Tuesday, 24 May 2016


In giving our recollections of the Desjardins canal accident which occurred on the evening of March 12, 1857, the Muser endeavored to tell the story as correct as memory would help, yet two or three minor errors may have crept in, but nothing serious to mar the historical part. Memory at times plays it false; but think of nearly sixty years having elapsed since that memorable night, and is it any wonder that one is apt to get confused? How many people living in Hamilton today, who were her sixty years ago, can remember clearly every incident connected with the accident? We do not claim to be immaculate in writing these Musings for we are but human after all. A correspondent to the Spectator last week attempted to correct what he deemed was an error in our statement that the cause of the accident was the shifting f the bridge a few inches so that the rails on the bridge were out of gear with the rails on the main line, thus sending the engine bumping across the ties, cutting the ties and weakening them. The Spectator correspondent got his story secondhand from his father, probably years afterward. To corroborate our statement, a gentleman who was then living in Dundas was coming by train to Hamilton shortly after the new bridge had been built across the canal when the bridge veered a few inches from the rails of the main line and the engine left the track and went bumping on the ties. Fortunately, the driver was running slow and was able to check his engine immediately. The cars remained on the track, the coupling of the engine breaking away from the train, thus preventing a second accident which would have been even more disastrous than the first, for there were more cars in the train. The swing bridge was considered unsafe, for it was liable to be moved a few inches by the wind blowing down the valley. It was a short time afterward that the Great Western made terms with the people of Dundas to have a permanent bridge built across the canal. It put an end to steamboats and sailing craft running up to Dundas through the canal, and took from Dundas the proud distinction of being the head of the lake. It was a loss to Dundas as a shipping point.


          One night last week, a vagrant was arrested on Broadway, New York, for begging. Five years ago, the young man’s father died leaving him a fortune of half a million dollars. While the money lasted the son lived high, but the time came when he parted with his last dollar. He was well-educated and a graduate of a university. He had a rich father and there was no need for him to work, and while the father lived, he was liberally supported with pocket money. Brought up in idleness, when his fortune came to him on the death of his father, he had formed dissolute habits that unfitted him for any employment, he ran the pace while the money lasted and ended in being arrested as a street vagrant. Money is a blessing when rightfully used by its possessor, but a curse when squandered in riotous living. More than one bright young fellow in Hamilton has gone down to his grave in poverty who began life with every promise of usefulness. The old registers in the house of refuge would disclose some startling secrets. The young man who takes an occasional glass of liquor never thinks of where that appetite will land him. He scouts the idea that he will ever become a drunkard or a vagrant. He thinks he can control himself; and probably he does for a few years, but the appetite increases slowly but surely till at last he becomes an outcast. His friends may strive with him for a time, but constant dropping will wear a stone, and their patience gives out. He is joined to his idols; let him alone. While his mother lives, he has a friend, no matter how debased he may become, but when death releases her from the disgrace and sorrow of a drunken son, his last hope is gone! Think of the young man of whom mention is made in this item spending half a million dollars in five years in strong drink and riotous living, and at the end spending the night in a police station for begging in the streets for five cents to buy a drink to quench his thirst!


