New from eldonhouse.com

The Harris Women

One of Eldon House’s greatest privileges is that it has the ability to interpret is the wealth of primary documentation that the family left behind as a legacy. Generations of letters, diaries, photographs and other papers were donated by the family to Western Archives, at Western University in London, Ontario. It is through research that we are able to tell the stories of the family and get a candid glimpse into their lives. In the wealth of research that has been completed in the six decades since the Harris home became a museum, it has become evident that the voice of the Harris Women is very strong. The history of the generations of Harris Women is fascinating and revealing, from Amelia Ryerse Harris as primary matriarch to her granddaughter Milly Harris as final resident of the house. An introduction to some of the Harris Women is inset below, within the context of their life and times. If you wish to learn more about the Harris women, we hope you will visit us at Eldon House or refer to the Champlain Society publication “The Eldon House Diaries: Five Women’s views of the 19th Century,” (Harris and Harris, 1994).

The Matriarch Commander

(1868-1959)
Amelia (Milly) Archange Harris (1869-1959) was the eldest child of George and Lucy Ronalds and named after her grandmother, who she would come to resemble in spirit and determination. Being born into the wealth and status of the now-established Harris family, she was well educated and socially connected. The diaries of her youth list nearly daily social engagements, sporting activities and visits to friends and family throughout the region. Milly attended school in Torquay, England at 13, completing her schooling at 18 years of age. She had many diverse interests upon her return to Canada, engaging in the hobby of photography, attending lectures at Western University, avidly engaging in sports including women’s hockey and golf as well as being active with the London Hunt Club and the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). Ultimately Milly never married, proving to be an exception to the societal expectations for women during the period. “Spinsterhood” was a chosen state for Milly – we know she has at least one offer of marriage- and allowed her greater freedom and management of her own fortune. As an unmarried woman Milly had ample opportunities to travel, which she took advantage of, both in Canada and abroad. Her home remained Eldon House, first living with her parents, then with her brother Ronald and his wife Lorna. She assisted her brother and sister-in-law to raise their three children and became actively involved in public service. Milly was a strong minded individual and it is thanks to her that Eldon House has retained its historic character developed in the 1890s. Her two nephews and niece would, according to family lore, comment that in growing up at Eldon House, one already felt a museum-like quality of its interior. Milly Harris lived for almost 92 years, outliving her whole generation. It was she, it can be said, that lived in Eldon House longest and last – as after her death in 1959, the house would soon be translated to become a historical museum.

The Non-Conformist

(1836-1898)

Sophia Howard Ryerson was the only daughter of Adolphus Egerton Ryerson (24 March 1803 – 19 February 1882) who was known as a Methodist minister, educator, politician, and public education advocate in early Ontario, Canada. The relationship between Sophia and her father was very devoted: he regularly took her on his travels abroad and oversaw her extensive education that included politics, religion, languages, art and music. In many ways, Sophia was a woman “ahead of her time” in her disregard for the opinions of others and impatience for independence.

Egerton Ryerson was also a first cousin to Amelia (nee Ryerse) Harris, who enjoyed a close relationship and correspondence throughout their long lives. In her youth, Sophia became enamored with her second cousin Edward Harris (1832-1925) and the two indulged in a taboo and secret correspondence for many years. In 1859 the pair announced their intention to marry in the summer of the following year. After their honeymoon, the pair moved into Eldon House and Sophia settled into a routine of married life. In her diary, a weariness of her domestic routine is apparent as can be seen in her entry for October 24 1860: “reading music and reading.” While the couple entertained a great deal, Sophia’s social life in some ways remained in Toronto, the city of her youth. She undertook many trips “home” to her parents and had an active and gay time away from her husband and mother in law who lived with them.

