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A Visit to the Sir Walter Scott Monument
July 12, 2011

The figure of Sir Walter Scott towers in Scotland's history as the man who gave her back her lost national honor through his books, poems, and work in finding the Honours of Scotland. It's only fitting that Edinburgh's Sir Walter Scott Monument should also tower above the city's landscape at a whopping 200 feet. The Binny stone that the builders used quickly attracted dirt and soot, adding to the effect of the Victorian Gothic architecture. Many find the unique monument to be unattractive or obtrusive, but I think it echoes Scott's romantic imagination and does a splendid job of honoring his legacy. The creator of Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, and so many other classics certainly deserves more than just a drab marker.

While in Europe, Josh, myself, and two other friends conquered the 287 steps to the top and enjoyed a fantastic panoramic view of Edinburgh. A huge statute of Scott and one of his faithful dogs sits at ground level, and another smaller version rests on the top level as a reward to the brave souls who survive the climb. Sixty-four other statuettes rest in niches and represent characters from his books, while banners etched in stone commemorate his most famous works.

The monument was inaugurated in 1846, though the last statuettes were not added until after 1881. It's most likely that R. M. Ballantyne, along with hundreds of other notables, climbed those stone steps in memory of his father's friend and his own inspiration. The hundreds of names scraped into the walls certainly speak to many more recent visitors, though few of them probably fully understand Scott's impact on Scotland, as well as the rest of the English-speaking world. Praise God that the Scottish people, after rediscovering their heritage through Scott's work, have in turn honored Scott's heritage through this monument!

Tueri a vulnere,


Posted by Joshua Phillips at 02:35 PM |

Ballantyne's Life: Hudson's Bay Part 2
October 29, 2009

To read Part 1 of this article, click here

It was in June of 1845 that Robert hit the road, bound once more for Norway House. The below letter is a peek into Ballantyne's superiors' perspective on his work and character, written the day before his departure for Norway House.

Mr Ballantyne is just about starting for Norway House. . . In reply to your enquiry regarding that young gentleman[']s habits and character I feel bound to speak of both in favorable terms. He came very young to the country and was at first stationed where he had comparatively little work to do; and, in consequence, had made little progress in a knowledge of business when he was sent to this place. - Since he came under my orders I have every reason to speak well of his application, improvement and docility. - He is not yet fitted to take charge of any important trust in business or accounts; but under a superintendant, who would set him a good example, I am certain that he would give satisfaction. - The worst feature in his character, that I have observed, is youthful thoughtlessness which time & reflection are sure to remedy. - At first there was also about him a little of what characterises most town bred boys forwardness and flippancy. - York discipline however I believe has withered all such; - and on the whole, I beg to speak of him as a young man well fitted to become useful in the service under proper tuition and a bourgeois who would take pains to render him so.

Yours most faithfully

  J[ames] Hargrave [1]

It's nice to find an unbiased, honest report of Ballantyne's character, as displayed in these early years. At this time he appears to be entering the stage of manhood, as more responsibility is placed on his shoulders. He was a very sturdy lad who enjoyed a good romp, but could buckle down to business.

Ballantyne did not stay here long. Instead, he began a trip in August across nearly 2,300 miles of Canadian wilderness, bound for the town of Lachine. The average canoe at that time, which Ballantyne would have used, was an amazing vessel capable of holding a number of men, along with many pieces of cargo, while being light enough to be carried on a few men's shoulders. This was often necessary, as portages, (going overland from one river or lake to another) were often. The journey was arduous, but he made it at last and arrived on October 25, sixty-six days later.

Winter came, and with it a new assignment. It was in January of 1846, Ballantyne's fifth year in Rupert's Land, when he was assigned yet another excursion. This time he was to travel to Tadousac, one of a series of places known as "King's Posts." It seems that his entire time with the Hudson's Bay Company was one of constant motion, partly due to the small number of men covering such a vast area.

