This oh so pretty house was built in 1837 for Dr Hutchison, who came from Scotland, and was enticed to stay by the people of Peterborough by the building of his house. He lived in the house with his wife, Molly, and they had 11 children, of whom 8 survived to adulthood. The tour of the house gave a fascinating insight into the life in that period, with authentic furnishings – the doctors surgery was particularly interesting for me, being a doctor’s daughter and wife! The surgical equipment was not so different to that used today but there were only about 20 little glass bottles in the medicine chest, with whisky being used as an anaesthetic! The doctor was often paid in kind so didn’t have a luxurious lifestyle and often had to travel great distances to make a house call, sometimes up to 2 days travelling. His wife spent most of her time in the “keeping room” on a lower level on the right of the house – a large room with a big fireplace and all cooking, roasts, bread, cakes and biscuits, was done on an open fire – it appeared surprisingly easy to cook the delicious gingerbread men but I suspect that there is quite an art to knowing how to get the coals to the right heat and to know where to hang the metal plate for exactly the right level of heat so that you cook rather than burn whatever you are cooking! There was a day bed in the corner for the children to rest on and a crib connected to a rocking chair for the baby and most probably one of the older children to rock the baby to sleep.
We also had a chance to try to write with a quill, it is a messy and difficult thing to do! My piece of paper was covered with lots of black inky blobs rather than legible writing. Once nibs had been invented I fared a little better though it was still an arduous process, far easier to be sitting here typing on my computer!
One of the doctors cousins stayed with the family for two years whilst trying to establish himself in Canada. He was Sir Sandford Fleming, who surveyed a great area of Canada and his equipment is the bedroom in which he stayed in Hutchison House. Of the his achievements, one of the most significant was his proposal for world standard time after missing a train because, at that time in Canada, different states had different time zones! There is a community college in Peterborough which is named Fleming College after this former famous Peterborough resident.
Just as at the Canoe Museum I was struck by how hard life used to be and what fortunate lives we have now by comparison. I was lucky enough to go with a tour organised by the New Canadian Centre on which there were people from many different countries, making a new life for themselves in Canada just as Dr Hutchison had done so long ago.