Juliana Horatia Ewing (née Gatty), Depictions of Fredericton 1867-1869

Juliana Horatia (Gatty) Ewing


Juliana Ewing (1841-1885), daughter of the Rev’d Dr. Alfred and Margaret (Scott) Gatty, was born and raised in Ecclesfield, England, where her father was the Anglican priest for sixty-three years at St. Mary’s. Juliana, like her mother, was a prolific author of stories, plays, poems and novels for children. Their household – the Gattys would have ten children, two of whom died in infancy – was said to have been immersed in literature, history and scholarly pursuits. Margaret Gatty would achieve a degree of renown as author the two volume History of British Seaweeds (1863) and would be described as a “woman of formidable energy, intellect, and talent” [Bloms, ix].

Juliana, or Julie, as her family called her, was schooled at home with her sisters as her parents were only able to afford to send her brothers to school. Their education did not lack for imagination or inspiration. A part of that education was the study of drawing and water-colour. For a number of years, and particularly so in Victorian England, the education of young women included the study of languages, elocution, music, drawing and painting as a way of preparing the middle and
Margaret (Scott) Gatty

upper class women for their station in life as mothers and transmitters of cultural history and traditions. These types of lessons facilitated a young woman’s “polite accomplishments” [Efland, 133]. Her parents gifted her with a paint box when she was but four years old as a reward for learning five Latin declensions [McDonald, 23]. Suzanne Le-May Sheffield tells us that “by the middle of the nineteenth century amateur painting had become an entirely acceptable occupation for women. Victorian society had “refined [painting] as a component of bourgeois femininity” and as a “badge of wealth and rank” [Le-May Sheffield, 108].
The Rev'd Alfred Gatty

It is interesting that although Ewing published a great number of pieces and books, she did not provide her own illustrations. She worked intimately with many of her illustrators, perhaps most notably Randolph Caldecott, and would offer her ideas and criticisms freely, the published versions of her writings are not accompanied by her artwork. “Whilst painting was a perfectly acceptable past-time for the young ladies of the middle-class, turning to art as a money-making profession invited prejudice and, possibly ostracism” [108].

By the time Ewing was twenty she had published several stories in magazines and was about to join her mother’s new adventure as editor of a magazine for children, Aunt Judy’s Magazine. Her works would prove extremely popular and over 200,000 copies were sold. The magazine became influencial in the lives of children – including a young Rudyard Kipling, who would note in his autobiography, “I have still, a bound copy of Mrs. Ewing’s Six to Sixteen. I owe more in circuitous ways to that tale than I can tell…Here is a history of real people and real things” [Le-May Sheffield, x]. Her visual acuity contributed much to her writing. One biographer claims that even when young she “tended to draw her inspiration for her stories from pictures she had seen” [Laski, 31] and that she never tired of sketching what she observed . Another writer would suggest that with Ewing “the artist influenced the writer. Colour was a passion and when she wrote she approached her subject in the way an artist proceeded to sketch” [Maxwell, 172].

In 1866, the Gatty family would receive as a guest Major Alexander Ewing, a paymaster with the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and a musician of some talent who is perhaps best remembered as the composer of the hymn, Jerusalem the Golden. Juliana and Alexander, or “Rex”, as she called him, would marry on June 1, 1867.
Major and Mrs. Alexander Ewing & Hector
Major Ewing’s regiment set sail a week later for New Brunswick, where they were being sent as a part of the British response to the threat of the Fenians. According to Margaret and Thomas Blom, the Ewings arrival in Fredericton was at a critical point in time – at the pinnacle of its transition from a “pre-Confederation imperial garrison to a post-Confederation middle-class, Maritime city” [Bloms, xi]. Her letters are full of commentary on the social and political climate of that transition. McDonald does observe, however, that it is curious that only a few of Ewings letters and diary entries contain references to one of the most critical political events of these years – Confederation.

A letter to home

During the three years that the Ewings resided in Fredericton, Juliana authored numerous letters to her family and friends in England – not unlike the pattern of women before her, including the sisters, Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail. Scattered throughout the text of these letters were sketches that Juliana sent to her correspondents as a way of sharing even more deeply her discoveries of society, nature and the quaint community they called home. Often, with her letters, Ewing would enclose drawings and water-colours as gifts to her family.

