The Sacrifice: Toronto's Dr Grasett section tells the story of Canadian caregivers such as Toronto physician Dr. George Robert Grasett, Emigration Agent Edward McElderry, and Toronto Bishop Michael Power who gave their lives caring for Irish emigrants in the summer and autumn of 1847. It also provides access to the unpublished diary of John Young who accompanied Famine emigrants from Grosse Isle to Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton, as well as newpaper accounts from The Church - a weekly paper devoted to the interests of the United Church of England and Ireland in the Province of Canada. Several of these records have been digitized from the Nancy Mallett Archive in Toronto’s St. James’ Cathedral.
Archivist Nancy Mallett and Robert G. Kearns on the sacrifice of Dr. George Robert Grasett
Toronto’s Emigrant Hospital
During the summer of 1847, almost forty thousand Irish emigrants travelled on steam boats down the St Lawrence River and across Lake Ontario from Kingston to Toronto, which had a population of less than twenty thousand at that time. They were often desperately overcrowded on board these vessels and stricken with typhus fever. From this mass of suffering migrants, order needed to be restored. Toronto Emigration Agent, Edward McElderry, and his men worked tirelessly day after day to help care for the sick and assist arriving migrants to reach their destinations. Those who were healthy and had sufficient funds were given free passage out of the city to more rural locations in Ontario or down into the United States. Those showing signs of the dreaded “ships fever” were put under the care of Dr. George Robert Grasett and his staff at the Toronto Emigrant Hospital. Women who were left destitute and orphaned children were sent to the Widows and Orphans’ Asylum.
The Toronto Emigrant Hospital was located near King and John streets. It was a place of compassion and great suffering. The hospital was quickly at capacity and simple pitched roof fever sheds, with no walls, were constructed on the grounds. In order to offer protection from the mosquitoes, the staff hung cheese cloth for makeshift walls, allowing for fresh air. There were at least 12 sheds, 22 meters long by 7.5 meters wide. By year’s end, 1,816 emigrants had died and were buried in Toronto. They were laid to rest in the plots set aside by St. James Cemetery or the Anglican Cathedral on Parliament Street, south of Bloor; others were buried in the graveyard adjoining St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Parish Church on Queen Street East. Their Canadian caregivers are commemorated in Dr George Robert Grasett Park on the original site of the Toronto Emigrant Hospital. Its glass sculptural works resembling fever sheds is one of the park’s defining features.
Toronto Emigrant Hospital And Dr. George Robert Grasett Park
The Death of Dr. Grasett
On the 16th of July, 1847, Dr. George Robert Grasett died caring for fever stricken Famine Irish emigrants in Toronto’s Emigrant Hospital. During that summer, 38,650 Irish migrants had landed on the Toronto waterfront at Rees's Pier and were transported to the Emigrant Hospital at King and John Streets. The city at the time had an approximate population of a mere 20,000.
Dr. Grasett strived to save Irish Famine emigrants at great risk to himself. On 22nd June, 1847, he was informed by the Chairman of Toronto’s Board of Health, George Gurnett, that he was likely to be appointed as Medical Supervisor of the city’s Emigrant Hospital. On 2 July 1847, Gurnett wrote to Grasett instructing him to send health officers to visit all steamers arriving at Ree’s wharf on Toronto’s waterfront. They sought to prevent Irish emigrants from spreading infectious diseases such as typhus to the city’s inhabitants.
Within two weeks, Dr Grasett himself fell ill and died of “ship fever”. His correspondence, funeral, card, and letters for condolence from the House of Industry and Bishop Strachan (John Toronto) to Grasett’s brother, Rev. Henry Grasett, can be found in the Nancy Mallett Archive and Museum in St. James Cathedral.
Dr Grasett Records In Nancy Mallet Archive And Museum, St James Cathedral, Toronto
Press Coverage of Dr. Grasett’s Death
The death of Dr. Grasett was also recorded in The Church newspaper on 16 July and 23 July, 1847.
“We stop the press to announce the melancholy intelligence that Dr. Grasett expired this morning, at 7 o’clock, at the house of his brother, the Rev. H.J. Grasett,” the paper reported on 16 July.
“During his short residence in our city,” it added on 23 July, “he acquired for himself a high and well-deserved reputation, by his unwearied and disinterested labours among the poor and destitute – among those who had nothing to give in return for his offices of love, save the tears and prayers of affectionate gratitude”.
“Since his appointment as hospital superintendent,” recorded the British Colonist newspaper (20 July, 1847), “he knew no other duty than that of staying disease and alleviating the sufferings of those who, driven from their own land by famine and pestilence, sought a refuge among us, their brethren in Canada”.
The Paper Paid Grasett Tribute:
To this duty faithfully – too faithfully – performed he has fallen a victim, and it remains only for us to record how well his amenities in life were appreciated – his medical services and exertions acknowledged, adding our fervent prayer that, as he “died the death of the righteous,” so may our “last end be like his”.
Grasett Was Buried In St. James’s Cemetery On Parliament Street
John Young's Famine Diary
The horrendous conditions on board steamers transporting the Famine Irish to Toronto were also recorded in an eyewitness account by John Young. Young was an emigrant Glasgow who sailed to Ancaster, Ontario, between July and August 1847. His unpublished hand written diary is held in the Nancy Mallett Archive and Museum. It is named after archivist Nancy Mallett, who is a descendant of John Young.
