Appendix 62 - Letters from Montreal to Berkshire

William Kidner was born in Pitminster, Somerset in about 1784, and married Eliza Wyeth in the City of London in 1814 before settling down in Reading, and then Sonning, Berkshire. He emigrated with his young family to Canada in about 1833. I wonder if he ever received the news promised by this notice, which appeared in the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser on Wednesday on 21st August 1833:

"If William Kidner, who formerly lived at STOCKLINCH, near Ilminster, in the County of Somerset, and who is supposed to have resided for many years at or near Reading in Berkshire, will apply to Mr. WILLIAM STEPHENS, of Stocklinch aforesaid, he will hear of something to his advantage. Any person who will give Mr Stephens information of the present Residence or Death of the said Wm. Kidner, will receive a REWARD of ONE GUINEA. Dated Stocklinch, 16th August, 1833

A letter from William was published in the Berkshire Chronicle in 1834, and a letter from his son John in 1838 was published in the same organ.

Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 4th January 1834

We have much pleasure in giving insertion to a letter from an emigrant named Kidner, a parishioner of Sonning, and formerly a resident in Reading, to Mr Gosling, of Sonning, who was, we believe, instrumental, as a parochial officer, in sending the writer of the letter. It often happens that more information is derived from the simple statement of an unlettered man than from the expensive and pompous books of professed tourists. Kidner, we understand, is by trade a butcher, and it will be seen that his information chiefly relates to his own trade, — but he seems to be an accurate observer of the different modes of life in Canada. He gives us a proof that he has not forgotten the prejudices of an Englishman, and, we may add, the attachments of one. The allusion to the horn and the old song, and his qualified praise of the farming system — as pretty good for Frenchmen, — are proofs of the remarks we have made. We are sure the letter will be read with great interest by many who knew the man well, when in this neighbourhood.


“Montreal, Oct. 23, 1833.

