The end of the line

Peace­ful Con­naught Square in Char­lot­te­town was site of P.E.I.'s last pub­lic hang­ing which is still in fa­mous for its faulty ex­e­cu­tion 130 years later.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - Island Weekend - BYMARYMACKAY THE GUARDIAN

To­day, Con­naught Square in Char­lot­te­town is a lovely green zone with stately old trees and plenty of space for all ages to wan­der and chil­dren to play.

But as his­tory would have it, 130 years ago it was also the site of Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s most in­fa­mous and last pub­lic hang­ing, the cir­cum­stances of which so shocked the ex­pan­sive crowd that had gath­ered to watch that it marked the end of this ex­e­cu­tion era.

“ The let­ters and editorials in the news­pa­pers that fol­lowed the ex­e­cu­tion en­cour­aged the peo­ple to re­solve that a pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion never take place in the colony again,” says Boyde Beck, cu­ra­tor of his­tory with the P.E.I. Mu­seum and Her­itage Foun­da­tion, who tells the story of the ill-fated con­vict Ge­orge Dowie, some­times spelled Dowey in var­i­ous ac­counts, and many oth­ers as part of his his­toric walk­ing tours that are es­pe­cially pop­u­lar at this Hal­loween time of year.

In the late 1700s, P.E.I.’s crim­i­nal code had nu­mer­ous of­fences that were pun­ish­able by death, such as mur­der, trea­son, rape, theft and oth­ers. One early death sen­tence, which was handed out in 1778, was com­muted be­cause of gen­der.

“ The per­son con­victed was a woman and there was no one in the colony will­ing to act as an ex­e­cu­tioner,” Beck says of El­iz­a­beth Mukely, who as a ser­vant stole £ 7.7 from her em­ployer.

“(She) was con­victed es­sen­tially of petty theft and that was a hang­ing of­fense. (She) was ac­tu­ally ex­iled; sent to Nova Sco­tia to never come back.”

The same ban­ish­ment fate was meted out to Freelove Allen whose death sen­tence for theft was com­muted in 1796.

“ We have a his­tory of cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment that goes back to 1792 when the first hang­ing was con­ducted . . . and the first man hanged on P.E.I. was ( Joseph Far­row) who was hanged for rape,” Beck says.

P.E.I. had con­trol of its own jus­tice sys­tem un­til 1873 when cap­i­tal cases came un­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment's ju­ris­dic­tion.

“ There were less than a dozen (hang­ings) in all of the Is­land’s his­tory, but at the time we con­trolled the jus­tice sys­tem (provin­cially) there were only eight ex­e­cu­tions,” Beck says.

Al­though cap­i­tal crimes were com­mit­ted and death sen­tences handed out, the one sav­ing grace for many des­tined for the gal­lows was the fact that the lieu­tenant­gov­er­nor of the colony at the time could com­mute a sen­tence to a lesser pu­n­ish­ment.

“(Death) wasn’t au­to­matic. You could be con­victed of a cap­i­tal crime, but then in the case of (those like) El­iz­a­beth Mukely and Freelove Al­lan if you had peo­ple on your side or peo­ple who didn’t agree with (the sen­tence) they could cir­cu­late a pe­ti­tion for clemency. They ’d present that to the lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor who had the power to com­mute that death sen­tence . . . .”

Gov­er­nor Ed­mund Fan­ning, for in­stance, com­muted all but one of the death sen­tences that came across his desk. A decade later one of his pre­de­ces­sors, Charles Dou­glass Smith, al­lowed two men to hang for theft, two for mur­der, one for rape and an­other for ar­son.

Un­for­tu­nately for the doomed Dowie, his pub­lic hang­ing in 1869 broke a long

dry spell for this cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment prac­tice on P.E.I., be­ing that the one that pre­ceded him occurred al­most a half cen­tury be­fore.

Dowie was a sailor in port who got into an ar­gu­ment over a woman in what Beck sur­mises was an un­li­cenced drink­ing es­tab­lish­ment.

“In a blind rage he pulled out his knife and stabbed the guy he was ar­gu­ing with and every­one saw him do it. I don’t think the (trial) lasted more than a half a day,” Beck says.

“It was a mur­der case, open and shut. And the penalty for that was death.”

The com­mu­nity cir­cu­lated a pe­ti­tion for clemency, but at the time there wasn't an of­fi­cial lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor to ap­peal to.

In 1869, the colony was be­ing run by Robert Hodg- son, who was the se­nior colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tor and the act­ing lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor at that time.

