Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thomas Sutherland: “Quite a Pickwick”

Samuel Pickwick

Of all I have discovered about Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850), two episodes amuse me greatly and thus stand out in my mind. The first is when he burst in on a party of fashionable young men and demanded they pay their tailoring bills; the second is this impromptu fete. The account comes from the travel diary of Lieutenant Andrew Agnew, published as From Lochnaw to Manitoulin: A Highland Soldier's Tour Through Upper Canada, and edited by Scott A. McLean. Agnew’s entry for September 4, 1839 states:

“[N]earby we stopped at Sutherlands Landing, the gentleman whom it is called after and owns it met us on the wharf and insisted on our coming to his house which we were by no means loath to close with. He is a regular character—quite a pickwick and he gave us an excellent lunch which we did much justice to. It was also gratifying to perceive that our distinction of his ham and c+c and rapid draining of his cellar and brandy cask gave him the greatest satisfaction….”

That Sutherland is referred to as a pickwick really is the icing on the cake. For those unfamiliar with Dickens’s novel, Mr. Samuel Pickwick is often represented in illustrations as a wealthy, portly bespectacled gentleman (a description which matches the painting of Sutherland), who is also kindly and jovial. And, as noted in an earlier entry, The Pickwick Papers were dedicated to Thomas Noon Talfourd—the brother of Sutherland’s neighbors, Froome and Field Talfourd. It's all quite delicious; almost as delicious as that food and libation sounds.

Thomas Sutherland: On Railroads

This letter was originally posted online as part of an Ontario History Quest educational unit.

Moore River St. Clair Western Dist
Upper Canada. 17 March 1837

Newbigging Esqr.

Dear Sir

I trust your kindness will excuse the freedom of this communication and believe that I am induced to take the liberty with the anxious desire to lend my humble aid on behalf of that most valuable and important undertaking, the Great Western Rail Road – and with the most sincere desire that it should be carried into effect – so as to render the greatest possible good to the greatest number of persons, and open up the Interior of this valuable province so as to attract men of Capital to it - I have taken the liberty of sending you a Report on this important subject, and if you will take the trouble to trace upon the Map the route mentioned – I feel quite assured, you will be at once convinced that it is almost certain the route in question will obtain and command two thirds of the immense number of Persons constantly travelling to the far West – that is if the Great Western Rail Road be made to terminate opposite to and in connection with the St. Clair and Romeo Rail Road, now in progress on the opposite or American Side of this River St. Clair – which is to be continued to Grand River on Lake Michigan – Ten miles of the St. Clair and Romeo Rail Road is already levelled and nearly ready for the Rails – but it is also said the Americans are to have a Rail Road from Black River ten miles above this, but still connected with the River St. Clair to Grand River above mentioned – and if the Great Western is not constructed so as to unite with the American (St. Clair & Romeo) it will without doubt be an immense loss to the Shareholders.

Having made the above observations on the Great Western Rail Road, I now beg to observe that I fear the Toronto and Lake Huron Rail Road if carried into effect will prove a failure, and consequently a serious loss to all those interested in it as Shareholders, for to me and all those I have conversed with on the Subject, it does not appear that there is any reasonable prospect of its ever being so productive as to pay the interest of the money to be expended, and I really fear many are deceived as to the expectations formed and the assurances given, for in the name of goodness where is the Trafic to come from or go to that is to support so great an undertaking, and upon what calculation Mr. H. depended when he is said to have declared “if any Rail Road ever made a handsome return to the Stockholders, the Toronto & Lake Huron Rail Road will do it” – I say when he made this statement I cannot imagine what he depended on – for if it is entirely upon the inhabitants travelling to and trading to and from that quarter – I fear no such calculations ever will be realized – What is there to be taken to or from Natawasaga Bay? And it is not the least likely those going to Michigan will ever go by that route – when it is known they have upwards of One Hundred Miles of the wild Lake Huron to pass before they can reach the Shores of Michigan, while by the River they have little more than 5/8th of a mile to pass, and it at all times easily to be accomplished.

