Here is a bit of history that may prove interesting: The great British commanders of the nineteenth century were Wellington, Roberts and Kitchener. Wellington was born in Ireland, and before he became a soldier was a member of the Irish house of parliament. His family had resided in Ireland for at least two centuries before his birth in 1769. And yet there are writers of the present day who claim him as an Englishman. Aye, Hibernia!
          Earl Roberts’ family dated back to Waterford, Ireland as early as 1712. “Bobs” was born in India, where his father, a Waterford Irishman, was serving as an officer in the British army. The mother of “Bobs” was a Tipperary woman. By both sides of his family, “Bobs” was Irish, with a slight dash of French Huguenot from one of his maternal ancestors. Lord Roberts even in the days of his greatest success referred to himself as an Irishman. His first command in India was composed for the most part of Irishmen, and it was one of the crack regiments in the British service. When the outlook for the success of British arms in the Boer war was of the gloomiest, “Bobs” sent a message to the Canadian people which ran in part : “Reports which indicate that disloyalty exists among Irish regiments are absolutely untrue. In the hour of danger, my countrymen have ever been the first to lay down their lives for their Queen and country, and whether it be against the Boer, or any other nationality, the Irish soldier will be found loyal to his Queen and brave in battle.” And only a few weeks before his death, Earl Roberts wrote encouragingly to the Irishmen of Liverpool, who were enlisting for the present war, and spoke of his pride in them as an Irishman. But now that the old warrior is dead, some of the present day penny-a-liners are claiming him as a great Englishman.
          Kitchener was born in the county Kerry, Ireland, where his English father had purchased an estate. Kitchener could not help his father being an Englishman, but he always proudly laid claim to his Irish birth.
          Wellington and Roberts had ever in view the glory of the British empire; to that ideal everything else was subservient. They believed in in the union of the two islands. The next thing we know they will be claiming Daniel O’Connell, Robert Emmett, Parnell, John Redmond, and Sir Edward Carson as great Englishmen. The other day, the Toronto Globe claimed John B. Gough, the great apostle of temperance, for a Scotsman. Gough was born in Kent, England, of English parentage and came to America with his widowed mother, poor and penniless. He learned the bookbinder’s trade in the Methodist Book Concern, in New York city, and got into a bad habit of drinking, from which he was finally saved by a Quaker.
          During the American civil war, there were no braver soldiers in the Union army than the Irish; and there were no more faithful chaplains than the Catholic priests.  The priests were always ready to administer the last rites of the church to Catholic or Protestant, and when their boys got into close quarters could handle a musket with the best of them. Here in Hamilton as many as thirty or forty descendants of Irishmen are on the pension roll of the United States, while the sons of a number of them are serving with the Canadian boys in France. The Irish will fight, and are always loyal to the flag under which they live.

          One of the readers of the Daily Spectator some time ago dropped into poetry and sent his muse to the Saturday muser to help fill out his column, but unfortunately it got mislaid at the time, and only the other day it was resurrected. Better late than never. We offer apologies to the writer and here it is.
          We look upon the coming time
            In fond imaginings, and scan
          A brighter, happier destiny,
            Like summer sunshine, fall on man.

          Yes, in that future, far away,
           Dim though its mists and shadows be,
          Through Fancy’s vision may be traced
            The triumphs of posterity.

          When Canada’s remotest wilds,
            Reclaimed by labor’s eager hand,
          Shall bloom in plenty, peace and joy,
            A great, a blest, a virtuous land.

          When steeds of steam, on iron roads,
            From east to west shall hurry on,
          While snortings hoarse and whistles shrill
            Shall echo loud round Burlington.

          Laden with beauty, wealth and life,
            The lengthened train shall sweep its way,
          Fleet through Dundurn’s romantic height
            To meet the fireship on the bay.

          And our fair city, fairer grown,
            Extended far on every side,
          With hills, and towers, and spires, and domes,
            And wealth and wisdom beautified,
          May look on that stupendous power,
            Those foaming steeds that fleet in run,
          Than our fleet life, and may exclaim,
            “Behold, behold, what mind has done!”


          MR. EGAN, ARTIST

          How many of the old-timers remember Mr. Egan, a portrait painter, who lived in Hamilton in the year 1849? J. B. Nelligan, of the assessment commissioner’s department, has been a collector of theatrical programs and cards of the professional men when Hamilton and he were young together, and once in a while, he resurrects the name of some Bohemian who used to strut his brief hour on the stage in the old barn, called a theatre that stood on the corner of John and Rebecca streets in the long ago; or the professional card of some ancient artist, who painted the portraits of ancient Hamiltonians. Here is one he showed the muser the other day : “Mr. Egan, the artist, begs most restfully the attention of the ladies and gentlemen of Hamilton and vicinity to a number of portraits painted by him, which may be seen at his rooms (next door to the Spectator office from 10 o’clock a.m. until 4 p.m.. Mr. E. assures those who may have a desire to patronize him that for several years’ constant practice asnd study, he feels competent to give entire satisfaction, either as Likenesses or Works of Art.” This card is dated Hamilton, December 6, 1849. There may be some of Mr. Egan’s portraits of old-time Hamiltonians still decorating the walls of homes in this city.

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