The Story of the Upper Canada Rebellion, Volume 1
by John Charles Dent
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New York






Author of "The Last Forty Years," etc.

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"Well, God be thanked for these rebels."—I Henry IV., Act iii, sc. 3.

"Truth is not always to be withheld because its expression may wound the feelings of public men, whose official acts have subjected them to public censure. If it were, history and biography would cease to be guiding stars, and, above all, would offer no wholesome restraint to the cruel, or corrupt, or incompetent exercise of authority."—Tupper's Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock.

"We rebelled neither against Her Majesty's person nor her Government, but against Colonial mis-government.... We remonstrated; we were derided.... We were goaded on to madness, and were compelled to show that we had the spirit of resistance to repel injuries, or to be deemed a captive, degraded and recreant people. We took up arms, not to attack others, but to defend ourselves."—Letter to Lord Durham from Dr. Wolfred Nelson and others, confined at Montreal, June 18th, 1838.

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Entered according to Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year 1885, by C. BLACKETT ROBINSON, in the office of the Minister of Agriculture.










Toronto, 1885.

[Transcriber's Note: Obvious printer errors, including punctuation, have been corrected. All other inconsistencies have been left as they were in the original.]





















John Rolph Frontispiece

David Gibson 284






[Sidenote: 1819]

In the afternoon of a warm and sultry day, towards the close of one of the warmest and most sultry summers which Upper Canada has ever known, an extraordinary trial took place at the court-house in the old town of Niagara. The time was more than threescore years ago, when York was a place of insignificant proportions; when Hamilton could barely be said to have an existence; and when the sites of most of the other towns of the Province whose names are now familiar to us still formed part of the hunting-grounds of the native Indian. The little town on the frontier was relatively a place of much greater importance than it is at present; though its fortunes, even at that early period, were decidedly on the wane, and such glory as it could ever boast of possessing, as the Provincial capital, had departed from it long before. To speak with absolute precision, the date was Friday, the 20th of August, 1819: so long ago that, as far as I have been able to learn, there are only two persons now living who were present on the occasion. The court-room, which was the largest in the Province, was packed to the doors, and though every window was thrown open for purposes of ventilation, the atmosphere was almost stifling. Even a stranger, had any such been present, could not have failed to perceive that the trial was one in which a keen interest was felt by the spectators, many of whom were restless and irritable, insomuch that they found it impossible to keep perfectly still, and from time to time shifted uneasily in their places. Whispers, "not loud, but deep," occasionally reverberated from the back benches to the quadrangular space in front assigned to gentlemen of the long robe, and ascended thence to the august presence upon the judgment seat. Ever and anon the stentorian voice of the crier proclaimed silence, in a tone which plainly signified that endurance had well-nigh reached its limits, and that he would really be compelled to proceed to extremities if his mandate were any longer disobeyed.

The court-room was of the old conventional pattern. At the upper end was the large elevated desk, or throne, extending nearly half way across the chamber, with spacious cushioned chairs, and other suitable accommodation for the presiding judge and his associates. To right and left were the enclosed jury boxes, with seats raised considerably above the level of the floor, but not so high as those provided for the justices. Directly opposite the throne of justice, and about six yards distant therefrom, was the prisoners' dock, into which five or six persons might have been thrust, at a pinch. The intervening space enclosed by this quadrangle—throne, prisoners' dock, and jury boxes—was mainly appropriated to the use of barristers and attorneys, and their clients. A large portion of the space so appropriated was occupied by a table, around which were distributed a few chairs, every one of which was occupied; and at the end directly below the judicial throne was a small enclosure provided for the clerk of the court, set apart by a low railing, and containing a desk of diminutive size. Between the clerk's desk and the left-hand jury box was the witness stall, raised to a level with the highest seats provided for the jurors. A seat for the sheriff was placed a short distance to the right of the throne of justice, and on a slightly lower level.

All these arrangements occupied perhaps one-third of the entire court-room. The rest of the space, extending from the rear of the prisoners' dock to the lower end of the chamber, was occupied by seats rising tier behind tier, with a passage down the middle. Between each of the ends of these seats and the walls of the chamber were passages of about three feet in width, leading to the doors, for purposes of "ingress, egress and regress." Such was the plan of the conventional Upper Canadian court-room in the olden time; and such, with a few inconsiderable modifications, many of them remain down to the present day.

The sole occupant of the judgment seat, on this sultry afternoon, was a gentleman of somewhat diminutive size, but withal of handsome and imposing appearance. Though he had reached advanced middle life, he presented none of the signs of age, and evidently retained all his vigour unimpaired. His eyes were bright and keen, and his small but firm and clearly cut features were lighted up with the consciousness of mental power. No one, looking upon that countenance, could doubt that its owner had all his faculties under strict and thorough control, or that his faculties were considerably above those of average humanity. The face was not one for a child to fall in love with, for it was a perfect index to the character, and was firm and strong rather than amiable or kind. Evidently a man who, should the occasion for doing so arise, would deal out the utmost rigour of the law, if not with indifference, at least without a qualm. He was the Honourable William Dummer Powell, and he occupied the high office of Chief Justice of the Province. In conjunction with the Reverend Doctor Strachan, Rector of York, he had for several years practically directed the administration of affairs in Upper Canada. Francis Gore and Sir Peregrine Maitland might successively posture as figure-heads under the title of Lieutenant-Governors, but the real depositaries of power were the Rector and the Chief Justice. Ominous combination! which falsified the aphorism of a great writer—now, unhappily, lost to us—about the inevitable incompatibility of law and gospel. Both of them had seats in the Executive Council, and, under the then-existing state of things, were official but irresponsible advisers of the Crown's representative. More than one would-be innovator of those days had been made to feel the weight of their hands, without in the least knowing, or even suspecting, whence the blow proceeded. They were the head and front of the junto of oligarchs who formed the Vehmgericht known as the Family Compact, and for all practical purposes their judgment in matters relating to the dispensing of patronage and the disposal of Crown property was final and conclusive.

