Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter II

Emigration to Canada.—Residence at Kingston.—Ordination and removal to Cornwall.

Many, from experience, can fancy what would be the sensations, what the trials, of a young man alone at sea, in a vessel,—one of the ordinary traders of the time,—with a very slender supply of comforts; without friend or acquaintance to lighten the solitude; with none but the rude ship’s company to converse with.

There is, it is true, a buoyancy in youth which can surmount these trials. The novelty of all around,—the waste of waters, the wonders of the deep, the halo of brightness with which hope invests the future,—all this would reconcile to passing discomforts, and shake off the depression which separation from the dearest on earth, growing wider and wider every hour, will create in the most cheerful and the most hopeful.

Those were not days in which the Atlantic was traversed with the speed of the present time; and a slow craft, with adverse winds and calms, rendered the voyage of Mr. Strachan an unusually tedious one. It was about the latter end of August, 1799, when he embarked for America ; and it was not until the last day of that year that he arrived in Kingston, Upper Canada, the place of his destination.

Here, at the outset of what he believed was to prove a life of exalted usefulness and brilliant promise, he was doomed to bitter disappointment. What had been projected regarding an Academy,—by and by to merge into a College,-—was found to be a fancy only, not a reality. It was amongst the wise plans and purposes of leading men, wishing well to Upper Canada; but it had taken no shape, it had not even a foundation. Moreover, General Simcoe, who had devised the praiseworthy scheme, had left the country and returned to England; and there was no one in the Province of sufficient influence and courage to take it up. The feeling amongst leading men rather was, that the Province was not yet ripe for such an institution: the population was thin and scattered; and there were not many of sufficient means to send their sons to be educated at a distance. A public school of such magnitude as had been contemplated, was therefore regarded as quite beyond the times; as a project adapted to a much more advanced state of society than the country now possessed.

We can understand the effect of this upon one who had made himself an exile from his native land, in expectation that all was ripe and ready for the school, to the charge of which he had been so specially invited. It is well expressed in a few lines addressed to a friend in England in after years,—“Though gifted with a happy disposition, and disposed to see the best side of things, I was so beat down that, if I had been in possession of £20, I should have returned at once; but in truth I had not twenty shillings, and was therefore obliged to make the best of it. My situation was, indeed, desolate; for I knew not a creature. The gentleman in whose house I was to reside, had no convenience for a person of retired and studious habits; and he seemed reserved and distant in his manners. The few young men of the town, or rather village, were uneducated, and inclined to practices in which I could not join”

But time gradually allays such temporary ills and disappointments. He soon discovered that the gentleman in whose house he was an inmate, was a person of a superior order of mind; of considerable acquirements; and of great strength and purity of character. He was, too, an earnest Christian, without fanaticism or ostentation; and a zealous and consistent Churchman. What struck his guest at first as reserve of manners, speedily disappeared; and increased intercourse, with a congeniality of principles and tastes, made them companions and friends. Such was the late Richard Cartwright, Esq., of Kingston, who, through quiet industry, and unbending integrity, had amassed a considerable fortune; whose well-stored mind, aided by a memory of uncommon power, rendered him an agreeable and instructive companion; and whose abilities and worth qualified him to fill various public situations with honor to himself and benefit to his country. Very few survive who knew that gentleman personally; but his name is fresh in the memory and regards of the present generation, as one of the pioneers of our social and political state of whom Canadians Are justly proud.

For this gentleman Mr. Strachan acquired more and more regard, as their acquaintance ripened. He had a room built specially for his accommodation as a study; and his two .eldest sons, placed under his charge as pupils, were left entirely to his control and management. Mrs. Cartwright, too, was so amiable and kind, that he felt himself quite at home in their house. His little school, numbering twelve, became even then distinguished; the management of the boys, and the mode of instruction, being so superior to any thing they had previously been accustomed to. He went on successfully and happily in this occupation for three years and a half; but as another opening then presented itself for enlarged usefulness, his connection with Kingston was reluctantly severed.

