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Month: October 2022

Most Pleased to Have Met You, Harry Verran

Most Pleased to Have Met You, Harry Verran

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

I can’t quite remember when I first crossed paths with him. All I do know is when I did, I took an immediate liking to Harry. If anything, I liked his grit, for lack of a better word. Maybe it was a kind of chemistry, the kind that spans the decades, penetrating time itself.

You see, Harry was born almost two centuries ago. Now, the only remains left of his life, any hint of the strong and lamenting heart that guided this vibrant man, are a couple of tattered old diaries and several letters secured in an The Rooms archive in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Early Years

His name was actually Thomas Henry Verran, but most knew him as just Harry. And the more I learned about him—the things he did and what he expressed—the more I came to respect and admire him. There, amidst his words was an honesty that gained passage through a deep set of values and principles. It’s always the same old things that seem to draw us magnetically to another life.

That is the odd thing about history and lives from the past, those whose paths we just happen to cross. We meet people in the pages of a book, journal, or diary. While we read about them or pour over the words these individuals scrolled or scribbled onto a page countless years ago, in some cases, they rise from the page and come to life for us. And that’s how it was for me and Harry.

Image of an old tin mine in England (Image by Brian from Pixabay).

When I was first introduced to Harry, I learned he was a miner—to his very marrow. He came from Cornwall, England which rests at the core of mining country. Gifted geologically millions of years ago, the region around Cornwall is dotted with an assortment of copper and tin mines. As everyone knows, mining is no walk in the park. It is almost always hard, not to mention dangerous work. Still, for the people of Cornwall, mining was a part of their very souls.

So, growing up in Cornwall, Harry unsurprisingly went into mining and it was here where his life took a very different and unexpected turn. This is where he had met a man by the name of Major Ripley who was part of a company known as Ripley and Company of New York. Harry would be thrust headlong into a new world.

Beginning a New Life

Major Ripley was involved in a mine in La Manche, located at the head of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador. The La Manche mine was owned by the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company that had been incorporated by the wealthy American businessman Cyrus Field.

Cyrus Field (Source: Wikipedia).

Cyrus Field had become involved in the telegraph that countries such as Newfoundland,1 much like the United States, were stringing across the land. The first landing of the telegraph was intended to be in Placentia Bay and while doing work on the telegraph at La Manche, Field’s workers had encountered evidence of lead.

Not one to ignore an unexpected stroke of luck, Field took measures to exploit the mineral treasure. He enlisted the assistance of his brother Matthew Field, Major Ripley, and a man by the name of Mr. Crockett to manage the mine. After Crockett failed to yield any promising results following an excavation at the site, the feeling was they required more professional assistance. This is when Major Ripley decided to take a trip to the middle of mining country in England where he found help in the name of Harry Verran.

When Harry came to Newfoundland, the young country was undergoing considerable change. It was at a time in the nineteenth century when, fresh after being granted responsible government in 1855 by Britain, Newfoundland was stretching its wings. The idea had been for Newfoundland to further exploit its rich mineral resources in its interior. The leaders of the day felt that such an enterprise would work well with the fishery, which had hit on some hard times. So, there was a real push to develop industries like mining in order to help diversify and boost the burgeoning economy.

A Life in Words and Letters

My search to learn more about Harry would eventually take me to the provincial archive at The Rooms in St. John’s. On a peaceful sunny day in the archive, I found myself paging through Harry’s diary. Along with a collection of letters and other documents, his diary was really one of the only testaments to his life. Leafing through his letters and his well-thumbed diary, his strong spirit wove through each of his words periodically transporting me to the places about which he wrote. His thoughts were vibrant and intense in his various entries, the lively touch of humanity was only just barely contained in the swirls and scrolls of his writing.

Diaries are precious and often poignant keys to another time and place, often opening a doorway, however incomplete, to the heartbeat of a period. For me, it offered a much more valuable alternative perspective to what is sometimes delivered to us as a simple collection of encyclopaedic facts, observations, and critiques. But reading Harry’s old letters and diary was different.

I was able to catch a glimpse of his life. To be sure, it was a life predominantly filled with the various everyday events that punctuated his daily routine. But every now and then, I was touched by the intimacy of the comments captured in his diary—the passions, frustrations, the sheer anger and vehemence, as well as the delight of this man. Here were the private thoughts of a man whose words were intended for his eyes alone. Still, even after all these years, it was possible to feel the emotions springing forth from the page.

Coming to Newfoundland

After travelling to Newfoundland, Harry had made his journey to the Placentia area, writing about his experiences in his diary. On Thursday, the 24th of September, 1857, “… at 5 PM arrived at the South East 5 miles from Placentia — had tea, then left on foot with my Guide for Placentia arrived ½ p 7 PM. We could not take the waggon [sic] owing to the state of the Road.” Having made it to Placentia, Harry must have met with Mr. Ripley and others from the mine. After doing so, he likely began to make assessments and plans regarding the approach he wanted to take with the mine.

