Romance of Government House, JS Martell

Tags: Government House, Nova Scotia, Halifax, Government, corner stone, Prince William Henry, Joseph Howe, John Wentworth, Province House, Sir George Prevost, Royal Highness, Governor Lawrence, Sir John, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sir John Harvey, Aaron Burr, Sir John Sherbrooke, drawing-room, The Governor, Sir Alexander Milne, the Prince, artificial flowers, House of Assembly, Prince George, Prince Henry, Sir George, Colin Campbell, His Highness, Professor James W. Falconer, Prince William, Michael Wallace, Imperial Government, King George VI, William Campbell, Lady Wentworth, John Parr, local Government, Isaac Hildrith, sudden departure, James B. Uniacke, Charles Poulett Thompson, The building, Wentworth, Theophilus Chamberlain
Content: The Romance Of Government House HALIFAX Nova Scotia
t)OUQLAS LibRARy queeN's UNiveRsiTy AT kiNQSCON Presented btj MP. D. A. REDNOND DEOFMBEP 1985 klNQSTON ONTARiO
THE ROMANCE OF GOVERNMENT HOUSE PREPARED BY J. S. MARTELL UNDER DIRECTION OF D. C. HARVEY PROVINCIAL ARCHIVIST Two especially bound copies were presented to Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of their visit to Government House, Halifax, June 15, 1939, by the Government of Nova Scotia. HALIFAX, N. S. PROVINCIAL SECRETARY KING'S PRINTER 1939
I Oi I-- 00 w 05 c K E!« K PS 6 C c PS PS o: B
THE ROMANCE OF GOVERNMENT HOUSE Halifax, Nova Scotia By JAMES STUART MARTELL. The day they laid the corner stone was a day to remember. All the notables in town were there, the Governor, the Admiral, the General, the Chief Justice, the Members of the Council and Assembly, high ranking military officers, and prominent civilian officials. They were all out because this was an occasion in the history of the province, an occasion such as the eighteenth century had delighted to honour. Gazing upon the brilliant scene, there were many, no doubt, who could scarcely believe that a new century had dawned. Everything seemed the same, the scarlet coats and powdered wigs, the courtly bows and pretty curtsies. Surely the world would never change. Men might talk of the effects of the French Revolution or the threats of Napoleon Bonaparte; but who gave them a thought on this fine September day in 1800? It was better to listen to the "Band of Musicians", which having rendered God Save the King and Rule Britannia, was playing "other appropriate airs", or to take a pinch of snuff and consider the site of the new Government House. The lot had originally been purchased for a Province House, but most Haligonians had protested that it was too far out of town for public offices. The quiet repose of the south suburbs was more suitable for the new Government House which was being built to face Hollis Street and the harbour. At the back, across a lane known as Pleasant (later Barrington) Street, was a strip of land leading past St. Paul's cemetery to the Governor's South Farm. Later, this would be added to the estate as it provided an excellent location for a coach house and stables and a convenient connection with the farm. The future Governors of the province, indeed, would have little to wish for, if all the plans of the present Governor, Sir John Wentworth, materialized. Even now, as he placed the parchment in the corner stone, there
Halifax^ Nova Scotia
Page 3
was a look of satisfaction about Sir John, a sense of inward triumph. His dream was becoming a reality. The stone was lowered into place, and in the silence that followed, the voice of the Reverend Mr. Stanser, Rector of St. Paul's, rose in prayer: "Except the Lord build the House, their Labour is but lost that build it....' The solemnities over, the rejoicing began. The workmen, well supplied with free food and drink, probably found their fun in the open air along with the rest of the populace, while the privileged members of society repaired to the old Government House to enjoy the hospitality of Sir John Wentworth and his charming Lady.
Amid all the pomp and pageantry, gaiety and
laughter, there was but one regret. The Duke of
Kent, the Commander of the forces in Nova Scotia
since 1794, had been unable to stay for the ceremony.
Orders to take over a new command in Ireland
were not to be ignored even by a Prince of the Blood.
It was common gossip that his brother, Prince
William Henry, had been quite severely reprimanded
by their father, George the Third, for sailing from
Halifax without orders. Unlike Edward, who was
verv much the martinet, William was a care free soul. A Captain of one of His Majesty's ships
on the Halifax station, he seems to have taken French
leave in December, 1787. His unexpected return
from England the following August probably gave
rise to the rumour that he had been disciplined.
Certainly, "everybody" in Halifax was surprised,
W if we may believe
7 illiam
Dyott,
one
of
his
young
military acquaintances. Dyott, who kept a most
intimate diary, does not suggest for a moment
that Prince William found Halifax dull. Quite
the contrary. William enjoyed himself with all
the gusto of his twenty odd years. Even after
he became King, he recalled his lively times in Nova
Scotia. Edward was less ebullient, although he
too found great pleasure in the province, particularly
when living at Prince's Lodge, which he is said to
have preferred to "any place out of England".
