Boys in the Olden Times: Their Home and School Life Compared with Now

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Boys in the Olden Times: Their Home and School Life Compared with Now
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BOYS IN THE OLDEN TIMES. THEIR HOME AND SCHOOL LIFE COMPARED WITH NOW. Substance of a Jubilee Address to the Pupils of the North End Catholic Schools. Some of the Advantages of Living in These Days On the occasion of the celebration of the Queens Jubilee, on June 21, 1897, Mr. W. K. Reynolds was asked to deliver the address to the boys of the North End Catholic Schools. After he had done so, some of the visitors to the celebration expressed a wish that the address should be published, or at least such portions of it as dealt with the difference between the boys of 1837 and the boys of 1897 in the conditions of their home and school life. As the address had not been prepared for publication, nothing was done at that time, and it cannot now be given complete. Some parts of it, however, may be of interest, both to those who were present and to others. After dealing with the object of the celebration and speaking of the changes which even twenty years had witnessed in the introduction of such now recognized conveniences as telephone, electric cars, electric lights etc., the speaker pointed out that in the sixty years since the Queen ascended the throne the world had become more revolutionized than in a century or two before 1837. There has been such a change in all the methods of carrying on business and of living our lives from day to day that scarcely anything was done now as it was done now as it was done in those times, he said. “Time and pace have been well high abolished, and if we could live a day now as people did in 1837, we would wonder how it was possible for men to get along." The address was continued in substance as follows: There are men now living who were schoolboys in St. John when the Queen ascended the throne, and some of them are well informed men, but they did not get more than the groundwork of their education in the common schools of those days. They had none of the advantages which you possess of free schools in which you may go from one grade to another on a carefully arranged system which gives you every chance to learn if you only have the disposition to do so. Apart from the National and Grammar schools, the ordinary schools were private undertakings, assisted in most cases by similar grants from the provincial government to this and that teacher to encourage him in his work. The teachers varied in the extent of their knowledge and in the habits of their life. Some were very good, some less so, and now and then there was one who tried to make a living by teaching, with the fewest possible qualifications for the work. The common schools in the Parish of Portland, for instance, were of this class. When a child was sent to school to learn A B ab, it cost his parents 6S, 3d. a 3d. a quarter. The next higher class had to pay 7s. 6d., while the advanced class—those who were taught arithmetic as far as the rule of three— paid 10s a quarter. In those days when a country district wanted a teacher the advertisement would read: “Schoolmaster wanted, to whom good encouragement will be given. Testimonials required as to qualifications and good moral character." In the country a part of the bargain was that the unfortunate teacher should board around by staying a certain time at each house until he had made the rounds of the district and each family had done its share in supporting him. Sometimes he feasted and other times he starved. The text books of that day were deficient in many ways. Unless a teacher was an unusually well informed man, a boy could learn little of the country in which he lived, for geographies published in England and the United States said very little about British North America. I have a geography of that time which devotes eighty lines, less than sixty words, to New Brunswick and only five lines to Nova Scotia. As for history there was nothing within the reach of a school boy which treated of the British possessions in North America, and nothing about New Brunswick as a province. The boy who wanted to learn anything about his own country had to wait until he grew up, and until comparatively recent years he had hard work, even then to accomplish the task. The boy who learned the principal facts about this country then ascertained that New Brunswick was one of the colonies of British North America. The only Canada in those days was Canada East and Canada West, or Upper and Lower Canada, which consisted of what are now Québec and Ontario. It was not until 1867 that New Brunswick became a part of Canada as it is now, and when a foreign letter came addressed to ‘St. John, N. B., Canada," it was considered as ridiculous as "New Brunswick, Nova Scotia," would be in these days. The people had little to do with governing themselves. The governors, were sent from England and the government was not responsible to the electors whether it did right or wrong. The people of St. John did not even elect their own mayor, but he was appointed at Fredericton. In 1837 the population of the province was less than 140,000, while today it is about 325,000. In all St. John county there were only 25,000 people, of whom some 15,000 were in the city and something more than 5,000 in the whole parish of Portland. We have now more than double that number, even though our growth has not been as rapid as it should be. In the old city then there were less than 1,400 inhabited houses, though in 1877 more than 1,600 houses were burned in that portion of the city south of Union Street, where there were only some 800 houses in existence in 1837, and still all the northern portion of the city escaped. In all the parish of Portland in 1837 there were only about 400 houses, but then there were about 800 swine, and in this latter respect at least it must be admitted there has been a decided falling off in the last sixty years. Portland, indeed, was but a highway to the river landing at Indiantown and a very bad highway at that. The hill at Douglas avenue, for instance, about twelve feet higher than it is now and the hollow at Sheriff Street was correspondingly lower. Sheriff Street had only two or three houses on it, and with the exception of Portland and Simonds streets the other cross streets amounted to little. Where Douglas avenue is now there was no street until the Suspension Bridge was built in 1852, nor was there anything like a sidewalk anywhere in the North End until the same year, when one made of planks was laid down in the hollow near the present street car stables. Portland was connected with St. John by a bridge at what we now call Mill street. Even this building in which we now are and which you consider old was not then built and all around here was a green field. There is no more than time to glance at some of the great changes since the day When the Queen ascended the throne. Now, it may be some of you have an idea that that was a great day in this part of the world, but it was no different from any other day, for the simple reason that the people of St. John had no idea that William IV was dead that day, nor the next day, nor the next week or month. This evening you can read in the papers of what has taken place in London this morning, but it was not so in 1837. The news of the death of William IV and the accession of Queen Victoria on the 20th of June was not known here until the first of August- 41 days after it happened. In 1837 not only was there not