Harry opted to use a method of mining known as room and pillar mining, an approach in use for over two thousand years. It was a mining strategy that had worked for various other minerals—coal, potash, and lead. The mineral would be taken out, leaving pillars to support the overburden. It made sense. Everything seemed to be progressing well enough. But eventually, things began to change. There was a push for more. And by 1858, I could tell in his writings Harry must have been feeling pressure from his employers.

Making a Stand

In his diary, Harry shared the circumstances that surrounded the mining effort at La Manche. There was no mistaking his emphatic and emotional words— “From the 7th of June, it will be clearly shown that they were still not satisfied by their own extravagant way on the surface that he Ripley began interfering with the underground work. The cry lead. What, to assist to pay their infernal extravagance and foolery.” His words almost burst from the page. Impressed by what struck me as the thoughts of a man of principles, he seemed guided by a strong sense of right and wrong. There was a proper way to proceed, especially in terms of mining. To Harry, there were lines that could not be crossed.

His diary was full of his exasperation and discontent with the state of the mine and its management. He seemed to continually run counter to the wishes of Major Ripley: “July 9th—1858—told Ripley in presence of Mr. Bouton my intention of leaving the mines unless his partner, the Celebrated Civil Engineer did, for I would manage all or none—for seeing such infernal rascally extravagance and curse of money. I would not . I am fully determined to do one or the other.” (Verran’s emphasis) I had no idea who the “Celebrated Civil Engineer” happened to be. Given the sarcasm dripping from his words, it must have been one of his employers.

The more I read Harry’s diary, the more I appreciated his perspective and the predicament in which he had found himself. It always felt like, in his eyes, mining had been more of a calling, the pursuit of the minerals almost being akin to a sacred quest. Such a sentiment could not be sullied by the blatant and raw pursuit of profit.

Unfortunately, the spectre of money at any cost was never far from the operation with decisions being entertained that would force Harry to finally make a stand. Apparently, Ripley had hired a train in July 1858 he needed to be filled for a shipment to New York. What they had mined was insufficient and so, he requested Harry remove some of the “pillars” in order to obtain more of the ore. To sweeten the deal, Ripley had even offered Harry a letter that would absolve him of any blame, should there have been a cave in.

But they asked too much of him. Above all, Harry was a miner and was unwilling to betray what was almost a code amongst miners to not only be true to their quest for the mineral they sought. They must also never fail to respect the risks every man who goes underground undertakes as part of that pursuit—never. I was not surprised by his response — “… they wanted to discharge the miners and put Newfoundlanders underground. I told Ripley I did not come to Newfoundland to make graves for them, for working them underground. I would not.” Elated, I felt his words were filled with a fervour as he steadfastly refused their requests. His words ensured the growing respect I had for this man, for his determination to hold true to his morals. He did so despite being told he need not worry about taking personal responsibility for the consequences of his actions. It would have been so easy to do as Ripley had suggested.

As far as Harry was concerned, the mine, which was an “exceedingly good mineral property” was being horribly mismanaged. I felt a sympathy for him, as he seemed trapped by the misguided intentions of the mine owners. Part of a letter he had written to a Forrest Shepherd, a scientist from the United States captured the sentiment — “For never was there any mine in the world, ‘money’ so extravagantly recklessly and squandered away which was the sole reason for my leaving the mine. [T]hey should have made, at least while at work, £12,000 profits. Excuse me it is too much to tell you all, for if I began writing, it would take 6 months.”

Feelings of Resignation

Reading these diary entries, at times both private and intimate, I felt privy to feelings Harry could not share with others and only with himself. Throughout his diary, he had consistently expressed dissatisfaction with the entire endeavour at La Manche. And he was quite correct when he wrote, “The fact of the matter in this, the abominable manner which this property was conducted by these men. It would never prosper.” It would prove to be impossible for him to continue and he “ … left on the 11th July 1858 in disgust — A happy happy release. Oh yes I thought — the next day I was in another world on my way to St. John’s.” I read those words and I was overjoyed. While this man lived and died decades before I was born, I felt a sense of pride he had made this stand.

Harry actually went on to work at another mine in the Placentia area. However, he again began to run afoul of the same behaviour. It was no doubt for the same reason, the mine owner having expectations Harry was unprepared to meet.

Close to when he first arrived in Placentia on the 26th September, 1857, Harry had actually met the woman whom he would go on to marry. He wrote how he was “introduced by my guide to a M Sweetman. Invited to dine. Accepted. Spent the day very comfortable.” This had been Mary Josephine Sweetman, the only child of Robert F. Sweetman. Sweetman was the fourth and final generation to operate the fishery firm that had been started in the previous century. For a time, Harry apparently also worked for his father in-law. After marrying, he and his wife went on to have three children. Life must have settled into a pleasant hum of work and family life.