A growing rift between the couple occurred in 1862, surrounding Sophia’s “conduct” with a certain Captain Edward Hewitt resulting in gossip in London and Toronto. The division between Sophia and Edward deepened when she refused to drop Hewitt’s acquaintance. The couple separated for almost two years – she moving back to her family in Toronto and he remaining at Eldon House. One of the most interesting and revealing aspects of their correspondence during the separation is Edward’s (and his mother Amelia’s) blame being placed not on Sophia’s shoulders, but her father’s. Edward angrily outlines that Egerton Ryerson encouraged Sophia’s relationship with Hewitt, allowing her to go out riding or dancing “unaccompanied” and brings his legal rights as her husband into the conversation, saying that it is he alone that has the right of governance over his wife. In a letter to Sophia dated to October 15 1862, Edward writes: “When a woman marries it shows by her marriage vow that she leaves her father’s home for her husbands and subjects herself to him.” When such persuasion falls on deaf ears, Edwards opts for total silence, writing a month later to his mother upon her departure to Toronto to see her daughter in law: “I do not wish Sophia to return nor do I wish her to write to me. The intimacy with Captain Hewitt must cease if she has a thought or wish to ever see me again and our ever living together as man and wife depends on the way in which she conducts herself with her altered position.”

The “true” circumstance of Sophia’s relationship with Hewitt may never be discovered, but enough of her character is known to infer that she would balk at the patriarchal control exercised upon her and remained free spirited and unconcerned of what society thought of her. Despite the judgements made by those in her circle, Sophia did reconcile with Edward in 1864. In a letter to Edward dated to September 19 1864, Sophia was so “overcome with emotion at their reconciliation that she was unable to speak” assuring Edward of her happiness and eagerness for him to “call for her.” Sophia returned to Eldon House on November 17 1864. Edward and Sophia by all accounts had a contented marriage until her death in 1898. While the couple didn’t have any further public discord, their separation in the earliest years of their union undoubtedly cemented their roles in the relationship. While Edward retained his “legal rights” as her husband, Sophie had established her need for expression and independence.

Divorce and Separation in 19C Canada

The history of divorce in Canada contrasts sharply with that of marriage for, while most Canadians married, divorce was extremely uncommon until after the Second World War. In fact, until that time, Canada had one of the lowest divorce rates in the Western world. Respectability – articulated by social and religious leaders – condemned divorce as a threat to the family, and the strength of this opinion prevented the relaxation of Canadian divorce laws. Consequently, access to divorce in Canada was extremely limited until 1968. For most of Canada's first century adultery was virtually the only basis for divorce and, before the First World War, only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia had divorce courts, although Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario created them during the interwar period. In provinces without access to judicial divorce, the only alternative was an appeal to Parliament for a statutory divorce, an expensive process that limited access to the wealthy.

