Arrival off Newfoundland.--Singing of the
Captain's Goldfinch previous to the discovery of Land.--Gulf of St.
Laurence.--Scenery of the River St. Laurence.--Difficult navigation of the
River.--French Fisherman engaged as a Pilot.--Isle of Bic.--Green Island.--Gros
Isle.--Quarantine Regulations.--Emigrants on Gros Isle.--Arrival off
Quebec.--Prospect of the City and Environs.
Brig "Laurel" River St. Laurence.
August 6, 1832.
I LEFT off writing, my dear mother, from this
simple cause;--I had nothing to say. One day was but the echo, as it were,
of the one that preceded it; so that a page copied from the mate's log would
have proved as amusing, and to the full as instructive, as my journal
provided I had kept one during the last fortnight.
So barren of events has that time been that
the sight of a party of bottle-nosed whales, two or three seals, and a
porpoise, possibly on their way to a dinner or tea party at the North Pole,
was considered an occurrence of great importance. Every glass was in
requisition as soon as they made their appearance, and the marine monsters
were well nigh stared out of countenance.
We came within sight of the shores of
Newfoundland on the 5th of August, just one month from the day we took our
last look of the British isles. Yet though the coast was brown, and rugged,
and desolate, I hailed its appearance with rapture. Never did any thing seem
so refreshing and delicious to me as the land breeze that came to us, as I
thought, bearing health and gladness on its wings.
I had noticed with some curiosity the restless
activity of the captain's bird some hours previous to "land" being
proclaimed from the look-out station. He sang continually, and his note was
longer, clearer, and more thrilling than heretofore; the little creature,
the captain assured me, was conscious of the difference in the air as we
approached the land. "I trust almost as much to my bird as to my glass," he
said, "and have never yet been deceived."
Our progress was somewhat tedious after we
entered the gulf. Ninety miles across is the entrance of this majestic
river; it seems an ocean in itself. Half our time is spent poring over the
great chart in the cabin, which is constantly being rolled and unrolled by
my husband to gratify my desire of learning the names of the distant shores
and islands which we pass.
We are without a pilot as yet, and the captain
being a cautious seaman is unwilling to risk the vessel on this dangerous
navigation; so that we proceed but slowly on our voyage.
August 7.--We were visited this morning by a
beautiful little bird, not much larger than our gold-crested wren. I hailed
it as a bird of good omen--a little messenger sent to bid us welcome to the
New World, and I felt almost a childish joy at the sight of our little
visitor. There are happy moments in our lives when we draw the greatest
pleasure from the most trifling sources, as children are pleased with the
most simple toy.
From the hour we entered the gulf a
perceptible change had taken place in all on board. The captain, a man of
grave, quiet manners, grew quite talkative. My husband was more than usually
animated, and even the thoughtful young Scotchman became positively an
entertaining person. The crew displayed the most lively zeal in the
performance of their duty, and the goldfinch sung cheerily from dawn till
sunset. As for me Hope was busy in my heart, chasing from it all feelings of
doubt or regret that might sadden the present or cloud the future.
I am now able to trace distinctly the outline
of the coast on the southern side of the river. Sometimes the high lands are
suddenly enveloped in dense clouds of mist, which are in constant motion,
rolling along in shadowy billows, now tinted with rosy light, now white and
fleecy, or bright as silver, as they catch the sunbeams. So rapid are the
changes that take place in the fog-bank, that perhaps the next time I raise
my eyes I behold the scene changed as if by magic. The misty curtain is
slowly drawn up, as if by invisible hands, and the wild, wooded mountains
partially revealed, with their bold rocky shores and sweeping bays. At other
times the vapoury volume dividing, moves along the valleys and deep ravines,
like lofty pillars of smoke, or hangs in snowy draperies among the dark
I am never weary of watching these fantastic
clouds; they recall to me the pleasant time I spent in the Highlands, among
the cloud-capped hills of the north.
As yet, the air is cold, and we experience
frequent squalls of wind and hail, with occasional peals of thunder; then
again all is serene and bright, and the air is filled with fragrance, and
flies, and bees, and birds come flitting past us from the shore.
