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ColumnistsBy The Way with Bill ChapmanMostyn biographical sketches

Mostyn biographical sketches

By L.G. William Chapman B.A. LL.B.

The first Regular Communication of Mississippi Lodge, A.F. & A.M., G.R.C. (In Ontario) was held at Almonte, Ontario on May 24, 1861 (the Lodge was in fact instituted on March 19, 1861). Dr. William Mostyn sat in the East as the first Master of the Lodge. Following is a copy of an article about Dr. Mostyn taken from The Almonte Gazette, Almonte, Ontario on December 1, 1993, written by Shirley Todorski for the "Our Heritage" column, entitled "Dr. William Mostyn left mark on Almonte":

On the morning of Tuesday, March 29, 1881, the people of Almonte slowly became aware that one of their most prominent men was missing. Also missing was the son of another of the town's well known citizens.

Search parties, under J. C. Stevens, who was a miller in Almonte, and W. H. Wylie, a woollen  manufacturer in Carleton Place, started to drag the Mississippi River until first an upturned boat, then a fur cap and then, several days apart, two bodies were found, not far from a part of the river then known as Gleeson's Bay, about a mile down river from Appleton.

On the previous Monday afternoon, Dr. William Mostyn, anxious to visit a sick patient in Appleton, and unable to use the roads because of their bad condition, finally got J. W. Manning, Jr., son of the celebrated Temperance worker, to take him in his skiff. In spite of a high wind and bitterly cold weather, they reached Appleton safely.

Dr. Mostyn visited his patient and James Manning conducted some license business with Mr. McArthur, a hotel keeper.

Manning, during the absence of his father, J. W. Manning, in England on a speaking tour, was acting as License Inspector for North Lanark. They were last seen at 4:30 p.m. by Adam Tesky, who accompanied them to the landing stage. Manning was rowing and Dr. Mostyn was sitting in the stern steering and paddling.

Dr. Mostyn was descended from a Welsh family who moved to Ireland in Cromwell's time. He was born in Ireland in 1836 but came to Canada soon after with his family. They settled in Kingston, where his father was Inspector of Licenses.

In 1858, after graduating as a doctor, he had an office on Mill Street in the area of the present Radio Shack (34 Mill Street – a building now owned by the Lodge).

From his arrival in Almonte, Dr. Mostyn had immersed himself in village affairs. He had been President of the Cricket Club, participated in Penny Readings, was a member of the Board of Education and, at the time of his death, had been President of the North Lanark Agricultural Society since 1867.

He was associate coroner for Lanark and also a surgeon major in the Militia, connected with the 42nd Battalion of Infantry.

He was the first Reeve when Almonte was incorporated as a village in 1871 and between 1875 and 1879, he sat in the Ontario Legislature as a liberal Conservative. In fact, as the 1880-81 Directory of Lanark County noted he "has held every local office in the gift of the people up to member of Parliament".

His silence in debates on the stricter regulation of the sale of liquor may have helped defeat him in 1879 as he was known by supporters of the Dunkin Act as the "leader of the whiskey ring in Almonte".

This active public life was only rivalled by his contemporary, Bennett Rosamond. But Dr. Mostyn had one advantage over Bennett Rosamond, he was never married and so had no need to devote any of his time to family life.

By 1879 he was one of only two members left of the Anti-Connubial Club, a group who celebrated the benefits of bachelorhood. In 1880 Bennett Rosamond and Dr. Mostyn both wanted to be the first Mayor of Almonte but neither would run against the other. So Dr. James Patterson "came up the middle" to win that distinction.

Dr. Mostyn's funeral was organized by the Freemasons. It was held on Saturday, April 2 and stores and mills were closed.

The procession from St. Paul's Church to the station was impressive, led by the clergy, the band, the Mississippi Lodge AFAM, pall bearers, mourners, the mayor and town council, officers of the NLAS, the Board of Education and the curling club.

But this order was disrupted by "a solid mass of people". There was a half-hour wait at the station for the train to Kingston, where the doctor was buried in the family plot at Cataraqui Cemetery.

James W. Manning, whose body was found a few days later than the doctor's, was buried on April 8 under the auspices of the Odd Fellows. He was 26 years old and had been a clerk with Brown and McArthur, and later James Robertson, in the present Keepsakes building (northwest corner of Mill and Bridge Streets).

Before his death he was working with a firm in Arnprior but planned to go to Clinton, Ont., where a brother lived, to study law.

The procession left St. Andrew's Church near the family home on Elgin Street.

It comprised the clergy, the fireman's band, the Arnprior Hook and Ladder Company, Alpha Lodge No. 154, pall bearers, mourners, the Mississippi Curing Club, the high school and citizens on foot and in carriages.

It went along Elgin, Bridge and Mill Streets on the way to the Auld Kirk cemetery. Stores and mills along the route were closed. Ironically a man perceived as a supporter of the unregulated sale of liquor and the son of a great disciple of temperance met their death together.

