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1905 Old Home Week - return to table of contents

From The
Perth Courier
June 30, 1905,
Page Nine.

The Early History of Balderson's Corners

There was a time in the history of France when the historian could truthfully say that "Paris was France." With equal correctness one may say that so intimately was the early settlement of Perth connected with the first settlement of many of the surrounding districts and hamlets, such as "The Scotch Line," Glen Tay, and Balderson, that in our opinion it was eminently fitting that a reunion of Perth Old Boys should include all from the above surrounding country districts, who have wandered away from their old home whether of necessity or from choice.

The modern historian has to a large degree discarded the old idea that the history of a country consists chiefly of a list of battles, treaties, invasions, etc., with their dates in detail. He seeks rather to give us an insight into the social life of the common people and to make us acquainted with their struggles to better their social, moral and material condition.

The object of this article is to briefly and plainly sketch the early settlement of Balderson, one of the more distant but at the same time one of the most important of the suburbs of the old Town of Perth. "Brutus is no orator (as your readers will easily learn from reading this article) but a plain blunt man" and is going to tell a few facts about this little hamlet that may be of some interest to a portion of your readers, since these facts will be entirely of a reminiscent character.

THE NAME.

At the close of the Peninsular War when many of the regiments of the Duke of Wellington's army were practically disbanded, many of the officers, as well as the privates, were induced to turn their attention to the new world, and shipload followed shipload over the Atlantic, all destined to settle somewhere in Canada. One of the centres, to which many of these officers and soldiers directed their course after a long, wearisome voyage in a slow sailing vessel, was Perth, and naturally some of them wandered a greater or less distance from Perth before settling on a site on which to build a home for himself and family. One of these officers, in the person of Sergeant Balderson, halted at the pretty little hamlet that is now called Balderson and gave to it its first name, Balderson's Corners. The writer, although very young when Sergeant Balderson died, remembers him quite well. He was a fine specimen of the English soldier, over six feet in height, erect and dignified in his carriage and bearing. He was a quiet and peaceable man, a kind neighbor and greatly respected by all who knew him.

Sergeant John Balderson was born in Lincoln, England, in 1783, came to Balderson in June, 1816, and died there in 1851. He had been a soldier for eleven years, serving with the 76th regiment under Wellington and receiving war medals for services rendered in the battles of Vittoria, Nive and Nivelle. He met the Duke of Wellington and had a personal interview with him when crossing the Pyrenees during that campaign. In 1815, he married Annie Hewitt, daughter of Sir Robert Hewitt. Mrs. Balderson and the wife of the late Josias Ritchie, P.L.S., were the first white women who slept in a house in Perth. Three sons survive: -- Robert H., in Perth; James, on a farm on the 9th concession of Bathurst, and Michael in Peterboro. Another soldier who came to the neighborhood of Balderson about the same time -- probably a little later -- was Lieutenant Gould, whose grandson, Mr. James Gould, is now a resident of Perth, and two of whose granddaughters, Mrs. Donald McIntyre and Mrs. Peter McIntyre, live at Balderson.

OTHER SETTLERS.

The great bulk of the rest of the first settlers in this district were from the Highlands of Scotland, chiefly from Perthshire. Although they had not been trained to be soldiers, they fought a stern but successful battle with the wild forest and the forces of nature and though the battle was long and stubborn in the end they won a splendid victory and their sons and their son's sons are to-day reaping the fruits of that victory.

THEIR SOCIAL CONDITION.

In these early days, the social advantages were practically nothing, except in so far as these sturdy old pioneers kept up their love for literature, education and religion. In the earliest days, their pleasures were few and almost confined to a week's visiting among their friends at Christmas or New Year. Later on, the soiree (siree) became an annual outing for the people of every class and in these days there was no trouble in securing good order and good attention when the customary speeches were given. At Balderson the great favorites at these annual gatherings were the venerable old Col. Playfair and his nephew, "Little John" as he was familiarly known.