Initially, the water-colours and sketches were meant for the entertainment and informing of her family in England. Ewing’s letters detailed the journey to Fredericton, via Halifax and are full of her observations of the flora and fauna, landscape and inhabitants. Some of the pictures were to allow her family insight into her daily activities and living accommodations, other were to introduce them to the curiosities of her new home. In Halifax, on their way to Fredericton, Ewing was fascinated by a Native woman she met at the fish market. They engaged in some conversation and Ewing, immediately after returning to their rooms, committed her memory of her to paper in a water-colour over pencil. She labeled the piece, Old Nokomis, Halifax, 20 June 1867 (12.5 x 17.9 cm). The name was after the poetic character, Hiawatha’s mother.
Old Nokomis
Ewing would delight her family with the picture and her details about the woman’s clothing – a striped shawl, black beaded hat, black petticoat, short jacket trimmed with scarlet and black trousers tucked into moccasins. She mused about the woman’s “acute and pleasant looking face” [McDonald, 28 & Bloms, 13].

Donna McDonald observes that Ewing’s encounter with this Native woman did much to change her mind about all of the derogatory comments they had heard and read about the Native people. A number of her later drawings reflected her growing interest in them and the Ewings would soon befriend Peter and Molly Polchies, two Malecite from St. Mary’s. Peter would eventually build a canoe for the Ewings. Trips in this vessel provided some of the best memories for the Ewings of their Canadian home, as well as took them to new places to discover and represent in their writings and art.

wigwam.png On an outing to Dartmouth on June 21, 1867, the Ewings were deliberate about bringing their sketching things. They visited an encampment of the “Micmacs of Algonquin”. McDonald points out that once back in England, she would review the pictures with her mother and explain that her fascination was not with the wigwam, but with the mother and child and the colours that they wore [McDonald, 30].

Peter Polchies

In her letters, Ewing refers to Peter Polchies as “our Indian brother” (although she never did spell his surname correctly). Peter and Mary provided the Ewings with moccasins, snowshoes and, as mentioned above, their beloved canoe. In her writing and drawings based on their adventures, one can appreciate the “romanticizing” of nature and the “noble savage” that crept into similar works by many others. Ewing described Peter Polchies’ reaction to the gift (a gun) they gave him before they departed from Canada by telling her family: “I wish you could have seen him. He burst out laughing, and laughed at intervals from pure pleasure, and went away with it laughing. But with a child-like enjoyment (which negroes have also), the Indians have power and grace in expressing their sentiments on such an occasion, which far exceeds the attempts of our “poor people” and is most dignified.” [Maxwell, 174] Ewing's sister, Horatia Eden, wrote: "Peter and his wife lived in a small colony of the Melicete Indians, which was established on the opposite side of the St. John River to that on which the Reka Dom stood. Mrs. Peter was the most skilful embroiderer in beads amongst her people, and Peter himself the best canoe-builder. He made a beautiful one for the Ewings, which they constantly used; and when they returned to England his regret at losing them was wonderfully mitigated by the present which Major Ewing gave him of an old gun; he declared no gentleman had ever thought of giving him such a thing before!" [Eden, 81]

Even though Ewing obviously could not break herself completely of her stereotypical view of the Native people, she did seem to struggle with it – if not consciously, then subconsciously. She and Rex would spend hours with the Polchies and she boasted of learning much of the language by having them go with her on sketching trips and teaching her the names of the plants in their own language. A drawing of Peter Polchies seems to be bare of some of the traditional depictions of other artists.

