February 26, 2014

A stupendous work of nature – Niagara Falls

Many have marveled at the beauty and raw power of Niagara Falls upon seeing it for the first time. However, upon first look William “Tiger” Dunlop was not awestruck when viewing the natural wonder for the first time.

In July 1814 as the War of 1812 raged in the Niagara, Dunlop was in York (Toronto) about to make his way to the Niagara. Dunlop arrived in the Niagara Region at Butler’s Barracks just in time to receive numerous casualties from the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Dunlop treated over 200 wounded with only a hospital sergeant to assist him. After Dunlop finished with the carnage from Lundy’s Lane, he took a few days off to visit Table Rock and Niagara Falls.
Niagara Falls, 1840

Upon reaching Table Rock, Dunlop remarked, “My first sight of the Falls most woefully disappointed me … it was not on that scale of magnificence I had been led to expect.” Dunlop sat on the edge of the rock with his legs dangling over for a brief contemplation. He noticed some fishermen at the bottom walking near the water and noticed how small they looked; Dunlop gained a new appreciation for the height of the Falls.

Next, Dunlop attempted to make his way down to the bottom of the Falls; however, it was in a less dignified manner. He unslung his sword and attempted to make his way down when he fell and rolled over half a dozen times before regaining his footing. When Dunlop reached the bottom, he undertook a series of experiments to determine the width of the Falls. First, he threw stones across the Falls, but they quickly dropped. Next, Dunlop acquired a native bow but his arrows were no more successful than the stones. After these experiments, Dunlop realized: 

“it was not till after I looked at the Falls in every aspect that I convinced myself that they were such a stupendous work of nature as they really were. The fact is, there is nothing at hand to compare them with, and a man must see them often, and from every different point of view, to have any proper conception of the nature of them.”

Dunlop came to recognize the beauty, power and magnificence of Niagara Falls.

February 19, 2014

Who hung the monkey?

While the War of 1812 dragged on in North America, people in Europe were forced to endure a much longer conflict. During the Napoleonic Wars, many in the United Kingdom were living in fear of a French invasion. One town on the coast, Hartlepool, faced the possibility of an invasion when a French ship was wrecked off shore and a lone survivor washed up on the beach.
Hanging the Hartlepool monkey

The lone survivor turned out to be the ship’s pet monkey dressed in a military uniform. The fishermen who discovered the survivor proceeded to interrogate the monkey in an effort to find out its true intensions. Being unable to acquire relevant information, the fishermen deemed the monkey to be a spy, since they had no idea what a Frenchman looked like. A quick trial was held on the beach and the monkey was sentenced to death. The mast of a fishing boat was turned into gallows and the unfortunate survivor was hanged. 

Naturally, the story’s authenticity has been questions over the years but that did not prevent Hartlepool’s neighbours from criticizing the town with the taunt “Who hung the monkey?” Even today the Hartlepool United Football Club often hears the taunt but it has been embraced by Hartlepool as part of its history. This story even helped the local mayor win election in 2002 as he dressed in a H’Angus the Monkey costume. 

There is also a darker version to this story. Some say that the monkey may have been a young boy since young boys served on warships moving gun powder, referred to as a powder monkey. There is also a song attached to this story, see below, that tells of the incident. 

After learning more about the Hartlepool monkey, do you believe it?  


February 12, 2014

Overcome all the ties of nature

The War of 1812 in the Niagara Region saw many relationships broken as cross boarder ties were disrupted. This caused great hardship for many as family and friends were now on opposite sides.

One story of a family that was shattered by the War of 1812 was told by Dr. William ‘Tiger’ Dunlop. During the fighting around Fort Erie in August and September 1814, a father and his three sons were patrolling in the woods as part of the Glengarry Light Infantry. The father and sons were Loyalists who left the U.S. after the American Revolution. During a patrol, an American rifleman fired at the Glengarries, dropping a man, but this exposed the rifleman to the Glengarries. The father in the group fired back, killing the American rifleman.
Fighting in the woods around Fort Erie

Soon after, the father proceeded to loot the body of the rifleman when he discovered that he had killed his own brother. This did not deter the old man from taking the valuables of his brother, including an old silver watch and a clasp knife, along with his rifle. Dunlop remarks that the old man coolly remarked, “it served him right for fighting for the rebels, when all the rest of his family fought for King George.” Apparently, the lone brother decided to support the Americans during the revolution and the two brothers had not seen each other until this unfortunate incident. Dunlop goes on to remark, “such is the virulence of political rancour, that it can overcome all the ties of nature.”

This incident, among others, highlights the close bonds that were broken as a result of the destructive War of 1812. 

February 05, 2014

À la silhouette

Today the word silhouette indicates an outline or a general shape of something. It also denotes an image of a person or object represented as a solid shape of colour, usually black. This term originates from 18th century France.

Jane Austen silhouette
Etienne de Silhouette (1709-67) was the protégé of Madame de Pompadour, who was the mistress of Louis XV. Pompadour managed to secure Silhouette’s appointment as Controller-General, essentially the Finance Minister of France, in 1759. Due to the ravages of the Seven Years War (1756-63), Silhouette was tasked with securing funds to rebuild the French Army. His plan involved the implementation of new taxes on external signs of wealth, such as doors and windows, servants and luxury goods. Of course, the nobility and the church were exempt from the new taxes. Unfortunately, Silhouette’s new taxes were not popular with the wealthy of France and he was soon forced into retirement within months.

After this incident, anything done on the cheap was said in France to be à la silhouette. This included the new popular black-profile portraits that were becoming very popular in France. Eventually these portraits became popular across Europe, and during the Napoleonic Wars, many people had this type of portraits in their homes. In addition, many officers carried pictures of their loved ones while away from home.  

As for Silhouette, he spent his retirement in a chateau working on its improvement. Today his name is synonymous with profile portraits, which is better than being known as cheap.