SHAW, EMILY ELIZABETH (Beavan), teacher and author; b. likely in Belfast, daughter of Samuel Shaw; fl. 1838–45.
Emily Elizabeth Shaw’s father was a sea captain who in his brig Amaryllis made numerous voyages between Belfast and Saint John, N.B. Emily went to New Brunswick around 1836, in all probability to stay with relatives; her name appears in school records as a student and later as a teacher. On 19 June 1838 she married Frederick William Cadwallader Beavan, who is listed in the New-Brunswick almanack of that year as surgeon to the Queens County militia. He also appears in school records as a teacher. After marriage, the couple lived at English Settlement, near Long Creek, in Queens County.
While there, Mrs Beavan contributed six tales and four poems to Robert Shives*’s Amaranth (Saint John, 1841–43), the first magazine in New Brunswick to devote the bulk of its pages to literary materials. The value of her contributions is minimal. In poetry she was an enthusiastic follower of Felicia Dorothea Hemans, and in fiction her stories oscillated between the sensationalism of John Richardson*, the author of Wacousta (1832), and the florid sentimentality of her idol, Professor John Wilson (“Christopher North” of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine). In 1843 the Beavans left New Brunswick for Ireland, and in 1845 the firm of George Routledge in London published the book which is her sole claim to remembrance, Sketches and tales illustrative of life in the backwoods of New Brunswick, North America, gleaned from actual observation and experience during a residence of seven years in that interesting colony.
Intended as a handbook to give prospective settlers pertinent information with respect to the conditions and flavour of life in the settlements of early New Brunswick, Sketches and tales succeeds in that purpose far better than do its more widely acclaimed Nova Scotian and Upper Canadian counterparts, Thomas Chandler Haliburton*’s The old judge (1849) and Susanna Strickland* Moodie’s Roughing it in the bush (1852). Not only is information presented more systematically and objectively in Mrs Beavan’s book, but it covers a much wider range of settlement life, extending to such areas as education, religion, the details of farming and lumbering operations and the reasons why they are so conducted, the significance of the timber trade, the consequences of the imposition of copyright regulations in British North America, the effect of the frontier upon speech patterns and of the climate upon women’s skins.
Nor is the book lacking in imagination. Mrs Beavan demonstrated a real talent in establishing an imaginative and novel framework in which to set her factual material, and the enthusiasm with which she describes nature, and men’s and women’s attempts to conquer or come to terms with it, must have been contagious to contemporary readers. She is weakest when she attempts to be literary. In such instances her lofty style is not supported by consistency of grammar, and her tales and sketches (with the single exception of a racy eyewitness account of the great fire on the Miramichi in 1825, related in excellent dialect) are poor examples of the genres from which they have been derived by imitation. For all that, Sketches and tales remains the best and liveliest account of life in the New Brunswick of the first half of the 19th century and as such is not only delightful in its own right but extremely useful to the student of history, education, agriculture, religion, and sociology as well.
UNBL, Marjorie Jardine Thompson, biog. notes on Mrs Beavan, 29 April 1975. Early marriage records of New Brunswick: Saint John City and County from the British conquest to 1839, ed. B. Wood-Holt (Saint John, 1986). N.-B. almanack, 1838. Jonas Howe, “The Amaranth,” Acadiensis (Saint John), 2 (1902): 198–206.