Bay Roberts mur­der to be sub­ject of stage play

The Compass - - OPINION -

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

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