His last look at the blue waters of Bedford Basin
may well have caused an inward sigh. But what-
ever the temptation to remain, he sailed from Halifax
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Government House
on schedule, in August, 1800, a few weeks before the corner stone of the new Government House was laid. In more than one sense the laying of the corner stone was a symbolic act. Not only did it mark the dawn of a new century in the world at large, but the beginning of the second half century in Halifax. Fifty years had passed since the first settlers sailed up the harbour. Some of them were yet alive, men who had seen the first tree felled, who had witnessed the christening of the first child, who had attended the levees held by Cornwallis in the old, wooden Government House. A one story affair, this residence of the royal repre- sentative had been thrown up during the first hectic summer, when the town was little more than a clearing surrounded by palisades. How rough and uncertain life had been in those days. God fearing citizens were forever throwing up their hands in pious horror at the drunken brawls that disturbed the public peace. Internal conditions had improved as the King's Hard Bargains drifted away to the other colonies and merchants from New England arrived to take their place; but after the outbreak of warfare in 1754, the settlement had constantly feared attacks from the Indians who lurked in the nearby forests, or from the French and Spanish ships that stood off" the coast. No such attacks were made, yet not until the peace in 1763 did Haligonians breathe freely. It was during these critical years that Governor Lawrence showed his faith in the future by ordering a new Government House. The second Government House in Halifax, situated like the first on the lot where the old Pro- vince House now stands, made a rather handsome appearance. In the sketch made by Richard Short in 1759, it is shown as a large, two story building of good proportions. Apparently constructed of free stone, it was in fact a wooden building painted to give that effect. Commodious enough to suit Lawrence, who held equal rank with General Wolfe at the seige of Louisbourg in 1758, it was the Governor's town residence until 1805. Several additions
Halifax, Nova Scotia
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and changes were made after Lawrence's time, particularly by Lord William Campbell who had a large family and staff. John Parr, who became Governor in 1782, was greatly pleased with his official residence, and, in fact, with everything that Nova Scotia had to offer him. Writing to a friend, he declared: I have found everything here to exceed my expectation, have met with the greatest civility and attention from all Ranks of People, a most excellent house and Garden, a small farm close to the Town, another of 70 or 80 Acres at the distance of two Miles, where I propose passing two or three months in Summer a snugg little farm house upon it, a beauti- full prospect, with good fishing, plenty of Provisions of all sorts except Flower (sic), with a very good French Cook to dress them, a Cellar well stock'd with Port, Claret, Madeira, Rum, Brandy, Bowood Strong Beer, &c, a neat income (including a Regim 1 of Provincials of which I am Colonel) of Ј2200 Sters p Annum, an income far beyond my expectations, plenty of Coals & Wood against the severity of the Winter, a house well furnish'd, and warm Cloths, that upon the whole my Dear Grey, your friend Parr is as happy and comfortably seated, as you could wish an old friend to be. . . . W7 illiam Dyott, on his arrival in Halifax in 1787, noted in his diary that the Governor lived in a 'Very good" house. Neither Dyott nor Parr may have been very discriminating; but after read- ing their outspoken views, it comes as a shock to find Sir John Wentworth informing the Legislature that when he took over in the spring of 1792, the whole structure was "in Danger of falling into the Cellar". Sir John undoubtedly exaggerated the rundown condition of the second Government House in order to get a new residence. As a Governor of New Hampshire before the American Revolution and as a man of wealth and title, he had always been accustomed to stately homes and luxurious surroundings. Even if he himself had been content to live more modestly in Nova Scotia, he had to consider the wants and desires of his beautiful wife, Lady Wentworth. Both of them, however, demanded the best, and like other members of the sparkling society that emerged from the eighteenth century, they were ready to pursue their whims up to the very brink of bankruptcy. No gentleman,
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Government House
Sir John Wentworth Bart Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia 1792 - 1808 (From a portrait by Field)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
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for instance, counted the cost of entertaining. Hospitality came before solvency, especially when there were opportunities to amuse or accommodate members of the Royal Family. Prince William Henry frequently dined and danced and even slept at the Wentworth home in Halifax before Sir John became Governor of the province, and Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, stayed at Government House for some time after his arrival in 1794. The Went- worths' despair at the thought of receiving a Royal Prince in a residence that was "in Danger of falling into the Cellar" must have been touching. Although Sir John suggested fairly often in his correspondence that living in an old, decayed house was not conducive to good health, it is not likely that he stressed his personal discomforts when urging the necessity of a new Government House in the presence of the local legislators. There was no need for this, when he could wax eloquent over the respect due the King and the King's representative. In an age of great loyalists, none was more loyal than Wentworth. Love of the monarchy and monarchical institutions possessed his soul. Even the thought of democratic triumphs in the United States and France grieved him. To offset disturbing reports from these countries, he was always seeking ways to add renown to the name of his King. What would be more substantial than a fine new Government House second to none on the American continent? Then the rebellious colonies would envy the royalist province of Nova Scotia. Thus and thus, he must have talked to those who gathered round his festive board. Unconsciously, the legislators may have used his very words when they declared in 1799 that the old Government House was in "so ruinous a condition as to be unfit for the residence of the Governor or Commander in Chief of the Province". The new Government House which slowly rose above the corner stone laid in 1800 soon destroyed the harmony between Wentworth and the Assembly. The Members of the Assembly, most of them representing country districts, had been willing enough to vote Ј10,500 for the Governor's
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Government House
