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Title: Robert Peel Dawson, Quebec to his parents.
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FilePeel Dawson, Robert/97
SenderPeel Dawson, Robert
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationarmy officer
Sender ReligionProtestant
OriginQuebec, Canada
Recipient Gendermale-female
SourceT 850/1: Obtained from Mrs Brackenbury, Moyola Park, Castledawson, Co. Londonderry.
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland.
Doc. No.8950007
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by JM 25:10:1993.
Word Count2455
August 24th, 1838.
My dearest Parents,
I have been absent from Quebec a month. On my return here I found
several letters from you. I was shocked to hear of the loss we have
sustained. I hope my Father has by this time recovered from the misery he
must have felt at the death of the nearest and dearest tie on earth - a
In the middle of July I got a month's leave of absence and most
fortunately Leicester, Jodrell, Goulbourn, Percy and myself of the
Grenadiers and Boyle & Tollemache of the Coldstream Guards composed the
party. During the month we travelled fifteen hundred miles and not a single
event occurred that did not contribute to the enjoyment and amusement of the
Tour. Our destination was the Falls of Niagara. We left Quebec by a
steamer for Montreal on Monday the 16th of July. The distance between these
towns is 180 miles and the stream of the St. Lawrence being very strong, we
did not reach Montreal till Wednesday morning. The North American Steam
Packets are built on a different principle to ours. They have always two
sets of Engines and Boilers - two chimneys. They consequently pass through
the water more expeditiously than ours do, and with less motion. The cause
of our lengthened passage was the number of vessels we had in tow, the
steamers are much more convenient than ours and the eatables provided on
board are of the best description comprising even the delicacies of the
Between the towns of Quebec and Montreal, the river St. Lawrence is on an
average two miles in breadth. The banks are as you proceed upwards assume a
more cultivated appearance but lose height and grandeur. The part which is
most interesting is that where the River St. Lawrence forms itself into a
lake called St. Pierre. It is as large as Lough Neah [Neagh?]. There are
several islands upon it which add to its beauty. The only Towns of importance
between Quebec and Montreal are Three Rivers and Sorel (formerly
called William Henry and so often mentioned in the Last of the Mohicans). We
remained two hours in each Town.
Wednesday morning we anchored at the Wharf of Montreal and immediately
disembarked. The Streets of Montreal are well paved and generally exceed in
cleanliness and regularity those of Quebec. The town is larger, though the
population is not greater than that of Quebec. But there is more attraction,
more bustle, and the inhabitants are better looking, more lively and more
agreeable. There are some good shops in the Rue Notre Dame and in the other
principal streets. The Roman Catholic Cathedral is the only thing of the
kind in British North America and is a specimen of the taste & generosity
of the Roman Catholics who built it at their own expense. We dined each day
that we remained in Montreal at the Messes of the different Regiments
quartered there and so we did at every other place we stopped. One advantage
of belonging to the English Army is the Free Masonry which exists in all its
branches. Every Regiment we met with, vied with each other in shewing
[showing?] us hospitality & civility. We dined at Montreal with the 7th Hussars
and 1st Royals. From Montreal to Prescott the St. Lawrence is so dangerous for
navigation that we were obliged to go part of the way by water, part by
land. You will be able to trace upon a map our journey.
I will put down the places we stopped at and our mode of travelling to
Montreal to Lachine by land 9
Lachine to Cascades by Steam 24
Cascades to Coteau du Lac by land 16
Coteau to Cornwall via St. Regis,
an Indian village by steam 41
Cornwall to the Long Sault Rapids
by land 12
Long Sault to Prescott by Steam 38
140 Miles
The land conveyance is a very indescript kind of omnibus and over the
corduroy roads not a little jolting and very slow in progress. The scenery
on Lakes St. Lewis & St. Francis is uncommonly grand. The luxuriance of the
foliage & extreme generosity of the soil surprised me. We visited Mr
Ellice's place Beauharnois. Its situation is its chief beauty. During the
night Lake St. Francis presented a curious appearance. The whole face was
covered with lights proceeding from the Canoes of the fishermen which they
carry to attract the fish to the surface to enable them to spear them.
