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Roughing it in the Bush/Introduction to the Third Edition

< Roughing it in the Bush


Published by Richard Bentley in 1854

In most instances, emigration is a matter of necessity, not of choice; and this is more especially true of the emigration of persons of respectable connections, or of any station or position in the world. Few educated persons, accustomed to the refinements and luxuries of European society, ever willingly relinquish those advantages, and place themselves beyond the protective influence of the wise and revered institutions of their native land, without the pressure of some urgent cause. Emigration may, indeed, generally be regarded as an act of severe duty, performed at the expense of personal enjoyment, and accompanied by the sacrifice of those local attachments which stamp the scenes amid which our childhood grew, in imperishable characters, upon the heart. Nor is it until adversity has pressed sorely upon the proud and wounded spirit of the well-educated sons and daughters of old but impoverished families, that they gird up the loins of the mind, and arm themselves with fortitude to meet and dare the heart-breaking conflict.

The ordinary motives for the emigration of such persons may be summed up in a few brief words;—the emigrant's hope of bettering his condition, and of escaping from the vulgar sarcasms too often hurled at the less-wealthy by the purse-proud, common-place people of the world. But there is a higher motive still, which has its origin in that love of independence which springs up spontaneously in the breasts of the high-souled children of a glorious land. They cannot labour in a menial capacity in the country where they were born and educated to command. They can trace no difference between themselves and the more fortunate individuals of a race whose blood warms their veins, and whose name they bear. The want of wealth alone places an impassable barrier between them and the more favoured offspring of the same parent stock; and they go forth to make for themselves a new name and to find another country, to forget the past and to live in the future, to exult in the prospect of their children being free and the land of their adoption great.

The choice of the country to which they devote their talents and energies depends less upon their pecuniary means than upon the fancy of the emigrant or the popularity of a name. From the year 1826 to 1829, Australia and the Swan River were all the rage. No other portions of the habitable globe were deemed worthy of notice. These were the El Dorados and lands of Goshen to which all respectable emigrants eagerly flocked. Disappointment, as a matter of course, followed their high-raised expectations. Many of the most sanguine of these adventurers returned to their native shores in a worse condition than when they left them. In 1830, the great tide of emigration flowed westward. Canada became the great land-mark for the rich in hope and poor in purse. Public newspapers and private letters teemed with the unheard-of advantages to be derived from a settlement in this highly-favoured region.

Its salubrious climate, its fertile soil, commercial advantages, great water privileges, its proximity to the mother country, and last, not least, its almost total exemption from taxation—that bugbear which keeps honest John Bull in a state of constant ferment—were the theme of every tongue, and lauded beyond all praise. The general interest, once excited, was industriously kept alive by pamphlets, published by interested parties, which prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully concealed the toil and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages. They told of lands yielding forty bushels to the acre, but they said nothing of the years when these lands, with the most careful cultivation, would barely return fifteen; when rust and smut, engendered by the vicinity of damp over-hanging woods, would blast the fruits of the poor emigrant's labour, and almost deprive him of bread. They talked of log houses to be raised in a single day, by the generous exertions of friends and neighbours, but they never ventured upon a picture of the disgusting scenes of riot and low debauchery exhibited during the raising, or upon a description of the dwellings when raised—dens of dirt and misery, which would, in many instances, be shamed by an English pig-sty. The necessaries of life were described as inestimably cheap; but they forgot to add that in remote bush settlements, often twenty miles from a market town, and some of them even that distance from the nearest dwelling, the necessaries of life which would be deemed indispensable to the European, could not be procured at all, or, if obtained, could only be so by sending a man and team through a blazed forest road,—a process far too expensive for frequent repetition.

Oh, ye dealers in wild lands—ye speculators in the folly and credulity of your fellow men—what a mass of misery, and of misrepresentation productive of that misery, have ye not to answer for! You had your acres to sell, and what to you were the worn-down frames and broken hearts of the infatuated purchasers? The public believed the plausible statements you made with such earnestness, and men of all grades rushed to hear your hired orators declaim upon the blessings to be obtained by the clearers of the wilderness.

Men who had been hopeless of supporting their families in comfort and independence at home, thought that they had only to come out to Canada to make their fortunes; almost even to realise the story told in the nursery, of the sheep and oxen that ran about the streets, ready roasted, and with knives and forks upon their backs. They were made to believe that if it did not actually rain gold, that precious metal could be obtained, as is now stated of California and Australia, by stooping to pick it up.

The infection became general. A Canada mania pervaded the middle ranks of British society; thousands and tens of thousands for the space of three or four years landed upon these shores. A large majority of the higher class were officers of the army and navy, with their families—a class perfectly unfitted by their previous habits and education for contending with the stern realities of emigrant life. The hand that has long held the sword, and been accustomed to receive implicit obedience from those under its control, is seldom adapted to wield the spade and guide the plough, or try its strength against the stubborn trees of the forest. Nor will such persons submit cheerfully to the saucy familiarity of servants, who, republicans in spirit, think themselves as good as their employers. Too many of these brave and honourable men were easy dupes to the designing land-speculators. Not having counted the cost, but only looked upon the bright side of the picture held up to their admiring gaze, they fell easily into the snares of their artful seducers.

