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Elvins Autobiography 1904

Dictated by Mr. Elvins to L. H. Graham in 1904.

I was born at a place called Polgooth, a small village close by the Ancient tin mines of Cornwall. Polgooth is near St. Austle ["Austell" in Encyc. Brit.], a market town. The tin mines above noted are supposed to be one of the places whee the Phoenicians extracted their tin two or three thousand years ago, prior to the Christian era. Remains of burnt wood have there been found containing metallic tin of ancient date. I was born on May 4th 1823, thus am now in my 82nd year. ( 86 May 1909. )

My father, Richard Elvins, and my mother, Mary Johns, were born in that district, and their forefathers were Cornish people, and on my M(?)ather's side probably Celtic. My father was a tin runner miner by profession and also did business as a grocer during my early years. Both were inclined to literature and my father, a religious man of the Methodist stamp, published a book of poems of a religious tendency. Neither posessed the least taste for science.

My early opportunities for education were very very limited. The schools were all private schools carried on by individuals. I left school at the age of 10 and went to work with my father in a Tin mine, removing the tin rocks from the others in which it occurred. Here I labored for two years. Then I became a bound apprentice to a Mr James Doren [Drew], a tailor, with whom I served seven years. This was at a village 2 1/2 miles from Polgooth. At times during my apprenticeship I attended night school, learning the ordinary branches. As I look back to this period I see that I was always of an agressive mind, always trying to find out anything new. I often wandered over my native hills examining the rocks and minerals, especially with those associated with the mines.

When about 14 I remember being very much interested reading Pumock's [Pinnock] books of questions and answers on geography. With the first three shillings I posessed I purchased a small terrestrial globe. When about 15 I learned, through my teacher, that we had a small lending library in connection with the school. I remember reading Sir John Hers[c]hel's book, which is a classic today. I was exceedingly struck by the wonders with which I had previously been unaware. I used to sketch some constellations without knowing what they were. I afterwards recognised the same in Chambers's Encyclopedia and was exceedingly pleased at this, and it gave me an impulse in the line of Astronomical study. I remember Hers[c]hel's explanation of the precession of the Equinoxes and it was certainly an important factor in my early education.

At home we had some books of poems, Cowper, Pope and others. The Methodist Magazine also came in periodically. It was for a time published by Mr Dorw [Drew] of St. Austle, formerly a shoemaker.

In the world of politics the manes of Wellington, Jno. Bright, Cobden, Russell, were prominent. I remember the accession of William the 4th. I was born three years after the death of George III and was five years old when William IV was crowned. I recall the songs of the coronation about adelaide the queen of William IV. ( Queen Victoria and her Marriage. )

When about 16 years of age the son-in-law of my master came to America, to Illinois, leaving his wife and child and books at home. He was a student and an intelligent man. His books were put in my bedroom. So I had access to them, especially Chambers's Encyclopedia. To this I owed more than all other books put together at that time. I was interested in religious studies, because of my parentage. I could think out religious problems. I remember even exhorting on such matters even at this early age. I received a strong scientific impulse by the aquaintance of Chalrus, [Charles Peach] Peach, then of Goran Haven. He was an excise man, or a coast guards man, to prevent smuggling. Later he moved to Ready-Money Cove in Scotland. He was noted as a Geologist, and a member of the British Association. He determined that Cornwall contained much Devonian Strata. I used to preach on Sundays. This led me to Goran Haven. He used to take me home. He was Unitarian in views. Perhaps his intercourse influenced me in religious matters.

There were but two children in my family, a brother and myself. He came to America later, settled in Belleville and was prosperous. His family are there at the present time and are well known. I may mention that he died a few years ago.

I finished my trade at 19. I commenced business for myself at Liskeard. To learn my business the better I thought of going to London, not satisfied with conditions in Cornwall at that time, especially the financial. The branch of hte Methodist church with which I was connected was the Early Bible Churchman [Christian] and some of its prominent ministers were Paul Robbins, Henry Ebbott and William Hooper. Ebbott was the minister of my circuit. Finding I was about to leave Liskeard, he prevailed on me to come with them to nAmerica. We sailed together in the year 1844. It is of interest to note that I became of age on the Atlantic. The voyage took six weeks of sailing. The trip was fairly pleasant, with 40 passengers. The vessel came out for lumber but its berths were comfortable. One of Mr Robbins' sons has been or is a professor in McGill University. ( Prof Samson Paul Robbins[ 1 ], now superannuated. ) We landed at Quebec, and came by the Rideau Canal to Kingston. I was strongly impressed with the beauty of Quebec where we arrived at daybreak. We were anxious to get some fresh provisions, having lived on salted pork for six weeks. We came to a town called By-town, on the Ottawa, which has since become noted. We proceeded by the Rideau Canal. I examined many beautiful specimens of rocks and minerals in the localities through which the canal is built. From Kingston I came to Cobourg with the other member of our party.