“Most respected Sir, —Mr. Galindo promised me on the return of the ship Montreal to Liverpool, that he would write to you; if he did not, you must think us all swallowed up in the Atlantic or fell victims to the cholera, which, thank God, neither has been the case. We all arrived here safe after 54 days’ passage, and a very lucky thing for us that our passage was so long, for had we had a quicker, we should have been in the height of the cholera —there was but one death after our arrival, but both Quebec and this place were like deserted towns. I should have wrote sooner, but I stopped to see a little of the seasons after hearing so much of a Canada winter, which, I assure you, are very sharp, for Jack Frost pays no respect to persons; he took a piece of each of my ears, one of my toes, and two of my finger nails; but I will try to be a match for him this winter. On my arrival here I was advised to go to St John’s, about 27 miles from here, on the border of Lake Champlain — but I found no good doing there, and my family all being taken ill with the bowel complaint, I returned, and was forced to stop here three weeks before I could move them, as at that time everything here was at a stand. I then went 50 miles up the grand or river Ottawa, and got a place at 18s per week, at the steam boat office, which I held till the frost set in — (and in three days that large river, second to the St. Lawrence, was frozen over and passable for sledges, for you will not see a wheel move from Dec. to May). I then went and bought an ox — commenced [work as a] butcher — the first ever in that place, as the Canadian or old French kill all their own; but at that season they were busy threshing and taking out their corn. You will be surprised to hear that I killed 2 heifers and 11 sheep the Christmas week, and only worked £3, which I gave for the first killed, and sold it; then 6 sheep at 8s a piece and 5 at 9s 6d, and a little heifer £2 2s 6d – 75lb per quarter and 56lb of fat;—by what I killed it strikes me there must be some virtue in the land, according to the proof of the cattle, calves from 2s 6d to £1 a piece. I continued it, and supported all my family well until June, but not to save any thing, the weather then being so hot and fish so plentiful that I could do no good, and not being able to speak French was all against me in the way of dealing, as it is chiefly spoken here; and having no employ for my children I returned to Montreal. Myself and boy has got work for the winter at a large tobacco merchant’s, and my girl is going 300 miles up country with an English lady that is just come out, at three dollars sterling per month. I shall go myself next summer, as no English stop here if they can get farther up, as the winters are so long and not much employ but chopping wood. Men that can use the ax well is sure of work and good wages; you may get plenty of land, in a wild state, for little money, and wild it is all that I have seen in that state; large trees are three or four foot apart, and large stones from one two or three tons, which they call lowters, and blow them to pieces with gunpowder – therefore for years they cannot have more than one fourth in cultivation, as I am informed that it takes 10 or 12 years before the stumps are decayed, enough to pull them up, which they do with oxen as they decay, but grub none yet. What I have seen they have good crops of potatoes and other things among them, and would be very good had it more time in the ground. I saw wheat sown the 3d of May and cut on the 28th of August, and clover that was covered with snow the last of April mown the latter end of June, and as good a crop as I ever saw in England; but their corn has not the body, as they cut it before it is ripe, as the weather is so hot it would all shake out; their peas are very good, but a great disadvantage is, they cannot winter the turnips to feed them – they grow them very fine, and stow them in their cellars for cattle in winter, which fares very hard here I assure you, except their horses, which they take great care of, which they deserve, as they work them very hard, but they are the most useful creatures I ever saw – although small, an Englishman would hardly believe they work they will do; they drive them all reins both in carts and slays, and when not loaded, at a rapid rate, particularly in winter, with cars and slays, as they travel more the than summer, as they cross rivers, lakes, &c. I have seen from 50 to 80 all in a string on the river Ottawa loaded with merchandise. It is grand to see the upper class in their berbens, a grand sort of slay with box and dickey behind like a coach; drive two and often three horses in length, and each horse with a collar of bells about its neck, and the passengers wrapt up in buffalo and bear skins – and very pleasant travelling it is, as the roads are bad at present, which is a great disadvantage to the little farmer or new settler to get out their produce to dispose of, as there is no market but Montreal for 50 miles, which is well attended with every article of life from the country round, and floated down the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers and from the States by steam boats, which we have from 90 to 160 horse power, and if aboard of them you almost may fancy yourself in Smithfield, Mark–lane, or Covent garden markets. We have two butchers’ markets here, which are open every day, and Dartmoor market on Sunday morning from six to eight in the morning; the stalls are all let here by auction once a year, and average about £20 per annum, and you must pay a half-year’s rent in advance, but the old butchers generally take them all, or else a man may do business here with a small capital, and know his profits every night, as all is cash payment. Live cattle are brought to market every morning, and you may buy from one sheep upwards as your purse stands; both sheep, pigs, and calves are brought with their legs tied, except those from the States, which are very fine cattle; only beef and pork are sold by weight —beef 2d to 3½d, pork 3½ to 4½d per lb, mutton 1s 6d to 3s per quarter; veal in the spring almost for nothing; butter is dear, 1s per pound; poultry cheap, turkeys 1s 9d a piece, as fine as I have seen sold in Reading at 10s 6d; geese 1s 6d; fowls 6d to 10d per couple. Lower Canada wheat 5s per bushel, Upper Canada do. 6s do. and in general very fine, and by the quantity that has been brought down and shipped here still shipping, and the stock in hand both of wheat and flour, shews that it must be far before this part. What I have seen of the people here commonly called farmers, half of them think of raising no more than just for their own use, excepting some of the old settlements near here, which is in pretty good cultivation, considering they are French farmers – but they are sure of a market here, and those near the rivers, the land near all the rivers, as wild as it is, is almost taken up for miles back, and all that is wanted is good roads; there is several canals in hand which, when open, will make a great alteration. The Scotchmen get on better than any others that I have seen here; I have not seen one working as a day labourer: they all get on land, but they are all so united and assist one another; as soon as a man has his land, they will all assist him for miles around, and chop down several acres, and draw it together for burning in the spring, so that he is able to get in a sufficient crop for his family the first year, and I may say completely set on his feet, for if a man can get one year over on land, and be industrious, he may do well; But I have seen so much that I think it madness for aman to attempt to do so without he has enough to keep him that time. I have known numbers, and particularly the pensioners, which are to be pitied, forced to give up their land after spending the few pounds they had on it, and in great distress; yet I should advise any one that comes out to get land, but let a man be what he may it wants a time for him to look about him, for I assure you the good people of this country are not always asleep, and will take advantage of a stranger as well as any other country. To be candid and serious, there is no fear of a man getting a good living here if he will be industrious: mechanics get great wages in the summer months, and have been much in demand this summer, as a few emigrants have come out this year – not so many by twenty four thousand as last. English servants always in demand – farm servants in particular, which get good wages. There is one thing puts me in mind of the old song and days gone by in England, that is –