August 8.--Though I cannot but dwell with
feelings of wonder and admiration on the majesty and power of this mighty
river, I begin to grow weary of its immensity, and long for a nearer view of
the shore; but at present we see nothing more than long lines of pine-clad
hills, with here and there a white speck, which they tell me are settlements
and villages to the south; while huge mountains divested of verdure bound
our view on the north side the river. My admiration of mountainous scenery
makes me dwell with more interest on this side the river, and I watch the
progress of cultivation along these rugged and inhospitable regions with
During the last two days we have been
anxiously looking out for a pilot to take us up to Quebec. Various signals
have been fired, but hitherto without success; no pilot has condescended to
visit us, so we are somewhat in the condition of a stage without a coachman,
with only some inexperienced hand to hold the reins. I already perceive some
manifestations of impatience appearing among us, but no one blames the
captain, who is very anxious about the matter; as the river is full of rocks
and shoals, and presents many difficulties to a person not intimately
acquainted with the navigation. Besides, he is answerable for the safety of
the ship to the underwriters, in case he neglects to take a pilot on board.
* * * * * * *
While writing above I was roused by a bustle
on deck, and going up to learn the cause was informed that a boat with the
long looked-for pilot had put off from the shore; but, after all the fuss
and bustle, it proved only a French fisherman, with a poor ragged lad, his
assistant. The captain with very little difficulty persuaded Monsieur Paul
Breton to pilot us as far as Green Island, a distance of some hundred miles
higher up the river, where he assured us we should meet with a regular
pilot, if not before.
I have some little difficulty in understanding
Monsieur Paul, as he speaks a peculiar dialect; but he seems good-natured
and obliging enough. He tells us the corn is yet green, hardly in ear, and
the summer fruits not yet ripe, but he says, that at Quebec we shall find
apples and fruit in plenty.
As we advance higher up the river the country
on both sides begins to assume a more genial aspect. Patches of verdure,
with white cottages, are seen on the shores and scattered along the sides of
the mountains; while here and there a village church rears its simple spire,
distinguished above the surroundings buildings by its glittering vane and
bright roof of tin. The southern shores are more populous but less
picturesque than those of the north, but there is enough on either side to
delight the eye.
This morning we anchored of the Isle of Bic, a
pretty low island, covered with trees and looking very pleasant. I felt a
longing desire to set my foot on Canadian ground, and must own I was a
little disappointed when the captain advised me to remain on board, and not
attempt to make one of the party that were preparing to go on shore: my
husband seconded the captain's wish, so I contented myself with leaning over
the ship's side and feasting my eyes on the rich masses of foliage as they
waved to and fro with the slight breeze that agitated them. I had soon
reason to be thankful that I had not followed my own wayward will, for the
afternoon proved foggy, and on the return of the boat I learned that the
ground was swampy just where the party landed, and they sunk over their
ankles in water. They reported the island to be covered knee-deep with a
most luxuriant growth of red clover, tall trees, low shrubs, and an
abundance of wild flowers.
That I might not regret not accompanying him,
my husband brought me a delightful bouquet, which he had selected for me.
Among the flowers were flagrant red roses, resembling those we call Scotch
burnet-leaved, with smooth shining leaves and few if any thorns; the blue
flower called Pulmonaria or Lungwort, which I gathered in the Highlands, a
sweet pea, with red blossoms and wreaths of lovely pale green foliage; a
white orchis, the smell of which was quite delicious. Besides these were
several small white and yellow flowers, with which I was totally
unacquainted. The steward furnished me with a china jar and fresh water, so
that I shall have the pleasure of a nosegay during the rest of the voyage.
The sailors had not forgotten a green bough or two to adorn the ship, and
the bird-cage was soon as bowery as leaves could make it.