The Globe Trotter

(1839-1928)
Teresa Harris was the youngest child of John and Amelia Harris, born and raised at Eldon House in London, Ontario. Documents from the family archives constantly refer to Teresa being a “sickly child” or “very delicate” which are sentiments that do not reflect the robust and adventurous woman that she became. At the age of twenty, Teresa was married to William John Scott, a wealthy Scotsman twelve years her senior. She had been very dubious of the courtship and had refused him several times for the reasons of his drinking, age and appearance (according to Amelia Harris’s diary of February 1859, he was “certainly the reverse of handsome”). Regardless of these challenges, the couple married and moved to England, where Teresa occupied the role of mistress of a large household. Their life together for 16 years of marriage was harmonious and filled with travel – back for long visits to Eldon House, abroad to Spain, Egypt, America, Asia, and the Middle East. Teresa came into her own during their travels and was delighted with the life saying: “I believe I have a little of the ‘Bedouin Arab’ in me.” On their final tour abroad together, the couple were joined by St. George Littledale, a chance acquaintance who travelled with them for eight months through Asia. William Scott’s health had been declining and it was decided to make the long trek homeward, but unfortunately, in June 1875 Scott died of typhoid fever on their ship back to Liverpool. In February 1877 Littledale married Teresa Scott. They spent their honeymoon in Kashmir and Ladakh and were gone for well over a year. For 30 years the Littledales mounted expeditions in North America and Asia, constantly collecting for museums. They began with the American Rockies, Yellowstone, and Alaska, where they gained experience and honed their skills. These trips were followed by expeditions in the late 1880s in the Caucasus, the Pamirs, and Russian Central Asia and Mongolia (Alai and Altai). Both St. George and Teresa took specimen collecting very seriously. It validated their expeditions and gave purpose to their lives. Working as a team, they were willing to collect anything. In addition to mammals, they collected birds, insects, reptiles, fish, and long lists of plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Littledale then began collecting more than museum specimens. In 1889 he wanted to cross the Pamirs from north to south from Russia into India. In order to boost his chances of gaining permission, he offered to gather intelligence. The time period was at the height of the “Great Game,” a cold war between Russia and Britain over the vast lands known as Central Asia. The rivalry between the two powers was approaching its climax in that remote desolate region and the Littledales’ successful travels created a sensation in the press. Their greatest exploit was a 14-month journey to Tibet in 1895. They were attempting to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa. It was the great goal of Central Asian explorers but all had failed. Littledale had selected the route to avoid meeting Tibetans until they neared Lhasa. Eventually the party encountered 150 armed Tibetans at a 19,000-foot pass. They were allowed to continue over the pass to a suitable stopping place. They were within 49 miles of Lhasa, what was closer than any other Westerner since 1846. During a harrowing retreat out of Tibet, Teresa was so ill from dysentery that she had to be carried for 1,200 miles. In 1903 the Littledales visited New Zealand, where St. George suggested that the climate and terrain were suitable for the importation of certain game animals. He now became involved in the collection of live animals. It was a complex international project, during which he developed a long friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt.The Littledales continued to travel extensively together to far-flung places but not at the expedition level. Teresa Littledale died suddenly in 1928. In 1931 St. George spent six weeks salmon fishing on the Spey in Scotland. He returned home ill and died on 16 April.

The Heiress

(1845-1901)
Lucy Ronalds Harris grew up west of London in Sandwich near Windsor, Upper Canada. While her family had comfortable means, she had “great expectations” and knew that she eventually would be the sole heiress of a considerable family fortune originating in England. When George Harris came to court Lucy he understood the responsibility (and comfort) that wealth would entail upon her and, if successful in his wooing, on himself. The couple’s courtship was relatively short, taking place in the fall of 1866. They largely saw each other in public assemblies or balls until they became engaged in early October. It wasn’t until September 5th 1867 that the couple were married – not because they wished for a “long engagement,” but rather due to the frequent disagreements when it came to the details set into Lucy’s Marriage Contract. On more than one occasion George’s mother, Amelia Harris, comments on the imminent breaking of the engagement due to difficulties with the marriage contract – largely that in it Lucy regains a good deal of control of her estate and its ultimate dispensation is in the hands of three English Trustees and not her future husband. The engagement however goes forward, but Lucy’s inheritance will prove to be a constant presence in the couple’s marriage. As with many marriages made between those of “unequal prospects” Lucy had an underlying doubt of George’s true regard for her – whether it was for her own merits he courted her, or for her monetary attractions. This concern is also mirrored in Amelia Harris’ diary when on March 20, 1867 she writes: “…George has gone to Windsor to see Lucy. I do not think he is as fond of her as I could wish…” Once married, Lucy settles into a domestic routine as wife and mother and mistress of her household. Meanwhile, she earns an “allowance” from her estates, which she often comments is commandeered by the Harris family. In 1892 she comes into a considerable inheritance upon the death of her Grandmother, adding to her fortune and responsibility in overseeing the care of her estates – now spanning two continents. Lucy remains humble and rather daunted by the burden of her fortune, and yet puts her capital to good use, educating her children, funding several charitable endeavors and all the while instilling the necessity to “live within ones means.” When Lucy died in 1901, her surviving three adult children and her husband George were left to divide her estate as she had wished. In her quiet and steady manner, Lucy had made Eldon House “safe” financially and changed the fortune and lifestyle of her decedents.
Marriage Contracts
A marriage contract, setting out the couple's property arrangements, was commonplace in upper and lower Canada in the 19th Century, especially in the cases of “moneyed” or “landed” heiresses. Although courting couples probably gave the matter little thought, marriage had important implications for property. In English common law, a woman's property became her husband's on marriage. There were a few restrictions: he could not dispose of her real estate, if she owned any, without her consent, and it reverted to her when he died. She also had rights, called dower rights, to one-third of his estate. If a woman owned or expected to inherit substantial assets, her interests needed protection. In such cases, her assets could be put in trust, and guarded by a trustee. Her husband's access to her assets would be limited by the terms of the trust agreement. A husband could dispose of their common property as long as this was for their mutual benefit. Slowly, over the course of the 19th century, women's rights in general and their property rights in particular were expanded by legislative change in both Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

