A Long Life Remembered

 Near-centenarian and Hopewell passenger to North America celebrated in 1835

A Long Life RememberedAT STEWIACKE, MRS. HAMILTON, in the 96th year of her age. Her open heart and sound understanding would have gained her esteem in any country, but her great age, primitive manners, and exalted piety entitle her to a place rather among the ancient patriarchs, than among short lived and ordinary mortals of modern times. She has left five children, and forty grandchildren and sixty-nine great grandchildren. Many of her descendants have gone to the grave before her but had they all outlived her they would amount to 141; such a woman was worth her room, and well fitted to set society in motion. This fruitful vine was born at Armagh in the North of Ireland, and sailed from Londonderry for Halifax in the year 1771; many of our early settlers came in the same vessel; most of them have faded from our view, but their descendants are numerous in Horton, Halifax, Windsor, Londonderry, Stewiacke, Brookfield and other places.

Vessels loaded with passengers sometimes bring us the rakings and scrapings of the countries from which they come, but this vessel was an honorable exception; her passengers were fair and respectable specimens of the peasantry of the North of Ireland, flushed with hope and full of activity. It was however a heavy trial to these lighthearted sons of the Shamrock, to forego the ties of country and kindred to seek a new abode beyond the western main. The moment of separation was tender and affecting, and they must be more than men if they did not feel on such occasions. The gales were favourable, the vessel rapidly cleared the head lands of the Irish coast, and made her way into a wilderness of waters. In going out the North Channel at times she approached so near the land, that the passengers imagined that they could have thrown a biscuit on shore, or heard the sweet strains which the corn reapers sung; the golden rays of the setting sun fell on the Donegal Mountains and afforded them a parting view of the Emerald Isle.

For several days the vessel gaily scudded over the green domains of Neptune, but at last caught a gale of wind which threw her on her beam ends to the eminent danger of all on board; the particulars of this perilous voyage were well remembered and often beguiled the long winter evenings in Nova Scotia, some of its traditions are still preserved. The Ship’s name was the Hopewell, commanded by Neal MacGowan. Captain MacGowan is long forgotten; but on that day he would have been named in the same breath with Captain Ross; he was a good navigator and cautious to a proverb, at sunset he always put the vessel under an easy sail for the night. The name of the Mate is forgotten; but his bold and fearless measures were long remembered; he was an old man-of-wars man and he feared nothing; whenever the captain went to sleep he put the vessel into a press of sail, to the not small annoyance of the feeble passengers and fresh water sailors, for many of them were as green as cucumbers, and had never been on the water before. They verily believed that had this daring son of Neptune got his own way, he would have either carried away the ship’s masts or run down an Island in the dark. At times she staggered and plunged in such a manner as if she would leap out of the water; the passengers, terrified out of their wits, crowded into the cabin to beseech the captain to put her upon the tethers. The moment that honest Neal got upon the deck he put end to their capers, overawed the spirit of the deep, and restored all things to order.

The passage was not longer than it is at the present time; they all became more reconciled to their situation, and the Irish lasses were quite partial to the sailors. In the calm evenings in the twilight, the hour so favourable to lovers, the passengers assembled in groups on the deck to talk over the news of the day, and to listen to the plaintive songs of their native land, still dear to them as the world in blossoms. A scene at sea on a calm summer evening is peculiar and impressive. For as the sun purples the wave a solemn stillness prevails; no cattle low, not even the barking of a dog, nor the chirping of a grasshopper under a fern, no smoke arises, no distant noise indicates the presence of the labours of man; but all the great waters are as magnificent as on the best cultivated land; the arch of heaven preserves its majesty, the rainbow splendour of it appears, the sky is variegated with all those tints and shadings which give it luster and beauty, as the last ray of reflected light disappears in the west, a deeper gloom advances from the east till the horizon consists of dark waters and thick clouds.

Halifax, Thursday morning, March 19th 1835, The Novascotian, Vol. VIII No. XII, p. 96-97, film, Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Newspaper Archives.

Mrs. Hamilton was Agnes Ferguson (1739-1835) who married Robert Hamilton. She left Armagh, NI in 1770 to make her home in Nova Scotia. For more about her see www.jscook.net/hamilton.htm