a cable across the ocean but there was not an electric telegraph in the world. The first steam ship had not crossed the ocean, and it was not until 1838 that the feat was accomplished. England might have been swallowed up by an earthquake and the people of America would have known nothing of it for a month or more afterwards, while today an event in China, Japan or Australia can be and is known in St. John within an hour after it has happened. It was not until 1849 that there was a telegraph line in this province, and then it reached only a limited section, while the ocean cable, though attempted forty years ago, has only been in practical use for the last thirty years or so. The newspapers of 1837 had no despatches and were published only once a week. There was one railway in England when Victoria became Queen, but it was only between Liverpool and Manchester, and London had none in all the country that is now Canada there were only sixteen miles of railway in 1837 and for ten years afterwards. There was not a sign of a railway in New Brunswick and thought the St. Andrews and Quebec railway was begun early it was not until 1853 that the first sod of what is now the Intercolonial Railway was turned out at St. John. What is now the Canadian Pacific Railway is of comparatively recent date. Today there are 90 railways in Canada and about 18,000 miles of track. In New Brunswick alone we have 23 railways with about 1,500 miles of track. In 1837 there was not even a steam ferry boat to Carleton and people crossed by a row boat, while there was not a bridge across the falls until the Suspension Bridge was opened on Jan. 1.1853. Instead of the railways in 1837, there were the old stage coaches, and all the mails between here and the United States went overland by the highway. People did not write so many letters, as they do now, for the postage, which was regulated by authorities in England, was enormously high. Until the year 1850 it cost 12 cents to send a half- ounce letter to Fredericton, while the rate to Halifax was 15 cents, to Dalhousie 25 cents, to Québec 30 cents, to Montreal 34 cents, and so on in proportion to distance, while the rates were still higher to points in the United States. The letters in those days were j written with quill pens, the sheet was folded and sent through the mails without an envelope, but sealed with wax or wafer, while the postage was either prepaid or it was collected from the receiver. There were no such things as postage stamps. I do not think I can do better than to tell you how a wide-awake boy might have spent his days sixty years ago to show you how much you see that he never dreamed was possible. Supposing he got up bright and early to make the fire, how did he start? You would light a match, or a dozen of them, if necessary, but the boy of 1837 had no such luxury. Matches of any kind were not in common use at that time, and the first matches that did appear were merely splints tipped with sulphur, so that they could be more readily lighted from a flame or a coal. The first friction matches which appeared some years later, required sand paper in order to make them ignite. They were sold in small boxes and were very expensive. So the boy of 1837 had to light the fire with flint and steel and tinder, unless he could borrow some coals from a neighbor who had been able to preserve the embers through the night by raking them together at bedtime and carefully covering them with ashes. Stoves were not in common use. The old open fireplace was seen in every kitchen. After the boy of those days had made the fire he had to fill the kettle. If there was no water left in the pail, he had to go out and get some from the nearest pump or well. Many houses had wells of their own, either in the yard or the cellar, and at various points throughout the city there were public wells. The best drinking water was sold by the watermen, that is persons who had good wells and went around the city with casks mounted on wheels, selling the water for a half-penny a bucket. For washing and other domestic purposes the people had casks set to catch the rain which ran from the roofs of the houses, and in some houses there were huge cisterns in the cellar. There was no waterworks system and there were great fires, because for the lack of an abundant water supply there could not be an efficient fire department. In those days a fire got well started before people were aroused by the bells, and then they tried to extinguish the flames with mere tubs of engines and buckets. Such a thing as a steam fire engine was unknown and of course there was no electric alarm. As the buildings were chiefly of wood, very bad fires took place. When the schoolboy of 1837 went for a walk he saw no asphalt sidewalks, and scarcely a sidewalk in any kind except of earth in the whole city. There were no paved streets, no electric cars, or cars of any kind, while the bicycle is an invention of our own day. The boy of 1837 did not meet a policeman for the old-fashioned watchmen were few in number and very different from the gentlemen in uniform who frighten ball players and bicycle riders in these days. There was not a telegraph pole on our streets or in the world. Then was not an ocean steam ship in the harbor nor a railway track in the country. There were no plate glass windows m the stores, nor had the wildest fancy pictured such a thing as a telephone. When evening came, people burned candles and lamps which were but little better than candles. It was not 1815 that gas was used in the city, and it was years later before it was in general use. It is less than fifteen years since, the first electric light was seen here. In these days of ocean steamers the passage of the Atlantic may be made in less than a week, but many of those whose blood you are proud to own and who have so materially added to the population of this city and province had to make the long ocean voyage in slow sailing ships and with discomforts. The tenth year of Victoria's reign was a sad one for Ireland, for it was the year of the blight and the fever. In the previous year 8,500 immigrants landed at St. John, and in 1847 no less than 20,000 came. During the long voyage the typhus fever raged among them and great numbers died at sea. On the l8th of June, 1847, 5,000 arrived, 450 lay sick at Partridge Island and 143 had died. From July to December 16,500 landed here and died by the score daily until more than 600 lay buried in the land where they had sought a home. At one time 40 bodies lay in the dead house at Partridge Island, and were buried in one trench. Within 100 feet of us is a plain freestone monument of one who laid down his life for those sufferers, Dr. James P. Collins. May the day come when on some fitting site may be told the story of those who have too long been suffered to die in unmarked and unhonored graves. I have referred particularly to this event not only because it has a personal interest to all of Irish descent, but to show that in the great matter of the prevention and cure of disease the world has advanced in the last sixty years. Such an calamity could not occur now for not only are the voyages shorter, but the conditions of the former more favorable to health, to say nothing of the ability of the doctors to fight the disease. Nor could we have a reason of the cholera summer of 1854, when 1200 people died in this city, and forty funerals crossed the Marsh bridge in one day. In Portland alone there were 500 cases of cholera, but with the improved conditions of our houses and the drainage, the cholera can never again obtain such a foothold.