Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Noose too Long: An Early Trial of John A's

John A.'s Kingston Home, where he lived in 1837
Credit: Miscellaneous / Library and Archives Canada / C-004509
In the late 1830s, John A. Macdonald practised criminal law in Kingston.  Richard Gwyn notes in his recent biography John A : The Man Who Made Us, that the dramatic cases that the future prime minister took gave him exposure far beyond the local courthouse. (Gwyn, 2007, p.49)  The particulars of one early case of the late 1830s, are particularly dramatic, if slightly ghastly.
John A Mac, 1842-43 :LAC C-004811
Droit d'auteur: Périmé
William Brass, the respectable  offspring of a  Loyalist, was accused of the heinous crime of the rape of an eight-year-old girl.  Despite Macdonald's arguments that he was the victim of a conspiracy and insane, the verdict came up guilty and Brass was sentenced to be hung from the neck until he was dead.

Gwyn notes that the circumstances of this punishment were particularly macabre:

"At Brass's execution, the rope proved to be too long and the wretched man fell to the ground from the gibbet, landing in his own coffin.  He screamed out, 'You see.  I am innocent; this gallows was not meant for me.'  The sentence was nevertheless carried out, the second time with a rope of the proper length."

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