In New Brunswick’s formative years, self-reliance was paramount. Merchants were scarce, and often, settlers lacked the means to purchase goods. As a result, they took on the role of builders, crafting homes, barns, and animal enclosures. They also fashioned tools and implements essential for their daily lives.
The household became a hub of industry. Each dwelling transformed into a mini-factory, churning out cheese, soap, candles, woven fabrics, and more. Every garment was homemade, from raw wool sourced from their sheep, processed through carding, spinning, weaving, and finally, tailoring. Likewise, linen underwent a journey from flax seeds to finished products like sheets and towels.
Creativity was key when it came to lighting the home. In the beginning, the settlers turned to nature. They used split pine knots, which burned with a resinous glow, or rush-lights crafted from wetland rushes coated in grease, offering a brief but bright flame. These rush-lights were mounted on makeshift stands.
However, the tallow candle, crafted from beef fat, soon became the preferred source of light. Although coal gas and kerosene lamps emerged later, tallow candles, with their handy snuffers, persisted. Crafting these candles was an intricate process, necessitating pure tallow, soft cotton yarn wicks, rods, poles, and a large kettle with hot water. The candles were continuously dipped into the tallow until the right thickness was attained.
Based on their purpose, tallow candles fell into three categories. The finest, poured into tin moulds, were reserved for special occasions. The mid-tier consisted of cotton-wick candles for daily use. The lowest grade, made from the remaining tallow, emitted a fickle light and were used for tasks requiring minimal illumination.
Rendering tallow was a task in itself. Solid fat was slow-cooked until the oils separated from impurities. Due to its pungent aroma, this activity often took place outdoors. The resultant liquid, when cooled, solidified into a hard, white, waxy substance.
Today, the ease of using friction matches is often taken for granted. But back then, fire-making methods were diverse, many being chemical-based. One example was the chemical match—a wooden stick tipped with a mix of chlorate of potash and sugar that ignited when dipped in sulfuric acid. Interestingly, during the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, such matches were peddled as novelties on London’s streets.
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