Duncombe Rebellion 1837 opens to rave reviews

I was mortified when I failed Grade 12 history but not surprised, given the class boredom and dull curriculum.  Like most people, I need to connect emotionally to the story.  The rebellion of 1837?  I vaguely remember an uprising on Yonge Street led by Mackenzie King’s grandfather. It all went wrong.   A tavern figured in the story so one presumes that drunkenness or hangovers were involved.

I am not the only one surprised that there is much more to the story.  A new play, Duncombe Rebellion 1837, opened to rave reviews when it premiered at Fanshawe Village during the long weekend. The cast of 14 is playing to enthusiastic audiences, standing ovations and much praise.

This isn’t a Toronto story.  This is our story.  It is a rural story about farmers getting mad enough at the government to take up arms.  In 1837, farming communities complained about the Family Compact, a group who controlled the government through the Executive Council and Legislative Council.   They controlled a lame duck Lieutenant Governor, leaving the popularly elected Legislative Assembly with little power.

Some of the Family Compact members were pretty sleazy, even in the eyes of their own circle. Colonel Thomas Talbot (the guy who welcomed my Pearce ancestors to Port Talbot in 1809) was one.  He helped ensure his conservative friends held the important positions in the colony.

Dr. Charles Duncombe (1791-1867), a prominent physician and politician, led the militant reform movement in the London District. He rallied the local “Patriots” at the settlement of Scotland, planning to move against Brantford and Hamilton and join forces with William Lyon Mackenzie. On Dec. 13, 1837 a delayed message was received of Mackenzie’s defeat at Montgomery’s Tavern. Colonel Allan MacNab was moving fast towards the rebels with a strong Loyalist force. Disheartened, Duncombe’s followers dispersed into the night and Duncombe fled to the United States.

Marion Johnson’s play tells the story about what went on behind the scenes. Al Leitch, who plays a Loyalist militiaman, spoke in Wardsville recently, “Who knew about this story and these families?  The Tildens, Doans, Shenicks, Duncombes.  The ancestors of these men are going to be thrilled with this play.”

I hate to give the story away but it was hard not to tear up as the handsome young Quaker, Joshua Doan, says goodbye to his wife Francie before going to the London gallows.  He must have been a passionate man because Quakers are pacifist in religious belief. They preferred to be and let be. Descendent of Joshua, Carolyn Cameron says her Mother always said she had the Doan temper.

“The play was excellent,” says Ms. Cameron. “The story was pretty accurate.  The family story goes that a pardon for Joshua came a day later.  Suspiciously convenient.”

Wardsville’s hospitality goes back 200 years, so Wardsvillians will be amused to see their village’s welcoming nature and tolerance show up in the plot.

Tilden descendents will see the story which they have passed down through generations on the stage.   Wendy Tilden Quick writes on the web that her Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Goodrich Tilden helped Duncombe escape Canada and his son inherited 200 acres belonging to the doctor in Komoka, Ontario. It operated as a wooden pump factory for many years. C.G.Tilden was later imprisoned in London, Ontario for his involvement in the doctor’s escape. He was later released because he took ill with jail fever and his wife pleaded the jailer for his release.

The premiere was at Fanshawe Pioneer Village to celebrate their 50th anniversary Victoria Day weekend; Sparta on Saturday June 6; Lexington, Michigan, June 13; and Wardsville on Saturday, June 20 2009.   Go towww.duncombedays.ca for more info. Phone 519 693-9936 for information about tickets remaining for Wardsville performances.


Play review by Mary Simpson

Sent to papers Sunday, May 24, 2009


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