Diary of George Ramsay

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Selected diary entries of George Ramsay, Earl of Dalhousie, Governor of Nova Scotia 1816-20.
The Dalhousie Journals, vol. 1, ed. Marjory Whitelaw (Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1978).


23 December 1816 – Halifax, NS
The glass today is at 37 degrees, mild & delightful. …


24 January 1817 – Halifax, NS
These last 10 days have been hard w. severe cold, except on 18th when it blew very hard from S.E. with rain. The snow melted in rivers in town; during the night the wind suddenly shifted to the opposite point of the Compass N.W. & froze extremely hard; in consequence the streets are a most dangerous sheet of ice, carriages & sleighs swinging at every turn so as almost to pull the horses down. …


31 January 1817 – Halifax, NS
The Harbour today is frozen over very far out. … Two nights ago a small boat with the mate and one sailor going to their vessel near the shore, has drifted to sea; it is supposed they were drunk, and in that state they are the more easily nipped by the frost – that they had lain down in their boat and were frozen to death, but neither they nor the boat have been heard of.


3 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
Mr. Black & Mr. Hill, two of the oldest & most respectable inhabitants here, who have for 30 years kept a Register of the weather, say that this is the most severe they ever remember. Mr. Hill states that his Therm. at daybreak on 30th was 10 below zero.


5 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
Very cold today, wind at N. west and the Barber on the water. This Barber is a very curious thing. It has the appearance as if the surface of the Sea was covered in loose snow, & the only account I can get of it is that it is the exhalation rising to the effect of the Sun, & frozen as it were in the air; it hangs in the air a little above the horizon & drafts away before the breeze. The name is a vulgar common Phrase, but there is none other except that sometimes it is said “the harbour is smoaking”; in this state of very severe cold the wind is always at Northwest.


11 February 1817 – Windsor, NS
….The travelling in sleigh is the easiest mode certainly in this climate, and facilitates the communication in the country. It is remarkably quick & the whole day in deep snow & open air, none of us felt any cold.


15 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
…The cold is more severe today than I have ever yet felt it. My therm. is 4 degrees below zero only, & has stood so notwithstanding the Sun is bright all forenoon.


17 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
…The harbour has been frozen completely over these two days, and for the first time for a great many years people have walked over from Dartmouth to Halifax. The ice extends down to the point called Mauger’s Beach. …


21 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
Continues very fine with bright sun, but today tho’ the wind is at north, it feels quite a thaw, & the ice on the harbour is giving way & dissolving as if from the power of the Sun. Several people walking on the harbour today have fallen in, but no fatal accident has happened….


24 February 1817 – Halifax, NS
…People consider the winter now broke up and in two or three weeks we shall have arrivals of shipping from every part of the world.


2 April 1817 – Halifax, NS
The House of Assembly having finished their business I prorogued it today. … £8000 to purchase seed Corn for the relief of the distress experienced this year in certain districts. Bounties to Agriculture, Fisheries and Commerce, drawbacks on Exportation & the Civil Establishment of the Province, very moderate in its salaries, make up the Publick disbursement this year — £62,000.
The Treasurer Mr. Wallace tells me this is improvidently large, but I differ from him; the Province is rapidly increasing in resources – it has not a shilling of debt, & the only tax is the support of the Poor. If the Assembly has overstept the amount of the Revenue a little, it is in giving a circulation of money in the Province, chiefly in roads and seed Corn, which cannot fail to be of great service to the Country, and it is always in their power to check the issue next year for the relief of any debt they may contract in these times of distress among the lower orders.


3 April 1817 – Halifax, NS
Another fall of snow all this forenoon, wind at S.E. blowing hard. An old Gentleman, Dr. Cochrane, Vice President of the College at Windsor in this Province, dining with me today, says he has kept a regular Journal of the weather and observations on it since 1774, and he finds nothing equal to this season, but the years 1780 and 1798. In both these the fall of snow was very deep and did immense damage in its thaw, by carrying off bridges, mills, and every building near to rivers. This season has the advantage of its thaw being so singularly gradual; so much is already gone, that no damage can be done.


1 May 1817 – Halifax, NS
May day is most delightful; by 6 o’clock the whole town almost was out walking towards Point Pleasant gathering the Mayflower all cheerful & gay. Welcome Spring with all its charms!


3 May 1817 – Halifax, NS
Every succeeding day continues still finer than the former. Ploughs and all hands are at work as busy as ants. The oldest inhabitants now foretell that after a most severe & long winter, we have every prospect of a fine spring & seed time.


10 May 1817 – Halifax, NS
… The April Packet 20 days from Falmouth, 10 or a dozen ships from London 23 days, and several from Leith & Aberdeen also in 23-28 days, have been daily crowding into this Port, a very cheering & delightful sight. I have received by them considerable quantities of seed wheat, oats & Potatoes, which come most opportunely in these times of distress among the poor. I have distributed the whole of them & find them almost a blessing to them, besides obtaining my first object I had thought of, the introducing a new seed Potato into the Province, a thing much called for.

The Assembly had voted a Sum of £1500 in 1816 to purchase seed grain for the poor but being too late last year has been imported now from Liverpool. In 1817 it voted £8000 also to purchase seed grain, but this to be sold at low price to such as wanted, this has been imported from the States, & arriving just now for distribution, will brighten our prospects & with the blessing of God will restore plenty & comfort to this land. Government has also given its powerful aid by authorizing me to distribute seed potatoes to the Refugee Negroes, to the amount I dare say of 800 families.

In spite of the known distress that has existed, and the many difficulties & hardships to which new settlers are exposed on their arrival in these Provinces, I find these last ships from Scotland are full of emigrants to us. The labourers ae almost immediately engaged, but carpenters, masons & other superior workmen are sadly put to it. Provisions at this season extremely dear, & house rent or lodgings most extravagant.


30 June 1817 – Halifax, NS
…For some time past we have had constant westerly winds, which bringing the finest weather imaginable for us on shore, have been directly contrary to all arrivals from Europe.

In this respect we have witnessed several large ships arriving with a great number of passengers (300 in one vessel) in a state of starvation after 60 days passage.

On the other hand however & happily it is so, a finer season for seed time and crops generally never was known. All Canada, as well as this Province, rejoices in the prospects we have at present.

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