WITHIN its century of existence Port Hope has witnessed many tragic occurrences, the relation of which with their attendant circumstances might fill a volume of much larger proportions than this. It is scarcely possible to do more than note down a few of the more important tragedies which have taken place in this locality.
Very early in the century an Englishman and his son settled a few miles to the west of Smith’s Creek and for some years prospered very well. Their farm was mortgaged heavily and every year either father or son journeyed to York bearing the interest on the mortgage to the money-lender. One year the son left the homestead with a good sum of money on him and started for York and this was the last seen of him. Shortly after a girl on a neighbouring farm went to a spring in the woods for water. As she approached the spot she heard men’s voices and coming still nearer she was able to make out a small party of men dividing up some booty. From their conversation she learned enough to assure her that these men had been guilty of the murder of the young Englishman. She communicated her story to the authorities but when the culprits were to be tried she refused to give evidence, having been successfully intimidated in the meantime. Years after when the Grand Trunk contractors were making a cutting with a steam shovel near Port Britain, their operations were constantly watched by an old man. One day the shovel threw up the skeleton of a man and after that the old watcher ceased to frequent the works. He had been one of the accused at the time of the murder.
A second murder of deplorable circumstances occurred in 181o. A Scotchman by name of Donaldson had just arrived from Scotland with a good sized family. One bright son, thirteen years of age, secured a position at Smith’s red store on Mill Street. It chanced one day that the boy was unpacking crockery from a crate at the door, when an Indian, for some unaccountable reason, suddenly appeared on the scene, tomahawked him and successfully made his escape.
On Wednesday evening, November 9th, 1836, young M. C. O’Neil, a clerk in the employ of John Crawford, a distiller and shopkeeper, went down to the wharf to look after the shipment of some whiskey on the evening boat. It was quite dark and as he leaned over a cask to decipher some words. on it, he was knocked down from behind with a whiffletree. He was badly stunned by the blow but was able to walk to his lodgings, where he died during the night. Robert Brown and Samuel McKenna were accused of the murder under the clearest evidence. The deed was the outcome of a feud between the employes of Crawford and John Brown, who were both engaged in the same business. On September 22nd, 1837, Brown was tried before Justice Macaulay; G. M. Boswell and W. S. Bidwell defended Brown and Attorney-General Hagerman prosecuted. The evidence of Sheriff, mate of the Commodore Barrie, was most conclusive and everybody believed Brown a doomed man. Still he had two friends on the jury, Mitchell and Campbell, who belonged to the same secret society and these men stood out for six days for his release, during the first two days of which no food was allowed the jury. The result was the jury was dismissed and a new trial called for It took place at the next assizes and, because Attorney-General Hagerman refused to call Sheriff, Brown was acquitted.
A fourth murder of a still more tragic nature occurred in October 1856, when Mr. George Brogdin shot Mr. Tom Henderson at the wharf. This fearful deed, involving two young and well-known citizens of the town, was the result of domestic inconstancy and possessed many extenuating circumstances. Henderson was passing through on the Arabian at the time and Brogdin chanced to be at the wharf. He was at all times prepared for such a meeting and the moment Henderson showed himself he was a dead man. Brogdin immediately gave himself over to the po-
lice and he was put on his trial on October 31st. Immense crowds from town attended the court and it is said had the prisoner not been acquitted, the populace would have put the law at defiance and secured his release. Brogdin was defended in a masterly manner by Sir Thomas Galt and prosecuted by Solicitor General Smith. He was declared ” not guilty,” to the great joy of his numerous supporters.
A very sad accident of rather a remarkable nature occurred on May 9th 1838. James McSpadden, aged fourteen, the eldest son of Dr. McSpadden, left his home on Walton street in order to get something he had left the preceding Sunday in the Presbyterian Church. Though he did not return immediately, his parents experienced no alarm. However a companion of James happened to pass the rear of the Church about that time. He saw a ladder up at one of the windows and at the top of it the form of his friend. He shouted to him but received no reply. He therefore made an examination and to his horror found that his friend was hanging by the neck from the window which had evidently fallen upon him as he was in the act of passing through.
Around the piers of Port Hope Harbour there are still to be seen the hulks of several old schooners which have at one time or another been wrecked during storms. A sad tale surrounds an old hulk which lies near the shore to the east of the east pier. It is all that remains of the schooner Niagara, which was driven aground there by a fierce storm on December 3rd, 1856. The Niagara was bound from Bond Head Harbour to Port Hope, laden with coal. It attempted to make the harbour but, striking the eastern pier, it was carried around and driven ashore. Its crew consisted of captain and five men, who were compelled to climb into the rigging to escape the dashing waves. The inhabitants of Port Hope assembled in large numbers on the shore prepared to render all possible assistance. A rescue party under command of Captain Alward started out in a boat but failed to reach the wreck. Shortly after Captain Paddock and five men made a second attempt. His boat reached the ship but immediately thereupon it foundered. The brave Captain was drowned and also one of his companions named Campbell. The others succeeded in boarding the wreck, making now ten men to be rescued. Captain Alward led the third rescue party and to the relief of the anxious watchers, succeeded in bringing off the ship-wrecked crew. For his brave act he was presented with a gold watch by his admiring fellow-townsmen.
Space forbids the recounting of further tales of sorrow. There have been many others. The lake has claimed several precious lives, the railroad has mangled many useful bodies, suicides have oft-times sought relief from their cares and accidents of various kinds have deprived the community of its citizens. But let the memory of these departed souls rest with those who loved them.