This Week in Peterborough: 1893

Queen Liliuokalani in a black dress Hawaiian Monarchy Hawaii

Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawai’i. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, late February, when we’ve all had enough of Winter but Spring is showing no signs of arriving any time soon.  The people of Peterborough in 1893, I am happy to report, had found a number of things to distract them from the bleakness of the season, not to mention the usual goings on in places other than the town itself.

Click on, for Hawaii, a demonstration of a scientific marvel, and Peterborough raising her voice in the roaring game!

In terms of international news, the eyes of Peterborough were once again on Ireland, or rather on the British Parliament’s debates over what to do about Ireland.  Prime Minister William Gladstone, of the Liberal Party, had put forward a Home Rule bill that would create an Irish parliament, while also giving the island some representation in the House of Commons in Westminster and thus maintaining its connection to Britain.  The bill was facing fierce opposition from, chiefly, Protestant Irish unionists, who, according to the February 23rd Peterborough Examiner, were buying up weapons and threatening that “in the event of the enactment of Home Rule civil war will ensue.”


Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, in about the early 1890s. (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the end, the Home Rule Bill of 1893 failed.  It was actually passed by the British House of Commons, only to be squashed thoroughly when it got to the House of Lords (no surprise there – the House of Lords was dominated at the time by members of the Conservative Party).  The unsettled situation in Ireland, essentially, went back to square one for the time being.

Closer to home, though only in the political sense of the phrase, were some questions over the fate of a series of volcanic islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The Kingdom of Hawai’i had seen its monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani (pictured above), overthrown by “The Committee of Safety,” a group that supported the annexation of the islands to the United States.  And why might this have interested newspaper readers in Canada?  Well, there was some talk that Canada or Britain (or both) might intervene in the situation, either to obtain control of Hawaii for themselves or otherwise to profit from the unsettled situation (the presumed heir to Queen Lili’uokalani’s throne had close British connections).  In fact, the U.S. Minister to Hawaii and a possible supporter of the coup, John L. Stevens, had warned of this very possibility in a telegram to Washington (quoted in the February 24th Peterborough Review):

“…there results a state things which would put it in the power of Canadian and ultra-British schemers with a subsidy fund of $50,000 to secure control of the Legislature and by prompt and vigorous action secure Canadian and British franchises, privileges and rights entirely legal…”

There were also some worries in Canada about what effect the upheaval in Hawaii would have on plans to run a telegraph line between British Columbia and Australia (the islands made an ideal way-station for that project).  In any case, there does not seem to have been any actual attempt by Canada or Britain to get too involved in the situation, and Hawaii did of course eventually come under control of the United States, although not as an immediate result of the coup.

The Canadian Parliament was in session meanwhile, although for once there were no huge items on the agenda at that particular moment.  Some rumblings about free trade, as usual in the 1890s, and bit of back-and-forth on the subject of coal monopolies, and a related concern or two about the economies of the maritime provinces.  Nothing, however, that we need to delve into in this post.


An early Edison phonograph. (Image Source)

As for Peterborough itself, there was little of great political import going on, but several very interesting entertainment options were on the table.  On February 23rd, the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Charlotte Street (Methodist) Church hosted a demonstration of what the next day’s Review called “one of the scientific wonders of the age” — namely, the phonograph.  The newspaper described the device, and the evening’s entertainment, thus:

“The instrument used had a large funnel attached and it threw out the music that was reproduced so that it was heard all over the large school room…  A fine exhibition of the powers of the phonograph was given when the Peterborough band played a selection in front of it, and when the band ceased Mr. Laing reproduced the music from the phonograph amid loud applause.”

If that was not to one’s liking, the society drama Frou Frou, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, was playing at the opera house, with Italian actress Madeline Merli in the lead role.  The February 24th Examiner declared that “[a]ny actress that can play “Frou Frou” successfully must of necessity be a genius,” and noted that it was Sarah Bernhardt’s favourite play.


The great Sarah Bernhardt in Frou Frou, late 19th century (via Wikimedia Commons)

Not everybody was completely thrilled about Peterborough theatre scene, it must be admitted.  A letter published in the Examiner on February 25th called upon the Mayor and Town Council to do something about the posting of playbills that were, in the writer’s opinion, a little on the racy side:

“These are often of such a vulgar, and in some cases a really obscene and criminal character as to sadly subvert the morals of our boys who are always attracted by the pictures and who thus take their first lessons in vice through the most direct of channels, the eye.”

Phonographs, dramas, and eye-catching playbills aside, however, the biggest entertainment news around the town involved sports.  Ice hockey was coming on at this time (this week in 1893 featured a game between the Peterborough Collegiate Institute and the Peterborough Hockey Club junior squad), but Peterborians’ prime winter sport was still curling, and there was a truly delectable item available on that menu as February of 1893 neared its end; the mighty Granite Club of Toronto sent 12 rinks to Peterborough, to play a game each against 12 rinks of locals.  Three weeks prior to this February 23rd matchup, the Peterborians had visited Toronto, and narrowly defeated the Granites in a similar 12-game contest.  Could the locals repeat the feat at their home rink on Charlotte Street?  They could, as the February 24th Examiner gleefully recounted:

“The famous Granite curlers of Toronto, known for their splendid playing abilities throughout the universe where the good old Scottish game predominates, met a Waterloo in Peterborough yesterday.  Verily it was the greatest day for the local lovers of the stone and besom that they have seen… It is a day that will be long remembered…”

The local curlers, astonishingly, not only beat the Granites again, they demolished them, winning all 12 games.  “The visitors took the defeat with good grace and smilingly bowed to the prowess of their enemies,” reported the Examiner, while also proclaiming that “Peterborough has won the proud distinction of being the champion curlers of the World — excepting, of course, hyperborean Bobcaygeon.”


“The ‘Roaring Game’ of Curling” from Harper’s Weekly, July 1890. (via Ebay)

A glorious day indeed!  Next time out, we’ll see if anything in early March of 1894 could match it!

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