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Title: From Thomas W. Magrath, Esq., Upper Canada,
CollectionAuthentic Letters from Upper Canada [Rev. Thomas Radcliff]
SenderMagrath, Thomas Wm
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationsuperintendent for settlers
Sender Religionunknown
OriginErindale, Toronto, Upper Canada
DestinationDublin, Ireland
RecipientRev. Thomas Radcliff
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count1594
Genrelife in the colonies, farming
Transcriptto the Rev. Thomas Raddiff, Dublin.

Erindale, Toronto, January, 1832.

My dear Sir,
With respect to one of the remarks contained in your
last letter, it is true that every one who comes here, feels at
the outset the difficulties of his new and trying circumstances;
even the lowest peasant, on first entering his
shanty, laments the loneliness of his situation, and experiences
a sinking of the heart, and a longing after his
potatoes and buttermilk at home; but as his comforts
increase, he becomes reconciled to his lot; finding himself
independent, he becomes happy, and experimentally learns
that this is really a Paradise to him.
Land is often managed on shares here, from want of
money to pay for labour. The man who has land and
seed, leaves the management of them to the labourer, who
takes half the produce, and draws the rest into the barn
of the proprietor. If we want timber sawed, we take the
logs to the mill, and have them cut to any scantling we
require, leaving one half for payment.
In the same way, if we want wool made into cloth, it is
sent to the mill, where it is carded into rolls for a certain
share or portion, spun for another, and afterwards woven
for a third; the want of money rendering all this traffic,
and sometimes interchange, of commodities, in primeval
simplicity, essentially necessary to the settler's wants and
We have no walls to our gardens, because there are no
stones, and if there were, building would be too expensive.
When I say there are no stones, I speak of particular
districts, about York, for instance, where wood is the
universal substitute. The town gardens are enclosed by
boarded fences, those of the country by paling. Apropos
of gardens, it is extraordinary that there are few peaches
at the north side, or at either extremity of Lake Ontario,
but, such is their abundance on the south side, that they
are sold there, for a shilling a bushel], and yet the heat is
the same in all those places.
I have heard it thus accounted for:—Lake Ontario
(from its great depth,) never freezes, and the injurious
north wind, which blows across it, is tempered before it
reaches the southern shore, particularly in Spring, when
the trees are in blossom. Melons, Cucumbers, and Pumpkins,
grow freely and very abundantly in the open air,
and require less attention than any crop we have. We
preserved a barrel of cucumbers last year, and kept
them in salt and water, pickling them in vinegar occasionally,
as they were required either by our servants, or
Many of your garden plants grow wild here, tiger
lilies, magnificent turncap and scarlet lilies, ladies' slippers, columbine, marygolds, and various others; but strange to
say, I have not seen in Canada, the daisy, the holly, or the
ivy, and the hawthorn very rarely: it is quite a garden
shrub. I have planted three thousand trees, and a great
variety of ever-greens to conceal our offices, and for ornament
: for in truth the trees about us of natural growth
are far from pleasing in their appearance, their closeness
preventing the lateral furnishing of the branches, so essential
to beauty.
Our house stands in the garden, with a circular paling
at one end to fence off the yard and offices. The poultry
plague us a good deal, in Spring, by scratching up the
seeds. In the severity of Winter their claws are, in many
cases, frostnipped, and our seed beds become more secure:
a good farm yard and a busy barn door are the best
remedies. Many of the domestic fowl totally lose their
toes in Winter, and consequently become harmless in the
gardens; they are pitiable objects, when rambling about
on their stumps, and we sometimes, in the excess of goodnatured
feeling, wish them their full complement of pedal
members, even at the expense of our seeds.
When we first came here, our hands were soft and
delicate, as those of a lady, from being unused to laborious
occupation, but seeing every one around us employed at
manual works—magistrates, senators, counsellors and
colonels, without any feeling of degradation, we fairly set
to, in the spirit of emulative industry, and have already
exhibited pretty fair specimens of our efforts in clearing
land, and afterwards ploughing it.
