(C) Elaine Ingalls Hogg
Today I went walking with a friend, and as we walked, we talked about our mutual acquaintances and discovered we had some of the same relatives. When I returned home from the event, I looked up a small black book which had been given to me by a family member several years ago. The book, not remarkable except for the gold stamped letters on its cover, Diary, 1870, had the owner’s name, Walter McLaughlin, scribbled on the first page.
At the time of his writing, McLaughlin was serving as a Federal Fisheries Officer, one of the first appointed after Confederation. Born in 1829, McLaughlin served as the keeper of the Gannet Rock Light at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy from 1853 to 1900. His home was in Deep Cove, on the lower part of the island of Grand Manan. Probably because of his connection to the sea, the first entry on every page consisted of a notation about the weather and the sea conditions. In 1870 the residents of southern New Brunswick were enjoying a mild winter. The local fishermen were reporting bountiful catches and sightings of pods of whales which had followed the herring up the Bay.
In 1870 Canada, as a nation, was just three years old and a diary written by Walter B. McLaughlin, a lighthouse keeper, gentleman farmer, politician and one of our nations’ first fishery officers tells a fascinating story of life on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick.
January 1, 1870 – A quiet at home day. Walter spent part of the morning studying the Word of God, then and in the evening he went to a Templer Meeting. He wrote of going early to the evening meeting to light the lamp and build the fire to keep people warm. He wrote of missing his “dear son,” Woodward, who was away studying in Malden, Mass.
Apparently they were having a mild winter for by January 3 the frost was out of the ground, mud was everywhere, travel was nearly impossible. The herring was in and the fishermen were pleased with their bountiful catches. Fishermen and merchants in other vessels were coming alongside the island fishing boats and purchasing their catches. Whales had followed the herring and they were spouting everywhere. Daily life consisted of Chores, Chores, and more CHORES, many and varied. On this particular day Walter made out bills for the Marine Department. Later in the day he boarded the schooner FAME of Eastport and the OASIS of Cutler and told the captains “to leave these waters.” He’d found the decks loaded with fresh herring caught the previous night.
Walter hired two brothers, Ben and Bill Plant to stack eleven loads of wood in the woodshed. The Plant brothers would be paid a barrel of flour for their days’ work. In the afternoon he travelled to Seal Cove to fetch “dry pollack and charcoal.” Upon returning he was dismayed to find that six of his sheep had drowned, they’d fallen off the cliff. Now there was no choice but to use their pelts for clothing and tallow for making soap. In the evening there was a preacher named Rev. Barnes in the area and Walter went to hear him preach. (Rev. Barnes was a Baptist minister who travelled throughout New Brunswick and started several churches during his ministry.)
In mid-January Walter planned a trip to Saint John. He travelled up island and stayed in a rooming house at the Bancroft’s overnight, then left on the PACKET at 10.00 a.m. and arrived in Eastport five hours later.
While in Eastport he stayed with his sister, Julia, her husband and his little niece, Nell. A lot of Walter’s spare time is spent at church. While in Eastport he “attended church to hear Brother Pepper preach then went to a bible class and a prayer meeting.” The next evening he went to a “sociable” at John Stephen’s with his sister. He wrote, “Had a pleasant evening, met Major Andrews from the U. S Army.
Although his plans were to travel to Saint John, he still wasn’t there yet even thought he had been on his way for several days. Enough time has elapsed that he has had mail delivered from his wife by the Cale Benson’s vessel, HORN and sent mail back to her by George Benson. On January 26, he boarded the PACKET at eleven in the morning and arrived in Saint John sixteen hours later. After settling in at the boarding house Walter looked up his old friend Rev. Barnes who was moving to a new charge in Oromocto the next day. Walter was in the city on fisheries business, making reports and settling accounts.
However, like most Grand Mananers who come to Saint John, he had his shopping list. He took five hundred dollars out of his bank and went shopping for – a new stove, an iron axe, a lamp whistle for the light house, two trunks, etc. He wrote he spent $1.90 to purchase a dress for his wife, $1.80 for a new axe and $5.00 to ship his goods home to the island. (A total of $6.00 was spent for his fare to Eastport alone.) It is interesting to see the names of some of the books he purchased for himself and his family. Some examples were “Double Play by W. Everest: King George’s M? by William Gilbert; and “The Brownies and Other Tales” for his children.
After a ‘duck’s rest” he left the Waverly Home Walter boarded train cars in Fairvale, (West Saint John) and started his journey home. His first stop was in St. Stephen where he visited with a cousin, Mike and attending church services at the Milltown Baptist Church. On Monday he set out on his journey only to find out, much to his disgust, that he had lost his passage on the River Boat due to the “rascality” of the Inn Keeper.
There was no other choice but to hire a team for six dollars to take him to Eastport where he boarded the PACKET for his return journey to Grand Manan. However, this was travel in the middle of an 1870 winter. A “tremendous North east gale and snowstorm” forced them to anchor at Welch Pool, Campobello and go on shore to stay the night. Here he found lodging with the Parker family. Apparently he wasn’t the only guest for he wrote, “Poor Tom, with no hair on the top of his head where it should grow and his bride was also house guests.”
Five days after his journey started in Saint John, Walter once more boarded the PACKET and this time arrived on the island in the early afternoon but he still wasn’t home. The roads were drifted in and impassable so he spent one more night in a different bed, this time at the Drake’s home. Early the next morning he started walking home and it was dark when he finally arrived.
