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Catharine Parr Traill to Annie Atwood
May 05 1871
Traill Family Collection (National Archives of Canada)
You will be glad to learn that I am much better than when I last wrote and purpose to be in Belleville on my homeward route on Thursday so by the time you get this I hope to be so far on my journey -- I was very very sorry to find by dear Kates letter that you had been so unwell, and that the little one too had been ill -- I have had many an anxious thought about you all since I got dear Kate's letter, and have latterly been haunted by the fear that Kate has been worse since she wrote; but if so I know you would get the Dr to prescribe for her.
I write to you, because I think it is possible, she may have left for home and as I wrote yesterday to our poor May she would know all my movements through her letter so I shall just tell you any thing likely to interest you and if with you Kate will share this with you.
Last Fridays post brought me the two letters and the Power of Attorney empowering Lily to draw the $1000 very kind letters from Col Chamberlin they were. We signed the documents and sent off by yesterdays mail -- I do not think as yet Lily has any decided plan for her future -- She is very good and nice and appears to much advantage -- but poor girl she was very bare of clothes when I came and so I gave her the grey print shortened a little and made up the black one that I got in Coburg so she looks very comfortable now and is very grateful -- I thought I could do with what I have -- I have just worked and made up the scarlet that you gave her for Georgie and a black checkered dress so that the dear now looks very nice -- he is very pretty and very loving -- but Kate and he do not agree well. Charlie and Kate agree like doves but Kate has been cross and wayward lately which troubles me.
Last week I had appointed to go to Brockville but it was well I did not. It proved a day like this rain -- rain rain all day -- Donald sent word I must not go -- so I did not -- The evening post brought me a note from Mrs Hargrave saying that she was hourly expecting her dear old Mothers decease -- And Letitias 2 confinement -- [I]n either case she could not have received me -- Then the train was delayed till two o clock in the morning AM -- so I should have been in sad situation if the rain had not come to stay me, for I did not get the letter till night -- Very thankful I felt when I found how matters were -- Surely one is cared for and guided in little matters as well as in greater ones! --
On Sunday I went to church and in the afternoon one of the P.P. 3 officers lent a double buggy and horse to L and me to take us to the cemetry, 4 A lovely spot where sleeps the mortal part of our beloved Harry -- I had begged some sweet violets in bloom from Mrs Ferris 5 and L and I planted them in the turf over him -- A sweet but sad tribute of love to our dear lamented one -- It rained while we were there -- and then a glorious rainbow came in the east -- the brightest and most lovely I ever saw -- It spanned the valley below us the right limb standing forward in the meadow so [that] you saw the shadow of the landscape through its lovely hues -- It seemed a happy token of Gods promises to his believing children departed from earth to Heaven.
Yesterday I went with dear Lily and Katie to the Prison -- With a few lines addressed to the Guards who had shewn such kind sympathy to L -- in her sorrow -- The deputy met us, and was most kind -- and so was the Warden Mr Chrichton and altogether the visit was one of great, but sad interest. Mr Flanigan would take us over a great part of the prison. 6 I was not well enough to bear the fatigue of all he wished me to see -- I spoke to none of the convicts that we met in the rooms -- I have not time now to dwell on all that I saw but you will be glad to hear that I had a few minutes to converse with D. Manns mother. That she wept much when I told her who I was and then she grasped my hand and said my speaking kindly to her had been a great comfort and would be so to her --
I also talked to Grace Marks 7 - a very interesting superior woman she seemed but the chief of the female convicts were of a very low type. In fact they looked worse than the men -- but while there were more than seven hundred of the latter, there were only 48 women prisoners. 8 Larceny and murder were the crimes of the women some for life -- some very young -- but they looked more vicious and debased than the older convicts --
The Warden spoke well of Smith and said that he deplored his crime and also felt the death of Mann but all spoke well and hopefully of Mann --
On my return greatly worn out I found Mr Graptie 9 -- the Baptist minister who had called to see me. A very kind and worthy man he seemed -- He had been much with Mann and confirmed Loisseaus opinion of his sincere repentance.
I could obtain nothing more as to any thing of our dear H. but that Mann had a great respect even affection for him that their plans were laid for escape not knowing who was to be on guard that day. That he had minded Harry's watch chain for him that very morning nor did he contemplate a fatal blow when he struck the Guard -- This he maintained to every one -- He believed Mr Traill to be a man of religious impressions from his way of speaking and his general good conduct among the men -- The reason given by Mr Graptie and also by Loisseaus for not alluding to any personal matter in their tracts was that it had been suggested to them that H T. being so well connected it might prove displeasing to the family concerned -- and so it was from motives of delicacy rather than any other silence was observed.