The counsel for the prosecution was a handsome young man of twenty-eight, who for some years past had been steadily fitting himself for the important part he was destined to play—that of Mr. Powell's judicial[1] and political successor in the colony. The time was only ten years distant when he, in his turn, was to become Chief Justice of Upper Canada. The time was still less remote when he was to succeed Chief Justice Powell as Dr. Strachan's most active colleague—as the chief lay spokesman of his party, and the chief lay adviser of successive Lieutenant-Governors. His name was John Beverley Robinson, and his destiny was doubtless sufficiently clear before him on this 20th of August, 1819. He had strong claims upon his party, for he was the son of a United Empire Loyalist, and during the late war with the United States had proved that he was no degenerate scion of the stock whence he had sprung. He had been present at the surrender of Detroit, and had borne himself gallantly at the battle of Queenston Heights. Nor had his party shown any disposition to ignore his claims. On the contrary, they had pushed him forward with a rapidity which would have turned any head with a natural tendency to giddiness. He had been appointed Attorney-General of the Province before he had been called to the bar, and when he was only twenty-one years of age—a special Act of Parliament being subsequently passed to confirm the proceeding. In 1815 he had been appointed Solicitor-General, chiefly in order that he might draw the salary incidental to that office during a two years' visit to England. Soon after his return he had again been appointed Attorney-General, and had early signalized his re-accession to office by his manner of prosecuting certain criminals from the Red River country, who had been placed on trial at York. Those proceedings do not fall within the purview of this work, but it may be said with reference to the young Attorney-General's connection with them that he had proved himself an exceedingly narrow partisan and a docile pupil of Dr. Strachan. He now presented himself to take a leading part in one of the most shameless and iniquitous prosecutions that ever disgraced a court of justice. His personal appearance was decidedly prepossessing. His figure, clad in well-fitting garments of the fashionable cut of the period, was light, agile and compact, and his face, rather inclining to narrowness, was surmounted by a high and smoothly-finished brow, beneath which looked out a pair of steel-grey eyes, the usual expression of which was eager and firm, but on the whole not unkindly. His mouth was finely formed, and when he was in a pleasant humour—as indeed he not infrequently was—his smile was sweet and ingratiating. In intellectual capacity he was considerably in advance of most of his professional brethren of that day, and he had cultivated his natural abilities by constant watchfulness and study. His features, one and all, were well and sharply defined, and he was probably the handsomest man at the Provincial bar.

Several other members of the legal profession, all of them more or less widely known in the forensic, judicial or political annals of the Province, were present. Conspicuous among them was the brilliant but unscrupulous Christoper Alexander Hagerman, who had already taken high rank at the bar, and was destined to be one of the most active and intolerant directors of the oligarchical policy. Archibald McLean, tall and lithe of limb, had then been more than four years at the bar, and he had already given evidence of the high abilities which were to gain for him an honoured seat upon the judicial bench. He had been retained to defend two prisoners at the Niagara assizes, and his presence in the court-room was due to this fact. Another figure at the barristers' table was Samuel Peters Jarvis, his hands yet red with the blood of young John Ridout, ruthlessly shed by him in a duel two years before, and never to be effaced from the tablets of his memory. There, too, sat Henry John Boulton, a young man of much pretension but mediocre intellect, who had been appointed acting Solicitor-General during the previous year, and who united in his own person all the bigotry and narrow selfishness of the faction to which he belonged. He, also, had been concerned in the shedding of young Ridout's blood, having acted as second to the surviving principal in that affair. With this exception his past life had been uneventful, but his future was fated to be marked by considerable variety of incident, and by actions which even the most favourable judgment cannot regard with unmixed complacency.

The twelve jurymen sat in their places, in the jury-box to the left of the judge. The witnesses summoned on behalf of the Crown were the Honourable William Dickson and the Honourable William Claus, both of whom were members of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. The former gentleman was an enterprising Scotchman who had settled in Niagara while it was yet known as Newark, where he had first kept a general store, and afterwards practised law and speculation with great pecuniary success. Like the Jarvis above mentioned, he was disfigured by a red right hand, having shot his man in a duel fought in the autumn of 1808 behind the United States fort on the opposite bank of the river. It is fair to Mr. Dickson, however, to say that he was the challenged party, and that the duel was in a measure forced upon him by the barbarous usages of society in those (happily) far-off days. The other witness, Mr. Claus, was at the head of the Indian department at Niagara, the abuses in the administration whereof were notorious. It was well understood throughout the district that Dickson and Claus between them had contrived to make a tolerably good thing out of the Indians, and that they had been concerned in some decidedly shady transactions. If it be true that Heaven helps those who help themselves, certainly both those gentlemen were entitled to look for divine assistance. They possessed and exercised a wide influence throughout the settlements in the Niagara peninsula, as well as at the Provincial capital, and were commonly regarded as being on the high road to great wealth. Two years before the date of the trial forming the subject of the present chapter, Dickson had purchased the whole of the splendid township of Dumfries, comprising 94,305 acres, at a trifle over a dollar an acre; and he had already begun to realize upon his investment. Claus and he occupied seats at the barristers' table, in close proximity to the Attorney-General. The spectators included pretty nearly every prominent resident of the town of Niagara and its immediate neighbourhood.

But the most conspicuous figure in that crowded court-room yet remains to be considered. It has been mentioned that the prisoners' dock was large enough to hold five or six persons. On this occasion it held but a single, solitary prisoner. A man large and bony, who, when in his ordinary state of health, must have weighed not less than fifteen stone. Just at present he was very far from being in ordinary health, for during the preceding twelvemonth he had undergone sufficient worry and suffering to destroy the life of any man of average vitality. After having successfully defended himself through two criminal trials, he had been cast into prison, where he had languished for more than seven months. During his long confinement he had been subjected to a course of treatment which would have been highly culpable if meted out to a convicted criminal, and which was marked by a malignant cruelty hardly to be comprehended when the nature of the offence charged against him is considered. His own account of the matter is a plain and simple narration of facts, the truth whereof rests upon the clearest and most indisputable evidence. "After two months' close confinement," he writes, "in one of the cells of the jail, my health had begun to suffer, and, on complaint of this, the liberty of walking through the passages and sitting at the door was granted. This liberty prevented my getting worse the four succeeding months, although I never enjoyed a day's health, but by the power of medicine. At the end of this period I was again locked up in the cell, cut off from all conversation with my friends, but through a hole in the door, while the jailor or under-sheriff watched what was said, and for some time both my attorney and magistrates of my acquaintance were denied admission to me. The quarter sessions were held soon after this severe and unconstitutional treatment commenced, and on these occasions it was the custom and duty of the grand jury to perambulate the jail, and see that all was right with the prisoners. I prepared a memorial for their consideration, but on this occasion was not visited. I complained to a magistrate through the door, who promised to mention my case to the chairman of the sessions, but the chairman happened to be brother of one of those who had signed my commitment, and the court broke up without my obtaining the smallest relief. Exasperation of mind, now joined to the heat of the weather, which was excessive, rapidly wasted my health and impaired my faculties. I felt my memory sensibly affected, and could not connect my ideas through any length of reasoning, but by writing, which many days I was wholly unfitted for by the violence of continual headache."