I feel quite convinced that if the Great Western Rail Road is to be confined to Hamilton, then it will raise that Town, and Toronto will most assuredly fall – but if the good people of Toronto, and more particularly the Stockholders of the Toronto & Lake Huron Rail Road would make up their minds to construct a Rail Road from Toronto to unite with the Great Western Rail Road at Hamilton – thus Toronto will be greatly benefited and enable to keep her station as the Metropolis of the Province – You are perhaps aware that the St. Clair & Romeo Rail Road commences [tear] nearly opposite to my House and will con[sequ]ently consider that my opinion should [tear] [be] received with great caution – which I have no reason to object to.
-- I would however before closing this take the liberty of suggesting that two or three of the Shareholders of the Lake Huron Rail Road should make up their minds as the navigation is now about to open, the Ice in the River having broken up yesterday & today, to come and take a view – and collect information on this all important subject to the Upper Province. If this should be determined upon I shall give them a hearty welcome at my humble dwelling – again hoping you will excuse the freedom and believe that I am anxious for the general good.

I am, Dear Sir Your Obed. Servant
Thos Sutherland

[Addressed to:]

Newbigging Esq.
Chairman of the Lake Huron R. Road Committee

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sutherland's in Apple Blossom Time

Malus sylvestris Mill.

From Smith's Canadian Gazetteer Comprising Statistical and General Information Respecting All Parts of the Upper Province, Or Canada West ... With a Map of the Upper Province, 1846:

“SUTHERLAND'S. A Village in the township of Moore, pleasantly situated on the River St. Clair, opposite the American town “St. Clair,” or “Palmer.” It was laid out in 1833, by Mr. Sutherland, a gentleman from Edinburgh, who has done a great deal to improve the neighbourhood—having cleared a large quantity of land— built a handsome Episcopal church, &c. Here are several wharves for supplying steamboats with wood. Sutherlands is ten miles from Port Sarnia, and contains a comfortable tavern. Post Office, post three times a-week. Population, about 100. Professions and Trades.—One physician and surgeon, three stores, one tavern, two blacksmiths, one tailor, one shoemaker, one school.”

The above-mentioned tavern may be one of the few things in Moore Township that Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) has not been credited with founding. This could be the Rilley’s Tavern in Moore township (named after proprietor Philip Rilley) where the Brigden Fair was first organized in 1850. Whether or not Rilley’s was joined or supplanted by the St. Clair Inn is unknown; but by 1851 the latter was clearly to be preferred, described as a “respectable tavern… where a small party may get comfortable accommodation.” (Rilley's family appears to have met the challenge, as by 1869 they owned the Mooretown Hotel, probably superior to Alexander Gallino's Farmer's Hotel, also operating that year.)

Comfortable and respectable are reassuring words, and appear to describe the settlement overall. Less comfortable, perhaps—but still respectable—were the seats for the informal church first organized by TS. According to the Rev. Robert Burns:

“In the summer of 1834 I visited Sarnia, which had scarcely been commenced; made arrangements to preach in the township of Moore on the Sabbath. Settlers had just begun to settle in it, but it appeared to the eye an unbroken forest. A Mr. Sutherland, from Edinburgh, had just come and bought out a Frenchman, whose farm lay on the banks of the St. Clair. Seats were erected in his orchard, made of boards, resting on blocks of wood. By-the-by, Mr. Sutherland and family were Scotch Episcopalians, but they were kind and hospitable. I always, in visiting the locality, made my arrangements to spend a night with them, as there was the place for one or more services. On the Sabbath there was a good congregation, but from where they came from I could not see.”

It’s impossible to know what kind of a turn-out Burns found so impressive. For the years between 1846 and 1851 the population of Sutherland’s continued to be estimated by Smith's Canadian Gazetteer at 100. A minister who gave a guest sermon there in 1847 counted eighty-six in his audience. However, when the actual church first opened in 1841, three hundred people are reported to have attended the event. (This is more in keeping with the numbers suggested by Isabella C. Finlayson's account of the first municipal government in 1840: 135 ratepayers and 643 members of families.) It seems unlikely that three hundred individuals had appeared to hear Burns; in all probability the opening of the first church was a source of community pride and a cause for celebration that many would not want to miss. Still, no matter the appeal of a shiny new building, there’s something even more charming about the idea of a service among the apple blossoms, despite the uncomfortable seating.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jr. (part two)

In an earlier entry I wrote about Thomas Sutherland, Jr.’s (1797-1880) seemingly unsuccessful efforts to establish a career in Edinburgh. The narrative passed down in the family is that he “had been a professor of languages at Edinburgh University.” Yet a search of the university’s archives—conducted by very kind and diligent archivists—reveals no trace of a corresponding faculty member with this name. What the archives do contain, however, is a rather sparse record of a Thomas Sutherland, born Midlothian, who entered the university in 1811, with the intention of studying literature. The name, approximate age, and place of birth make TS, Jr. a possible candidate. And while no record of this student graduating exists, that in and of itself is not unusual: at the time students often simply attended classes without an end goal of certification.

