This Week in Peterborough: 1865


The S.S. Pewabic (image via Shipwreck Explorers)

I invite to pay special attention to the source of that image of the S.S. Pewabic, which will give you a bit of a clue as to the vessel’s eventual fate.  Mid-August, 1865, was indeed an awful and tragic period in the annals of shipping on the Great Lakes.  It was also a sad time in Canadian politics, as the Province lost a man who had played an important role as matters moved towards Confederation.

Click on for those stories, plus murder, scandal, and… report card time!

There was little of great excitement attracting the notice of Peterborians in terms of international news in mid-August of 1865, and even closer to home, with only a couple of big items worth noting.  The Civil War in the U.S. was over, although there was still a great deal of discussion over what to do with Jefferson Davis, ex-President of the Confederate States.  The August 10th Peterborough Examiner described a meeting of Davis sympathizers in New York City, at which one participant declared that putting Davis on trial for treason would result in “a revolution of sentiment everywhere in favor of the South.”  The United States government evidently agreed, and Davis was released from prison in 1868.  The victorious General Ulysses S. Grant, meanwhile, was actually in Canada in the summer of 1865, visiting Montreal, where he commented favorably on the state of relations between Britain and the U.S.

The other big news involving the U.S. and Canada at this time involved the aforementioned shipwreck, one of the worst disasters ever to occur on the Great Lakes.  On the evening of August 9th, 1865, two ships, the Pewabic (pictured above) and the Meteor, collided on Lake Superior, and the Pewabic sank so quickly that the passengers and crew could not escape.  The death toll was estimated at over 100.  The Meteor caught fire and had to be scuttled, happily without loss of life, just a couple of days later, and it is perhaps understandable that the Examiner, on August 17th, looked askance at the whole thing:

“Both vessels, it would appear, were insured and the destruction of the two, owned by the same firm in so short a period, looks suspicious to say the least of it.”

However, it is now generally accepted that two ships collided accidentally in an attempt to exchange packages, particularly bundles of newspapers for delivery.  If so, this was a dangerous practice whose time was coming to an end.  The August 10th Examiner contains a lengthy report on the laying of the Trans-Atlantic cable by the S.S. Great Eastern, and concludes with a note that “all was going well.”  The use of ships to carry news would soon be a thing of the past.


Sir Etienne Paschal Taché (Source: Library & Archives Canada, MIKAN #3221530)

The Province, and soon-to-be Dominion, of Canada, meanwhile, was mourning the death of Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché, joint Premier of the Province along with Sir John A. MacDonald.  Taché had died on July 29th, at the age of 69, and the August 10th Examiner contained a lengthy account of his funeral.  Although he did not survive to see 1867, Taché is rightly considered one of the “Fathers of Confederation” — he had been a delegate to the 1864 Quebec Conference which drew up plans for the structure of government in the new country, and was a key part of the “Great Coalition,” the movement that led to a certain degree of political cooperation between the English- and French-speaking parts of the Province.

Taché was replaced as Premier of Canada East by Sir Narcisse-Fortunat Belleau, who appears to have been something of a compromise choice, at least to judge by the editorial in the August 10th Examiner:

“We have scarcely heretofore heard of his name on the political arena.  He has been chosen in order that men who have heretofore been unable to work together harmoniously may, under him, be enabled to unite without dread of destroying either of the existing parties.”

To the home front, then, and scandal in Peterborough!  On the 11th of August, the city’s Courthouse saw a certain Louisa Potter on trial on a charge of running a bawdy house.  A witness by the name of Joe Hall testified that he new nothing of Louisa Potter, and never went near houses of ill repute.  He was contradicted, however, by a Mrs. Primrow, who claimed that Potter “received men at all hours,” and specifically mentioned seeing Joe Hall visiting the house while drunk.  In the end, Potter was sentenced to a $20 fine, commuted to 20 days in jail when she refused to pay.  The Examiner for July 17th opined that this was “an easy way of paying a dollar a day,” and also noted that “[I]f the evidence was weak, the penalty was slight.”

There were more serious criminal doings afoot in the Peterborough area at this time, however.  On the weekend of August 12th, a man named Patrick Matemore was gunned down as he was walking home from work on a farm near Omemee, in Emily Township.  At the coroner’s inquest, suspicion fell on Matemore’s neighbor, referred to only as O’Brien, with whom he had been feuding.  Whatever the eventual outcome of the case (I was not able to determine this), it did not end with an execution, at least not as per this document.


1914 photo of Peterborough Collegiate Vocational School, on the site where the Grammar and Union School had been located in 1865. (photo via Peterboro’s Glorious Years)

This week around here in 1865 also saw an event that must have been the cause of some tension for certain residents of the city, namely the publishing, in the August 10th Peterborough Examiner no less, of the report on the June examinations at the Peterborough Grammar and Union School.  The report revealed mixed results for that school year, from the encouraging (“The Reading of the pupils of the 3rd class was very good, showing that very great pains must have been bestowed on their training”) to the less favourable:

“The Reading and Spelling of… the 2nd class, bad; and of the 1st class, bad.  The answering in Geography, Grammar and Arithmetic, bad.  The Writing, bad — one or two showed a little improvement.”

The writer of the report also felt moved to chastise Peterborough parents for lack of attention to their childrens’ education.

Next Wednesday, then, we are on to 1866, and we will see if things improved on the educational front!


A somewhat fatalistic ad for Bryan’s Pulmonic Wafers, from the August 10th, 1865, edition of the Peterborough Examiner.

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One Response to This Week in Peterborough: 1865

  1. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1917 | Peterboriana

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