New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Saint John and Saint George, New Brunswick, in 1842

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Saint John and Saint George, New Brunswick, in 1842

This description of Saint John and Saint George is from Christopher Atkinson’s An Emigrants Guide to New Brunswick, British North America, London, 1842.

I am annoyed by the author’s overly romantic, patriotic, and old-fashioned description of the Loyalists as the embodiment of everything that was praiseworthy. However, I have left it as written, since it speaks to the time in which it was written.

The Mascarene Kirk in About 1842


Here, I shall give you an account of the City of St. John, &c., &c. This city was first inhabited in Anno Domini 1783 by a band of patriots who, at the close of the American revolutionary war, abandoned their homes, their friends, and property in the revolted colonies, with a large portion of civilized life, that they might preserve unsullied their loyalty to the British sovereignty, and breathe the pure air of freedom under the paternal protection of the Monarch whom they revered, and guarded by the meteor flag of England, which for a thousand years has braved the battle and the breeze. The spot where the flourishing city stands was, fifty-eight years ago, a mere wilderness and, strange as it may appear, the journey from the Market Slip to the Jail Hill, which was not more than a quarter of a mile, would occupy at the above period, half a day, but now only five minutes. Then no previous vestiges of the labours of civilized man were presented to view to diversify the gloomy prospect. The obstacles that were to be met at every step would have caused men less imbued with the spirit of loyalty to turn with disgust from the unpropitious scene, and retrace their steps to the land of plenty which they had left behind. But no hardships, however great, no privations, however severe, no difficulties, however appalling, were sufficient to deter from their purpose, the lion-hearted founders of the city, without a roof to shelter their defenseless heads, surrounded by a pathless forest, and frowned upon by the rugged rocks, in a country then unfavourable for the operations of the plough, and subject to a long and rigorous winter. Yet, the prospect of all these accumulated difficulties and privations were unable to impair their loyalty, or swerve them from the path of duty. [It is now safe to breathe again, ed.] But how different is that scene at the present day. The city has a population of 30,000 souls, which the enterprise and activity of the inhabitants, and the liberality of the capitalists, are doing everything to increase. St. John is incorporated, and the city comprehends both sides of the harbour, four wards being in St. John, and two in Carlton, opposite; each represented by an alderman and assistant alderman; the mayor is appointed by the executive. Among the new edifices is a building for an exchange, a reading room, a police office, and a market—the lowest part of the building is occupied as a market, the rest as above stated. The building is highly creditable to the town. The St. John Commercial Bank, a new and beautiful building, constructed of the Shelburn stone, is the best and handsomest building in the city. The front is very beautiful.

The St. John Mechanic’s Institute, incorporated by Act of the General Assembly, erected a building, and devoted the same to the promotion of Science and the Arts, and the diffusion of useful knowledge. The cornerstone was laid on the 27th day of May, in the third year of the reign of her most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, by his Excellency Major-General Sir John Harvey, K.C.B., and K.C.H., Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New Brunswick, etc., etc., etc., 1840.

The Institute was established in December, 1838, and the first President was Beverley Robinson, Esq.

A new custom-house has commenced in Prince William Street. The plan of the architect and owner of the building, Mr. John Walker, gives 200 feet front on the street; and it will be built to resemble the front of Carlton House, in London. The building will be occupied as a custom-house, bonded warehouse, and treasury office. There is also an extensive block of brick buildings now erecting south of the Exchange building. Among the private residences, I would notice particularly the mansion house of the Hon. Judge Chipman, which has a very imposing site on the rise of land overlooking Prince William Street. The streets of St. John are laid out wide, and at right angles. Advantage has been taken of the rebuilding of the town to widen and lay out new streets, in most of which are very excellent buildings. The place wears an air of bustle and activity, which gives everything a cheerful aspect. Ship building appears to be a leading branch of the business of St. John and the towns adjacent. Some of the best ships in the world are built in this port, loaded with timber, and sent to different ports of England, Ireland, and Scotland, and the West Indies. The city contains several places of worship:— two Episcopal, two Presbyterian, two Wesleyan Methodist, two Baptist, and one Catholic churches.

