Commanding Officer’s House: An Early Home Office
In 1819, the Royal Navy selected Captain Samuel Roberts to command the base at Penetanguishene. Roberts was an experienced naval officer with a distinguished career, and this opportunity provided some financial security after the war. Roberts coordinated all personnel and activities at the Penetanguishene base for two years. His duties included providing written orders, inspecting operations and financing, approving estimates for supplies, monitoring conduct, and acting as a magistrate.
Roberts’ life at Penetanguishene was made a little easier when he got permission to bring along his wife Rosamond and her sister Letitia. The Roberts women noted that the house was in poor condition, writing in 1820 that
the wind has a thorough passage through every part of it, and in wet weather the water rises above the flooring. Repairs were made, but Captain Roberts’ request for an office separate from his living quarters was never granted. This greatly inconvenienced normal family life.
Social life at the Naval Establishment was sometimes lonely. The Roberts women would have passed much of their time pursuing hobbies like needlework, and reading and writing. Within their limited social circle, dinner and tea-and-card parties would also have been popular.
Since public drunkenness was common, the Roberts family rarely took daytime walks. Lieutenant Bayfield even noted that although they were beautiful and accomplished, he feared the Roberts women were going to
bloom unseen and un-admired in the woods…
Assistant Surgeon’s House: Science and Bloodletting
The Assistant Surgeon, Clement Todd, took care of all medical needs. Todd joined the British Navy in 1812 and was posted to Penetanguishene by 1819. In 1821, he married Eliza Caldwell from Markham, and the couple remained at the Naval Establishment until 1827.
In addition to working in his house, Todd spent a lot of time in the small hospital beyond the original Naval Storehouse. Supplies were provided by the Kingston Dockyard, and included sheets and blankets, tea, sugar, rum, wines, lemon juice, soap and towels, scales, warming pans, and candles. As the lone medical person at this remote outpost, Todd’s duties were extensive. As Captain Roberts wrote,
…the responsibility attached to the duty of an assistant surgeon at an outpost in Canada far exceeds any he would be liable to serving on board a ship…
Medical practices in the early part of the 19th century were an interesting mix of observation, science and even superstition. Scientific inquiry was flourishing among the medical professionals of Western Europe and Great Britain at this time. Yet at the same time, using leeches (for bloodletting) was also very popular. Leeches were scarce from 1800-1825, particularly in the British Isles.
Todd would have had current medical information, and likely used similar practices. However, he also showed an avid interest in botany as a source of medical treatments. He sent a collection of plant specimens, personal records of seasonal phenomena and the medical use of plants to England for further study. In 1828, he published an academic paper. Todd is considered the earliest to record these types of observations in Upper Canada.
The Cemetery: Killed by Loneliness
The graves here (with original tombstones) are from the military period of the Establishments. The hardships of travel at this time are clearly demonstrated in the story of one of the graves. Soldiers sent to Upper Canada first went to headquarters at Kingston or York, and detachments were sent on to small outposts such as Penetanguishene.
The earlier regiments came in on the muddy ruts of the Penetanguishene Road, which ran from Penetanguishene to the head of Kempenfelt Bay on Lake Simcoe. It was on this route in June 1831, that two brothers, Privates John and Samuel McGarraty of the 79th Regiment, died in strange circumstances. While travelling, one brother became ill, and was left in the care of the other. When their comrades returned with help, both brothers were dead. It was said that while fever killed one, the terror of being alone in the woods claimed the other.
Naval Surveyor’s House: Charting the Great Lakes
“…it is my ambition to render this work so correct that it shall not be easy to render it more so…”
(Henry W. Bayfield, 1831)
Perhaps no phrase better summarises the life and career of Lieutenant Henry Bayfield, meticulous hydrographer for the Royal Navy. Hydrography (the measurement and description of waters) was a relatively new concept when Henry Bayfield assumed command of the Great Lakes Survey in 1817.
In the summer of 1820, he and his crew covered harbours on Lake Erie and the east coast of Lake Huron, surveying 6000 islands. A house with an office was constructed at Penetanguishene for Bayfield, and he spent the winter plotting data for future chart work. The ice on Georgian Bay was still 10 inches thick in the middle of May 1821, but by the end of that month Bayfield and his crew were back to work, accurately charting up to 100 islands per day.
Bayfield’s writing from summers on Lake Huron gives us a hint of how tough his task was. He and his crew were frequently out until November and December, taking shelter at night under their small boats with sails as cover. Only the smoke from their campfire protected them from mosquitoes, and their provisions often went bad. Outbreaks of scurvy were noted in 1820 and 1821, and during one expedition, Bayfield and his men caught crows and gulls for food.
After completing the Lake Huron survey in 1823, Bayfield went on to survey Lake Superior, the St. Lawrence River, and portions of the Maritimes and Labrador. He retired as Admiral in 1867 and spent his final years comfortably in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, dying at the age of 90 in 1885. His life’s work still forms the basis for many of today’s navigational charts.