This Week in Peterborough: 1869



Col. F.W. Haultain, with whom we are familiar from a couple of earlier installments of this series, prepares to depart Peterborough for Montreal in September of 1869. He would later return. (Advertisement from the Peterborough Examiner, September 9th, 1869)

Before we leap into the 1869 edition of the series, I should note that this blog has received a wonderful piece of local exposure.  I was interviewed a couple of weeks ago by Sam Tweedle, who writes for Kawartha Now, and the write-up of the interview is now on their website.  I would like to thank Sam profusely for taking the time to talk to me about this project, and to say that I very much enjoyed the final article!

Without further ado, then, click on to read about bad news in Europe and the U.S., discontent in Canada, and other things from September of 1869, including the “best potatoes yet!”


Queen Isabella II of Spain, who was no longer actually Queen by this time… (Image via

The overseas news in 1869 was somewhat ominous, particularly in the case of France.  In that country, the Emperor Napoleon III was gravely ill, and his incapacity was raising the spectre of revolution.  “It is important both for the country and for the dynasty that we should emerge with all possible speed from a condition perilous for everybody,” wrote the Journal de Paris for August 28th, in an article reprinted in the September 16th Peterborough Examiner.  While the Emperor did survive, within a year his country would be entangled in a disastrous war against Prussia, about which we will talk much more when we look at 1870.

Spain, as well, was in a state of some foment, with Queen Isabella II of the House of Bourbon having been deposed the previous year, and this attracted some notice in the Peterborough newspapers.  The supporters of the pretender Carlos VII were active at this time (“…there is hardly a priest in Spain who is not a Carlist,” wrote the September 2nd Examiner, quoting the New York Times), with opposition to them largely coming from Republicans.  In the end, Spain experienced a short-lived Republic, followed by the similarly brief reign of the Italian-born Amadeo I, of the House of Savoy, before the Bourbons were reinstated in the person of Alfonso XII in 1875.


“The Avondale Colliery Disaster — Bringing Out The Dead.” (Sketch by Theo R. Davis, via Wikimedia Commons)

The big news from the United States was not ominous at all; it was dreadful and tragic.  On September 6th, 1869, fire broke out in the Avondale Colliery in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania, trapping a large number of men in the mine.  The Peterborough Examiner, on September 9th, put the casualty number at 200; in the end, it was “only” 110.  The eventual result of the disaster was a tightening of mining regulations in the U.S. (the Avondale fire had blocked the only way into or out of the mine, for both men and fresh air), and a commensurate rise in the popularity of trade unions representing miners.

On a lighter note, there is one other piece of overseas news that bears mentioning, as it relates to a very famous story indeed.  On September 16th, the following headline and lede appeared in the Examiner:


Dr. Livingstone was eventually found, we presume.

In Canada, well, there was some grumbling doing the rounds, based as usual on dissatisfaction with political matters.  There were even some suggestions that the whole Confederation thing had been a mistake, and should be remedied.  Full independence from Britain, and the creation of a “Republic of Canada, was one possible solution to this, as was annexation to the United States, and there was even talk of turning Canada into a client monarchy, with Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, on the throne (the Prince was residing in Canada at that time, and had become very popular among Canadians).  However, there were also those who felt that staying the course was the right plan, and the editors of the Peterborough Examiner were firmly in that camp.  In a September 9th editorial entitled “Canada’s Future,” the Examiner weighed in on the issue:

“…Canadians do not ask for a King, nor desire one; nor do they want a Republic…  What we do need and long for is honest politicians to manage our affairs; sober men who will not be forced to commit their business to underlings, who… live at our expense without giving any return for it.  We want capable men to manage our business, who will be able to detect the errors of others and remedy them.  We want moral men who will not go about the country using profane language, a shame and a reproach to us.  We want men of integrity who will not sell themselves for love of gain or office.  Neither independence, nor annexation, nor royalty will mend these matters…”

It should be noted that while Prince Arthur never did get to be crowned King of Canada, he remains an interesting figure in the history of the country.  He fought against the Fenians at the Battle of Eccles Hill in 1870, and much later served as Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916.  In any case, in September of 1869, the country was only a couple of weeks away from the beginning of what would come to be called the Red River Rebellion, the aftermath of which we will discuss at length when we look at 1870.  That event would serve for a time to distract the general public from their grievances with the government.