Married to Christina Blair Liddell in Toronto on Feb. 18, 1862
Was Comptroller, Upper Canada Bible and Tract Societies
and family lived upstairs in the Society House
102 Yonge St., Toronto
Died in Toronto – Dec. 20, 1904
Diary of John Young
Glasgow, Wednesday, 23rd June, 1847.
Rose at 20 minutes to 4 o’clock, and at 5, with the assistance of the Smiths, my father’s man, carried the greater part of our luggage down to the close mouth to be in readiness for the cart, which came shortly after six. Got it safely deposited in the shed at the quay, along with some that had been left the night before. Watched it all forenoon till it could be slung down the hold, during which time two burrows loads more came down making in all, 2 good cart loads. During the afternoon got them all safe on board, and received visits from all our friends, Hugh Miller of Irvine included. Mother, Eliza, and all the children then went to sleep, some in Maxwell St. with Aunt Nanny and some in Russell St. while the rest of us slept in the boat with our clothes on. The beds having been flung in any way, we did not sleep much, and were up by half past 3 o’clock.
Thursday, 24th June, 1847.
Employed our time till six in wandering through Tradeston, where we met Uncle John. Went to the post office with two letters for Hugh. Expected the vessel to sail this morning, but it did not. Were mustered at 10 o’clock, and one woman turned out who had tried to get away without paying, and another family who were suspected of being infected with fever. We then heard a Gaelic sermon and prayer… All the passengers having been got on board we were at last taken out by the Gulliver Tug, about 8 o’clock p.m., and without a stop floated down the river, amid the cheers of a crowd of spectators, many of whom followed us down to Govan and further. About 9 o’clock the women were ordered to bed out of the road, and within half an hour afterwards, and we all got in, when a little past Renfrew, and I soon fell asleep.
Rose about 5 o’clock, and found the sailors washing the decks. Were ordered down out of the way, and found ourselves at the tail of the bank opposite Greenock, having arrived about 1 o’clock, a.m. when the tug left us. We lay all that day, at the tail of the bank. Oh! Wearying and wondering when we would get away. No water or biscuits or stores are yet served out. Took a last look of all the well-known places from Dunbarton Rock down by Nolenburgh Roseneath, Loch Long, Holy Lock, Gourock, Greenock, and Fort Glasgow, and watched the arrival and departure of steamers and sailing vessels. The ‘Marchioness of Ailsa’ is advertised to sail the same day as us, was tugged down this morning, and there was some speculation as to which should arrive at Quebec first. The pilot has been on board several times today, fuming and prating about the delay and we are all equally anxious to get off.
On rising this morning found ourselves in the same spot, but active preparations making for the voyage. The captain came down and ordered half of the passengers’ provisions chests into the hold. Some things that we intended to use during the voyage went down with the rest, however we came on better than many, of whom father was one. About 10 o’clock the Conqueror Steam Tug came out from Greenock, and took us in tow, the wind not being very favourable, and as it is a very powerful tug, we went down very rapidly, passing Greenock, Dimoon, Toward Point, Rothsay bay and between Bute and the
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two Cunibraes, past Arran till were were getting near Ailsa Craig, when the tug left us to our own resources. A pretty brisk wind had by this time sprung up, so that we went on as fast as ever, till we had passed Ailsa, at a considerable distance from it, however. We also saw the Ayrshire coast indistinctly.
We found we had not made much progress during the night; on our right hand was Cantire and on the left the Ayrshire coast, near Loch Ryan. I omitted to mention yesterday that we got our first allowance of water and biscuit, three days allowances of the latter. This being Sabbath we had a chapter of the Bible, and a sermon read to us by the captain, who had the capstan for a desk, and there was also a service in Gaelic in the fore part of vessel, where they also sung a Psalm. We have got into favour with the cook by lending him a can full of water now and then, and have twice got something tasty from him. The cook is a black man and rather an original; he talks Gaelic to the Highlanders, which divert them much, and makes them draw water for him, in return for which he sometimes gives them hot water. The captain and mate are both very attentive to the passengers. Towards the afternoon we came in sight of Ireland, and the Mull of Cantire… We also saw an island off the coast of Ireland which I think is Rathlin. Making little progress towards night, there being no wind, and a swell which made the vessel heave up and down considerably. Several were vomiting. Felt rather queer myself and was in bed for a while. All went to bed about half past 9 o’clock.
When we rose this morning found that we had made no progress during the night, lying between the same mull and the same part of Ireland. A child fell down one of the hatches today and has been hurt. Mother and Eliza both a little sick, but Mother vomited and has been better since. Was not quite right myself in the forenoon, but in the afternoon had a good vomit and have been quite well since. I omitted to mention yesterday that the captain distributed both Gaelic and English tracts among the passengers. All the officers of the vessel are very attentive inquiring after the sick and giving them medicines. This afternoon we got a sight at distance of Londonderry Loch on the one hand and Islay on the other.
Opposite Derry Loch, with a little more wind. The girl that got hurt is worse today and is not expected to live. Got the fire kindled shortly after 6 o’clock. Put the kettle on shortly after. Took breakfast at 8, consisting of bread and ham or butter and tea. We have all had porridge only once and that was on Sabbath and then neither Jane nor Agnes would take any. Elizabeth, Martha and James got them almost every morning. Took dinner about one o’clock of anything handiest. Supper about 5 of tea and bread as in the morning and an egg. The above is repeated with little variation every day. Go to our beds about 9 o’clock lying heads and tails like herring in a barrel. Were going about 41/2 knots an hour tonight.