residence in return for increased grants for roads and bridges; but they protested strongly when the cost of construction mounted far above that figure. Charges of illegality and incompetence were flung at Wentworth and the chief Commissioner of the building, the Honourable Michael Wallace. Demands were even made for a new commission. To all these, however, Wentworth blandly replied, every time the money appropriated ran out, that the building had to be completed or else the thousands of pounds already spent would be lost. This alternative was unthinkable, so, despite their fuming, the representatives of the people invariably met W the Governor's requests. When 7entworth retired in 1808, more than twice the sum originally allotted had been spent. If allowance be made for the new furniture and for the additions and repairs considered necessary by Wentworth's immediate successors to make the establishment complete and convenient, the total cost was well nigh Ј30,000. W The result, in 7 entworth's eyes, was well worth the displeasure of the Assembly. In the words of his alter ego, Michael Wallace, it was "equalled by few, perhaps exceeded by none in the Western W Hemisphere". 7 entworth and Wallace, having at last got what they wanted, would naturally have W been blind to any defects; but 7 entworth's suc- cessor, Sir George Prevost, was able to take a more objective view, and in his opinion the building was on a far grander scale than the state of the province warranted. After one look, he asked for an increase in salary. Although the Governor's salary was then paid by the Imperial Government, the local Government provided his residence and was re- sponsible for its upkeep, exclusive of entertaining. Considering the population of the province, little more than sixty thousand, this was no mean burden. Not until later years were Nova Scotians able to look at Government House without thinking of the drain on the Treasury; but even in Wentworth's time, the hard working countrymen who came to town dressed in their best homespun must have experienced a thrill of pride as they gazed at the imposing new home of the Governor.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 9
The building belongs to the closing period of the Renaissance architecture which followed the Gothic age, and which consisted in a return to classical principles. Roman and Greek ideals held sway till the end of the eighteenth century, and many stately old homes of the English nobility illustrate the massiveness, symmetry and rich decoration of this Renaissance style. A simple but good example of this period, the Government House at Halifax combines dignity with beauty. The plans must have been drawn just before the close of the century. The front originally faced the east, and consists of a central part with three storys, and two side wings of two storys each. The ground story is rusticated; having deep channels between the layers of stone, meant to create an effect of strength. The windows in the lower part have closed-in arches; but in the upper parts these are replaced by horizontal lines. The front is lacking in adornment, except for six pilasters, which break the flatness of the wall. These have no logical or structural purpose, as they support no architrave. In many of the buildings of this period the central entrance had a facade in the form of a classical temple, but here there is a simple wooden porch, which may not have belonged to the original design; though it is to be noticed that on the frieze there are small triglyphs such as appear in many of the contemporary houses of New England. The Western Front, forming now the main entrance, has the same rustication on the ground story; but the striking feature here is the extension of the wings into the bays, with symmetrical circular form. Attention also might be called to the small section of a tower in the corners, on either side of the door; a device by which the transition is made from the flatness of the wall to the curve of the bay. The exterior is at once massive and simple in construction, while the appropriate mingling of straight line and arch gives a pleasing variety to the structure as a whole. Entering from the east, one notices the lunette over the door, and two smaller windows forming the side lights. The large entrance-hall is divided
Page 10
Government House
by four pillars carrying an architrave; and this use of columns is found also in the ball-room, and on the story above. This house was evidently erected with a view to usefulness. The ground story was devoted to public needs, the central rooms forming the offices, while the south wing consists of a drawing-room and dining-room connected by a wide passage. Attention should be especially called to the beautiful cornices. On the north is the large ball-room, which must be one of the finest in the province, with Greek columns breaking the monotony of the long wall, and with three exquisite mantel-pieces of white Italian marble. The curved bay lets in abundance of western light. The stairway to the private apartments on the second story is spacious and full of grace; and at the top there is a long vista in either direction, though the original impression is somewhat marred by the recent introduction of archways replacing the horizontal lines above the doors. The tradition exists that the plans came from the Adam brothers, but if so, there is an absence of the stucco ornamentation in which these architects delighted. Their works usually have delicate festoons, urns and rosettes, and ornamental mantelpieces. But there is no doubt as to the school of builders to which this important work belongs. We know that many books of architectural designs were published in England besides those of the Adam brothers; and that these works were widely circulated in the New England States, and freely used by local builders. Visitors from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont will be reminded of similar houses in their own home states. It may well be that Sir John Wentworth, who came from New Hampshire, might not only have laid the corner stone of Government House, but have had something to say in the choice of the plan. In any case, the building is a further evidence of those affinities by which Nova Scotia is associated with New Eng- land. 1 - 1. I am much indebted to Professor James W. Falconer, who kindly accompanied me on a recent visit to Government House and who wrote these paragraphs on its architecture.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
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The architect in charge of construction was
Isaac Hildrith. Little is known of him save that
he was a civil engineer who had recently made a
survey of the projected Shubenacadie Canal. His
work, however, was eminently satisfactory. Even
the Assembly paid tribute to his "professional
skill". Whether they were referring to his ability
as a building architect or as a designing architect,
or both, is a question; but such documentary evi-
dence as there is suggests that he was not responsible
for the plans. If, indeed, he designed as well as
built Government House, why did the committee of
the Assembly, which examined the accounts in 1802,
point out that "the plans and estimates
were
actually paid for by the Public, and cost the sum of
Ј75"? This comment was hardly called for if
Hildrith, the architect employed by the Government,
received the money. It would seem that Hildrith
was hired to follow the plans that Wentworth and
Wallace laid before him. In 1811, another com-
mittee of the Legislature reporting on plans for a
Province House declared: "
it is not necessary
that the Commrs. sh.d have any Great Skill in Architecture Honest Men with a plan and all the Sections of the Work Calculated for them Can
with the Assistance of a Good and Skillful Builder
as their foreman carry on such a Work without
difficulty". Such confidence surely sprang from
past experience.
