A look back at the "Poet of Blyth" - Karen Webster editorial
“The train is coming ‘round the bend
To take you to your journey’s end”
These are words that would ring out when drayman Richard Sellars heard the train coming from Londesborough, sounding its whistle at the boundary of Blyth.
Sellars operated a dray, which was a flat, open-sided wagon pulled by a horse and he would meet incoming trains to haul freight. In addition to this, he was often referred to as the “Poet of Blyth” for his quirky ability to put rhyme into ordinary speech.
The London Advertiser of 1882 had this to say about Sellars as he was commonly known: “Mr. Sellars is as happy as the day is long. Everywhere he goes, in and out among commercial men, wheat buyers, reeves, councilmen, he has a complete verse ready for every case. He rarely greets an old acquaintance in prose, as he has any amount of poetry at his command. A few evenings ago, seeing a London gentleman coming off the train, he sang out ‘Good day Mr. Case, You’ve got back to this place.’ ”
William Richard Sellars was born in Yorkshire, England to Richard and Maria Sellars on May 11, 1849. Not long after the Sellars family emigrated to North America, both parents died of a fever and young Richard was then raised by an uncle who lived in Cedar Rapids, Pennsylvania.
In November of 1860, Richard and his uncle moved to Exeter, Ontario. In 1873, Richard arrived in Blyth. He married Christiana England Coulter, the daughter of William and Mary Jane England Coulter, in Mitchell, Ontario on May 4, 1876. The groom was 26 and his bride, 18. Their home in Blyth was located on the southwest corner of Dinsley and Morris Streets and here were born five sons, Albert, Wesley, David, Russell and Whitfield.
Thus Richard was living in Blyth when the railway first located there and he soon built up a thriving business, transporting goods and passengers back and forth between the train station, located on the south side of Dinsley Street at the eastern limits of Blyth, and downtown. Several times a day, the familiar sound on Queen Street in front of the hotels was Richard calling out “All aboard for the train going north – Wingham, Lucknow and Kincardine” or “All aboard for the train going south – Clinton, Exeter and London”.
Blyth’s first railway came as the result of a determined reeve and sawmill operator named Patrick Kelly. Kelly also ran a sash and door company and was interested in a rail line to carry his goods to the large markets to the south. Construction of the London, Huron and Bruce Railway (LH&B) commenced in the spring of 1875. Many local citizens travelled by train to the grand opening in London in January of 1876. The LH&B had nicknames: one, the “Butter and Eggs Special”, was coined because of the farm passengers who would board the train with their crates of eggs, crocks of butter and bushels of garden produce to be sold at London’s Covent Gardens; the other name, “Let her Hit and Miss”, was in reference to the hard seats and rough rail bed that the train passed over. Early trains travelled at a rate of about 15 miles per hour, unacceptable by today’s standards but certainly faster than any other mode of travel at the time.
By 1893, the LH&B and 14 other railways amalgamated under the name “The Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada”. Later, the line was absorbed into the Canadian National Railway. Service from this rail line would continue until 1941 when the track was torn up between Wingham and Clinton to be used in the war effort.
In addition to his transportation service, Richard, the entrepreneur, was noted as a carpenter and he also performed the task of grave digger. He must have had a green thumb because he frequently reported to the local newspapers about his tomatoes which weighed a pound each, pumpkins that vied for being the largest at Blyth’s Exhibition Park and oats that yielded 17 bushels from the planting of one peck of seed.
This colourful character was also a poet, penning over 50 hymns. A Christian Hymn Book by R. Sellars was printed by J T Mitchell, Blyth and was sold for 10 cents a copy.
One of his most ambitious literary works, printed by Free Press Printing Company of London, Ontario, was a 50-verse poem called “The Biddulph Murder” about the massacre of the Donnelly clan near Lucan in 1880. It starts out:
“Of all the crimes that sin has done
To fill our world with pain,
That fearful murder in Biddulph
Its horrors can’t explain.
There was a family lived down there,
Who were the township’s dread,
Now, through the hands of cruelty,
Are numbered with the dead”.
It seems as though the people round
Of Donnellys were afraid.
So to rid them of the earth,
This fearful murder made.”
Richard Sellars continued his work as drayman until a week before his passing. Blyth’s poet died on Aug. 27, 1911 in Blyth. His obituary in the Huron Expositor stated that “It will be hard to get another man who will be so obliging and careful to take his place.”
Information from the research of the late Janis Vodden, Stories and Memories of the London, Huron and Bruce Railway by Calvin Patrick as well as the resources of the Blyth Repository of History, which is located at 405 Queen Street, Blyth.