Bolton Library and Museum is home to the largest collection of Walt Whitman archival material outside the United States of America. Students here at the Victorian Bolton Research Project were given the opportunity to explore these artefacts.

Being able to look at historical artefacts from the followers of Whitman, as well as their handwritten letters to Whitman himself was an incredible experience, and we were all able to appreciate the work of the author a lot more after reading the authentic words he wrote to his followers.  

Firstly, while I was exploring the archives and researching the Eagle Street College online, I read an article from The Bolton News, which stated that the Bolton Library and Museum owns the stuffed, pet canary of Walt Whitman (2010). I went in search of this relic and came across a small, unsuspecting, yellowish canary at the front of the library. Due to the fact there was no name tag on the bird – only its scientific name, ‘Serinus canaria domestica’ – I didn’t know whether this was the artefact I was looking for. However, upon further inspection and after asking a member of staff, we deemed this to be the genuine, pet canary of author Walt Whitman: a gift he gave to his followers at the Eagle Street College!  

During my research through the archives at the library, I looked into these followers of Whitman, known as members of the Eagle Street College. The literary group was located on Eagle Street in Bolton – a fair way from Whitman’s hometown of West Hills, New York – and was founded by James William Wallace, Fred Wild and Dr John Johnston. This group explored and discussed Whitman’s work, as well as wrote their own poetry and songs influenced by and honouring Whitman, and also founded ‘Whitman Day’ in 1885 – just seven years before the author’s passing. One of the pamphlets I found during my research in the archives was a small booklet entitled ‘Whitman Day, 1910’, which contained information about the correspondence between Dr Johnston, Dr Burke and J.W. Wallace between the years of 1890 and 1892 and it also details the names of those involved in the group, including: 

“Messrs J.W. Wallace, Fred Wild, Walter T. Hawkins, J. Johnston, Wentworth Dixon, W.A. Ferguson, Fred. Nightingale, S. Thompson, Walter Hibbs, J. Woods, and W. Broadhurst.” (ZWN 2/15) 

Finally, there is one poem which I would like to share, as these archives are usually not available to the general public. I came across many poems written by the Eagle Street College, but one that stood out to me the most was written for the “ “Boys” assembled to do honour to the memory of Walt Whitman on May 31st, 1904” (ZWN 2/46). This poem details how much the members of the Eagle Street College honoured the late Walt Whitman, and how they were clearly very influenced by his work, with the poem ending in a short segment written by Doctor John Johnston:

Too soon came the hour of separation, but not soon will be forgotten the memory of that happy time spent by the College Boys – testifying anew their reverence and affection for their great friend and poet – the poet of nature, [the poet of Comrades]*, the poet of democracy, the poet of humanity, the poet of immortality. J. J. 

*This inserted segment was not in the original printing of this artefact and was handwritten, presumably later, by an unknown writer (as pictured).  


To the "Boys" assembled to do honour to the memory of Walt Whitman, May 31st, 1904

A humble Comrade deigns to send
A heartfelt, kindly greeting,
To all the Comrades who attend
Walt’s annual Birthday meeting. 

A humble Comrade deigns to send 

A heartfelt, kindly greeting, 

To all the Comrades who attend 

Walt’s annual Birthday meeting. 


Like pilgrims at a sacred shrine, 

With reverent homage kneeling ; 

We one and all our hearts incline  

With true and tender feeling. 


We try to think of all we owe 

To the great Master’s teaching ; 

He taught us all we need to know, 

And minus cant and preaching. 


That one thing stands all else above, 

And all things else will leaven, 

Pure, passionless, impassioned love – 

The best gift under Heaven ! 


He needs no monument of brass, 

His memory to emblazon ; 

‘Tis sung by every blade of grass 

In sweetest diapason. 


His message true to fellowmen – 

All men without restriction – 

So oft declared by tongue and pen, 

Falls like a benediction. 


With joy I cry – “Here’s to you, Walt!’ 

Great Camerado-human, 

Whose tender eyes discerned no fault 

In fellow man or woman. 


In fancy let me clasp your hand, 

And o’er the warm grasp hover ; 

Then gaze upon those features grand 

Great Comrade, friend, and Lover. 


“Here’s to you, Walt!” And as the years 

Like swelling waves sweep o’er us, 

Let all true Comrades through their tears 

Murmur the heartfelt chorus ! 


‘Greeting, 1904’ poem. National Archives (ZWN 2/46). [Accessed 29th March, 2022] 

The Bolton News (2010). The lost disciples of American poet. [online] Available at: The Bolton News [Accessed 29th March, 2022]. 

Salveson, P. (2019) With Walt Whitman in Bolton: Spirituality, Sex and Socialism in a Northern Mill Town. Little Northern Books. United Kingdom.  

‘Whitman Day, 1910’ booklet. National Archives (ZWN 2/15). [Accessed 29th March, 2022]