There is a pathos about this plain, unvarnished story that appeals to every heart. That a man, no matter what his crimes, should have his nervous system thus cruelly undermined; that his physical and mental faculties should be slowly but surely filched from him in this deliberate fashion, is an idea not to be borne with composure by anyone whose breast is susceptible to human impulses. But Robert Gourlay was no great criminal. He had engaged in no plot to blow up King, Lords and Commons. He had been guilty of no treason or felony. He had threatened no man's life, and taken no man's purse upon the highway. He was by no means the stuff of which great criminals are made. He was not even a vicious or immoral man. He was an affectionate husband, a fond and indulgent father. His story, from beginning to end, even when subjected to the fiercest light that can be thrown upon it, discloses nothing cruel or revengeful, nothing vile or outrageously wicked, nothing grovelling or base, nothing sordid or mean. On the other hand, it discloses a man of many noble and generous impulses; a man with a great heart in his bosom which could warmly sympathize with the wrongs of his fellow-creatures; a man in whom was no selfishness or greed; a man of decided principles and stainless morals; who was incapable of dishonesty or cruelty; who had a high sense of human responsibility; who feared his God and honoured his King. When we compare his virtuous and honourable, albeit turbulent and much misguided life, with that of any one of his immediate persecutors, the contrast is mournfully suggestive of Mr. Lowell's antithesis about

"Truth forever on the scaffold; wrong forever on the throne."

To what, then, was his long and bitter persecution to be attributed? Why had he been deprived of his liberty; thrust into a dark and unwholesome dungeon; refused the benefit of the Habeas Corpus Act; denied his enlargement upon bail or main-prize; branded as a malefactor of the most dangerous kind; badgered and tortured to the ruin of his health and his reason? Merely this: he had imbibed, in advance, the spirit of Mr. Arthur Clennam, and had "wanted to know."[2] He had displayed a persistent determination to let in the light of day upon the iniquities and rascalities of public officials. He had denounced the system of patronage and favouritism in the disposal of the Crown Lands. He had inveighed against some of the human bloodsuckers of that day, in language which certainly was not gracious or parliamentary, but which as certainly was both forcible and true. He had even ventured to speak in contumelious terms of the reverend Rector of York himself, whom he had stigmatized as "a lying little fool of a renegade Presbyterian." Nay, he had advised the sending of commissioners to England to entreat Imperial attention to colonial grievances. He had been the one man in Upper Canada possessed of sufficient courage to do and to dare: to lift the thin and flimsy veil which only half concealed the corruption whereby a score of greedy vampires were rapidly enriching themselves at the public cost. He had dared to hold up to general inspection the baneful effects of an irresponsible Executive, and of a dominating clique whose one hope lay in preserving the existing order of things undisturbed. It was for this that the Inquisition had wreaked its vengeance upon him; for this that the vials of Executive wrath had been poured upon his head; for this that his body had been subjugated and his nerves lacerated by more than seven months' close imprisonment; for this that he had been "ruined in his fortune and overwhelmed in his mind." And all these things took place in "this Canada of ours," in the year of grace eighteen hundred and nineteen—barely sixty-six years ago—while the Duke of Richmond was Governor-General, and his handsome scapegrace of a son-in-law nominally administered the government of the Upper Province.

With a view to a clearer understanding of the circumstances which led to this most villainous of Canadian State prosecutions, it will be well to glance at some details of the prisoner's past life.[3]

Robert Gourlay was the son of a gentleman of considerable fortune—a retired Writer to the Signet—and was born in the parish of Ceres, Fifeshire, Scotland, in 1778. He received an education suitable to his social position, and while at the University of St. Andrews was the fellow-student and personal friend of young Thomas Chalmers, who afterwards became one of the most eloquent pulpit orators of modern times.[4] Robert was the eldest son of his parents, and, being heir to the paternal estates, he grew up to manhood with the expectation of one day succeeding to wealth and station in society. He was put to no profession, and after leaving college, devoted himself to no settled pursuit. He was on visiting terms with the resident gentry of his native shire, and took some interest in local military matters. In 1806 he offered to take charge of an expedition for the invasion of Paris, being probably impelled thereto by the mad attempt of Lord Camelford several years before. He was full of energy and robust health, bountiful and generous to the poor of the parish, a practical philanthropist, possessed of great intelligence and a genuine love for his kind; but withal somewhat flighty and erratic, of impetuous temper, deficient in tact and discretion, and given to revery and theorizing. He was, in short, a bundle of contradictions, some of his idiosyncrasies being doubtless inherited from his father, who was a generous and high-minded but unpractical man. The sire would seem to have been conscious of his son's weaknesses. "Robert," he was wont to say, "will hurt himself, but do good to others." The son studied deeply the economical side of the pauper question, and his researches in this direction brought him into intimate relations with that eminent writer Mr. Arthur Young,[5] at whose suggestion he was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the condition of the poor in England. By virtue of this appointment he travelled, chiefly on foot, through the most important agricultural districts of the island, after which he was pronounced by competent authorities to be the best-informed man in the kingdom respecting the poor of Great Britain. As I have said elsewhere: "He was consulted by members of Parliament, political economists, parish overseers, and even by members of the Cabinet, as to the best means for reforming the poor laws, and was always ready to spend himself and his substance for the public good."[6]

