Who was George Alfred Beckett?
I dropped off some books at a used bookstore. The owner promised to pay me, but not right then. “Come back later,” he said. I did, but received nothing. I could have taken back my books, but I tend to trust people until that trust is broken. So I patiently waited for a few dollars. One day, he said, “ Take an armload of whatever I got on my shelves.” I didn’t need to be told twice.
Among what I brought home was an 80-page, handwritten journal, the dimensions of a legal size folder. I have derived hours of pleasure from reading what can only be described as a collection of “this ‘n that.”
There are poems ( A Prayer of a Horse), stories (House Hunting in Ireland), and hymns (Yield Not to Temptation). For some reason, the year 1936 figures prominently, with lists of deaths, events, weather, disasters and fatalities. There are even instructions showing how “ Joyce’s sweater” and nine-year old “Carson’s socks” were knit.
I often wonder about the original owner of the journal. Many questions arise in my mind: Why did he (or was it she?) maintain a journal? What was his age in 1936? Where did he live? Puddesters and Taylors are mentioned — do these names indicate a Cupids connection? I may never know the answers to my questions.
One poem in particular captures my undivided attention whenever I read it. There is no title, but it was evidently written by George Alfred Beck- ett. Actually, it’s his story, and a sad one it is … George Alfred Beckett is my name as you may understand Brought up by honest parents I belong to Newfoundland In a pleasant little village so beautiful and grand Near the Atlantic Ocean, a place called Old Perlican My parents reared me tenderly the truth I will make known And good advice they gave to me when I was leaving home My mother prayed for my return as she had done before As I left home that day to roam far from my native shore To the coalfields of Cape Breton my course I then did stray And for to get employment I landed in Glace Bay But little did my parents think when they bid me good-bye This awful crime I would commit and be condemned to die One evening late last autumn as you may understand To take me out on Tower Road I engaged a taxi man He little thought as we rode on I had an iron bar These dreadful wounds for to conflict and rob him in his car From thence I made a quick escape to get home was my plan I left Glace Bay and sailed away back home to Newfoundland It was ‘bout three weeks later the police were on my trail Arrested me for murder and brought me to St. John’s jail From there back to Cape Breton my trial for to stand And never no more to see again my own dear native land The jury found me guilty the judge made this reply On the thirtieth day of April for this murder you must die Here’s to my aged parents I now must bid adieu My sisters and my brothers and likewise my children too My not forgetting my dear wife wher- ever she may be So loving kind and gentle for the fault was all with me I wish to thank all my dear friends who were so kind to me My clergymen and lawyers who tried to set me free Likewise the warden of the jail who courage to me gave Long may he live to enjoy his health when I am in my grave My life is almost to an end my days are but a few Take my advice and live and avoid those troubles too And never murder anyone no matter what you do Or like me you’ll die on the gallows at the age of forty two Now to conclude and finish from this world I must depart For the murder of Nick Marthos I’m sorry to the heart And let all men take warning to heed to what I say May the Lord have mercy upon my soul when I do pass away
On December 31, 1930, the newspaper, Bay Roberts Guardian, described the incident related in this song: “ George Alfred Beckett had made a full and complete confession to the murder of Nicholas Marthos, Glace Bay taxi driver, on Sept. 22nd. Beckett was arrested several weeks ago at his father’s home in Old Perlican and extradited to Glace Bay.”
Still, I would like to know more about George Alfred Beckett.