          Every now and then the question arises as to who was the first white man that settled at the Head of the Lake. The Beasley family claim the honor for their illustrious predecessor, Colonel Richard Beasley; then along come the descendants of Colonel Robert Land with proof that can hardly be doubted, claiming the honor for the colonel, and there you are. Daniel Defoe wrote a very interesting story in the long ago about a shipwrecked sailor, Alexander Selkirk by name, the title of the book being Robinson Crusoe, a castaway on a desert island, who boldly proclaimed himself as monarch of all his surveyed, and nobody to dispute his rights, when along came one day a savage brother whom Robinson Crusoe christened Man Friday, to dispute the ownership of the island and likely would have made a meal of poor Robinson if the quick-witted sailor had not climbed into his fort and pulled the ladder after him. In course of time, Robinson Crusoe patched up a peace with his savage brother, and no doubt they agreed not to disagree about which it was that claimed priority to the discovery of the island, but they lived on in their solitude till such time as an exploring party came along and rescued them. Now, this may be a parallel case with the Beasley and the Land occupancy of the Head of the Lake. Colonel Beasley came in at the west end of the Head of Lake and Colonel Land came in at the east end, and they may have come in about the same time, and neither knew that there was another white man on these shores. At any rate, there is no documentary proof of who was first, and the only way out of the difficulty is for the Beasleys and the Lands to get together and shoot craps for the title of being the descendants of the first white man that tread the virgin soil of the settlement called the Head of the Lake. Ancient history cannot always be relied on, as recent events have shown. Defoe in his novel tells us that the island on which the shipwrecked sailor spent many years of his life was down in Chile, and was named in history as Juan Fernandez. Who that has read the capitivating story of Robinson Crusoe will ever forget Robinson and his man Friday, and what a lonely life it was for the first white man that set foot on that lonely island. The boys and girls of the present age know naught of the thrilling description, for they do not read high-class literature of the bygone age. They can tell you all about bridge, whist or the latest thrillers in the movies, but ask them about Jack, the Giant Killer, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, the Swiss Family Robinson, or even Old Mother Goose’s Melodies and they will promptly tell you that they never heard of such characters. It is nip and tuck if they ever read Dickens or Thackery, or any other the other standard story writers. The Penny Dreadfuls sre good enough for them. Well, to get back to where we started, history will not always do to bet on, for along comes some fellow who thinks he knows more than the original author of the story and the whole thing is knocked into a cracked hat. Defoe told us that Robinson Crusoe was the first white man that inhabited the island of Juan Fernandez, and along comes a newspaper reporter the other day and makes the broad statement that Dan did not know what he was talking about. You that have kept in touch with the reports about the Dresden, a German war vessel, being chased into the harbor of Juan Fernandez, and there found a watery grave, will remember that the newspaper fellows tore to piece’s DEefoe’s story, which was written before any of them were born, for Daniel Defoe has been dead awhile now, and his body lies in a vault in Bunhill Fields, in the City road, London, England, with all the other literary and historical characters of his day. They tell us now that Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday never lived on that island, and that the old story is either a myth or a pipe dream of the ancient author. Well, what is one going to do, when such iconoclasts are already giving history a black eye ?


          And here we are again at the point from which we started, and still the question arises, was Colonel Beasley or Colonel Land the first white man who tramped the wild grass that grew so luxuriantly at the Head of the Lake? Some of the ancient red men, who used to fish in the bay or scalped white men who out on a little frolic might be able to decide it; but they are all dead now. The records in the county registrar’s office ought to tell the story, for in them are the names of the early settlers from the days when the U. E. Loyalists hiked from the country across the Niagara river. The other day the Muser thought he would go to the fountain head of information and made an early morning call on the young ladies who faithfully guard these ancient records and find out which was which. They searched the musty tomes, beginning with the letter B and then on through L. The first entry made by Colonel Beasley was the land now known as Dundurn park in the year 1790. Matthew Cain located on the first concession in 1798, and these was afterward deeded to one of the Lands in 1800. The registrar’s books could not settle the question as Colonel Land may have entered his land on a squatter’s title before the government survey was made. The earliest history we have of Colonel Beasley is given in Mrs. Simcoe’s diary, which has been put in readable shape by John R. Robinson, the Toronto editor, who can tell you all about the building of Solomon’s Temple and of Freemasonry in Hamilton. In Mrs. Simcoe’s diary, the claim is put forth flat-footed that Colonel Beasley was the first settler at the Head of the Lake. Nowhere is the descendants of Colonel Land’s chance to call on John B. Robinson to prove and settle forever this vexed question. Colonel Beasley was an Indian trader, but none of his descendants that are now living can tell from whence he came. All they know is that he was the owner of Dundurn park, when it was part of the forest, washed at its base by the waters of the bay, or Macassa as it was called by the Indians. It is stated that the house of Richard Beasley was west of the present site of Dundurn Castle, and that the building was afterward incorporated with the castle; but this is not likely, as the first dwelling must have been built of logs, and the west end of the castle is of brick. It is hardly possible that there was a brick building in this section in those early days. The so-called castle is a substantial brick building and well-proportioned. Senator McInnes, the last owner of Dundurn Castle told our informant that the stone building at the western part of the castle, once used as a gymnasium, was built prior to the main structure. The descendants of the Beasley family claim that the colonel moved into his house at Dundurn immediately after his arrival at the Head of the Lake, and that his sons, Richard, George, David C. and Henry were borne in the house, the last born in 1793. Without documentary evidence, it is believed that the colonel’s first home was on the site of Coote’s Paradise, so-called from a Captain Coote, who spent a great deal of his time duck shooting in the marsh below the hill, which abounded with wild fowl and tortoises. Governor and Mrs. Simcoe were frequent guests of Colonel and Mrs. Beasley.