Having married and settled down on one of his father's estates, he took upon himself various offices of public usefulness and philanthropy. His enterprise and public spirit caused him to be much looked up to by the yeomanry of Fifeshire, and he soon came to be recognized as the special champion of the smaller tenantry at agricultural meetings. At one of these meetings he conceived himself to have been discourteously treated by his neighbour, the Earl of Kellie. The discourtesy does not seem to have been of a serious nature, but Mr. Gourlay became irritated to a degree altogether disproportionate to the offence. He wrote and published a pamphlet, in which Lord Kellie was handled with much severity. It was circulated by the author throughout Fifeshire, and widely read; and from this time forward he was much given to taking the public into his confidence respecting his personal grievances. His attack on Lord Kellie, however, weakened his popularity, and in 1809, partly owing to this cause, and partly to his being in temporary ill-health, he accepted a proposal from the Duke of Somerset to become the tenant of a farm belonging to his Grace, and situated in the parish of Wily, in Wiltshire. For a time all went well with him in his new abode. His farm was a model for the emulation of all the landholders in the parish, and his products gained prize after prize at successive agricultural exhibitions. But Mr. Gourlay was nothing if not critical, and certain of his surroundings afforded legitimate grounds for fault-finding. There were many and serious defects in the system of administering the poor-laws of Great Britain in those days, and the administration in the parish of Wily was attended by some specially objectionable features. These erelong became painfully apparent to the keen eyes of Mr. Gourlay, who began to agitate for a reform. He went into the matter with characteristic earnestness, and, by dint of constant speechifying and weekly letters addressed to the local newspapers, he soon began to produce an impression. His appetite for agitation grew by what it fed upon, insomuch that he became a confirmed grievance-monger and hunter-up of abuses. The magnates of the county began to look coldly upon him, and even, in some instances, to array themselves in open opposition to him. This only tended still further to arouse the native pugnacity of his disposition, and his attacks upon local abuses and those who upheld them became more and more violent. Now, in all this there can be no doubt that Mr. Gourlay was from first to last chiefly actuated by genuine philanthropy. He certainly had no selfish or pecuniary purpose to serve; and indeed it is hard to conceive of a man less influenced by mercenary motives. His life was passed in a perpetual war against veritable and undoubted evils; but unfortunately his hotheadedness and want of tact prevented him from doing justice to himself and his views. He lacked the calm intellect and patient temper necessary to the successful fighting of life's stern battle, and had the unhappy faculty of generally putting himself in the wrong, even when there could be no doubt that he had originally been in the right. Some of his letters to the newspapers were remarkable for nothing but their indiscretion, violence and bad taste, and he came to be looked upon by the landlords of Wiltshire as a visionary and dangerous man. His own landlord, the Duke of Somerset, was of this way of thinking, and after some remonstrances at second-hand which proved unavailing, his Grace resolved that this "pestilent Scotchman" must be got rid of. A bill in Chancery was filed against him on some pretext or other, with the view of putting an end to his tenancy. Years of irritating and ruinous litigation followed, the ultimate result of which was a decision in Mr. Gourlay's favour. But it was the old story of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The protracted litigation had eaten up the substance of the successful litigant, and upon the promulgation of the decree the Wiltshire Radical was a ruined man. This would have been a matter of secondary importance to the heir of a wealthy Fifeshire laird, but unhappily his father had also come to the end of his resources. Injudicious speculation and the mismanagement of an agent, combined with the necessity of placing a large quantity of real estate in the market at an inauspicious time, were the causes which led to the bankruptcy of the elder Gourlay, who was stripped of his great possessions and left with a bare subsistence. The son's prospects of inheriting a fortune were thus at an end, and at thirty-seven years of age he found himself almost wholly without means, and with a family of five children and a wife in delicate health dependent upon him for support. The howl of the wolf began to be audible to him; distant, as yet, but still gradually drawing nearer. To his mind, a change of the base of his operations was clearly indicated.

Five years before this time he had acquired a block of land in the Township of Dereham, in the County of Oxford, Upper Canada, where his wife also owned some property. He now began to cast his eyes anxiously towards the setting sun, with a view to the rehabilitation of his broken fortunes. After weighing the matter carefully, he resolved to cross the Atlantic and pay a visit to Canada, in order to ascertain whether it would be prudent to remove his family thither. He seems to have been very deliberate about making up his mind, as he did not set sail from Liverpool until the month of April, 1817, and did not reach Canada until early in June. The country delighted him, more especially the Upper Province; but one with so keen an eye for abuses had not far to look throughout our fair land in those days for subjects of criticism. Having made himself acquainted with some of the most glaring iniquities of the ruling faction, and with the various causes which tended to retard the progress of the colony, he began to liberate his mind by written and spoken utterances such as had not theretofore been heard in the Province. The effect of these appeals to popular sentiment was soon apparent. People who had long smarted silently under injustice did not hesitate to make known their discontent. The disturber of the public tranquillity continued to speak and write, and he made his presence felt more and more from month to month. Having resolved to engage in business as a land agent, and to set on foot a huge scheme of immigration to Canada from Great Britain, he went diligently to work to gather specific and definite information, and to attack one abuse after another. He travelled about the country hither and thither, addressed public meetings, and wrote letters to all the papers that would publish his animadversions. He was in deadly earnest, and put all the energy of his impassioned nature into his appeals. In commenting upon the delinquencies of public officials he did not mince matters, though I search in vain throughout his voluminous writings for any evidence that he was ever guilty of a misstatement, or even an exaggeration. He regaled his readers and hearers with indubitable facts—facts which, for the most part, were easily susceptible of proof, and which were eminently calculated to arouse public indignation against the harpies who reaped where they had sowed not, and who gathered where they had not strawed.