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Rose this morning before 5 o’clock and immediately after, the body of the child before mentioned was brought up on deck, having died last night about one o’clock. It was wrapped in a sack and laid above the galley. Could not see land on either hand but that was on account of the fog. Happened to be down stairs when the body was consigned to the deep, so that I did not see the ceremony. It was very simple I understand. After a prayer in Gaelic the corpse was laid on a plank, with one end over side and then slid into the water. A piece of pig iron, part of our cargo, was used for a weight to take the body down. After the fog had cleared away found ourselves still in sight of Ireland. Had light wind, which took us only about two or three knots per hour through the water. We pass great numbers of sea-fowl which, on our approaching them, dive down, and can remain a long time under water. They have a black head and black and white under the wings and on the belly. All the land we have seen since leaving the Clyde has been most barren and mountainous. The part of Ireland we have seen consists of precipices sheer down to the water. The Mull of Cantyre is similar, and Ayrshire little better. Waited up last night to see the sun set. It was very pretty from the many changes of shape it underwent, from a rail-pot to a punch bowl.
July 1st 1847 Thursday
One week today since we left Glasgow, and the scenes we have passed through are rather different, I guess, from those we expected, within the vessel that is to say. If we were hailed by any ship and asked what our cargo was I would answer, ‘Highlanders, tin-pots, and porridge’ of all which there is great abundance. Had a fair wind this morning, and had made good progress during the night. Got a last glimpse of Ireland, at least I hope so, for this voyage at all events. By noon we were quite out of sight of land. We have got bagpipes on board which have been played out several times, but this night we had a dance as well, when about a dozen couples footed it upon the deck, the captain approving and enjoying the sport as well as any. A shoal of porpoises passed about mid-day, which I did not see, being unfortunately down below. They were about 50 in number, passing us towards the east, one the starboard side of the vessel. Again watched the sunset, but it kept its own shape to the last this time. We have had beautifully calm weather as yet, all except one wet day.
Friday July 2nd
Did not rise till nearly 7 o’clock. Little wind and plenty of fog, which continued all day. Could not see very far from the vessel’s side. Our rations today were served out, part biscuit and part flour, which was an improvement, as the biscuits were very hard and coarse, and we can make scones or anything we like with the flour. We have already gathered a donkey’s load of biscuits, and in a short time will not know where to put them. Last night I omitted to mention there was almost a mutiny among the sailors because they had to work overtime. It passed away, however, with some grumbling and we have heard no more about it except the threats of some of the sailors that they would desert at Quebec, though they are engaged for the whole voyage. Of course that does not concern us. Another dance tonight, but I did not see it, being early in bed.
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A brisk and favourable wind all night, which continued this morning. Each day is like another so that there is almost nothing for a faithful chronicler like me to record. Sometimes a quarrel between two or more of the passengers diverts us a little. There is a man and women on board named Love, who, it is reported, were both married to other persons at home but eloped with each other. It is perhaps not true, but they are rather queer customers whatever they are. There is sometimes a rumpus between them when she kicks him and he kicks her, and then she roars, ‘murder’. Even when on good terms she watches him like a cat with a mouse and follows him wherever he goes. A dance again.
On walking found ourselves rolling about in bed as much as one foot in breadth would let us. The good wind we had yesterday had freshened and the vessel was scudding along at the rate of nearly ten knots an hour. The sea was of course pretty rough and the vessel rolled from side to side making people stagger about as if they were drunk. There was no public service on deck today on account of the heaving, I suppose, there being fewer people on deck than usual. Some more porpoises or some such animal passed us this morning. They were going the same way as us and yet shot ahead of us like arrows, they were going with such speed. It is singular that though they have been seen four times now, I have not them once yet, always being out of the way some place or other. There was worship in Gaelic below, twice, among a few; the rest, us included, passed our time in reading what fit books we could lay hands on. The wind slackening a little in the evening, but we still went on at a good rate, about seven knots an hour.
My first job in the mornings this week back has been making sand for one floor. Everyone has to sweep, scrape, sand and scrub opposite their own berth. The next job is washing my face, and it is no very easy affair. First you have to look for a basin, then the water, then the soap, then the towel, then the comb, every one of which things are locked up or put by too well some way. Then finally the fire when it is our turn. Then breakfast, then waiting our turn for water, after which nothing to do till dinner, unless is the day for biscuit, which is served out twice a week. This day had a fair wind and got on pretty well. In the afternoon saw several jets of steam or smoke rising from the sea, and was told it was a whale blowing. It appeared to be two or three miles distant, and did not come nearer. A dance as usual.
A north-east wind today which sent us on at a fine pace, viz 9 knots an hour, the vessel was lying over a good deal to the starboard side, and there was some good fun with people strolling about the deck. Saw a shoal of porpoises. The sailors call them blackfish. They are black or brown on the back and greyish white on the belly, with a horny fin sticking out of their back, which cuts the water like a knife when they rise to the surface.
Little or no wind today, taking in the morning 3 knots an hour and at night not so much. There was a general turn out today of all the passengers that the tween decks might be thoroughly scraped. Everyone was sent up on deck even the sick had to take up their bed and walk. We were kept up about three hours.
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The wind increased a little before we went to bed last night and continued favourable during the night and this morning; but towards the afternoon it veered round to the opposite direction, gradually becoming stronger. As a rough night was expected, everything loose was secured. By 6 o’clock the vessel was pitching and lying over so much that very few people were on deck. We lay down with our heads to the outside of the berths, as the vessel was inclined more to our side at the time. N.B. No dancing tonight.