The Matriarch-Commander

(1798-1882)
Amelia Ryerse was born in 1798 at Port Ryerse, daughter of Samuel Ryerse and Sarah Underhill. Her parents left the United States shortly after the American War of Independence, initially to New Brunswick and then to the Long Point area, in Norfolk County. When she was 18 years old, she met her future husband, John Harris, who was conducting a survey of the Great Lakes. They were married within two months, embarking on a life of excitement together. Early in the marriage John and Amelia set up their home in Kingston, Ontario, at the Hydrographer’s Office out of which the Royal Survey Team was based. Amelia surprisingly soon became a key member of the team and was referred to as “Mrs. A Harris, Deputy Assistant Marine Surveyor & Astronomer.” In many ways she exceeded the expectations of “womanhood” in her time, as she was a well-educated, forceful woman with excellent organizational and communication skills. The men she came into contact with respected her abilities and she made sure to retain ties with these figures and came to leverage their friendship to her family’s advantage, well after leaving Kingston for London. The fact that many of her twelve children came to have middle names such as “Owen, Bayfield, Henvey” and “Vidal” was quite a deliberate choice to strengthen the ties between her children and these men of influence. In 1834 John and Amelia relocated to London, Ontario, into their newly built home, then called “Eldon Terrace.” For the next 17 years, the couple settled into a domestic routine raising their children and entertaining friends within their circle. John died suddenly in 1851 and with the death of her husband, Amelia was thrown not only into grief, but also a financial crisis as John’s salary as Treasurer of the District ceased as did his naval pension. Amelia now took on the role of sole matriarch of the family and that of a single mother. She was determined that the household would not disintegrate and disperse and this mission would influence the decisions and activities for the rest of her long life. Amelia had an independent income of about 260 pounds per year based on land-rents, which was a large sum at the time, but not nearly enough to maintain the Eldon House lifestyle, her children’s education and retention of household servants. With eight of her children still remaining at home, Amelia was determined to see that her sons were successful and that her daughters found suitable partners. As a strong and even domineering woman, Amelia took full advantage of her social position and associations, making sure that life at Eldon house continued as before. Her efforts were successful: between 1851 and 1856 five of her daughters would marry well and move away from Eldon House. Meanwhile, John Jr. had completed his legal training and by 1855 was earning a generous wage. His younger brother Edward also became a lawyer and joined John in a business partnership. With monies coming into the household, Amelia’s main cares focused on her two youngest children, George and Teresa – who are referred to elsewhere in this exhibition.
Writing
It was during the late 1850s that Amelia began writing regularly in a diary, a habit she would continue for 25 years. At first, she records local and personal happenings so to later include them in letters to her daughters abroad. The avidity in which she continues alters throughout the years, coming to illustrate Amelia’s true character and outlook through years of hardship and loss. Amelia used her diary as a means of communication with her family – leaving it in the library to be read by household residents and family members. Some of her entries leave no doubt as to her disapproval of their actions. Amelia’s criticism did not contain itself to domestic life; it extended itself to the world at large, illustrating the writer’s wide interest in contemporary politics, science and society. These observances create an invaluable record on the development of life in Canada from a woman’s perspective. She did not confine herself only to her diary, but explored the wider world of literature. Her cousin Egerton Ryerson urged her to write a 31 page article for his “Loyalists in America” publication, in which she recounted the history of Norfolk County where she grew up as well as the story of the American Invasion and burning of Port Ryerse during the War of 1812. Her account has provided a factual and interesting account of early pioneering life in Upper Canada that has created a legacy of the author far beyond the walls of Eldon House. Amelia Harris died on March 24 1882, having buried five of her children and outliving her husband for thirty one years.