But by 1866, Harry had to leave Newfoundland in search of work. He eventually travelled to various countries in Africa and to Spain where he worked for an English mining company. Not long afterwards, he chose to travel, not back to Newfoundland, but to Cornwall—back home.

The likely reason is simply because he knew he was dying. Having been a part of mining for his entire life, I’m sure he would’ve recognised the invariable cough he had developed. It was the bane of any miner’s life at the time—silicosis. It may very well have already started when he was still in Newfoundland. He must have known what was happening to him and how he hadn’t much time left.

Farewell to a Good Man

The words were chillingly brief and matter-of-fact—No. 728. When buried, 6th June, 1869; Name, Thomas Henry Verran; Abode, Royal Hotel in Market Street, Town of Falmouth; Description, Engineer; In which portion of the Burial Ground Buried, Unconsecrated; Age, 42 years. This was all that was left. Reading the burial record, it seemed so unjust for man of Harry’s principles and strong character to die at such a young age and so alone, none of his family by his side. It sheered against this vigorous and spirited man whom I had met in the pages of his diary. Even though he had died long ago, almost two centuries later, there was a lingering feeling of regret and sadness.

I remember thinking how one day, I’m going to travel to Falmouth, England and try to find the place where he was buried. Maybe in my small way, I can offer some sort of recognition of this man, a belated remembrance of an all too brief life.

Throughout our lives we cross paths with countless people who make an impression on us, sealing themselves into our memories. Like Harry, some may be long gone. Still, their words conjure their spirits and for a moment, they seem to come to life. That is how it was for me and Harry Verran. He will forever have my respect and I can only offer these words as an honour to a man who it was a true pleasure to meet. Rest in peace, my friend.


MG Harry Verran The Rooms Provincial Archive

MG Randal Verran The Rooms Provincial Archive

Martin, Wendy 1999 Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Once Upon a Mine: Story of Pre-Confederation Mines on the Island of Newfoundland

1At this time, Newfoundland was its own country and it was not yet connected to Labrador.

Finding Peace in the Stars

Finding Peace in the Stars

On one of those dark and clear nights, we find ourselves with our heads back, peering into the night-sky. Met with a vast array of sparkling points scintillating and scattered overhead, we find ourselves transported. Unbeknownst to us, we’re not only left with a memorable experience. Our mental health is also soothed and enhanced. Who would’ve thought?

Getting Outside Ourselves

Like magic, our minds are suddenly centred on the recognisable patterns we can identify. We notice some of the stars that appear to be brighter. Further scrutinising, we are left wondering if they’re planets. We’re stupefied and in breathless awe of the vista before us.

Awe is a sensation known to benefit our mental health in several ways. It enhances our feelings of life satisfaction. Feelings of awe can also bolster our sense of connection to our community. Awe also encourages us to share our time and be more patient with ourselves, as well as with others.

The Aurora Borealis (Image by makyvontravel from Pixabay).

Imagine looking into the night-sky and witnessing the aurora borealis or the Perseid Meteor shower that graces parts of our planet every August. It’s impossible to comprehend these experiences as they are vast in their scope. These experiences lift us out of ourselves, encouraging us to recognise or conceptualise how there are entities greater than ourselves. In so doing, we feel a deep connection with the universe.

Forgetting Ourselves

While we are experiencing these sensations, another that is closely related is humility. One of those more common sentiments we often undergo is to “forget ourselves,” our attention being on this majestic spectacle before us. We are thus humbling ourselves. But what does this mean?

A quote by William Temple may help. He says “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all ….” For the moments we are watching or beholding these astronomical marvels, we, in fact, disappear. That is, all our attention is on the world before us, and no longer on ourselves.

Comfort of Constancy

In viewing something like a full moon or even something grander, like a lunar or solar eclipse, there’s a comforting constancy or certainty about it. It makes sense. Our lives in general tend to be more or less constant. We all have our routines and habits that punctuate our days. And for most of us, that’s how we like it. We’re warmed by the constancy in our lives.

Image of the Orion nebula (Image by WikiImages from Pixabay).

Much in the same way, the constellations gradually became a part of our lives. Millennia ago, the Greeks recognised the regular movements that graced the night-sky. Soon, their imaginations reached up and embraced the stars. Suddenly, well known figures raced above—Orion, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Ursa Major and Minor, Hercules, and Virgo. Their constancy was alluring and lovingly taken for granted.

With the Help of the Stars

Not only the naming of the stars in the night-sky was a quality to which we were drawn. Very practical needs derived from that certainty. In the past, vocations such as agriculture and navigation were interwoven with the fixed nature and regularity of the stars. Acknowledging how the North Star remains fixed in the night-sky remains a key feature to navigation.

Old agricultural equipment (Image by Fabio Grandis from Pixabay).

Similarly, knowing the regular movement of the stars ensured early farmers would know when to plant or harvest. For instance, simply looking to the sky would provide knowledge of the solstices and equinoxes. These pieces of knowledge were central to agriculture and they were in the stars. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is one of the more widely known purveyors of agricultural knowledge linked to the stars.

