This Week in Peterborough: 1875


George A. Cox, long after his political days in Peterborough. (photo via

If October of 1874 had been a quiet time in Peterborough, as we saw last week, that month in 1875 was… not.  Political doings, both provincial and civic, were afoot in the County, and tempers were just a little bit short as a result.

Click on for bylaws, editorial vitriol, and a byelection that was as close as close can be (also an underwater train, but you have to read to the very end for that)!

Much of Peterborough’s attention in late October of 1875 was directed inwards, for excellent reasons as we shall soon see.  However, there was still time to take some notice of international affairs, and in particular of the great fire that destroyed most of the silver-mining boom-town of Virginia City, Nevada.  The fire was given full coverage in the Peterborough Times, although the paper did lament the difficulty of getting accurate reports from the scene — the October 26th blaze had destroyed, among other things, the telegraph office.  In any case, there were several fatalities from the fire, 10,000 were left homeless, and the property damage was estimated at about 12 million dollars.


The rebuilt Virginia City, Nevada, in 1877. (photo via Terri McBride and the U.S. National Park Service)

As noted, however, the main focus of the news in Peterborough at this time was on a story much closer to home, namely the provincial byelection in the riding of Peterborough West.  The full Ontario vote had been held in January, resulting in a majority for Oliver Mowat’s Liberals.  However, the results of both Peterborough County ridings — John O’Sullivan of the Conservative Party had won the East, while the Liberals’ George Cox took the West — were appealed on the grounds of voting irregularities, and “do-over” elections were subsequently ordered.  In August of 1875, O’Sullivan retained his seat in the East riding, and in late October it was Cox’s turn to try to do likewise in the West.  His Conservative opponent was William Scott, whom Cox had defeated in January by the slim margin of 45 votes out of about 1900 cast.

It was even closer this time out.  On October 26th, Peterborians went back to the polls, and when all was said and done, the official tally had Cox with 994 votes, and Scott with 995.  Scott would go on to retain the seat in 1879, and serve as the Member for Peteborough West until his death in 1881.  As the October 30th Peterborough Times noted, the margin was certainly “not large enough to give the successful party much cause for crowing…”  The Times was also firmly of the opinion that having the byelection out of the way was a good thing:

“[Repeated elections] have interfered materially with business, besides tending to keep up the ill-feeling that is unfortunately too often excited by these elections, with their canvassing and platform speeches… There is no good reason why the late excitement should not at once subside, and harmony and good fellowship reign among us.”

Harmony and good fellowship had indeed been in short supply during the campaign, with the Peterborough Examiner particularly ferocious in its editorials.  The newspaper was staunchly anti-Conservative, and in the run-up to this election its writers directed most of their wrath at noted Peterborough businessman and fervent Scott supporter John Carnegie.  Such phrases as “full of envey, malice, illwill and untruthfulness [sic],”a heart full of bitterness,” and “foul of heart and hands” were deployed against him.  Carnegie had originally earned the wrath of the Examiner several years before, when he was involved in the local scandal over gas-fired streetlamps and subsequently sued the newspaper for libel.


The Jubilee riots, October 3rd, 1875, on Simcoe Street in Toronto. (Library and Archives Canada, C-062929, via

Whatever Carnegie’s role in the byelection, Cox’s defeat may have been at least partly due to recent sectarian violence in Toronto, which was very much the big national news at this time.  In late September and early October of 1875, Roman Catholic pilgrims parading to St. Michael’s Cathedral were attacked by members of the Orange Order, of which Cox was a member.  Cox himself certainly did not take part in the riots, nor did he show any sympathy for the Protestant rioters that I am aware of, but guilt by association may well have hindered his campaign.  The violence, which became known as the “Jubilee riots” earned the Orangemen widespread newspaper condemnation, and would still have been fresh in the minds of Peterborians headed to the polls.  The Examiner, in its October 14th issue, specifically accused Carnegie of using Cox’s membership in the Order to drum up opposition to him among Peterborough’s Roman Catholics.  It should be noted that the newspaper’s support for Cox was on political, rather than sectarian, grounds — the Examiner was generally quite sympathetic to Catholics.


From the October 14th, 1875, Peterborough Examiner.

Let us return for a moment to John Carnegie and the gas streetlamps.  During that affair, in 1870, Carnegie’s business partner had been Robert Romaine, another notable Peterborian whose name now adorns one of the city’s streets.  In October of 1875, Romaine was again in the news, having approached the town council for a $6000 grant to aid in establishing a brickyard.  A bylaw was subsequently proposed, and put up for a public vote.  The Examiner, whose editors loathed Romaine almost as much as they did Carnegie, made its feelings very clear, as you can see from the image above.  On this issue, the residents of Peterborough agreed with the newspaper — the bylaw was defeated, 241 votes to 90.

Speaking of bylaws, there was one up for a County-wide vote at this time as well, involving — and you were probably wondering when we were going to get around to this topic — the railways.  Voters of Peterborough County were asked to approve a grant to the Huron and Quebec Railway to help construction of a line through the area.  They did so, 570 votes to 255, but nothing much ever came of it.  By 1877, the H&QR had been replaced by the Toronto and Ottawa Railway, which itself gave way to the Midland Railway in the early 1880s.  And, just to bring things neatly full circle, the President of the Midland when it acquired the T&OR was… George Cox, defeated Liberal candidate in the byelection of October 26th, 1875.

We will close here with another railway note, and a wonderful one at that! The October 30th issue of the Peterborough Times brought news of the development of an underwater train.  “A submarine carriage, of a most ingenious construction, has recently been invented in Paris to cross the Channel…” wrote the paper, and the details it gives are frankly amazing.  The carriage, driven by compressed air, was to be fastened to tracks on the seabottom, yet able to be released, and float to the surface, in the case of an emergency.  We can only regret that it was never built!

Next time out, we will look at the very end of October, and the first days of November, in 1876!


What to do when your movable type selection is missing the ‘e’ from one font, and the ‘R’ from another? The Peterborough Times of October 23rd, 1875, has a solution!



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One Response to This Week in Peterborough: 1875

  1. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1927 | Peterboriana

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