But the friendships he formed there, were never dissolved in life. With Mr. Cartwright and his family he lived always on terms of affectionate intimacy; and he was appointed by that gentleman to be the guardian of his children when death should deprive them of his own care. He had another loved and valued friend in the late Rev. Dr. Stuart, then the Rector of Kingston, and Bishop’s Official in Upper Canada. Two of his sons were amongst his pupils; and both became highly distinguished men at the bar in Lower Canada. With one, the late Andrew Stuart, of Quebec, he maintained a cordial and intimate friendship. From the time that the little school at Kingston was broken up, there was a steady correspondence kept up between them ; and while the tutor was, on many important occasions, asked for his judicious counsels, the pupil, on his part, was not backward in offering his remarks on passing events and opinions. In a letter written by him from Quebec, August 12th, 1803, while yet a-youth, we find the following very interesting passages :—

“If you perceive a greater degree of stiffness thau usual in this letter, you must attribute it to the apprehension of my catching myself in the use of a hard word, after the genealogy you have given of them; though, as the term hard word is a relative one, and a dozen of such as were so to me might pass unnoticed in a letter to you, I believe I may shake off my fears. The reason you give for the aversion in which hard words without meaning are now held, is very satisfactory; but don’t you think that those with meaning, those which are introduced to enable me to express elevated ideas in language unappropriated to vulgar ones, or to mark their nice shades, owe their unpopularity to a principle more universal; to that self-love which teaches us to look with dissatisfaction on the person who, we think (causelessly), makes us feel our inferiority, and which by association of ideas, creates at the same time an aversion to the means which he uses to that effect.”

We shall be excused, we feel sure, for preserving and perpetuating the following extract from the same letter:—

“I am happy to learn that Cornwall does not want the apology of nisi si patria sit; and, indeed, I did not think it would. I recollect^ ip some part of our classical reading, you mentioned to us a surprising circumstance,—the silence of all the Latin historians and philosophers respecting that great natural phenomenon, the diversity of colour in the human complexion; more particularly, as you then observed, since in their commerce with Africa, they had an opportunity of observing it in its greatest extent. Will not the language of Tacitus account satisfactorily for this otherwise astonishing indifference? He evidently supposed an indigenous origin of man; and he would hardly sport so wild a notion unless it were sanctioned by the learned of his time. And if, at his time, it was the current opinion, how much rather at the period of the first Punic war, when the Africans, I believe, first became known to the Romans. Now, adopting this notion, much greater diversity than that under consideration would pass unnoticed. And the differences in man would excite no more surprise than the differences of any vegetable production peculiar to one or other of those two quarters. The name which the Athenians assumed to themselves of Autochtfioni, leads me to suspect that this was the universal opinion of antiquity. If so; considering the effects of this opinion in another point of view, it might have concurred forcibly with moral and political causes to produce that patriotism in every class of citizens, which so frequently commands the admiration of the modem in reading the history of Greece and Rome; and which admiration is so much increased by a comparison of the impassioned views of the lower classes of these ]>eople in regard to the duties we owe our country, with the dullness of the feelings of a modem mob on this subject.”

It was, no doubt, owing to the conversation and counsels of his friend Dr. Stuart, that Mr. Strachan, during his sojourn at Kingston, determined on taking Orders in the Church of England. And, once started upon this purpose, we can understand with what vigor and earnestness he would pursue it. The testimony he received from the Bishop of the Diocese, the first Dr. Mountain, as to the extent and satisfactoriness of his qualifications for the sacred ministry, we shall best state in his own words, contained in a letter to Mr. Cartwright, dated May 26, 1803:—“The testimony contained in your letter of the 3rd instant, in favor of Mr. Strachan’s character and conduct was, in a particular manner, satisfactory to me. In Mr. Strachan’s examination, and in the conversation I have had with him, I have found nothing to contradict the advantageous opinion you have formed of him. He appears to be a young man of competent attainments, of fair understanding, and great modesty and worth. I thought it might be acceptable to you to know that I am extremely well satisfied on his subjects, and have therefore been induced to give you this trouble.” He was ordained on the 22nd May, 18.03; and his appointment to Cornwall, as stated in the letter of the Provincial Secretary, dated from that day.