Guidance From the Stars

At times our path through life becomes murky and uncertain. And so, yet again, we look to the stars for guidance of some sort. Astrology is a practice that is thousands of years old. Nowadays, various cultures, including western astrology, Hindu astrology and Chinese astrology all seek guidance from the night-sky. Although the foundation of the latter two practices differ from Western astrology whose basis is the horoscope.

“Anatomical Man” (also “Zodiacal Man”), Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Ms.65, f.14v, early 15th century) (Image by WikiImages from Pixabay).

Astrology holds that the astronomical positions of the planets are able to make predictions about activities here on Earth. Astrology will be able to identify our qualities simply by looking at the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the time of our birth. Why astrology became a popular pastime over the past two years is no surprise, given the anxiety and stress tied to covid. The past two years have been undeniably defined by chaos and uncertainty for many. So, seeking guidance from the stars was an understandable response.

At One With the Stars

Looking to the stars should fill us with a feeling of peace, quietly bolstering our mental health. After all, we know deeply how we are indeed at one with the universe. Researchers have discovered how the building blocks of life—abbreviated as CHNOPS or carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur—are also widely found in stars.

The Andromeda Galaxy with satellite galaxies M32 (centre left above the galactic nucleus) and M110 (centre left below the galaxy) (Source: wikipedia).

In fact, every element found in our bodies is also found in another place—exploding stars. We are one in the same. Galaxies are thousands of light years in span, the distances and velocities defining our universe being, no pun intended, astronomical. Yet, when we crane our heads, a vast starburst before us, we can be comforted by an intense feeling of connection.

The universe is immense and seemingly boundless in size and scope. It seems impossible for something that great to have any effect on us at all. Yet, gazing at the sparkling points in the night-sky is able to softly touch our hearts and spirit. Many of us simply shudder at what we behold, moved by its scope and gratified by its presence in our lives. The contribution to our mental wellbeing, we gracefully accept.


Blenheim House – Reflection of a Union of the Saunders and Sweetmans

Blenheim House – Reflection of a Union of the Saunders and Sweetmans

Blenheim House in the nineteenth century in Placentia NL.

Modern duplexes now sit on a location in Placentia where years ago, the Sweetman family built Blenheim House. This would’ve been in the latter eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The Sweetmans were a noteworthy and eminent merchant family in Placentia during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The name chosen for the house in Placentia was identical to Blenheim Lodge, the estate of the Sweetmans in County Waterford in Ireland. The Sweetman family was well-established on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rise of the Sweetmans

The Sweetman mercantile firm in Placentia, at one time known as Saunders and Sweetman, developed from a business started in Placentia by Richard Welsh in 1753. Richard Welsh hailed from New Ross, Ireland and eventually founded and controlled a successful merchant firm based on the fishery. The success and strength of the firm was later fortified by marriages that united the three daughters of Richard Welsh with wealthy businessmen Paul Farrell, William Saunders and Roger Sweetman.

Photograph of Richard Welsh’s grave marker in Placentia, NL (Source: Lee Everts).

After the death of Richard Welsh in 1770, it was William Saunders who took control of the firm. He did so with the assistance of his brother, Thomas Saunders, David Welsh, Richard Welsh’s son, and Paul Farrell. However, with the untimely deaths of Paul Farrell and then David Welsh, both in 1774, William Saunders became the sole owner of the business. At this time, it became the William Saunders and Company.

Saunders and Sweetman

The Sweetman family and the Saunders were closely linked,1 as explained in a letter to Roger Sweetman of Wexford in the spring of 1788 from William Saunders. In it Saunders says he will “pay strict attention to the trade, hoping to carry it on in an amicable way and profitable for the benefit of all parties.” Saunders goes on to comment on prospects for the fishery, expressing the hope that Pierce Sweetman will arrive soon in Placentia. He sends regards to Roger Sweetman’s family and signs himself “assured friend and honourable servant.”

The grave marker of John Hamilton, died 26th January, 1826 (Source: Tom O’Keefe).

Pierce Sweetman, the son of Roger Sweetman and Mary Welsh soon followed in the footsteps of his grandfather. He joined William Saunders in order to learn the business. Then, following the death of William Saunders in 1788, his brother Thomas Saunders became director. Things had progressed so that Sweetman was a formal partner by the fall of 1789. At this point, the name of the Company shifted to Saunders and Sweetman.2

Development of Blenheim House

Richard Welsh possessed a “dwelling housing” in Placentia.3 It’s likely the Blenheim House was built on the same location in the latter eighteenth or early nineteenth century.4 By 1810, it and its belongings were actually being auctioned off.5

Roger Forstall Sweetman, Pierce Sweetman and Julia Forstall’s son arrived in 1813 in Placentia to take control of the business. Thomas Saunders had died earlier in 1808, leaving the Sweetmans in complete control of the business.