My brother Charles can take, what is termed here, a
great gap out of a field of corn, with a cradle scythe; he
and his brother James once cut down two acres of Rye
before dinner.
The latter makes all the waggons, sleighs, harrows, &c.
and when I am not superintending the emigrant setllements,
my time at home is occupied in shoeing horses,
making gates, fences, chimney pieces, and furniture.
Indeed my mechanical labours are so multifarious that I
can hardly enumerate them, but you may form some idea
of their versatility, when I tell you that I made an ivory
tooth for a very nice girl, and an iron one for the harrow
within the same day.
My younger brother lends a hand at every thing, from
a duet on the piano-forte to the threshing of a sheaf of
corn; and believe me, we are neither degraded in our own
estimation, nor in that of the most elevated of our acquaintances,
by thus earning the bread of independence; nor are
we without our full share of amusement, which is much
more grateful than can be imagined by those, whose days
are spent in idleness, or vanity.
We have frequently occupied the morning at work in
a potato field, and passed the evening most agreeably in
the ball room at York ! ! !
What would Mrs. Grundy say to that?
When we contrast our peaceful and tranquil state here,
with the turbulence of Ireland, our hearts overflow with
gratitude to the Being who has cast our lot, where neither
bars nor bolts are necessary, where neither Indian nor
settler will molest; where we can leave our property lying
carelessly around us, even in the solitude of the night, and where capital punishment has occurred only in three
or four instances during many years.
We have had, however, lest you should suppose us to
be too perfect a set of beings, an Irish row or two. Some
of our countrymen, in a drunken frolic, lately attacked
the landlord of a tavern in which they had been drinking;
broke every thing in his bar and pursued him into the
Bush. Fortunately for him, he met one of his own men
with a loaded rifle, which he seized; being closely pressed,
he took refuge in a shanty, where two of the ruffians
attacked him in front, while a third endeavoured to pounce
upon him through the roof, with the benevolent design of
battering out his brains (à la Tipperary,) with a stave.
The fellow struck and broke the rifle, but, from the
blow, it went off, and shot the assailant through the head.
The landlord then took to his light pair of heels, and
escaped from the other two. An inquest was held, and a
verdict of "justifiable homicide" of course returned.
A solitary instance of outrage need not alarm or deter
a settler; let a man determine to exert himself, and, with
even moderate capital, and health, he must prosper; if he
be devoid of energy and become embarrassed, he will be
ruined here, as he would elsewhere; and his creditors
have a very summary way of recovering their demands
upon him, as his land (though in perpetuity) can be sold,
as if it were chattel property. But the vexatious and useless
severities of the English laws, as they relate to debtor
and creditor are mitigated in this colony by local statutes;
no one here can be arrested for debt on mesne process. If it
be justly apprehended that a debtor purposes to leave the
country, a writ (on affidavit,) of ne exeat regno can be
taken out, to which he must give bail, but no farther
step is taken until judgment be given.
Nor is the bail obliged to produce the debtor, if he can
prove he is within the province, and in those cases in which
arrest is legal, there are limits, of about sixteen acres, to
the prisons, {generally including places of divine worship,)
in which a debtor has power to reside; the sheriff being
obliged to take sufficient security for his remaining within
their precincts. Should he escape, the sheriff transfers the
security to the creditor. Neither wearing apparel, beds,
nor bedding can be taken in execution.
A whimsical occurrence (for the truth of which, however,
I do not absolutely vouch,) is said to have taken
place shortly before our arrival here: a writ against a
debtor fairly liable to the law of arrest, was put into the
hands of one of our sheriffs—a fat and unwieldy person,
to whom the debtor was pointed out, and finding himself
hard pressed by the sheriff (who was well mounted,)
made off for a morass, into which he dashed, laughing
heartily at his pursuer.
Now the puzzle to the sheriff was, how to make a
proper return on the writ—he could not return, "non est
inventus" for he had found his prey; he could not return
"cæpi" as he had not succeeded in the capture. So after
much deliberation, he made out the return, "non est
comeatibus in swampo."

Your's, my dear Sir,