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Posted to Canada: The Watercolours of George Russell Dartnell, 1835-1844

Posted to Canada: The Watercolours of George Russell Dartnell, 1835-1844

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Posted to Canada: The Watercolours of George Russell Dartnell, 1835-1844

234 pages
2 heures
Jan 9, 1987


Posted to Canada examines, for the first time, the immense body of work created by George Dartnell, a British army surgeon stationed in Canada from 1835 to 1844. Dartnell, an accomplished and popular surgeon, sketched more than 150 scenes of a pristine Canada of dense forests, clear lakes and rough-edged beauty during his nine-year posting – all of which form an important part of Canada’s pre-photographic visual history. In this, the first book on Dartnell, his vibrant depictions of rural Quebec and Ontario, Montreal, Quebec City, Penetanguishene, London, and Port Talbot are examined in great detail. Dartnell’s work offers rare and insightful glimpses of both the life of a surgeon in the early nineteenth century and the fledgling communities in which he served. among the rare scenes portrayed by Dartnell lare the first known depictions of St. Marys, Ontario, and maple-sugaring near Penetanguishene. Of the dozens of sketches reproduced in the book, many have been culled from private collections and never before displayed publicly.

Jan 9, 1987

À propos de l'auteur

Honor de Pencier has been associated with the Royal Ontario Museum for more than 20 years. She has worked as Curatorial Assistant, organized exhibitions at the ROM, and contributed articles to Rotunda, the Museum's magazine. At present she is a Research Associate for the ROM's Canadian Decorative Arts Department.

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Posted to Canada - Honor de Pencier

Posted To Canada

The watercolours of

George Russell Dartnell



Honor de Pencier

Foreword by

Jim Burant

Copyright © Honor de Pencier, 1987

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundum Press Limited.

Editor Marcia Rodriguez

Photographer: Brian Boyle, Royal Ontario Museum (except where noted)

Design and Production: Andy Tong

Printed and bound in Canada by Gagné Printing Limited

Published with the assistance of the

Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture.

The publisher wishes to acknowledge the generous assistance and ongoing support of The Canada Council, the Book Publishing Development Programme of the Department of Communications and The Ontario Arts Council.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in the text (including the illustrations). The author and publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any reference or credit in subsequent editions. They also welcome any new information on Dartnell and his works.

J. Kirk Howard, Publisher

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication

De Pencier, Honor, 1937-

Posted to Canada

The Watercolours of George Russell Dartnell 1835-1844

To accompany an exhibition held at the Royal

Ontario Museum, Sept. 26, 1987-Feb. 28, 1988.

Bibliography: p.

Includes index.

ISBN 1-55002-021-8

1. Dartnell, George R., 1799-1878

2. Ontario in art 3. Quebec

(Province) in art I. Dartnell,

George R., 1799-1878. II. Royal Ontario Museum.

III. Title.

ND1942D37A4 1897759.2C87-094562-9

Dundurn Press Limited

1558 Queen Street East

Toronto, Canada

M4L 1E8

Dundurn Distribution

Athol Brose, School Hill

Wargrave, Reading, England

RG10 8DY


This work owes much to the contributions of others, and I wish to acknowledge and thank them here. I am particularly grateful to Mary Allodi, curator of Canadian historical art at the Royal Ontario Museum, for her constant advice and encouragement as well as her generosity in making her research available to me. She has wanted to mount an exhibition of Dartnell watercolours for over ten years, and gave me the opportunity to work on this project

I have been enthusiastically supported and aided by many of Dartnell’s descendants, especially Betty McQuillan, John de Pencier, Michael de Pencier, and Patty Boake, whose cheerful forbearance and support was backed up by Joan Wagner, Pat Jones, Val Girvan, Peter Vaughan, Joseph de Pencier, Stephen Boake, Ian Boake, and Brian Boake. The meticulous research on the Dartnell family carried out by the late Canon T.F.W. de Pencier has contributed greatly to this work, as have the documents kept by his brother, the late Joseph C. de Pencier. Sadly, Patti de Pencier Radley, whose constant interest in the project helped me immensely, has not lived to see the results. Thanks are also owing to Eileen de Pencier, Marni de Pencier, George Boake, Malcolm Richardson, Pam Boake, Teresa Boake, Diana Brown, Margaret Stewart, and Bernard Radley.

