Letter # 4 was written by John Kaine from Dungannon Ontario to Aunt Bess in Ireland to tell her about the death of his brother Christy. John describes Christy’s death in such graphic detail that I felt I was at the bedside too!

Three years have passed since the last letter from John’s brother James in 1855. It is an unsolved mystery why no other letters were saved from the intervening years. From the other family members mentioned in this letter, it appears that Charles and Bessie Kaine, John’s parents, and his sister Ann have made the journey to Canada from Ireland and were there to comfort Christy at the end of his life. It is evident that their deeply held religious beliefs were a comfort to them all.

The description of their care for Christy was very interesting as they had none of the medicines used in the modern day. Even the doctor had only mustard, fly blisters and bloodletting as interventions. As outlined in the letter, “we bathed him with mustard water with some whiskey in it. After a time rubbing we brought heat into it but still he was no better in the evening. The doctor bled him in the arm and put some mustard poultices to his feet and two fly blisters back of his ears.”

Vintage Label from Mustard used as medicine

This letter was very hard to read in the original as it was written on one large sheet of paper with no envelope in the manner that some letters were sent at the time. The postmarks are interesting as it was routed through many different post offices and I believe that the person who received the letter needed to pay the postage. There was also water damage!

  1. Kaine Letter January 6, 1858
    Transcribed from the original by Kerrin Churchill 28/1/18 (question marks where words unclear)
    John Kaine to Aunt Bess from Dungannon, Ontario Canada to Freshford, Kilkenny, Ireland
    ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    Dungannon Janry 6 1858

My Dear Aunt
With sorrowing heart I sit down to inform you that on this day we followed to the grave all that was mortal of poor Christy. He died on Monday morning at 4 o’clock the fourth ?? I may also say three month illness about three months ago he got cold and complained of pains in his legs. He was two or three days complaining before I knew it. When I knew it my wife and I went down and rubbed his legs with butter and he thought they felt better and sent for her two or three times to rub them. When I saw he was getting but very little better I brought him up and he stopped a fortnight and was nearly well on the fourth of November and my wife and I went to visit about fifty miles away I want him to stay at my place with Anne until we would come back but he thought he would go home it was only about one mile away. Well the next day but one after going home he was attacked again after coming home. I brought them up again in the thought he was getting better until Sunday the thirtieth of November he got paralytic stroke at which he lost the use of his right side arm, leg and even his speech. It was about ten o’clock when he got it. I was late getting home on Saturday night and I felt tired and lay on the bed and Mary was gone to see a cousin of hers. I was asleep when Anne woke me and was crying and said that Christy was going out of his mind. I jumped up and went to his bed and raised him and asked him what was wrong. He attempted to tell me but could not articulate a single word and pointed with his left hand. I saw it was poor but thought it was only asleep from lying on it. I then told him to show me his tongue he tried to but he could not reach it near to his teeth. It was gathered in a round lump. I waited for Mary and when she came home we bathed him with mustard water with some whiskey in it. After a time rubbing we brought heat into it but still he was no better in the evening. The doctor bled him in the arm and put some mustard poultices to his feet and two fly blisters back of his ears. He was oppressed a good deal in his breathing before he was bled but the bleeding relieved him altogether of the oppression.

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During he five weeks that he lived after the being paralyzed he was very little trouble except to give him drinks and turn him and the stopping up every night as two had to be up with him every night. He never complained but twice one of a pain in his head and one of his legs. On Tuesday he appeared to be getting better and even the doctor said he would soon get around again but on Wednesday he got a change in his bowel that lasted all day but when it stopped that night we thought it was a turn for the better but it left him very weak, on Friday he was a little livelier but on Saturday he could not rest five minutes in one position and all the time he was ill he could not bear to have Mary or I out of the house. He several times tried to tell me something but I could not understand as John . Yes and no were I may say the only words he could say but all through his illness he always said that his Confidence was in the Lord and that he knew that if it was his will to call him from time to Eternity that he would be happy as he felt through the Merits of a Saviour’s Blood his sins were forgiven and his countenance always glowed with pleasure during family prayer on Saturday night or might I say Sunday morning as I went to bed at two o’clock after going. Mary, my Mother and Ann were with him he called for me but my mother would not let them awake me so when when they would not call me he told them that he was going to die and go live with Jesus. He told them to be all good and endeavour by the Grace of God to do this will he seemed quite exhausted after saying that much. and he laid his head on my mothers sholders and fell asleep. That was i may say the last words he spoke on Sunday morning. Before going to family prayer I was reading a chapter in the bible. I always sat on the side of his bed while I was reading and although he appeared not able to speak he caught the bible and drew it near him like as if he wished to see what I was reading . His eyes for the last three days were unusually bright in fact they almost glittered from about half past eleven o’clock on Sunday night to three in the morning. He moaned very heavy
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but though he moaned he did not appear to feel any pain by as he did move hand or foot or give any sign whatever that he felt pain for the hour from three to four he lay quite and although I watched him steadily I could scarcely say to the moment when he did die as one or two small heaves of the breast was the last sign of live that he gave. He never streached or stared or gasped even for breath as I have seen some do.
Dear Aunt I think that I will not tire you by this letter as I think you will feel more satisfied to know all the ?? There is one think certain that we cannot bring him back but we can go to him if we live as he has lived Loving our Redeemer while here we may rest satisfied that our Father will bring us to himself to praise the ?? love forever and ever. For my part I feel that I am a sinner and I know that if Lord call me now that ?? stand in his presence but it is my earnest prayer to Almighty God that he will bless the present bereavement to the good of our never dieing souls. Dear Ann when we reflect and think we have an immortal principal within us that must be parallel with God through all Eternity either in happiness or misery we aught to take heed to our way as the Psalmist says that we offend not with our tongues but be always watchful and prayerful as we know not the day or the hour that the Son of Mary may come and that the Lord himself says that those that wait on him shall renew their strength.
Dear Aunt let pray with the Spirit and with the understanding also that our Spiritual Strength may be renewed that we may flow?? to the full status of men and women in Christ Jesus this is my determination by the grace of God assisting me that I may be permitted to meet them that are gone before.
I must now conclude hoping that you will remember us to all friends and that this may find you and them as we are in good health and may one and all of us be enabled to say like Christy when we come to die that we feel happy in a Saviours love is the earnest prayer of
Your Sorrowing nephew
John Kaine
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I suppose that Ann told you in her Letter that I had giving up the store Keeping. I am am going at the old work teaching school. I am to commence on Monday next. I am getting Seventy five pounds a year and can live in my own house and can keep the contract of carrying the mail and attend to the post office besides
JK

John has certainly paid tribute to his poor brother Christy. I have never found Christy’s date of birth but can conclude that his death in 1858 was due to a stroke. The family did all they could to keep him comfortable until the end.

John adds a brief post script to the letter in which he indicates that he is becoming a teacher after working in a store. With teaching, carrying the mail and looking after the post office, he certainly was a busy fellow. The content of subsequent letters suggests he was quite an entrepreneur as he eventually becomes a farmer and a banker! Like many newcomers to Canada to this day, John worked multiple jobs and wasn’t afraid of hard work!

2 thoughts on “Letter#4 January 6, 1858: Mustard and Whiskey Could Not Save Him

  1. Quite a moving account which must have been difficult to read! Same for us, especially when we see how hopeless they were and how little doctors could do at the time. We have certainly made a lot of progress in order to recognize the signs, act quickly and get to the hospital. All things they didn’t do!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So interesting. He should have also added preacher to his occupations, how well he shares his beliefs and the comfort they brought to the family. Very timely in this present day of suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

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