Dr. Mostyn left a lasting legacy to Almonte. In 1867-1868 he built a house here, the lovely stone house on the corner of Queen and Clyde Streets, presently occupied by Dr. Frank Murphy. His sister, Miss Mostyn, who had kept house for him, lived in the house until 1890 when she sold it to lawyer R. J. Dowdall for $4,500.

In 1891 there was an auction sale of Dr. Mostyn's furniture and belongings and soon after, Dr. Lynch bought the house and moved in, thus continuing the tradition of the "Doctor's House".

By way of further biographical note, following is an article entitled "He was cut down in his prime – William Mostyn – Doctor, athlete, Freemason" written by Barbara Shenstone in The Almonte Gazette on May 6, 1981:

Every town must have its figures of romance, and for Almonte, one could hardly find a better example than the young, popular and tragically fated Doctor William Mostyn.

Doctor Mostyn died one hundred years ago this month after a boating accident which shocked the community at the time and remains to this days somewhat of a mystery. Mostyn was only 44 at the time of his death, and had gained a respected reputation as a doctor, member of parliament, sportsman and Freemason.

To commemorate the anniversary of his death and his place in the early history of Masonic movement of this area, members of Mississippi Lodge No. 147, one of the two local chapters of the Masons, took part in a special commemorative service at St. Paul's Anglican Church last Sunday.

What we know of Doctor Mostyn comes largely from contemporary accounts printed in The Gazette at the time of his death, which took place March 28, 1881.

The sensation created in Almonte by his death can be seen in the space allotted to the man in the issues of April 1 and April 8. Outlined in heavy black as a sign of mourning, the paper devoted almost an entire page to the report of his death, his funeral, tributes to him, and even included detailed accounts of each of the funeral sermons read in local churches the week after the accident.

In addition to The Gazette, a number of other legends have grown up about the man, many of them probably inaccurate, although certainly colourful.

Mostyn at the time of his death was an eligible bachelor. He lived in a house he had built in 1867 on Queen Street, where his sister, Sarah kept house for him. The house is owned today by another doctor, Francis Murphy. In fact it has always been inhabited by medical families, and of Irish decent.

Legend has it, and contemporary photographs do not deny it, that Mostyn was an attractive man who may have had a certain taste for the fairer sex. He is even said to have fathered several children in Almonte. While reports of his death show that he almost certainly died in a freak boating accident, there is one story that he was "done in" by a jealous husband.

Another legend, probably equally apocryphal, is that Mostyn, who was of Irish decent, had a hand in plotting the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, that fiery parliamentarian and outspoken federalist, who was felled by an assassin's bullet on Sparks Street in 1868. Was this made scheme plotted in the house on Queen Street? So the legend goes.

Leaving these colourful stories aside, what we do know about Mostyn was that he was born in Elphin, Roscommon, Ireland, on June 15, 1836, and came with his family to Canada as an infant.

The Mostyn family, which was large, settled in Kingston, where William attended the Kingston Grammar School and graduated as MD at Queen's College in 1858. He set up his medical practice in Almonte in the same year; it lasted until his death 23 years later.

Contemporary accounts of his career show that Mostyn quickly became involved in many activities, and made a name for himself as an outgoing and energetic community leader.

"As a citizen of Almonte, he took an active interest in everything that concerned its welfare…" says The Gazette of April 1, 1881. "Of a remarkably social disposition, and with a high sense of honour, he possessed the good will of everybody and the unswerving friendship of all who were intimately acquainted with him."

From the offices he held in the community, it is evident that Mostyn must have wielded a large influence in Almonte. His positions included being president of the North Lanark Agricultural Society ("he was ever an earnest advocate of its interests", says The Gazette), and first reeve of Almonte (1871-74). He also represented Rideau and Bathurst Division on the Ontario Medical Council, was prominent in the curling club, and member of the school board.

In the general election of 1875, Mostyn carried the riding of North Lanark. He was a Liberal – Conservative in his politics. He lost the seat in 1879, however, to Mr. William C. Caldwell.

As a prominent Freemason, Mostyn was Master of the Mississippi Lodge four times, and District Deputy Grand Master of Masonic Lodges for the Ottawa District. In this capacity, he laid the cornerstone of the Anglican Church of Almonte, which was situated by the river just behind his house on Queen Street.

Mostyn's death in late March 1881 was a great blow to the community. Over one hundred local citizens took part in the search for his body. The funeral, for which factories and businesses closed, was one of the largest the town had seen, and featured a procession across town to the station from where the body was taken for final burial in Kingston.

The circumstances leading up to his death and the speculation about its cause were reported in The Gazette in graphic detail.

On March 26 Doctor Mostyn was to set off from Almonte to visit a patient in Appleton, but because of the spring season, which left the roads impassable tracks of mud, he decided to go by boat.

The weather was stormy, says The Gazette, and not being a good oarsman himself, Mostyn postponed his visit till Monday March 28, when he was accompanied by a young colleague named James Manning Jr., "who took a gun along with him to have a shot or two on the way".

The skiff belonged to Manning. "It was short and narrow, and had been built we believe for amateur racing", said The Gazette.

