MF – 1859.01.04 – A Visit to St. John – #14 – F12243


City of St. John. – William Cobbett. – The House where he resided. – Lord Edward Fitzgerald. – The traitor Arnold. – Suburban Villages. – Carleton. – Portland, – Indian Town. – The Marine Hospital. – A parting word to kind friends, &c.
MONTREAL, Dec. 3, 1858.
Those wild bleak shores, stretching along by the troubled waters of the Bay of Fundy are not without their associations, both historical and romantic. In one of the rows of half-ruinous old fabrics nestling amongst the rocks around the base of Fort Howe, the traveller is shown where William Cobbett saw “his little girl, – the future partner of his life” scrubbing a washing-tub – the snow before daylight of a winter’s morning. Ascending to the dizzy heights above, where the remains of old military buildings still attest the former importance of the post, we can fancy the sturdy, soldier-like form of the young sergeant-major pacing his early rounds, gaining health and vigor from the keen sea-breeze, and making for himself that high character for industry, regularity, and sobriety, which raised him so early from the ranks, and, in after life, contributed not a little to win him a seat in one of the first legislative assemblies in the world – the British House of Commons. Wandering, as I have done, at early morning and at late evening, over those lofty heights which command both sea and land prospects of great extent, one cannot forget this self-made man than whom this century has had few more remarkable, and who spent some of the best years of his eventful life amongst the rocks and forests of that far New Brunswick. A dilapidated old wooden fabric now used, I think, as a cooper’s shop, is pointed out in the suburbs of St. John, known as Portland, as the house once occupied by William Cobbett. This suburban village is overhung by the rock of Fort Howe.
But William Cobbett holds not supreme dominion of our memory as we stand on the fortress-heights of Fort Howe and Carleton – on the opposite side of the harbor. A name, far nearer and dearer to the Irish heart in particular, sheds a halo of melancholy interest around those wild scenes. When William Cobbett was sergeant-major of the 54th Regiment of Foot, the major of the same regiment was no other than Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and the tough, stout English sergeant makes grateful mention in some of his writings of certain obligations conferred on him by the noble-hearted young son of the Geraldines when they were both stationed in St. John. What a host, then, of sad and tender memories rush upon the mind as the image of the heroic but ill-fated patriot [states] before us, young, ardent, buoyant, and hopeful as he was at that period of his career. He was then an active and efficient British officer, little dreaming as he marched in the van of his regiment through the streets of St. John, of those stormy scenes which were to close his chequered life so early, under circumstances which might then have seemed scarcely possible. But for us who have the whole sad drama of his life before us, those scenes where he lived, and moved, and breathed in the cloudless summer of his days, are as full of melancholy interest as they are suggestive of serious thought.Midway in the now busy thoroughfare of King street, within the heart of the city, stands another historic monument, the interest clinging around which is of a far different kind from either of those just referred to. It is an unpretending wooden building which tradition points out as the dwelling of Arnold, the traitor. – The house is said to have been erected by that brave but unprincipled officer, and under its roof his disgraced and unhonored head was sheltered for several years – when he at length bade adieu to the shores of America and sought those honors and emoluments in England to which his treachery, he thought, entitled him – there is no one, I should hope, of any nation, to sympathize with the disappointment which there awaited him.

One of the most interesting public institutions of St. John is the Marine Hospital, with its large and well-kept gardens, trim and neat even in late autumn when I was presented with a choice bouquet by the civil and every intelligent gardener, Mr. Hand. The house, the gardens, and all the [employes] about the premises are paid and kept from the Sailor’s Fund, a tax levied on all mariners coming into the harbor of St. John.

The city of St. John has three suburban villages of considerable size and some importance. Of these Carleton on the opposite side of the water – now spanned by a handsome suspension bridge – is the prettiest and most cheerful. It has a small but neat Catholic Church, with the prettiest of little presbyteries attached for the residence of the priest. Not far from the village, on a noble eminence just over the bridge, is situate the Lunatic Asylum, a large and handsome brick building, where the patients have all the advantages possible under the truly kind and judicious management of Dr. Waddle, the resident physician. Portland, a sort of lower town to St. John, is wholly a marine suburb. It is a place of considerable traffic, and has also a Catholic Church. Some of the Sisters of Charity are located in Portland where they keep a day-school in addition to their other avocations. The third suburb is named Indian Town. It is large and populous, and being situate in a sheltered cove, its wharf is much frequented by shipping. It is from Indian Town that the steamer leaves for Fredericton and other ports on the St. John river. There is an old Catholic burying ground of some interest in the neighborhood of Indian Town. It is now no longer used, however, for the present Bishop, amongst his other good works, has provided the Catholics of St. John with a large cemetery, a few miles from the city, on the Marsh Road. As yet it is nearly in a state of nature, although a number of persons are buried in it, and many handsome monuments adorn the sacred [inclosure], but as time and means permit it will be made a very handsome resting-place for those who have “fought the good fight” and finished their earthly course.

Now that I have given a brief sketch of the principal objects of interest, around the city, I think it my duty before I dismiss the subject – and a very pleasing duty it is – to express my deep sense of gratitude to the many, many kind and warm friends who did the honors of their city so gracefully and so cheerfully in my regard, I can truly say that since I left the Green Island, which of all other countries bears the palm for hospitality, I have never met so much genuine kindness and good-nature, or such [continous] attention as I did amongst the good people of St. John. I do not choose to particularize any – for, judging by my own feelings, it would only pain them, but the friends who made my stay in St. John so very pleasing by their unremitting kindness and attention, will know to whom I allude in every instance. Many were polite, but those to whom I have reference were more than kind – they were friendly and as such I hold them in [rememberance]. My foot may never again press the soil of New Brunswick, but while life remain I can never, never forget the friends who made me feel that I was not a stranger, on the cheerful hearths and festive boards around which I so often met pleasant family-circles in the long autumn-eves. To them it is owning that my visit to New Brunswick stands, and will ever stand, as – if not “the greenest” at least, as a very “green spot in memory’s waste” for the years I have yet to sojourn in this land of exile.

M. A. S.