The debate over whether to join Canadian Confederation at all was still ongoing in some places, and Prince Edward Island was at the centre of this in September of 1869.  Despite having played host to the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, which had gotten the final push towards Confederation underway, the island itself had not joined Canada in 1867, and appeared no closer to doing so in 1869.  Per the September 2nd Examiner, Colonial Secretary Benjamin Davies had remarked that “no terms had been offered the Island which its people would, for a moment, think of accepting.”  It would be 1873 before P.E.I. joined the Dominion of Canada.

In Peterborough herself, a political upheaval appeared in the early days of September, 1869.  It looked very much as though the town was going to have to elect a new Mayor, on account of the prolonged absence of the current office-holder, W.H. Scott.  Scott had been in the the United States since late May, on account of his wife being in poor health, and the time was quickly approaching when Peterborough would be forced to declare the mayoral seat vacant.  So the September 2nd Examiner reported, but by the time the September 9th edition appeared, the Mayor had returned to Peterborough, and the crisis was past.  “Our fun was spoiled, and the hopes of the ambitious nipped in the bud, by the return of the Mayor,” said the newspaper, somewhat glumly.

sheriff hall

Sheriff James Hall. (Photo by W.J. Topley, Library & Archives Canada, #3476773)

Late summer and early autumn in Peterborough in this era meant that it was time for the Horticultural Show, where the town’s avid gardeners showed what they had been up to over the year.  Prominent in this group in the late 1860s was James Hall, Sheriff of Peterborough County, and at the 1869 show he took first prize in the following categories: Phlox Drummondii, Verbenas, Hollyhocks, Gladiolas, Hand Bouquets, Annual Cut Flowers, Collection Plums, and Peck Potatoes.  The good Sheriff’s potatoes attracted particular notice in the press, as demonstrated by this passage in the September 16th Examiner:

“BEST POTATOES YET.  We were shown some potatoes the other day, raised by Sheriff Hall, that we believe equal, if not surpass, anything that has yet appeared in print.  Mr. Hall planted half a pound of the Early Rose, which produced over 67½ pounds when raised… of good quality and flavor.”

Sadly, there is some foreshadowing here: the following year would see Sheriff Hall suffer a grievous setback to his gardening efforts.  But that episode we will deal with next time!


Early Rose potatoes. (Image via Potato Garden)

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7 Responses to This Week in Peterborough: 1869

  1. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1870 | Peterboriana

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  5. John C. Leisttra says:

    I enjoy the stories about Sherriff James Hall. I am one of his descendants. Are there any stories about E. H. D. Hall and Major Gerald Russell Hall?

    • Thanks for your comment; it’s wonderful to hear from a descendent of Sheriff Hall! He’s one of favourite early Peterborians — a most interesting fellow, between his role as Sheriff and his prodigious gardening.

      I have certainly come across E.H.D. Hall in reading the early newspapers, as he was involved in quite a lot of different things in Peterborough around the turn of the century. I don’t seem to have managed to mention him yet in any of the posts, but I will keep my eyes open as I go along! I’m afraid I haven’t encountered Major Gerald Hall yet, but again, I will keep my eyes open for him!

  6. John C. Leistra says:

    Major G. R. Hall married Angeline Orilla Meyers, Daughter of Peterborough Alderman J. W. Meyers. He worked for Canadian General Electric after returning from fighting in the Great War. I do believe that Mrs. A. Orilla Meyers was a sister of A. J. Meyers, founder of Meyers Transport.

    All the Best

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