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Professor Mark McGowan on the Hawke Papers

Interior shot. Bearded man with greying light hair, glasses, wearing a dark jacket and buttoned grey shirt, seated and facing camera. To his left a large handwritten manuscript is open on a foam cushion, with a second manuscript behind him. In the background a large silver chrome desk, staircase, and pillar are visible.

I am Mark McGowan, Professor of History at the University of Toronto. I am here at the Archives of Ontario on the campus of York University, and beside me are the Hawke Papers.

Anthony Hawke was the Chief Emigration Agent for the Province of Canada West, now Ontario. He has in his correspondence beside me notes, ledgers, and spread sheets with regard to the Irish Famine migration of 1847-1848.

Hawke was focused on Kingston, but he had agents in places like Bytown, Prescott, Cornwall, Brockville, Toronto, and Hamilton. Periodically these agents were obliged to report to him on the status of the intake of Famine migrants – on the sickness, the health, the care for these migrants; in particular, the financial obligations that the government had to meet in servicing these migrants.

Interestingly enough, this particular ledger is an important one because it also contains the only extant ledger of the convalescent hospital which was established in Toronto in 1847 to help those who no longer needed attention in the fever hospital, but could convalesce and then be released. [They were] likely to go into the hinterlands, and not stay in the city.

This ledger would contain full names, causes of their incarceration in the hospital, dates of their release, and, importantly, dates when they re-entered the fever hospital only to come back to the convalescent hospital because their symptoms had reappeared.

Hawke also has correspondence with high level government officials, the Provincial Secretary and others. So this is a very valuable historical record from the Famine.

Hawke himself was rather parsimonious, and made sure that every pound, shilling, and pence was spent in accordance with what he felt was a modest and economical way of doing things.

This caused some consternation, particularly in Kingston, where he was located, as the Kingston Famine relief was kept on a very tight financial leash.

Other places such as Hamilton and Bytown had greater flexibility in their spending because of the distance they had from Hawke; although this did not stop controversy from erupting when Hawke felt that other centres, such as Bytown, may be overspending for the relief of these Famine emigrants.

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