Amelia Ryerse Harris

The Matriarch-Commander

(1798-1882)
Amelia Ryerse was born in 1798 at Port Ryerse, daughter of Samuel Ryerse and Sarah Underhill. Her parents left the United States shortly after the American War of Independence, initially to New Brunswick and then to the Long Point area, in Norfolk County. When she was 18 years old, she met her future husband, John Harris, who was conducting a survey of the Great Lakes. They were married within two months, embarking on a life of excitement together. Early in the marriage John and Amelia set up their home in Kingston, Ontario, at the Hydrographer’s Office out of which the Royal Survey Team was based. Amelia surprisingly soon became a key member of the team and was referred to as “Mrs. A Harris, Deputy Assistant Marine Surveyor & Astronomer.” In many ways she exceeded the expectations of “womanhood” in her time, as she was a well-educated, forceful woman with excellent organizational and communication skills. The men she came into contact with respected her abilities and she made sure to retain ties with these figures and came to leverage their friendship to her family’s advantage, well after leaving Kingston for London. The fact that many of her twelve children came to have middle names such as “Owen, Bayfield, Henvey” and “Vidal” was quite a deliberate choice to strengthen the ties between her children and these men of influence. In 1834 John and Amelia relocated to London, Ontario, into their newly built home, then called “Eldon Terrace.” For the next 17 years, the couple settled into a domestic routine raising their children and entertaining friends within their circle. John died suddenly in 1851 and with the death of her husband, Amelia was thrown not only into grief, but also a financial crisis as John’s salary as Treasurer of the District ceased as did his naval pension. Amelia now took on the role of sole matriarch of the family and that of a single mother. She was determined that the household would not disintegrate and disperse and this mission would influence the decisions and activities for the rest of her long life. Amelia had an independent income of about 260 pounds per year based on land-rents, which was a large sum at the time, but not nearly enough to maintain the Eldon House lifestyle, her children’s education and retention of household servants. With eight of her children still remaining at home, Amelia was determined to see that her sons were successful and that her daughters found suitable partners. As a strong and even domineering woman, Amelia took full advantage of her social position and associations, making sure that life at Eldon house continued as before. Her efforts were successful: between 1851 and 1856 five of her daughters would marry well and move away from Eldon House. Meanwhile, John Jr. had completed his legal training and by 1855 was earning a generous wage. His younger brother Edward also became a lawyer and joined John in a business partnership. With monies coming into the household, Amelia’s main cares focused on her two youngest children, George and Teresa – who are referred to elsewhere in this exhibition.
Writing
It was during the late 1850s that Amelia began writing regularly in a diary, a habit she would continue for 25 years. At first, she records local and personal happenings so to later include them in letters to her daughters abroad. The avidity in which she continues alters throughout the years, coming to illustrate Amelia’s true character and outlook through years of hardship and loss. Amelia used her diary as a means of communication with her family – leaving it in the library to be read by household residents and family members. Some of her entries leave no doubt as to her disapproval of their actions. Amelia’s criticism did not contain itself to domestic life; it extended itself to the world at large, illustrating the writer’s wide interest in contemporary politics, science and society. These observances create an invaluable record on the development of life in Canada from a woman’s perspective. She did not confine herself only to her diary, but explored the wider world of literature. Her cousin Egerton Ryerson urged her to write a 31 page article for his “Loyalists in America” publication, in which she recounted the history of Norfolk County where she grew up as well as the story of the American Invasion and burning of Port Ryerse during the War of 1812. Her account has provided a factual and interesting account of early pioneering life in Upper Canada that has created a legacy of the author far beyond the walls of Eldon House. Amelia Harris died on March 24 1882, having buried five of her children and outliving her husband for thirty one years.

