Know Your Neighbours Special Edition Pt 5 – William Hamilton Merritt Jr.


William Hamilton Merritt Junior  (William Hamilton Merritt II)


William Hamilton Merritt Junior was the son of the Honourable William Hamilton Merritt (1793-1862) and Catharine Rodman Prendergast Merritt (1793-1862).

Merritt’s life was described in the publication: “Sincerely Lamented St. Catharines Obituaries 1817-1918” by Paul Hutchinson (929.371338 Hut), as follows:

“Death of William Hamilton Merritt, Esq. In chronicling the death of this gentleman, we feel justified in asserting that the loss of no single individual of our community will be felt more severely or regretted more sincerely. In the deceased, every class of the community feels keenly the loss of a noble and generous heart. A career full of promise has been suddenly checked. A mind full of noble impulses has been taken from us, and the social circle which he has adorned must mourn the departure of one who was a kind sympathizing friend; and emphatically superior to being the enemy of any man. Possessing intellect of a superior order, which has been assiduously improved and enlarged by a course of study at domestic and foreign institutes of learning, which subsequent reading and study tended to invigorate, the deceased brought to bear up on the various enterprises in which he was engaged a vigor of thought and action that invariably secured the most ample success. Not a single public improvement has been undertaken in this vicinity for the past ten or twelve years but bears the impress of his mind; and of most of them he was the originator and leading spirit. It was always his aim, both in his public and private enterprises, to give to his public and private enterprises, to give to his various undertakings a character far in advance of his slower moving and less enterprising townsmen, and he succeeded most nobly in all. He believed that St. Catharines, his native place, was destined to a high station among cities of the Province; and therefore it was that to every work which he undertook he endeavored to give a degree and permanency suitable to the large and increasing commercial and maritime interested centering in this town.


Mr. Merritt was the second son of the Hon. Wm. H. Merritt, the member of this County, and was born in St. Catharines on the 4th July, 1822, and therefore would have been, had he lived so long, 38 years of age on the 4th of July next. He first studied at Upper Canada College, that nursery of many of the leading spirits of the country, and after having passed a most successful examination, he commenced the study of the law in the office of the Hon. John. H. Cameron. Having perfected himself as far as possible in the branches of law to be acquired in this country, and desiring to become acquainted with Continental law, he took his departure from Canada in the winter of 1841, and studied for two years at the University of Bonn, on the Rhine, Germany. He then made the tour of the Continent, and subsequently spent a year in Paris and one in London, in order to acquire a knowledge of the English and French laws and customs. On his return to Canada in 1845 he passed as Barrister-at-Law, standing at the head of the list. During his residence on the Continent, Mr. Merritt acquired a correct and in fact perfect knowledge of nearly all languages spoken or taught there; and, indeed, he appeared to acquire a knowledge of language with extraordinary ease. All this study and expense was not incurred with any mercenary intent, for Mr. Merritt never practiced the profession which he so thoroughly understood and was so well calculated to adorn, but solely with a desire to fit himself for a proper and efficient discharge of public duties which he had so good a reason to anticipate would devolve upon him in after life. Of this world’s goods he had sufficient to place him above the necessity of practicing a profession that, although having much to comment it, and being highly honorable, has yet many disagreeable features to a really Christian and humane man like the deceased; and we presume that it was only with a desire to benefit his fellow man that he studied it. In November, 1853, Mr. Merritt married the daughter of the Hon. Jas. Morris, M.L.C. (Janet Laing 1829-1901), by whom he had four children, three of whom have been thus suddenly deprived of a most worthy parent, the fourth having died when an infant. At this time, Mr. M. again made the tour of the Continent, and again he added extensively to his already full store of knowledge. It was in this year also that he first entered the Town Council, of which body he continued to be a member (with the exception of 1854, when he was absent on his Continental tour) until the election in 1857, when, finding from the multiplicity of other business requiring his attention, that he could not devote time to the proper discharge of a Councilor’s duty, he declined a nomination. During this time he was the means of having many really valuable information and suggestions on many others that we hope to see some day commenced. To the mechanics and laborers of the town, the death of Mr. M. will be a severe blow, for he has always kept a very large number of them employed.