Her “broad-mindedness” toward the Native people of her new home did not extend to her opinion of the Irish. In one of her letters she refers to the dusty corner of her home as “Irish” – that is, dirty. She is constantly harping about her housemaid, Hetty and her lack of direction, ambition and industry. In her letter of March 7, 1868, she complains that their new cook, Sarum (who she calls “my Darkie”) never had the kitchen in anything but an Irish stew”. On March 12, 1868 she would write:

Experience of imported Hibernians in this country has brought us to the following domestic conclusion…[and here she inserts a copy a sketch she had included in an earlier letter of February, 1868 – see below -] [she continues] “No Irish need apply” – which, by the bye, would be rather a good refrain for a comic song – if Brownie wanted a subject any time. I could furnish a few leading facts! – then craters would rhyme with taters – whiskey with frisky – and lend (what doesn’t belong to you) with friend. …The irish (sic) lady whose picter (sic) I send you – was a hasty study from one who applied on behalf of her daughter…They are a queer lot! - Most of the very raggedest & queerest – perfectly honest, I believe, & one may almost say – none of them speaking the truth if it can “conveniently” be avoided!!! [see Bloms, 124-126]

The inscription on this copy from February, 1868 reads: “Domestic conclusion – incident on 8 month’s experience of housekeeping in the Province of New Brunswick” 1867-8. “NO IRISH NEED APPLY”. Ewing’s attitude toward Irish immigrants was typical of the middle- and upper-class British-Canadian of the day.

Rex (Alexander Ewing) on the Nashwaak 1868
A sketch in a letter home dated June 8, 1868 was captioned: “Rex on the ’Nashwaak Cis’ [Nashwaaksis River] – waiting for his wife! – 8 June, 1868. NB – To the right – a Kingfisher on a branch [McDonald, 58 and Bloms, 163]. McDonald reminds us that canoeing parties were very popular with Fredericton’s European population. Often these trips were taken in the company of local political and military dignitaries and would include “swell luncheon off such lovely old China”. Other trips were more austere and meals would be made on open campfires. Several times Ewing would report to her family that the canoe was so stable in the water that she was able to gather and sketch specimens of wild flowers and ferns. Samples of these drawings and others made based on observations of her garden and those of others littered her letters and give testimony to the rudiments of some of her earlier lessons in botany which would have required her careful drawings. This was typical of the training many young women had. Ewing’s letters often tell of going on these excursions and filling complete sketch books.

The Ewings would return to England in 1869 and would move as Alexander’s military postings changed. During her time in England, Juliana would continue to paint and sketch, but less frequently than when she had lived in New Brunswick. Some speculate that this was so because “she no longer needed to convey to an apprehensive family what life was like in her part of the world” [McDonald, 76]. Juliana’s health had always been delicate and within a few years of their return to England she began to suffer more frequent bouts of illness. She died in 1885; some say from blood poisioning and others speculate that she had cancer of the uterus that had, over the years, metastasized. The Ewings never had any children – but she was loved the world over by the children who devoured her writings.


Ewing’s artwork is typical of what was expected of women of her social class in that it “depicted domestic, romantic, or idyllic scenes” [Le-May Sheffield, 110]. Women of her day were 'kept' in the locales that had been identified as the women’s sphere – home and nature. Ewing, though, like her mother before her, pushed the boundaries of this sphere and in a modest way challenged them. She seemed to enjoy a freedom of movement within both the community of Fredericton and the military sub-culture of her husband. "One of the causes which helped to develop my sister's interest in flowers was the sight of the fresh ones that she met with on going to live in New Brunswick after her marriage. Every strange face was a subject for study, and she soon began to devote a note-book to sketches of these new friends, naming them scientifically from Professor Asa Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, whilst Major Ewing added as many of the Melicete [sic] names as he could glean from Peter, a member of the tribe, who had attached himself to the Ewings, and used constantly to come about their house." [Eden, 80-81] The new-to-her flora of New Brunswick would even make appearances in many of her published pieces of writing. [Eden, 81-83]
Trillium erythrocarpum
In one of her stories, "The Blind Hermit and the Trinity Flower" she wrote about the plant she had discovered in New Brunswick (and, had tried, but failed, to transplant to her English home]:
"And what was the Trinity Flower like, my Father?" asked the boy.
"It was about the size of Herb Paris, my son," replied the Hermit. "But, instead of being fourfold every way, it numbered the mystic Three. Every part was threefold. The leaves were three, the petals three, the sepals three. The flower was snow-white, but on each of the three parts it was stained with crimson stripes, like white garments dyed in blood."
A root of this plant was sent to the Hermit by a heavenly messenger, which the boy planted, and anxiously watched the growth of, cheering his master with the hope—"Patience, my Father, thou shalt see yet!"
Meantime greater light was breaking in upon the Hermit's soul than had been there before:
"My son, I repent me that I have not been patient under affliction. Moreover, I have set thee an ill example, in that I have murmured at that which God—Who knoweth best—ordained for me."
The Most Rev'd John and Margaret Medley (not by Ewing)