Lucy Ronalds Harris

The Heiress

(1845-1901)
Lucy Ronalds Harris grew up west of London in Sandwich near Windsor, Upper Canada. While her family had comfortable means, she had “great expectations” and knew that she eventually would be the sole heiress of a considerable family fortune originating in England. When George Harris came to court Lucy he understood the responsibility (and comfort) that wealth would entail upon her and, if successful in his wooing, on himself. The couple’s courtship was relatively short, taking place in the fall of 1866. They largely saw each other in public assemblies or balls until they became engaged in early October. It wasn’t until September 5th 1867 that the couple were married – not because they wished for a “long engagement,” but rather due to the frequent disagreements when it came to the details set into Lucy’s Marriage Contract. On more than one occasion George’s mother, Amelia Harris, comments on the imminent breaking of the engagement due to difficulties with the marriage contract – largely that in it Lucy regains a good deal of control of her estate and its ultimate dispensation is in the hands of three English Trustees and not her future husband. The engagement however goes forward, but Lucy’s inheritance will prove to be a constant presence in the couple’s marriage. As with many marriages made between those of “unequal prospects” Lucy had an underlying doubt of George’s true regard for her – whether it was for her own merits he courted her, or for her monetary attractions. This concern is also mirrored in Amelia Harris’ diary when on March 20, 1867 she writes: “…George has gone to Windsor to see Lucy. I do not think he is as fond of her as I could wish…” Once married, Lucy settles into a domestic routine as wife and mother and mistress of her household. Meanwhile, she earns an “allowance” from her estates, which she often comments is commandeered by the Harris family. In 1892 she comes into a considerable inheritance upon the death of her Grandmother, adding to her fortune and responsibility in overseeing the care of her estates – now spanning two continents. Lucy remains humble and rather daunted by the burden of her fortune, and yet puts her capital to good use, educating her children, funding several charitable endeavors and all the while instilling the necessity to “live within ones means.” When Lucy died in 1901, her surviving three adult children and her husband George were left to divide her estate as she had wished. In her quiet and steady manner, Lucy had made Eldon House “safe” financially and changed the fortune and lifestyle of her decedents.
Marriage Contracts
A marriage contract, setting out the couple's property arrangements, was commonplace in upper and lower Canada in the 19th Century, especially in the cases of “moneyed” or “landed” heiresses. Although courting couples probably gave the matter little thought, marriage had important implications for property. In English common law, a woman's property became her husband's on marriage. There were a few restrictions: he could not dispose of her real estate, if she owned any, without her consent, and it reverted to her when he died. She also had rights, called dower rights, to one-third of his estate. If a woman owned or expected to inherit substantial assets, her interests needed protection. In such cases, her assets could be put in trust, and guarded by a trustee. Her husband's access to her assets would be limited by the terms of the trust agreement. A husband could dispose of their common property as long as this was for their mutual benefit. Slowly, over the course of the 19th century, women's rights in general and their property rights in particular were expanded by legislative change in both Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