As Roger F. Sweetman continued to reside in the property, it is likely that it was his family who had gone on to buy the Blenheim House when it was auctioned off.

Except for a departure from Placentia between 1842 and 1850, following the death of his father, Blenheim House remained the home of the Sweetmans. In 1859, the firm of Roger F. Sweetman became insolvent. A few years later on the 27th November, 1862 Roger F. Sweetman passed away.

Later Years of Blenheim House

Harold Kalman explains that after the Sweetmans departed, the house was used “… as the first Placentia cable office of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company.”6 He noted that its architecture consisted of a “double-pile plan with a central hall, two chimneys, and a hipped roof.” The timing is uncertain, but they no doubt took place after Roger F. Sweetman’s death in the latter 19th century.

Blenheim House was demolished in the 1930s, a new house being built by a descendant, James Verran.7 Its absence does not detract from the significant role the Sweetman family has played in the history of Placentia. It was in the 18th century, when figures such as the Sweetmans and by extension, other notable figures such as the Welsh and Saunders families became intertwined in the history of the Placentia area.

While the wood, bricks and mortar of Blenheim House are now gone, there is still a tangible touchstone of the role the Sweetmans played in Placentia history. At some point during the life of Blenheim House, an interesting and odd thing occurred. It was linked to someone by the name of John Hamilton. Mystery surrounds Hamilton, as there are many questions tied to his true identity.

A quirky thing happened. Apparently, the headstone intended for John Hamilton was used as the doorstep for Blenheim House. When this occurred is unknown. Although the headstone states John Hamilton passed away on the 18th January, 1826.

An archaeological study done by Barry Gaulton and Matthew Carter for the Provincial Archaeology Office (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador) offers an explanation:

“The stone was then sent over as ballast in a ship owned by a Placentia merchant named Sweetman. When the stone arrived in Placentia there must have been some problems with payment or otherwise, for instead of using it as a grave marker, the stone was used as a front doorstep for the merchant’s house!”

A touch of mystery still suffuses the Placentia area in relation to Blenheim House. Nonetheless, it is doubtful anyone would deny places such as the Blenheim House are one of the primary intangible and tangible reminders of this chapter of Placentia area history.


1Mannion, J. 1986 “Irish Merchants Abroad: The Newfoundland Experience, 1750-1850” Newfoundland and Labrador Studies 2(2), 127-190.

2Mannion 1986, 147

3“Last Will and Testament of Richard Welsh”

4In a painting by J.S. Meres entitled “A View of the Town and Harbour of Placentia from the Hill Aback of the Town,” the official artist who accompanied Prince William Henry in 1786 to Placentia, a dwelling house is located in the location of where Blenheim House would be built decades to come. This was likely the Dwelling House to which Richard Welsh referred.

5Royal Gazette – S&S Auction – 30 August 1810

6In A Concise History of Canadian Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 – p. 84).

7James Verran is the grandson of Harry Verran, a cornish miner, who married Mary Josephine Sweetman, the daughter of Roger F. Sweetman and his wife, Honoria Sweetman (née Sinnott).

Mondays Mean More Than We Realise

Mondays Mean More Than We Realise

Mondays may be denigrated by workers the world over. Despite its reputation as the “worst day of the week” for many a worker, Mondays were of much higher esteem in the past. In Middle English, it was known as monedai while Old English knew it was mōnandæg. Both mean “day of the moon,” a name filled with an aura of mystery and magic. Eventually, Monday played an unexpected part in the the tug of war over the increased control over the work week due to the industrial revolution. Obviously there’s more to Mondays than meets the eye.

First Things First

So, where did it all start? The notion of a seven-day week found its origins with the Babylonians who were modelling their calendar after that of the Sumerians around the 21st century B.C. The moon played a big role. The seven days marks the full, waning half, new and waxing half phases of the moon.

But, how about Monday? Let’s start at the beginning, when we make out entry to the world. For the most part, there’s nothing particularly dire for those who happen to be born on Monday. It’s actually quite favourable. Being ruled by the moon, as far as astrologists are concerned, it is maternal of nature, guided by qualities of kindness and family. Accordingly, those born on this day tend to be motherly, sensitive, adaptive and kind.

Monday’s Child” As published in St. Nicholas Magazine, 1873 (Source: Wikipedia).

Many of us are familiar with the well known nursery rhyme which spoke highly of anyone fortunate to have been born on Monday. Monday’s child, if you recall, was “fair of face.” Monday is the first of four days that seem like an agreeable day on which to have been born.

Generally speaking, all is good on Monday. Many hold Monday in high regard. It’s considered a quiet and calm day, a symbol of goodness and integrity. Those born on this day are felt to be governed by Monday’s auspicious nature and tend to be gentle and kind. These individuals are often imbued with a creative spirit that enlivens their work.

Mondays are largely favourable and it’ll soon feature in the struggle for people to assert their freedom.