He arrived at Tadousac on February 7, but not much of interest occurred, and Ballantyne was sent sixty miles further in March, to Isle Jeremie. He spent some time here, and used Isle Jeremie as a base for a few short journeys as well. In April he spent some time at a post called Seven Islands, and in August he journeyed back to Tadousac. It was during Ballantyne's fifth year in Canada, June 1, 1846, to be exact, that his contract expired. He notified the company of his wish to return to England. To his great surprise, he learned that he could not leave for another year! A certain clause in his contract stated that he must give a year's notice before leaving the company, thus providing time to send out a replacement.

The clause, which cost Ballantyne a year's extra service, is below:

. . . he shall omit to give notice to the Governor or Officers of the said Company in North America one year [and] upwards before the expiration of the said Term of Five Years of his intention to [unintelligable] services and return to Europe, than that he hereby promises and engages to remain one year longer . . . [2]

The company was willing to forgive Ballantyne's oversight, and to allow him to return to England, but not until a replacement arrived. Due to inconducive travelling conditions, it turned out to be an extra year of service, anyway. The below letter relates to the issue.

Dunn. Finlayson Esq. London August 18th 1846 La Chine

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 27th . . .

There is no wish on the part of the Governor and Committee to enforce the rule of the service against Robert Ballantyne. They will send out an apprenctice Clerk to take his place and as soon as he shall arrive, or sooner if his services can be dispensed with, Mr Ballantyne may be allowed to retire . . .

Your obedt. Servt.

A[rchibald] B[arclay] Secy. [3]

In this case, you might say, the moral of the story is to read the fine print. Make sure you understand the entirety of a contract before putting pen to paper and giving your word of honor. If Ballantyne had done this, he would have returned to England before the death of his failing father, who passed away days previous to Robert's belated arrival.

On the 25th of May, 1847, Ballantyne boarded a ship for England, thus ending his Hudson's Bay era. He had faithfully sent letters to his mother, in addition to journalizing his experiences, and it was with the help of these that he published Hudson Bay in 1848. Although this book was never incredibly successful, it did introduce his name into the world of authors, and attracted some notice. Ballantyne was approached about writing a boys' novel set in Canada, which produced The Young Furtraders, elements of which were shaped by the young author's own experiences.

The years that Ballantyne spent at Hudson Bay helped to weld together his character, his love for outdoor exercise and his tremendous work ethic. The countless miles he covered in Rupert's Land are a demonstration of the vast, unexplored space that existed in Canada at that time. To better display his various travels, I have collated a short catalogue of his journeyings while in North America. They are as follows:

  • June 6, 1841 - sailed
  • August 21, 1841 - landed at York Factory
  • August 31, 1841 - departed by boat for Red River
  • Spring, 1842 - departed for Norway House
  • June 4, 1843 - departed for York Factory
  • June 23, 1845 -started by canoe for Norway House
  • July 4, 1845 - arrived at Norway House
  • August 20, 1845 - departed for Lachine - distance of nearly 2300 miles!
  • October 25, 1845 - arrived at Lachine
  • January, 1846 - departure for Tadousac
  • February 7, 1846 - arrived at Tadousac
  • March, 1846 - departure for Isle Jeremie
  • March 16, 1846- arrived at Isle Jeremie
  • Six weeks later - sent back to Tadousac
  • Soon after - back to Isle Jeremie
  • April, 1846 - departure for Seven Islands
  • August 25, 1846 - departure for Tadousac
  • May 25, 1847 - departure for England!

I have been able to peruse a significant amount of material regarding R. M. Ballantyne's time in the Hudson Bay area thanks to Ballantyne's autobiographical works, Personal Reminiscences in Book-Making, and Hudson Bay, as well as Eric Quayle's biography Ballantyne the Brave. I would also like to thank the staff of the H.B.C. Archives, located in Canda, who provided me with copies of letters and journal entries related to and by R. M. Ballantyne.

What were Ballantyne's religous feelings at this time? I will let him answer in his own words.