These proceedings, as may readily be believed, rendered him inexpressibly obnoxious to the Executive, and to the horde of myrmidons who held office at their sufferance. But the cup of his transgressions was not yet full. His next proceeding filled it to overflowing. He addressed a series of thirty-one printed questions to prominent persons in different parts of the Province, asking for topographical and other information. The thirty-first question was so framed that, if truthfully replied to, it was certain to elicit facts which would form the groundwork of damnifying strictures on the principal abuses of the time. "What, in your opinion," asked Mr. Gourlay, "retards the improvement of your township in particular, or the Province in general?" Throughout the Home District the influence of the Compact was sufficient to prevent any replies from being returned to these queries. Elsewhere that influence was partial only, and many answers were received from other districts. The all but invariable reply to the thirty-first question attributed the slow development of the country to the Crown and Clergy Reserves. Mr. Gourlay did not attempt to conceal his intention of publishing the results of his investigations, and of circulating them all over Great Britain and Ireland. Having succeeded in arousing a good deal of popular enthusiasm, he proceeded to strike what he intended to be another damaging blow. Owing to his exertions, a convention was held at York, whereat he advocated a petition to the Imperial Parliament, praying for an investigation into the public affairs of Upper Canada. He also suggested the sending of deputies to England in support of the petition, and it is not improbable that such a course would eventually have been followed, but the petitioners were as yet not fully organized, and before any of their plans could be brought to maturity their champion's career of agitation received a sudden and, for the time, an effectual check.

The oligarchs had taken alarm. If this man were permitted to go on as he had begun, there would soon be an end of the existing order of things, which they had so tremendous an interest in preserving. At any cost, and by whatever means, he must be suppressed. There must be a general and determined advance against him all along the line.

The prime organizer of this most unrighteous crusade is believed to have been the Reverend Dr. John Strachan, Rector of York, member of the Executive Council, supreme director of the lay and ecclesiastical policy of the Church of England in Upper Canada, champion of the Clergy Reserves, and what not. It may seem a thankless task to write in strong depreciation of a man who, in his day and generation, was looked up to with reverence by a large and influential portion of the community, and whose memory is still warmly cherished by not a few. But truth is truth, and the simple fact of the matter is that Dr. Strachan did more to stifle freedom and retard progress in Upper Canada than any other man whose name figures in our history. His baneful influence made itself felt, directly or indirectly, in every one of the public offices. Wherever liberty of thought and expression, whether as affecting things spiritual or temporal, ventured to lift its head, there, bludgeon in hand, stood the great Protestant Pope, ready and eager to strike. It may perhaps be conceded that he acted according to his earnest convictions. So, doubtless, did Philip of Spain and Tomas de Torquemada. It is not going too far to say that Dr. Strachan was utterly incapable of seeing more than one side of any question involving the interests of himself and his church. When his cause was a just one, who so fond as he of appealing to the majesty of the law. When he wished to pervert the law to his own purposes, who so apt at enjoining a disregard therefor.[7] There is abundant reason for believing that he was the original instigator of the Gourlay prosecutions. They were at all events carried on by his satellites, and fostered by his fullest concurrence and approval. Their object was to drive Mr. Gourlay out of the country, and to this end it would appear that the Compact were prepared to go whatever lengths the necessities of the case might require. A criminal prosecution for libel was set on foot against the doomed victim of Executive malevolence, who was arrested and thrown into jail at Kingston, where he lay for some days. The trial took place on the 15th of August, 1818, when Mr. Attorney-General Robinson put forth the utmost power of his eloquence to secure a conviction. In vain. The prisoner conducted his own defence, and so clearly exposed the flimsiness of the indictment that the prosecution utterly failed. A second arrest on a similar charge resulted in another acquittal at Brockville. It was by this time manifest that no jury could be found subservient enough to become blind instruments of oppression. The alleged libel consisted of two paragraphs in a petition to the Prince Regent, drafted by Mr. Gourlay, approved of, printed and published by sixteen residents of Niagara District, six of whom were magistrates. These paragraphs contained a vivid but faithful picture of the abuses existing in the Crown Lands Department, and it would probably have been difficult to find a jury anywhere in Upper Canada, some members whereof had not had personal experience of those abuses. Having failed in two attempts to convict him of libel, Mr. Gourlay's foes hit on another and more effectual method of accomplishing his destruction.

By a Provincial statute known as the Alien Act, passed in 1804, authority was given to certain officials to issue a warrant for the arrest of any person not having been an inhabitant of the Province for the preceding six months, who had not taken the oath of allegiance, and who had given reason for suspicion that he was "about to endeavour to alienate the minds of His Majesty's subjects of this Province from his person or government, or in anywise with a seditious intent to disturb the tranquillity thereof." In case the person so arrested failed to prove his innocence, he might be notified to depart this Province within a specified time, and if he failed so to depart he was liable to be imprisoned until he could be formally tried at the general jail delivery. If found guilty, upon trial, he was to be adjudged by the court to quit the Province, and if he still proved contumacious he was to be deemed guilty of felony, and to suffer death as a felon, without benefit of clergy. This statute, be it observed, was not passed at Westminster during the supremacy of the Plantagenets or the Tudors, but at York, Upper Canada, during the forty-fourth year of the reign of George the Third. More than one eminent authority has pronounced it an unconstitutional measure. There was, however, some show of justification for it at the time of its enactment, for the Province was then overrun by disloyal immigrants from Ireland and by republican immigrants from across the borders, many of whom tried to stir up discontent among the people, and were notoriously in favour of annexation to the United States.[8] It was against such persons that the Act had been levelled, and there had never been any question of attempting to apply it to anyone else. Now, however, it was pressed into requisition in order to compass the ruin of as loyal a subject as could have been found throughout the wide expanse of the British Empire; who had resided in Upper Canada for a continuous period of nearly eighteen months; who was no more an alien than the King upon the throne; and whose only real offence was that he would not stand calmly by while rapacious and dishonest placemen carried on their nefarious practices without protest.

Among the various dignitaries authorized to put the law in motion, by the issue of a warrant under the Act, were the members of the Legislative and Executive Councils. William Dickson and William Claus, as has been seen, were members of the former body; and as such they had power over the liberty of anyone whose loyalty they thought fit to call in question. Dickson was a connection by marriage of Mr. Gourlay, and for some months after that gentleman's arrival in this Province had gone heart and hand with him in his schemes of reform. For Mr. Dickson then had a grievance of his own, arising out of the partial interdict of immigration from the United States which had been adopted after the War of 1812-15. He was the owner of an immense quantity of uncultivated land in the Province, including the township of Dumfries already mentioned, which he was desirous of selling to incoming settlers. The shutting out of United States immigrants tended to retard the progress of settlement and the sale of his property. His anger against the Administration had been hot and bitter, and he had even gone so far as to state publicly that he would rather live under the American than under the British Government. But he had managed to induce the Assembly to pass certain resolutions, recognizing the right of subjects of the United States to settle in Upper Canada. The restrictions being relaxed, his only cause of hostility to the Administration vanished, and he ceased to clamour against it. His sympathy with Mr. Gourlay's projects vanished into thin air. Those projects contemplated enquiry and reform. Dickson, having accomplished his own ends, desired no further reform; and as for enquiry, he had excellent reasons for burking it, as it would probably lead to the disclosure of certain reprehensible transactions on the part of himself and Claus, the Indian agent. He therefore presented a sudden change of front, and, so far from continuing to act with Mr. Gourlay, he became that unfortunate man's bitterest foe.