Changing Face

It’s in places such as Britain where we can more reveal the hidden charms of Monday. There, many centuries ago, people were doing relatively well, bearing in mind any limitations given more limited health practices. For instance, having a heart problem in the fifteenth century versus nowadays would likely shrink one’s lifespan. But aside from these details, our pre-industrial forebears appeared to have a lot more leisure time.

People led relatively slow-moving and relaxed lives. Most lives were governed by a dawn ’til dusk workday. And the work inbetwixt was fairly intermittent, with various meal breaks, maybe even an afternoon nap. As a part of the community, people could enjoy festivals or fairs. Time was one’s own to use as desired.

It’s apparently a myth that the coming of capitialism was the pathway to a more leisurely way of life. As we can see, centuries ago, the notion of a forty hour work week would’ve seemed appalling to most. Well, not so, only decades ago in the nineteenth century.

The reach of the Industrial Revolution was long and deep. In comparison to their work week centuries before, during the nineteenth century, people toiled for unimaginable hours. A typical work week involved 60 to 90 hours of work in a, too often, cramped and grungy conditions.

Although, whether spotless or begrimed, the idea was centred on the goal to produce as much within a twenty-four hour period as possible. The slow-paced way of life many enjoyed decades earlier was a thing of the past. Well, not entirely.

Saintly Intervention

As with any change, while people may acknowledge a new and less favourable way of life, they’d also find a way to seize back an element of the old. Increasingly, amidst these shifts in their workweek, more and more began to pay their respects to the venerable Saint Monday. Journeyman shoemakers, novice mechanics, even well-to-do merchants came to acknowledge Saint Monday.

Workers drunkenly celebrate Saint Monday in a tavern in Vienna. Lithograph by Joseph Lanzedelly the Elder, 1818 (Source: Wikipedia).

This was a day, entirely secular, that many observed. It often followed a night of revelry of some sort on Sunday night. The world may have been changing and undergoing re-structuring at the hands of industrialisation. However, in the face of these changes, Saint Monday blossomed for people as a means to maintain former work rhythms. This was a freedom that had to be regained.

The year was filled with celebrations of saints and other events. From January to December, here is but a taste: Plough Monday, St. Bride, St. Benedict, St. George, May Day, St. Barnabas, St. Margaret, Plague Service, St. Giles, St. Simon, Guy Fawkes and Christmas. Saint Monday was merely one more day of rest.

The tenacity and strength of the industrial workers to resist was deeply embedded. Saint Monday was a weekly activity that symbolised the strenuous efforts of the people to be heard. Each time people did not appear for work on Mondays was a vehement and defiant statement.

A division had formed between the different and emerging tiers of society: the working class and the industrial factory owners. Naturally, Saint Monday was frowned upon by the latter. Any discordance was bound to incur the disdain, ire and fear of those who purportedly held the reins of the society—the government and industry owners.

With industrialisation, the separation felt by the working class and symbolised by the observance of Saint Monday was a call for change. It could only do so when the rights of the people could be reinstated.

Seeking a New Way of Life

While they had been thrust into a maelstrom where dawn ’til dusk work had defined their lives, efforts were underway to reduce the work load. They actually fought for something many of us now take for granted.

Centuries ago, as industrialisation took hold, the work week consisted of every day except Sunday. The earlier noted 14-16 hour day almost demanded the very souls of the workers. But change was underway.

Robert Owen, aged about 50, by William Henry Brooke (Source: Wikipedia).

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was a visionary. He owned the New Lanark mills, about an hour from Glasgow, Scotland. There, his objective, along with forging a successful business, was to improve the lives of his workers. Termed the ‘formation of character’, the attempt was “. . . to create a more moral, humane, kind, active, and educated workforce by providing an environment in which such traits could be nourished from childhood onward.”1 The changes Owen introduced made a world of difference to the conditions—reduced working hours, health and education reforms.

In Britain, more change was underway in 1833 with the passing of the Factory Act. This piece of legislation banned children under 9 from working in the textile industry. It also limited the working hours of 10-13 year old to 48 hours. Meanwhile 14-18 year old were capped at 69 hours. All this tells us one thing. Prior to this legislation, children, in particular, were working what amounted to slave-driving hours.

By 1847, further legislation limited women and children to 10 hours a day and in 1864, the regulations were extended to factories other than textiles and coal mines. Despite these initiatives, Saint Monday remained embedded in the way of life in Britain.

The Weekend

However, initiatives to provide more free time helped to diminish the “celebration” of Saint Monday. As the nineteenth century wore on, individuals representative of religious bodies advocated for a Saturday half-holiday. The belief was this would benefit the working class, refreshing them and enhancing their mental well-being.

In places such as Britain, the idea of a half-holiday on Saturday was gaining ground with unions eager to pull away from a formalised break in the week no longer tied to custom. Dear Saint Monday would no longer be necessary.

Monday, Monday

Monday’s story is beset with moments of celebration, awe and joy at one moment, while firmly established as a symbol of resistance at another. Nowadays, Monday has somewhat diminished in its appeal, a day more to bemoan than celebrate.

