As “All Hallowed Eve” fast approaches and the veil that separates the living from the dead becomes ever more transparent, the time for the telling of ghostly tales and strange happenings is now. : )
In ancient pagan or Celtic belief, this is a time to honour the souls of long dead ancestors and part of the celebrations of the great feast called Samhain. I really like this idea and whether I be right or wrong, I have the feeling that getting dressed up in the clothing of our fore-fathers and mothers, and going out for dinner at a grand historical site like The Blomidon Inn, seems like a pretty nice way of doing a similar sort of thing. We also honour our ancestors.
Ah well, back to the matter at hand and the reason for this post. Sit back my friends, put up your feet, take a drink and lend an ear, for I have a tale to tell.
Toward the end of September of this year, on a beautiful early fall day, and on the way home from a trip into the city, my husband and I decided to stop into a place that I’ve long wanted to visit. This is the Mt. Uniacke Estate Museum in Mt Uniacke, NS. It is a fairly short, approximate thirty “mile” drive from Halifax down the 101 Hwy towards the Annapolis Valley. It’s really a simple sign follower. My initial reason for wanting to visit this house was because I had read that it was haunted and if there’s one thing I love even more than a historical yarn, well, it’s got to be a good old fashioned ghost story!
I was immediately charmed with this beautiful example of Georgian architecture and the grounds are nothing short of awesome. Upon arrival you are quickly transported to another time. Surrounded by the natural beauty and peaceful serenity of this grand place, the modern world is simply left behind. My husband and I both loved it immediately. There are a variety of out buildings which are part of the 2300 acre estate and also six well maintained walking trails which are accessible to the public all year round. This house was built between 1813 and 1815 by Richard John Uniacke, a former Attorney General of Nova Scotia, as his summer home. It is situated on the edge of Martha Lake which is also part of the estate and was named for Mr. Uniacke’s deceased wife, Martha Maria.
The best way that I can describe it, is pristine. One gets the impression that it would have appeared in Uniacke’s own time period, much as it does now . The house, unlike most older homes, has never been serviced or modernized. Most of the furnishings are original to the home and include many Georgian antiques and old family portraits. It’s lovely condition is certainly a credit to the Nova Scotia Museums and the staff who care for it so diligently. I would also say however, that a huge part of the conservation credit for this rare treasure must go to the descendants of this man. They, who kept the estate and it’s original furnishings and household items intact until 1949 when it was passed into the hands of the Nova Scotia Museums.
You can read more about the Mt. Uniacke Estate and Richard John Uniacke, at their website and in Brian Cuthbertson’s very informative book “The Old Attorney General”. Having an immediate desire to know more about this location and family, I purchased Mr. Cuthbertson’s book from the Mt. Uniacke Estate while I was there. They were also planning a mid October “lingering spirits” Candlelit tour of the house at the time, but unfortunately it was already sold out. How disappointing that was for me! Perhaps next year…
There are two spirits said to linger at Mt. Uniacke. One is that of Mr. Uniacke’s own wife Martha. It is not known why she should haunt this place for she never actually knew the house. Having died in 1803, Uniacke was left with eleven children to raise, three of which were under the age of ten. It is said however, that he was completely devoted to his wife and there after reserved the date of her death for “the consideration of affairs little connected with this world”. (Cuthbertson, 44)
The other spirit that is said to stay there is that of the Lady Mary Mitchell. Lady Mary was Richard Uniacke’s eldest daughter born on October 16, 1782. Richard Uniacke had instilled in his children the conscience of their heritage. I’m sure that Mary knew that the general expectations were that she should marry well. Which she did at the age of twenty-three, when she married Vice Admiral, Sir Andrew Mitchell, Commander in Chief of the North American Station.
Sir Andrew Mitchell was a gallant and decorated Admiral known for his bravery and very prestigious career with the British Navy. He was also a man more than twice Mary Uniackes age although this was not uncommon in that day and age. He was born in Scotland on October 1, 1757, received his education in Edinburgh and in 1776 entered into service with the Royal Navy as a Midshipman. He quickly advanced through the ranks to Post-Captain. He returned to England during peace time but when hostilities again broke out with the French Republic he was appointed command, of first the Asia of 64 guns, and then the Impregnable of 90. In 1795 he became rear-admiral and 1799 was promoted to the rank of vice-admiral of the white. He entered the Texel, where the Dutch fleet surrendered to him without firing a shot. For this, His Majesty, King George III, conferred upon him Knight of the Bath on January 8, 1800, he was also presented with a one hundred guinea sword by the city of London. In 1802 he was appointed Commander of the North American coast. As far as his personal life is concerned, he was married with three sons, all who joined the Navy. His first wife died in 1803 in Bermuda, but I haven’t yet found out her name or any other information about his first family. Read a more detailed account about Sir Andrew Mitchell in The British Trident or Register of Naval Actions, 1806.
On May 3, 1805 Andrew Mitchell married Mary Uniacke at the St Paul’s church in Halifax. One other of her sisters and a brother also married there that day and it was apparently a grand gala affair. It is uncertain why they married and although the couple apparently settled into life together for a time, it seems Andrew’s health was less than good. He had been re-occurringly ill and had gone to Bermuda to regain his strength and this he decided to do again. At the same time Mary was carrying their first child who was expected to make an appearance at the beginning of the year. Andrew sailed for Bermuda in early 1806 leaving his approximately seven month pregnant Mary in Halifax. Tragically he died there on February 26, 1806, at the age of forty-nine, probably within weeks of his arrival. It is said that he had a terrible indisposition (perhaps TB or Cancer) and that he suffered long and greatly with this illness. On February 20th, just six short days before his death, Lady Mary delivered her daughter Martha Maria. It would appear that Andrew never saw his infant daughter and it is likely that Mary would not have known of her husband’s death for a month or two afterward.
In this day and age and in our western culture, we can hardly imagine such a circumstance, but I suppose at that time it might have been fairly commonplace. I don’t know if Mary ever remarried, I can’t find a record of a second marriage at this point but perhaps she did. She could not have been more than twenty-four at the time of Andrew Mitchell’s death, so certainly she was young enough to start anew. In any case we know that she spent a lot of time at the Mt. Uniacke Estate with her young daughter. Her very feminine room and the adjoining room for Martha Maria are just to the right as you alight from the stair case onto the second floor of the house. It doesn’t show any signs of the presence of a man ever having spent time there. She died at the age of forty-three on October 25, 1825 when her unmarried daughter was just nineteen. It was a sad time for her father and the rest the family.
They say some strange and inexplicable occurrences happen at the Mt Uniacke Estate home. More than one shocked observer tells of seeing the Lady Mary Mitchell playing the pianoforte in the front parlour…with her mother, Martha, seated close by in a favoured chair…or of the two walking arm in arm along the lake, or sometimes just sitting quietly somewhere inside the house.
Information for dates of births, deaths and marriages were taken from FamilySearch.org.