Tuesday, November 27, 2018

George Brown Days 8: Anne Nelson Brown

Today marks the 156th anniversary of the marriage of George Brown and Anne Nelson, married 27 November 1862, when he was 43 and she was "some ten years his junior" (J.M.S Careless) -- born 1827 (Canadian Encyclopedia). On their way back to Toronto they spent Christmas at Niagara Falls (!) and were greeted by 5000 people on their arrival in Toronto the next day.

Anne Nelson is sometimes credited as the (or a) mother of confederation for her wholesome influence on  -- and good advice to -- her sometimes headstrong husband. Wealthy, well-educated, widely travelled, and well-informed, she was in many ways more sophisticated and cultured than he was, and it showed. "Since you became his wife," Oliver Mowat told her, " the softer side of his nature has been developed under your loving influence -- himself becoming an increasingly gentle, kind, and considerate person."

She was, however, never as committed as he was to Canadian political life, or to Canada. The visit to Britain when he met and married her was his first in twenty-three years, and he summed up his reaction to Britain as: "I say now as earnestly as ever -- Canada for me." She remained more devoted to her homeland, and returned there after his death -- as did John A Macdonald's widow. She travelled "home" to Scotland with their six-months-old first born in the summer of 1864, and they were separated for the six months in which Brown participated in the making of confederation -- though, happily for historians, the process was given a lively record in his constant letters to her. ("How I do wish you were here to advise me.," he wrote during the early stages.)

They wrote to each other even when only apart for a day or two, and his letters (biographer Careless discovered them in a trunk in a private house in Scotland in the 1950s) are far and away the best evidence of his personality, often of his politics, too, and particularly of his devotion to her and their children. His effusions upon receiving photos of darling baby Maggie can still soften the gaze of even the most focused historical researcher. 

Her letters to him do not survive. Careless: "He could not bear the thought of other eyes than his seeing Anne's letters, and hence destroyed them after a few days"  -- as soon as he had a new one to keep in his pocket.

Photo credit:  Photos of Anne Brown are not readily to hand on the internet.  I found this one on the website of a high school student in Vancouver whose group decided to research her.
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