Though the weather is now very fine, we make
but slow progress; the provoking wind seems determined to blow from every
quarter but the right. We float up with the flood tide, and when the tide
fails cast anchor, and wait with the best grace we can till it is time to
weigh anchor again. I amuse myself with examining the villages and
settlements through the captain's glass, or watching for the appearance of
the white porpoises tumbling among the waves. These creatures are of a milky
whiteness, and have nothing of the disgusting look of the black ones.
Sometimes a seal pops its droll head up close beside our vessel, looking
very much like Sinbad's little old man of the sea.
It is fortunate for me that my love of natural
history enables me to draw amusement from objects that are deemed by many
unworthy of attention. To me they present an inexhaustible fund of interest.
The simplest weed that grows in my path, or the fly that flutters about me,
are subjects for reflection, admiration and delight.
We are now within sight of Green Island. It is
the largest, and I believe one of the most populous we have passed. Every
minute now seems to increase the beauty of the passage. Far as the eye can
reach you see the shore thronged with villages and farms in one continuous
line. On the southern side all are gay and glittering with the tin roofs on
the most important buildings; the rest are shingles, whitewashed. This I do
not like so well as the plain shingled roofs; the whiteness of the roofs of
the cottages and homesteads have a glaring effect, and we look in vain for
that relief to the eye that is produced by the thatched or slated roofs. The
shingles in their natural state soon acquire the appearance of slates, and
can hardly be distinguished from them. What would you say to a rose-coloured
house, with a roof of the same gaudy hue, the front of the gay edifice being
garnished with grass green shutters, doors, and verandah. No doubt the
interior is furnished with corresponding taste. There is generally one or
more of these _smart_ buildings in a Canadian village, standing forth with
ostentatious splendour above its more modest brethren.
August 11.--Just below Green Island we took on
board a real pilot, who, by the way, I do not like half so well as Monsieur
Paul. He is a little bit pragmatical, and seems evidently proud of his
superior knowledge of the river. The good-natured fisherman relinquished his
post with a very good grace, and seems already excellent friends with his
more able rival. For my part I was very sorry when the new pilot came on
board; the first thing he did was to hand us over a pamphlet, containing
regulations from the Board of Health at Quebec respecting the cholera, which
is raging, he tells us, like a fearful plague both at that place and
These regulations positively forbid the
captain and the pilot to allow any person, whether of the crew or
passengers, to quit the vessel until they shall have passed examination at
the quarantine ground, under the risk of incurring a severe penalty.
This was very annoying; as the captain, that
very morning, had proposed taking us on shore at a lovely spot called Crane
Island, to spend the afternoon, while we waited for the return of the tide,
at the house of a Scotch gentleman, the owner of the prettiest settlement I
had yet seen, the buildings and grounds being laid out with great taste.
The situation of this island is of itself very
beautiful. Around it are the waters of the St. Laurence, bearing on its
mighty current the commerce of several nations: in the foreground are the
populous and lively settlements of the southern shores, while behind and
far, far above it rise the lofty range of mountains to the north, now
studded with rural villages, pleasant farms, and cultivated fields. The
island itself showed us smooth lawns and meadows of emerald verdure, with
orchards and corn-fields sloping down to the water's edge. After a
confinement of nearly five weeks on board, you may easily suppose with what
satisfaction we contemplated the prospect of spending a few hours on this
We expect to reach the quarantine ground (Gros
Isle) this evening, where the pilot says we shall be detained three days.
Though we are all in good health, yet, having sailed from an infected port,
we shall be detained on the quarantine ground, but not allowed to land.
August 12.--We reached Gros Isle yesterday
evening. It is a beautiful rocky island, covered with groves of beech,
birch, ash, and fir-trees. There are several vessels lying at anchor close
to the shore; one bears the melancholy symbol of disease, the yellow flag;
she is a passenger- ship, and has the smallpox and measles among her crew.
When any infectious complaint appears on board, the yellow flag is hoisted,
and the invalids conveyed to the cholera-hospital or wooden building, that
has been erected on a rising bank above the shore. It is surrounded with
palisadoes and a guard of soldiers.
