The great Crystal Palace in London, constructed in 1851, was one of the engineering marvels of the 19th-century, covering 23 acres and involving the unprecedented use of glass plates, from which it drew its name. In the summer of 1862, it hosted the International Exhibition, a massive World’s Fair that included displays and artifacts from around the globe. Needless to say, this huge event was of interest to the inhabitants of Britain’s colonies, especially, for our purposes, as the Province of Canada was fully represented in the Exhibition. Well, almost fully, as we shall see…
Click on, for exhibits involving weddings, civil wars, temperance, and other things of interest to the people of Peterborough in late July, 1862!
The Peterborough Examiner for July 24th, 1862, published a complete account of the 1862 International Exhibition, written by a Canadian journalist. What this writer had to say about the section devoted to Canada is of great interest, though also, I would think, somewhat appalling to a reader in 2014:
“The Canada Department in the colonial court, from its interest to your readers, deserves particular notice. We cannot agree with the taste of the Commissioners in erecting the great timber tower. It is certainly a conspicuous object, but it obscures from view much else that should be seen. Everything besides it in the Department is made to look so insignificant that visitors glance on the gigantic tower, with its inscription “Canada,” and they walk away with the idea implanted in their minds (one that has, unfortunately, too great a hold there already), that Canada is a vast forest. On close examination, however, we must say that the Province is very creditably represented. Excepting, perhaps, some of our manufactures, everything we could think of is shown. The samples of grain, especially, have been much praised by agriculturalists. Good taste, we think, has been shown in excluding all Indian trappings, such as wampums, tomahawks, pipes, clubs, &c.; they convey a wrong impression to the foreign mind. A fine case of photographs are objectionable from the numerous pictures of people muffled up in robes and furs, wearing snow-shoes. The impression made by such representations is that our fine country is another Greenland. The printed notes and explanations placed where every one can read them is a commendable feature. Take it all in all we were very proud of the appearance made by the land of the Maple Leaf.”
A fascinating bit of commentary, particularly the bit about the omission of Aboriginal artifacts from the Canadian exhibit. It would be very interesting to know exactly what the reporter meant when he wrote of a “wrong impression” that might be created by representations of Native culture. I think we can safely say that both exhibit curatorship and the science of anthropology have made great progress since that time, although, to be fair, a certain amount of the credit for starting that process has to go to the 1862 Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.
The Exhibition was not the only piece of news from Britain to which the people of Peterborough were paying attention in July of 1862. There had been, on July 1st of the month, a royal wedding, in which Princess Alice, third child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, married Prince Louis of Hesse. The event was a low-key affair, very much overshadowed by the recent death of the Prince Consort (Prince Albert had succumbed to illness in December of 1861), and the Examiner for July 24th reported that: “Her Majesty the Queen, suffering under the most recent severe affliction, attended in a most private manner in a deep mourning…” Indeed, she would remain in that deep mourning for the rest of her life.
To the south, the American Civil War continued to churn along, and although it remained big news in Peterborough and in Canada generally, the anxious tone of reporting on the conflict that we saw in the Summer of 1861 had diminished by July of 1862. Seemingly gone were the fears that the Union might turn military eyes on Canada, and the coverage in the Examiner was much more devoted to commentary on, and analysis of, the events of the war itself. The July 24th edition of the paper included a long piece on the debt being incurred by the U.S. (it was a somewhat smug article, opening with: “It has been heretofore a taunt used by Americans toward England that she was burdened with an overwhelming debt…”), and there was also a mention of the Confederate sympathies of Betty Dandridge, daughter of former President Zachary Taylor. The Examiner for July 17th reprinted a highly unflattering article from the New York Independent, in which Mrs. Dandridge was described as a “renegade daughter of General Taylor” and quoted as “[uttering] the benevolent wish that [Union] troops might be destroyed by the yellow fever if not by powder and lead.”
In Peterborough itself, late July of 1862 seems to have been a quiet sort of period, especially compared to the excitement of elections and fires and so on that we saw in 1861. Even the political news was mundane: Sir John A. MacDonald joined the Sons of Temperance. This ranks as a somewhat amusing item, given MacDonald’s reputation as a man who knew pretty well how to operate a corkscrew, but no more than that. It should be pointed out that the Peterborough Examiner at this time was a major supporter of the temperance cause, devoting space on its front page to a weekly column from the local chapter of the Sons. We will take a more detailed look at the content of some of those another time. There were, of course, other things going on in the political sphere — the debate over whether Catholic school boards should be allowed, for one — but none of these matters were at a major crisis point in the Summer of 1862.
One other piece of local news from this time period is of interest, not because of the event itself, but because of the fact that it drew a mention in the Examiner. The opening of a new Orange Hall, belonging to the Otonabee Lodge of the Orange Order, was hardly earthshaking — there would be 22 such Halls in Peterborough County alone by the end of the 1860s. However, the Examiner not only announced the dedication of the building, but sold tickets to it (price: $0.25, available from the Examiner’s office). This represents a significant change in editorial policy at the paper. In previous years, we have already seen the Examiner giving column space for Thomas D’Arcy McGee to inveigh against the Orange Order, while at the same time making no mention whatsoever of any festivities relating to July 12th (and The Twelfth was, without question, being celebrated in Peterborough and surrounding areas at that time). What, exactly, lay behind this change in policy is not known to me right now, but will be looked into further!
Next Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the very end of July in 1863!