This Week in Peterborough: 1858


The SS Great Eastern

With this post, we begin a new feature here at the Peterboriana blog!  We’re going to take a look at what was in the Peterborough newspapers for this week back in 1858 (the year chosen simply because we had to start somewhere), in terms of both local news and items from further afield.  Next week, we’ll take a look at 1859, the week after that 1860, and so on.

First up then, some files from the Peterborough Examiner of June 24th, 1858 (the Examiner was a weekly publication at that time), with news of ships, slavery, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, and more!

We begin on the international scene.  The June 24th Examiner contained two items relating to the recently supressed Indian Rebellion of 1857, which had actually bled, literally, into 1858.  One was the decree of Lord Canning, Governor-General of India, declaring that the territory of Oudh (modern Awadh) was forfeited to the British Government, and demanding that the now-former landowners of the region “throw themselves upon the justice and mercy” of Britain to have any chance of getting any of it back.  The second document was the “secret despatch” of Lord Ellenborough, urging leniency towards the inhabitants of Oudh and attacking Lord Canning for the harsh tone and content of his decree.  India, in the end, was placed under the control of the British Crown with Lord Canning as its first Viceroy.  Lord Ellenborough’s comments, meanwhile, cost him his political career.

There was a great deal of excitement in the paper over plans to attempt once again to lay a trans-Atlantic telegraph line.  The USS Niagara and HMS Agamemnon had set sail, planning to meet mid-ocean, splice the cable, and then play it out in both directions.  Although it took two tries in the summer of 1858, the cable was eventually laid, and the first trans-Atlantic telegraph message was sent on August 16th of that year.  Meanwhile, in other shipping news, the Examiner reported that the SS Leviathan, later renamed SS Great Eastern, was afloat near Deptford, England, but needed £220,000 for complete her fitting-out.  It would be more than a year before the immense ship actually put to sea for the first time.


The slave ship Emanuela, in the process of being captured by HMS Brisk off the West African coast in 1860.

Sticking with the nautical theme, there was considerable controversy brewing in late June of 1858 over Britain’s attempts to suppress the West African slave trade by essentially blockading the coast.  The interception of American slave ships by the Royal Navy was causing outrage in the U.S., and no less an authority than the Times of London had opined that the anti-slavery efforts should be abandoned in the name of improving British-American relations.  To its credit, the Peterborough Examiner disagreed:

“[T]he sentiment of the “abandonment” of the prosecution of slavers, may suit a nation which encourages the stealing of their fellow-men and dragging them into cruel and perpetual bondage, and that too by a people that prate of the “free” institutions, but however disgustingly certain individuals may act in regard to the matter, it is not possible that the British nation have or ever can entertain an idea so repugnant to their own policy… which has ever been munificently humane.”

The Examiner, and anyone else who held abolitionist sentiments, had some reason to be especially grumpy that week.  The Methodist Episcopal Church South, which had split from the main body of the Methodist Church in the 1840s over the issue of slavery, had just removed from its General Rules an injunction against “the buying and selling of men, women, or children” and had officially pronounced itself to have “no opinion in regard to the African slave-trade.”  The Rochester Democrat, quoted in the June 24th Examiner, noted accurately that “[founder of Methodism] John Wesley… would despise such a shuffle.”

In and around Peterborough itself, the week of June 24th, 1858, was a quiet one.  The main local news item involved a £25,000 loan taken out by the Municipality to fund some unspecified project, possibly railway-related.  Despite being charged interest on the full amount, Peterborough had received only £23,500, and so a motion was made, and passed, in the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada to find out what had become of the £1,500 that was missing.  Not terribly exciting stuff, although it did lead to one Councillor, for some reason, giving a short speech full of praise for Sir Francis Bond Head, the truly awful former Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Library & Archives Canada C-016749)

Thomas D’Arcy McGee (Library & Archives Canada C-016749)

The Province of Canada was trundling along at the time towards becoming the Dominion of Canada, and the June 24th Examiner included a very interesting document related to that process.  It was an essay by Thomas D’Arcy McGee, inveighing against certain high-ranking politicians (including John A. MacDonald) for their support and patronage of the dreaded Orange Order.  Given the Order’s immense political power in Canada West at the time, not to mention its proclivity for violence, it was an important and obvious target for McGee’s anger.  Perhaps the most interesting quote in the essay comes towards the end, when McGee gives a little look at his desires for the future of the incipient nation:

“A change, I believe, must come, and I do not anticipate from it, those frightful consequences which fill the imagination of certain political prophets.  I would rather expect, that by rendering the French and Irish more necessary to each other, and the British more just to both, it would on the contrary tend to hasten the advent of a genuine Canadian Nationality, co-extensive with the country, and enduring as its hills.”

Excellent sentiments indeed, although we do have to wonder where McGee saw the Native population in terms of his “Canadian Nationality”!

Those, then, were the major stories that the residents of Peterborough saw when they received their copies of the June 24th, 1858, Peterborough Examiner.  Next time out, we’ll take a look at interesting news items for the week of July 1st, 1859!


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3 Responses to This Week in Peterborough: 1858

  1. Pingback: McGee Speaks | Peterboriana

  2. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1861 | Peterboriana

  3. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1910 | Peterboriana

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