On Monday, although "a high wind was blowing up the river, and the atmosphere was raw and cold", the two made their way safely to Appleton. Mostyn visited his patient, and Manning made an appointment with the hotel keeper there, a Mr. Arthurs, to meet him in Almonte the following day on business.

According to The Gazette, the two left Appleton on the return journey about 4:30 pm, after being seen off by Mr. Adam Teskey. Mostyn was in the stern of the boat, steering and paddling. Manning was rowing. This was the last seen of them.

When the two did not appear in Almonte the next day, Manning's mother became alarmed and made enquiries.

"A number of boats at once proceeded up the river; and they found, about 3.5 miles above Almonte, or about 1.5 miles below Appleton, the upturned boat used, and nearby, one of the oars", reported The Gazette. Another oar was found about 200 yards below, and still further down, in Gleeson's Bay, the fur cap worn by Doctor Mostyn. The cap was, in the words of The Gazette, "floating near the ice that still lines the banks and fills the bays".

"These told the pitiful tale, and confirmed the worst fears of the anxious searchers", said The Gazette.

No other trace of the bodies was found on Tuesday, and on Wednesday 75 men in boats from Carleton Place and Almonte dragged the river all day. An overcoat was pulled up, as well as a pair of gloves worn by Manning, a paddle, and a briar root pipe.

Mostyn's body was recovered finally on Thursday, March 31, three days after the accident. Manning's body was recovered on April 6, eight days after the accident.

"How it happened, no person can tell, no mortal eye saw them after leaving Appleton. The boat was small; the wind was high. They had made an effort to get a larger boat, but did not succeed. To those who know Doctor Mostyn best, it is unaccountable that he should have gone in such a frail boat, for he was always careful, even timorous and nervous at times, on the water. Both were familiar with every foot of the river. Mr. Manning was an excellent swimmer; the Doctor could not swim." So speculated The Gazette, and concluded the tale with the following sentiments:

"But conjectures are useless – the mystery will not unravel. What we do know is, that in sailing home, they have crossed to the other shore and anchored in a haven of rest for all eternity".

One final record, taken form The Canadian Parliamentary Companion and Annual Register, 1877, Ottawa:

MOSTYN, WILLIAM, M.D. (North Lanark)

Of Welsh descent. Family moved to Irel., at time of Cromwell, and became large land owners in Connaught. B. in town of Elphin, Roscommon, Irel., 5 June, 1836. Accompanied his parents to Can., in following year; and was ed. at the grammar school, Kingston, in which city they settled. Graduated as M.D., at Queen's Univ., Kingston, 1858. Unmarried. Is Surgeon 42nd "Brockville", Batt. V.I. Has been Presdt. North Lanark Agricultural Society since 1867. Elected first Reeve of Almonte, 1871, a position he continued to retain for three years. Represented Rideau and Bathurst division in the Ont. Medical Council from 1869 to 1872; and was Associate Coroner Lanark for fifteen years. Was D.D.G.M., for Ottawa Dist. in the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Can., in 1867 and 1873. Has also held a fellowship in Queen's University. First returned to Parlt., for present seat at last g.e. A Liberal Conservative – Almonte.

Among the most flattering comments about Dr. Mostyn is that which appears in the Lodge Minutes of the meeting of July 3, 1868:

It was moved by Bro. Menzies seconded by Bro. McDougall that this Lodge tender W. M. Mostyn a vote of thanks for the great interest he has and at all times taken for the prosperity of this Lodge and the craft that by his regular attendance for the past two years he has occupied the M. Chair has been the means of keeping up the harmonious working of the Lodge and increasing its members to its present position. Carried.

The Minutes of St. John's Lodge, Carleton Place, Ontario indicate that on May 11, 1859 "Bro. Wm. Mostyn received the sublime degree of Regular Master Mason". At a meeting of St. John's Lodge on December 26, 1860, it is recorded that "the Almonte brethren get the old jewels, that they be presented to them and the Almonte brethren to be notified to that effect". On April 24, 1861 it further appears that "the Almonte brethren be not charged for 20 days dues"; and, "that the Almonte brethren who wish to retire from this lodge get their certificates from this lodge when called for". The first meeting of Mississippi Lodge was held on May 24, 1861. Not surprisingly, Dr. Mostyn continued to visit St. John's Lodge regularly, establishing a long tradition of visitation between the two Lodges. As an illustration of the goodwill between the Lodges, the Minutes of St. John's Lodge provide:

October 21, 1874

Moved by Bro. Patterson, sec. by Bro. Shelson, that this Lodge grant the sum of $15.00 to Bro. A. Bannerman of Mississippi Lodge No. 147 on account of being disabled for some time through an accident. Carried.

On April 26, 1981, the members of Mississippi Lodge attended a special church service in memory of Wor. Bro. Wm. Mostyn, M.D., the first ruling master of the Lodge, to commemorate his death one hundred years ago. The brethren assembled at St. Paul's Anglican Church, having marched with regalia from the Lodge Rooms at 34 Mill Street, Almonte. The service was conducted by Bro. Rev. Harry H. Brown, L. Th., assisted by Bro. Archdeacon John A. Salter.




From the Archives