Teresa Harris Littledale

The Globe Trotter

(1839-1928)
Teresa Harris was the youngest child of John and Amelia Harris, born and raised at Eldon House in London, Ontario. Documents from the family archives constantly refer to Teresa being a “sickly child” or “very delicate” which are sentiments that do not reflect the robust and adventurous woman that she became. At the age of twenty, Teresa was married to William John Scott, a wealthy Scotsman twelve years her senior. She had been very dubious of the courtship and had refused him several times for the reasons of his drinking, age and appearance (according to Amelia Harris’s diary of February 1859, he was “certainly the reverse of handsome”). Regardless of these challenges, the couple married and moved to England, where Teresa occupied the role of mistress of a large household. Their life together for 16 years of marriage was harmonious and filled with travel – back for long visits to Eldon House, abroad to Spain, Egypt, America, Asia, and the Middle East. Teresa came into her own during their travels and was delighted with the life saying: “I believe I have a little of the ‘Bedouin Arab’ in me.” On their final tour abroad together, the couple were joined by St. George Littledale, a chance acquaintance who travelled with them for eight months through Asia. William Scott’s health had been declining and it was decided to make the long trek homeward, but unfortunately, in June 1875 Scott died of typhoid fever on their ship back to Liverpool. In February 1877 Littledale married Teresa Scott. They spent their honeymoon in Kashmir and Ladakh and were gone for well over a year. For 30 years the Littledales mounted expeditions in North America and Asia, constantly collecting for museums. They began with the American Rockies, Yellowstone, and Alaska, where they gained experience and honed their skills. These trips were followed by expeditions in the late 1880s in the Caucasus, the Pamirs, and Russian Central Asia and Mongolia (Alai and Altai). Both St. George and Teresa took specimen collecting very seriously. It validated their expeditions and gave purpose to their lives. Working as a team, they were willing to collect anything. In addition to mammals, they collected birds, insects, reptiles, fish, and long lists of plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Littledale then began collecting more than museum specimens. In 1889 he wanted to cross the Pamirs from north to south from Russia into India. In order to boost his chances of gaining permission, he offered to gather intelligence. The time period was at the height of the “Great Game,” a cold war between Russia and Britain over the vast lands known as Central Asia. The rivalry between the two powers was approaching its climax in that remote desolate region and the Littledales’ successful travels created a sensation in the press. Their greatest exploit was a 14-month journey to Tibet in 1895. They were attempting to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa. It was the great goal of Central Asian explorers but all had failed. Littledale had selected the route to avoid meeting Tibetans until they neared Lhasa. Eventually the party encountered 150 armed Tibetans at a 19,000-foot pass. They were allowed to continue over the pass to a suitable stopping place. They were within 49 miles of Lhasa, what was closer than any other Westerner since 1846. During a harrowing retreat out of Tibet, Teresa was so ill from dysentery that she had to be carried for 1,200 miles. In 1903 the Littledales visited New Zealand, where St. George suggested that the climate and terrain were suitable for the importation of certain game animals. He now became involved in the collection of live animals. It was a complex international project, during which he developed a long friendship with President Theodore Roosevelt.The Littledales continued to travel extensively together to far-flung places but not at the expedition level. Teresa Littledale died suddenly in 1928. In 1931 St. George spent six weeks salmon fishing on the Spey in Scotland. He returned home ill and died on 16 April.

Sophia Ryerson Harris

The Non-Conformist

(1836-1898)

Sophia Howard Ryerson was the only daughter of Adolphus Egerton Ryerson (24 March 1803 – 19 February 1882) who was known as a Methodist minister, educator, politician, and public education advocate in early Ontario, Canada. The relationship between Sophia and her father was very devoted: he regularly took her on his travels abroad and oversaw her extensive education that included politics, religion, languages, art and music. In many ways, Sophia was a woman “ahead of her time” in her disregard for the opinions of others and impatience for independence.

Egerton Ryerson was also a first cousin to Amelia (nee Ryerse) Harris, who enjoyed a close relationship and correspondence throughout their long lives. In her youth, Sophia became enamored with her second cousin Edward Harris (1832-1925) and the two indulged in a taboo and secret correspondence for many years. In 1859 the pair announced their intention to marry in the summer of the following year. After their honeymoon, the pair moved into Eldon House and Sophia settled into a routine of married life. In her diary, a weariness of her domestic routine is apparent as can be seen in her entry for October 24 1860: “reading music and reading.” While the couple entertained a great deal, Sophia’s social life in some ways remained in Toronto, the city of her youth. She undertook many trips “home” to her parents and had an active and gay time away from her husband and mother in law who lived with them.

