Page 69c2 Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Theal Family Tombstone & Private Papers - 1849 - 2

1 2 3 4 5 6
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure Alterstone Type 8 - Inscribed, shaped - Tombstone

Tombstones are the highest form of "alterstones" stone relics you can find, starting out as a block of native limestone, which is then dressed into a smooth slab, on which a carver then inscribes his designs.

Few tombstones can match this one as a historical memento.

Even in weight. It comes in at a very heavy, back-breaking 100 lbs.

It is ancient, very early Canadian, from a period when very few in good condition survive.

It is well decorated when many are not.

It is in very fine condition, when many others are broken, stained, buried, or dumped in landfill.

It is legible, when most inscriptions from those days are worn off.

It memorialized two young people, not just one.

It testifies to a terrible tragedy for a pioneer family in early Ontario. Death was a constant companion in the wilds of Canada.

Finally, the tombstone is accessible; it was not stolen. It was remaindered from a church and cemetery which were closed on the Niagara peninsula near De Cew house. It was for many years in a house basement, and then put up for auction.

Moses who died in 1886, had four children with Caroline, at least two of whom died young..

Right a typical Ontario tombstone from Lakefield cemetery which is some 10 years newer than the Theal one.

Alterstone Relic - Theal Brothers Tombstone, Niagara, 1849
Orig. limestone - Size - 36 x 98 x 45 cm, wt 100 lbs
Found - Rockway, ON
How Could You, You Ghoul...? I mean bring a tombstone into your house...?

Quite easily, actually. This tombstone had an enormous amount of love invested in it, by a poor young pioneer Canadian mother and father who could ill afford the huge amounts of money it took to commission it. It incorporated their deep love for two children they had brought into the world and who were snatched from them by the ruthless hand of fate.

For years to come this tombstone would likely remain the family's single most expensive acquisition.

Many times, no doubt, Moses and Caroline touched this stone with deep affection, over many years on their visits to the graves of their young boys.

That's what this tombstone memorializes for us. A deeply emotional touchstone of history that brings alive a family tragedy that was all too common for the founding pioneers of Canada. For us it keeps alive the memory of Caroline, Moses, and James.

Clearly Caroline and Moses had been too poor to buy a memorial stone for their infant son who had died 15 years before. They had not even had time to give him a name.

They had probably just buried him behind the house till their economic conditions improved. When James died in 1849 they brought the two bodies together and spent the huge amounts of money it would have cost for a memorial stone of this complexity.

above another regional cemetery very close to the one that the Theal tombstone once stood up in.

The sad end for many of Canada's earliest tombstones, and the history they preserve, falling, fracturing, fading...

The near tombstones show clearly, the fate that the Theal memorial stone would have suffered where it not saved from the trash heap of history by the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.

Since tombstones and cemeteries were increasingly distant, many families had fabric tombstones of various kinds, installed in their homes, in remembrance of their loved and departed...

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Memorial Sampler, Mary Kershaw, Dec. 13, 1847
Orig. sampler - Size - 65 x 65 cm
Found - Dundas, ON
Prov - the McLaren Estate
The finest memorial sampler or embroidery we have ever seen, in memory of Mary Kershaw, a member of the founding family of Canada Steamship Lines. She had died a year and a half before James Theal.

It is huge, and after 160 years still in fine shape.

In the nineteenth century, in Canada, it was tragically true that for every family "In the midst of life, we are in death."

Mary's final days were not easy; death - as recounted in the poem - probably a welcome relief. Nevertheless she was deeply mourned: the tears falling liberally from the heavens on her grave over which even the trees are bowed with grief.

The death rate at the time was enormous, especially among the young. Mary Kershaw lived to what was considered a ripe old age, and died at 65.

Today, with improved health care, better food and excercise, we believe the average person should be good for another twenty years at least...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Our Premier, John A Macdonald, At Rest, 1891
Orig. ribbon - Size - 3 x 5.5"
Found - Burlington, ON
There were also mourning silks when institutional leaders passed from the scene.

When Canada's first Prime Minister died there was genuine grief and tears shed by common people. Likewise when Queen Victoria died in 1901, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1919.

Cheers not Tears - In 2012 the coinage has been so debased that the death of a Prime Minister would more likely elicit cheers rather than tears.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Death Silk, Queen Victoria 1901
Orig. silk - Size - 2.25 x 5"
Found - Calgary, AB
They didn't know her, but they thought they did, and grieved for her death as if a family member had died.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

In Memoriam Queen Victoria, 1901
Orig. silk - Size - 2 x 4.5"
Found - Daytona, FL
People pinned these mourning silks to their clothes before going shopping or to go to church.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Empress of Ireland, 1914
Orig. silk - Size - 2 x 4"
Found - Daytona, FL

A very rare memorial silk for Canada's biggest ship disaster.
Go to the Empress Sinks
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure


A fabulous discovery are the book and 31 pages of the printed papers of Thomas Theal (1832-1909), from the 1840s.

Thomas was the older brother of the dead Theal boys.

He was present when they buried the baby, though he was only two years old at the time, and later at 17, when the family installed the tombstone above over James and the baby.