The revenues of the city for the year 1840 were £88,671. 48. 6d. The Commercial Bank of New Brunswick (in St. John), incorporated by royal charter — capital £160,000, with power to increase to £300,000; President, Lewis Burns, Esq.; Bank of New Brunswick in St. John — capital £100,000; President, Thos. Leavitt, Esq. Inhabited houses, north and south, 1418; families, 2652; individuals of both sexes in St. John, north, 9616; south, 9766; acres of cleared land, 1071. The barracks are in a delightful position, overlooking the harbour. The spring tides at St. John rise from 24 to 23 feet; the body of the river is about 17 feet above low water mark. The city suffered much by fires in January 1837; the second in August, 1839; and the third in March, 1841. That on January 14th, 1837, took place on Saturday night. The fire commenced on Peter’s Wharf, about nine o’clock in the evening, by which at least one-third of the commercial part of the city became a heap of smoldering ashes. The total amount of loss sustained was estimated at £260,000; the compass of the fire embracing two sides of Prince William Street, a front in Market Square, the east and west sides of St. John or Water Street, the South Market Wharf, east and west sides of Ward Street, north and south sides of Peter’s Wharf, Johnson’s Wharf, Church Street, and Princess Street. The number of buildings publicly noticed to have been destroyed was 108, tenanted by 170 different interests; besides an extensive range of wooden stores, occupied as warerooms for heavy goods. The reflection of the fire was seen at and above Fredericton, a distance of 90 miles. The falling of burning paper and other materials in flames were noticed 9 miles from the city, and so alarming was the scene from this circumstance, that at one time fears were seriously entertained that the greater part of the city would be destroyed. The second fire was on Saturday evening, about 9 o’clock, August 1839, (the same day and hour of the week as the great fire in 1837.) The conflagration continued extending with unabating fury till nearly daylight on Sunday morning, sweeping away in its course every building in Nelson and Dock Streets, &c., &c. It is not at present known the full amount of loss from this awful conflagration. A far greater number of inhabited houses have been destroyed than by the great fire of 1837; and as they were mostly occupied by several families, it is calculated that nearly 3000 persons have been rendered houseless, nearly all of them being of the working class. The total amount of property destroyed, including buildings, merchandise and household effects, it is thought cannot fall far short of £200,000, but the sum at this time can only be conjectured. The burnt district of 1837 being situated to the southward of the Market Slip, the fire did not extend to that portion of the city.

The third distressing fire broke out about one o’clock on Wednesday morning (March 17, 1840). The alarm bell aroused the citizens from their midnight slumbers, and the lurid flame which was at the hour discernible, directed them to the fatal spot. Nearly all the buildings destroyed were insured, as were also some of the merchants’ stocks. Mr. James Malcolm was insured to the amount of £2000. The different engines and fire companies of the city, assisted by the engines from Portland and Carlton, exerted themselves with praiseworthy alacrity. To record the loss of life accompanying this sad calamity is the most painful part to relate. Mr. Matthew Holdsworth went to examine the scuttle on the roof, and unfortunately stepped into the hatchway and fell to the ground floor, a distance of thirty feet. He left a wife and two children. Also a person known by the name of Mr. Gibbloken, lost his wife and two children. The house was filled with smoke before the inmates were warned of their danger, and several of them escaped with difficulty. The painful circumstances attending this conflagration have cast a gloom over the community which has been rarely, if ever witnessed. Had it not been for the pipes and fire plugs of the St. John Water Company, this fire, disastrous as it has been, would have extended yet farther, and laid a large and valuable business portion of the city once more in ruins. And the proprietors of that company, who have year after year struggled on against difficulties of no ordinary character, deserve the highest praise the city can bestow upon them. In defiance of the numerous obstacles which have almost willfully been placed in their path, they have succeeded in furnishing the city with an abundant supply of water, but for which at this time the greater part of the inhabitants of St. John would have had to mourn over further loss of life, and the prostration of the commerce and prosperity of the city for a very long time. How impressively should it rivet on the attention of all, the important admonition, — “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the son of man cometh.” By how uncertain a tenour do we hold life, property, and every earthly good, and yet, like every similar occurrence, it is to be feared that it will attract attention and observation for a little while and then will be forgotten.

Portland is a thriving place, connected with St. John by a wooden bridge, but is not represented in its councils. It is the great ship-building quarter of St. John, and contains several foundries and manufactories. It presents at all times a scene of commercial bustle and mechanical labour. In Portland there are three places of worship. It contains 445 inhabited houses, 1130 families; total inhabitants, 6207. From Portland a suspension bridge was proposed to connect its heights with the Carlton shore, and a company, with a capital of £20,000 was formed for the purpose. A lofty wooden erection was placed at either end from which to suspend the chain bridge. From a defect in the manufactory, the latter, after being some days in position, and crossed by several foot passengers, fell early one morning, with a number of workmen who were completing the fastenings. Nothing now remains but the lofty wooden bridges alluded to. The company, after sinking £5,000, and the capital above mentioned, abandoned all intention of proceeding any further in the work. The total length of the bridge was to have been 1400 feet, of which the chain part was to constitute 450.

Carlton is a village opposite the city of St. John. The locality of the town is much in its favour. The principal business done is in the ship and deal yards, and timber yards, while a number of new houses is being erected, which keeps carpenters busily employed. The fisheries, too, are a lucrative source of profit to the place, and brick-making is carried on rather extensively; besides, there are several saw and grist mills running constantly. There is an Episcopal Church and a Dissenting Meeting-house. There is a small steam-boat which plies between the city and this place, every quarter of an hour, remaining five minutes on either side. The arrangements with reference to this boat are equal to any I have met with in the British Provinces. The docks on both sides of the river are commodious and safe. Persons desirous of taking the St. Andrew coach would do well to cross over to Carlton on the preceding evening, and then gain the coach on the following morning. There is in Carlton 153 inhabited houses occupied by 260 families. Acres of cleared land, 90. It is 45 miles from St. George, 65 from St. Andrews, and about 86 from St. Stephens, which is on the lines.