Considering the academic accomplishments ascribed to TS, Jr., it is possible he continued his studies elsewhere before his next documented appearance in 1825. Given the connection of the Sutherlands to the Talfourd and John Ruskin, who had links to Oxford, that university seems a possibility. While a search of Oxford alumni records (as well as Cambridge ones) does not find a student by the name of TS, a literary Thomas Sutherland does turn up in some academic histories, namely those of the very famous debate of November 26, 1829:

“At Oxford in 1829 Arthur Hallam, Richard Monckton Milnes, and Thomas Sutherland of the Cambridge Union Society debated the issue of Shelley's superiority as a poet to Byron with Members with members of the Oxford Union Society. Although these Cambridge Apostles pressed their advantage—they had read Shelley and their opponents had not - the vote went in favor of Byron.”

Unfortunately, this appears to be Thomas Sunderland (1808-1867), considered by Lord Houghton (the aforementioned Milnes) to be “the greatest speaker he ever heard.” (Sunderland also has the unfortunate distinction of inspiring Tennyson’s “A Character.”)

As suggested above, Sutherland’s non-appearance in the graduate rolls of any university to date does not preclude his participation in university life or endeavors. This is certainly the case of Joseph Biddle, a neighbor of TS, Jr. in the new world who would also become his brother-in-law. While there is no mention of Biddle in the Oxford alumni records, a visitor to the settlement reported on his meeting with Mr. Biddle, whom he had known at Oxford. Sadly, he makes no such illuminating comments about TS, Jr.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Calico: It's a Family Affair

Sir William Cunliffe Brooks (1819-1900)

Simply because I am tired of seeing accounts which suggest that Samuel Brooks (1793-1864), founder of Cunliffe, Brooks, & Co., had only one child, William Cunliffe Brooks (1819-1900), I present:

“Mr. Brooks had seen fit to dispose of the principal portion of his real and personal estate prior to the making of his will. Consequently, what he "left" was with the public only a matter of conjecture. It was thought to be nearly two and a half millions sterling. His eldest son, Mr. William Cunliffe Brooks, received the bank, and in money value it was said about a million. Mr. Thomas Brooks received £400,000. The family of the late Rev. John Brooks, £400,000. Each of the five daughters received £100,000. For the building and endowment of a church upon the Brooklands estate there was bequeathed £10,000, and after this there were numerous minor legacies.” –Manchester Banks and Bankers, Leo Hartley Grindon

Sarah Brooks (1820-1895)
Anne Brooks (1821-1876)
Alice Brooks (1822-1872)
John Brooks (1825-1856)
Thomas Brooks (1826-aft. 1881)
Mary Brooks (abt. 1828-1872)
Ellen Brooks (1832-1878)

While I don't know the dates of death for Thomas, he survived his father, as is evident in legal documents. See especially Brooks v Sidebottom (1866).

What to pack?

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

If you visit the Moore Museum, in Mooretown, Ontario, you might see this exhibit:

“Log Cabin - When you step into the Courtney log cabin, you step into the home of a settler in the late 1800's. The handmade quilts, kettle for dipping candles and the garden outside are all evidence of the settlers' self-sufficiency.”

However the Courtney family lived, it seems unlikely that this sparsely furnished cabin is representative of the home of Thomas Sutherland’s (1772-1850) family. According to Winning Pendergast, the Sutherlands brought fine furniture, china, silver, and paintings with them, as well as “a respectable library.” One 1847 visitor described them as having “a very good house.” And another account affirms they had a well-stocked cellar. That the settlers could own such things—rather than exclusively rough-hewn objects—is confirmed by John Cunningham Geikie’s Mooretown novel, Life in the Woods: A True Story of the Canadian Bush (1871). In the following scene, he describes the unpacking done by a newly arrived family:

“When we had begun to move the luggage, what boxes on boxes had to be lifted! We all lent a hand, but it was hard work. There was the piano, and the eight-day clock, in a box like a coffin, and carpets, and a huge wardrobe, packed full of I don't know what, large enough to have done for a travelling show, and boxes of books, and crockery, and tables, and a great carpenter's chest, not to speak of barrels of oatmeal, and flour, and salt, and one of split peas. I think the books were the heaviest, except that awful wardrobe and the chest of drawers, which were all packed full of something. But they paid over and over for all the trouble and weight, proving the greatest possible blessing. If we had not brought them we would have turned half- savages, I suppose, for there were none to buy nearer than eighty or ninety miles, and, besides, we would not have had money to buy them. We had a whole set of Sir Walter Scott's charming stories, which did us a world of good, both by helping us to spend the winter evenings pleasantly, by the great amount of instruction in history and antiquarian lore they contained, and by showing my young sisters, especially, that all the world were not like the rude people about us. They got a taste for elegance and refinement from them that kept them ladies in their feelings while they had only the life of servants.”

