Future lawyer and Law Society Treasurer D'Alton Lally McCarthy accompanied his parents on a voyage to England in the summer of 1885. Then 14 years old and a student at Port Hope's Trinity College School, Lally wrote a series of letters home to his cousin Leighton. These letters survive in the Law Society's archival collection and portray an enthusiastic and intelligent boy's response to the tourist attractions of Victorian London.
After being in London a few days, Lally wrote to his cousin on the 10th of July that "every thing round us is dirty and black although it is a tremendous place. We arrived here on Monday night and went to a very swell place for dinner." The boy was astounded at the stylish clothing the restaurant's clientele wore, "and this I soon learnt was the usual way the gentlemen and ladies dressed in the evenings." The family toured the city by Underground Railway and on at least one occasion rode "on top of an omnibus ... you can see all round you and it is so crowded that you imagine that you are going to bump into something every minute."
Among the attractions the McCarthy family visited was the famed Crystal Palace where they saw "a splendid dog show" and a display of imperialist pride, a panorama of the battle of Tel Al-Kabir (at which the British had defeated rebel Egyptian forces three years earlier), where they stood on a stand in the middle of the Egyptian trenches "and the English coming in all round and the dead lying all round some in pools of blood and you couldn't believe it was painted." After dinner that evening they saw "splendid" tight-rope walking, followed by a display of fireworks that impressed the young McCarthy immensely: "These large grounds were lit up with them and they had the siege of Dover and a sea fight between English torpedo boats and foreign gun boats ... you can hardly imagine how they can make any thing so lovely out of fire works."
The McCarthys went to the theatre (Lally declared the famous Mrs. Kendal "the best actress in England") and attended cricket and tennis matches. Lally and his father toured the National Gallery "but I don't care for paintings much and I don't think Father does so after going through about 3 rooms of the business we left and went home and I tell you I was pretty tired." Lally was apparently more keen on horses and guns than art. He told his cousin "the thing I like best to see is the household Guards," and described in great detail the horses and uniforms of these splendid specimens. After visiting the International Inventions Exhibition, he listed the many types of guns he had seen, inventions apparently meaning little to him apart from their militaristic use.
Lally declared Hyde Park "the prettiest park you could see or imagine," describing the evening fashionable traffic of carriages, horses and footmen, "as gay a sight as any place in London." At Madame Tussaud's waxworks, "we saw ... all the Kings of England from William the Conquerer to Queen Victoria" and in the Chamber of Horrors, "every dirty old murderer" dressed in the clothes they were tried in. He sat in Napoleon's carriage "just so I can say that I have been in Louis Napoleon's carriage."
Despite the wonders of Victorian London, Lally wrote: "I don't like England[;] you have to be stylish and that don't suit me at all." He complained of being covered in bites "there are so many flees and bed buggs [sic] round London." After a trip to Brighton to visit relatives, Lally and his father left for Canada by ship around the end of July.
Both Lally and Leighton McCarthy went on to have long and distinguished careers as members of the Ontario Bar, associated with the firm that still bears the family name. Lally served as Treasurer of The Law Society of Upper Canada from 1939 to 1944. He died in September 1963 at the age of 92.
Note on Sources: The letters quoted in this time capsule are housed in the Law Society of Upper Canada's archival collection, "Correspondence between D.L. McCarthy and his cousin, Leighton McCarthy," 994001SF1-1-1. Photographs of McCarthy are also from the archival collection.
To visit a Web site that provides documents, photographs and other kinds of information on social life in Victorian London, click here .