And, when the boy ofttimes repeated, "Thou shalt yet see," the Hermit answered, "If God will. When God will. As God will."
And at last, when the white bud opens, and the blood-like stains are visible within, he who once was blind sees, but his vision is opened on eternal Day. [quoted in Eden, 83-84]

She often accompanied her husband on out-of-doors adventures that some, including the local Anglican Bishop John Medley and his wife Margaret found a little ‘shocking’ for a woman – and, especially, a woman of her position. In one letter she would boast to her parents about a winter adventure and how “the Bishop thought I was mad to go.” [McDonald, 51] Despite this opinion of Ewing's departure from 'decorum', she became great friends with the Medleys. Her sister, recalling that Bishop Medley had described Ewing as "little body with a mighty heart", [a phrase Ewing would borrow to identify her protagonist in her story "Madam Liberality"], noted of him that he was ever a friend and wise guide to Ewing and that long after her departure he continued to correspond with her and her family. Eden wrote, "The same friend is now a bishop in another hemisphere from ours, but he will ever be reckoned a "great" friend. Our bonds of friendship were tied during hours of sorrow in the house of mourning, and such as these are not broken after-divisions of space and time. Mrs. Ewing called him "Jachin", from one of the pillars of the Temple, on account of his being a pillar of strength at that time to us." [Eden, 5] Indeed, the Ewings would spend many hours in the company of the Medleys, including during some of the lengthy travels to visit some of the parishes of his Diocese of Fredericton.

Many of Ewing’s pictures capture some of this adventuring, including a ruckus sleigh ride with “Colonel Harding” (January 20, 1868) or snowshoeing with Rex. [Note that the caption for the picture on the right reads: “Crossing a fence in snowshoes, NB” and that Ewing depicts herself well ahead of her husband in their trek through the snow.]

Crossing a fence on snowshoes N.B [New Brunswick]


(Note that the occupants of the toboggan are numbered so that she could easily identify them for the recipient of her letter.)

bear.pngEwing also delighted in the milieu of the military compound and loved to share tidbits of the strange antics of those posted there, including the bear the soldiers kept as a kind of mascot [no, apparently Winnie was not the first!]. Still, her drawings and writing about them reflect a curiosity about nature and not just her simple observation of it. On September 18, 1868, she would write to her family about how the bear, who “used to hate dogs –they bullied him” was now content to breakfast in the company of two black Newfoundland pups “who live on the happiest terms with him” [Bloms, 205]. Eden tells us, "Another Beast Friend whom Julie had in New Brunswick was the Bear of the 22nd Regiment, and she drew a sketch of him "with one of his pet black dogs, as I saw them, 18th September, 1868, near the Officers' Quarters, Fredericton, N.B. The Bear is at breakfast, and the dog occasionally licks his nose when it comes up out of the bucket." [Eden, 45]

my_greenhouse.pngEwing’s art did not totally belie her “station in life” as a woman, officer’s wife and priest’s daughter. Many of her sketches in her letters depicted domestic scenes, but Ewing would be the first to admit that domestic work of any kind did not interest her and she always would rather be elsewhere. It is also probably true that her sketches and painting reflecting life inside their home may have been done so as to assure her parents that she was living well. The both interiors and exteriors provide insight into patterns of architecture and decoration during the late 19th century in this part of the Empire. Margaret Medley would observe bluntly that “Housekeeping was not dear Judy’s forte.” And, Ewing herself would write of the Medley’s coming to lunch with them and it being a “domestic catastrophe” [Bloms, 45].