The set of Scott’s books is a nice touch; there is a family story that Scott frequented TS’s shop. (Though Sutherland’s shop was not the military outfitters Scott commissioned to make a kilt for George IV—that was George Hunter’s firm.) We do know that in 1827 Scott paid a dividend on an outstanding bill to a Thomas Sutherland for some service or goods rendered. This could be the Aberdeen bookseller identified only as “Mr. Sutherland” in The Journal of Sir Walter Scott—there was a Thomas Sutherland who was a book agent in Aberdeen. However, he does not seem to appear until the 1830s, making it a greater likelihood that Mr. Sutherland is one of the John Sutherlands who operated in the Aberdeen book trade from the first decade of the century onward. Which leaves us with the possibility that the family legend is true: that Scott bought wares from Sutherland, while Sutherland bought books by Scott.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thomas Sutherland: the Literary Edition

John Ruskin, detail of a painting by John Everett Millais (1853–54)

Of all of the stories to surround Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850), this one, excerpted from J. M. Warwick’s “Sutherland, Talfourd, and Warwick Families,” is the most tantalizing:

“Of an upper middle class family of merchants, Sutherland was a frequenter of the literary and artistic salon which met at the Talfourd home in nearby Wandsworth, now, too, a part of London…. If Moore Township can be said to have had its birth with the erection of Sutherland’s Wharf at Mooretown, its conception took place in the Talfourd home in Wandsworth, where Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett were wont to foregather with John Ruskin, Mrs. Mitford, Charles Dickens and other writers of the day, under the beneficent and patronizing eye of the aging Mrs. Talfourd. Mrs. Talfourd’s own son, Field, then an unknown, would one day be a portrait painter of note, but not until he had assisted his brother Froom in opening up a settlement in the St. Clair river which would bear his name.”

Unfortunately, the chronology simply doesn’t make sense. Mrs. Talfourd, mother of Field (1809-?), Froome (1807-1902), and Thomas Noon (1795-1854), and wife to Edward, was Anne Noon, born in 1773. Thus she would not have been “aging” to Thomas Sutherland, Sr., born a year earlier. Moreover, the Talfourds were extremely pious; Anne Noon Talfourd’s father, Thomas Noon, was a dissenting clergyman, the minister of the independent chapel at Reading, Berkshire. In accordance with their religious beliefs, she and Edward limited the reading material they allowed in the house—the only plays Thomas Noon Talfourd reported having access to when young were Hannah More’s Sacred Dramas. It seems highly improbable that someone who banned Shakespeare would host a modern literary salon.

Adding to the improbability of TS, Sr. attending a literary salon with these figures during his formative years is the fact that he was already established with a family in Scotland long before most of these writers (with the exception of Mary Russell Mitford) were born. But there are a few other possibilites: 1) TS, Sr. knew Edward and Anne Talfourd; 2) TS, Sr. met Field and Froome in Canada and visited them during the Sutherland family trip to Croydon said to have occured in 1841; 3) It was TS, Jr. who knew the Talfourd family in England, perhaps due to a shared interest in literature; 4) any combination of the above.

It is established that Thomas Noon Talfourd was a friend of Dickens (who dedicated The Pickwick Papers to him), the Lambs, the Brownings, and Mitford. As to an aging Mrs. Talfourd, while TNT’s wife (Rachel Rutt, daughter of John Towill Rutt of Clapton) was too young to assume that title, TNT’s mother is described as being in his house on at least one occasion when friends gathered. It thus seems more likely that if TS knew the Talfourds and attended their literary salons, it was not in advance of his move from Croydon to Edinburgh, but rather following his move from the old world to the new. This most likely places Sutherland as a visitor at the Talfourds in the early 1840s, when he made a trip to England with his family--ostensibly to break up an attachment his youngest daughter had formed, and of which he did not approve. This does make sense: after all, the gift of Holy Vessels by John Ruskin to Sutherland's church in Mooretown can be dated to 1842 according to an incription. By this time the Talfourd connections would have been well forged.