Thursday, 25 August 2016

Book Review: First We Were Soldiers, the long march to Perth

This 2015 book by Perth historian Ron W. Shaw falls into two parts. The first 99 pages are devoted to the soldering part, a description of the organization and life of the British Army as it was constituted and served during the period up until the end of the War of 1812.  Not being a military historian, and having no ancestry that I know of involved in the military of the period, this was all new material to me. Except, I've just read Shaw's 2012 book Forgotten Hero: Alexander Fraser, co-authored with M.E. Irene Spence, and find much of the military material repeated word for word from the previous book. However, there is lots of other content new to me including material on the transition of the settlers to Perth and its early development. I appreciated the maps to help those of us not familiar with the relative locations of the townships.
A short section on pages 79 and 80 referring to "the year without a summer" grabbed my attention as a former meteorologist. "Global temperatures (in 1816) dropped by an average of 2 degrees, but in Perth Upper Canada, they were 10 degrees below average." There is no reference the closest being to an article in an unspecified May 1887 issue of the Toronto Mail, 70 years later.  There were no official weather observations at the time and the land only having just been surveyed what was the basis for an average?
The second part of the book provides short, typically five page biographies of some of the soldier-settlers in the Perth Military Settlement. They are: Captain Francis Tito LeLièvre (1755-1830); Captain Francis Tito LeLievre (1755 - 1830); Captain Joshua Adams (1770 to 1863); Captain William Marshall (1774 - 1864); Surgeon Alexander Thom, (1775 to 1848); Lieutenant  Thomas Consitt (1773 to 1862 ); Lieutenant Andrew William Playfair (1790 - 1868); Lieutenant Alexander Fraser (1789 - 1872); Lieutenant Benjamin DeLisle (1792 - c1860); Lieutenant Roderick Matheson (1793 - 1873); Lieutenant Christopher James Bell (1795 to 1836 ); Colour Sergeant Alexander Cameron (1787 - 1859); Colour Sergeant Jacob Hollinger (1781 to c1825); Quarter Master Sergeant Thomas Echlin Sr (1748 - 1845); Sergeant John Balderson (1784 - 1852); Sergeant James Quigley (1788 - 1827); Corporal Thomas Norris (1781 - c1865); Corporal William Tansley Bygrove (1792 - 1882); Private William Burrows (1783 - c1834); Private William Henry Horrocks (1789 - 1880); Private John Truelove (1789 - c1840); Private Benoit Darou (c1788 - 1861); Private Denis Richard Noonan (1775 - 1833); Private Thomas  Kirkham  1792 - 1881); Private Samuel Dixon (1784 - c1855); Dragoon John Greenley (1775 - 1854).
Anyone descended from or connected to these settlers will want to read these. However, the book lacks an index, especially a name index so you won't find the nuggets of information about connections to other Perth area ancestors unless you read through the text. An index helps sell the book and while making it isn't difficult it is laborious. That omission, along with Shaw's tendency to give incomplete references, or no references at all, is my main issue with this otherwise valuable book.

First We Were Soldiers, The Long March To Perth  By Ron W. Shaw is published in softcover by the author and Friesen Press of Victoria, B.C. in  6" by 9" format, 336 pages.

This review is based on a copy provided by

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