The first house I ever slept in in America was in Cobourg. I afterwards bought it and in this house I sat and [saw, and] at this time met a young woman who afterwards became Mrs Elvins. For two years I was employed by a Schotch man, still living, named David Ross. I have pleasant memories of hime and he seemed pleased with my residence with his family. During my spare hours I took walks studying the geology of the neighborhood. I speedily found that I was in a lime formation which was one of the branches of the Lower Silurian, known as the Trenton limestone. This study afforded me information and pleasure. I found I was in a fossiliferous bed or deposit and to my great satisfaction on my first walk I came across a fossil which I had often seen drawn by [and] had not (???? ) met—the trilobite, achephalus Canadensis. (Chapman) The fact that Cobourg limestones are crowded with trilobites of different kinds, with fossil shell of every variety, corals, etc. enabled me to find much that was interesting and instructive. Near the lake there was a quarry which was then used for extracting building stone and I soon became a[c]quainted with all hands working there. They undertook to save all specimens for me. Trilobites were the chief fossils we sought for and we obtained many good specimens some 4 in long, ( Acephalus Halli ) ( Hall) I was able to interest several others in the study and we formed first a Mechanics Institute in which we had a Geological Museum, and as a collection of local fossils I have not seen better until I saw the collection of Mr Townsend ( Methodist Book Room.) Prof. Whitlock, Professor of Geology, told me that in his travels he had not seen such a locality as Cobourg for Trilobites. He became my competitor in getting these rare trilobites.

I remained at Cobourg until 1860[ 2 ], and our Mechanics' Institute received much assistance from the professors of Victoria College, especially Dr. Nelles, Prof. Whitlock, and Rev. Dr. Ormiston. The latter lectured on "Compensations in Nature", Prof. Whitlock on " The Gyroscope and its Teachings". We had also lectures on literary subject. [I met] Mac Lachlan, the poet with whom I became well aquainted, which continued until his death. For the following two years, 1856-57[ 2 ], I was employed in Port Hope, and there we formed a Scientific Society also and had interesting and instructive lectures from visitors, especially Dr. Parks on chemical subject. We met in the Common School, taught by Mr Spotton, father of Mr. Spotton of Harbord Coll. Inst., author of " Elementary work in Botany. " Mr Spotton frequently acted as chairman. Afterwards a hall was employed. At this early age I had made no special study of Astronomy. Years before I had made drawings of constellation but nothing further, except in a general way.

In 1860 I removed to Toronto, and here was glad to find many friends of a kindred spirit with scientific tastes, but was so engaged with business that few opportunities presented themselves during the day, and I turned to studies suited for the night, and Astronomy prsented the best opportunities. I found a library belonging to the Canadian Institute in the upper stories of a building on Toronto St., to which I obtained access. During the American War I was brought into contact with a Daniel K. Winder, an enthusiastic student of science. He had been professor in an Ohio college, but found it was very difficult to keep from mixing up with one of the political parties. One favored the North, the other the South. He desired no side, hence sought a place where he would be permitted to take neither side. He was a good botanist and I enjoyed very many pleasant walks with Mr Winder who made me aquainted with the species of trees, etc., and introduced me to the habit of mushroom picking and eating, which has become a second nature. he wa an author of a book on the Mushroom of Canada, which enabled me to choose the edible varieties. This friend was also an enthusiast in Astornomy, and especially called my attention to that science. He obtained a small telescope with which I enjoyed many pleasant hours. Afterwards ( 1868) we formed the first Astronomical Society in Toronto. Mr. Clare was also interested in Astronomy and we prepared and sent out am address to such as might take part in forming a society, among others we sent to a Mr.s [R.] Ridgeway, a teacher in a High School on Jarvis St., a good mathematician. Aslo Prof. Kingston, a forerunner of Mr Stupart, who rather discouraged us. He suggested joining the Canadian Institute as a better means of study. Yet we formed a society. Our meetings were reported in a paper " Scientific opera " [Opinion] of which I have some stray copies. At that time there was much interest amongst observing astronomers about movements on the lunar surface, especially Linn? and Messier, which at that time I thought had undergone no change except that due to differences of illumination, although the subject has not yet been decided, some yet as Pickering favoring a change. My first telescope was a 1 5/6 in. and I used it chiefly for two years but also used Mr Winder's 2 in. Then I sent to England and got a 3 in. object glass and eye piece and had it constructed into a telescope. This is the telescope that is to be the possession of the Society. About 1900 [1870?] the society held its first meetings at the Toronto Mechanics' Institute, now used as the city's public library ( Church St. ) and among its members were Messrs Clare Sr. and Jr, Mungo Turnbull, Robert Ridgeway, James L. Hughes, Mr Winder and myself. Mr Winder was chosen President, Mr Clare Sr. Secretary. I became early interested in the condition of hte sun's surface and made a large number of drawings thereof, and about this time commenced collecting material bearing on solar surface phenomena and weather changes. I fuond it difficult to obtain records as might be of service int he inquiry, but I obtained some from the Smithsonian Institute and Prof Clevevland Abbe. Also formed an aquaintance with [through] the publications of the day through [with] Prof. Daniel Kirkwood of the State University at Bloomington, Ind. He furnished me with many tables of wind and rain fall and he referred to to other valuable sources. I introduced the subject of the height of water in our lakes, especially Lake Ontario, which information I obtained by records kept at Queen's Wharf, Toronto. I was led to the conclusion that the variations or similar changes in the rise and fall of the water, corresponding to changes on the sun. I wrote to Prof, Abbe on this subject. Prof. Kirkwood mentioned that I was the first to suggest such a relation. I still possess the letter stating that I was the first to study river heights in this connection. Later the Meteorological Journals devoted considerable attention to this subject. The results were published in 1871, in our library.[ 3 ] About this period ( 1870 ) I published a series of ( 12 ) papers on the " Meteorology of Toronto " in the Toronto Leader, hoping to trace a connection between solar conditions and terrestrial weather. These attracted some attention at the [time] and I received a letter from Piazzi Smythe, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, speaking favorably of my views and referred to them in his report to his government, which he sent me. The letter is in this volume. We both thought that this was the probable track for weather prediction. This is prior to the publication of the papers by Sir N. Lockyer on the Mete[o]riology of the Future, which arrived at very similar conclusions to which I had previously published. The difference lay in the fact that I contended that a dry period could be traced at both minimum and maximum turning points, a wet year usually preceding a dry one. Sir Norman thought there was one period only, a plus of rain with a plus of sunspots, and vice versa.[ 4 ] Since then in 1897 or 8 Sir Norman stated before the Royal Society that his failure in finding satisfactory reception to his views was that a plus with a minus sunspot and rainfall occurred simultaneously, one at maximum, the other at minimum.