He went on to become a leading citizen of Grimsby Ontario.

His writings started in 1845 and carried on for six years, overlapping the death of James.

One date is October 1849, and the last date is Nov 1850. So two entries could very well be related to the sudden death of his 12 year old brother James.

Book and Papers dated 1845-1850, James Theal
Orig. papers - Size - 23 cm
Found - London, ON

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure
Book Entry, James Theal 1845-1850
Orig. document - Size - 19.5 cm w
Found - London, ON
Thomas wrote out songs, hymns and poems because people could not often afford all the books these were to be found in. Copying them down meant that family members could have instant access to them, for singing or reciting at gatherings, sing songs, and on solemn occasions, like the sudden death of his 12 year old younger brother James.
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure
Book Entry, James Theal 1845-1850
Orig. document - Size - 19.5 cm w
Found - London, ON

Thomas Theal wrote out the hymn Thou Art Gone to the Grave in his book.

It is very likely that at James' funeral the family sang this song at the grave site during the burial, and perhaps again later, when the grave stone, above, was installed.

Thou art gone to the grave, but we will not deplore thee,
Though sorrows and darkness encompass the tomb;
The Savior has passed through its portal before thee,
And the lamp of His love is thy guide through the gloom.

Thou art gone to the grave, we no longer behold thee,
Nor tread the rough path of the world by thy side;
But the wide arms of mercy are spread to enfold thee,
And sinners may hope, since the Sinless has died.

Thou art gone to the grave, and, its mansion forsaking,
Perhaps thy tried spirit in doubt lingered long;
But the sunshine of Heaven beamed bright on thy waking,
And the song which thou heard’st was the seraphims’ song.

Thou art gone to the grave, but ’twere wrong to deplore thee,
When God was thy ransom, thy guardian, thy guide;
He gave thee, and took thee, and soon will restore thee,
Where death has no sting, since the Savior hath died

Reginald Heber above (1783-1826) wrote the words to Thou Art Gone to the Grave upon the death of his first child. William Walker right put them to music in a hymnal published in 1835. So in 1849 when James copied it the hymn would have been a "hit parade" song of the age.

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure A typical "family only" cemetery in rural southern Ontario. In the days when roads were primitive and established cemeteries were few and far between family members were laid to rest near the house.

This way they would always be close.

Probably James was laid to rest like this.

Family cemeteries still dot the countryside in remote locations though many were closed as civilization advanced.

Hymns like Thou Art Gone would have been sung in the field here, either from memory or from note books like Thomas', when Caroline Brooks was laid to rest at the far left in 1892.

Brooks Family Cemetery, Talbot Trail near Wheatley ON
Orig. photo
Found - Wheatley, ON

James Theal's tombstone, which once stood like that of Caroline Brooks, on a family plot, would have been removed when the Theal family graveyard was closed.

Note that Thomas' mother was also named Caroline, a favourite of the era, it being the name of the the very popular and longtime Caroline, Princess of Wales (1795-1820), and later, very briefly, Queen of England (1820-21) as consort to King George IV.

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure An absolutely rare item - the earliest Canadian ceramic commemorative ware piece we've ever seen - is this pitcher, of British, and Canadian, King George IV. His wife the popular Caroline died only a few months after being crowned.

George's father was Mad King George III, who caused Americans to rebel and create the United States of America. It hails from an age when royals had real political power.

George the son, died in 1830, after only a ten year reign.

This ornate pitcher and handle form is typical of 1830s and 40s.

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Commemoration Pitcher, King George IV - 1830

Orig. pitcher - Size - 16 cm
Found - Napanee, ON - Bailey Coll

In Canada, Canadians were just recovering from the American depredations during the War of 1812, when, in a revenge attack dating back to their War of Independence, they invaded the British colony, and burned the parliament buildings in the provincial capital at York.


The jug above is not to be confused with the whiskey seller's repro for which an optimistic ebay seller is asking for an atrocious price.

It is stamped "with compliments" of a whiskey seller on the front unlike the original from 1830, which has an empty space there. The repro base too, is stamped with the whiskey seller's logo.

This one is likely from the late 1930s..

This optimistic seller who has generously dropped the price by 16%, is still way over the top on this.

































Left the 1830 bottom; right the repro.

The hardshell "book" connected by a half inch cloth binding is actually not, but as Thomas himself notes a "case" designed to hold fragile papers and protect them. It's really a portfolio.

All the pages Thomas has included are loosely held. Strings once held them together at the spine but of these only remnants remain.

Thomas was 13 when he got it. His exquisite penmanship is remarkable for a teen of any generation.

None in the 21st century could match it.

The conservative rural mind set - see Reform - was already well installed in this farmer's boy.

Thomas' pages are a collection of poems, hymns, and songs that would have been a resource to draw on when performing skits or songs in parlours during family gatherings on lonely winter evenings in the days when the nearest neighbour was miles away and travel often too difficult to visit them.

There are 31 pages bearing half a dozen dates from the winter months February to April and October to November 1845 to 1850.

No entries from May to September when farming chores would have taken up Thomas' attention full time.