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.

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