Martha Walls reviews The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, Vols. 1 and 2

C. Ted Behne, ed., The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890 (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2010) and The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney: Vol 2, 1891-1896 (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2014).

by Martha Walls

C. Ted Behne’s edited volumes, The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890, and The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney: Vol 2, 1891-1896, offer a personal view of the history and natural world of late 19th-century New Brunswick. These works compile the journals of Edwin Tappan Adney, an American-born son of a college professor who, in 1887, at the age of 19, embarked on a month-long summer vacation in New Brunswick and, having come “under the spell of New Brunswick’s outdoors life”, spent the bulk of his life in the province (2010, 13).


C. Ted Behne, ed., The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney,
(Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2010).

Together Adney’s journals document five sojourns into the New Brunswick woods between 1887 and 1896. His detailed descriptions of hunting and fishing expeditions, hand-drawn maps, and artistic sketches and photographs (which were sought after by, and regularly published in, such American periodicals as Harper’s Weekly and Forest and Stream), are marvelous accounts of the woods and waterways of central and northern New Brunswick, and of the people who frequented these places (2014, 13).

The journals reveal a complex natural world, hovering between continuity and change. Adney’s expeditions detail the long-established hunting, fishing and navigating knowledge and practices of Maliseet guides and describe forests teeming with wildlife, including caribou, a mainstay of the New Brunswick woods until their eradication by the 1920s.[1] But in other ways, Adney’s journals document an era of profound change. The very presence of Adney, an affluent American seeking an escape from urban life, embodies the 19th century “cult of wilderness” that saw North American woodlands inundated by elite fishers and hunters seeking “authentic” wilderness experiences to serve as antidotes to the unsettling effects of modernity. Adney’s journals also reveal an important consequence of this cult of wilderness: new game and fish laws which, although aimed at preserving the wilderness, created great hardship for Indigenous people by limiting their access to resources and produced tensions between Indigenous people, non-Indigenous users of resources, and the wardens who enforced these laws.[2]

Adney’s journals are particularly valuable for the insight that they offer into the experiences of Maliseet people in the 19thcentury. Andrea Bear Nicholas, in her Forward to the second volume, observes that Adney was a “child of his times”, a man who, like many of the Victorian era, wavered between fascination with, and scorn for, Indigenous people (2014, 10). It is in this context that Adney’s identification of the Maliseet language as “jibberish” coexists with his genuine interest in the language as well as his wider repudiation of stereotypes about Maliseet people – including his own. In one passage in the first volume, Adney recalls a night spent at a home at Tobique First Nation and self-reflects on his own changed assumptions: “I slept between sheets in a house where there was an organ and a parlour lamp, things I had not yet learned to associate with Indians” (2010, 69). Behne explains in his introductions that later in life Adney would champion the rights and cherish the language, culture, and friendships of the Maliseet people.[3] The seeds of Adney’s later activism are evident in journal entries highlighting challenges facing New Brunswick’s First Nations (a wider context for which is provided by Bear Nicholas’s Forward to volume two). In both volumes Adney recounts how fish and game laws impeded Indigenous peoples’ access to much-needed resources. In one particularly poignant passage (written to approximate English spoken with a Maliseet accent), Adney quotes at length “Old Margaret the Squaw”, a Maliseet woman clearly facing desperate times: “I think that the government better send soldiers up here and shoot all the Indians…. Then we die quick. Now we die slow” (2010, 39). While revealing such hardship, Adney’s journal also offers evidence of Maliseet cultural continuity and resiliency in the late 19th century. Adney details a vibrant Maliseet language that is widely spoken by Maliseet men and, especially, by women. He also praises the expertise of Maliseet guides, underscoring how such men adapted to the presence of elite sport fishers and hunters in their woods and explored innovative ways of addressing the changes overtaking their lives.


Edwin Tappan Adney, c. 1890.

A masculine New Brunswick woods culture of hunters, fishers, guides, elite sportsmen and loggers is also vividly revealed by Adney’s journals; from the physical discomforts and psychological torment that plagued men in the woods, to the camaraderie and enmities that shaped relationships, Adney’s journals highlight the homosocial relationships of life in the woods. However, readers looking to Adney’s journals for a window into the 19thcentury, notably the experiences of women, will be disappointed. Written while he was a young man, and years before his marriage to Minnie Bell Sharp in 1899, Adney’s interests – what shapes his observations and writings – are those of a young bachelor and necessarily preclude this wider lens.

Those interested in Adney’s later years will likewise come away from these volumes with little satisfaction. Behne reduces a senior Adney to an eccentric, “the sort of character that mothers warn their children about” (2014, 16). This, however, denies the importance of Adney’s contributions to New Brunswick society later in life. For example, in the 1940s, as Adney neared 80 years of age, he emerged as a stalwart supporter of the Maliseet people’s successful resistance of an effort on the part of the federal Department of Indian Affairs to uproot Maliseet communities throughout the St. John River Valley and to resettle them near Kingsclear, north of Fredericton.[4]

In spite of these shortcomings, C. Ted Behne’s The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890 and Vol 2, 1891-1896, offer valuable insight into the history and natural world of New Brunswick in the 19th century and will be appreciated by academics as well as by a more general readership. Scholars will undoubtedly applaud Behne’s decision to render Adney’s journals precisely as he wrote them, and all readers will benefit from Behne’s detailed explanatory notes that help to navigate them through obscure phraseology and gaps in the narrative.


Martha Walls is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Mount Saint Vincent University.


[1] On the demise of New Brunswick’s caribou population, see Stephen Clayden, “The Last New Brunswick Caribou?”, Éléments: Online Environmental Magazine (December 2000),

[2] For more on the “cult of wilderness” in New Brunswick, see Bill Parenteau, “Care, Control & Supervision: Native People in the Canadian Atlantic Salmon Fishery, 1867-1900”, Canadian Historical Review 79, 1 (March 1998), 1-35.

[3] Andrea Bear Nicholas, “Forward”, in Behne, ed., The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney: Vol 2, 1891-1896 (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2014), 7.

[4] See Martha Walls, “Countering the ‘Kingsclear Blunder’: Maliseet Resistance to the Kingsclear Relocation Plan, 1945-1949,Acadiensis XXXVII, 1 (Winter/Spring 2008): 3-30.

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