Human calculator buried in the York General Burying Ground

This drawing of Toronto harbour is taken from an 1849 sketch by F.H. Granger. It shows the back of City Hall (where the Deshong inquest was held) in the background. Although the tower has been removed, the building still exists as part of St. Lawrence Market. The arched windows of the council chamber now overlook a bustling market rather than the harbour. (Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, vol 3, p346.)

Well, you never know who you’re going to find in the Toronto Trust Cemeteries burial registers!

In an attempt to decipher some really careless handwriting in the register of the York General Burying Ground, I consulted the online version of the Globe newspaper. For many of us who live in Ontario, this resource is available free though our public libraries.

I could tell that the name in the register was “Peter M. Desh…” but the rest was very questionable. The place of death looked like “Str City”. Mystifying.

But the following account of an inquest from the Globe on Tuesday 22 October, 1850 (page 3, column 1) confirmed the surname as Deshong, and allowed me to expand the “Str City” to “Steamer City of Toronto”.

INQUEST
On Sunday, an inquest was held before Coroner Duggan, on view of the body of Peter M. Deshong. The Jury met on board the steamer City of Toronto, and afterwards adjourned to the City Hall. It appeared from evidence, that the Steward of the steamer had gone down to call Deshong, shortly after leaving Kingston, on her upward trip; but he was lying in his berth, and made no answer. Supposing him to be asleep, nothing farther was done until next morning, when he was discovered to be dead. The Jury, amongst whom were Dr. Gavin Russell and Dr. Norman Bethune[1], returned a verdict of —Died from Apoplexy. On his person were found 5 dollars, and a few shillings. His effects were handed over to Mr. Williams the undertaker, by order of the Coroner, and his body is lying in the vault, waiting instructions from his parents, who have been informed of the sad event by telegraph. It appears from an advertisement in the Indiana Palladium, of August 31, that deceased had invented a new mode of computing figures, by which a person could give a sum total of any column as fast as the answer could be written. The sum total of a column of dollars and cents could be given without adding the figures together, by a peculiar rule of his own, —the same rule, applied to fractions and interest at any per cent. Deceased had been lecturing on Mathematics in Quebec, and was on his way to this City, for a similar purpose, when arrested by the hand of death. He was about 35 years of age.

The cemetery’s estimate of his age was 25, a full decade less that shown in the account of the inquest. Peter M. Deshong did not stay long in Toronto. The register indicates that he was “Removed by his father.”

If you’re eager to know more about Mr. Deshong’s calculating method (which he claimed you could learn in a half hour, for the modest fee of $10), type “Peter M Deshong” into your Google search box.

If you’re eager to lend a hand with the indexing of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries records, please contact <fsi@torontofamilyhistory.org>. Our gratitude will be “incalculable”.


[1] This Dr. Norman Bethune (1822–1892) was the grandfather of Dr. Henry Norman Bethune renowned for his service in China.

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