We had not long lain down last night when the order was given ‘About ship’, now inclined as much to the other side, and of course our heads were lower than our feet. What with this, and every now and then the noise of falling pots and pans, the ship heaving, folk groaning and the sailors trampling overhead, there was little sleep that night. I rose about 4 o’clock, and got up on deck, but could not stand without holding on. There were two vessels in sight at the time; the first we have seen since losing the sight of land. Several signals were hoisted to the nearest one, but there was no reply. The mate said it was a Dutch ship. The wind was calming down considerably by this time, but a swell was on the water all day. We saw 4 other vessels throughout the day, making in all 6 vessels today. It is likely that they were all destined by the same wind that brought us on so well, and now when it is against us, it is in their favour. Numbers of birds have been seen yesterday and today which makes us think we are coming near some land. No dancing for several days past.
A child of the name of Watson died this morning. He had been ill for more than a week of dysentery. The burial took place about 2 o’clock. A sailor stood in the chains and the body laid on a board was handed out to him; while resting on the bulwarks a short prayer in Gaelic was said by the same man as formerly and then the sailor took the board in his hands and sloped it down to the water. A plunge, and nothing more was seen. The wind still continued contrary and blew pretty hard. I forgot to say yesterday that a temporary sort of hospital was erected on deck under the starboard side of the longboat for the accommodation of a child who has got the small pox, so that it may not spread among the rest.
The water rough today and the vessel lying much to one side. Father met with an accident by slipping on the wet deck and his feet going under a spar, so that he almost broke his legs. The waves often broke over the side of the vessel, giving those upon the deck a ducking. Did not see a vessel today, although we saw 6 or 7 on Saturday (except one at a very great distance in the evening). No service on deck.
These three days back have made very little progress on account having to tack so much; for example, on Saturday gained only about 10 miles although I suppose we ran about 100. A great shoal of porpoises played about the ship for a while today. The mate came with a harpoon to catch one if possible but was too late, they were all gone. All on deck today again but were sent down in a hurry by a heavy shower. The wind has changed again so that we are making something today, 6 knots reported.
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Still light winds and variable. Have not seen a ship for several days. The dancing continues every night, though some people are complaining of it, both on account of the sin and of the noise. The captains says he cannot hinder it, suppose he was willing, as it is in his instructions to permit every recreation to the passengers conducive to their health. Great preparations making for fishing for cod on the banks of Newfoundland which we expect to reach soon.
A favourable wind today takes us on finely. The Captain has given out a number of hooks to those that have none, or rather to those that are most importunate and greediest.
Still keeping up a good pace, about 8 knots an hour, but the weather is very foggy and damp, so that a lookout has to be kept at the bow in case of collision with any vessel. Numbers of weeds, both sea and land ones floated by. Cannot see above a boat’s length on any side.
The wind had abated by the morning and died away altogether by noon. Saw three vessels at a distance. Lay all day in the Captain’s boat reading. The temperature of the water was tried today by a thermometer in a case being lowered down, and it was found by the coldness of the water that we were getting near the banks. Saw some porpoises at a distance.
A little wind this morning. Soundings were taken about 7 o’clock and the bottom found at 50 fathoms. On the banks at last, but no fishing vessels seen. A few had out their lines but on account of the motion of the vessel nothing was got. The banks of fog seen at a distance looks so very like land, that I do not wonder at shipwrecked mariners being often deceived by it. The wind increased towards night and led us to expect a rough morning.
Had as usual on Sabbath, a rough forenoon. The wind contrary so that we had to tack about and did not make much way. We are now on a fishing station, vessels on all sides of us, none of them nearer than 3 or 4 miles except one which came within half a mile of us. I saw no less than 15 at one time. Still no fishing.
No vessels in sight and little wind, about midday none at all, when a number of lines were put out and two cod caught. Of the fortunate passengers, one sold his to the steward I believe, the other prepared a piece of his for dinner. The wind rising a little however in the afternoon put a stop to the fishing for a day.
On this day, the 26th from Glasgow, 24th from Greenock and 20th since we saw land, we got our first sight of the new world. In the morning it was known that we were near Newfoundland and, after the fog had cleared away saw it right ahead of us. It being a westerly wind, we had to tack towards the north otherwise we would not have seen it. We neared it rapidly having
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a smart breeze, and run in till we were about 2 miles from the shore, then we stood on the opposite tack. The part we saw was between Cape Pine on the north east, and Cape Race on the south west, a rugged coast, without any appearance of human habitation. Saw several small vessels coasting. When upon the opposite tack we saw a large steamer in the distance, homeward bound. It was the North American Mall Packet from Halifax to Liverpool, and was in sight for about two hours but did not come nearer than 2 or 3 miles. It had sails up as well, and will likely reach Liverpool before we are at Quebec. By this time we had tacked again, being out of sight of Newfoundland and starting north west speedily sighted it further to the west than before. We then coasted along several miles from shore, passing through a whole fleet of fishing vessels, mostly at anchor, hauling up cod as quickly as they could, others scudding before the wind away home. Three or four came very close upon us and hailed us crying out, ‘Good luck to you, boys’. They were the first that had come so close that we could see faces. We would have been glad to have bought some fresh fish from the time we passed them it was getting dark and we were crossing the mouth of a large deep bay which I could not ascertain the name of and were still in sight of land when we went to bed.
