John Nevin’s poem on the death of James William Chisholm 1863

Armorer James William CHISHOLM
Royal Scots Firsts at the CANADIAN REBELLION 1839
John NEVIN poem on the death of James William CHISHOLM 1863

Encampment of the Royal Regiment at London, Canada West.[1842]
London, Canada West: Library and Archives Canada

Here is another beautifully crafted poem by John Nevin snr (1808-1887), father of Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin, the earliest to date of his poetry written in Tasmania to surface in public collections and press publications. This poem was penned to lament the premature death of his dear friend James William Chisholm (1802-1863) with whom he served in the Royal Scots First or Royal Regiment in the West Indies and at the Canadian Rebellions from 1827 to discharge in 1841. The lament was published in the Weekly Times (Hobart Town, Tas.), Saturday 29 August 1863, page 6.

John Nevin’s full service with the Royal Scots First Regiment lasted 14 years and 237 days in the West Indies and Canada. His record shows that at attestation in 1825 he was under age. His service abroad in the West Indies dated from 30th November 1827 to 30th January 1836, and in Canada from 16th June 1836. He was discharged at London, West Canada on 31 May 1841 on medical grounds (rheumatism, liver complaints, disease of the urinary organs), and returned to England eventually as a Chelsea pensioner.

A full contemporary account of The First or Royal Regiment of Foot, by Richard J. Cannon, published in 1838, details in the last pages the activities of the regiment in the West Indies 1826-1836, where John Nevin served from the age of seventeen to the battles in the Canadian rebellions of 1837-38. Some details of his service were published in his Obituary, in the Mercury (Tas) of 11th October, 1887, viz …

In his day he was a wielder of the pen as well as of the sword, and was some 50 years ago a contributor to the infant Press in London, Canada West, when the present city of that name was a struggling town of rough and rude buildings and log huts. As a soldier of the Royal Scots he served under his colonel, Sir G.A. Wetherall, and the present Sir Daniel Lyons [sic i.e. Lysons] was his ensign; and he did his duty in very stirring times in the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-1838. He was engaged in the storming and capture of St.Charles and St. Eustache and in engagements of St. Dennis, St. Benoit, and many other operations on the Richelieu River and adjacent country of Chambly, and at Terra-Bone [sic i.e. Terrebonne] he assisted in the capture of a large number of French prisoners during a severe winter campaign, often struggling with his comrades to the waist in snow in following his officers in the work of quelling the rebellion of Papineau. John Nevin’s proudest boast was that he had been a soldier of the Royals.

Before leaving England once more to travel as a pensioner guard on board the convict transport the Fairlie in 1852, bound for Tasmania, Australia, John Nevin had become a husband and father of four children, and had spent a lonely and unprofitable time on the Californian gold fields, described in his poem “My Cottage in the Wilderness(1868).  His earlier poem, written on the death of his daughter Rebecca Jane Nevin, was published in 1866, and his lament on the death of fellow Methodist William Genge was published in 1881. Four poems, including the present, have therefore surfaced, and no doubt he penned dozens more in a lifetime spanning eighty years.

Left: Photo of John Nevin taken by his son Thomas Nevin ca. 1873
Right: Obituary in Mercury 11th October 1887
Read the Obituary here at Obituaries Australia
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2005-2017ARR.

James William Chisholm and John Nevin served in the West Indies during the campaign for the abolition of slavery led by William Wilberforce in England. The Slavery Abolition Act came into law on 1st August 1834 when slavery was ostensibly abolished throughout British possessions abroad. In this poem, John Nevin brings the issue to the foreground:

Again he cross’d the Atlantic’s wave,
To sultry Indies’ feverish soil.
Where the emancipated slave
Beneath the lash no longer toil.

Another significant event during their service was at Terra-Bone [i.e. Terrebonne,  Quebec] where – according to the authors of John Nevin’s obituary – they assisted “in the capture of a large number of French prisoners during a severe winter campaign, often struggling with his comrades to the waist in snow in following his officers in the work of quelling the rebellion of Papineau” (Mercury, 11th October, 1887). In the poem, John Nevin remembers those terrible days fighting in snow to the waist, marking the line with an asterisk to underscore the memory of that winter with  a footnote:

As oft we cross’d the slippery plain,
Or sinking to the waist in snow.*

*He served as Armorer in the Royal Regiment, with the Author, in the Canadian Rebellion of 1839, it was a very severe winter.

