Early Journalism Provided Doubtful Living, by H. M. Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 05 April, 1962

Journalism in Lanark and the Ottawa River counties had its birth in the now distant year of 1828.  The Bathurst Independent Examiner at that time began to be published weekly in the twelve year old community of Perth.  It appears to have been the first newspaper in the province to be located at an inland point north of the original Loyalist settlements which forty-five years earlier had been started along the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers and eastern Lake Ontario.

The Examiner after continuing for four years was re-established by William Tully as the British Constitution.  Mr. Tully had been a Perth mill owner and was a fighting Irishman of many controversies.  Under the banner of the British Constitution Perth’s newspaper survived for a year or less.  About a year intervened before it reappeared in 1834, with the same printing press, as the Bathurst Courier under the management of Malcolm Cameron.  Rising as a reformer in the sphere of provincial political affairs, he became the Hon. Malcolm Cameron in whose honour a commemorative plaque was erected several years ago in Perth by the Ontario Historical Sites Board.

Already there were about thirty newspapers in the province in the early eighteen thirties.  Those east of Kingston in 1833, in addition to the Perth weekly, were the Brockville Recorder and one other at Brockville, the Observer at Cornwall and the Grenville Gazette at Prescott.  Several years later Bytown gained its first weekly news publication in 1836.  In the Perth newspaper’s first year as the Courier it was called the Bathurst Courier and Ottawa Gazette.  For the next ten years it used the name Bathurst Courier and Ottawa General Advertiser.  Then it adopted its present title of the Perth Courier.

First Editors

The Rev. William Bell in his diary noted the arrival of Mr. Stewart’s printing press in Perth in March of 1828, “the first instrument of the kind that ever came to the place.”  John Stewart, founder and first editor of the pioneer Perth Independent Examiner, was the schoolmaster of the district’s fully state-supported public school, receiving for that service a salary of one hundred pounds form the provincial government.  Before the end of its first year the Examiner claimed to have 521 subscribers.

It had subscription agents at twenty-seven points from Hamilton east to Montreal.  Agents at nearby points were Manny Nowlan, innkeeper at Carleton Place ; John A. Murdoch, postmaster at Lanark ; John Toshack at Ramsay, William Stewart at Bytown and James Burke at Richmond ; Thomas Read at the March settlement, Mr. Ballantine at Merrickville, James Maitland, postmaster at Kilmarnock ; and J. B. Rutley at “Rideau Settlement,” probably Smiths Falls.

The Examiner’s later editor was Francis Henry Cumming.  He had been a British army officer of the 104th Regiment in the War of 1812-14 and an officer of the first militia regiment at Perth, and one of the early Commissioners of the Peace of this district.  He became the original editor of the Brockville Gazette in 1828, and returned to Perth within three years to acquire and undertake the editorial duties of the Bathurst Independent Examiner.

The remaining original record of this trail-blazing newspaper of the district, the parent or first incarnation of the venerable Perth Courier, appears to consist now of only about one third of the weekly numbers issued in its second year.  With much of the staple fare of today’s weekly press, the Examiner was spiced from time to time by serving as a forum for a few of the acrimonious public or personal local feuds which were a popular pastime of that period.

The top news sensation of the Examiner’s second year came in the luridly presented details of a murder trial and a public hanging which took place in front of the Perth jail, its final event a Roman holiday for the people of the town and adjacent areas, at which “the concourse of spectators was immensely large.”

Struggle For Existence

A struggle for journalistic existence was claimed before long in the Examiner editor’s pleas for subscription payments.  Some of John Stewart’s five hundred subscribers seemed to have failed to pay their annual fifteen shillings, either in cash or in kind.  At the first of January in 1830, traditional time for the settling of debts, the editor made this forthright demand:

To Our Patrons.  We want our payment for the Examiner, and we must have it ; for we can do no longer without it.  When our Agents distribute the papers, they will please ask every mother’s son of a subscriber for his cash, and all kinds of grain will be received at this office, at the market price, from our friends in the adjoining townships.  Since the commencement of our establishment we have sunk above 600 pounds in it, and (will it be believed?) we have not yet received enough to pay our Foreman’s wages.