Slept but very so-so last night, the ship heaving and tumbling so much, the wind besides was blowing in shore and the water rough so that many were afraid of being cast ashore. About 12 o’clock at night they tacked about and in the morning we were again out of sight of land. There are rats in the ship, which seem to be increasing, and have been seen on the deck twice or thrice. They don’t disturb me at night but Eliza is terribly frightened about them, and thinks she sees them in bed, which costs her many a night’s sleep.
During the night a man was seen lighting a piece of paper at the lantern, which is against the rules, he was therefore informed against and the captain condemned him to kindle the fire and sweep the decks three days. Another child has taken the small pox and has got a cot erected beside the former one, which is progressing favourably. Some small whales have been seen playing about the ship. We have still contrary winds and have enough adv(?) to keep ourselves from losing ground instead of gaining any. We have had to buy 2 pounds more of tea from the ship, the former being done. We have little left now but oatmeal and butter, so that porridge and tea is our only food now.
Another child died this morning and was buried during the day. It had been delicate ever since it came on board, having never quite recovered from the measles. We are still baffled by contrary winds but expect a change soon. See vessels now and then, but none come very near us.
A calm, warm day. Our neighbours in the next bed to us, are called Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair’s mother, brother and sister are along with them. The mother has not been very well for 2 or 3 days, but before that was as well for her age, as any on board. This morning she was very ill, but we did not think her near so near, so we were affected on hearing of her death when
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everybody that was able had to be put up on deck, it being a cleaning day. This is the fourth death, but very hearty before her illness. A number of whales were seen playing about the ship today, and it was supposed by the superstitious that they knew a dead body was on board. The sailors foretell a fair wind tonight.
The wind has not yet risen, we are going about 2 knots an hour. The body was brought up last night and lain in the long boat, and in there yet, being the first that has lain overnight. I omitted to say on Saturday that the stores were taken out of the long boat to make it the hospital, 2 more children having taken the small pox. Our speed is increasing rapidly, at 10 it was about 4 knots, at 1 about 6 knots and in the afternoon 8 knots an hour. Another child died tonight about 10 o’clock.
Scudding before the wind at the rate of 9 ½ knots an hour. Very foggy in the forenoon which made sail be shortened a little, as we are nearing land again. The anchors also got ready. About noon it cleared and about 2 o’clock the cry was heard, ‘land upon the weather bow’. It was St. Paul’s Island and part of Cape Breton, from which we were distant yesterday at 12 exactly 200 miles. Before this time the two bodies had been committed to the deep, both at once, after prayers had been read by the Captain. Mrs. McTavish’s corpse had been kept so long, out of respect to the feelings of her relatives, who wished if possible to keep her for burial on land, but it was found impractical. Got our nearest view of America about 4 o’clock, both island and mainland consisting of barren hills as far as we could see, but we were at least 5 miles distant from St. Paul’s and nearly 20 miles from the mainland. There is a lighthouse on St. Paul’s. About 9 o’clock passed Bird Rocks at a distance, after we had lost sight of the former.
Fair winds continued. Passed Magdalen Islands in the afternoon, which was all we saw today. They were at a distance, but appeared to be formed of rocks rising nearly perpendicular from the water for a little, and quite flat upon the top. We much puzzled by an appearance we saw about sunset. First what appeared to be a vessel appeared upon the horizon, then it widened till we supposed it to be a rock. Then a smaller one appeared on one side, after which they split into 6 or 7, when they looked like a fleet. After about half of an hour they disappeared all of a sudden and in about 5 minutes one again showed itself then went out of sight again. The only thing it could be would be a cloud, but such a strange one I never saw before.
Today had our first view of the American continent in the shape of Cape Gaspe. Still rocks, rocks, all the world over. After passing the precipitous part, the hills receding back a little, left room for houses which now showed themselves for the first time. They were all white and glistened very nicely in the sun. Likewise I saw a considerable town called Great Fox River. All that the inhabitants depend on is fishing, the soil appearing very barren and rocky. The hills behind the town are in many places covered with trees, but we were not near enough to see what they were like. An old man died today. I have not learned exactly what was the
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matter with him, he was very infirm at any rate, and slept along with one of the children that had the small pox. He was not kept above two hours before the body was buried in the waters.
The wind having veered about the west, we had a day of tacking about and came pretty close upon the Island of Anticosti and some small rocky islands near it called Seven Islands. We did not make 6 miles altogether. I think Anticosti is like all the land we have seen, viz., hilly and barren (about Great Fox River expected) and it is said to be 100 miles long.
Made a little progress today, the wind not being so directly in our face, but keep so near the centre of the river that we cannot see anything very plain. I do not think that a person on one side could see the other, although they are both very hilly. The St. Lawrence here has very little current, only about 2 knots an hour and the breadth I have not heard, but think it must be about 40 miles.
These last days a gum boil has been gathering on my right cheek, and today it is so much swelled that I cannot show myself on deck, but have kept in bed all day. Luckily for me, there was nothing to be seen above at any rate, on account of a dense fog, and as we were now coming into shallow waters and will not see a ship’s length before us, the anchor was dropped in 16 fathoms of water. There was also heavy rain all day. The anchor fell foul at first and dragged, but was taken up and dropped again and we were all snug. The pilot is expected to come on board about this place and if we had one, we would not most likely have anchored at all. A large ship came very close to us, which appeared to be an emigrant one like ourselves, but it soon disappeared in the fog. Land was also seen upon the starboard bow, only about 1 mile distant, during a partial clearing away of the fog.