It’s similar to how Saint Monday was rallied around to permit a ‘down’ day following utter jubilation the night before. Although, we at least have a weekend to unwind. Our forebears didn’t even have their Saturday half-holiday, yet. So, what’s our excuse?

How We Feel Come Monday

Some say that many of us are just not very content with our lives. The feeling is that if we were all right with where we are in our lives, awaking on Monday would be a joy. Mondays have become a stereotypical symbol for our manacled freedom. Come Monday, we’re forced to do all the duties and tasks we’d rather not do. We’re paid to do them, so we’re told to buck up. We groan and get on with it.

But hey, everyone has things they’d rather not do. In part, it’s all about control. At our places of work, we may be agitated simply by the fact we’re governed by others. We largely have little control over whether to do a certain task or not. No one likes to be in this type of circumstance, devoid of freedom. But maybe we need to shift our focus.

Maybe It’s Not All That Bad

Maybe it’s time to identify some of the myriad freedoms we do enjoy. We may not be our own boss at work, although we can rejoice in our free will in other ways. We can go on a bike ride or hike, wear certain clothes, listen to a certain type of music or eat a certain kind of food. The fact of the matter is—and we must remember this—we often have free time. Remember, people centuries ago, just simply worked. There was little time to do anything else other than pray for release on Sundays.

Another thing to bear in mind is the importance of looking at the overall picture. Is it possible to understand those individual tasks as part of a larger more valuable obligation? For example, we’re told to make phone calls to see who can attend an exposition. In and of itself, making phone calls can be somewhat onerous. However, it improves when we understand it from the perspective of getting the exposition up and running. So, it’s just one of the numerous things that need to be done. “We all need to put our oar in,” so to speak to get it done.

The other thing we need to bear in mind is, when we really explore our troubles, we are sometimes forced to realise they’re not so bad after all. Just think back to a few centuries ago when people were working 60-90 hours a week—including Saturday. Then, the more benign and acceptable qualities of what we’re expected to do may better shine through. It’s not all that bad.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

When we’re done trying to face our week on Monday and things still seem unbearable, maybe we have to face certain realities. Perhaps it’s time to find a job that better suits our purpose in life. We can lay our troubles at the door of a Monday that seems to signify all that is wrong in our lives. But it often indicates a more fundamental change we need to take—finding a more meaningful job.

Mondays are complex entities in our lives. They emerge from a rich heritage, extending centuries into the past. They’ve played starring roles in the efforts people have made to be at peace with their lives. At the same time, Mondays have been weighed down complaints that sometimes fundamentally find their origins on a discomfort with our own lives. So, in the end, it’s not Monday at all.

We must take another look. The day of the moon is just another day. Any meaning is too often ours to grant.


1Claeys, Gregory 1991 Robert Owen A New View of Society and Other Writings (London: Penguin Books), x.


Enjoyment of Feeding Our Furred and Feathered Friends

Enjoyment of Feeding Our Furred and Feathered Friends

Feeding gulls (Photograph by Yura Forrat – public domain from Pexels).

I confess I’m as guilty as the next well-intentioned soul, leaving nuts for squirrels or bits of bread for birds. Although, the results of our actions are sometimes less desirable than we realise. Don’t get me wrong, our hearts are definitely in the right place. Although, there may be other ways to share with our fellow creatures, thus helping to affirm our place in nature.

Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time

For various reasons, many of us feel a deeply held bond with nature. We want to do our best to assist or at least make things a little easier for our fellow species. We all need to eat and so, this seems like the most natural approach.

So, at different times, we opt to maybe leave a little bit of food for the animals we sometimes encounter. Some of us bundle up a bit of food, our intentions being to share it with, say, any squirrels, foxes, or birds we may encounter.

Hazards of a Well-Intentioned Gesture

It’s all well and good. However, when we offer food, there’s a level of trust that develops between giver and receiver. Two things can happen. The animal may become dependent on the food we’re giving. If so, their ability to find food on their own may diminish. Again, this would put them at harm.

Moreover, over time, they’d also possibly lose their natural fear of humans. We may feel comforted by the latter, one more barrier between human and nature dismantled. But it’ll potentially work against the animal. Not all humans are as well-intentioned as we are. The animal who had developed a certain degree of trust with people, may come across someone who means them no good.

A red squirrel eating some seeds (Image by Gernot from Pixabay)

For birds, there are a lot of recommended foods we can actually purchase. It’s best to set aside a time when we can offer our feathered friends a nibble. But think twice before bundling up those pieces of white bread. Truth be told, it’s of little value nutritionally to us. So, the potential of it being any use for birds is fairly low. Just throw it back in the bread box.

Sometimes, people may choose to feed animals such as foxes or even coyotes. Bear in mind, unlike squirrels or birds, some may feel threatened by these creatures. If these animals have been fed, a degree of trust established, they may be more willing to approach people expecting food. If nothing is offered, how might the animals respond?

