Monday, 31 October 2011

Mercy Coles and the failed Ball Government House Quebec October 1864

Originally Government House, also known as Spencer Wood, now Parc du Bois-d-Coulonge in Quebec City
image from Tourisme Quebec

This is a continuation of Mercy Coles' diary from the Quebec Conference of October 1864. Mercy was 26, unmarried and the daughter of George Coles of PEI, one of the Fathers of Confederation. The unmarried daughters and sisters went along to Quebec as well as the wives of the delegates. Mercy wrote of the parties and balls and of the sights and other 'goings -on'.

“Monday Afternoon – 17th
      Home all alone. I have not been able to leave my bedroom since Friday [October 14, 1864]. Just as I was going to get ready for the Ball I went to comb Mamma’s hair and nearly fainted. She made me lie down. I got so nervous and excited that I [unclear] crying. Papa went off for Dr. Tupper, he came up directly. He wrote some prescriptions and sent them off to have some medicine made up for me, he saw I had a very sore throat and was very feverish, of course going to the Ball was out of the question so I very soon undressed and got into bed. ... They [her mother and father] did not start until nearly 11 o’clock and were home by 2. Dr. Tupper came in again when he came home. He saw I was very ill indeed. All day Saturday I never raised my head from the pillow, only to take the medicine or gargle my throat. Yesterday morning it broke, it still remains very sore. The Doctor has just been here and he says I shall be quite well in a few days. I hope so for there are two or three Balls and parties this week, one ‘at Home’ at Government House on Friday night and a party at Mde. Tessiers [Lady of the Speaker of the Legislature] on Wednesday. Papa and Mamma have gone out to make some visits. Mr. Crowthers has just called and left a comic newspaper with his compliments. He, Mr. Drinkwater, and Mr. Bernard call everyday to enquire for me. The Ball [The Governor’s Ball at Government House, also known as Spencer Wood, now Parc du Bois-d-Coulonge] on Friday, October 14] I believe was rather a failure as far as the delegates are concerned. The Quebec People never introduced the ladies nor gentlemen to any partners nor never seen whether they had any supper or not [emphasis mine]. The Col Grays [Col John Hamilton Gray, Premier of PEI, and John Hamilton Gray, a lawyer and former Premier of New Brunswick.] are both rather indignant at the way their daughters were treated. Miss Gray and Miss Tupper came to see me this morning. They came to the conclusion I had not missed much yet. ...”

Edward Whelan says differently though:

In his The Union of the British Provinces: A brief account of the several conferences held in the Maritime provinces and in Canada, in September and October, 1864, ...  online  (the book is short, the title though ...)  however says “On the evening of the 14th a very brilliant Ball was given in the Parliament Buildings, under the auspices of the Canadian Ministry. It was attended by the same classes – the same distinguished persons and society as attended the “Drawing Room” on the 11th. [Remember Mercy thought this was quite tiresome as well.] His Excellency the Governor General [Lord Monck], His Excellency the Lieut. Governor of Nova Scotia and Lady, the Members of the Canadian Government, the Delegates from the Eastern Provinces, and about 800 others, formed a large and most agreeable party, by whom the pleasures of the dance were kept up without interruption and without an incident [?!] to mar the harmony of the occasion, until nearly 3 o’clock on the morning of the 15th.”

I guess it depends on your perspective, and who you might be trying to impress. Whelan’s book was compiled after the conferences and the speeches were written out by the delegates after the fact.

Re the New Brunswick John Hamilton Gray, I can find no mention him being married, or having a daughter, even in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography On line . As the unmarried daughters and sisters of the delegates went along to well, get to meet the unmarried men of the rest of the country, it’s unfortunate that there is no record of what happened to them, aside from in some family histories perhaps.

It is interesting to think about what happened to these lost “Daughters of Confederation”. I won’t give away quite yet what became of Mercy Coles. If people do know what became of their great great great great(?) aunts and grandmothers who went to Quebec for the confederation conference of October 1864 perhaps they could let me know and I’ll post updates.

There are endless interesting aspects of the conference and the mixing of the social with the political agendas. To read more of the rest of the week to Friday October 21, 1864

 “Tuesday Afternoon [October 18]
            I am sure I shall know the shape of every shingle on the roof of the old house opposite.” Mercy was quite sick and unable to leave her room aside from a half hour here or there for some days. She kept in touch with what was going on though – seeing the “invitations from the Bachelors of Quebec to a Ball at the Provincial Building on Friday evening. We are also invited to a party tomorrow evening. I hope I shall be able to go.” [But she wasn’t. She was sick with diphtheria and was not really better until Wednesday Oct 26 – and they left Quebec City Thursday Oct 27. The weather can’t have helped.] It’s [Quebec] the most miserable place to live in one can fancy. We have not had one fine day ever since we came. It has been pouring just a few minutes ago. Such dumpy, draggled frail women they have here. I have just seen one go by with a handsome embroidered skirt over a red one. Her white one an inch thick with mud. ...
Wednesday Afternoon
      In bed again the whole day. [Her throat was worse and Dr. Tupper ‘opened’ it again – this seems to mean that he cut it open. She had to hold ice in her mouth all night.] ...

Thursday Morning
     In bed yet. ... They had a great Ball last night at Mde Tessiers. Papa came home with every stitch of clothes wringing wet with perspiration. He says he never had such a time. The French ladies are the very mischief for flying round. John A and he saw Mde. Duval and her daughter home. ...”

And this – tying it back to the conference goings on, is the day, the night as the delegates met till 10 that evening, that the Islanders voted against the resolution of representation by population ‘rep by pop’, which had already been more or less agreed upon in Charlottetown (from 1867 How the Fathers Made a Deal, p13 - 114). So even though Coles would likely have been upset with Macdonald, and vice versa, they were out together. Why? Because Macdonald was so charming? Because Coles hoped for better? Because - ?

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