The workmen under Hildrith were drawn mostly from the ranks of local labour, although many of them had probably learnt their trade in Britain or the larger centres of the thirteen colonies. The chief mason, John Henderson, was a Scot, as were most of his assistants. Maroons and soldiers were employed in the early stages, when there was digging and blasting to be done. The maroons, who had been sent to Nova Scotia after the trouble in Jamaica and who were soon to be transported to Sierra Leone, came over from Preston under the watchful eye of Theophilus Chamberlain. The bill which Chamberlain presented in June, 1800, shows that "Sundry" maroons had worked for 224J4 days at the rate of fifty shillings for twenty-
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Government House
five days. The soldiers were the 'Fusilier Miners" who were very helpful in laying drains. They received five shillings a day, a shilling more than an ordinary miner. Among the other workmen, the masons were paid the highest, seven shillings a day to the chief mason and five or six shillings to most of his assistants. The head carpenter also received seven shillings, but his workmen never rose above five and sixpence. The plasterers came next at five shillings, then the "sawyers" at four or five, and finally the unskilled men at three and sixpence or four shillings. Nova Scotian products were used extensively in the building. Free stone from Pictou, Antigonish, and Cape Breton, "building " stone from Lunenburg and Lockeport, red flag stone from Antigonish, blue rubble stone from Bedford Basin, flat stone from the North West Arm, red pine from Annapolis and Tatamagouche, white and yellow pine from Cornwallis, sand from Shelburne, Eastern Passage, and McNamara's Island, and bricks from Dartmouth were all purchased in large quantities. Imported materials included lime and lumber from New Brunswick, lead and large bricks from England, and slate from Scotland. Particular care was taken to make the building fire-proof. Several dangerous fires had occurred in Halifax during the 1790's and early in 1801 there was a destructive blaze at Prince's Lodge. Hearing of this, one of Wentworth's correspondents apparently suggested certain devices to make the new Government House safe from fire, for Went- worth replied: "I am obliged in your friendly con- sideration of the losses and inconvenience occasioned by the late Fires, And have mentioned your ideas to the Commissioners for building the Govt HouseThey are deterred by apprehensions of increased expense, but have built all the divisions of the Kitchen or lower Story with stone and lime eighteen inches thick, and the Floors are to be laid with -- flag or squared stone the ceilings will be thick -- lime and plaister the doors, window sashes and furniture only will be combustible, and cannot furnish fuel or communication to penetrate beyond
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 13
-- any of those apartments, which may take fire Care is also taken to have a water pipe in each room of these, and the floor over them capable of a great supply of water". These precautions proved effective. When fire broke out half a century later, the building was saved, although the central part of the roof and the attic were destroyed. There were four fires that day, August 20, 1854, but the worst was at Government House where "the whole fire-force of the city' worked for three hours before putting out the flames. After this bad scare, insurance was taken out as an additional protection. Wentworth's pride in his fine, official residence may be imagined. So anxious indeed was he to make it his home that he moved in long before it was completed. Workmen were still about the place when he retired. This was in the spring of 1808, which means that he had had the privilege of living there little more than two years, for he had taken possession in the late autumn of 1805. On December 14th of that year, he informed the legislature that they might tear down the old Government House, and, in accordance with the Act of 1799, erect a Province House on the same site. The prospect of a Province House, however, had been dimmed by the unexpected cost of the Govern- W ment House. 7entworth knew this as well as anyone; but he would have been the last to admit it. It is even unlikely that he had an uneasy conscience. His thoughts were then centred on the coming Christmas season. Of all the joyous parties given by the Wentworths, their housewarming in the new Government House must have been outstanding. Unfortunately, no account of this event is on record. What went on within the select circle that surrounded the Governor was never a matter for public report, although it may well have been the subject of general gossip and speculation. Were it not for certain private papers that have survived we should be mostly in the dark as to the social life in Halifax at that time. The curious may be thankful to W7 illiam Dyott, who throws light into many a corner.
