_ In 1891, just before her husband's death, an article on Lady Macdonald was published in the Ladies Home Journal, and reprinted later in various newspapers. It gives an interesting account of her and her life.
Daily Gleaner, July 6, 1891
[page 6, column 6]
Lady Macdonald a Jamaican
[There may be errors surviving from the OCR process, for which I apologise.The right hand edge of the column is clipped off in the m/f copy, and towards the bottom of the page the edge is increasingly broken away; I have not always been able to suggest the missing letters or words.]
The following article, written before the death of Sir John Macdonald:
Writing in the "Wives of Great Men” series in the "Ladies Home Journal": Miss/Mrs Jesoley says:
The brilliant woman. who, for nearly twenty-five years, has shared with the Premier of Canada – to a degree not common in the case of the wives of public men - the toils and triumphs of his arduous and illustrious career is a gift from the sunny South to the snowy North; the Island of Jamaica having been her birth place a half century ago.
Her parents were of aristocratic and wealthy Creole families – this term being used in its strictly accurate meaning as de[ ]tating Europeans long resident in the West Indies. Her father filled a judge's chair for many years, and also had a seat in the Council of Eight that in his time administrated the public affairs of the island. On the mother's side were extensive interests in sugar plantations.
While still a mere child, Miss Agnes Bernard lost her father, and - at about the same time the family property became seriously diminished in value by the introduction of free trade, following upon the abolition of slavery – her mother decided to remove to England.
At first the change of environment proved very unwelcome. The difference of atmosphere between Jamaica where the [lower] classes were all attention and servility and England - where even the servants had [minds] of their own and dared to show them – was not to be comprehended at once.
But the years, busy with books and a[cquir]ing accomplishments, slipped by, and England, despite her exclusiveness, became [ ] dear. In the meantime, matters in Jamaica were going from bad to worse. The plantations fell into the depths of ruin and all who could get away from the ill-fated island with the remnants of their fortunes hastened to [do so]. Miss Bernard's three brothers were among that number, and the eldest decided upon [trying] his luck in Canada. The outlook was so promising that his mother and sister joined him in the year 1864.
They had no reason to regret the [decision.] From the very first the venture appr[ ] [ ] self. In a few years Mr. Bernard [became] secretary to the Honorable John. A Macdonald, then Attorney-General for Western [Ontario]. This official connection may be considered the beginning of his sister's interest in the political history of Canada, and in the [ ]ality of her foremost politician, although she did not make the acquaintance of her [future] husband at the time.
Changes of residence to Toronto [and Que]bec, extended visits to the United States and England were the principal events of [suc]ceeding years, with the exception of the overtures not of a political character, emanating from a Premier, which found their appropriate conclusion in an interesting ceremony performed in that far-famed [ of] Hymen, St. George's church, Hanover Square, London, in the month of February, . John A. MacDonald was then eng[ ]rying to completion his magnifi[ ] for the Union of all the Canadi[ ] into one confederation,. and it [ ] coincidence that the fates kin[ ]him at the same time to perfec[ ] of more immediate personal [ ] months later Lady MacDonald [ ]her husband to Canada, and [ ]dence in Ottawa.
In figure and complexion Lady Macdonald is a striking illustration of the change that comes alike to all of European lineage after long residence beneath the hot southern sun, for she is tall and tawny, with warm tints of color glowing in her cheeks.
[page 7] Her abundant hair a few years ago became white as snow, and now makes a wonderfully becoming aureole about her high, broad fore head. Energy and determination are unmistakably stamped upon a countenance whose habitual expression is somewhat grave. Yet when moved to laughter, the whole face lights up until every trace of care and anxious thought vanishes from it. In the art of conversation Lady Macdonald has nothing to learn. She is an omnivorous reader, and not only reads, but digests and assimilates her reading, while a retentive memory keeps at command all that she acquires. She forms her own opinions about the subjects of the day, and never hesitates to express them in clear, concise terms.
Her remarkable resource in conversation is notably in evidence at her Saturday afternoon receptions during the session of Parliament. Her drawing room is then filled with an ever changing flow of visitors from 3 o'clock until dinner time Yet not one of them fails to receive a warm clasp of the hand, a bright, appropriate greeting and tho impression that the hostess is quite as glad to see them as if they were the only callers. With a dozen in the room at once, the most of them utter strangers to each other. Lady Macdonald will contrive to keep the ball of talk rolling so merrily that all feel that they have a share in the conversation.
The wife of the premier is a frequent attendant at the sittings of parliament, the best seat in the speaker's gallery being always reserved for her, and no important debate takes place that she does not follow it to the final vote, though the daylight may be dimming the electric lights. Her devotion to her husband knows no limitations, and whether his fate be to stand or fall her place must be not far from his side.
Lady Macdonald is a strong churchwoman and an active adherent of St. Alban's, the only Anglican church in Ottawa with "high" proclivities. Yet nothing is further from her nature than bigotry or supercilious antagonism to dissent. In company with Sir John she may from time to time be found worshipping with the Dominion Methodist, or St. Andrew's Presbyterian congregation, and two years ago they were both regular attendants upon a series of revival services.
To the full extent of her time and ability she co-operates in all religious and philanthropic enterprises and associations that commend themselves to her approval. Neither does she hold aloof from balls, dinners, receptions and other fatiguing features of social life at the Canadian capital, nor disdain to take a lively personal interest in the fascinating subject of dress. Here her southern nature asserts itself in a preference for effective colors and striking combinations, which her dark complexion and stately figure enables her to carry well.
Lady Macdonald's home is peculiarly well situated on a point jutting out into the Ottawa river, where it commands enchanting views of the parliament buildings crowning their tree clad eminence; of the valley of the Ottawa, extending eastward and westward, with the grand river speeding swiftly through its centre, and of the Laurent!an mountains, lifting their smooth shoulders to close in tho northern horizon. All this may be seen from the windows of her boudoir, a lovely bright room, furnished with desk, book shelves, tables, easy chairs, sofa, pictures and other pleasant accessories, where much hard work is done by its occupant. "Earnscliffe," if not precisely an imposing edifice, is, at all events, an exceedingly comfortable one, and is competently, if not luxuriously furnished. Tho everyday life of the household is somewhat after the French fashion; a cup of chocolate before rising, breakfast at 11 and dinner at 7, this arrangement being found most convenient for the Premier. The guest chambers are rarely unoccupied, Lady Macdonald delighting in a cheery home, the hum of happy voices. She has only one child, a daughter, whose precarious state of health has unhappily precluded her from being aught but a constant care to her mother.
The part that Lady Macdonald plays in her husband's life is not to be set forth in a few words. All that Lady Beaconsfield was to the Conservative premier of England, Lady Macdonald has been, and is, to the Conservative premier of Canada, who, singular enough bears a striking likeness to Disraeli. She enjoys his fullest confidence. If any on earth knows his mind, it is she. Their understanding of each other is complete and their matrimonial felicity unruffled.
How much Canada owes to Lady Macdonald for the help she has given her greatest statesman only the Premier himself can fitly estimate._