From The Story of Dartmouth, by Dr. John P. Martin:
The year 1847 opened with a severe spell of weather. Newspaper items early in January inform us that “there was superior skating on the Dartmouth Lakes”. The thermometer at Citadel Hill registered 15 below on the 20th. The Axe Firemen of Halifax made merry on an exhilarating sleigh drive to Schultz’s Inn at Grand Lake, and returned through Dartmouth in Hiram Hyde’s Mammoth Tea Party Sleigh with six-in-hand and colors flying”. Another newspaper report that month mentions a misfortune of the Mailboat brig Margaret, which had been driven up on shore at Black Rock on the Dartmouth side of the harbor.
Distress and disease prevailed among the MicMac tribes at Shubenacadie and Dartmouth where several deaths had resulted from an outbreak of fever that winter. Forthwith the Provincial Government directed that an Indian Hospital be prepared in the vicinity of the encampment, with Dr. Jennings as the Superintendent.
As the latter was a Conservative, and a comparative stranger on our side of the harbor, the Liberal newspaper Nova Scotian indignantly asked why he received the appointment over the head of Dr. DesBrisay, a Dartmouth physician, who had long ministered to the Indians gratuitously.
A few weeks later when Dr. Jennings’ accounts for attending these Indians were up for discussion in the Assembly, a Committee of the House recommended that a sum of money be also set apart for the remuneration of Dr. DesBrisay “whose humane disposition has urged him to supply the numerous Indians, who annually resort to the neighborhood of Dartmouth, with advice and medicine during a period of 14 years”.
Another Legislative Committee headed by Hon. Hugh Bell reported on possible sites for a Provincial Insane Asylum. One property owned jointly by G. A. S. Crichton and the heirs of Michael Wallace, comprising about 100 acres on the western side of First Lake, was available for £500. Another at Birch Cove in Bedford Basin, had 900 acres and would cost £1200. A third was at Prince’s Lodge, and contained 470 acres with a price of £1500.
The Birch Cove land was recommended because it was conveniently situated for a supply of fresh water from a higher elevation. The Dartmouth site was strongly urged by Hon. J. E. Fairbanks on account of its commanding situation and beautiful view; but the objection was that the water supply would have to be forced up the slope from the lake by artificial means.
The Simultaneous Polling Act, by which elections were to be held on a single day, became law in that session of 1847. This important Bill was introduced by Attorney General Johnston, a summer resident of our town. Provision was made for polling places at numerous centres, one of which was to be in the township of Dartmouth. No longer would freeholders hereabouts be obliged to travel to the Halifax polling booth where disorder and heckling generally prevailed during the long-drawn-out elections under the old arrangement. (In the enactment of this piece of legislation, Nova Scotia led all other British colonies.)
Dartmouthians evidently were continuing in their efforts that winter to obtain a water supply from neighboring lakes. In February, a meeting was announced to be held in the Mechanics’ Institute on a Monday afternoon, when a report from a Committee on that subject would be submitted.
Mrs. Gould’s account of early Dartmouth (which will be given later in these pages), mentions an entertainment held in the old schoolhouse by General Tom Thumb and his manager P. T. Barnum. This may have been in February of 1847, because the famous midget spent a few days in this port while waiting for the steamer to proceed to Boston. Tom and Mr. Barnum were returning from a four-year tour of Europe.
On this occasion, the Halifax Morning Post published a lengthy account of Tom’s talents and his enormous earnings while abroad, noting that “he speaks French fluently, plays the piano and has taken part in French plays in the principal French cities. He has received valuable presents from the principal sovereigns of Europe, and has kissed more than a million and a half of ladies”. (Mrs. Gould does not mention any such osculations in Dartmouth.)
About this time, there was much misery and privation being suffered in Scotland and in Ireland where hundreds were actually dying from starvation. On this Continent, campaigns for famine funds were carried out in almost every large centre.
At Halifax, the Secretary of the Relief Committee was the well-known Alexander James. By March, they had collected £1,317. The contribution from Dartmouth amounted to £325, and the number of persons subscribing in this town was 86. Their names are preserved in the columns of the Halifax Sun, and constitute a valuable record of prominent citizens resident in Dartmouth at that period of our history.
Many on the Halifax and Dartmouth lists gave only a few shillings, indicating that our people were also feeling the pinch of poverty, for at that time the whole Province was in the doldrums of another depression. One newspaper reported that the price of flour and bread was the highest in 30 years.
This was partly caused by a sudden depletion of provisions, particularly meat and vegetables, resulting from an influx of over 1,000 immigrants suffering from typhus fever. Local bakers took advantage of the panic to double the price of bread.
Governor Harvey issued a proclamation that Friday, May 14th, be observed as a day of fasting and humiliation “that people may unite in supplication to Almighty God for pardon for their sins and for the removal of those heavy judgments under which we are suffering”. On that day, church services were held, and the closed shops along silent streets cast an appearance of solemnity over downtown Halifax and, we trust, over industrial Dartmouth.
If our industries in those days were down, they were not completely out, for there was at least one ship constructed at Lyle’s that year. She was the 270-ton “Mercy”, launched at flood-tide on the last Saturday morning of April.
At a foundry in Dartmouth, a set of cast-iron steps was moulded, and placed in front of the store of J. Wallace & Co., at Halifax, during the summer of 1847. These steps, novel in design, were highly praised for their utility, being tastefully perforated so as to admit light into the cellar. From the favorable comment in newspapers, one gathers that such a type of steps had hitherto been unknown. Thus is scored another mark in the record of Dartmouth’s “first things”.
A transatlantic “first” was made by the Dartmouth-built “Barbara” which arrived in this port after a record run from Ireland, as has already been mentioned on page 51. The Halifax Morning Post of May 20th noted this remarkable achievement:
The barque Barbara with 296 passengers on board, arrived yesterday in 12 days from Galway—the shortest passage yet ever made by a Nova Scotia built vessel. The Barbara was built at the Ship Yard of our well-known builder, Mr. Lyle at Dartmouth.