I am also indebted to those whose special research and knowledge have significantly added to this publication. They are Jim Burant and Lydia Foy, the Public Archives of Canada, Guy Saunders of Toronto, Gwen Patterson of Penetanguishene, and Madaline Roddick of London, Ontario. In addition, Miss J.M. Aspden, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Doris E. Pullen, Michael B. Ball, the National Army Museum, and W.G. Plomer of Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., all of London, gave me important information, as did Jill Bennett of Stratford-upon-Avon, Daniel Roth of Leamington Spa, and Margaret Riorden of Cork.

I received valuable assistance from the following individuals: in Toronto, John Crosthwait, Baldwin Room, the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, Dennis Reid, Larry Pfaff, John O’Neill, and Brenda Rix, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Greg Loughton and Ingrid Kalnins, the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Hugh MacMillan, the Ontario Archives, Carl Benn, Bruce Cane, and Cheryl Hart, the Toronto Historical Board, Mary Bonnycastle, Judith Burgess, Nick de Pencier, Robin Harris, Louis Melzack, Stephen Otto, and Judith Saunders; in Quebec, Claude Thibault, Musée du Québec; in Ottawa, Gilbert Gignac and Brian Driscoll, the Public Archives of Canada, Rosemarie Tovell, the National Gallery of Canada, René Chartrand, Parks Canada, David-Thiery Ruddel, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and Jeremy Adamson; in Montreal, Conrad Graham, the McCord Museum, John Russell, and Peter Winkworth; in Halifax, Scott Robson, the Nova Scotia Museum; in London, Ontario, Glen Curnoe, the London Room, London Public Library, Edward Phelps, John Lutman, and Guy St-Denis, the Regional Room, D. B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario, Barry Fair, London Regional Art Gallery, Catherine Elliot Shaw, the McIntosh Gallery, Charles Addington, Diocese of Huron Archives; in Penetanguishene, Burke Penny, the Historic Naval and Military Establishments, and in Kingston, Dorothy Farr, Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

I would also like to express my gratitude to others farther afield: G. Armitage, India Office Records, the British Library; Peter Day, Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth; Knight of Glin, Co. Limerick; Marlene O’Connor, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Dr. S.C. O’Mahony, the Mid-West Archives, Limerick; E. Talbot Rice, the National Army Museum; P.S. Blunt, Margaret Green, and Kathren Morris, Warwickshire; and Lt.-Col. J.L. Wilson Smith, the Royal Scots Regimental Museum, Edinburgh Castle.

My colleagues at the Royal Ontario Museum have helped in countless ways. I wish to thank Don Webster, Carol Baum, Barbara Chisholm, Janet Holmes, Betty Pratt, Karen Smith, Catherine Wyss, Judith Eger, Ed Keall, John Kenny, Ken Lister, and Julia Matthews. I received special advice from Jean Lavery, Hugh Porter, Mary Terziano, Margo Welch, Lorna Hawrysh, Barbara Ibronyi, and Sandra Shaul. Pat Heimbecker was particularly helpful, as were Brian Boyle and the Photography Department I am indebted to all of them, and to many others at the Royal Ontario Museum, for their support throughout the Dartnell research project and subsequent exhibition.

The manuscript has been much improved by my editor, Marcia Rodriguez, who managed to do a difficult job in a very short time. I am very grateful to her, and to Gord Forstner, who is almost as proficient on the computer as he is on the guitar. My appreciation also goes to Kirk Howard of Dundurn Press.

This work would have remained unpublished without the generous assistance of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture.

Finally, to Nick, Miranda, and Mark, and especially to Michael, your warm support is, as always, invaluable.

H. de P.

June 1987


George Russell Dartnell was an exceptional character. He was an outstanding artist as well as a military doctor, whose life and career coincided with the headiest years of European, and more particularly, British expansionism. His military service, in the Mediterranean, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), India, and in the Canadas, reflects the global interests which Great Britain developed in the first half of the nineteenth century, and like many Britons, Dartnell took pride in recording the places he visited, and the events he witnessed. Dartnell’s military career, as well as his training as a medical man, well-suited him to the task of observing and delineating his surroundings, whether they were Chatham dockyard, the interior of Ceylon, the Ganges at Allahabad, or a forest road in Upper Canada. Dartnell’s landscapes are frequently picturesque, always informative, and sometimes dramatic in their compositions and colours, and may be regarded as valuable records of the countries in which he served.