The Guards all bowed with great respect as we entered the Prison and some came forward and spoke to L and me and admired the child --
One old convict gave Katie a little ivory toothpick that he had carved and another cut a lovely rose from a spot near the machine he was working at that she admired in the window --
I heard from Flora that your aunt was at the Dougalls. 12 I shall have to stay in B. till next Tuesday -- I hope this will find you and all the dear children and Clinton better -- If your dear sister is still with you which I suppose will hardly be the case say I shall be home next week but if you have a girl she will be no doubt -- if well -- and I am anxious lest she should be ill and you too my dearest.
I had a melancholy letter from our dear Mary -- Tom was ill with remittant fever and she herself suffering from rheumatism -- which is very sad -- and bad for poor Kate too but these things cannot be helped I only wish now I were safe at home with them.
Your aunt Agnes wrote me a very kind letter -- lately -- but no news -- And I have heard also from dear Walter and he was not well and in low spirits about his health. He seems to think his visit is a very doubtful chance but they may give him leave of absence on account of his health --
I am afraid Clintons friends 13 will not fall in love with Canadian Spring -- that is if you have had as much rain and cold as we have had this last month -- I never remember so wet an April and May so far -- but it may be being so near the lake --
Nothing can exceed the unvaried kindness with which I am treated here by the kind McLeans -- Lily appears to great advantage and looks quite comely -- She begs me to send her kindest love to you and Clinton and the dear children.
I do not know that I have any thing more to tell you -- Yesterday Fanny Riddle who boards at the Ferris's next door was out riding with Donald and was thrown from the horse and taken up for dead. Sybella met her held up in a carriage covered with blood and senseless -- Poor Donald was in a terrible state -- He was up all night with her -- but she is better today -- her face cut and disfigured but no bones broken he says though he fears she will be scarred from the cuts -- Will you remember me very kindly to Mr Drayton and Mr Nash and with much love to dear Clin and all the dear children -- ever your loving old Mother --
1. In early April, Catharine had gone via Cobourg to Portsmouth, a separate village on the western edge of Kingston (incorporated into the city in 1953), to be with Lily. Earlier letters from Portsmouth are dated 12 April and 23 April. In the former, she described herself as 'safe at the Macleans'; she was staying with Lily and her sister Sybella at their brother Donald's house there.
6. John Creighton (1817-85), a Kingston newspaperman and publisher, served as mayor of the city during 1863-5 and was named warden of the penitentiary by John A. Macdonald in 1870 (DCB, 11; 216-17). John Flanigan had a military background and had been Kingston's mayor in 1854 and 1858; he became the deputy warden of the penitentiary in 1866 and would serve until 1871, helping Creighton in his adjustment to his new appointment.
7. The 'celebrated murderess' Grace Marks was an Irish servant who had been a prisoner at the penitentiary since 1843. Susanna Moodie devoted considerable space to her in Life in the Clearings (London 1853), noting that a petition got up by 'influential gentlemen in Kingston' had led to her release but that 'the fearful hauntings of her brain had terminated in madness' and she was 'now in the asylum in Toronto.' Moodie was also taken by her bearing, noting that she seemed 'a person rather above her humble station' (152-71). When Traill visited her in 1871, she had, however, been in the prison for twenty-eight years; she was pardoned in 1872.
10. Dr John Mair was a prominent Kingston physician and a 'Surgeon 1st Class.' He was a favourite of Lady Isabella Macdonald, Sir John A. Macdonald's first wife, and was an uncle of the poet Charles Mair.
11. Francis W. Dobbs was the incumbent of St John's Episcopal Church in Kingston and a close friend to the Macleans. In a letter to Catharine, dated 22 March 1871, from the Parsonage, Portsmouth, he reported that he was convinced that Mann had 'laid hold of Christ.' Having had two long visits with the condemned man, Dobbs reported that Mann was the victim of his upbringing and that he fervently regretted his act and the pain it had caused. Dobbs also lamented the sectarian nature of the tracts written by P.J. Loizeaux and Grafferti, though he admitted that the latter was 'an interesting statement of facts' (TFC, 1:69-73).
13. Clinton Atwood had brought back from Gloucester two young friends, Reginald Drayton (1850-1925) and a man named Nash, both of whom wished to learn something of Canadian farming. Drayton's later life is described in GLRLP, 230.