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Gorvett Genealogy


Margaret Smale Gorvett's Story

This page contains an article on the early life of Margaret Smale (Mrs. Lewis Gorvett) written by A. S. Paragus (a pen-name!) August 3, 1918 for the St. Thomas (Ontario) Times-Journal.

"A great many years ago, in the year 1839, in fact, and in the month of April, a little girl was born in the rich and beautiful country of Devon, England. She was destined, however, not to know much of either the richness or beauty of Devon, except what she could see with a pair of very merry blues eyes in and about a tiny cottage at Bideford, a mile from the great wide ocean. For her parents were extremely poor. They were so poor that the little girl did not go to school and never learned to write though some nice people taught her how to read on Sabbaths at the church.

Nowadays a child, even a poor child, can hardly escape an education in England and a very good one too. But in the 40’s it was not so. That was before the day of common schools, of reforms, and pensions and compulsory insurance and labor parties and general philanthropy and factory machinery. For machinery and factories came in hand and hand with philanthropy and labour reforms although for a great while it was very hard for the little girl’s parents to see it that way. These poor people were very much interested in glove making, glove making by hand. And when factories were set up to make the gloves they felt that the world was dealing very hardly with them. The packmen need to bring the gloves ready cut to the mother in the tiny cottage at Bideford. And although the little girl’s fingers were never taught to hold a pen, they learned to ply a needle as she sat at the side of her mother stitching gloves. Black kid gloves they were and every stitch of the white milk trimming on the back must be worked in just so. In the time the little girl grew nearly as efficient a glove maker as her mother and sewed scores and scores of pairs of black kid gloves, for the packmen to come and carry off with them to the city. Then someone thought it would pay better to make the gloves in a great big factory by machines which would turn them out more speedily. So then the packmen came no more to Bideford and times were very pinched and bitter in the tiny cottage.

But there was other trouble beside the glove factory. When she was ten years old the little girl’s father died and poverty did stare them then, sure enough, right in the face. There are perhaps a dozen different charities and benefits now, to help a stricken family or a fatherless child in Britain. But at that time to be poor was to be poor indeed. Yet the public was not entirely without mercy. The little girl’s family were now, properly speaking, on the workhouse, but they let her mother keep her tiny cottage. As for the children old enough to earn-the little girl and her brother, they were given to the farmers to work out for their bread, board and clothes. It was a hard lot and what was called board did not always mean enough to satisfy the hunger of a growing child.

The little girl is now an old lady nearly eighty years old (Mrs. Lewis Gorvett, of Sparta, Ontario) and when she told me this about not having enough to eat, I could not imagine it of Devon-Devon which we have always heard was so rich and plentiful.

"And so Devon IS a lovely country," said the old lady, "if you have means. A beautiful place to live in. I’d rather live there than here in Ontario, if I had the means. But in my day there was nothing for the poor man’s family in Devon. We rarely saw a strawberry. Apples were scarce and the farmers had the very gates of their orchard guarded with thorns against stragglers." It must have been very different from Ontario indeed where we have apples lying to waste by the thousands of bushels. I suppose that even then every apple in Devon had its cash price, and was guarded accordingly. "After a time" Mrs. Gorvett told me, "I grew up and married and then it was some easier to live but not so much either. A taste of bacon, say a quarter of a pound, with a pan of potatoes once a week, was a great treat for our family and wheat bread rose higher and higher."

"Bideford was near the ocean, you mind I told you. And one of the treats we poor people used to have was limpets. There was only a certain time of the day you could get them. They live on the rocks and there for nine hours as long as the tide is coming in they stick to rocks so tight you cannot budge them. But when the tide goes out that is your time. They loosen then and you can gather them by the bucketful. we used to get an old donkey, put some bags over his back and go down to the shore to gather limpets.