          Teach the boys and girls to be loyal to the flag of their country. In the United States, the Stars and Stripes is raised every morning at the school house and at the close of the day, it is hauled down with all the pomp and ceremony observed by the army and navy. When the flag is raised one verse of the Star-Spangled Banner is sung by the children, and the same is done when the flag is lowered in the evening. The children enter into the spirit of it, and it brings them closer to the flag than it would be possible by any other means. No wonder that our Canadians call the Americans flag-worshippers, for it is instilled into the heart of an American child from its birth. When the civil war began in the United States in 1861, there were less than 25,000 soldiers to defend the flag. Within a week from the time President issued his call for 75,000 men, the call was answered by twice and thrice 75,000, and there was sore disappointment to those who were not mustered into the service. In Cincinnati, this old Muser was employed by the Daily Enquirer, and from that one building alone nearly fifty men gave up good-paying situations and took the oath as volunteers for $11 a month. The Muser heard the call of Father Abraham and responded with the others. Within a day or two, more than two hundred printers had signed the roll, and two companies of printers went out with the first two regiments, the Fifth and Sixth Ohio. Before the war ended nearly three million men were on the firing line in the northern army, and at least half that number under the Confederate flag. Those volunteers had been taught from childhood, Hats off to the Flag! The boy scouts in Canada are being taught , Hats off to the Flag! And the time may come when the lesson taught now may be of value to their native land. The derisive term, “flag flappers” is not evidence of loyalty at least, and the expression may in time come back to plague those who sneer at the flag of their country.


Friday, 13 May 2016


It is not often that great sacrifices are made in this world, but when one happens, it is done so quietly and unostentatiously that it is rarely heard of There are very few to imitate the example of the Saviour, who gave up His life to redeem even the unrepentant. But this old Muser is not going to run off on a tangent and get himself into ma discussion with some smart Alex, who always has his pencil sharpened and ready to fire in a half-column of more to tell what he knows about theology. Here in Hamilton we recently had an example of self-sacrifice that is deserving of mention even though we omit names. In one of the large manufacturing industries, a youth of about nineteen years was engaged in the counting room as clerk. He is an expert in the clerical department and stands well with the manager. He has a boyfriend whom he loves with all the ardor of youth, they being associated together through their school days. Both of the boys were industrious and of excellent habits, and both were fortunate in their working positions while the wheels of industry kept whirling. In the early part of the last year, one of the boys was laid off because work in the establishment in which he was employed had reduced its clerical forces, and the manager could hold out no hope of when the angel of industry would return. It was a great hardship for him, for he had a mother to support and she was a widow, and he was her only dependence. It was with a sad heart that he heard the office door close behind him, and not knowing when it would open again to welcome him back to his desk and his regular pay envelope. The young fellow was diligent in his search for work, but every business in the city was retrenching, and fortunate was the man or woman, boy nor girl who could get employment for even part time. With a mother to provide for, and no work in sight, the outlook was dark and dreary. His boyhood friend was more fortunate in more ways than one, for his parents were not dependent on him, and he paid his way at home as a stranger would. In exchanging confidences, the one out of work told his friend of his unfortunate condition. Now here is where the great heart of the boyfriend shone out in all the beauty of true brotherly love. You, no doubt, have read the story of Damon and Pythias, where the one became a hostage for the return of his friend, who was about to be executed, that he might see his wife and child once more before he died. Damon entered the prison while Pythias sped on his journey to see his loved ones and bid them farewell forever. You remember the story further where Pythias’ servant slew his master’s horse so that he could return to his doom. The time drew apace, but Pythias secured another mount and barely arrived in time as they were leading Damon to the block for execution. Damon never for a moment doubted his friend, but knew that something had happened to delay his return. Damon’s life was saved, and Pythia, for his loyalty, was pardoned and restored to his wife and child. The conditions may not be just the same, but they show what sacrifices are possible in the teachings of the doctrine of the brotherhood of man.

          A friend in need is a friend indeed. The boyfriends separated, and without any flourish of trumpets, the one in work went to the manager of the counting room in which he was employed and told the story of his unfortunate friend. The young fellow proposed to the manager that if it could be so arranged, he would take a six months’ holiday and have his friend take his desk in the office, and at the end of time he would resume his official duties. The manager cheerfully assented to the proposition, and would have given employment to both if the business justified him in so doing. He commended his young clerk for his manly act, and promised him not only his place on his return, but if business became brighter an increase in salary. To make a long story short, the out-of-work took his friend’s desk in the office, and the young hero, who was capable of such a sacrifice, hired out to a farmer and spent six months as a farm laborer. He did not make any blow about it, but answered all inquiries as to the change with the reply that he was learning new experiences as a tiller of the soil. When the six months of voluntary servitude on a farm had expired, the young fellow returned to his clerical duties, healthy and robust, and his friend was fortunate in getting a position. Both of them are now employed on full time, and the friendship that began at school is now stronger than ever.