Lancaster is the next place the traveler passes through to St. Andrews. A large hill on the east side of the Musquash, and about a mile from the village of Ivanhoe, is composed of conglomerate which has been intensely heated by its proximity to an overlaying mass of trap lime. Stone appears on the opposite side of the river. A tract of land was purchased by some Americans for the purpose of quarrying marble from it. Like many other speculations of the kind, it proceeded no farther; notwithstanding, good marble might be procured at the spot. The village of Ivanhoe belongs to the Lancaster Mill Company, who have here a very superior and powerful set of mills for the manufacture of all kinds of lumber, and an incalculable amount of unemployed water power. The mills are 200 feet in length by 60 in breadth. The company own a tract of land containing upwards of 60,000 acres in connection with these mills, and from which they procure supplies of excellent timber. In the parish of Lancaster, there is a neat church, but very seldom is divine worship performed therein. There is 219 inhabited houses, 252 families, and 4446 acres of cleared land. From this place to St. George there is nothing worth noticing, as it is nothing more than a dense wood the whole distance of 30 miles, except about a dozen houses on the road side, occupied by individuals from Ireland.

Saint George, or, as it is called by many, Magaguadavie [sic], is situated to the eastward of St. Andrew’s with St. Patrick’s interposed. Its two principal settlements are placed, the one at the Upper and the other at the Lower falls of the Magaguadavie, a fine stream flowing through the county and parish, which issues from a series of fine large lakes of the same name, about 20 miles from the sea. The upper and smaller settlement is 7 miles distance from the lower, which again is situated at the head of the tide, 4 miles above the junction of the river Mascreen [Mascarene? Near Saint George].

Few places in the Province afford a more singular and beautiful spectacle than the Magaguadavie Falls. The river, after descending from the mountains northward, passes through a level and wide plain of intervale, and when it reaches the village is about 100 feet above the bed of the river below. And the main fall the water descends by five successive steps, in the distance of 600 yards, through a chasm averaging about 35 feet wide and 100 feet deep. Through this narrow gorge the whole contents of the river is poured out with a fury that defies description. The industry and ingenuity of man have considerably modified the appearance of this remarkable spot. It still, however, remains a most extraordinary hydraulic spectacle, and affords a power for turning machinery beyond computation. Having swept slowly along the valley above, the water is accumulated at the bridge over the top of the falls, it is then thrown by its own weight into the deep and narrow opening below, where spouting from cliff to cliff, and twisting its foaming column to correspond with the rude windings of the passage, it falls in a torrent of froth into the tide below, or passing beneath the mills, its fury seems abated as it mingles with the dense spray floating above. There are six saw mills huddled together at this spot, and they appear like eagles’ nests clinging to the rocks on each side. A considerable sum of money has been expended in their erection, and they are now in full operation. The deep cavities in the rocks are overhung with the alder and creeping evergreens, which seem to be placed there for the purpose of decorating one of nature’s wild performances. The low roofs of the mills are strongly contrasted with the massive rocks they occupy, and where they hold a precarious situation. The shelving piles of deals seem to mock the violence of the boiling pool beneath. Such is the power of habit — the sawyer, careless of danger, crosses the plank across the gorge, and ventures where his life depends upon an inch of space. Of this I have frequently been an eye witness, (my house being near the Falls.) These falls, if the scenery in its neighbourhood possessed no other charm, would amply repay the admirer of nature for any expense or inconvenience he might incur in visiting them, and in England this village would be a place of annual and crowded resort. There are three places of divine worship at the village, and one at the Upper Falls. The parish contains, including the Le Tang, Le Fete, and Mascreen settlements, 363 inhabited houses; 880 families, and persons, 2422; and acres of cleared land, 4097.

About 3 miles up the river there is a settlement, chiefly agricultural, named Mascreen, and consisting principally of Scottish Highlanders, from Perth, Sutherland, and Caithness-shires, and their ramifications. It is situated at and near the mouth of the river, stretching for several miles along the south side of the bay, and terminating one of its inlets, called Le Fete Passage. In this settlement there has been a neat church erected; in June 1839, it remained in a very unfinished state, only being rough boarded. At this time the inhabitants were unexpectedly visited by the Rev. Christopher Atkinson (missionary) from the King’s County, 27 miles from the city of St. John.

[Christopher Atkinson then reviews the details of his engagement as Minister at the Mascreen Presbyterian church.]

In connection with this place is a small settlement called Le Tang, which is inhabited by a few Scotch families who left their country about twenty years back, (viz. Argyle shire.) Le Tete, with the above settlements, are in the parish of St. George. From this place to St. Andrew’s, is about 20 miles, to which place there is nothing worthy of notice, it being chiefly one dense wood, until you come within 6 miles of the town.


Written by johnwood1946

July 12, 2017 at 8:20 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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