"The shore of the sea was not a gravel shore like the lake has down here. It was a cobble-stone shore at Bideford with cobbles as big as that box there and blue. They were hard enough to get over. "How did we eat the limpets? We put parsley with them and made them into a pie. They’re lovely that way. You prepare them by boiling, when a little snail-like thing comes out of the limpet. "Once when we went down to the shore to gather limpets we found a shipwreck. Shipwrecks are common enough all along the sea coast of England. A big cargo of grain had gone down and there was split barley in quantities being washed up on the beach. It was a windfall to us and we changed our mind about gathering limpets and made for the barley. But when we got down to the beach, there was a foreign seaman there, that couldn’t speak a word of English, and he drew his knife for killing. "No he didn’t mind our getting the barley. That wasn’t the trouble. he was afraid we were coming to do him some harm. The vessel was a French one and although the English had no was on with the French, we weren’t the Allies we are now. and besides there were wars all over Europe at the time and everybody was suspicious when cast on a strange shore. By and by the interpreter came down from Bideford and he made things straight and we went home with all the barely we could carry.

I wanted to know what had finally decided them to emigrate to Canada. "Why the living in Devon got so high we couldn’t possibly stand it. The very last bushel of wheat my husband bought before he left the old county was $3, and his weekly wage was only $2.25. My mother and brother had come out before and my brother offered to lend us money to come with. So we took it and came. My oldest boy was nine years old when we came out. "We weren’t long coming. It had taken my brother three months but we got to Quebec in a few days, for steam boats had come in use in the mean time.

"And was it as nice as you expected here?" "No, No, indeed, it was not. For a time I would have given anything to get back to Devon again. But I got over that and now Canada is home to me.

"You see, we had been led to believe it was such an easy country here, nothing to do to get along at all. But I found I had to work very hard – just like as a man I worked when we came out, to pay off our debt and all. But then, there was a good in time. Besides I was blessed with excellent health." And she is yet. Hard as were the times in Devon, it must be very healthy spending a childhood there by the sea. Very rarely does one meet such an active and alert old lady at the age of eighty. When I first saw her she had just come up with her grandchildren from a ramble to the lake, a good mile distant, and her step was light and nimble and her smile as unwearied and jolly as a young girls’. What must it be to be young and nimble at eighty. Moreover, Mrs. Gorvett still works much as a young person. It pleased her to go out picking raspberries in the large berry patches this year. And it is safe to say she made a much higher record than many young and ambitious farmerettes might aspire to. "I could pick the whole day long, right through the heat." She announced with some just pride, "and earn my dollar and seventy cents per day right along, I earned some twelve dollars picking strawberries." I wonder how many of us will be able to do as great a stunt at eighty?

The one part of Mrs. Gorvett’s narrative that has perplexed me some was the fact that wheat in England was three dollars a bushel in 1869. If it had been ’56 one would not be surprised, for at that time of the Crimean war, wheat went very high even here. But although England had managed to keep out of the European struggles which occurred between the Crimean war and ’69, she could not help these continental wars affecting her markets. There were five great strifes during those few years which concerned both Europe and the New World. In these years the kingdom of Italy was created and Prussia took Schleswig- Holstein from Denmark. Poland had one of its tragic convulsions and France a war with Mexico. What probably affected the wheat market in England as much as anything was The American Civil war. At any rate the thing that concerns us now is that in even so great a war as has been at present with England knee deep in trouble from the very first, she has been able to keep her people with all their hardship (and this hardship those who have returned say we know nothing about) from the extreme food shortages Mrs. Gorvett’s story reveals. When there was wheat in the world to be had England managed to procure it through the intrepidity of her seamen and the quickened transportation facilities of these later days, and in spite of submarines. And the English people have had their bread at as cheap a rate as we who raise the wheat, and with wages far higher that two an a quarter per week as well. Meanwhile, the fact that the world had wheat for England this war shows plainly that Canada has risen to greatness since 1869.

In the face of these bettered conditions for the poor of even a country hard spent in the throes of a universal war, who will say the world, in spite of its horror of inhumane strife is not slowly, slowly creeping up to better things."



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