There was a class of workers in nineteenth century Hamilton whose occupation made them highly visible to the community at large. These workers were called carters, or draymen, whose small, heavy wagons were available for hire to transport materials of any kind.
These men, often laughingly referred to as “Knights of the Wagon,” generally made their "headquarters" on an open lot on the north side of Main street, between John and Hughson streets.
A Spectator reporter was assigned the task to visit the carters’ stand and write about the culture of those well-known local characters.
“They are an odd lot of snaps, those carters,” he later wrote, “and the square in front of the court house is sometimes the scene of some very amusing incidents and practical jokes.”
When business was slow, the carters were known to get involved in animated parliamentary discussions of the burning issues of the day. The discussions usually began in a relatively calm manner, but, on occasion, could end up with fists flying.
On Wednesday January 12, 1881, the young man from the Spectator made his appearance at the carters’ stand, and the following Saturday, his observations were printed in the newspaper, in a column with a headline which read “The Carters’ Parliament : Discussing the Affairs of the World on the Stand.”
Bould Doolin, a carter from the Corktown neighbourhood was the main speaker on the day of the Spectator man’s visit, his subject as usual, being the Irish Question.
“Now, see here, me byes,” he said, I want yes to understand I’ve thravelled all over the United States and had my residence for six weeks an’ a day in New York city, an’ I’ve got this Irish biz down fine. What thim countrymin of mine need is fur to have a fair show, an’no favour, an’ a chance fur to pay fur what land they’ve got. But while them miserable thieves an’ rubbers av English landlords kin-“
“Come off, Doolin!” interrupted another carter loudly, “you’re off your base.”
“Ah sure, and I’m tellin’ the truth, so I am” responded Doolin, “what did Jimmy Redpath say the other day in New York, eh? Did yez read that me bye? An’ thin they talk about sendin’ missionaries to Africa. Bedad, they’d do betther and kape their money at home an’ send it to the poor Irishmen they’ve starved out.”
“Put your name right off,” suggested Jimmy Brick, a carter from the west end.
The carters’ stand was often the site of peculiar incidents, such as the one involving the “amorous lady.”
While the carters were well into a game of craps beside their wagons, a well-dressed lady came walking along the street and invited herself into the game, shouting “knuckle down” and “fun evens” with the best of them.
She then engaged a couple of the carters in conversation and, within five minutes, had proposed to one of them. Demanding an immediate acceptance of her proposal because she was about to leave for Manitoba the following morning, the lady was visibly disappointed to learn that the object of her affections was already married.
However, the lady tried again, turning her attention to Martin Behan “who she saluted and hailed with several pet names.
By this time, a crowd of draymen and passersby had gathered to observe the lady’s advances towards the somewhat embarrassed Martin Behan.
One of Behan’s fellow carters loudly offered to give the lady ten cents if she would give Martin a kiss. As described by the Spectator reporter, “nothing loath, she consented, and made a grab for Martin. That gentleman, however, had concluded he did not want anymore osculatory exercise just then and ran away.”
What followed was a ludicrous chase down Main street, “Martin ran for dear life, up and down the street, over and under the carters’ wagons, his coat tails streaming in the wind, and close behind him was the amorous female, who was terribly in earnest and bound to win the ten cents or kill herself in the attempt.”
The gathered crowd was convulsed with laughter, and even the second storey windows of buildings in the vicinity were filled with amused spectators observing poor Martin’s discomfiture.
Finally, Martin made his escape. The lady, who the Spectator reporter suspected “was a trifle in liquor,” ended her chase and went on her way without the ten cents.
Just another day in the carters’ stand!