ESTERHÁZY, PÁL OSZKÁR (Paul Oscar) (born Johannes Baptista Vintetius Packh, commonly known as János Packh; in North America he signed Paul O. d’Esterházy), immigration agent; b. 30 Sept. 1831 in Esztergom (Hungary), son of Johannes Baptista Packh and Maria Krotky; m. first May 1852 Catherine Verran in London, England, and they had a son and a daughter; m. secondly 1867 Emily Prendeville (d. 1868) in Hungary, and they had a son; m. thirdly 25 Dec. 1871 Anna Brady in New York City, and they had at least six children; d. 3 Oct. 1912 in New York City.
An air of mystery surrounds Pál Oszkár Esterházy’s early life. Rumoured at his birth to be the son of Count Nicholas Esterházy, János Packh adopted the name Esterházy in 1867. He insisted thereafter that he was a son of the count, and his claim was accepted by some Austrian and Hungarian authorities although not by the Esterházy family itself.
The mystery does not end there. Both Esterházy’s parents were members of distinguished families, and his father was a well-known architect whose buildings included the Esztergom basilica. When János was eight years old, his father was murdered; the man arrested for the crime implicated János’s mother, and she spent a year in jail before the accused changed his story and cleared her of any involvement. In the midst of these events, János first lived with his father’s relatives in Vienna and later was educated in Esztergom by an uncle, a high-ranking Roman Catholic priest.
Esterházy served in the Hungarian army during the revolution of 1848–49 and, after Austria’s suppression of the uprising, he joined the large contingent of Hungarian refugees in Turkey. In 1850 he moved to London, where he married. Obtaining a commission as lieutenant in the British German Legion in 1856, he saw service in South Africa and India before becoming paymaster (with the rank of captain) to the 5th West India Regiment in 1863. Three years later, while serving as paymaster to the 3rd West India Regiment in the Bahamas, he was dismissed from the army, evidently because he had absented himself without leave in order to pursue a romantic affair with the woman who was to become his second wife.
After leaving the West Indies, Esterházy first returned to Hungary and then, in 1868, moved to the United States, where he obtained employment as a federal immigration officer in New York City. He was forced to leave this job in 1870 because of a newly passed federal law declaring that only American citizens could be government employees. From then until 1885 he worked in the insurance business and subsequently for a mining company. During his years in the United States he travelled widely and published articles on his journeys under the name of Paul Sarlay. In New York City he was active in the establishment of the First Hungarian Presbyterian Church, the Hungarian-language newspaper Amerikai Nemzetőr [American National Guard], and the First Hungarian-American Colonization Company.
Esterházy’s involvement with Canada began in 1885 when the Canadian Pacific Railway invited him to assist in the relocation, from the United States to western Canada, of immigrants from Austria-Hungary. That same year, after several meetings with officials in Ottawa, he began his activities as an immigration agent in the employ both of the government and of the CPR. Along with an associate, Géza Dőry, he travelled to Winnipeg and then, following parliament’s approval of his plans to settle Hungarians in designated areas, he started organizing the immigration to what he hoped would become a “New Hungary.” Operating from Pittsburgh, he established the Hungarian Immigration and Colonization Aid Society. This body aimed to recruit from among the Hungarian miners of Pennsylvania and, eventually, the Hungarian peasant farmers of Austria-Hungary itself. The first families left Pennsylvania for Canada in the summer of 1885 and established a settlement near Minnedosa, Man., at a place that later became known as Huns Valley. The following year an additional group of immigrants established a second settlement, which was soon called Esterhaz (later Esterhazy), in the Qu’Appelle valley of the North-West Territories. It proved to be the more successful of the two.