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Government House
The lusty life of the Georgians springs like a fresh breeze from the pages of his diary. For instance: In the evening a ball at the Governor's. We went about seven; his Royal Highness (Prince William Henry) came about half after, and almost immediately began country dances.... We changed partners every dance; he danced with all the pretty women in the room, and was just as affable as any other man. Again, at a ball given by the Commissioner of the Dockyard: I went about eight. The Commissioner's house and the dockyard was most beautifully illuminated and made a fine appearance. His Royal Highness arrived about nine. Everybody stands up when he enters, and remains so till he desires the mistress of the house to sit down. Soon after he came we began dancing. ... He is very fond of dancing; we changed partners every dance. He always began, and generally called to me to tell him a dance. The last dance before supper at the Governor's and at the Commissioner's, his Royal Highness, Major Vesey, myself, and six very pretty women danced Country Bumpkin for near an hour.... We had a very excellent supper and very pleasant. His Roya) Highness retired about two. And again, on board Prince Henry's ship: In the evening his Royal Highness gave a ball on board his ship. The company assembled at seven o'clock. The quarter-deck was divided at the mizzen-mast; between it and the main-mast was for dancing, and abaft it for supper, the whole covered in a frame and canvas, and lined with white colours and blue festoons. There were near fourteen ladies and thirty gentlemen. All the officers of his own ship, and they are the most genteel set of young men I ever saw. We danced till one o'clock. His Highness did not dance, but paid the greatest attention possible to everybody. The ladies went below, and the colours that divided the quarter-deck were drawn up in festoons and displayed the most completely elegant supper I ever saw. At the end of the deck were two transparent paintings, the one representing the Scottish motto and thistle, the other St. George's Cross and the Garter. Upwards of sixty people sat down to supper at a table almost in the form of a horse-shoe. The supper was chiefly cold, except soup and removes, with partridges, etc., champagne, hock, etc. In short, the whole was by far the most elegant thing I ever saw. We remained more than an hour at supper, and it was wonderful to see the attention his Royal Highness paid to every one present. . . . We danced till three o'clock, when the champagne began to operate with some of the gentlemen, and the ladies thought it near time to go on shore. I never spent a more joyous night.
Halifax , Nova Scotia
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What a pity that Dyott did not remain in Halifax longer. How he would have revelled in the splendor of the new Government House, dancing Country Bumpkin in the great saloon under the glitter of chandeliers and lustres, supping in the spacious dining-room where candles gleamed on old mahongany, and whispering compliments while sitting on the "Turkish Sophas" of the levee room. Life in the Government House was not all light and laughter. Levees, dinners, and dances were merely interludes between official meetings, conferences, and interviews. The Governor in those days before responsible government exercised the authority and carried the burden of the modern premier. His cabinet was the Council, better known perhaps as the Family Compact,, a group of gentlemen named by himself and appointed by his superior in London. Alexander Stewart, an early advocate of reform, once declared that he knew nothing like it except perhaps in Cashel, Ireland, "where the Mayor of the Corporation was the Grand Papa, his twelve sons and sons-in-law the Aldermen and the twenty-four Common Council men, so closely connected that they could not enter into the holy bonds of matrimony with any of the Aldermen's daughters". To the reformers, the close relationship between the Governor, the Councillors, and other high officials in Nova Scotia was only less irritating than their extraordinary power and influence. The Governor, for instance, besides being the official head of the Government and the President of the Council, was also the Chancellor of the Court of Chancery, the Ordinary of the Church of England, and the Commander-in-Chief of the forces. As though the responsibilities of these offices were not enough, he had the added charge, as representative of the King, of being a diplomat. It was in this last capacity that Sir George Prevost met Aaron Burr, one time Vice president of the United States. -- The very name of Aaron Burr the stormy -- petrel of American politics suggests intrigue. And this, indeed, was the purpose of his trip to Nova Scotia in the spring of 1808, under the assumed name of Edwards. Feeling between the United
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States was then running very high and war seemed imminent. Even while Burr conferred with Prevost in the Government House at Halifax, a secret agent from Nova Scotia, John Howe, the father of Joseph Howe, was in New England sounding out American opinion. Howe was to report in 1809 that the Federalist party which then dominated New England politics wanted "a reconciliation with Great Britain", and Aaron Burr's presence in Halifax in 1808 was evidence of this feeling. Burr, though not a New Englander, was a staunch Federalist, and he was also a great schemer. The plans he laid before Prevost concerned the Spanish possessions in Am- erica, the Floridas, Mexico, and points south. Spain was weak and the time was ripe, he thought, for the establishment of an Anglo-Saxon, a British-American, hegemony in that part of the world. Sir George, who was soon to embark on a military expedition to Martinique, listened with interest and appreciation, and then wrote an explanatory letter to the British Secretary for War and the Colonies, Lord Castle- reagh. Burr, with this letter in his pocket, immediately proceeded to England where he stayed for four years; but long advocacy failed to give substance to his grandiose schemes. Britain was too deeply involved in the struggle with Napoleon and in the United States the Federalist party, though strong in New England, did not carry sufficient weight at Washington. When President Madison and the Democrats declared war on Britain in 1812, Burr returned to New York. W During the r ar of 1812, an even more im- portant conference was held between Sir John Sherbrooke, Prevost's successor, and a special agent representing the Government of Massachusetts. The secrecy that shrouded this move makes it impossible even today to ascertain the name of the agent or to say whether Burr was also implicated in this conspiracy. One thing is clear: The whole history of North America hung in the balance on that November day in 1814, when the American sat in the Government House at Halifax and questioned a British Governor on the possibility of a separate peace between New England and Old
