T.W. Paterson: ‘Picturesque’ Ogilvy fought bill to the end

As far as officials were concerned, the greatest discovery in his effects was proof that he'd been anything but a pauper.

The colourful David Alexander Ogilvy had a longstanding feud with the Royal Jubilee over his bill.

The colourful David Alexander Ogilvy had a longstanding feud with the Royal Jubilee over his bill.

As far as officials were concerned, the greatest discovery in his effects was proof that he’d been anything but a pauper.


When David Alexander Ogilvy — surveyor, prospector, adventurer, policeman and character — died at the age of 88, among those to take notice of his passing was the Vancouver Province. Describing him as “one of Western Canada’s picturesque oldtimers,” the newspaper marvelled at his having carried a model of his sepulchre about with him and noted his years-long battle with the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

For his last five years on earth, Ogilvy had professed to be ill; a condition that, more than once, the hospital disputed. Whatever the case, he successfully “squatted” in a hospital room until the end — all the while refusing to pay his bill because of his association with the French Benevolent Society, founders of Victoria’s original hospital. Whenever he’d been presented with a bill, he’d scrawled, “Blackmail, blah,” across the page and returned it to the accounting department.

There the matter had rested until the Grim Reaper finally closed the books — Ogilvy’s books, not the Jubilee’s!

For all his penuriousness and eccentricity, the Province considered Ogilvy to have always been “jovial and pleasant and liked by the large number who knew him initmately in the capital city. His beard was white and flowing and he wore a type of skull cap, and silver-framed glasses attached to his ears by golden cords.”

Before being bedridden, Ogilvy had been fond of visiting the police station to reminisce with senior officers about the good old days when he’d served as a special constable.

Shortly after his death, Ogilvy’s valise was opened at City Hall. To the surprise of many, it proved to be a cornucopia of insight into the remarkable man that was David A.N. Ogilvy. Inside were letters from his niece, Mary. The daughter of his murdered brother, and wife of a British army offier, she lived in Italy. But she’d never forgotten “the old man living out in British Columbia all alone”. Every month she’d mailed him a cheque for $50. Hence Ogilvy’s having left his little house on David Street in her trust.

Equally fascinating were his diaries, two ordinary scratch pads and a red-backed notebook compiled in a “rather incoherent fashion in indelible pencil”. Time and again the old man referred to having received a letter from Mary, or to his having written her. He also had kept several of her letters, “pencilled in cheerful vein such as might make the heart of an old man lighter”. In them, his niece — Mrs. H. Hunt Holgan — told of “her doings and how she’d met various noted people…” There was mention of her work with the Red Cross during the First World War, and photographs of her lovely Villa Belton.

As far as officials were concerned, the greatest discovery in his effects was proof that he’d been anything but a pauper. Entries in his records showed that he’d regualrly deposited his niece’s cheques and that he owned the house on David Street. His cash estate alone amounted to more than $16,000, then a sizable sum.

This made his financial feud with the Jubilee all the more mystifying. Upon recovering from the illness which had originally sent him to hospital, he’d refused to leave or to pay his bill which, over the years, had grown to several thousand dollars. A year before his death, officials had discovered that he was receiving the monthly stipend from his niece and had arranged with Mrs. Hogan to have the cheques sent directly to the hospital. These had been applied to his outstanding bill. All of which made it surprising to learn that he’d been a relatively wealthy man.

Under the terms of his will, Mary was to receive the interest on his savings and the revenue from the house until her death, when the entire estate was to go to the City of Victoria. In various of his rambling notes he made the mayor of Victoria and the “Ruler of the Universe” joint executors of his estate.

Also in the valise was the cherished model of his tomb in Ross Bay Cemetery. Written on the model was the inscription, “David, the beloved.” However, the marble slab had long before been inscribed with just his last name.

Other effects were a ring inlaid with his wife’s hair, a tie pin with a human molar, a jack knife dated 1880, a spoon dated 1897, Ogilvy’s police whistle, a compass dated 1862, old coins, clippings, pipes, some photographs of himself, a photographic album filled with pictures of relatives and friends, several pairs of spectacles, and a variety of odds and ends.

Random jottings indicated his concern with eternity — he wanted the inside of his tomb painted — and the odd venture into the realm of philosophy: “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities.” And: “My friend Thomas Palmer died January 28, 1872. It was snowing. We are like snowflakes. We are here for a short time.”

On matters more prosaic, he expressed resentment and hurt at the Jubilee’s wanting to discharge him: “Got very unkind letter informing me that I was disharged from hospital June 8, which was a lie, with bill for over $2,000.”

He’d also kept careful record of the weather, his visitors, his baths, and a number of items which he claimed to have been stolen from him over the years — everything from trousers to spectacles.

On Dec. 7, 1923, he mournfuly noted: “Forty years today my wife died.” Short months later, David Ogilvy joined her in eternity.


Cowichan Valley Citizen