The lights looked like glow worms. In the morning we found English land on
one side, land belonging to other states opposite. We stopped at several
Yankee towns during the day and took in more passengers from the Foreign
than the Canadian side. Ogdensburgh was one of the chief towns we stopped
at. At the Cascades we entered Upper Canada & then a great change takes place
in the appearance of the Country. Upper Canada is entirely inhabited by
Settlers from England, Scotland & Ireland and looks civilised as our own
dear land. The wildness and also rugged grandeur of the Lower Province is no
longer seen. We passed the regularly built towns of Brockville, Prescott,
Maitland (called after Sir Peregrine Maitland). About fifteen miles from
Brockville we came in sight of the Lake of the one Thousand Islands, the
most beautiful part of the river. In the short space of forty miles the
River St. Lawrence is studded with islands covered with woods to the number
of 1680, according to the survey made in the year 1831. They are of
different sizes and shapes and the channel through which the River (here
three miles in breadth) winds itself, renders the scene curious and pretty.
The Islands are equally divided between our Government & that of the States.
In Wells Island the notorious Bill Johnston, the Pirate & Burner of the Sir
Robert Peel Steamer establishes himself. He cruises amongst these islands
and is the terror of them all. A few strokes of the oar takes him into
American Water where we cannot touch him. It is a place admirably adapted
for Piracy & the steamers have always arms on board, this part of the
Country is so disaffected. Immediately after leaving these Islands we
reached Kingston, situated on Lake Ontario, the second town of importance
in Upper Canada. We remained here one day but there was little to be seen &
we determined to journey over the lake the next morning. It is 250 miles
long and 60 broad & possesses every feature of a large sea. The steamer
which conveyed us was called the Great Britain, she belonged to the English
Government and is the largest in this quarter of the globe, with the
exception of the Great Western & the Sirius. We went at the rate of fourteen
miles an hour. We stopped six hours at the Yankee Town of Osuego. It is an
imposing place & has a reading room in which I first read the account of
Queen Victoria's Coronation. In the morning a little bay which was pointed
out to us in the horizon afforded us the first view of the Niagara River.
we soon passed through the narrow opening and saw the Standards of England
& the United States flying from two Forts on each side of the River scarcely
a musket shot distance. The Niagara is not nearly so broad as the St. Lawrence,
but is evidently a continuous chain of the same great river. The
adverse banks seemed to vie with each other in the profusion and luxuriance
of their forest lands. In a course of seven miles we found ourselves at
Queenston where we finally left the Steamer, further navigation being
impossible, the waters are so disturbed by the Grand Falls though yet so
distant. Queenston is exactly opposite the American town of Lewiston, the
hotbed of Yankee bad feeling. It is celebrated for the battle which took
place there in the late war & in which Sir T. Brock whilst charging up the
Queenston heights, fell. A monument is erected in honour of the day & to his
memory. We stopped to look at it though we were burning with impatience to
see the "Great Falls". We sent on our baggage and walked to the place of our
destination. How shall I describe our sensation when we first saw this
stupendous fancy of Nature - We were lost in wonder and delight. At the
height of one hundred and eighty feet the water rolls down in an immense
body. The English Fall is in the shape of a Horse-shoe and goes by that
name. It is the most imposing side of the Falls. On a right angle with it is
Goat Island, part of the American Territory & then the American Fall,
equally high & perpendicular as the other but not so broad or rugged. The
front is uniformly horizontal, and the Water reaches the edge of the
Precipice without excavating the bed of the river as it does on the English
There is a small Island on the left side of the American Fall which
divides the channel of the River into two parts, but one is five times the
size of the other. The Falls of Niagara are distant about 1300 miles
from Cape Roziere the entrance of the River St. Lawrence from the Gulph [gulf?]
and 600 from Quebec. The shoot of Water comes down from the Horse-Shoe Fall
with such rapidity and from such a height that a cavern is formed behind
the Cascade extending about one fourth of the breadth of the sheet of
Water. There is a rock called Termination Rock (you can go no further) which
is difficult to attain on account of the Spray & Wind which prevent
your seeing your way easily. There is a Certificate given to those who
penetrate so far. I enclose you mine.