There is also a temporary fort at some
distance from the hospital, containing a garrison of soldiers, who are there
to enforce the quarantine rules. These rules are considered as very
defective, and in some respects quite absurd, and are productive of many
severe evils to the unfortunate emigrants.
When the passengers and crew of a vessel do
not exceed a certain number, they are not allowed to land under a penalty,
both to the captain and the offender; but if, on the contrary, they should
exceed the stated number, ill or well, passengers and crew must all turn out
and go on shore, taking with them their bedding and clothes, which are all
spread out on the shore, to be washed, aired, and fumigated, giving the
healthy every chance of taking the infection from the invalids. The sheds
and buildings put up for the accommodation of those who are obliged to
submit to the quarantine laws, are it the same area as the hospital.
It is to be hoped that some steps will be
taken by Government to remedy these obnoxious laws which have repeatedly
entailed those very evils on the unhappy emigrants that the Board of Health
wish to avert from the colony at large.
Many valuable lives have been wantonly
sacrificed by placing the healthy in the immediate vicinity of infection,
besides subjecting them to many other sufferings, expenses, and
inconvenience, which the poor exile might well be spared.
If there must be quarantine laws--and I
suppose the evil is a necessary one--surely every care ought to be taken to
render them as little hurtful to the emigrant as possible.]
Nothing can exceed the longing desire I feel
to be allowed to land and explore this picturesque island; the weather is so
fine, and the waving groves of green, the little rocky bays and inlets of
the island, appear so tempting; but to all my entreaties the visiting
surgeon who came on board returned a decided negative.
A few hours after his visit, however, an
Indian basket, containing strawberries and raspberries, with a large bunch
of wild flowers, was sent on board for me, with the surgeon's compliments.
I amuse myself with making little sketches of
the fort and the surrounding scenery, or watching the groups of emigrants on
shore. We have already seen the landing of the passengers of three emigrant
ships. You may imagine yourself looking on a fair or crowded market, clothes
waving in the wind or spread out on the earth, chests, bundles, baskets,
men, women, and children, asleep or basking in the sun, some in motion
busied with their goods, the women employed in washing or cooking in the
open air, beside the wood fires on the beach; while parties of children are
pursuing each other in wanton glee rejoicing in their newly-acquired
liberty. Mixed with these you see the stately form and gay trappings of the
sentinels, while the thin blue smoke of the wood fires, rising above the
trees, heightens the picture and gives it an additional effect. On my
husband remarking the picturesque appearance of scene before us to one of
the officers from the fort who had come on board, he smiled sadly, and
replied, "Believe me, in this instance, as in many others, 'tis distance
lends enchantment to the view." Could you take a nearer survey of some of
those very picturesque groups which you admire, I think you would turn away
from them with heart sickness; you would there behold every variety of
disease, vice, poverty, filth, and famine--human misery in its most
disgusting and saddening form. Such pictures as Hogarth's pencil only could
have pourtrayed, or Crabbe's pen described.
August 14.--We are once more under weigh, and
floating up the river with the tide. Gros Isle is just five and twenty miles
below Quebec, a favourable breeze would carry us up in a few hours; as it is
we can only make a little way by tacking from side to side when we lose the
tide. I rather enjoy this way of proceeding, as it gives one a close view of
both sides the river, which narrows considerably as we approach nearer
towards Quebec. To-morrow, if no accident happens, we shall be anchored in
front of a place rendered interesting both by its historical associations
and its own native beauty of situation. Till to-morrow, then, adieu.
I was reckoning much on seeing the falls of
Montmorenci, which are within sight of the river; but the sun set, and the
stars rose brilliantly before we approached within sound of the cataract;
and though I strained my eyes till they were weary of gazing on the dim
shadowy scene around me, I could distinguish nothing beyond the dark masses
of rock that forms the channel through which the waters of the Montmorenci
rush into the St. Laurence.
At ten last night, August the 15th, the lights
of the city of Quebec were seen gleaming through the distance like a coronet
of stars above the waters. At half-past ten we dropped anchor opposite the
fort, and I fell asleep dreaming of the various scenes through which I had
passed. Again I was destined to be disappointed in my expectations of going
on shore. The visiting surgeon advised my husband and me by no means to
land, as the mortality that still raged in the town made it very hazardous.
