Reading the 4th Countess’s of Carnarvon’s diaries in her lovely clear script, I have begun to understand a little more about life here 130 years ago. Some things never change. The family liked going for walks or riding on their horses, perhaps up Beacon Hill as I did yesterday evening. They were keen to ensure they spent time outside and considered it was good for their health, for their “constitution”, so much so that if the weather was miserable, they walked in the dining room for 30 minutes! The thought of Lord and Lady Carnarvon, arms linked, walking round their table in circles talking over their plans strikes us in the 21st century as perhaps faintly comical. Jane Austen of course wrote about her heroines walking up and down a room and the 4th Countess’s diaries prove it happened for real not just in books and films. Perhaps this dedication is the reason the Victorians were so enormously successful.
Above: excerpt from a letter from Sir John A Macdonald
I had been wondering how to present Highclere’s story and role in the British North America Act of 1867: the Canadian Constitution, so I thought I too would take a walk around the Castle. Following days of research and with the help of young Robert, David our archivist and Duncan’s printing efforts, we created a set of graphic boards with timelines and anecdotes to share the Canadian Delegates’ journey across the Atlantic to visit the 4th Earl of Carnarvon who was Colonial Secretary at the time. The result of the following months of discussion was, in his own words, “one of the largest and most important measures which for many years it has been the duty of any Colonial Minister in this country to submit to Parliament …” It followed the detailed work and thought, the compromises about the construction of the Senate, Clause 93, the Intercontinental Railway, it was all therefore effectively the backstory to July 1st 1867.
Lord Carnarvon had received several suggestions from friends regarding a new name for this landmass including ‘Franklin’ and the rather more interesting ‘Guelfenland’ whilst Sir John A had preferred the “Kingdom of Canada”. Lord Carnarvon found a compromise and on 8th February 1867 Her Majesty Queen Victoria gave approval to the name ‘The Dominion of Canada’ under which to gather these provinces.
Far greater experts than I have analysed the political detail of this great bill but I wanted to become more familiar with the men who built it, who sat round the dining table we still have and discussed the clauses over dinner, who argued over the precise wording of sentences over coffee and cigars in the Library and who went for their “constitutional” walks around our gardens when they needed to clear their heads. The key man was Lord Carnarvon: seeking to help draft in words protection for the minorities in Upper and Lower Canada, who tried to argue for limited tenure of term in the Canadian senate as opposed to Macdonald and Cartier who wished to propose it for life. Carnarvon’s diaries and letters to General Grey (Queen Victoria’s Private Secretary) reveal the thoughts and compromises, who left the room to disengage for a time in order to find the space to resolve a point.
My research also revealed the quirky side of these great matters of State: what Mr Galt should wear to meet the Queen, why Ottawa became the capital, the scribbles over papers and initials agreeing a point and Lord Carnarvon’s speech about the beauty of Canada. We also found some engravings in books in the Library which highlight the antiquity and beauty of the Canadian landscape at the time. It has all been absolutely fascinating.
Below: John A Macdonald’s account of when Lord Carnarvon took him to meet Queen Victoria
Please download some additional information including original documents and photographs.
- Timeline of the Process of Confederation
- Letter of congratulations from the Queen
- An extract from Lord Carnarvon’s diary, dated 20th December 1866
- The arrival of the delegates at Highclere
- The British North America (Constitution) Act 1867