Time again to check in with what was happening this week in Peterborough of long ago! This week, we’re looking at the end of June and the beginning of July of 1859, and it’s full of interesting items. Click on to read of war in Italy, airships, the evils of playing cricket on Sunday, and more!
The big international news for late June and early July of 1859 involved the Battle of Magenta, which had been fought near Milan on June 4th between a combined force of French and Sardinian troops and the army of Austria. The French, under the leadership of Napoleon III, emerged victorious. The battle was part of the Second Italian War of Independence, and the Franco-Sardinian victory marked a small step on the way to the creation of the modern nation of Italy. It also, as a minor note of historical trivia, inspired a French chemist to re-name his recently-discovered purplish dye, which had been called “fuchsine.”
The Peterborough Examiner for June 30th, 1859, devoted a great deal of attention to the battle, having only just then received the news of it. Napoleon III was praised for his valour, as were the French Zouaves, but the paper also recorded other vignettes about the campaign. One involved a French soldier who, under fire, rescued a baby bird and hid it in his hat. The bird and soldier subsequently bonded, and the newspaper’s correspondent drew some parallels with the sparrow described by the Latin poet Catullus.
The war in Italy was not the only news from foreign parts to be found in the June 30th Examiner. The first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air was imminent, as the airship Atlantic, built by John Wise but now owned by John LaMountain, was on its way to St. Louis to get ready for a couple of short trial runs. Sadly, the Atlantic crashed in the Canadian wilderness during one of those trials in September of 1859, and the plan to cross the ocean was abandoned. However, Wise, in August of that year, did make the first airmail run, between two towns in Indiana, in a balloon named “Jupiter” (see picture above).
Closer to home, the week of July 1st, 1859, found the Examiner in a bit of a snarly mood with regards to one of its nearby rivals. The Port Hope Atlas had, on June 10th, run the obituary shown above, which reads: “Died — In Cobourg, on the 9th inst., from asphyxia, Wm. Henry King, Esq., Toxicoligist [sic], aged 26 years.” The “heartless levity” that so enraged the Examiner staff derived from the fact that the deceased, William Henry King, had been convicted of poisoning his wife (hence, “toxicoligist”), and the “asphyxia” to which he had succumbed was of the sort handed out by the judicial system of the time in response to cases of murder. King’s hanging, in nearby Cobourg, was one of the last public executions in Canada, and had been watched by a crowd of several thousand.
The Examiner was ferocious in its condemnation of the obituary-writer in the Atlas. The paper blasted him for “miserable vindictiveness” and cowardice, and called for a certain amount of decorum on the part of Canadian journalists:
“…there are few indeed amongst us whose very souls will not revolt at the the unnatural atrocity that could hold up to contempt one, however guilty, after he had paid to justice the full penalty she exacts, and with his life atoned for a wrong done to a fellow creature and to society.”
“Here we would let the matter rest, trusting that… while levity on the part of those who attend public executions is regarded by the right-thinking with horror, our public journals will never pollute their columns with anything which breathes in the faintest degree that spirit of brutality which unfortunatey, at times, pervades the mob.”
On a happier note, the June 30th Examiner included an announcement of an upcoming cricket match, to be played on July 5th of that year between Peterborough and Lindsay. The match was duly held, at the Ashburnham Cricket Ground, in front of a large crowd “including many ladies” — so noted the Examiner for July 7th. Peterborough won it handily, scoring 200 runs to Lindsay’s 71.
Cricket was indeed very popular in Peterborough at the time — perhaps too popular for some! The June 30th Examiner includes a letter from someone writing as “A Traveller,” who complained about the playing of the sport on Sundays:
“On Sunday last I observed about twenty young fellows of the loafer tribe, busy engaged at a game of Cricket in the neighbourhood of the Railway Depot in that part of your town known as East Peterboro. For the time being I could hardly imagine I was amongst a Christian community…”
The Examiner’s response to this was to point out, albeit somewhat sympathetically towards “A Traveller”, that what went on in East Peterboro was the business of the Township of Ashburnham, and complaints should be addressed in that direction.
Those, then, were the major stories around Peterborough for the week of July 1st, 1859. A few other bits of business involved the debate over whether to requisition funds for a new Town Hall (the Examiner was against such extravagance), and a brief announcement that gold had been discovered in the Fraser River near Fort Hope, British Columbia, and that labourers, skilled and otherwise, were much in demand there. Next week, we will take a look at the newspapers for the week of July 7th or so, 1860!