To prove their zeal as colonists, they were induced to purchase large tracts of wild land in remote and unfavourable situations. This, while it impoverished and often proved the ruin of the unfortunate immigrant, possessed a double advantage to the seller. He obtained an exorbitant price for the land which he actually sold, while the residence of a respectable settler upon the spot greatly enhanced the value and price of all other lands in the neighbourhood.

It is not by such instruments as those I have just mentioned, that Providence works when it would reclaim the waste places of the earth, and make them subservient to the wants and happiness of its creatures. The Great Father of the souls and bodies of men knows the arm which wholesome labour from infancy has made strong, the nerves which have become iron by patient endurance, by exposure to weather, coarse fare, and rude shelter; and He chooses such, to send forth into the forest to hew out the rough paths for the advance of civilization. These men become wealthy and prosperous, and form the bones and sinews of a great and rising country. Their labour is wealth, not exhaustion; its produce independence and content, not home-sickness and despair. What the Backwoods of Canada are to the industrious and ever-to-be-honoured sons of honest poverty, and what they are to the refined and accomplished gentleman, these simple sketches will endeavour to portray. They are drawn principally from my own experience, during a sojourn of nineteen years in the colony.

In order to diversify my subject, and make it as amusing as possible, I have between the sketches introduced a few small poems, all written during my residence in Canada, and descriptive of the country.

In this pleasing task, I have been assisted by my husband, J. W. Dunbar Moodie, author of "Ten Years in South Africa."



  Canada, the blest—the free!
  With prophetic glance, I see
  Visions of thy future glory,
  Giving to the world's great story
  A page, with mighty meaning fraught,
  That asks a wider range of thought.
  Borne onward on the wings of Time,
  I trace thy future course sublime;
  And feel my anxious lot grow bright,
  While musing on the glorious sight;—
  My heart rejoicing bounds with glee
  To hail thy noble destiny!

  Even now thy sons inherit
  All thy British mother's spirit.
  Ah! no child of bondage thou;
  With her blessing on thy brow,
  And her deathless, old renown
  Circling thee with freedom's crown,
  And her love within thy heart,
  Well may'st thou perform thy part,
  And to coming years proclaim
  Thou art worthy of her name.
  Home of the homeless!—friend to all
  Who suffer on this earthly ball!
  On thy bosom sickly care
  Quite forgets her squalid lair;
  Gaunt famine, ghastly poverty
  Before thy gracious aspect fly,
  And hopes long crush'd, grow bright again,
  And, smiling, point to hill and plain.

  By thy winter's stainless snow,
  Starry heavens of purer glow,
  Glorious summers, fervid, bright,
  Basking in one blaze of light;
  By thy fair, salubrious clime;
  By thy scenery sublime;
  By thy mountains, streams, and woods;
  By thy everlasting floods;
  If greatness dwells beneath the skies,
  Thou to greatness shalt arise!

  Nations old, and empires vast,
  From the earth had darkly pass'd
  Ere rose the fair auspicious morn
  When thou, the last, not least, wast born.
  Through the desert solitude
  Of trackless waters, forests rude,
  Thy guardian angel sent a cry
  All jubilant of victory!
  "Joy," she cried, "to th' untill'd earth,
  Let her joy in a mighty birth,—
  Night from the land has pass'd away,
  The desert basks in noon of day.
  Joy, to the sullen wilderness,
  I come, her gloomy shades to bless,
  To bid the bear and wild-cat yield
  Their savage haunts to town and field.
  Joy, to stout hearts and willing hands,
  That win a right to these broad lands,
  And reap the fruit of honest toil,
  Lords of the rich, abundant soil.

  "Joy, to the sons of want, who groan
  In lands that cannot feed their own;
  And seek, in stern, determined mood,
  Homes in the land of lake and wood,
  And leave their hearts' young hopes behind,
  Friends in this distant world to find;
  Led by that God, who from His throne
  Regards the poor man's stifled moan.
  Like one awaken'd from the dead,
  The peasant lifts his drooping head,
  Nerves his strong heart and sunburnt hand,
  To win a potion of the land,
  That glooms before him far and wide
  In frowning woods and surging tide
  No more oppress'd, no more a slave,
  Here freedom dwells beyond the wave.

  "Joy, to those hardy sires who bore
  The day's first heat—their toils are o'er;
  Rude fathers of this rising land,
  Theirs was a mission truly grand.
  Brave peasants whom the Father, God,
  Sent to reclaim the stubborn sod;
  Well they perform'd their task, and won
  Altar and hearth for the woodman's son.
  Joy, to Canada's unborn heirs,
  A deathless heritage is theirs;
  For, sway'd by wise and holy laws,
  Its voice shall aid the world's great cause,
  Shall plead the rights of man, and claim
  For humble worth an honest name;
  Shall show the peasant-born can be,
  When call'd to action, great and free.
  Like fire, within the flint conceal'd,
  By stern necessity reveal'd,
  Kindles to life the stupid sod,
  Image of perfect man and God.

  "Joy, to thy unborn sons, for they
  Shall hail a brighter, purer day;
  When peace and Christian brotherhood
  Shall form a stronger tie than blood—
  And commerce, freed from tax and chain,
  Shall build a bridge o'er earth and main;
  And man shall prize the wealth of mind,
  The greatest blessing to mankind;
  True Christians, both in word and deed,
  Ready in virtue's cause to bleed,
  Against a world combined to stand,
  And guard the honour of the land.
  Joy, to the earth, when this shall be,
  Time verges on eternity."