How far Dickson's enmity was stimulated by cooeperation with the leaders of the Compact party at York will probably never be known. That there was something more than a merely tacit understanding that Mr. Gourlay was to be got rid of is beyond question. But before any arrest could be effected under the Act of 1804 it was necessary that perjured testimony should be forthcoming. It was easily provided. On the 18th of December, 1818, a secret consultation took place between Dickson and one Isaac Swayze, at the former's private abode. Swayze was a resident of the Niagara District, and the representative of the Fourth Riding of Lincoln in the Legislative Assembly, but was nevertheless a man of indifferent character, and so illiterate as to be barely able to write his name. During the Revolutionary War he had been a spy and "horse-provider" to the loyalist troops. More recently he had been chiefly known as one of the most bigoted and unprincipled of the Compact's minor satellites; a hanger-on who was ever ready to undertake any disreputable work which the Executive might have for him to do. He was a smooth-tongued hypocrite, who made extravagant professions of zeal for religion when he was in the society of religious people, but afterwards laughed at their credulity for believing him. "When electioneering," said he, "I pray with the Methodists." At other times he gained votes by threatening to bring down upon the electors the vengeance of the Executive, who, he averred, were specially desirous of having his services in the Assembly. Corruption can always find apt tools to do its bidding.

"Where'er down Tiber garbage floats, the greedy pike ye see; And wheresoe'er such lord is found, such client still will be."

Isaac Swayze was a veritable modern counterpart of the client Marcus, and when he gained votes by holding his patrons in terrorem over the heads of the electors, he was merely echoing his ancient prototype:—

"I wait on Appius Claudius, I waited on his sire; Let him who works the client wrong beware the patron's ire."

His employers knew their man, and that he would not stick at a trifle to keep their favour. On the day after his secret interview with Dickson he proved his subordination to authority by committing wilful and deliberate perjury. He swore that Mr. Gourlay was an evil-minded and seditious person, who was endeavouring to raise a rebellion against the government of Upper Canada; that he, deponent, verily believed that said Gourlay had not been an inhabitant of the Province for six months, and had not taken the oath of allegiance.[9]

On the strength of this sworn statement, Mr. Gourlay was arrested under the Alien Act of 1804, and carried before Dickson and Claus, both of whom were specially and personally interested in putting him to silence. The examination and hearing before them, which took place on the 21st of December, was a transparent mockery of justice. Dickson, Claus and Swayze, in common with nearly every one in Upper Canada, well knew that their victim had been resident in the Province for nearly three times the period specified in the Act. Dickson had been in constant and familiar intercourse with him for sixteen months. Claus had known him nearly as long. Swayze had conversed with him at York more than a year before, and had been acquainted with his proceedings from month to month—almost from week to week—during the entire interval. The charge of being an evil-minded and seditious person was too absurd to be seriously entertained for a moment by any one who knew Mr. Gourlay as intimately as Dickson had done for more than eight years.[10] As for his not having taken the oath of allegiance, it had never been required of him, and he was both able and willing to take it with a clear and honest conscience. But as matter of fact no one suspected his loyalty, and the charge against him was the veriest pretext that malice could invent. When he appeared before his judges, however, Messieurs Dickson and Claus professed to be dissatisfied with his defence, and alleged that his "words, actions, conduct and behaviour" had been such as to promote disaffection. They accordingly adjudged that he should leave the Province within ten days. A written order, signed by them, enjoining his departure, was delivered to him. "To have obeyed this order," writes Mr. Gourlay,[11] "would have proved ruinous to the business for which, at great expense, and with much trouble, I had qualified myself. It would have been a tacit acknowledgment of guilt, whereof I was unconscious. It would have been a surrender of the noblest British right; it would have been holding light my natural allegiance; it would have been a declaration that the Bill of Rights was a Bill of Wrongs. I resolved to endure any hardship rather than to submit voluntarily."

He paid a heavy penalty for his disobedience. On the 4th of January, 1819—the third day after the expiration of the period allowed him for departure—Dickson and Claus issued an order of commitment, under which he was arrested and lodged in Niagara jail, there to remain until the next sitting of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. His pugnacity was by this time fully aroused, and he determined to fight his ground inch by inch. After some delay, he caused himself to be taken before Chief Justice Powell, at York, under a writ of habeas corpus, for the purpose of being either discharged from custody or admitted to bail. The argument was heard on the 8th of February, when several persons of wealth and good social position presented themselves, and offered to become responsible to any amount for his appearance whenever called upon to stand his trial. The attorney who argued the cause on behalf of the prisoner presented three affidavits, made respectively by the Honourable Robert Hamilton, Peter Hamilton, and the prisoner himself, who, in order to render his position doubly unassailable, had meanwhile taken the oath of allegiance. In the first affidavit it was deposed that Mr. Gourlay had been domiciliated at Queenston for more than nine months, and that the deponent verily believed him to be a natural-born subject of Great Britain. By the second it appeared that deponent had known Mr. Gourlay in Britain, where he was respected, esteemed, and taken to be a British subject; "and that he is so"—thus ran the affidavit—"this deponent verily believes is notoriously true in this district." The prisoner's own affidavit set forth that he was a British subject; that he had taken the oath of allegiance, and that he had been an inhabitant of Upper Canada for more than a year prior to the date of the warrant first issued against him. There could hardly have been a clearer case. But the prisoner's enlargement at this time would have been a triumph for him, and would have made him a popular idol, which would not have comported with the policy of the Unholy Inquisition at the capital. He was remanded to jail, the Chief Justice indorsing judgment on the writ to the effect that the warrant of commitment appeared to be regular, and that the Act under which it was issued made no provision for bail or main-prize.