As a public man there was no one amongst us who enjoyed a fairer reputation as to the past, and none who could look forward to the future with prospects of a more enlivening and cheerful nature. Endowed with superior talents, having extensive and influential connections, and the centre and ornament of a large and admiring social circle, he was considered by many as the one who would most probably succeed his father in representation of the County.


The public career or anticipations of the deceased were not, however, the most valuable or praiseworthy trait in his history. It was as an exemplary and consistent Christian, as a benevolent man, as a dutiful and obedient son, and as a loving husband and father, that his character appeared in its fairest and brightest colors. He fully understood and practiced the doctrine of the Apostle, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” An Episcopalian from early association and conviction, and living up to the standard of Christian excellence in that body, he possessed the most liberal views in reference to those who chose to adopt a different creed, and was most liberal in the contributions to the pecuniary assistance of his own and other congregational undertakings. To the poor he was the most liberal of the liberal, relieving the wants of the necessitous always; indeed, we are informed that he invariably appropriated a large sum yearly for the relief of the poor, and whether at home or abroad, those calling at his residence were certain to be relieved by his servants or agents appointed for the distribution of this sum. This he did, not from a well grounded and trusting belief in the merits of the Christian faith, but also from the promptings of a naturally benevolent and kind disposition. Had he not been a Christian man, it is at all events certain he would have been a charitable one.

It would seem like a solemn mockery to offer our poor sympathy to a family suffering a bereavement like that to which the Hon. Mr. Merritt’s has been subjected; but they no doubt feel, and are sufficiently familiar with the deceased for that he cold, although suddenly cut off in the prime of his manhood, say most truthfully:

“My race is run, my warfare’s o’er,

The solemn hour is nigh

When, offering up to God, my soul

Shall wing- – high.

With heavenly weapons I have fought

The battles of the Lord;

Finished my course, and kept the faith,

Depending on the Word.”

Before closing, we should state that Mr. Merritt died this morning, at a few minutes after three o’clock. His death was unaccompanied by any signs of physical or mental suffering. After the cessation of the sitters on Monday evening, expectations were entertained of his ultimate recover by both his medical attendants and friends, and these hopes did not seem fallacious until this morning, (although they could not but admit to themselves that great danger existed,) when the crisis occurred, and he breathed his last as calmly as a child going to sleep.

Mr. Merritt’s Funeral

This sad event took place yesterday, when the body of the deceased was followed to the place of interment at the Cemetery by a very large number, and they came from all parts of the country. The number of carriages present could not have been much less than 150, while the streets were lined on either side by large numbers of pedestrians. The officers of the 5th Battalion Lincoln Militia, in which Mr. M. was a Captain, and one of the most efficient, turned out in full uniform, wearing mourning badges on their arms. The Rev. Dr. Atkinson read the impressive and eloquent Episcopal services for the dead, and the mourners and friends assembled, appeared to feel most acutely the solemn warning conveyed by the speaker when he, in his melodious and clear ringing tones, pronounced “Earth to earth,” &c., being convinced, no doubt, that if one who but a short week before enjoyed all the blessings of apparent robust health, kind friends, and every accessory to make him happy, was so early in the journey of life consigned to the silent tomb, their end might not be so distant.

A strange coincidence is related in reference to the death of Mr. Merritt. On Sabbath afternoon last he requested his brother to take a walk as far as the Cemetery, and when they arrived there, he observed that it was time that a plot for family burial should be selected as no one could tell the moment at which some member might be called to his or her last account. Accordingly a plot or lot was selected, and they subsequently walked through the grounds, the deceased reading and commenting upon various inscriptions on the tombstones in a very exemplary and edifying style. Yesterday his friends had the melancholy duty of consigning his lifeless remains to the grave in the plot he selected the Sunday previous, and the ceremony was performed at very near the same hour at which he had been making his selection a week before.”  St. Catharines Journal, May 31, 1860, p.2

“In this town, this morning, (25th May) at 3 o’clock, of effusion on the brain, consequent upon a severe attach of Epilepsy, William H. Merritt, Esq., Jr., ages 37 years, 10 months, 20 days.”  St. Catharines Journal, May 31, 1860, p.3

This series is written and compiled by Alicia Floyd, Collections Technician – Archival at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre

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