Bay Roberts murder to be subject of stage play
The Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation, a volunteer organization formed to promote and preserve the intangible cultural heritage of the town, is planning to perform a stage production of one of the most significant events in the history of both the town and the province.
In December, 1860, a young Bay Roberts man, Isaac Mercer, was bludgeoned to death by mummers. The murder was never solved and the accused were all released from prison. The incident led to a law banning the wearing of masks in public and eventually to the complete outlawing of mummering. The latter law was later rescinded.
The murder occurred during a period of intense and bitter religious tensions between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Bay Roberts as well as in several other nearby towns.
The event received widespread coverage in the newspapers of the day and the majority of the files concerning the murder, investigation and trial are now a matter of public record. The incident has been described in detail in several Newfoundland history books published in recent years.
To further add to the tensions at the time, the murdered man was of the Church of England faith (now Anglican) and the accused were all Roman Catholic. The people of the time were of the opinion that the murder was religiously inspired. That, combined with the length of time to catch the suspects, and their eventual release, resulted in an increase in violence.
The accused were named as 32year old John Dawson, his 28-year old brother, Stephen, 32-year old James Hedderson, Denis Walsh, Patrick Fleming and James Fleming. Hedderson died while in prison waiting trial while Walsh and the two Flemings were released. The two Dawsons were sent to trial, but the judge’s decision has not been found in any court documents or newspapers. It is known they were released but the reasons are unknown.
The Cultural Foundation would like to hear from any descendants of these individual concerning this project and is particularly interested in determining if there are any objections or concerns.
Any descendant wishing to voice concerns about the project may contact the foundation in writing at Bay Roberts Cultural Foundation, PO Box 1759, Bay Roberts, NL A0A1G0
— Submitted by Mike Flynn