Early Days in Perth and on the Scotch Line

Posted by on December 24, 2021 in Blog Posts, Community & Family History, Featured Flag | 0 comments

William Bell’s Comments in his Diary

“The County of Carleton, in which the military settlements are situated, did not, till 1816, receive any settlers except a few in the township of Nepean, but so rapidly has its population since that time increased, that in 1823 it contains about 8,000. At present, it may be viewed as an inland place, but it is watered by several fine rivers which fall into the Ottawa. These, by a little improvement, will render navigable for boats by which a communication may be carried on with Montreal at a moderate expense.

“The military road, too, which is now opened from the Point of Nepean to Kingston, and the canal, which is soon to be commenced, will all tend to render it one of the most thriving districts in Upper Canada.

“The largest piece of water of water in this neighbourhood is the Rideau Lake. Lying parallel with the St. Lawrence and 7 miles distant from Perth, it extends to nearly 30 miles in length, and varies in breadth from 6 miles to 200 yards. In the widest part of this lake there are several islands but none of great extent. The land on its banks is generally good, though in a few spots it is rocky and of little value.

“The Mississippi Lake is 8 miles to the north of Perth. Its length is about 12 miles, and its breadth from 4 miles, and its breadth from 4 miles to half a mile. It affords abundance of fish to the settlers in the neighbourhood, who kill them with spears in great numbers in the spring, when ascending to spawn. Some of the islands in the lake are still inhabited by Indians, whose hunting ground is on the north side, and who are far from being pleased with the encroachment our settlers are making on their territories. There are many other lakes but of smaller dimensions than those I have mentioned.

Robert Gourlay’s “Statistical Account of Upper Canada”, published in 1822 is rich in details about the settlement of Upper Canada

Robert Gourlay’s Report on the Perth Settlement Regarding the 1815 Emigrants

The following descriptions, much more detailed than those of Rev. William Bell, were found in the Statistical account of Upper Canada: compiled with a view to a grand system of emigration, Robert Gourlay, London, Simpkin & Marshall, 1822.

To the Editor of any British Newspaper

Queenston, Upper Canada,

Sept. 15, 1817


It will be remembered by many of your readers that in the spring of 1815 proclamations were widely circulated, inviting settlers to Canada.

Having myself occasion to visit this country, I was curious to know what had been the result, especially as I found, at Quebec and Montreal, very discordant accounts respecting it; most people asserting that the scheme had failed of success, and that the settlers were in a state of great discomfort and discontent.

To ascertain the truth, I diverged from my route about fifty miles, and spent some days at Perth, situated on the waters of the Rideau, to which a considerable body of the people who accepted the invitation of the government had been conducted. Here I traced the reported discontent to some neglects in the general management, and some ill-conceived petty regulations, capriciously exercised towards people tenacious of their rights; but in the main, universal satisfaction prevailed among the settlers and a strong feeling of the good intention of government towards them.

The opportunity being a good one of ascertaining the progress which a promiscuous body of settlers make in a given time, I constructed the annexed table, and had each man’s signature attached, at once to prove the correctness of his statement, and satisfaction with his situation.

Should this be worthy of publication, you are welcome to insert it in your paper. It may draw attention to a most important subject, the colonization of this province with British subjects; and should it reach Scotland, it may afford satisfaction to many individuals who may not otherwise know the condition of their friends.

The scheme which government adopted in 1815 was expensive. The settlers had a free passage, rations, and tools: next year, rations and tools were furnished to those who came out; and this year multitudes of poor people have come to Canada in expectation of being favoured in the same way, but are disappointed, having nothing given but the land (100 acres each), which many of them, from poverty, are unable to occupy.

Having made it my study, during three months residence here, to inquire into the nature of the country, and into every particular respecting settlement, I am convinced that very simple measures might be adopted, by which the redundant population of Britain could be conveyed, by a regular flow, into Canada, instead of being wasted, to the great prejudice of British interest, over the whole of America: and were such measures adopted, this province could, in a very few years, be quite equal to its own defense in war, against the United States.

Robert Gourlay

*note attached to the table stated that the original table contained double the number of settlers exhibited above but these are sufficient for the present purpose. The Account was taken 1st and 2nd July, 1817. (All of those listed, ‘were satisfied’. So who was omitted? Who did not declare themselves satisfied?)

Robert Gourlay assembled information on some of the Edinburgh settlers to back up his strong support for government sponsored settlement in Upper Canada to solve problems of poverty and unemployment in Britain.

In regard to this information, Robert Gourlay says:

“While the settlers at Perth might readily and warmly expressed to me their satisfaction with the country, their farms, and the good intention of government towards them, their complaints of bad agency were almost unanimous, and, from some, bitter in the extreme; indeed the whole country round was loud in exclamations on this subject, and a little specimen of the prevailing spirit and feeling has appeared in one of the Kingston reports. In that report the word ‘puppies’ does not seem very polite; but, in fact, it has turned out not only justifiable, but singularly appropriate, for one of the persons alluded to has since proved himself to be a thieving dog, by embezzling the government stores to a great amount, and then flying the country.

“In my letter to the editors of British newspapers, above quoted, I slurred over what I had then heard as well as I could; partly because it was not for me, publicly to proclaim the misconduct of individuals; and partly, because I hoped to be soon home, where I might privately communicate information to-those in authority, who might, effectually interfere. Now, though interference or correction are out of the question, it may still be of use to record some of the ways in which emigrants were maltreated, and rendered uncomfortable, to shew how the most generous of designs, and even well-conceived plans, may be rendered abortive.