In 1887 Esterházy’s salary as an immigration agent was discontinued and his own land in Manitoba was expropriated because he had failed to cultivate it. He apparently did not live in western Canada for any length of time; however, he continued to organize immigration to his colony in the territories, and the colonists themselves – impressed, as others were, by his aristocratic bearing and facility with languages – called on him whenever they needed assistance in their dealings with government. From 1890 to 1895 he was involved in the settlement of Hungarian immigrants in various parts of the United States. He lived in New York City from 1896 to 1902, when he persuaded the Canadian government to accept another of his proposals. This time his mission was to travel to the North-West Territories and, with the object of promoting further Hungarian immigration to the prairies, write a pamphlet in English and Hungarian describing his settlement.
Esterházy arrived in the west on 9 July and left on the 20th. His pamphlet was published later in the year – 10,000 copies were printed in English and 25,000 in Hungarian – and it also appeared in the Winnipeg Nor’-West Farmer. Esterházy had contributed only a few pages; the rest consisted of statements by individual settlers and photographs of their houses. Though he had little patience with the west’s “d... mosquitoes,” Esterházy praised the region as an ideal home for Hungarian immigrants. “Here a free, industrious people,” he wrote, “will find a happy, prosperous existence, and agriculture, so long baffled by the stubbornness of other soils and climes, will reach perfection.”
In spite of earlier promises, Esterházy did not obtain further employment with the Canadian government, though he continued to serve as an immigration agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway until 1904. He returned to New York, where he lived in ill health and straitened financial circumstances until his death in 1912.
Huns Valley did not endure as a Hungarian settlement, but Esterházy did, and over time it acted as the nucleus from which Hungarian communities spread to other parts of Saskatchewan. Its inhabitants, who numbered 900 by 1902, were exemplary farmers; according to Esterházy’s pamphlet, the settlement then had 14,000 acres under cultivation, possessed 2,500 cattle and 1,200 hogs, and in 1901 had produced 200,000 bushels of cereal crops. The settlers even imported a partridge species, which today is called the Hungarian partridge.
Before World War I Saskatchewan was popularly known as Canada’s “Little Hungary.” That appellation was partly a tribute to Esterházy’s colonization efforts.
Esterházy’s “Report on Hungarian colonization” appears in the report of the minister of agriculture for 1885 in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1886, no.10: 117–26, and his pamphlet The Hungarian colony of Esterhaz, Assiniboia, North-West Territories, Canada . . . (Ottawa, 1902) is reproduced in M. L. Kovacs, Esterhazy and early Hungarian immigration to Canada; a study based upon the Esterhazy immigration pamphlet (Regina, 1974). Correspondence by and relating to Esterházy can be found in the records of the federal departments of Agriculture (NA, RG 17) and the Interior (NA, RG 15), 1885–1902.
G. [V.] Dojcsák, A kanadai Esterházy története [The history of the Canadian Esterhazy] (Budapest, 1981); “The mysterious Count Esterhazy,” Sask. Hist., 26 (1973): 63–72. N. F. Dreisziger et al., Struggle and hope: the Hungarian-Canadian experience (Toronto, 1982). Bakó Ferenc, Kanadai magyarok [Canadian Hungarians] (Budapest, 1988). M. L. Kovacs, “From industries to farming,” Hungarian Studies Rev. (Ottawa), 8 (1981): 45–60; “Hungarian communities in early Alberta and Saskatchewan,” in The new provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905–1980; 12th Western Studies Conference, ed. Howard Palmer and Donald Smith (Vancouver, 1980), 101–30. Magyarország vármegyéi és városai, Magyarország monográfiája . . . [The counties and cities of Hungary, a monograph of Hungary . . .], ed. Samu Borovszky et al. (21v. in 23 pts., Budapest, 1894–), 5: 169. Jenő Ruzsa, A kanadai magyarság története [A history of Hungarian Canadians] (Toronto, 1940). D. E. Willmott, “Ethnic solidarity in the Esterhazy area, 1882–1940,” in Ethnic Canadians: culture and education, ed. M. L. Kovacs (Regina, 1978), 167–76.
Bibliography for the revised version:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “New York births and christenings, 1640–1962”: www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:HQTB-PXPZ (consulted 4 May 2021); “United States census, 1880”: www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZXC-W7V (consulted 4 May 2021). New York Times, 16 July 1936.