          Help us to help each other, Lord,

                   Each other’s cross to bear,

          Let each a friendly aid afford,

                   And feel a brother’s care.

          Hamilton’s Damon and Pythias have set an example worthy of imitation. Both boys must make great and good men. Their names ought to be published, but it might be displeasing to them.



          Fifty-eight years ago yesterday (March 12, 1857), the first great railway accident in Canada occurred when the evening train from Toronto was crossing the Desjardins canal bridge. The cars were filled with a happy crowd of passengers who were returning to their homes in this city after a day spent in business or pleasure in Toronto. There were probably about one hundred passengers in the coaches, and of that number between sixty and seventy went down to a watery grave. What an age that seems to look backward; almost sixty years ago! It is like a dream of the past. More than sixty families were bereaved of loved ones. Are any of the passengers of that ill-fated train left to tell the story of their experience on that terrible March evening as the train went down, crashing through the ice? To this old Muser, the picture of that train, sloping from the track, down to the water below, oft comes up as a vision. We remember it well, for with other members of the old fire department, we spent nearly the entire night in helping to rescue the bodies of the victims of the disaster. It was after six o’clock on that cold March night that the fire alarm peeled out its dismal notes from the belfry of the old police station on King William street, and the clang of the bell seemed to sound clearer and faster than usual. “It must be a big fire,” thought the firemen as they rushed to the engine house, there to learn that it was worse than any fire – it was a train of passengers that had gone down through the canal bridge and scores of passengers drowned. The firemen were directed to go down to the railroad bridge and render such help as they could. It was a wild ride to the canal, thousands of people, old and young, men and women, rushing to the scene. Mothers and fathers, wives and children, who expected the return of some loved one by that evening train, were frantic in their grief.


          The story of that night has oft been told in the city papers on occasional recurrence of its anniversary, so we will briefly repeat it. The train was on time, and was nearing its destination when, through some mishap, the swing bridge that crossed the canal was moved a few inches not perceptible to the careful engineer, John Burnsides, who was guiding his train, as he thought, in safety to its destination, causing the engine to leave its track and go bumping onto the ties, the wheels cutting through timbers and weakening them so that they could not support the weight of the engine and cars. The fireman and the express messenger saved themselves by jumping from the train, but the heroic engineer stood up to the post of duty, hoping to check the engine and save his train and the passengers. When his body was rescued from the submerged engine the next day, he was found in a standing posture, sturdily clinging to the lever. He would have saved himself, as did the fireman, by jumping from the engine, but he braved death that he might save the hundred or more passengers in the cars. Out in the cemetery, a monument was erected over his grave by his fellow railroad men, and on it is a miniature locomotive with the bronze effigy of John Burnsides grasping the window. In the window of Thomas Lees’ jewelry store, James street north, is the clock that hung in the cab of the ill-fated engine on the night it went down. When taken out of the cab, the clock marked the moment at which the accident occurred, 6.30. The old face looks wearied and worn out, as if it belonged to another world. It reminds one of the song of the old grandfather’s clock –

          It stopped short, never to go again,

          When John Burnsides died.

          The miniature engine on that monument out in the cemetery is never allowed to become faded by sunshine or storm, but is kept bright and fresh by being regilded every two or three years. It stands as a perpetual reminder to the memory of a humble engineer who sacrificed his life that he might save others. The clock that is on exhibition in Mr. Lees’ window was handed down from one member of the Burnsides’ family to another, and finally it was presented to the Muser. Some day we may hand it over to the museum when Hamilton has such a one for the storage of ancient relics connected with the city.

          Richard Barrett was the conductor of the train, and Henry Urquhart was the express messenger. The latter is still living, aged 91 years, and is a successful contractor in Toronto.


          In looking over items of historical interest connected with Hamilton, we found reminiscences of George Hamilton, after whom the town was called. It tells the story of the early settlement, and gives the present Hamiltonians an idea of what the town was one hundred years ago and later. In these Musings, we have gone somewhat into the early history of the town, and this selection may add new light.

