BROWNE, FRANCES (Stewart), pioneer; b. in Dublin, Ireland, 24 May 1794, daughter of Francis Browne and Anna Maria Noble; m. Thomas Alexander Stewart; d. 24 Feb. 1872, near Peterborough, Ont.
Francis Browne, the son of a Church of England clergyman, was himself dean of Elphin, Roscommon County, when he died in 1796. His wife was paralysed at about the same time and Frances was then adopted by a great-uncle. In 1800 she went to live with another great-uncle, Dr Daniel Augustus Beaufort, rector of Collon in Louth County, and was privately educated by the rector’s daughter. Although they were never published, Frances’ father had written books and Dr Beaufort, one of the founders of the Royal Irish Academy, was a man of literary tastes.
On 17 Dec. 1816 Frances married Thomas Alexander Stewart of Wilmont, County Antrim. In the six years in which the Stewarts lived in Ireland three of their 11 children were born. After the failure of the manufacturing firm in which Thomas Stewart and Robert Reid, who had married Stewart’s sister, were junior partners, the two men decided to emigrate to Upper Canada with what small capital they had. In August 1822 they arrived at York (Toronto), welcomed by the former adjutant-general, Colonel C. L. L. Foster*, who was connected by marriage with Frances Stewart. Receiving large grants of land (1,200 acres for the Stewarts), the two families set out for Douro Township in Peterborough County.
The Stewarts’ house, Auburn, was built on the Otonabee River, a short distance northeast of the present town of Peterborough. The Reids were their only neighbours until 1825, when they welcomed Peter Robinson*’s Irish immigrants and gladly released their claim to control of settlement in the whole township. The story of the Stewarts is typical of those of middle-class families, who, with limited capital, migrated to Upper Canada in the 1820s and 1830s in the hope of improving their economic positions, and who faced – in this case with goodwill – rather more problems than they had anticipated. Like many of her contemporaries, Mrs Stewart described for her friends at home the life on a pioneer farm, a life completely different from theirs. Some of her letters were later published under the characteristic title of Our forest home; although unskilfully edited, the book is one of the best in the long list of accounts by immigrants and travellers.
True to her ancestry and to her environment in Ireland, Frances Stewart was deeply religious and of cultivated tastes. The first trait enabled her to face hardships and sorrows with resignation if not equanimity. In the early years her life in Canada was a lonely one, with all too little chance, as she remarked, of rest for mind and body, and her husband, a justice of the peace and a member of the Legislative Council, died young in 1847. She received books from friends in Ireland and treasured a piano which had survived a fall through the ice.
In her later years Frances Stewart spent some time in another family house, Goodwood, but always returned to her own Auburn, though leaving the management of the farm to a son. In the 1860s the property, because of mismanagement, failed as a strong economic base for a large family. Mentally undefeated, Frances Stewart continued to write her engaging letters and to follow the lives of children and grandchildren until her death in 1872.
[Frances Stewart], Our forest home, being extracts from the correspondence of the late Frances Stewart, ed. E. S. Dunlop (Toronto, 1889; 2nd ed., Montreal, 1902). Valley of the Trent (Guillet). G. H. Needler, Otonabee pioneers, the story of the Stewarts, the Stricklands, the Traills and the Moodies (Toronto, 1953).