He gave a melancholy description of the place. "Desolation and woe and great
mourning--Rachel weeping for her children because they are not," are words
that may well be applied to this city of the pestilence.
Nothing can be more imposing than the
situation of Quebec, built on the sides and summit of a magnificent rock, on
the highest point of which (Cape Diamond) stands the fortress overlooking
the river, and commanding a most superb view of the surrounding scenes. I
did, indeed, regret the loss of this noble prospect, the equal of which I
suppose I shall never see. It would have been something to have thought on
and recalled in after years, when buried in the solitude of the Canadian
The opposite heights, being the Point Levi
side, are highly picturesque, though less imposing than the rock on which
the town stands. The bank is rocky, precipitous, and clothed with trees that
sweep down to the water's edge, excepting where they are cleared away to
give place to white cottages, gardens, and hanging orchards. But, in my
opinion, much less is done with this romantic situation than might be
effected if good taste were exercised in the buildings, and on the disposal
of the ground. How lovely would such a spot be rendered in England or
Scotland. Nature here has done all, and man but little, excepting sticking
up some ugly wooden cottages, as mean as they are tasteless. It is, however,
very possible there may be pretty villas and houses higher up, that are
concealed from the eye by the intervening groves.
The river is considered to be just a mile
across from Point Levi to the landing-stairs below the custom-house in
Quebec; and it was a source of amusement to me to watch the horse
ferry-boats that ply between the two shores. The captain told me there were
not less than twelve of these comical-looking machines. They each have their
regular hours, so that you see a constant succession going or returning.
They carry a strange assortment of passengers; well and ill-dressed; old and
young; rich and poor; cows, sheep, horses, pigs, dogs, fowls,
market-baskets, vegetables, fruit, hay, corn, anything and everything you
will see by turns.
The boat is flat, railed round, with a wicker
at each end to admit the live and dead stock that go or are taken on board;
the centre of the boat (if such it can be called) is occupied by four lean,
ill-favoured hacks, who walk round and round, as if in a threshing machine,
and work the paddles at each side. There is a sort of pen for the cattle.
I am told there is a monument erecting in
honour of Wolfe, in the governor's garden, looking towards the St. Laurence,
and to be seen from Point Levi: the inscription has not yet been decided
* Since the period in which the author visited
Quebec, Wolfe's monument has been completed. Lord Dalhousie, with equal good
feeling and good taste, has united the names of the rival heroes Wolfe and
Montcalm in the dedication of the pillar--a liberality of feeling that
cannot but prove gratifying to the Canadian French, while it robs the
British warrior of none of his glory.
The monument was designed by Major Young of
the 97th Regiment. To the top of the surbase is fourteen feet from the
ground; on this rests a sarcophagus, seven feet three inches high, from
which rises an obelisk forty-two feet eight inches in height, and the apex
is two feet one inch. The dimensions of the obelisk at the base are six feet
by four feet eight inches. A prize medal was adjudged to J.C. Fisher, LL.D.
for the following inscription on the sarcophagus:--
Mortem virtus communem
On the surbase is an inscription from the pen
of Dr. Mills, stating the fact of the erection of the monument at the
expense of Lord Dalhousie, Governor of Lower Canada, to commemorate the
death of Wolfe and Montcalm, Sept. 13 and 14, 1759. Wolfe fell on the field;
and Montcalm, who was wounded by the single gun in the possession of the
English, died on the next day after the battle.]
The captain has just returned from the town.
He very kindly brought on board a basket of ripe apples for me, besides
fresh meat, vegetables, bread, butter, and milk. The deck is all bustle with
custom-house officers, and men unloading a part of the ship's freight, which
consists chiefly of rum, brandy, sugar, and coals, for ballast. We are to
leave Quebec by five o'clock this evening. The "British America", a superb
steam-vessel of three decks, takes us in tow as far as Montreal. I must now