MATERIAL CONDITIONS.

In the earliest days, one of the great difficulties the settlers had to contend with was to get enough money with which to satisfy even the modest demands of the tax-collector of that day. Exchange or barter was the order of the day and there were very few cash transactions. Pork, oats and potash were the staple articles the farmer of that day had to sell, the two former finding a ready sale in the shanties that were then not so distant from the place of production as at present; and the latter being sent by Perth merchants to Montreal to be disposed of. Later on, the farmer, as his clearances increased in size, ventured to sow some wheat and barley for the market. The trade in cattle, sheep and lambs was then in its infancy. How changed the conditions to-day, when the raising of grain is largely left to Manitoba and the North-West, and Ontario is fast becoming either a dairying or manufacturing province!

EDUCATIONAL.

The first school-house that the writer was a pupil in was a little cottage roofed building that stood near the site of the Lanark toll-gate or rather near where it was. His first teacher was the late Peter Stewart, an old bachelor who could have supplied Ian McLaren with a good character for one of his humorous tales. "A man severe he was and stern to view" as he strode about that room in which as many as seventy boys and girls, young men and women, were huddled together almost as close as sheep in a pen, with his taws suspended over his right shoulder ready to be thrown at some poor urchin who was foolish enough to take his eyes off his book. The next teachers he remembers were the fierce William McIlroy and the gentle and loving John Campbell. Then followed Andrew Allan (the only one of the writer's Balderson teachers still living), the late Dr. W.M. Thornton who was noted for his sterling character and to whom the writer owes his first thirst and love for learning, and Alexander Shaw, after which the writer bade goodbye to the Balderson "seat of academic fame."

CHURCHES.

It was not to be expected, in fact it would be a libel on the character of these old Perthshire Highlanders, to even harbor the idea that they would remain any length of time without a church and a minister, and accordingly we find that in 1834 they started a subscription list to raise funds with which to build a kirk. From among the names of the first contributors, we select a few that will be quite familiar to many of the present generation: -- Wm. Allan (elder), Alexander Montgomery, James Ward, Peter Campbell, Patrick Campbell, John McCallum, Hugh McCallum, Stephen Ferguson, John McIntyre, John McNaughton, Archibald McLaren, Findlay McIntyre, Jas. Murdoch, Duncan McNee, Peter McTavish, Arthur Tullis and including a number of names of Perth people such as John Haggart, R. Gemmill & Co., Alexander Kippen. The smallness of the subscription asked from the average contributor of that day would make the teeth of a modern miserly church goer water. In 1836 the Sunday collections hovered between one shilling and eight pence and four shillings and five pence haepenny. It is not within our knowledge when the English Church (the name by which it was always known to the Scotch Presbyterians) was built and whether it was before or after the time when the Presbyterians erected their place of worship. The leading contributors to the support of the church were Sergeant Balderson and his family, Lieutenant Gould and his family and Messrs. Cunningham, John Charles, George McCue, G[.]een Willows and William Keays. I forgot to say that as there were two Presbyterian churches in Perth, of which the ministers were the Rev. Messrs. Wm. Bell and T.C. Wilson and as there were members and adherents of both these clergymen among the contributors to the church at Balderson both ministers had the use of the church until Mr. Bell became too feeble to travel so far. The congregation separated from St. Andrew's, Perth, of which it formed a branch, and united with the Presbyterians in the neighborhood of Drummond and Innisville to form an independent congregation about the year 1877 and the Rev. J.G. Stewart, B.A., now of London, Ont., was the first pastor of the congregation.

As far as known to the writer, the first minister of the Episcopal Church at Balderson, which was a branch of St. James' Church, Perth, was Rev. Michael Harris, who was known far and wide as a very kindly and charitable man, greatly beloved by not only his own people but by all who knew him. If our memory does not fail us, the next minister at Balderson was Rev. Mr. Pyne who was for many years rector of the Anglican church at Carleton Place. Next in order came the Rev. R.L. Stephenson, after whose pastorate or perhaps during his pastorate, the Balderson church was disjoined from St. James', Perth, and united with the Anglican church of Lanark Village. Both denominations have handsome churches and parsonages at Balderson and both churches and the rectory and the manse are a credit to the people.