More chores were waiting to be attended to at home. More sheep had been lost by drowning. The horses needed to be taken to the blacksmith and re-shoed for the total of “one hundred and twenty-five cents.” The sled needed new runners. That bill came to four dollars, three for the runner and a dollar to pay Bill for a day’s work to put it on the sled. Hay had to be hauled for the livestock. When this was done, they had to take water by ship to the Gannet Rock light.
Once all these chores were seen to he, had yet to attend to one more. Walter and Clara went to Grand Harbour to see if they could find “a girl” to come stay with his wife and Otty after the new baby was born. They weren’t successful on the first trip but after the baby was actually born on March 7, Walter was able to acquire the services of Miss Gilmore. One wonders how much help was needed for the arrival of one small son. Already at the house there was Abigail Wilcox, (mother of 27 children), Ruth Harvey, Aby McLaughlin and Walter’s mother. Then when he picked up “the girl” he also brought back Eliza Benson. One would think you were royalty with all that help and attention. However, childbirth was scary in those days for often the mother or child or for that matter, even both died. Walter had been so concerned that he wrote, “I thank my God that he has brought my Dear Wife through this sorrow with such a good prospect of recovery.”
In mid-March the ground finally froze solidly and it was now time to get the logs out of the woods. They worked hard until twenty-five cords were hauled out. Mid-March was also time for Woodward to return from Malden. Once Clara, Walter’s wife, felt well enough, Walter left for Eastport once more. After a visit with his sister, he boarded “the cars” again and made his way toward Malden, Mass. A storm delayed him for one day. Walter then boarded a boat at noon and arrived in Portland fifteen and one half hours later. Here he boarded “the cars” and took an enjoyable trip through the villages of New Hampshire and then to Malden.
The next week was spent “doing the town,” touring, eating out and visiting. The travel agenda looked like this:
Monday: Went over the town with Daniel.- Visited factories – Attended a Town Meeting where taxes and the Twine question seemed to be the big discussion items.
Tuesday: Went to the city to visit the State House. Saw old battle flags, a canon taken in the Revolution, a bust of Daniel Webster. Took dinner at the Coplands’ and paid $ 2.10.
Wednesday: Went to city with son Woodward and sister Ellen. Visited the Museum where they had the 3 – B tour” . . . wild beasts, busts of old heroes and battle scenes.
Attended the play, “Frou, Frou.”
Thurs: Visited Boston Common – Saw Statue of Washington – Went to a library.
Went to a studio to see pictures of “Funeral Fleet.”
Friday: Visited Charleston – Toured the Navy yards – Saw immense guns, workshops, big ships’. Saw the ship VIRGINIA on the rocks where it has been for 58 years.
Saturday: Went to Bunker Hill. Fine view of Boston – Saw where war men fell when running from our Soldiers. Had dinner at a restaurant, visited Mrs. Smith, “old Mr. Whipple and then to the Widow Chapman’s.
Sunday: “The preacher gave a good argument on Christian imperfections, but I did not much like the man.”
Monday: It was now time to say their goodbyes and leave for Grand Manan once again. Woodward had not been home since November the previous fall. They took cars for Boston and then boarded the steamer New Brunswick. They had to lie by the wharf all day. The boat didn’t leave until five the next morning. It was fortunate that they were able to rent a stateroom and was able to get a comfortable rest. Eleven hours later, they arrived in Portland, Maine. After letting off and picking up passengers, they left for Eastport an hour after they had docked. This was not a pleasant trip for there were head winds and heavy seas running. Unfortunately, most of the passengers were sick. Twenty four hours later they arrived at Eastport. Here they experienced yet another delay in their journey. The PACKET had left for Grand Manan in the night without notifying McLaughlin that they were sailing. They missed their boat! That meant another week of putting in time while they waited for the gales to subside, the snow storms to abate and the breezes to slacken. Finally on the seventh day of delay, they boarded the ship INDIA and made the final leg of their journey to home adding new meaning to the saying Home at last!
It was while taking his turn on Gannet Rock that Walter had time to catch up on his rest and reading. After chores, checking the light and playing with his sons it was time to settle in for a time of reading.
There were certain perils in using the water as your means of transportation other than not being able to schedule your travel times. On one occasion Walter spent the day puttying his boat and getting it ready for the sail from “the Rock” to Deep Cove. The next morning there was a light breeze blowing and skies were overcast with a light haze. It was a beautiful day for a boat launching. However, all the holes must not have been plugged with putty for no sooner had he left the shelter of the Rock when the boat began to fill with water. In his words it was either, “bail or sink for the next three hours! If the ship had been becalmed or had smuck wind then all would have been lost.” Another hazard of living by the sea was getting on and off boats safely and Walter wrote that once his little boys were “overset” in the landing but they were rescued in time. Walter himself in remembering the incident said that he “rode a nightmare all night.”
In his role as fisheries officer one of McLaughlin’s jobs was to protect the spawning grounds off of Southern Head. However, his neighbours weren’t always happy with the methods he used. If, while patrolling the fishing grounds he found illegal fishing gear, he confiscated nets, warps and anchors and levied a hefty fine. After his collection grew big enough he offered the nets and gear for sale. This provoked a few heated discussions with his neighbours for not all fishermen felt McLaughlin had been altogether fair when he confiscated their gear. According to McLaughlin’s diary, “This led to some fights where the buyers were hard to separate.”