The society had but a short existence as such. Mr Clare's death and Mr Winder's removed to the U[nited States] were deeply felt. But weekly meetings were held at my house by a few who felt interested in Astronomy or scientific subjects. We embraced other subjects, and found it useful as far as attendance was concerned. Natural History was a favorite study among some of the members, led perhaps by Dr. Boodie.[Dr. Wm Brodie] At that time Mr Pursey became an active worker in connection with the society, also Mr Pearce, and Dr White. Natural History found more enthusiasts than the Astronomical part, and it was at last decided to join the Natural History Society of Toronto which had already obtained a charter. Several of our members became its members but yet kept up interest in Astronomy, and with the assistance of Mr Roberts, and Mr A.F. Miller, Astronomy was always a favorite study.

About 1880 I met Mr Lumsden, the Assistant Provincial Secretary of Ontario, and we had pleasant walks along the lake shore near the Garrison Common, where I had often studied before. I was interested by a lecture by Mr Hind[e] later of the British Museum.[ 5 ] His studied of the formation of the Scarboro heights and deposits westward interested me much in the development and exposure of rocks at the Garrison Common, and here Mr Lumsden and I paid special attention to the manner in which the rocks of the Hudson River were spread out in laminae. Both of us were interested in geological study, but also in Astronomical work. He was a special friend of A. F. Miller who was an enthusiastic astronomer, and through the influence of both it was desirable to [secure] a charter as an Astronomical Society. We visited Prof Carpmael of the Meteorological office and asked his cooperation, which was cheerfully given, he himself becoming a member. This was the origin of the Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto, and from this time Astronomy took a more prominent place among the societies of the city. Through the unwearied efforts of Mr. Lumsden we introduced the Society to Astronomers generally. He wrote to various countries and tried to make the Society useful. They responded generously, and sent magazines, etc., and many became honorary members of the Society. Our Annual Meetings were well attended and very interesting.

About 1878 I made a number of observations on Jupiter, being attracted by an oval spot redder in hue than the general surface, since known as the Great Red Spot. This appeared to me as if it were high in the atmospehre or above it. Jupiter manifested great heat and probably matter was thrown up from the denser planet.

Footnote 1:
I think S.P. Robbins was principal of a Normal School at Montreal—C.A.C.
Sampson Paul Robins, for many years principal of the McGill Normal School.
—Morgan's "Men & Women of Canada."
Footnote 2:
These dates are wrong.
He went to Cobourg 1844, stayed 14 years => 1858.
In Port Hope 1858-59, moved to Toronto 1860.
Footnote 3:
Mr. Elvins has papers on "Astronomy & Meteorology" in Astron. Register 1872 July, Sept, November. Twelve letters in the Leader 1870-71.
Footnote 4:
Lockyer's paper on "The Meteorology of the Future" is in Nature for Dec 12, 1872 (see in "Scrap Book")
Footnote 5:
George Jennings Hinde F.R.S., F.G.S. d. Mar 18, 1918 Aged 79
Educated in Englan. In early seventies came to Canada; spent 7 yrs. in U. of T. under Prof. H.A. Nicholson.
Returned to England: studied at Munich. Appt. (?) in B.M.
See "Science", Sec 13, 1918


Vol. II of Ast. and Phys. Soc. Theory of Gravitation. [Explained by Mr. Elvins Oct. 23, 1908.] [Explained to L.H.G. (?)]

Pictures of Saturn and Rings on edge, Oct. of 1892. Many papers in volumes following 1868, etc. on Theory of Comets. ("Tides" 1896-99.) in Elvins' Volumes.

Volume in Institute between Barnard and Elvins, on 5th Sat. of Jupiter.