When Mr. Gourlay was first placed in durance at Niagara he was possessed of robust health, a vigorous frame, a seemingly unconquerable will, and a perfervid enthusiasm for the cause of truth and justice. But his sufferings during the ensuing six months were of a nature well calculated to sap the health of the most robust, to rack the frame of an athlete, to tame the wildest enthusiasm, and to subjugate the strongest will. When we read of what the gentle and erudite John Fisher or the eloquent and upright Sir John Eliot underwent in the Tower for conscience sake, the heart's blood within us is stirred with righteous indignation. But we are calmed by the reflection that these things took place centuries ago, and in a far-distant country. In the case of Robert Gourlay we can lay no such flattering unction to our souls. His slow crucifixion was accomplished in our own land, and at a time well remembered by many persons now living among us. Some idea of what he passed through may be derived from his own words already quoted. Further light on the subject may be obtained from noting his demeanour when placed on trial, as the reader will presently have an opportunity of doing.

For some months after his incarceration his fine state of health and exuberant animal spirits kept him from utterly breaking down. His whole nature was up in arms at the wrongs he had sustained, and his pugnacity asserted itself as far as his circumstances would admit of. He obtained the opinions of eminent English lawyers as to the legal aspect of his case. The unanimous opinion of counsel was that his imprisonment was wholly unjustifiable. Sir Arthur Piggott was clear that Chief Justice Powell should have discharged the prisoner when brought before him under the writ of habeas corpus, and that Dickson and Claus were liable to actions for false imprisonment. This opinion was acted upon, and proceedings were instituted against the two last-named personages. But the contest was too unequal. Each of the defendants obtained an order for security for costs, which security the plaintiff, being in confinement, and subject to various disabilities, was unable to furnish. The actions accordingly lapsed, and Dickson and Claus thus escaped all civil liability for their most reprehensible deeds.

The thread of the narrative may now be resumed pretty nearly where it was dropped a few pages back. It was, as has been said, the 20th of August—nearly a year subsequent to the Kingston trial[12]—when the prisoner was finally placed in the dock to undergo the semblance, without the reality, of a judicial investigation into his conduct. He was himself firmly persuaded that the jury empanelled in his case was a packed one. We have no means of knowing all the circumstances whereby he was led to this conclusion, but the idea is not in itself inherently improbable. In those days, and for long after, no man tried in Upper Canada for anything savouring of radicalism in politics could hope to receive fair play. In Gourlay's case there were one or two suspicious features which, to say the least, require explanation. The custom ordinarily adopted by the sheriff, in selecting jurymen, was to draw them in rotation from the various townships in the district. "In my case," says Mr. Gourlay, "it was said that he had varied his course; and not this only, but, instead of drawing from a square space of country, he chose a line of nearly twenty miles, along which it was well known that there were the greatest number of people prejudiced and influenced against me."[13] Mr. Gourlay further declares that it was observed by people in court that in the glass containing the folded transcripts from the jury-list some of the folded papers were distinctly set apart, so as to admit of their being drawn, apparently with fairness, in the ordinary manner. These papers so set apart from the rest, as Mr. Gourlay informs his readers, were "caught hold of" as the twelve which should decide his fate. The names of the jurors, which, so far as I am aware, have not hitherto appeared in print, are worthy of preservation. They were William Pew, John Grier, William Servos, James B. Jones, Ralfe M. Long, David Bastedo, John C. Ball, John Milton, James Lundy, William Powers, Peter M. Ball and John Holmes.

The personal appearance of the prisoner had undergone a woful change during his confinement. Had his own wife seen him at that moment it is doubtful whether she would have recognized her lord. Could it be possible that that frail, tottering, wasted form, and that blanched, sunken-eyed, imbecile-looking countenance were all that were left of the once formidable Robert Gourlay? The sight was one which might have moved his bitterest enemy to tears. His clothing, a world too wide for so shrunken a tenant, hung sloppy and slovenly about him, and it was remarked by a spectator that he had aged fully ten years during the six months that had elapsed since his journey to York in the previous February. His limbs seemed too weak to support him where he stood, and as he leaned with his hands upon the rail in front of him his fingers twitched nervously, while his whole frame visibly trembled. The saddest change of all had been wrought in his once fine eyes. They were of light grey, and their ordinary expression had been more sharp and piercing than is commonly found in eyes of that colour. They had been clear and keen, and expressive of an active, vigorous brain behind them. At present they were wandering, weak and watery, altogether lacking in lustre or expression. They told their sad tale with piteous brevity. The brain was active and vigorous no longer, or, if still active, was so to no definite purpose. The spark of reason was for the time quenched within him. His oratory and his writings were no longer to be dreaded. The man whose large presence had once carried about with it unmistakable evidences of physical and mental power had been reduced to a physical and mental wreck. No man in that closely-packed court-room was now more harmless than he. The Compact had indeed set an indelible mark upon him—a mark which he was to carry to his grave, for during the forty-four years of life that remained to him he was never again the Robert Gourlay of old, and was subject to periodical seasons of mental aberration.