A growing rift between the couple occurred in 1862, surrounding Sophia’s “conduct” with a certain Captain Edward Hewitt resulting in gossip in London and Toronto. The division between Sophia and Edward deepened when she refused to drop Hewitt’s acquaintance. The couple separated for almost two years – she moving back to her family in Toronto and he remaining at Eldon House. One of the most interesting and revealing aspects of their correspondence during the separation is Edward’s (and his mother Amelia’s) blame being placed not on Sophia’s shoulders, but her father’s. Edward angrily outlines that Egerton Ryerson encouraged Sophia’s relationship with Hewitt, allowing her to go out riding or dancing “unaccompanied” and brings his legal rights as her husband into the conversation, saying that it is he alone that has the right of governance over his wife. In a letter to Sophia dated to October 15 1862, Edward writes: “When a woman marries it shows by her marriage vow that she leaves her father’s home for her husbands and subjects herself to him.” When such persuasion falls on deaf ears, Edwards opts for total silence, writing a month later to his mother upon her departure to Toronto to see her daughter in law: “I do not wish Sophia to return nor do I wish her to write to me. The intimacy with Captain Hewitt must cease if she has a thought or wish to ever see me again and our ever living together as man and wife depends on the way in which she conducts herself with her altered position.”

The “true” circumstance of Sophia’s relationship with Hewitt may never be discovered, but enough of her character is known to infer that she would balk at the patriarchal control exercised upon her and remained free spirited and unconcerned of what society thought of her. Despite the judgements made by those in her circle, Sophia did reconcile with Edward in 1864. In a letter to Edward dated to September 19 1864, Sophia was so “overcome with emotion at their reconciliation that she was unable to speak” assuring Edward of her happiness and eagerness for him to “call for her.” Sophia returned to Eldon House on November 17 1864. Edward and Sophia by all accounts had a contented marriage until her death in 1898. While the couple didn’t have any further public discord, their separation in the earliest years of their union undoubtedly cemented their roles in the relationship. While Edward retained his “legal rights” as her husband, Sophie had established her need for expression and independence.

Divorce and Separation in 19C Canada

The history of divorce in Canada contrasts sharply with that of marriage for, while most Canadians married, divorce was extremely uncommon until after the Second World War. In fact, until that time, Canada had one of the lowest divorce rates in the Western world. Respectability – articulated by social and religious leaders – condemned divorce as a threat to the family, and the strength of this opinion prevented the relaxation of Canadian divorce laws. Consequently, access to divorce in Canada was extremely limited until 1968. For most of Canada's first century adultery was virtually the only basis for divorce and, before the First World War, only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia had divorce courts, although Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario created them during the interwar period. In provinces without access to judicial divorce, the only alternative was an appeal to Parliament for a statutory divorce, an expensive process that limited access to the wealthy.

Milly Archange Harris

The Matriarch Commander

(1868-1959)
Amelia (Milly) Archange Harris (1869-1959) was the eldest child of George and Lucy Ronalds and named after her grandmother, who she would come to resemble in spirit and determination. Being born into the wealth and status of the now-established Harris family, she was well educated and socially connected. The diaries of her youth list nearly daily social engagements, sporting activities and visits to friends and family throughout the region. Milly attended school in Torquay, England at 13, completing her schooling at 18 years of age. She had many diverse interests upon her return to Canada, engaging in the hobby of photography, attending lectures at Western University, avidly engaging in sports including women’s hockey and golf as well as being active with the London Hunt Club and the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). Ultimately Milly never married, proving to be an exception to the societal expectations for women during the period. “Spinsterhood” was a chosen state for Milly – we know she has at least one offer of marriage- and allowed her greater freedom and management of her own fortune. As an unmarried woman Milly had ample opportunities to travel, which she took advantage of, both in Canada and abroad. Her home remained Eldon House, first living with her parents, then with her brother Ronald and his wife Lorna. She assisted her brother and sister-in-law to raise their three children and became actively involved in public service. Milly was a strong minded individual and it is thanks to her that Eldon House has retained its historic character developed in the 1890s. Her two nephews and niece would, according to family lore, comment that in growing up at Eldon House, one already felt a museum-like quality of its interior. Milly Harris lived for almost 92 years, outliving her whole generation. It was she, it can be said, that lived in Eldon House longest and last – as after her death in 1959, the house would soon be translated to become a historical museum.

Book A Guided Tour Today

Education programs and tours are offered all year round for students and groups of all ages. Click below to find out more!