After the excitement of 1858 and 1859, 1860 was a bit of a calmer period in the history of Peterborough, at least around the beginning of July. However, a number of situations that we have checked in with before were once again in the news, so click on for Garibaldi, the Great Eastern, Cricket (redux), and more!
As had been the case in 1859, the major international story of interest in 1860 was the ongoing march towards unity and independence in Italy. At the end of June, Giuseppe Garibaldi was busily wrapping up the Expedition of the Thousand, his stunningly fast conquest of Sicily at the expense of the Kingdom of Naples. These developments were watched with great interest and approval in the area of Peterborough — the people of Lindsay, in fact, were passing the hat to raise funds for Garibaldi, and thus, according to the July 5th Examiner, “setting an example in this respect to the rest of Canada.”
Why would the folks of Peterborough and region support Garibaldi, or even be interested in the doings of Italy at all? After all, the surge of Italian immigration to southern Ontario would not begin in earnest for another 40 years. Well, to make a long story short, Britain was firmly on the side of the unifiers of Italy at this point, in large part because they were tweaking the tail of Napoleon III’s France (yes, in 1859 the opposite had been true — it was a complicated situation). And among Garibaldi’s great rivals was the Papal States, or what was left of them, a fact that would have drawn favour in an area where the Orange Order was very influential.
In Peterborough itself, the summer of 1860 had not been a particularly momentous time. The cricketers, whom we discussed last time, were still in action, although not as successfully as they had been in the summer of 1859. The Peterborough Examiner for July 5th, 1860, recorded that the club had been beaten at home for the first time, by the team from Cobourg. This prompted a very sportsmanlike and congratulatory letter to the Examiner by the almost-certainly-pseudonymous “Victor Thorold Humbug Snob.” At least, we can but hope that it is a pseudonym!
There was some political drama to be had in Peterborough in early July of 1860. The mayor at the time was Augustus Sawers, who had been part of the group that tried to finance construction of a road to Bobcaygeon (the road was never built, for various reasons). Sawers, however, found himself in charge of a fractious town council, and the resultant wrangling ended up in court more than once. Peterborough’s two papers were starkly divided on the issue of the Sawers’ performance as mayor, with the Examiner supporting him actively and unreservedly, and the Review inveighing against him with equal force. Their rival stances were not a coincidence, and this is probably as good a time as any to note that Augustus Sawers was a founder and part-owner of the Peterborough Examiner. In any case, however he did as mayor (it is a bit hard to sort through the biases and sort it all out, Sawers’ tenure was not long). Ill health, possibly not helped by the trials and tribulations of the political situation that year, forced him out of office, and he died in 1861.
Other matters were bothering the writers for the Examiner as well, including the severity of Canadian debt laws, which the paper described as “a disgrace to a civilized people.” The occasion for this observation was the suicide, in prison, of a 66-year-old Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, debtor. The Examiner called, firmly, for a gentler way of dealing with people in debt, and stated:
“What a folly for Canada to call itself a free country, when it treats its debtors so cruelly!”
There was something to this sentiment, as the country’s debt laws were draconian. Lengthy terms of imprisonment, with no opportunities to work towards paying the debts, were still legal in Canada for those who owed money, and suicides like the one that provoked the Examiner to opine on the issue were not rare.
Finally, there was news from the United States as well, although it was calm news compared to what we will see from years to come! When we last checked in with the S.S. Great Eastern, in the summer of 1858, it was named “Leviathan,” and sitting in harbour for want of funds to finish its construction. By June of 1860, that situation had been rectified, and the great ship made its first transatlantic voyage, arriving in New York on June 28th. Her second trip from Europe to North America would be made the next year, and under less happy circumstances. That, however, is a story for next time, when we look at 1861!