Sunday, September 27, 2009

Old Edina

High Street, Edinburgh, 1874

It is gratifying to have one’s research validated. While family histories suggested that Thomas Sutherland, Jr. was a professor at Edinburgh University, no record of such could be found. Instead I found an advertisement which suggested he had attempted to establish himself as, among other things, a tobacconist, residing at his father’s home address in Edinburgh. Recently a fragment of a December, 1879 letter he wrote appeared in my mailbox. Writes Jr., “Many thanks for the Graphic of the 12th, giving views of Edinburgh. I have traced my old snuff shop of fifty years ago—first west of the outside stair and near Allan Ramsey’s book-stand, and both opposite Niddry Street. Sublime and beautiful Edina.” Sutherland, Jr. loved the nickname “Edina,” frequently using it in poems. On the other hand, he also loved A/B/A/B rhyme schemes and simple rhythmic structures, and “Edinburgh” is conducive to neither.

We know from directories at the time that this was 155 High Street, and the reference to Niddry is invaluable, as High Street is very long (as part of The Royal Mile), and street numbers have been known to change. Niddry Street, however, has not moved; it was and still is about halfway between the North Gate and the South Gate. From what I can tell this was not exactly a nice neighbourhood in 1827/28, when we know Jr. was there. Today, however, it has redeemed itself, as the Niddry Street vaults, abandoned late eighteenth-century warehouse space, taken over in the nineteenth century by the industrial poor and criminal elements, have been rediscovered, cleaned up, and are a well-known tourist attraction. But at the time Sutherland, Jr. operated his shop, he would have been inevitably familiar with some of these elements, including the masses of poor who were overcrowded belowground, and all the stresses they placed on the neighbourhood’s infrastructure (sewage and waste disposal, being the most visceral).

Winning Pendergast wondered why a man so congenitally unsuited to farming as Jr. was would come to the new world to do just that. She writes “His farming was a scandal to a thrifty neighbourhood and must have been a trial to his father,” also noting “He seems to have been known in the community for his eccentricities, and his inability to do the simplest manual task in the usual way. Everybody in the family and the neighborhood had a fantastic tale to tell about him, how he stood in a soap kettle when chopping wood to avoid cutting his feet, how he ripped up the corner of a carpet to rub his shoes with it – many others.” Yet, given his seemingly limited opportunities in Edinburgh, as well as his high aesthetic standards, it is possible that Upper Canada at the very least offered him a more bucolic landscape in which to concentrate on his poetic efforts. Perhaps it was the distance from the city—both geographic and temporal—that allowed him to romanticize it so.


  1. Hello. I am doing some research into my distant relatives and was curious about your reference to Winning Pendergast. She wrote a monograph on my many-times-great grandfather, James Parkinson. Have you come across it in your research? You seem to have covered so many bases on the Sutherlands. I think George Sutherland's son married James's daughter.

    Keep up the interesting blog!

  2. I don't know if you know, but the Minnesota Historical Society has Winning's papers, listed under "William Wirt Pendergast and Family Papers." I haven't followed up on it yet, but mean to!
    Have you seen the accounts of George's household as wild and lawless, as penned by Winning? It is on the site I link to in the Grace Hogg Sutherland post.

  3. I am working on getting a copy of the manuscript; thank you for the information.

    I have read of the lawless household, as well as the twaddled uncle. A fascinating group--all the more reason to be researching them!

  4. Like Adrienne, I have been looking for a copy of Winning Pendergast's monograph on Major James Parkinson. I just managed to get a copy from the Library of Congress. I'm a great-great-grandson of James' brother Thomas.
    I found this blog while Googling "Winning Pendergast." She was a granddaughter of James. Thanks, it's fascinating.