’When so sweetly the horn
Calls me up in the morn;’

but that is not the only tune – it calls them three times a day to eat of the same dish and drink out of the same cup with their master, and I think there is no fear of their betraying him. Please to tell Mark that he shall hear from me January, and Robert Hatton to let his sister know that we are all well; and I hope this will find yourself and family and all friends at Sonning the same.—

From, most respected sir, your humble servant,

Wm. Kidner

Belfast Tavern, Commissioner–street, Montreal, Lower Canada.”



Berkshire Chronicle, 24th February 1838

The following letter has been received in Reading, and as the family of the writer were resident here for some time, its contents may interest many of their former acquaintance:—

“Montreal, Lower Canada, 20th January, 1838

“Mr. Robert Richmond Moody,

Dear Sir,—As it is near six long years since I left old England, I have now taken the liberty of addressing a letter to you, to let you know that I am yet numbered amongst the living, and in good health, as I hope to find you the same. We are all in good health, except father, who has been sick for some time, but is now getting better, and I hope he will continue; although as you must know we have lost our poor mother, we would not wish to lose him also. Father sent a letter and a package of newspapers to uncle in last October, but we have never heard whether they arrived safe or not. I suppose you have heard before this of the destruction of the Vindicator Office, in this town, in which Charles was employed; it was one of the Radical papers, and done more harm to the country than all the others together, since which both the proprietor and editor have ran off on account of there having been warrants issued against them for high treason and rebellion; –the editor is at present in New York, in the United States. You must know before this reaches you that for the last six months past the country has been in a state of open rebellion; but I hope it will soon be put a stop to, as most of the principal ring-leaders are in gaol in this town; but there is great excitement prevailing all over the country on account of the Americans having supplied the rebels with provisions and ammunition; and it is expected it will terminate in a war between Great Britain and the United States – if so, the sooner the better, for it will put some money in circulation, which we are greatly in want of at present, for there is neither work nor money to be had. There is nothing but paper money in circulation here in bills of [.....] £250 and upwards. Specie is worth from 3 to 5 per cent premium. We have a great deal of specie in our establishment – that is, my master’s, to pay duty on tobacco and snuff. You must know that I am bound to Mr. Joseph for three years, at the rate of 19 shillings per week, and will get a great deal more when my time is up, which is not more than 18 months. But I must say I have learnt a great deal since I have been there, as I knew nothing before; but now I can speak pretty good French, and understand something about business; but I hope the day will come when I will be able to set my feet on my native land once more, and visit all my old friends and acquaintances again. Not but what we could do a great deal better here than at home, but still there is so many things that recalls the past to me, and makes me wish to see old England once more. I forgot to mention that father has been obliged to join the militia once more – in fact every man has to do the same now a–days. We have no less than 3,400 militia, besides 6 regiments of regular soldiers and a regiment of volunteers, 1000 strong, in this town and the surrounding country, and expect a great many more in the spring – in fact there is some on their road at present. As I have given you all the news, and filled my sheet, I will conclude by wishing you and your family health and prosperity. Give mine and all the family’s best respects to all at home, and I hope to hear from you in return.
I am, dear sir, your most humble servant,



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