It may lead to a degree of unnecessary conflict between people and the animal. In some instances, a complaint may be made and the animal is either killed or removed and placed in an area where there will be less contact with humans. In either situation, it means the animal has to be moved from its territory or worse, lose its life. Both are unwanted.

Several other reasons exist that make feeding wildlife a potentially dangerous activity. The food we may take from our plates is not the proper food for animals and may make them sick. Animals may also follow the scent of food, leading them to homes or cabins where they will unexpectedly encounter people and again, potentially lead to an unnecessary conflict. So, what can we do?

Finding More Peaceful Ways to Feed Wildlife

There is nothing at all wrong with our desire to feed our fellow animals. It gently emerges from a variety of sensibilities. For me, I like to think of our innate bond with nature. We are a part of nature; it blankets us, comforting and soothing us. Understandably, we want to share with our fellow animals. We are eager to be a part of their lives.

Photograph of a nuthatch (Image by Christiane from Pixabay)

For others, they may be guided by feelings of stewardship and care. These individuals may feel duty-bound to provide in this regard. Some may see it as a reflection of our apparent dominion over animals, the need being to provide for them. Still, for others, their actions are borne of simple kindness, like a parent to a child. In any case, we are drawn by the desire to offer food or shelter to our fellow animals.

Berry Heavenly

And never fear, rather than feeding animals directly, there are many options available to us. Anyone who enjoys summer in Newfoundland and Labrador is well aware of the bounty of berries. It’s as much a boon for animals as it is for us. A medley of berry shrubs such as raspberry, wild strawberry, squashberry, elderberry, and blueberry bushes are often favourites for a range of animals.

Red squirrels are only one of a variety of small mammals who eat raspberries. Birds do, as well. Raspberry bushes also offer cover for many animals. Wild strawberries and their leaves are favourite food sources to many animals, as well. Likewise, blueberries remain favourites to numerous birds, insects and a wide assortment of mammals. Larger animals such as moose and bears are also partial to blueberries. Similarly, rabbits enjoy these berries, too.

Keeping aware of safety, if you have the space on your property, why not plant a few of these bushes? Otherwise, know that deep in the woods, certain animals are devouring a feast of berries of all kind.

An Array of Trees

The American Mountain Ash, commonly known as the Dogberry is loved by numerous animals in Newfoundland and Labrador. Moose, martens, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse and squirrels also browse and eat the berries of this tree.

Photograph of a dogberry tree (Source: Wikipedia)

The noble Paper birch is a proud tree of our woods. It, too, functions in the lives of animals who seek it for habitat and other purposes. Squirrels, moose, beaver, hummingbirds and yellow-bellied sapsuckers all play a role in the life of the birch. Similarly, the seeds of the Red Maple tree serve as nutrition for squirrels and songbirds such as finches, chickadees, and robins. The seed stalks do double service and can also be used in nest building.

Photograph of Red Maple seeds (Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)

With a bit of space, how about adding these to your front or back yard? If you haven’t got the space, know these gracious giants are doing their part in the woods to offer food and shelter.

A Garden of Delights

Smaller plants such as the Rough stemmed Goldenrod are particularly useful and also easier to plant in and around our homes. A wide variety of insectivorous birds enjoy the goldenrod as it attracts numerous insects. Other birds simply enjoy eating the goldenrod itself.

Photograph of a Hoverfly over goldenrod (Image by Christiane from Pixabay)

There are numerous plants that we can grow, each servicing the particular palates of different animals. If your heart is in the right place, you may be willing to plant a few favourites for our four-legged friends.

For instance, dahlias are a wonderful addition to any garden. They are also loved by animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Likewise, feel free to plant tulips, as both rabbits and squirrels will like you.

Some may utter concerns about how their garden may become a shamble with all these animals eating hither and yon. One option is to intentionally sacrifice certain plants for our furred friends to enjoy. Still, at other times, there are ways of concealing their destruction.

I remember visiting a public garden filled with beautiful tulips. I had to look closely, but there, in the middle was a groundhog quietly munching on the white tulips. Obviously not partial to any of the other coloured tulips, it was difficult to notice the groundhog’s particular delights.

Marigolds are particularly delectable for our pollinators, the bees, butterflies, and birds. Black-eyed Susans are also a delight for our pollinators. The beloved rhododendron is another darling of birds and insects drawn to its nectar. Hummingbirds and bees are noted visitors.

Sky’s the Limit

We are often enchanted by the idea of offering food to our fellow animals, as we can see, there’s another way. Oftentimes, it’s even better to intentionally grow some tree, shrub, or plant to provide food for animals. Then, we can enjoy the first time we see a bird alighting on the branches. We may spot the first squirrel scurrying up its branches or rabbit nibbling by a shrub.

The feeling exceeds a job being well done. It is deeply rewarding. The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do to be a part of nature. It is our world.