Two weeks later he added:

Wanted.  Wheat, Corn, Rye, Barley, Oats, Pork or Cash, in payment for the Examiner.  Last year we did not press any one for payment, as we knew the failure of crops was the sole reason of the farmer not paying us.  This reason no longer exists.  All the appeals which we made for payment, since the new crops came in, have been hitherto disregarded.  The sleighing time has now come on, and payment we must have in one way or another.  Our patrons, we trust, will have no excuse.

Finally two months later came a further appeal:

Acknowledgments.  Since the winter set in we have received from our Patrons 15 bushels of oats, 7 of wheat and about as much cash as would pay for one week’s boarding for our workmen.  Our total receipts since the first of Dec. are not sufficient to cover the cost of one week’s publication.  Now if our friends mean to bring us anything they had better set about it in reality, and avail themselves of the very first dash of sleighing, as the season is far advanced, time is precious, and we cannot wait for payments till next winter.

Hard Times

Similar straits of tradesmen and businessmen and their local creditors, practically all working with little capital, are shown in such reports as those of sheriff’s seizures of property to enforce payments.  These were coupled with the ever-present further sanction of the power of confining defaulting debtors to a primitive jail.  These are some examples for the year of the calls upon debtors in the neighbourhood of Perth and Carleton Place.

Notice is hereby given to all indebted to Mr. Thomas Wickham to make payment of all debts by notes of hand or book account on or before the 10th of January, 1830, or their accounts, notes of hand, etc. will be given to a man of business for collection.  To save expence, they will do well to settle, as Mr. Thomas Wickham is not to suffer imprisonment the ensuing year, as he has done this year, in order to save others. – Perth, December 28th, 1830.

Notice.  All those indebted to the subscriber by note or book account are hereby notified that unless they make immediate payment the papers shall be put in the hands of one or the other of the three Perth doctors who are celebrated for blistering.  Charles Stuart, Booven-Hall, Beckwith.

Notice.  The Subscriber, having lately been tickled by a Limb of the Law, will be under the necessity of amusing those indebted to him in a similar manner, unless they will within ten days settle their accounts.  – Perth, 17th February, 1830.  John Lee, Tanner.

Sheriff’s Sale.  By virtue of two writs…..against the lands and tenements of Hugh Boulton, one at the suit of George L. Bellows, another at the suit of Richard Coleman; – Also by virtue of a writ…..at the suit of Daniel McMartin Esq., I have taken into execution as belonging to the said Hugh Boulton a plot of land in the east half of Lot No. 14 in the 12th Concession of Beckwith, containing about four acres, on which are erected a grist mill, saw mill, distillery etc., which I shall expose for sale at the Court house in Perth on Saturday the 19th of June next, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, to the highest bidder for Cash…..J. H. Powell, Sheriff, by J. A. H. Powell, D’y Sheriff.  Perth March 18th, 1830.

Subject to such temporary vicissitudes, the founder of the first mills of Carleton Place retained his industrial properties and water power rights here until he sold those on the north side of the Mississippi in 1850 to Alexander McLaren.  Those on the south side of the river, including his grist mill, oatmeal mill and stone residence, were sold some eight years after his death to Henry Bredin in 1866, by his son Hugh Boulton, Junior.  The Bredins in turn sold them a few years later to Horace Brown.

Carleton Place Business Changes

The opening of the first substantial retail merchandizing business in Carleton Place was advertised by this brief announcement which appeared in the Examiner for a number of weeks.

New Store.  The Subscriber begs leave to inform the inhabitants of Beckwith, Ramsay and the adjoining Townships that he has commenced business at Murphys Falls, on the Mississippi River, with a general assortment of goods suitable for that part of the country, which he will dispose of, on the most reasonable terms, for ready payment.  – August 8th, 1829.  Robert Bell.

Soon after a “commodious Distillery” in Carleton Place was being offered for sale by its first owner, with this notice in the Bathurst Independent Examiner.

Notice.  That commodious Distillery situated at Carleton Place, lately erected by the subscriber will be sold at public auction on Tuesday the 3rd day of November next, at the hour of 2 o’clock p.m., if not previously disposed of at private sale.  Terms of payment will be made easy to the purchaser. – Carleton Place, 13th Sept. 1829.  C. J. Bellows.

Other brief glimpses of the times of 1829 and 1830 from the pages of this district’s first newspaper will follow in a final installment.

No art can conquer the people alone – the people are conquered by an ideal of life upheld by authority. – William Butler Yeats.