          George Hamilton  made the first survey of the town lots in what is now the city of Hamilton (previous to that called Burlington) in 1813. This survey comprised that portion of the city bounded by King, James, and Hunter streets and westerly line of the Springer farm – about halfway between Catharine and Walnut streets. In 1810, there had been but three or four buildings erected in these lots stood on King street. The Grove Inn stood on the ground now occupied by the Terminal station. This name was given to the inn on account of a grove of trees which lined the center of King street, from James to Mary streets. Some years after, they were all cut down by the pathmaster – a man named Gray. The most notable building in this first survey was the log jail, built in 1817-18. It stood near the southwest corner of the square bounded by John, Main and Catharine streets and Maiden Lane. This square had been decided to the Gore district for the site of the jail and courthouse in 1816. The jail was built of hewed logs to the height of ten feet, and on the top of this was erected a frame building for a court house. The prison was divided into four rooms – two for criminals, one for debtors, and the other was occupied by the jailer and his family. All the rooms were precisely alike and about 23 x 34 feet in size, divided, two on the east and two on the west – by a hall about four feet wide. The governor’s room served for kitchen, parlor, dining room and bedroom, for the officer and his wife. They had three little boys. The jail was extremely strong so far as the outer walls were concerned, but the designer seemed to have entirely overlooked the floors and foundation, so that it was found necessary to provide the two criminal cells with substantial chains which were securely riveted around the legs of the worse class of prisoners. The others took their departure at such times as seemed to themselves best, by raising a plank of the floor and digging out under the foundation. Numerous escapes were made in this manner. In those days, criminals were not fed in the same style as they are now, one pound of bread and a quart of water being the daily allowance; however, they were not stinted in the matter of fruit, as the jailor’s boys kept them well-supplied with apples during the season. The prison was located a short distance back from John street, and on the vacant space, fully exposed to public view the pillory and stocks and whipping post were kept in readiness. These instruments of punishment were called into requisition after the session of every court. Two hours in the pillory or stocks, or thirty-nine lashes with cat-o’-nine tails, being the common sentence for rogues who committed small offenses. The more serious criminals were banished to the United States. During court times, the old jail was the center of great trouble and excitement. In those jurors, witnesses and litigants came very long distances to attend the assizes – from west of Brantford and north of Guelph. Booths were erected on the vacant space on John street end of the square, made of boughs of trees, and from them were dispensed spruce beer, ginger cakes and apple pies. Loyalty was in high feather in those days, and the writer of this sketch saw a man, who had imbibed too much “black-strap” committed to the cell for 48 hours for saying “d—m the King” – he referred his Majesty George IV. The first man hanged in the old Gore district was from this jail. His name was Vincent; he had murdered his wife. A miserable job was made of this execution, as the colored man was officiated as hangman had to swing by the culprit’s legs for some minutes before death relived the sufferer. Two young “ladies” were at one time exposed in the pillory for about two hours, much to the amusement of the inhabitants of the village. Both murderer Vincent and the girls were from Beverly. The jail was pulled down at the completion of the stone edifice in Prince’s Square.

Sunday, 1 May 2016


“Under the heading of ‘Dick Butler and Clinton,’ the Daily Public, of Clinton, Ill., in an editorial in the issue of Feb. 6, has the following to say of Richard Butler, the United States vice-consul of this city and Muser of the Spectator staff”

Hamilton Spectator.   February 20, 1915.

With the above introduction, the Hamilton Times reprinted the following tribute to the Old Muser, the long-time writer of Saturday Musings.

Mr. Butler had recently sent  a column in the style of his “Musings” on Hamilton’s local history to Clinton with his memories of that town.

The Muser had recently celebrated his 80th birthday :

“His name is Richard Butler, but his Clinton friends remember him as ‘Dick.’ He is 80 years young, but his Clinton friends remember him as a strong, virile man, who counted his friends by the hundreds. “Dick” butler was a man who did things for Clinton. As an editor of the Public in his early days, he made a name that will last in memory long after those who now control it have passed away.

“ ‘Dick’ Butler never forgot a friend, he forgot few men he ever met.. His letter is in some respects the most remarkable piece of writing that possibly ever appeared in the columns of the Public. Pick over the men you know ten to twenty years younger that could sit down and unfold in written words so splendid a piece of history as Mr. Butler’s story. He apologizes for perhaps forgetting a few characters who have been famous in Clinton during the last forty-three years.

“Apologize? Really, it is almost inconceivable how any man could recall the names and facts of such a galaxy. He doesn’t seem to have omitted any name from Clinton’s list of immortals.

“Would that we had more men like ‘Dick’ Butler, a man who is an inspiration to young men who never knew him. It is an inspiration to work in the same office where ‘Dick’ Butler once toiled for a better Clinton. It is an inspiration to live in a town which ‘Dick’ Butler once honored by making it his home.

“You who knew him, sit down after you have read his reminiscences, and write him a letter or a card. Thank him for unfolding Clinton’s history in the way he has portrayed it. You can read the homesickness for Clinton between his lines. Honor him now, not later, for he is already past the allotted time of life. He will appreciate it.”1

1 “Pay High Tribute to Richard Butler : Paper in Muser’s Home Town Tells of Debt People Owe Him”

Hamilton Times.    February 20, 1915