"During all the six years that I spent in Rupert's Land I was 'without God.' He was around me and within me, guarding me, bestowing upon me the physical and mental health by which alone I could fully enjoy a life in the wilderness, and furnishing me with much of the material that was to serve as my stock-in-trade during my subsequent career; yet--I confess it with shame--I did not recognise or think of, or care for, Him. It was not until after I had returned home that He opened my eyes to see myself a lost soul, and Jesus Christ--'God with us'--an all-sufficient Redeemer, able and willing to save me from sin, as He is to save all sinners--even the chief." [4]

It is not until the next era of his life, during his early literary endeavors, that the seeds of the gospel begin to root in Ballantyne's heart. My next article in this series will speak of this time.

Tutela ex Vulnero,


[1] Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Governor George Simpson loose inward correspondence, D.5/13, fo. 371,

[2] Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Servants' contracts - Ba-BI, A.32/21, fo. 77,

[3] Hudson's Bay Company Archives, London Outward Letter-book copy, A. 6/27, pp. 85 and 86

[4] Personal Reminiscences in Book Making by R. M. Ballantyne

Posted by John Horn at 09:02 PM |

Ballantyne's Life: Hudson's Bay Part 1
October 23, 2009

This post is part of a chronological series upon Robert Ballantyne's life, which was introduced here.

'One day my dear father was reading in the newspapers some account of the discoveries of Dease and Simpson in the neighborhood of the famous North-west Passage. Looking at me over his spectacles with the perplexed air of a man who has an idle son of sixteen to start in the race of life, he said--

"How would you like to go into the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and discover the North-west Passage?"--or words to that effect.

"All right, father," said I--or something of that sort.' [1]

With this rather abrupt determination which Robert Michael Ballantyne quoted in his Personal Reminiscinses upon Book-Making, this young sixteen-year-old began the next era of his life. To many today, this would seem a rash decision for a father to make, sending a young son across the ocean to a wild and dangerous continent. However, the Ballantyne family was experiencing drastically reduced circumstances due to "Sandy" Ballantyne's financial ruin that occurred with the Ballantyne Press collapse. (To read more of this, click here). Thus, Robert's father had no good directions in England to send his son for a career.

Hudson Bay is an enormous body of water in Canada discovered in 1611 by the explorer Henry Hudson, after whom it was named. The "watershed," so to speak, of Hudson Bay, is an extensive area of ground, which during Ballantyne's time was termed "Rupert's Land." A trading venture called the Hudson's Bay Company owned this area and carried out their business of fur trapping. The Hudson Bay area being vastly larger than the entirety of the British Isles, canoes were the main means of transportation over the necessarily long distances.

The normal method of acquiring furs was to trade European goods with the Indians in return for the desired skins. Rupert's Land was dotted with small, desolate trading posts, which they often called forts, where the Indians came to exchange goods. Temperatures in this harsh land were extreme in winter, often going to forty or fifty degrees below zero!

On May 31, 1841, Ballantyne signed his contract with the Hudson's Bay Company, accepting a beginning salary of £20 a year for the post of "Apprentice Clerk". Five years was the agreed time of service, and his wages were to increase each year in the following manner: £20, £25, £30, £40, £50. In 1841, each British pound was worth around $5.

Following preparations for this new adventure, on July 6, 1841, Ballantyne set sail in the Prince Rupert, bound for North America. His destination, York Factory, was a major post in Rupert's Land through which all sorts of supplies and trading goods passed. It was not until August 21 that Ballantyne and his fellow passengers arrived, much to the joy of York Factory's inhabitants whose circle of acquaintances was small, owing to its sparse population

Ten days after his arrival, Ballantyne set off in one of four boats bound for Fort Garry in the Red River Settlement. He began his first real work for the Company here, keeping records of expenses, purchases, etc., along with a number of other young clerks. The work was dull, but it was enlivened by spirited hunts in the fresh air, and, once winter arrived, moonlit sleigh rides. The young men at Fort Garry were a rambunctious lot, who called themselves the "Fraternity of Quill-Drivers." Most of the young men in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company were a hearty, reckless lot, much enamored with tobacco, of which all smoked tremendous amounts.

Spring came, and along with the new season came orders for Ballantyne to shoulder his belongings and move on, this time to Norway House, a smaller trading post. This was a pleasant place, allowing for many fishing and hunting expeditions, but with less human association than Red River. Except for the drudgery of work which Ballantyne did not enjoy, he spent an exhilarating year at Norway House. It was not until June of 1843 that orders came for Robert to return to York Factory.