The drawing room at “Reka Dom” (Russian for “River House”), their first home in Fredericton

Their home in Fredericton was lovingly call, by the Ewings, Reka Dom. Eden tells us in her recollections of her sister and her writings, ""Reka Dom" was actually the name of a house in Topsham, where a Russian family had once lived. Speaking of this house, Major Ewing said:—On the evening of our arrival at Fredericton, New Brunswick, which stands on the river St. John, we strolled down, out of the principal street, and wandered on the river shore. We stopped to rest opposite to a large old house, then in the hands of workmen. There was only the road between this house and the river, and, on the banks, one or two old willows. We said we should like to make our first home in some such spot. Ere many weeks were over, we were established in that very house, where we spent the first year, or more, of our time in Fredericton. We called it "Reka Dom," the River House." [Eden, 39]

Some of her friends took pity on her and put up the wallpaper she had bought and failed to hang properly.

Some of Ewing’s most accomplished pieces-especially as they follow the "rules" of her childhood drawing and painting lessons from her mother and, sometimes, governesses - certainly do reflect the expectations of the types of work that a woman in her position might complete. With a focus on landscapes and religion, we again see the correlation of her work to the sphere relegated as the proper place for her gender.

All Saints, Maguadavic

Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton, 1867

"Fredericton, January-February, 1868"

Back street in Fredericton, October 25, 1867


Ewing’s drawings and paintings were welcomed by her family and friends primarily for two reasons. First, it gave them reassurance that she was faring well and enjoying her time in Fredericton. Second, it allowed them insight into life in the colonies – primarily because of Ewing’s attention to detail, her curiosity and deep desire to communicate to those in England her observations and experiences. She, unlike other artists, was not looking to market her works, and, therefore, there is every reason to believe that there is little tendency to exaggerate, accommodate or edit her observations. Perhaps, in the same way that it has been said of her writing, that she wrote more about children than to children. Laski suggests that her works were less didactically moralistic and sentimental than other Victorian writers [See, Laski, 54-55, for example]. It may be fair to say the same of her art work. She was keen to communicate accurately to her family what she observed. Modern viewers value them because of the record they offer of a critical time in New Brunswick and Canadian history. Her commentaries in text and picture also shed a considerable light on the social milieu of the garrison town, its social stratification and both the culture and environment in which she enthusiastically immersed herself.

There is also a keen interest on the part of those who study the Victorian woman to learn from her works about the homes, social life and domestic economy of the period through her depiction of the same. In making a study of the collection of letters, diary entries and pictures, scholars have come to appreciate and value the insight gleaned from them. For example, the Bloms observe that Ewing’s “caricatures of Yankees and Irishmen are as broad as her sketches of New Brunswick Indians are picturesque…” Her letters chronicle the history of the community with delightful insight – perhaps because Ewing was confident enough to be unguarded at times, but also because of the pictorial insight they offer.

McDonald comments about her sepia over pencil, “Our street” (below), that is interesting not only for “its depiction of buildings which are now missing, but it is also an excellent example of the use of the principles advocated by John Ruskin in Elements of Drawing, a volume which Juliana claimed provided guidance for writing as well as drawing” [McDonald, 43]. McDonald claims that because it follows so well Huskin’s nine laws of composition, it is “indeed, one of her most successful pictures”.

Our street 21 September 1867

- Siobhan Laskey, 2008


Blom, Margaret Howard and Thomas E. Blom, Canada Home: Juliana Horatia Ewing’s Fredericton Letters, 1867-1869. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981.

Eden (nee Gatty), Horatia K.F., Juliana Horatia Ewing And Her Books, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1887.

Efland, Arthur D, “Art and Education for women in 19th century Boston”, Studies in Art Education, 26:3 (Spring, 1985), 133-140.

Laski, Marghanita, Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Hodgson Burnett. London: Arthur Barker Ltd, 1950.

Le-May Sheffield, Suzanne, Revealing new worlds: three Victorian women naturalists. London: Routledge, 2001.

Litster, Jennifer H., “’One wing clipped’: the imaginative flights of Juliana Horatia Ewing”, in Popular Victorian women writers, Kay Boardman and Shirley Jones, editors, Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2004, 135-164.

Maxwell, Christabel, Mrs. Gatty and Mrs. Ewing. London: Constable Publishers, 1949.

McDonald, Donna, Illustrated news: Juliana Horatia Ewing’s Canadian pictures, 1867-1869. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1985.