Katherine Jane Ellice: The 1838 Adventure

Whenever I discover a painting, watercolour or sculpture, I am amazed by the history that comes with the artwork. Every creative endeavour is steeped with the artist’s experience and personal biography. This axiom was again confirmed in my search for paintings that would feature the idea of home and homecoming. This is when I met Katherine Jane (Janie) Ellice, who was born in Scotland (1813), the daughter of Sir Robert Balfour and Eglantyne Katherine Fordyce. Archives indicate that she was an accomplished sketcher and watercolourist, which is evident by watercolours, Bedroom at Presbytere and Intérieur du salon.

“A brisk firing commenced all around the cottage; bullets coming through the house in all directions. Then came a dreadful rush of Men, women & children, screaming, some falling & being trampled upon in the door way. We thought the rebels were coming to murder us, & locked in Tina’s arms I was trying to compose my mind when Mr. Parker pushed thro’ the crowd & told us we were safe.” Jane Ellice, The Diary of Jane Ellice

Intérieur du salon, entree et porte avant du manoir de Beauharnois, 1838 Katherine Jane Ellice (Public Domain)

Katherine married Edward Ellice on July 15, 1834. Four years later, she joined her husband on the HMS Hastings and made the cross Atlantic voyage to Canada. Edward was to be the private secretary to his cousin, by marriage, John Lambton, who had been appointed Governor General of the Province of Canada and Lieutenant-Governor of Lower Canada. They arrived in Canada on May 27, 1838.

It seemed that the adventure of living in an unknown destination was evolving in expected patterns. But adventures are not always predictable and follow a course that changes the trajectory of circumstances and outcomes.

In November 1838, a few short months since their arrival in Canada, Katherine, her husband, and her sister Tina along with all their household were taken prisoners during a nighttime siege. While the details are not fully clear to me, it seems that Katherine negotiated with her captors and found a way to keep everyone safe and able to return home.

Bedroom at Presbytere Painted by Katherine Jane Ellice. Library and Archives Canada (Public domain)

Katherine kept a diary of her time in Canada, which is held the Library and Archives Canada

26 Comments »

  1. This is not just some art that I have now found, but Canadian history that I was never taught, nor ever found out about on my own.
    Although the details are unknown, I feel she negotiated a successful outcome with her captors because she was a clever and intelligent person.
    These paintings are absolutely lovely!

    • I confess that I had no idea who Katherine Ellice was until I checked into the background of these watercolours. I did a google search on paintings of houses and Katherine Ellice’s watercolours came up. I am reminded that when we blog, we are writing our history, much as Ellice did in the 1800’s. We are living history and our words will be there for the next generation. It is an awesome thought, isn’t it? Hugs coming your way.

  2. Thank you for introducing this new Artist. Of course, I had not heard of her or her special story–and so eventful showing her exploring spirit. It was special to me that they arrived in Canada; so many of the early stories I have read and treasure are about those who arrived in the U.S.A. Her story is special and, in a way, as beautiful as her paintings. Her contributions have been in the shades of history, but through your message and those of others, her story and beautiful paintings will be introduced to many! !

    • As Liz remarked, Katherine’s watercolours look as if they could be created in our time. Katherine’s ability to portray a sense of home and a feeling of belonging was exceptional. As we look back, 1838 was a pivotal time in Canadians history. I often wonder whether people will look back on our time as pivotal. It is a reminder to live boldly and record our days. It is interesting to think that one day, we may be a history lesson.

  3. Oh, my dear Rebecca, thank you so much for introducing this wonderful painter! I hadn’t seen any of her work and these two paintings are so beautiful! Interesting to read about her life too! Hope you’re enjoying a beautiful weekend! xoxoxoxo and many hugs!

    • Thank you Marina! What I love most about art is that it tells a story of the artist and the time in which she or he lived. We connect our stories through art, which defies time and location. Thank you for sharing your creativity with the world. You bring beauty to our stories. Hugs!!!

  4. A remarkable and accomplished artist, writer, keeper of stories and wow, negotiator for possibly her own and her family’s life! A terrific post and fascinating to learn a little about Katherine. The first painting of the salon is beautiful, a tender invitation beckoning the viewer further into the house, it looks so inviting and welcoming! Wishing you a very special Sunday, Rebecca! ❤️😀🌺

  5. It’s hard to imagine the enormity of what it felt like to cross the Atlantic to an unknown destination in the C19th. Ellice’s art looks so fresh and modern, doesn’t it. And tranquil – hiding all that turbulence beneath the paint. Incredible.

    • I agree, Liz. To board a ship into the unknown was not for the faint of heart, especially during a time of an emerging nationhood. This is from the Canadian Encyclopedia: “In 1837 and 1838, insurgents in Upper and Lower Canada led rebellions against the Crown and the political status quo. The revolt in Lower Canada was more serious and violent than the rebellion in Upper Canada. However, both events inspired the pivotal Durham Report. It led to the Act of Union, which merged the two colonies into the Province of Canada. It also resulted in the introduction of responsible government. These were critical events on the road to Canadian nationhood.” https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rebellions-of-1837

      • Fascinating. Understanding a nation’s history is crucial for understanding how we live today. I was just listening to a podcast about some of the aspects of British history that arguably led to Brexit. It can be tempting to view specific events in isolation, but of course everything is linked in some way or another.

      • How very well said, Liz. Everything is linked in ways that we do not know or understand. Even looking back into history, we never see all sides. You reminded me of one of my most favourite Joseph Campbell quotes: “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”

  6. So many stories hidden within so many minds in the world. So few are able to get them “out” through a manner of artistry. It is exactly as you say: “Every creative endeavour is steeped with the artist’s experience and personal biography.” But each person has this history; it is just so often kept within due to lack of ability to unlock, iterate, and preserve it.

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    • How very well said, Judie. I admire anyone who keeps a diary of any sort because it is like living life twice – once by actually living the moment and the other by recording the moment. And then there is the translation and interpretation that happens between the two. I was trying to find Katherine’s diary, but was unable to locate via an internet search. Will keep on trying… Hugs coming back your way!!!

      • It is just too easy these days to keep records of daily thoughts and actions using the computer. I keep both hard and soft copies of “daily doings”, but they seldom match! Some things just need to be inscribed on quality paper with a gentle pen.

      • It is indeed! I have often wanted to go back to a fountain pen and practice cursive writing on parchment paper. I love your description: “quality paper with a gentle pen.”

    • I had no idea who Katherine Ellice was until I found the paintings. And this is Canadian history!! Oh, I do love these types of treasure hunts. You start in one direction and end up in another direction altogether. There is never a map where X marks the spot.

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