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 17
England and the probable extent of British aid if Massachusetts and the other eastern states that seemed likely to secede from the American Union were attacked by the army of the Government at Washington. Such a stir was raised in London when this astounding proposition arrived under the cover of Sherbrooke's dispatch that Lord Bathurst, the Secretary for War and the Colonies, sat down and wrote Sherbrooke four different letters in one day! Thus, Sherbrooke, despite his confession that he was "a stranger to diplomatic business", found himself authorized to negotiate a peace with the New England Governments in the name of the British Government and to promise British "arms, accoutrements, ammunition, Clothing and naval Cooperation" to any state threatened by the American Government. He probably breathed a sigh of relief when, a few weeks after he had received these instructions from Bathurst, news came of a general peace between Britain and the United States. There was even more cause for rejoicing during the summer of 1815 when the Halifax newspapers published the first dramatic accounts of the battle of Waterloo and the final downfall of Napoleon. As the guns boomed in salute, myriads of glasses were held aloft in honour of that victory. The 'Waterloo Feast" at the Mason's Hall was "mag- -- nificent in the extreme the decorations of the room, and the composition of the Songs, were in a style novel and delightful. Immediately over the President's chair was a Transparency of the immortal DUKE OF WELLINGTON, his hair fresh powdered, his right hand holding his hat by the middle, his left leaning on his sheathed sabre, gracefully crossing his left leg, shorn of his Aiguillettes, and ready to receive the hug of congratulation from the venerable -- Marshal Blucher the back ground represented the Farm of La Belle Alliance, the very spot where the -- two Commanders met the Moon unfortunately -- had forgotten to rise round the pillars, Alexanders, Fredericks, and Platoffs were galloping in great splendor. Waterloo was substituted for La Belle Alliance, as a toast, which some one observing, a
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Government House
Director, in explanation, said, that the Bell-y Alli- ance had been given before in turtle soup". Whether such puns were permissible at Government House is again not a matter of official or newspaper record. We are dependent on Thomas Chandler Hali burton for a picture of the entertainments given by the Governor in this period and later. In the Old Judge, the best account of Nova Scotia life a century ago, Haliburton, as usual, spares neither humour nor satire when describing a typical New Year's Day at Government House: It was on the first day of January, there was a levee in the morning, a dinner party in the afternoon, and a ball in the evening. A custom prevailed then.... for the gentlemen to call that day on all the ladies of their acquaintance. . . . Many absurd anecdotes are in circulation relating to the accidents and incidents of the 'New Year's Calls', among the drollest of which is the sudden irruption into a house of the greater part of those persons who had attended the Governor's levee, and their equally sudden departure, as the cracking of the beams of the floor gave notice of the impending danger of a descent into the cellar, and the subsequent collective mass of fashionables in one confused and inextricable heap at the foot of the very icy steps of the hall door. . . . The dinner was an official one; the guests were the various heads of departments in the place; and it passed off much in same manner as similar ones do elsewhere. Of the ball, it is difficult to convey to you a very distinct idea.... The evening to which I allude being a public one the invitations were very numerous, and embraced the military, navy, and staff, the members of the legislature, which was then in session, and all the civilians whose names were to be found on the most extended list that had been formed at the time. Having dined at the palace (Government House) that day, I happened to be present at the arrivals. The guests were shown into the drawing-room, and courte- ously, though ceremoniously, received by the Governor, his ladv, and staff. From the drawing-room the guests were event- ually led into the ball-room: It was a large and handsome apartment, tastefully decorated and well lighted; and the effect produced by the rich and -- various uniforms of the military and navy was gay, and even brilliant more so, indeed, than is generally seen in a provincial town in England; for the garrison consisted of three regiments, and the greater part of the fleet upon the station was in port at the time. At the upper end of the room were the Governor, Lady Sampson [the name is fictitious], the Admiral and his lady, and the heads of the civil and military departments of the place and their families. Those next in rank adorned the sides of the room; and groups
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 19
of those who made no pretention to that equivocal word 'position' occupied and filled the lower end. . . . In a short time the quadrilles were formed, and all (that is, all the younger part of the company) were in motion; and, whatever the undercurrents and unseen eddies of feeling might have been, all appeared gay and happy. Indeed, some of the young ladies from the country danced with a vigour and energy that showed their whole hearts were engaged in displaying what they considered most valuable qualities, exertion and endurance. The effect of the sudden cessation of music in a ball-room is always ludicrous, as the noise compels people to talk louder than usual; and, when it terminates, the conversation is continued for awhile in the same key.
