Philip Graham, 19th century naval officer, was a delightful writer. His writing is rich with detail and he creates vivid images of the early stages of this province.
As with all good writers, a relationship will develop between writer and reader. I can easily see Graham standing at the top of Hamilton mountain surveying Lake Ontario, and yes ladies, he’s very handsome. His naval uniform is impressive and there is a slight breeze that moves his thick brown hair. When he helps to up right the stage coach, he is the very image of any leading actor.
Captain Phillip Graham was a half pay officer who was part of the Vansittart entourage: they helped to develop Woodstock, fought weary rebels in 1837, and most notably, helped sink the Caroline at Niagara Falls during the same year. I picked up part of Graham’s diary the other day at the Woodstock Public Library and was enthralled by the suspense of his adventures around Southern Ontario.
Graham was friends with Captain Andrew Drew and Colonel AW Light – both great contributors to the development of Woodstock. All three men have streets here named in their honor.
Whether it’s severed arms, whiskey drinking or hunting, this 19th century naval hero’s diary is quite gripping. I have included three entries here that will surely tantalize.
3 of Graham’s Diary entries for October 1833:
Monday, 14th. Blowing hard from the west. Fine weather. Rose early to leave in the Constitution at 7 a.m. Was told by Mr. Harrington that a carriage was ordered to take us and others to the boat. After considerable and well contrived delay, ________saw the steamer leave the River, and the excuse made by Harrington was that the driver had been to get his harness repaired. Determined then on proceeding by the stage to Hamilton. Instead of 9, the stage did not leave until 10:30 a.m. and at Queenston we were detained 2& 1/2 for the mail, making a detention of four hours before we completed 7 miles of our journey. The roads were tolerably good, but notwithstanding, we did not arrive at Hamilton until 2 a.m. in the morning, after being pent up in a small stage, the party consisting of nine grown persons and a child. On the previous day, 16th a party of 80 persons dined here at Burleigh’s to celebrate Sir Isaac Brock’s Victory at Queenston Heights. In the evening a cannon was repeatedly fired in the street, and at about 10:30 the Gun went off from carelessness, whilst they were in the act of loading, by which accident a black man had one arm blown off completely, the sinews being drawn out from the elbow, and lost the other hand —- a white man was also considerably and dangerously wounded.
Tuesday, 15th. A very fine morning. We hired a return — wagon and proceeded for Brantford on the Grand River (Ouse). Dined at the tavern at Ancaster. Having walked up the hill at Hamilton, we were delighted during our detention for the wagon with a splendid view from the Summit — looking down upon Hamilton immediately beneath — a beautiful, well-cultivated country spread before us, and the noble Lake Ontario beyond. When within six miles of Brantford, the night being very dark, and our waggoner very drunk, we ran against a bank going down a steep hill and were very nearly upset. Procured assistance from a house which was fortunately close at hand, and with some difficult restored the wagon to equilibrium. Drove on to Idle’s tavern about a mile distant, by the light of a naked candle. This house being very small and unable to accommodate us, every bed being occupied and some drunken guests occupying the chairs around the Bar Room fire, we journey on with the help of a broken lantern which we borrowed from the landlord, who we found to be a very civil old man. He is building a better house hard by. After narrowly escaping running over some drunken Indians who were lying in the muddy road under the pelting rain, we arrived safely at Brantford and we tried hard to fit into a Tavern which the following day we found uninhabited and the building not finished, but on our return to Colter’s Hotel where we had been told we could not be accommodated, we procured something to eat with tea and beds to rest our wearied bodies which had been pretty well jumbled over the rough road roads we travelled. Found that my friend Captain Drew and Rollo Hunter, Esq. were in the house.
Monday, 21st. A fine day. Went to visit Colonel Light’s new building on his land adjoining mine. This building is of brick — a good large house 42 feet by 28 but when the wings are added the front will be 84 feet facing to the south in a fine elevated situation about the River Thames which is there rather narrow. The country here is well cleared and finely undulated with high hills. Walked to the Village of Beachville about 1 1/2 miles from Light’s and five miles to Hatch’s. Here are grist mills and saw mills and two whiskey distillers — with a small Tavern and good stores. The road from the bridge at Cedar Creek runs principally along and near the South Bank of the Thames and is one of the best roads I have seen in the Province — along which an English carriage may be driven with safety. The country all the way from Hamilton to this part abounds with apples and all kinds of vegetables of the first quality — also abundance of cherries. Major Deedes and Domett accompanied me on the walk. We saw many wild fowl and shot some. Returned to dinner at 5:30 p.m. bringing with us Sunday letters from Beachfield and five quarts of good Brantford whiskey in a covered tin kettle, being the only capable vessel we could procure.
Philip Graham died June 25th, 1849 as the result of an accident. He is buried in Old St. Paul’s Cemetery.
Alexander Whalley Light Papers. Found in reproduction of Light Papers located at Woodstock Public Library. Original at Public Archives of Canada.
(You can discover more about the history of Beachville during Graham’s time by visiting The Beachville Museum, located at 58437 Beachville Road, Box 220, Beachville, Ontario. N0J 1A0