Much of his work, however, also reflects the spirit of a man whose character seems to have been universally admired. He was a raconteur, bon vivant, humourist, and sportsman, as well as an avid artist. The sketch taken of him by his fellow artist, Sir James Alexander, (Fig. 3)*, captures much of this spirit. Although Dartnell has his back turned to him, Alexander still manages to depict the intensity of Dartnell’s interest in sketching the scene which was before him.

Dartnell also had a more serious side to his character — one amply demonstrated by the range of his humanitarian concerns, particularly for the health and well-being of the enlisted men under his care. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dartnell seems to have been genuinely interested in improving the lot of the common soldier. On a broader scale, Dartnell’s interest in everyday life is reflected in many of his sketches. Where other officers were content to record the sleigh parties and other sporting outings of garrison life, or the growth of the communities in which they were stationed, Dartnell recorded many of the mundane aspects of colonial existence, such as the act of tapping the maple sugar tree (53•), immigrant boats being towed by a steamer on Lake St-Louis (27*), or wagonteams at Gravitt’s Public House near Penetanguishene (68*). The results are views almost unique in the visual documentation of pioneer life in Canada, and ones of enormous value to social history.

This study of his life and career is long overdue, and the reader should find in the following pages much to interest, amuse and admire.

Jim Burant

Chief, Collections Management

Documentary Art and

Photography Division

Public Archives of Canada

*Dartnell’s works are listed chronologically in the catalogue section on p. 98, and are referred to in the text by their catalogue numbers in parentheses, as (10). Those marked with an asterisk are illustrated in the text in chronological order as far as possible; those with a dot are in colour, and can be found on p. 9-16, and on the front and back covers. Illustrations called Figures represent material related to the text, but not necessarily by Dartnell. Fig. 3 is on p. 73.


Introduction: Worthless Scraps from Many Lands

I.  The Early Years 1799/1800-1835

1.  A Medical Education

2.  Ceylon, India, and Home

II.  Posted to Canada 1835-1844

3.  Montreal and Toronto

4.  Penetanguishene

5.  Quebec City and Montreal

6.  London, Port Talbot, and Environs

7.  St. Marys, Niagara, and London

8.  Toronto, New York State, and the St. Lawrence

9.  The Wreck of the Premier

III. The Later Years 1844-1878

10. The United Kingdom




Selected Bibliography


This work is dedicated to the

descendants of

George Russell Dartnell

who have honoured his memory

by preserving his works.

16. South Bridge, Cork, 1834

21. Ice shove at Montreal, c. 1836

53. Tapping a maple tree, c. 1837

60. Winter view of Little Lake, 1838

58. The barracks and Penetanguishene harbour, 1837

72. Horseshoe Falls, Niagara, 1838

75. Lower Town, Quebec, 1838

91. Floating ice on the river at Quebec, 1839

147. St. Marys on the Thames, 1842

Introduction: Worthless Scraps from Many Lands

George Russell Dartnell (1799/1800-1878) has left us a remarkable legacy in his many watercolour sketches of early Canada. While posted to Canada as a surgeon with the British army, he sketched over 150 works between 1835 and 1844. Because Dartnell identified and dated most of these subjects, this large body of work forms a significant addition to Canada’s pre-photographic visual history. Although some examples of Dartnell’s work are held by various public institutions, the greatest number of surviving watercolours have remained in the hands of descendants.

This study traces Dartnell’s life and travels during his service in Canada through an examination of his art. To provide a context for these works, and to understand Dartnell’s artistic development, details of his education and military career outside Canada are included, along with a representative selection of views. Appended to the study is a catalogue listing of all his known Canadian sketches, a short list of a few works sketched abroad, and a chronology of his life.

Sketching was only a hobby for Dartnell, but his output reveals a wide range in both quality and choice of subject. His landscapes depict a pristine Canada: forests before they were chopped down, land before it was cut up by asphalt highways, and lakes and rivers before they were surrounded by

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