The Poem
John Nevin published the poem with the explanatory title – “WRITTEN on the much-lamented death of the late JAMES WILLIAM CHISHOLM, of Hobart Town, a native of Edinburgh, aged 61 years.” Over nine stanzas, he conveys with deep affection the key facts and events in the life of his friend, namely –

  • James William Chisholm was a Mason for thirty years
  • he was born in Scotland
  • he joined the Royal Corps
  • his wife accompanied him when he served in Canada
  • he served as armorer [maintains and repairs weaponry] in the Royal Regiment with John Nevin
  • they served in the severest winter of the Canadian Rebellion, 1839
  • his baby daughter Janet died at St. Lawrence River
  • he returned to serve in the West Indies where slavery was now outlawed
  • once more back in Canada, he was discharged, as was John Nevin
  • he never returned to Scotland
  • like John Nevin, he decided to emigrate to Tasmania
  • he died leaving a widow, two daughters and three sons

Download the rest of this poem here.

John Nevin published this poem in the Weekly Times, Hobart, Tasmania, on 29th August one month after James William Chisholm’s death in July 1863.

TRANSCRIPT

Original Poetry

WRITTEN on the much-lamented death of the late JAMES WILLIAM CHISHOLM, of Hobart Town, a native of Edinburgh, aged 61 years.

His toils are past, his warfare o’er,
No suffering anguish heaves his breast;
Far from his own lov’d native shore
Has found a place of lasting rest.
In yonder Church-yard’s cheerless gloom.
We’ve laid him in his narrow bed,
While tear drops fell around his tomb,
In memory of the sacred dead.

JAMES WILLIAM CHISHOLM honor’d name,
By all rever’d, who knew him best:
Masonic Brethren may proclaim,
Their filial grief with aching breast,
His vacant, seat, ah! Who shall fill
So wisely as our friend hath done.
Your welfare was his object still,
Until his earthly race was run.

Full thirty years, with ardent zeal,
He mix’d amongst the Brotherhood,
And aim’d at every brother’s weal ,-
Still nobly for your cause he stood.
His birth-place was old Scotia’s shore,
That land he ever lov’d so well;
But when he join’d the Royal Corps.
To that dear land he bade farewell.

A faithful partner left her home,
Alike from friends and kindred dear,
To cross the Ocean’s billowy foam,
To far Canadian forest drear,
And there his joys and griefs to share;
And oft to lift his aching head,
To pour the balm of comfort there,
When none but strangers round his bed.

His manly soul would still disdain,
To shrink from contending foe;
As oft we cross’d the slippery plain,
Or sinking to the waist in snow.*
With noble fortitude he bore
Each keen distress with Christian mind;
But, in affliction would implore
Strength from on high to be resigned.

He saw one flow’ret droop and fade,
By the St. Lawrence’s mighty tide;
‘Tis there his own dear babe is laid,
‘Twas there his little Janet died.
Again he cross’d the Atlantic’s wave,
To sultry Indies’ feverish soil.
Where the emancipated slave
Beneath the lash no longer toil.

Where Orange blossoms scent the air,
And wafts sweet odours all around,
And flowers of deepest hues are there,
And birds of gayest plumage found.
Back to Canadian streams and lakes,
From sunny skies to snowy dells;
Once more the dreary voyage makes.
To hear again the tinkling bells.

But not to where his fathers sleep –
He never saw that spot again;
He thought of other lands the while,
To rest in his declining years.
And sought thy shores, fair Tasman’s isle,
Now witness of his widow’s tears.

Two daughters weep in weeds of woes,
Three sons now mourn a parent gone,
And friends a tear of grief bestow,
To honor the departed one;
And while we mourn our friend’s decease,
The generous, noble, and the kind,
He died, as he had lived, in peace,
We trust with God and all mankind.

J. NEVIN
Kangaroo Valley

*He served as Armorer in the Royal Regiment, with the Author, in the Canadian Rebellion of 1839, it was a very severe winter.