BALDERSON PEOPLE WHO HAVE DISTINGUISHED THEMSELVES.

It is a well-known fact that many of the brightest ornaments in all the professions have come from country homes and Balderson has done its share towards keeping what are sometimes called the higher walks of life from stagnating. It has produced one or two authors, the last one being Mr. R.L. Richardson, the writer of "Colin of the Ninth." She gave to Manitoba Legislature one member in the person of Mr. P.C. McIntyre, and in the Dominion Parliament, another Balderson boy, R.L. Richardson, has done his share to keep things "amovin'." From the village and the surrounding district have gone out doctors, lawyers, ministers and school teachers galore, and several our of all these professions have occupied positions in their respective callings not by any means the lowest.

THE EASBY MURDER.

The people of Balderson and the surrounding country have always been noted for their honesty, their industry and their obedience to law, and the general character of the people is not at all tarnished or stained by the fact that away back as far as 1828, a murder was committed, for no more will the committing of one murder within a space of 70 years, tarnish the good name of the people of Balderson than it is true that one swallow does not make a spring. But we regret to say that a foul murder of the very darkest kind was committed a little more than a mile from the village. The writer has often seen the cellar hole that stood on a little knoll on the Craig farm for many years after the tragedy, on which stood the house that was burnt by the murderer in his vain attempt to cover up his tracks. The old adage that "murder will out" was verified in this case too. Thomas Easby had had the reputation of being a quiet, sober and industrious man, and it is hard to account for the terrible crime of which he was guilty. It is said that jealousy, the green-eyed monster, was responsible for his dark crime. Be that as it may, it is sadly true that one night in December, 1828, he murdered his wife and four children and would have murdered his fifth and youngest child but that, according to his own story, the little innocent child looked upon his face and smiled when he was about to deal it a deadly blow, and this innocent smile of the little child unnerved the murderer and he spared it. To try to cover up his nefarious crime he set fire to the building and before any neighbor reached the scene the bodies of his victims were partially burned. The surviving child (which, by the way, Mr. R.L. Richardson has made one of his characters in his "Colin of the Ninth") was placed in charge of Mrs. Richardson, who was a near neighbor of Thomas Easby, the murderer, and no one suspected Easby of murder until the little child began to be singing and muttering to itself how his daddy had hit mammy, etc. This aroused the suspicions of Mrs. Richardson and she communicated her suspicions of Mr. John Balderson who caused a coroner's inquest to be held and finally induced the man Easby to make a full confession of his crime. The chief witnesses at the trial were the coroner William Matheson, the jailer James Young, Dr. James Wilson who made a post mortem examination of the dead bodies, John Tullis, Sinclair Tullis, Mrs. Richardson, Mrs. Blades, and Mr. John Balderson. The issue of the whole matter was that Thomas Easby expiated his horrible crime on the gallows in August, 1829. It is said that the late Dr. Wilson secured the body and that the skin was taken from it and tanned, and I understand at the show of curios in Perth a few years ago, a strip of this tanned skin was exhibited. The skeleton remained in the possession of Dr. Wilson till after his death and is, we believe, at present in the possession of a Perth boy in the far West. The surviving child of Easby was sent away to live where it would not be likely ever to hear of the crime of its father or know anything of its own history. Such is the sad story of the Easby murder and we trust that not only Balderson but Lanark County as a whole, which has always been noted for both the intelligence and high character of her people, will never again be the scene of so horrible a crime. Balderson is almost monthly now enlarging her borders and we hope to see in the not distant future quite a little village near the home of one of Balderson's Old Boys. May her shadow never grow less!



This story also took up more than a column on Page 12.
1905
Reunion
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