He appears to have entered without delay upon his duties at Cornwall; and at first in a temporary place of worship, as some time must have elapsed before the church was built. There is a record of the sale of pews early in 1806; so that the church could not have been available for service much before that time. His income as clergyman was only £130 per annum; a sum, as he stated in writing to a friend, not sufficient to enable him to keep house, and withal to extend the never-failing assistance to his excellent and beloved mother. His personal wants were few, and his habits simple; and yet, as he said, ho was never beforehand. His means were always largely taxed for the aid of others.

Amongst the fresh objects of his solicitude, was his elder brother, James. This brother writes on April 10, 1801, from H. M. ship “Boadicea,” at Torbay; intimating, though we are without particulars, that he had been making an experiment of naval life. Speaking of the death of another brother, William, he says, in that letter, in reference to the one to whom he was writing,—“ O how happy I am to have a brother yet, who I hope is, and will be, an honor to the family. I thank you in the name of his mother and myself for your kindness towards her in her old age. The Almighty will reward you for your goodness to an old and infirm parent.” Of the interests of this brother he was not forgetful; for the first £100 he had to spare, he advanced to enable him to open a bookseller’s shop in Aberdeen. This was done with the condition that he would live with his mother, who, in her advanced age, required protection; and afford her such pecuniary help as his business would allow. He was very successful in this enterprise, and became at last a man of good independent means.

Mr. Strachan’s clerical duties at Cornwall were not such as to occupy his whole time; so he soon commenced taking pupils, and gradually formed that school which afterwards obtained so much celebrity. Amongst his earliest pupils was the late Chief Justice of Upper Canada, Sir John Beverley Robinson,' Bart., who went to him in the autumn of 1803, having been previously under his charge for a short time at Kingston. Dr. Stuart, in sending him to Cornwall, mentions him as an “old acquaintance” of Mr. Strachan; and such was his master’s appreciation of him, that he offered to educate him gratuitously, if his mother, a widow, should not find it convenient to meet the expense. The warmest friendship —founded on mutual admiration—subsisted between them until death severed the tie.

One after another of those distinguished men followed as pupils at Cornwall, whose names adorn our Canadian history; some having filled the highest offices in church and state; and all, with scarcely an exception, evincing through life an elevation of principle, high gentlemanly bearing, disinterested love of country, and a zealous attachment to her time-honored institutions. All, too, evinced for him who trained them to such thoughts and duties, a love and veneration which time could not impair. With nearly all he maintained a correspondence as long as they lived; and the few who survive their honored master dwell with the warmest affection upon his memory.

It was an early desire of Mr. Strachan to select from his pupils those who had a taste, and qualifications, for the sacred ministry. This he intimated to the Bishop of Quebec; and his Lordship, in February, 1809, replies,— “I have no sort of difficulty in saying that I will receive Candidates for Holy Orders educated by you, and will give them ordination, provided always that I shall be sufficiently satisfied with their attainments, and that there shall be a situation open in which the Government shall consent to place them.” In the same letter, his Lordship says, “I am glad that your school—a much more acceptable term in these days than academy—goes on so well. I congratulate you both upon your success and your usefulness.”

Amongst his early Cornwall pupils, the only two who entered the church were the present Dean of Montreal, the Very Rev. John Bethune, D.D. and the Rev. William Macaulay, Rector of Picton. The former was ordained at Quebec, in 1814; and the latter in England, in 1818, after a residence at Oxford of about two years. That he did not remain to take his Degree at this University, was always a subject of great regret to his early tutor, and much lamented by many of his Oxford as well as Canadian friends. There had been another aspirant to the ministry, the late Hon. George H. Markland, of whom Dr. Stuart wrote to Mr. Strachan in 1810; stating his strong desire for the sacred profession, and describing him as “a good, indeed an excellent young man.” His parents, it appears, were loth to part with him, being an only child; and the consequence was, the misfortune of his not being brought up to any profession at all. Had his early inclinations been encouraged, Mr. Markland—having excellent abilities and very agreeable manners—might have proved an ornament to the Church, and a blessing to society. Who can tell what an influence for good this might have imparted to his thoughts and life; how many gloomy and sad days it might have brightened and solaced; how effectually it might have turned hk aims and efforts to paths of holiness and usefulness ! Pity it is to thwart the early inclinations of youth in selecting their work in life; the more pity, if the direction of these is to serve God and to promote the best welfare of their fellow-men.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.