Source: Weekly Times (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1863), Saturday 29 August 1863, page 6

Obituaries for James William CHISHOLM
These obituaries provide a few more details not mentioned in John Nevin’s poem, namely –

  • James William Chisholm was buried at St. David’s Cemetery, Davey St. Hobart
  • he was for many years armorer in Edinburgh Castle
  • he was armorer in the 1st Royals and the 7th Royal Fusiliers
  • he was connected to the War Department in Tasmania
  • he was a member of the First Rifles (Volunteers)
  • he was buried with military honors
  • his residence was 70 Brisbane Street, Hobart
  • his funeral procession was headed by the firing party with arms reversed
  • the Battalion Band played “The Dead March”
  • the funeral procession included Mason companions of the R.A.C., 781, E.C.
  • three vollies were fired over the grave after the service was read
  • the Masons each “cast” a sprig of acacia on the coffin

Source: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) Tue 7 Jul 1863 Page 2

TRANSCRIPT

VOLUNTEER’S FUNERAL – Yesterday afternoon the mortal remains of Mr. James William Chisholm were consigned to their last resting place in St. David’s Cemetery. Mr. Chisholm was for many years armorer in Edinburgh Castle, and subsequently in the 1st Royals and the 7th Royal Fusiliers, and up to the time of his decease was connected with the War Department in Tasmania. The deceased being a member of the First Rifles (Volunteers) he was buried with military honors. The procession started from Mr. Chisholm’s late residence in Brisbane-street, headed by the firing party with arms reversed, and the Battalion Band playing “The Dead March”. The hearse, containing the coffin, was followed by officers and members of the various corps of Volunteers, and the procession was closed by the personal friends of the deceased, and the companions of the R.A.C., 781, E.C., Mr. Chisholm having been a mason of high standing. The funeral service was read by the Rev. Mr. Hudspeth, and at at its conclusion three vollies were fired over the grave, and then the masons approached, and each cast upon the coffin a sprig of acacia, that shrub bearing a symbolic signification known only to members of the craft.

Source: The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) Tue 7 Jul 1863 Page 2

[Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery group at Queen’s Battery, The Domain]
Author/Creator: Baily, Henry Hall, active 1865-1880
Publication Information: [ca. 1878]
Physical description: 1 photograph : sepia toned ; 23 x 27 cm. (mount)
Digitised item from: W.L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

Source: Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899) Thu 23 Jul 1863 Page 4 Family Notices

TRANSCRIPT

CHISHOLM—On the 3rd July, at his late residence 70, Brisbane-street, Hobart Town, James William Chisholm, aged 61, a native of Edinburgh. Deceased was for many years armorer in Edinburgh Castle, and subsequently in the 1st Royals and 7th Royal Fusileers, and up to his decease was attached to the War Department in Tasmania.

Thomas Nevin photographed the Chisholm house at 70 Brisbane Street, Hobart ca. 1870 with  Duncan Chisholm, one of James William Chisholm’s three sons, posing at the front gate.

The verso was inscribed by a grandchild of James William Chisholm:
“Bathurst? or Brisbane St? Hobart 1870’s
My father D. Chisholm at the gate Hobart Town”

D. Chisholm at the gate, 70 Bathurst St, Hobart
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin, New Town Studio ca. 1870
Carte-de-visite (rectangular) on plain mount,
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Collection Ref: Q1987.388

The verso was inscribed by a grandchild of James William Chisholm: 
“Bathurst? or Brisbane St? Hobart 1870’s
  My father D. Chisholm at the gate Hobart Town”

D. Chisholm at the gate, 70 Bathurst St, Hobart
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin, New Town Studio ca. 1870
Carte-de-visite (rectangular) on plain mount,
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Collection Ref: Q1987.388

Stereograph of the same man, i.e. Duncan Chisholm in a pale suit and hat leaning on a fence outside the single-story house, identified as 70 Brisbane St. Hobart on verso of cdv above.
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1870
TMAG Ref: Q1994.56.17 [scans recto and verso 2015].

ADDENDA
James William Chisholm died of heart disease on 3rd July 1863, according to the Deaths in the District of Hobart Town registry.

Name:Chisholm, James William
Record Type:Deaths
Gender:Male
Age:60
Date of death:03 Jul 1863
Registered:Hobart
Registration year:1863
Record ID:NAME_INDEXES:1225002
Resource RGD35/1/6 no 3978

The Canadian Rebellion Prints are held at the McCord Museum: view more here.

Print: Passage of the Richelieu by night, 22nd Nov. 1837
Lord Charles Beauclerk (1813-1842)
1840, 19th century
Ink and watercolour on paper – Lithography
26.5 x 36.6 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
M4777.1 © McCord Museum

RELATED POSTS main weblog