Sunday 1st August, 1847
Managed to get up this morning with a napkin up my jowls, the boil having broken during the night. Still at anchor waiting on a pilot. The fog is clearing away, giving us views of the scenery. The houses are all white-washed and have a pretty look. We have passed several small islands in the fog and others lie before us. The river is getting perceptibly narrower. In the forenoon, the pilot came on board, a man in a light frock coat and military cap, and altogether not very like a sailor. He is a French Canadian. Shortly after, the anchor was weighed and although the wind was still contrary, what with tide and tacking, we made a little way before going to bed. In the morning there was another death, the brother of him who died last. He has left a wife and family. It was his child which first caught the small pox and he was much exposed to the weather in tending it, not being very strong at any rate.
The anchor was dropped last night about 9 o’clock and weighed early this morning again, but the wind most obstinately continued to drive us back. After ‘Jumping Jim Crow’ for some hours we quietly sat down a little, below Green Island. This is the largest of many islands in sight and is covered every foot with the original forest, except a small spot cleared about the
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lighthouse which stands on one side of it. As it was a beautiful day and the wind had lulled, the captain took a trip in his gig to the island, along with the lady passenger and four steerage passengers as rowers. It was about 3 miles distant and they were away about 2 hours. They found the trees and underwood so thick and luxuriant that they could hardly move a step. The trees were principally spruce, but were very small, none being as thick in the trunk as a man’s body. There was abundance of berries of different kinds, raspberries, gooseberries, and others, but none were ripe. There was also seen some deserted Indian wigwams. They brought away as trophies some flowers which were in great request on board after so long a voyage. While we lay at anchor, 2 boats came alongside with some provisions and speedily got them disposed of, they consisting of butter for which they charged 1/- currency p. pound, eggs and 1 loaf. It was black, but we relished it very much after our hard biscuit. We had quite a feast today! Weighed anchor again, when we saw a passenger schooner, the ‘Jessie’ of Limerick to which we spoke, it had been out 35 days. Spoke also with a brig from which we learned that there has been a great mortality among emigrants this season, some ships about half of them died and the quarantine station is so bad, they are dying every day. We had been fortunate both in health and speed, for some had taken 8 and 9 weeks upon the road. This news is alarming some of us lest we be put among the infected at the quarantine station, but we are all thankful that we have come safe so far.
The same routine goes on, anchoring at the ebb tide and weighing anchor when it favours us, passed the Pilgrim Islands and Hare Island today and the ‘Argo’ a new ship belonging to Robert Gilmour and Co. going on its first voyage laden with timber. We both lay to and spoke, when she confirmed what we heard yesterday. After wishing each other good passage they went on. The banks of the river are becoming thickly peopled, but only on the south side yet, on the north side the mountains are close upon the water.
There being little wind today and that little unfavourable we lay at anchor all day. We are surrounded by beautiful scenery, islands being scattered all over the river, so that though it is many miles broad it sometimes appears not a mile.
A fine breeze springing up today we started as soon as the tided turned, and were soon going at the rate of 10 miles an hour. The river soon got more confined with many rocky islets on its surface, some with lighthouses and other buildings upon them and in about 3 hours we arrived at Grosse Island where many vessels were lying at the time.
Grosse Island, where is quarantine, is about 33 miles from Quebec on the right side going up the river. It is covered all over with low trees except where it is cleared for the hospital and a few small houses. On account of the great sickness this season there was not enough of accommodation for the patients, so that they have erected several hundred small tents for those who are well. It looks like the encampment of an army. Between this island and one opposite, lie the vessels who are either waiting for inspection or else for their passengers. This forenoon the Doctor came on board and the passengers were passed in review before him, just like counting a flock of sheep, and were pronounced clean all except 2 who were ailing. There were several steamers taking up passengers out of the passed vessels and one
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came alongside ours to take us also, but the Highlanders stuck out like bricks for a steamer for themselves and gained their point, so we had to lie another night.
Early this forenoon, the Rowland Hill steamer came alongside with a customhouse officer. All the luggage was hauled up from below, the beds had been emptied 2 days before. The officer examined each box as it was put into the steamer, and we had to open all our boxes though many of them were clasped with iron. He was rather suspicious of the lot of books we had with us and turned them over a good deal, but at last we were passed and got on board the steamer. It was built in the Yankee fashion with promenade deck and walking beam and appeared very strange to us who had never been in anything like it before. It was about 12 o’clock before all were on board and then we started getting three cheers from the sailors, which we returned. We now passed up the river very rapidly the tide being in our favour. The banks were lined on both sides with one continuous line of houses, which being all whitewashed and the numerous churches having all tin steeples glistened beautifully in the sun. Now the large island of Orleans divided the river, and shortly Quebec burst upon us with castle on the height, the steep descent, and the high wooden houses at the bottom and hundreds of vessels lying in the smooth water. But before coming near enough to distinguish one house from another our attention was called to another object. After passing the island of Orleans the falls of Montmorency, hitherto concealed by it, came in sight. We were several miles from it and at that distance it looked just like a white sheet hung over the rock. When opposite Quebec the steamer went close to the wharf, but did not touch at any, and then without stopping, up we went past the plains of Abraham, Wolfe’s Cove and other places famed in history. Wolfe’s Cove is now part of Pollock Gilmour and Co.’s ship building yard. The river at Quebec suddenly narrows to about half a mile wide and continued so long as it was light. When it got dark we each tried to get as good a place as we could to get a little sleep, but we had little success, for it became rather blowy and on account of the boat being top heavy we had to keep running from one side to the other to keep the vessel from capsizing.
