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Johnston Family History
Copy of a Letter from Murdoch Johnston, addressed to his brother William Johnston

I mentioned I had some information regarding our family's emigration from Coll to Upper Canada in 1847. Here is a letter that was sent by my Great Grandfather to his brother who was with the British Army in India at the time.

The translation from Gaelic left some grammatical errors I think.


Copy of a Letter from Murdoch Johnston, addressed to his brother William Johnston, Overseer, Ossoor by Bengalan, Madrad, East India

Translated from Gaelic-translation updated-probably March or April 1851


Mara Township by Orillia, Lake Simcoe
Canada West, Upper Canada, America

My very beloved William,

  It is with pen of grief and ink of tears that I fabricate this letter of sympathetic feelings and renewing my melancholy wounds which are marked so deep in my heart that it will not be healed or made up on this side of Jordan, as I was chastised severely.  But thanks to the Most High, He gives me many comforts and mixed my gall with honey from the rock and with finest of the wheat of his promise.  I think you have heard of all my trials I encountered during my adventure to these foreign parts. Blessed be the Lord who declared in his word,

“When thee passeth through the rivers they shall not overflow thee.”

  I left Coll in the year 1847. You knew that the Lord blessed me with children. He gave me seven boys and two girls so that I could not stay any longer in Coll with my poor family when the Lord cut the staff of bread from our mouths and I was constrained to make my escape as the Lord ordered it.

  I left Liverpool on the 7th of July, 1847, with a number of Irishmen, who had the fever among them. There was also the pox, even the small pox and you may know how I was myself and my wife was in the same state with the children without taking the smallpox. After ten days at sea, the disease broke out with mortal power to all of us. My wife and myself and all the children were seized with the small pox and after four days, my most lovely Alexander was interred in the watery grave of the Atlantic Ocean along with many others. Thanks to the Lord, we came after a dangerous voyage of seven weeks and five days, to a place called “Quarantine Island” where hospitals and doctors were engaged to inspect the immigrants, and when we landed after getting over the smallpox, but severely struck with the fever, we were taken away, the men to one hospital, the women to another and the children to yet another. I was kept in the hospital with the Black Fever for two months and when I recovered a little, I searched for the children and my dear wife. I found my wife and one of the children in one of the hospitals.


  They did not know what became of the other children, but they expected they had all died, but demanded of me to search in Quebec and in Montreal for them, as maybe some of them were sent away with the survivors by steamboat. I was sent away from “Quarantine Island” and left my dear wife behind with the fever as they would not allow me to await her, which proved to be the last sight of a dear espoused wife.  So there Brother, if you could think of my situation of being alone, deprived of all my dear family like unto David when he sayeth,

“I am like a Pelican in the Wilderness or like an Owl in the Desert, pouring his blood out of his wound and like the Owl weeping and howling when all were asleep”.

  I came to Quebec, but found none there. They sent us from Quebec, even the immigrants, to Montreal and when I came to Montreal, I searched there in a surgery office and found their names. I was told that Donald died the same day he came to Montreal. I went through the hospitals to find any of the rest.  I went into the ward there and when I stepped in, the nurses were lifting a corpse out of a bed. I fixed my eyes on the corpse and found it to be my Isabella. I looked around through the ward again and saw little William and scarcely could I make him out until I spoke to him in Gaelic and he cried “ Oh Father, Isabella is dead, she was in one bed with me and died.”

  Oh, William, you cannot learn the state of my feelings when William cried

“Oh Father, I shall never part from you.” I went out after some time again and found James and Lachlan in another ward nearly dead. I could not get any information on Joseph(?)and Sarah. I stopped a fortnight in Montreal to what the Lord might do with me and blessed be His Holy Name, he looked to my distress and heard the cry of my need and bestowed upon me and on the children a little strength, so I went away without clothes, even a stitch and without money except 1/8d.  I came away to Finglan and from there to Toronto where we were all struck again with the fever. The hospitals were all filled up so we were divided again one in every hospital and after five or six days Neil died. Then we, the rest of us, were six months in Toronto sick, and came afterwards to Mara where some of our countrymen were and found John and Sarah there alive after recovering from the fever but without anything in the world. But Neil MacKinnon, you can recollect who was in ( - - - - - -?)   the Wherry of the Laird of Coll and took care of them.


   My luggage and all were stolen away except for a little cloth. They broke the chests and took the same away Dear William we the remains of us.

   I had  written you a letter last year but I think it did not come to your hands as I depended on you writing me. There is plenty of land here but my Dear William a man without money cannot have it.

  We are here and very well in some ways, but I am on another’s property since I came here. Duncan came here last harvest, safe and healthy and brought the money you had sent him and I bought him a little piece of land with the same but you can consider how far behind by sickness that great tribulation which made me so unable to purchase land as there is no money here. You can get everything here but money is impossible for a poor man. Everything is managed by trade and barter. Dear William we are now getting aged and soon our journey will be at an end and when we will be as we were when not in existence.

  I hope you will, if it seems good in your consideration, send me what would buy a hundred acres, to me and to the children before I leave this wilderness of trouble and weariness, tears and sorrow and consider what a miserable thing it is to be working so hard in lopping the wild woods of America for others. A man can earn only the bit he feeds upon. You may know that I am strong in body but glorify the High Name, I enjoy good health and if I had a piece of land to my own, through the mercies of the providential strength I would make my endeavors.  My children are something to me and hoping in the fear of the Lord and eschewing evil, if you take my case into consideration you will write me at all events and let me know how you are situated, how you feel in the wilderness and how the Lord dealt with you. Death approaches in every draw of breath the nearer. Oh that the work may be done not as the Ten Virgins working without grace, but as the wise with grace in their hearts.      


  Dear Brother, adieu. May we be pilgrims with our face towards it, walking and weeping along, in our walking rejoicing with our mourning, looking to Him who was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. My beloved and affectionate Brother,  regards to your wife and family and all the children. My children lovely and affectionate with me, remember them to you and your children.

Your sincere and affectionate Brother till death,

signed M. Johnston

P.S. I can get 100 acres of land here for less than 40 pounds. You will write me immediately and if you can will send the same the surest way you know yourself. Duncan and family are well. I did not hear from Coll since Duncan came here but I expect soon a letter.

  Dear William farewell, May grace and peace be with you now and for ever. Amen           

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