Niagara Falls, U.C. [Upper Canada?]
This is to certify that
Robert Peel Dawson
Grenadier Guards
has passed behind the great
falling sheet of Water to
Termination Rock,
1st of August, 1838
Isaiah Harkin

During our stay at Niagara we visited Navy Island and Buffalo, an
American town 25 miles distant on Lake Erie. There is a good rail-road to it
from the Falls. We were anxious to see the Liverpool of the United States
though the Authorities in these uncertain times had forbidden English
people to go there from the Falls. It is an excellent Town, full of places
of amusement and with an air of bustle and commerce in it. We went to the
English Town of Niagara, about fifteen miles distant from the Falls to
witness the Execution of Morreau, the Hero of the Rebels at Short Hills. A
rescue was expected. Jack Ketch levanted an hour before that fixed for the
execution and so unpopular was the Office considered that though one
hundred pounds were offered no one would undertake it. The Sheriff drew the
bolt himself and to secure immediate death, caused the rope to be eighteen
feet in length. The fall from such a height nearly severed the head from the
body We were admitted inside the Court. I was close to Morreau and could
have touched his legs when he was dead. The face was not covered,
he died bravely and as a Man.
We remained a week at Niagara and had the good fortune to see a
severe storm. It occurred at midnight and the effect of the lightning upon
the Falls was curious and grand. The Hotel faces the Falls. A short day's
journey over the Lake took us to Toronto (formerly called York) the Capital
of Upper Canada. We spent three very pleasant days there. It is a nice Town
and has a fine Park in its neighbourhood. I should rather reside in Toronto
than any Town I have seen in America. To vary our route we took the steamer
to Coburg and from thence by land to Bathville at the top of the Bay of
Quinty. We made this detour to enable us to see the scenery on the Bay
which is justly admired. This part of the Country contains many Irish
settlers and I met with many who knew Magherafelt, Moneymore & Castledawson.
We were a whole day in going down the Bay of Quinty (and slept at Kingston).
We thought of going by the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River, but there was
no steamer going for three days & we could not wait. We had fixed to spend
some time at Montreal on our return, and as it is much easier to go down
than up the River we performed this part of our journey very expeditiously.
When we arrived at les Cascades thirty miles from Montreal, we found that
the Steamboat which was to have taken us to the other side of Lake St. Lewis
gone. Leicester and myself determined not to lose a day and we took a
boat and man to carry us across the Lake. The man who had secured a bottle
whiskey got very tipsy and nearly upset us, he steered so badly. We
pulled as well as we could, but we were uncertain whether or not we were in
the right direction, we were out of sight of land. We at last saw a light and
fortunately it proceeded from Lachine, the place we were making for. The
boatman was asleep & we were glad to leave him & find ourselves on shore. We
walked to Montreal (nine miles) and arrived there at four o'clock in the
morning. Our companions followed us the next day In the district of
Niagara we had seen a good deal of the Yankees and had had many opportunities
of judging of their characters. The men are proud, vulgar, envious, but
unless offence is given to them, not, I think, quarrelsome. They have
evidently a great respect for England & the English but they do not like to
avow it. Their jealously they cannot conceal. The women are very handsome
but still more vulgar than the men. They like admiration & deserve it more
than any females I have seen except the English. We returned to Quebec at
the expiration of our month's leave, delighted with our Tour. I am become
more reconciled to Quebec, the country around it is beautiful and the
society of my Brother Officers most agreeable to me. The separation from
those I best love is the great drawback to my happiness. God bless you all.
Believe me, my dearest Father and my own Mamma, ever your most
affecte [affectionate?] Son,
Robert Peel Dawson