Jus­tice on New­found­land’s north­east coast

The Compass - - NEWS - Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

The SS Daisy Le­gal His­tory Com­mit­tee may very well be one of the prov­ince’s best-kept se­crets. Op­er­at­ing un­der the Law So­ci­ety of New­found­land and Labrador, it is man­dated with pre­serv­ing the prov­ince’s le­gal her­itage.

The com­mit­tee is named af­ter the gov­ern­ment boat, Daisy, that car­ried mem­bers, judges, sher­iffs and clerks to the courts in smaller com­mu­ni­ties in pre-1949 New­found­land.

Since 1991, the com­mit­tee has pub­lished sev­eral works deal­ing with var­i­ous as­pects of the prov­ince’s le­gal his­tory, in­clud­ing "Po­etic Jus­tice: Literary Lawyers and Artis­tic Ad­vo­cates," "Bar­rels to Benches: The Foun­da­tions of English Law on New­found­land’s West Coast," "A Flag, An An­them, A Court­house," and "Un­der the Clock: A Le­gal His­tory of the ‘An­cient Cap­i­tal.’ "

Christo­pher P. Cur­ran, the com­mit­tee’s co-chair, ex­plains that the nine es­says that make up "The Face of Jus­tice on New­found­land’s North­east Coast," a re­cent work, "show not only that the sources of law and the level of jus­tice ac­tiv­i­ties varied as de­mo­graphic, so­cial and eco­nomic con­di­tions changed through­out this pe­riod" – the eigh­teenth cen­tury to the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury – "but that the law and its in­sti­tu­tions formed an in­te­gral part of the fab­ric of ev­ery­day com­mu­nity life and were val­ued as such." Writ­ten by aca­demic his­to­ri­ans, as well as by pub­lic and com­mu­nity his­to­ri­ans, the chap­ters "re­flect the grow­ing in­ter­est in our le­gal his­tory both within and out­side the univer­sity com­mu­nity."

Three of the ar­ti­cles trace es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the ju­di­cial face in Con­cep­tion Bay.

Hans Roll­mann’s es­say is en­ti­tled "Two Com­pet­ing Au­thor­i­ties in Eigh­teenth-Cen­tury Con­cep­tion Bay: The Com­plaint of Con­cep­tion Bay Mer­chants Against Rev­erend Lau­rence Cough­lan."

Roll­mann ex­plains: "Re­li­gion pro­vided one of the per­sonal and so­cial an­chors that sta­bi­lized this so­ci­ety, but, as the Cough­lan case demon­strates, at times also se­ri­ously chal­lenged the pre­car­i­ous or­der with an al­ter­na­tive set of val­ues and com­pet­ing claims to a higher the­o­log­i­cal and moral au­thor­ity."

Robert Cuff and Ger­ald Pen­ney shed light on the Har­bour Grace Court House. Built in 1830-31, it is the old­est court house in the prov­ince and, the au­thors note, "a mon­u­ment to the le­gal his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador ..... As a con­se­quence of the cur­rent build­ing’s sub­stan­tial con­struc­tion and con­tin­u­ous use, there are a wealth of 19th cen­tury doc­u­ments which have sur­vived, a col­lec­tion that is with­out par­al­lel in the prov­ince."

Ger­ald Barn­able pro­vides a brief his­tory of the com­mu­nity of Bri­gus. He also dis­cusses two court houses, built in 1835 (or 1836) and 1884, re­spec­tively. He tells about five mag­is­trates (Robert John Pin­sent, Charles Cozens, John Wilcox, Jabez Pike Thomp­son and Al­fred Penny). Barn­able con­cludes his chap­ter with three case stud­ies of court work "which in­volves Bri­gus and its cit­i­zenry and would have en­grossed them at the time."

The third case study is of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to me be­cause of my per­sonal in­ter­est in the life and ca­reer of the cel­e­brated Amer­i­can painter, print­maker, il­lus­tra­tor and writer, Rock­well Kent (1882-1971).

In the so- called " case of the as­saulted apothe­cary," in 1914, the jus­tice of the peace and drug­gist, James P. Hearn, took Kent to court for as­sault­ing him and threat­en­ing him with death.

A year or so later, Kent left the is­land, claim­ing he and his fam­ily had been "de­ported un­der the au­thor­ity of the De­fense of the Realm Act sus­pected of be­ing Ger­man spies."

Barn­able con­cludes: "When we take (Kent’s) claim that he was ver- bally or­dered to leave; when we con­sider he spent pe­ri­ods of time in Maine, Green­land, and Alaska and didn’t stay in any of those places, it might be ques­tioned whether he ever meant to stay in New­found­land .... His de­par­ture was rather like Far­ley Mowat’s flight from Bur­geo in the 1960's af­ter the lo­cals had shot up Moby Joe (or Josephine), the trapped whale."

Other chap­ters fo­cus on law and au­thor­ity in eigh­teenth-cen­tury New­found­land ( Jerry Ban­nis­ter), the Ju­di­ca­ture Act of 1824 and its an­tecedents (Cur­ran), the law at Green­spond (Cur­ran and Linda White), and the Trin­ity court house ( Jim Miller). Melvin Baker closes out the book with re­flec­tions on the SS Daisy, a sur­vivor of Wil­liam Coaker’s Navy, and a trib­ute to Chief Jus­tice Arthur Sa­muel Mif­flin.

"The ar­ti­cles in this pub­li­ca­tion," J. Derek Green sug­gests, "only be­gin to tap the sur­face of a sur­pris­ingly rich le­gal his­tory. They give the lie to the once pop­u­lar no­tion that early New­found­land set­tle­ment was a law­less so­ci­ety that was back­ward in its de­vel­op­ment."

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