Saturday, March 22, 2014

Inkerman House, Charlottetown

     In February 2001 I purchased this little 30-page booklet about Colonel John Hamilton Gray ( 4th Premier of PEI and Father of Confederation) and his home Inkerman, located on North River in Charlottetown. 
            I suspect the book is out of print again.  It was published in 1973, reprinted in 1977 and again in 1999.
            Col. Gray built Inkerman House in the late 1850’s.  He entertained the Fathers of Confederation at his home during the Charlottetown Conference in 1864.  Col. Gray died in 1887.  His house was advertised for sale in early 1888.  In 1895 the house was up for auction sale and bought by William Boyle for $1,250.  The house remained in the Boyle-Lawson-Beck family for more than 70 years – in later years it was used as a summer home. 
            In 1980 the house was severely damaged by fire and later torn down.
Inkerman House on Brighton Shore, 1895
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The following information and photos come from the pages of the above booklet...
Colonel John Hamilton Gray ( Father
of Confederation) and Inkerman House
by Helen A. Lawson.
            This booklet is a Centennial ’73 project of the Charlottetown Branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women...  Printed in PEI by Island Offset Inc.
            This little booklet is not only Colonel John Hamilton Gray and Inkerman House; it has to do with Confederation and the important part of Prince Edward Island played in that movement.  We celebrate our Centennial in 1973, and it behooves us all to know about and to be proud of our part in Confederation.
            John Hamilton Gray was born in his father’s home in Spring Park in 1811 and lived there until he was a young man of twenty.   Then he went to England and joined the militia, and spent twenty-one years with the British army, most of that time in India and Africa...
...he bought a property on what was then called the York River and now the North River.  There he built his house and called the estate “Inkerman”.
            A visitor coming in from the North River Road would be thrilled with the beautiful shady lane, then called Inkerman Avenue.  On the right was a row of lime trees, planted meticulously by the Colonel, exactly forty feet apart; on the left were white birches, beeches, mountain ash and poplars.  The heavy limes, or lindens, as they are called in England, were supposed to represent the Russians, and the lighter wood on the left the British and French in the battle of Inkerman.  This beautiful lane ran for one quarter of a mile, over a little hill, and around a bend to the “Big House”, as it was called. (from the Guardian March 2, 1967:  “HISTORIC VANDALISM CHARGED IN CUTTING OF INKERMAN TREES -  Terming its historic vandalism, a protest has been filed with Ottawa over the cutting down of the ancient lime trees which line Inkerman Avenue.  The trees had been personally planted by Col. John Hamilton Gray to line the roadway to his home, Inkerman, where many of the events connected with the 1864 Charlottetown Conference took place.  Lt.-Col. R. Hunter-Duvar noticed workmen operating on behalf of the city cutting down the ancient trees.”)
            As the visitor approached the house and circle in front of it, he would see a large, white, two and one-half storey home with wide porches across the front and on both sides.  These porches with railings were on both the ground floor and second floor.  The front door with its fan light and side windows and the large lock with its extra large key are still in use.   The wide spacious hall gives the visitor an impression of grace and elegance.  It runs the whole depth of the house, seventy-five feet.  About three-quarters of the way down is a beautiful wide stairway which led to the second floor.  At the top of the stairs is a large picture window looking out on the back field and the North River, where the waves wash in on a sandy cove.  There are eight large bedrooms on this floor, each opening on the wide hall, most of them with connecting doors, and four with open fireplaces.  There is a large attic with huge beams holding up the immense roof and a bay window which looks south over the tops of the trees and houses to the harbour.
            In the Colonel’s time, a stairway in the attic led up to a round turret with a sliding wall on the west side, which when opened, looked out on the river.  The story is told that at that time, the Island was expecting a tidal wave, and the Colonel had a boat there, loaded with provisions and ready to take off.  However, some years ago, a Charlottetown lady, who as a girl played at Inkerman with the Gray girls, told me that she did see a boat  loaded with provisions and covered with canvas under a thick bush on the west side of the house.  I remember that a radio broadcaster was severely criticized by relatives of the Colonel, when, in one of his talks, he referred to Colonel Gray as the “modern Noah”; he told the story of the boat in the attic.
            To the right as one entered the front door on the first floor was the Colonel’s library and sometimes the family living room.  A narrow butler’s pantry was next, and behind it a dining room with one of the very large open fireplaces with dog-irons, crane and kettle.  Behind the dining room was a kitchen with a back door leading to a porch.  A narrow stairway led from the kitchen to the servants’ quarters on the upper floor.
            To the left of the front door was the drawing room, a large stately room, where we know many high-ranking person were entertained.  A door from this room opened to the banquet room, where, we are told, the Colonel entertained the delegates (with a “sumptuous luncheon”) from Nova Scotia who had arrived on the steamship Victoria enroute to the Conference at Quebec, where the subject of confederation was to be discussed.  Behind the banquet room was another kitchen used to service the banquet room and also used as an extra room for the comfort of the servants.  There was a back door and porch also on this side of the house.
            The “Big House” boasted several innovations which attracted attention in those days: there was, for example, the primitive central heating system, with a monstrous cast iron furnace in the basement and hot air registers in most of the rooms.  A revolutionary system of disposing of waste water impressed visitors who were accustomed to seeing wash basins emptied out of upper windows or laboriously carried down long hallways or back stairs.  The waste at Inkerman House was carried by a trolley to a trench in the back field.  There were in use at this time at least eight open fireplaces built to throw out the heat, the old-fashioned type with marble facing and mantel.
            The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) visited Prince Edward Island in 1860, and at a dance given in the Prince’s honour at Government House, Colonel Gray, who was Aide-de-Camp to Governor Dundas, was in conversation with the Prince.  His Highness asked the Colonel if he had traveled much.  “I have indeed,” the Colonel replied; “I have four daughters, each one born in a different parts of the globe.”  The fourth daughter, Bertha, had recently been born at Inkerman.  Two years later, the Prince was attending a field day at Aldershot, England, where the Commanding Officer asked him if he had ever been to an Island in Canada called, “Prince Edward”.  The Prince replied, “Yes, I have, and I met a retired British officer who had told me had had four daughter, each born in a different corner of the globe.”  “What a coincidence!” exclaimed the General; “That was my son-in-law, Colonel Gray, and his third daughter Sara, born in England, is living here at my home.”...
            The (Charlottetown) conference was convened on September first (1864), and Colonel Gray, who was then Premier of Prince Edward Island, was elected chairman.  He commanded the respect of all and presided with his accustomed dignity...The leading statesman of the provinces had previously had little opportunity of getting to know one another, and both the formal discussions and social activities at Charlottetown did much to improve the personal relationships so necessary for future negotiations.  On each day the delegates were entertained by the Island delegates, and Colonel Gray held a impressive reception at Inkerman.
            On August 3, 1887 Colonel Gray suffered a stroke, and ten days later died at Inkerman House.  The Charlottetown Guardian in his obituary recorded that “As a soldier, he distinguished himself with more than ordinary fidelity and bravery; as a politician he was able, courteous, and gentlemanly, commanding the respect even of those politically opposed to him; as a churchman, he had been an elder in the Kirk of St. James Presbyterian Church for 31 years.  He was wise in council and always ready in any good work.”    The Colonel was buried with all military honours in the north-east corner of Sherwood Cemetery. 

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