“Some lots of land within the range of settlement could not possibly be cultivated by a single hand, from being flooded, rocky, or matted with cedar trees. When a settler reported his lot to be of this description, he had another location, or still another and another, if they successively proved unfit for occupation. By-and-by many of these lots became notoriously well known, yet the agent would, with the most wanton disregard of the time and trouble of applicants for land, send them, perhaps a dozen, one after another, to look at the same wretched lot, only to wander for days in the wilderness after disappointment. Often, too, the settlers would come from a distance for the tools and other articles promised by the government, when the agent, merely to indulge his own caprice and ease, would send them empty away. Again, a mason, a tailor, or other tradesman, might find advantage in quitting his farm for a time, to work for others at his trade; that moment his rations were withheld, even though his farm improvements were proceeding under the hand of a hired axe-man, better qualified for this task than himself; but a settler might quit his own farm-work, and perform jobs of any sort for the agent, without being deprived of rations. Such were the practices which went on for years at the Perth settlement, and which, however grievous and well known to all, might have continued to go on, had not his majesty’s servant found higher gratification in the act which rendered it necessary for him to decamp.

“It will be observed, from the explanatory articles, that the grant of land was to be made by deed, on the arrival of the settlers; but two years afterwards this was not accomplished, and murmurs prevailed on this account. The settlers told me they did not fear for themselves; but were uneasy, because the rights of their children were thus held in jeopardy; and it did, indeed, surprise myself, upon talking on the subject with the officer in charge, that “it was not meant to follow out Campbell’s rules,” meaning the terms of the published proclamation.

“The proclamation provided that the deposit money of settlers was to be repaid two years from the date of embarkation. From the table it will be seen, that the embarkation took place generally about the 24th, 27th, and the 30th of June, 1815. My first visit to the settlement was on the 1st of July, 1817, a few days after the two years had expired. None of the deposit was then paid; and as the settlers, with few exceptions, had expended, by this time, their last penny, the need of cash was subjecting them to serious inconveniences. Many of them said, if it had been punctually paid, their growing crop might have been larger, as, in that case, they could have purchased a full proportion of seed for their cleared land, which could not be obtained without the cash they had reckoned on.

“The settlers were here too impatient, and had, I suspect, fallen into a mistake. They had calculated from the appointed time of embarkation (i.e. in April), not the actual time. I spoke of this complaint to the officer, and a few weeks afterwards all was made good; and, indeed, ultimately, government went far beyond the contract with the settlers. By the proclamation, the settlers could only claim rations for six or eight months after their arrival, but these were continued till August, 1817, and the crop of that year being found deficient from the effects of frost, half rations were again issued, and continued to the greater part till the harvest of 1818. Thus, in point of expenditure, government went far indeed to establish this settlement.

“It was an experiment, as we may understand from the declaration in the proclamation, that the encouragement offered was “limited during the year” but what has been gained by the experiment? or, as an experiment, under such management as set forth, was it a fair one? As an experiment, did it throw out any light as to the conduct of other schemes of emigration? or did it give any encouragement to the second experiment now in operation at the Cape of Good Hope? an experiment which has embarked 5000 people to suffer much misery, and at an expense of L50,000 voted by parliament for the purpose.

Robert Gourley goes on to relay his thoughts on the South African experiment and asking whether the North American emigration plan, with modification to overcome shortcomings that he has discovered, is not a better plan. He derides members of parliament in Britain for their resistance to plans for the settlement of Upper Canada.

“The subject of highest importance to be rightly understood, and, at this time, when millions of people are starving in the midst of plenty, for want of employment, or throwing themselves for relief on parish funds, demands the most deep and solemn attention.

“Was it not clear that at the end of the war we should have an overflow of people? Was it not clear to every one versed in the history of English poor laws that we should continue to have a redundant population, even for years after any plans could be made effectual, to correct the increasing evils of these laws, and independent of every other consideration.

Robert Gourlay goes on to deride Ministers in both the British and Canadian governments for their lofty statements about the harshness of weather and the low capacity to absorb settlers into the Canadian society. He feels these comments are based on comments by merchants in Quebec City and Montreal who rarely venture outside the settlements and who had a much different experience to that of settlers in Upper Canada. No doubt some, wanting to preserve the wilds for fur trading and timber concerns, attempted to thwart immigration efforts.

Gourlay also comments on other settlers in the area:

“Soldiers discharged in Canada formed at first the great mass of settlers in the newly surveyed townships of Drummond, Beckwith, Bathurst, and Gouldbourne (sic). When I paid my first visit to Perth, in 1817, I was told that nearly 1000 were then located. Some of them were doing well, but many were very unpromising as settlers; and did indeed remain only till the term of receiving rations expired, or till they acquired a right to sell the land given to them. This has been the uniform issue of military settlements from the first to last in Canada, and in some degree also in the United States of America. Soldiers, in general, choose their trade only to indulge in idleness, and give reins to a roving disposition; and, after having spent 20 or 30 years in the profession of gentleman, cannot easily train into the habits of sober and persevering industry. At the first settlement of Upper Canada, it was not uncommon for soldiers to sell their 200 acre lots of land for a bottle of rum. Now-a-days, only 100 is granted, and settlers are prohibited from selling till after three years’ residence, and the performance of certain easy duties. Still, I have been told since coming home, by an half-pay officer of the Perth Settlement, that scarcely one soldier out of fifty now remains there for good. The deserted lots have been for the most part filled up with emigrants from Britain and Ireland.

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