“Hodg­son didn’t think it

was within his rights as an act­ing gov­er­nor to have the power to do some­thing as se­ri­ous as com­mute a death sen­tence,” Beck says.

“It’s not that he didn’t try to get di­rec­tion. He spent quite a lot on ca­ble fees ( for) tele­grams go­ing back and forth (to Lon­don, Eng­land) try­ing to get in­struc­tion . . . .

“I don't think he was given any clear in­struc­tions, so he erred on the side of cau­tion. A court had passed a sen­tence and the crim­i­nal code said a mur­derer must hang.”

And so the gal­lows went up in Con­naught Square, then known as Pow­nal Square and the site of the lo­cal jail­house.

Since the last hang­ing on P.E.I., there had been a pub­lic de­bate in other places over whether crim­i­nals should be ex­e­cuted in pub­lic. Some said it was bar­baric. Oth­ers ar­gued it was ed­u­ca­tional and a de­ter­rent to crime.

On P.E.I. there had been no re­cent ex­e­cu­tions to bring out this de­bate, so when Dowie was led to the gal­lows on April 6, 1869, it was a pub­lic event. More than 1,500 peo­ple turned out to wit­ness the hang­ing and a mili­tia com­pany was called out to make sure things re­mained or­derly.

“Ac­cord­ing to the ac­counts, if you were looking to prove that pub­lic hang­ings could be (de­ter­rent to crime), Dowie played his part im­pec­ca­bly. He had the whole win­ter to think about what he’d done, and dur­ing a 45-minute ora­tion from the top of he scaf­fold he con­fessed to a life of crime and asked the pub­lic’s for­give­ness,” Beck says.

“Ap­par­ently he was there so long they brought a chair up for him to sit in.”

Things went ter­ri­bly wrong af­ter that.

“Ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per ac­counts, he stepped for­ward and he stood on the trap door and he first for­gave the ex­e­cu­tioner for what he was about to do, (his head was cov­ered) and the rope placed around his neck. And the sher­iff gave the sig­nal to open the trap door. When he got to the end of his rope he ended up as a heap on the ground (be­cause the rope broke),” Beck says.

Dowie was taken into the jail­house to re­cover from this 15-foot fall be­fore he was re­turned to the gal­lows that had been fit­ted with a new rope.

“ There was no pomp or cer­e­mony this time. They had to help him up the scaf­fold and steady him on top of the trap door . . . . as soon as they had ev­ery­thing rigged they stepped back and pulled the trap door and this time the cleat that at­tached the rope to the scaf­fold sheared off,” Beck says.

“He ended up on the ground again but at least this time the rope was in­tact.”

Then, ac­cord­ing to the ac­counts of the day, the ex­e­cu­tioner and his helpers reached down to the rope, hauled him up and held him there un­til the of­fi­ci­at­ing doc­tor de­clared he was dead.

Dowie was buried in what is now the his­toric Old Protes­tant Bury­ing Grounds on Uni­ver­sity Av­enue in Char­lot­te­town.

Not long af­ter Dowie's pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion, which was the last on P.E.I. and one of the last in all of Canada, the prac­tice of pub­lic hang­ing was banned.

This did not put an end to cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment on P.E.I., but the last three ex­e­cu­tions on were viewed by of­fi­cial wit­nesses only.

In 1888, William Mill­man was hanged for the mur­der of Mary Pick­er­ing Tu­plin.

And on Aug. 20, 1941 Earl Lund and Fred­er­ick Phillips were hanged for the mur­der of Peter Trainor. Th­ese were the last peo­ple to be ex­e­cuted on P.E.I.

Sub­mit­ted im­age Sub­mit­ted photo Guardian photo by Mary MacKay Sub­mit­ted photo

The bird’s eye map of Char­lot­te­town shows Con­naught Square, then Pow­nal Square, in 1878. Robert Hodg­son was only the act­ing lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor at the time so he didn’t feel he had the au­thor­ity to com­mute Ge­orge Dowie’s death sen­tence to a lesser pu­n­ish­ment. Boyde Beck, above, cu­ra­tor of his­tory with the P.E.I. Mu­seum and Her­itage Foun­da­tion, stands on the grounds of Con­naught Square in Char­lot­te­town, which was the site of the last pub­lic hang­ing on P.E.I. in 1869. The lo­cal jail, Harvie’s Brig, shown here in 1900, housed Ge­orge Dowie in his last days be­fore he was hanged in the gal­lows con­structed out­side in April 1869.

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