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Nomades of the West; or, Ellen Clayton, Douglass S. Huyghue

Douglass Smith Huyghue

Douglass Smith Huyghue (poet, author, civil servant, journalist, and artist) was born on 23 April 1816 in Charlottetown, PEI, and was named in honour of the province’s governor, Charles Douglas Smith. Huyghue’s parents, Lt. Samuel Huyghue (of the British Army), and Isabel Clarke Totten, were lower class citizens. By 25 October 1817 his family had relocated to Saint John, New Brunswick (Parker). At this point Samuel was a half-pay officer.

Huyghue was educated at the Saint John Grammar School, though much of his early life is now lost to history. By 1840 he was living in Halifax and had written some early poems. Identifying himself as “Eugene,” Huyghue was submitting his work to the Halifax Morning Post & Parliamentary Reporter (Davies 175). Between October 1841 and January 1843 he was living again in Saint John.

It was then that Huyghue’s career began to receive more recognition. He started submitting short fiction to the Amaranth, a literary periodical in the city. His first novel was called Argimou: A Legend of the Micmac, which was serialized in the Amaranth between May and September 1842 (Boone). Argimou was the first Canadian novel about the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians. It also took up the cause of Native culture, claiming that many of the European settlers were the sole cause of the problems Aboriginal peoples faced. The novel was popular and was republished as a book in Halifax in 1847, then again in serial form in the Saint John Albion in 1859-60 (Parker).

The book, one critic wrote, is “an impassioned novel of conscience exploring the disintegration of Micmac culture under the influence of European settlement” (Boone).

Huyghue wrote under a predominantly romantic influence but attempted to portray Native peoples realistically in his work. The following will illustrate both that larger romance and the more finite historical detail:

Argimou, the first time he beheld
the maiden, was struck with her exceeding loveliness, and secretly
resolved to devote his energies to the possession of her affections,
but he was prompted by as pure and deep a passion as ever sprung
within the breast of a man…
Argimou made a deep vow that his Flower should never
be sent to wither in the country of the Penobscot, and he
only awaited a favourable opportunity to fan the spark of
animosity which he well knew only shouldered in the bosoms of
the Milicete and his own nation; ever ready to burst the temporary
restraint which policy had enjoined: their confederacy with the
French alone preventing it from raging with all the malignancy
and stern unsparing hostility that characterizes an Indian feud. (Huyghue 16)

Around this time Huyghue also wrote a poem entitled “The Guardian Spirit.” The poem appeared in the Amaranth and was an imagined treatment of what the Acadians experienced in 1755:

Yon warning star doth sink
Westward, tremulous and low, and a voice
You cannot hear, is calling me away;
The war-horse neighs… carnage doth sit afar
And roll his blood-shot eyes expectant of
The coming fight… I must not guard thee there,
A higher power than mine decrees thy fate…
Awake, my Leone, to thy last red field…
Thy country calls: go forth in hope and faith,
And I will light an altar in the sky,
That we may consecrate anew our vows
Ere set of sun;… 'til then, dear love… farewell! (“The Guardian Spirit” 149)

The poem captures the sense of settlement and love, while also registering the horrors of an invading force. As well, his style is on full display, reflecting his interest in “romantic primitivism” and the “celebration of natural man” (Davies 175). Whatever category his works occupy, their reception proved to be useful for Huyghue’s personal career, since they caught the attention of New Brunswick’s Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Moses Henry Perley in the 1840s.

Perley wanted Huyghue to work for him because he also sympathised with the Native people.My First Winter in the Woods of Canada” shows clearly what caught Perley’s eye. Huyghue realized that many of the province’s Aboriginal peoples were unaware that they were losing their rights to land: “I could not avoid being struck with the marked difference between the quiet and dignified demeanor of the Indians, and that of the Canadians, whom we had seen so much of hitherto. It was strange to think that the latter were now in possession of what once belonged solely to them; for there was not an individual quality, either of the outward or inward man, that seemed to give priority to the European, or justify his claim to what the other had held as a direct birthright from his Maker” (156). Although Huyghue’s writing had romantic elements, then, his work was also associated with a kind of  realism that begged for public attention and political action. It is in this intersection of popular appeal and political awareness that his importance lies.

Huyghue was appointed in 1843 to the Boundary Commission surveying the line separating New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine. He set up a winter supply camp at a lake called Isheganelshegek and began interactions with the Native people on the headwaters of the Saint John River (Davies 175). He wrote four essays about that experience and about his fondness for the Canadian wilderness. By 1845 he had completed his term on the Boundary Commission and left for London (Davies 176).

It was in London that he published Nomades of the West; or Ellen Clayton. The work came out in Bentley’s Miscellany around 1850 (Parker). It was a cry for help for the natives of Canada and an evocation of their unique cultures. A review in the Morning Post in London found the novel to be interesting and especially “vivid” (qtd. in Davies 176). Because it was not a success like Argimou, however, Huyghue was forced to leave London, sailing  to Australia on the Lady Peel in 1852. He docked in Melbourne, where he began working full time for the civil service (Davies 176).

In August of 1853 Huyghue was appointed clerk in the Office of Mines in the Ballarat goldfields. There he was a witness to the 1854 Eureka Stockade Rebellion in the Barra deposit, documenting what he saw through painting (Davies 176). Huyghue remained in Australia, moving between Ballarat and Graytown in civil service posts. He went to Melbourne in 1876 to obtain a job in the Department of Mines, only to retire two years later. Douglass Smith Huyghue passed away at the age of seventy-five in Melbourne on 24 July 1891.

Mark Lyons, Winter 2012
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of primary sources

Huyghue, Douglass S. Argimou: A Legend of the Micmac. Halifax: Courier, 1847.

---. “Forest Incidents – Recollections of Canada.” Bentley’s Miscellany (1850): 472–77.

---. “The Guardian Spirit.” The Amaranth  (May 1842): 148–49.

---. “My First Winter in the Woods of Canada.” Bentley’s Miscellany (1850): 152–60.

---. Nomades of the West; or, Ellen Clayton. London: Bentley, 1850.

---. “Recollections of Canada. The Scenery of the Ottawa.” Bentley’s Miscellany (1849): 489-97.

---. “A Winter’s Journey.” Bentley’s Miscellany (1849): 630–38.


Boone, Laurel. "Maritimes, Writing in the." Oxford Reference. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press,. n.d. 17 Nov. 2012.<http://www.

Davies, Gwendolyn. “Douglass Smith Huyghue.” Canadian Writers Before 1890. Ed. W.H. New. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. 175–76.

---. “Huyghue, Samuel Douglass Smith.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 4 Ooctober 2012. web.      

Parker, George L. “Huyghue, Douglass S., 1816-1891.” Literature Online Biography. Literature Online, 2003. 2 October 2012. <http://
ueryId=../session/1354216309_8694&trailId=13AB3163B3D&area=r ef&forward=critref_ft>.