During the night we passed through Lake St. Peter which is a wider part of the St. Lawrence. The banks near Quebec are high and steep, but near Montreal they are quite low and many low islands divide the river. About 8 o’clock we saw Montreal. It has not so impressive an appearance as Quebec, lying upon the bank, with a mountain from which the town is named behind it. It is on a large island, and like Quebec, is on the right side going up. We passed all the wharfs to the last one which is the one for emigrants and where the sheds are. The sheds being full of sick emigrants, them in our vessel were advised to keep on board all day till the others could be removed, which they did. During the day Father tried to get lodgings in some hotel for the women, but they were all so afraid of the fever that they would not admit them. Passed the day as well as we could looking about the town. There is a great many fine stone buildings in it,
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particularly the market facing the river and the French Church which was the largest church I ever saw. There is no slates to be seen nor tiles, only shingles or tin upon the roofs. There was not a great many vessels at the wharfs as the most do not come above Quebec. Some Indians prowling about the quay tried to come on board to spy out the land, but they were prevented, partly for fear of infection and partly to prevent theft and there was almost a battle about it. I omitted to mention before that the boatmen were French Canadians and we heard some songs from them. We had again to lie down on deck to get a little sleep.
Had very little sleep on account of the noise and fighting made by some drunken passengers. Early in the morning began to take ashore our luggage and place it in the shed where if we did not get lodgings we would have to remain all day as Father had some business to transact before leaving Montreal. Made search through the town for Mark MacFarlane and after some time found him. Some of us had to take care of the luggage, but the rest took dinner in Mark’s house. After making arrangements for going to Lachine next day, in the meantime Robert and a lad called John Wilson a fellow traveller were sent on with the luggage by two trucks. What is called a truck is just like a long ladder laid between two wheels, it is so very narrow and long being made for taking flour in barrels. We had intended to go by the Rideau Canal but as it was shut up for repairs we had to go by the Mail Steamer and it was well we did so for though they are dearer they go in less than half the time. We then took up our quarters for the night in Mark’s house and were very hospitably treated, Mark leaving off work in honor of his old boss.
Started about 10 o’clock in the stage for Lachine, having taken our passages in the Passport Steamer for Kingston. When we got to Lachine found the vessel packed full of soldiers going up so that there was no room for us. Father complained of being thus treated and the agent gave us the use of a large store for ourselves alone to wait for the next day upon another steamer. As we had no alternative we settled down as comfortably as we could. Robert and John Wilson we found all safe, having to a night’s lodging after some trouble. When night came on we spread our beds on the floor and lay down and got as good a sleep as we had done since we left home.
This morning the steamer Henry Gildersleeve came in and we got our boxes on board. The other emigrants who had come out with us had mostly taken the government passage and a while before starting we saw them passing up the river in barges, exposed without shade to a burning sun, with a steamer tugging them at a snail’s pace. After we started we soon passed and shortly arrived at the Beauharnois Canal, made to avoid rapids in the river. The vessel was here detained for some time going through several locks, during which time many country people stepped on board selling different commodities. We saw a steamer going down the rapids at a tremendous rate, for though they are so violent that a steamer cannot stem them going up, yet they may be gone through on the way down. We now found ourselves in a narrow canal hardly as wide as the promenade deck of the steamer, through which they had to steer cautiously. After the rapids were passed it joins the river again, but the current is still very rapid
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and continued so all the way up to Kingston. We were ploughing our way among islands of all sizes when it became dark.
Went through the Cornwall and other canals during the night to avoid other rapids and in the morning found ourselves in the lake of a thousand islands, threading our way as through the streets of a large town. The scenery was most beautiful the islands being richly wooded and we touched at several to take in wood where little wharfs were erected for the purpose. These steamers consume a tremendous quantity of wood, the hold is filled when they start and it has to be replenished six or seven times each voyage. We saw Yankeeland today in the town of Ogdensburgh, but did not go near it. Early in the forenoon we reached Kingston at entrance to Lake Ontario. It appears to be strongly fortified and 2 new forts are building out in the water facing the town. The end of the Rideau Canal is here and if we had come by it we would have been a week later. We had not to land at all but just went alongside the steamer for Toronto the Princess Royal which was lying at a wharf, and transferred ourselves to it. It soon pushed out and we thought we were off but it went again to another wharf where there were some thousands of Irish emigrants and proceeded to pack them on board. We were rather alarmed at this as many of them were sick and so many were packed that we had not room to stir. Father complained to the Captain and offered to pay cabin fare to get out of such a squad but got nothing but impudence from him, Captain Twohey. We had all to squat down in a corner keeping back from the rest as well as we could. Bread was then distributed among them and we started. We soon lost sight of land on one side and when it got dark we could see none. We were now on Ontario. The night was very cold and we being on the promenade deck got a good share, so one of the sailors taking compassion on us flung a tarpaulin over us to cover us, which the upstart Captain no sooner saw than he ordered it off. We had some shivers so we huddled all together in a corner to keep each other warm and tried to sleep. I got about 2 hours sleep but some of us got none.
We kept along the north shore of the lake touching at 1 or 2 places till we arrived at Toronto. There is a long strip of land juts out for a mile or two then turns round to the west enclosing a first rate harbour. Toronto lies on the mainland within the bay, upon a gentle slope with many handsome hotels facing the water with their tin roofs glittering in the sun. There is a lighthouse on the extremity of the tongue of land. We here got rid of the most of our living cargo, whom they treated just like cattle driving them about, and tried to do the same with us, but we rebelled. They were all turned out and kept back with sticks till their luggage would be tumbled out after them. Father, William and Robert looked after ours and managed to get it laid all in one place and then got it put on board the Eclipse Steamer for Hamilton and soon after we were all safe on board. After two or three hours sail we came in sight of Burlington Bay and soon went through the canal into it and got our first sight of Hamilton. When we got up the wharf Hugh and William Wright were there waiting for us and we had a happy meeting after all our troubles.