'My heart is as free as the eagle, sir', were the first words I heard from a fair promenader.
'Father is shocked at a waltz. I must wait till he goes in to supper'.
'Ma says she's a sheep in lamb's clothing; she recollects
her forty years ago, dancing with a boy, as she is to-night'.
... .The party now began to move towards the supper-room
.The ...
tables
were
tastefully
and
beautifully
arranged. . . .
Whatever doubt there might have been as to the possibility
of a ball conferring happiness, there could be none as to the
enjoyment derived from the supper. In approving or par-
taking nearly all seemed to join; few claimed exemption
from age, and no one objected to a vis-a-vis; and, if some
had danced with all their hearts, an infinitely greater number
eat [sic] and drank with as much relish as if eating and drink-
ing were as unusual a thing as waltzing. . . .
The last dance lasted for a long time; for the termination of every thing agreeable is always deferred to the utmost moment of time. At length the band played 'God Save the King'! which was the signal for parting. . . .
Another parting, of far greater import, took place in Government House on January 28th, 1848, the day on which the last of the irresponsible Councillors took their leave of Sir John Harvey. With their acknowledgement that they no longer possessed "the confidence of the Country", and were there- fore resigning, Nova Scotia became the first part of the Empire to give practical meaning to the new theory of responsible government.
The swearing in of the first responsible Cabinet or Executive Council five days later was a fitting climax to a long and heroic struggle. Since the days of Governor Lawrence, Nova Scotians had been seeking to govern themselves. As the triumphant reformers, James B. Uniacke, Michael Tobin, Hugh Bell, Joseph Howe, James McNab, Herbert Hunt-
Page 20
Government House
ington, William F. DesBarres, Lawrence O'C. Doyle and George R. Young, strode into Government House that morning of February 2nd, 1848, the ghosts of their predecessors most certainly accom- panied them, the men who had won a representative Assembly in 1758, the early leaders of the Assembly who, session after session, had clashed with the powerful Councillors, and had slowly gained power themselves, the editors of the popular press who had carried the cry for reform beyond the legislative halls to the people at large, and the village orators who had held forth in "debating societies, taverns, blacksmiths' shops, tap-rooms, and the sunny and sheltered corners of the streets". Surely, they all stood there, ghostly clouds of witnesses, while the reformers were sworn in as the constitutional ad- visors of the new liberal Governor, Sir John Harvey, hero of Stoney Creek and now hero of Nova Scotia. What were the thoughts of Howe in this hour of triumph? Uniacke was the nominal premier; but Howe was content. The substance of power was his. As Provincial Secretary he would become the chief advisor at Government House. Crossing the threshold, his mind may have carried him back to the day in 1840 when he entered the same door to keep an appointment with the Governor-General, Charles Poulett Thompson, later Lord Sydenham. The Governor-General, like Lord John Russell and many other British statesmen, had not been thorough- ly convinced by Lord Durham's reasoning in support of responsible government for the colonists, and Howe had taken it upon himself to explain the issue in clearer and more concrete terms. His four open letters to Lord John Russell in 1839 having established his reputation as a master of exposition, it is not surprising that he was called to Government House in 1840 to read and expound his views to the visiting Governor-General. Before Howe left the room, there was a feeling of "mutual confidence and respect" between the two men, and before Thompson returned to Canada, "it was apparent that the old system was doomed" and that the reactionary Governor of Nova Scotia, Sir Colin Campbell, would be recalled. Some three months
--
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 21
later, at the first levee of the new Governor, Lord Falkland, Howe noticed Sir Colin Campbell, who had not yet departed, bowed to him and, in the words of William Annand, "was moving on" when Sir Colin called to him "and extended his hand, exclaiming, 'We must not part in that way, Mr. Howe. We fought out our differences honestly. You have acted like a man of honour. There is my hand'. It was shaken in all sincerity, and on the old soldier's departure, a graceful tribute was paid by his opponent in The Nova Scotian to his chivalric characteristics". All this and much more may have occurred to Howe in 1848 when he took his oath as a member of the first responsible government. But little did he dream that the time would come when he himself would be Governor. Not the first Nova Scotian to receive this honour Sir Fenwick Williams of Annapolis, famed soldier -- of Kars, came before him but the greatest, Joseph Howe, took office one May day in 1873. His life was then already spent. A few weeks later, before the trees were in full leaf, he passed quietly away, mourned by the whole people of his native land. But of life in the Government House there was no ending. Troubles and triumphs came and went like bubbles on the smooth flowing surface of daily existence. One amusing yet serious in- cident that occurred during the height of the repeal agitation in 1868 is worthy of attention. Harry Moody, private secretary to the Governor of the time, Sir Hastings Doyle, describes it in his remin- iscences. Moody, it seems, had stayed up all night to draft an important memorandum, and in the morning he went to the Governor's room to find Sir Hastings dealing with the aftermath of a dance held the previous evening: This was, perhaps, the most critical moment in his (Sir Hastings') official life, or in mine; and very well I remember the whole scene. He was, as usual, unshaven and in his dressing gown, but looking a little more played out than usual from the late hours of the preceding night. Two A. D. C.'s in uniform and his valet were submitting to him the debris of the Ball -- -- -- a white kid slipper a pair of gloves a broken fan a piece -- of jewelry a shawl, etc., etc., for all which articles he was endeavouring to discover owners, to whom he then made up a neat parcel and addressed a neat little note. In this en-