Ballantyne's descriptions of work, summer activities, winter inactivities, and everyday life are quite interesting. You can find an autobiographical account in his first book, Hudson Bay. It was while at York Factory that he wrote an interesting poem concerning the area, a portion of which can be seen in my article about poetry, here.

Ballantyne suffered from the swampy climate which surrounded the post in summer, and spent a large portion of time in the sick bay, both in the hot months, as well as the following winter. He persevered in his work, however, and the company took pity on his indisposition by transferring him to Norway House the next year.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, which explores the rest of his career in the Hudson Bay area!

Tutela ex Vulnero,


[1] Personal Reminiscinses upon Book-Making by R. M. Ballantyne.

Posted by John Horn at 09:06 PM |

Ballantyne's Life: Boyhood and Before
September 21, 2009

This is the first post in a chronological series upon Robert Ballantyne's life, which was introduced here.

A thunderous volley broke the cool morning air. Flying lead tore holes through flesh and blood. Groaning bodies fell to the earth, their lifeblood dying the lush, green grass. April 19, 1775: Red-coated soldiers passed over the bloodstained green, bound for Concord - and the beginning of a war. One year and nine days later, while fighting still raged between British soldiers and American patriots, a little boy was born in Kelso, Scotland. His name was Alexander Ballantyne, but his family called him Sandy.

Alexander "Sandy" Ballantyne Alexander "Sandy" Ballantyne

This lad was the son of a prosperous merchant and the youngest of three boys. It soon became evident that he had a taste for the artistic. Proper training in music developed a skill on the violin which earned him renown as one of the best amateur violinists in Scotland. Sandy's elder brothers were named James and John, and the three were moderately close.

Once fully matured, the three Ballantyne brothers were to become the printers and publishers of the great author Sir Walter Scott. Of more importance to us, this lad, Sandy, would in time take a wife. Together, they would have a son whom they would name Robert Michael Ballantyne.

In 1806, Sandy Ballantyne married Miss Anne Randall Scott Grant. This lassie's rather long name was shortened after her marriage by friends and family, who simply called her Randall. The couple had ten children together, two of whom died young, leaving five girls and three boys. The second youngest child, a little boy they affectionately called "Bob," became the celebrated author who we discuss today.

Robert Michael Ballantyne was born on the 24th of April, 1825, into a family which was speedily reduced to scanty financial circumstances due to the money troubles of their most famous client. When Sir Walter Scott's enormous debts were discovered, he collapsed into financial ruin, pulling with him the Ballantyne Press, requiring Sandy to personally pay a portion of the company's debts. Although they survived their hardships, the Ballantynes never again gained their previously affluent social status.

A short overview of Robert's siblings is as follows:

  • Mary, the eldest, was a hardworking girl, capable of helping her mother with an active brood of seven younger children.

  • James, next in line, was a studious lad who learned several Oriental and Indian languages, later travelling to India, publishing numerous books regarding foreign languages and dialects.

  • John became an artist, and was very close to Robert who stayed with the painter and his wife, "Teenie," until Robert's own marriage. For a time, John was a successful London artist, but he fell upon hard circumstances and was helped financially in his later years by his younger brother.

  • Jane, Madalina, and Randall, all girls, were very close to their younger brother and leaned upon him for support after their father's death. Randall was named after her mother, whom they all adored.

  • The youngest child, a girl named Williamina, became the black sheep of the family after she bore a child out of wedlock as a school teacher in Germany.

James Ballantyne James Ballantyne

We don't know much specifically about Robert's younger years, but they would have been like those of an average Victorian boy. We do know that he loved fishing, and was a amateur watercolor painter. Upon reaching the grandly mature age of sixteen, his father proposed that he take a position in the Hudson's Bay Company which operated in the wilds of North America, trading for furs. As this opens upon a new era of Ballantyne's life, I will continue it in a future post.

Tutela ex Vulnero,


Posted by John Horn at 09:23 PM |

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