Archivist Nancy Mallett & Shannon Quigley read from John Young’s diary about John’s 1847 arrival in Canada.
Nancy Mallett & Shannon Quigley read from John Young’s diary about his 1847 arrival in Toronto
John Young “Treated Like Cattle”
On 12th August, Young made note of the cramped conditions on the Princess Royal steamer which he had boarded in Kingston.
"We had not to land at all but just went alongside the steamer for Toronto the Princess Royal which was lying at a wharf, and transferred ourselves to it. It soon pushed out and we thought we were off but it went again to another wharf where there were some thousands of Irish emigrants and proceeded to pack them on board. We were rather alarmed at this as many of them were sick and so many were packed that we had not room to stir. Father complained to the Captain and offered to pay cabin fare to get out of such a squad but got nothing but impudence from him, Captain Twohey. We had all to squat down in a corner keeping back from the rest as well as we could."
The next day, 13th August, the steamer arrived in Toronto where Young observed that the emigrants were met with further harsh treatment:
"We here got rid of the most of our living cargo, whom they treated just like cattle driving them about, and tried to do the same with us, but we rebelled. They were all turned out and kept back with sticks till their luggage would be tumbled out after them."
The Famine Irish in Hamilton’s Burlington Heights Burial Ground
Beyond Toronto, Irish emigrants also perished in Hamilton. The most destitute there were buried in the old cholera cemetery at Burlington Heights. Decades later, it was recalled in the Hamilton Spectator (6 August, 1890) that the Famine dead “were hastily coffined and driven in a cart, often six or seven at a load to the Burlington Heights north of the canal, where they were “interred without any much useless formality”. The paper also noted that the “old fellow” who was contracted to bury the emigrants “invented a coffin the end of which opened on a hinge and that when he reached the grave he tilted his cart and let the body slide out of the coffin – swoosh! Into the soft sandy couch prepared for its permanent rest”. The burial ground at Burlington Heights was unconsecrated. It was a particularly desolate final resting place for Famine Irish emigrants.
Dr. Laura Smith on the significance of Burlington Heights
Irish Famine Migration Routes In Ontario
Canadian Caregivers’ Sacrifice: Emigration Agent Edward McElderry
Several Canadian caregivers in addition to Dr. Grasett were stricken with typhus and perished in Toronto. The city’s Emigration Agent Edward McElderry died on the 29th of October, 1847. Stephen De Vere noted in his diary (November 6th) that “I regret to hear of poor McElderry’s death of fever at Toronto”.
McElderry’s superior, Chief Emigration Agent for Upper Canada Anthony Bowden Hawke, paid tribute in a letter written on 9 November. Hawke lamented that McElderry “has left a widow and eight children – the oldest under thirteen – completely destitute. I never saw a more afflicted family. He was a good man in every relation of life and has certainly fallen a victim to his duty. Had he less zeal he would have given himself time to recover from the effects of the fever, but he persisted in working beyond his strength, and the dysentery set in fatally.”
The McElderry family tomb can be found in St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Guelph. He is also commemorated in a stained glass window in Guelph’s Basilica of our Lady Immaculate.
McElderry was not the only Canadian caregiver to have “fallen a victim to his duty”. Toronto Emigrant Hospital orderlies John McNabb and Richard Jones died on the 25th and 24th of August, 1847. Head Nurse Susan Bailey died on the 30th of August; Nurse Sarah Duggan, 18 years old, perished on September 8th. Dr. Joseph Hamilton died on the 15th of November. McElderry’s successor, Dr. Denis Robert Bradley, was appointed Emigration Agent in Toronto in 1848. He contracted cholera the following year, dying from its complications on 13 January, 1850.
Professor Mark McGowan on Emigration Officer Edward McElderry
Canadian Caregivers’ Sacrifice Toronto’s Bishop Michael Power
Toronto’s Bishop Michael Power also died from typhus after caring for Irish emigrants on 1st October, 1847.
His illness and death were recorded by Stephen De Vere in his journal. On 29th September, De Vere noted that Bishop Power "very ill of typhus fever". On 1st October, De Vere added a very moving private obituary:
"Rev. Michael Power Cath bishop of Toronto died this morning. He was a man of great generosity and nobleness, most kindly and charitable in a true and most extended kindly sense, an humble Christian. By his example, his justice, his unfailing attention to the duties of his high station, & the strictness of his discipline, he brought into perfect order a diocese which he found almost in anarchy. His death is attributable, under providence, to the noble and devoted zeal with which, since the illness of so many of his clergy, he has visited the beds of every sick and dying emigrant. He did not spare himself, but God has spared him a longer sojourn on earth. He was a man of no political party, of no religious bigotry. He was too strong-minded to be a bigot, & too wise to be a partisan. He was therefore respected and beloved by men of all creeds and parties. May Almighty God have Mercy on his soul."
The sacrifice of Toronto’s medical professional and religious leaders who gave their lives caring for Famine Irish emigrants is commemorated by Canada Ireland Foundation and the Famine Irish Migrant Stories in Ontario digital exhibit.
Professor Mark McGowan on Bishop Micheal Power’s sacrifice.