Page 22
Government House
grossing occupation time was being consumed. The House of Assembly was to meet at 11. Slippers and artificial flowers had the precedence of me and my business, and it was past half-past ten before I could get the chance of explaining what had occurred and hurriedly reading the Memo: His Honour asked if I thought it was all right, and signed it, without himself reading it over. As Moody confessed earlier, Sir Hastings "cared little for, and knew less of, the science of politics, and I was much relieved when I found that he was willing to make over that portion of his duties to me unreservedly and to confine himself to his military and social duties, which latter, with the help of a French cook and his own Irish humour, he was admirably fitted for discharging most satisfactorily". When Haliburton referred to the Government House as the "palace", it is quite likely that he had his tongue in his cheek; but this was what it became in the opinion of many during the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860. On that memorable occasion, the Prince landed at the dockyard where he was received by His Excellency the Earl of Mulgrave and Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Milne. From there, he went to Government House, riding at the head of a great procession along streets crowded with cheering people and under arches blazoned with becoming mottoes. Three thousand school children, sitting on a vast improvised stage that filled the Grand Parade, rose "like a great wave" when they saw the Prince coming up George Street. Edward stopped while they lifted their voices in song, and then proceeded along Barrington Street "amid increasing cheers" to Government House where an "arch was formed at each of the gateways. . . . which were finely decorated with festoons and garlands, and the letters V. A. on each. Between the two was another small arch, surmounted by the Prince's feather and motto". Here, another guard of honour saluted him, and "as he dismounted, and was met and welcomed at the doorway of his temporary residence by his hostess, the Countess of Mulgrave, the Royal standard, run up by a signal man from the Nile, announced that Government House was for the time, through its occupation by the Prince, converted into a palace". The
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Page 23
sentries were immediately doubled and "a permanent guard encamped on the lawn". Within, Edward listened to loyal addresses until he was happily relieved by a ride in the fresh air of Point Pleasant. Rain spoiled the illuminations of the first evening, but the weather was better in the morning for the military display on the common, and there was nothing to dampen the joy at the grand ball held at Province House on the second evening. In the words of one enthusiastic reporter: 'The ball was beyond all that the imagination can conceive, the grandest and most delightful affair of the kind that ever took place in the colonies. There were about a thousand persons present, and, in either dancing or promenading the magnificent suite of rooms, the company enjoyed themselves beyond measure". Obviously, such a crowd could never have been squeezed into Government House which was taxed to the limit the following morning when "a perfect multitude" of people were presented to the Prince at the official levee. Edward was but one of four of Queen Victoria's children who knew Government House. Prince Arthur, later the Duke of Connaught, first visited Halifax in 1869, and stayed long enough to have a completely good time. Besides the usual formal receptions and dances, there were picnics and regattas, and, early in September, a moose hunt. Nine years later, in 1878, Princess Louise arrived with her husband, the Marquis of Lome, who was inaugurated as Governor-General in the Province House. Prince Alfred, commanding one of Her Majesty's ships on the Halifax station, was present to welcome his sister to the city their grandfather, the Duke of Kent, had known so well. The royal connection with Halifax and the Government House was continued bv Edward's son, Prince George, who served with the North Atlantic fleet in 1883 and 1884. As he mingled among them, Nova Scotians had no idea that he would one day become King George the Fifth. The memories of his stay were renewed in 1901 when he passed through as the Duke of York with his wife, Mary, Duchess of York, the present Queen
Page 24
Government House
Mother. Their sons in turn came to Halifax, first Prince Albert as a naval cadet on H. M. S. Cumberland in the summer of 1913, and then the Prince of Wales in 1919. In this year of grace, 1939, Prince Albert comes again, this time as the reigning monarch, George the Sixth, with his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Grey and graceful, Government House stands to receive them as it has stood since the dawn of the nineteenth century.
*m ^%feT^V

JS Martell

File: romance-of-government-house.pdf
Title: Romance of Government House
Author: JS Martell
Author: Martell, James Stuart
Keywords: http://archive.org/details/romanceofgovernm00mart
Published: Wed Dec 19 20:54:54 2012
Pages: 32
File size: 1.56 Mb


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