And yet, as he stood there trembling and distraught, with that sea of faces turned upon him, he was not altogether without some glimmering of reason. He was at least passively conscious, like one in a troubled dream, of what was going on around him. He realized, in a misty, dazed sort of fashion that he was on his trial; but, cudgel his memory how he would, he could not recall the nature of his alleged offence. The fact is that, though no stimulant had passed his lips, he was in a state that can only be characterized as one of intoxication. We know, on undoubted authority, that very emotional persons are sometimes intoxicated by a plate of soup, and that invalids have become tipsy upon eating their first beefsteak after convalescence. Mr. Gourlay was endowed with an enthusiastic, exuberant nature, which required to be kept in subjection by abundant exercise. Up to the time of his imprisonment he had led an active out-of-door life, whereby the demon of nervousness within him had been kept at bay. But long-continued confinement in a close cell, deprivation of fresh air and suitable exercise, had hindered his exuberance from finding vent. His mind had been thrown back upon itself. He had not been permitted to confer with his friends, except under such restrictions as made converse intolerable. He had been kept in such a state of nervous tension that he had had no appetite, and had eaten scarcely any food. His sleep had been broken by mental discomfort, and he had sometimes lain the whole night through without a minute's unconsciousness. What wonder that his flesh had sunk away from his bones, and that his frame had lost its elasticity! For some hours every day he had lain prostrate on the bed in his cell, in a state of feebleness pitiful to behold, unable to speak or move, and hardly able to breathe. "One morning," he writes, "while gasping for breath, I besought the gaoler to let me have more air, by throwing up the window. 'You are no gentleman,' said he; 'you gave that letter[14] out of the window, and I will come presently to nail it down.' Happily a friend soon after called upon me, and through his interference the window was put up. The brutal gaoler had never before been uncivil to me ... but there is a spirit throughout animal nature, brute and human, to oppress in proportion as opportunity is safe, and the object defenceless. The wounded stag, and the close prisoner of a Provincial Government, experience similar treatment."[15]

The summer heat, as before mentioned, had been excessive. No rain had fallen for weeks until just before the opening of the assizes, when there had been three days of damp, cool weather. During these three days the prisoner's strength had rallied wonderfully, and he had been able to prepare a written defence, as well as a written protest against the legality of his trial, in case of a hostile verdict. But the exertion had been too much for him in his enfeebled condition, and, as though to add to his miseries, the heat had become more intolerable than before. He had not known how utterly his nerves were shattered until his case had been called for trial, and he had been placed in the prisoners' dock. Hot and stifling as was the air of the court-room, it was balm itself when compared with the vitiated element which he had long been forced to breathe. The stimulus was too great, and he was no longer master of himself. To quote his own words, he became rampant with the fresh air, and was reduced to imbecility at the very moment when he specially needed strength, patience and recollection. Such was his condition when Mr. Attorney-General rose from his seat and proceeded to lay bare the prisoner's unspeakable enormities. It had been determined that no attempt should be made to convict him of sedition, and that the only charge to be pressed against him should be his refusal to leave the Province. The indictment, however, was read and commented upon, doubtless for the purpose of influencing the minds of the audience. It charged, with wearisome iteration and reiteration, that he, the said Robert Gourlay, being a seditious and ill-disposed person, and contriving and maliciously intending the peace and tranquillity of our lord the King within the Province of Upper Canada to disquiet and disturb, and to excite discontent and sedition among his Majesty's liege subjects of this Province—and so forth, and so forth, to the end of the tedious and tautological chapter. The patriotic and disinterested conduct of Dickson and Claus, in performing the imperative but unpleasant duty of committing their personal friend to jail, lest he should undermine the loyalty of the people, was commented upon with periphrastic eloquence. When the official inquiry was put to the prisoner: "How say you, Robert Gourlay, are you guilty or not guilty?" he instinctively replied "Not guilty." Then came the next query: "Are you ready for your trial?" Ready for his trial, indeed! when his helpless condition was apparent to everybody who could catch a glimpse of his tottering frame and his vacant, expressionless face. The unmeaning sound which issued from his lips was taken for an affirmative, and the farce of an impartial investigation proceeded with.

During the whole of these proceedings the prisoner stood like one amazed and confounded; as one who gropes blindly in the dark for what he cannot find. From the various hints scattered here and there throughout his numerous writings, we are able to form some idea of what he underwent during that trying ordeal. His imagination had been rendered more lively by weakness and prostration of body, and he was so stimulated by the change of air from his cell to the court-room that his sensations were chiefly those of a vague and unreasoning delight—delight at the prospect of freedom; delight at the prospect of once more enjoying the luxury of heaven's sunlight unimpeded by the bars of a prison cell; of running rampant through the land, and feeling upon his sunken cheeks the deliciously invigorating air of the open fields. His high spirit had been effectually tamed by that rigid, excruciating torture of close confinement during the dog days, with no other companion than despair. By this time personal liberty and fresh air seemed to him the only things greatly to be desired. He was cognizant of a sensation of thankfulness that his trial had come on at last, even though it should result in his banishment. He rejoiced that he should even thus be set at liberty from his horrible situation.[16] He longed to feel the tide of human life ebbing and flowing around him, and to feel that he himself was not a mere drone in the hive. During the progress of the trial, though he was oblivious of most that was going on in the court-room, memory and fancy were keenly alert, and he rapidly lived over again many episodes of his past life. The dead and gone years rose up before him like the scenes of a rapidly-shifting panorama, even as the past is said to arise before the mental vision of those lying on beds of pain, just before the great mystery of the grave is unfolded to their view. Subjects and scenes long forgotten or seldom remembered presented themselves. There was the little Fifeshire school, with its umbrageous playground, where he had been a merry laughing lad, and where Dominie Angus had given him his first taste of ferule and Fotherup. There was the patched portrait of Cardinal Beaton, in St. Mary's College, at which he and his friend John Dean had been wont to gaze with rapt admiration in the old days left so far behind. There was that odd adventure among the Mendip Hills, during his professional peregrination through Somersetshire more than a dozen years before, and upon which he could not remember that he had bestowed a single thought since his arrival in Canada. There, too, was the drunken type-setter from Bristol, who had taught him the technical marks to be used in making corrections for the press, and whom he had neither seen nor thought of since the publication of his pamphlet in which be had portrayed the sufferings of Bet Bennam and Mary Bacon. Who shall say what other scenes, sad or mirthful, presented themselves among his "thick-coming fancies"? Possibly he recalled the high hopes of his boyhood, when he thirsted to better the condition of the poor, and was almost persuaded that he had been sent into the world expressly to guard their interests against the exactions of grasping landlords. Visions, too, may have arisen before him of his beautiful Wiltshire farm, where the modest daisies peeped above the grass, and the joyous lark sang from the meadow; where he had once been so happy in the companionship of his fond wife and little ones, who at this moment waited in longing expectation for tidings from the absent husband and father. Perchance also he called to mind, at that crisis, his little dead daughter, who had blossomed and faded among the green glades of Wily, and over whose grave the parson of the parish had refused to read the services of the Church.[17] The poor babe had died unchristened, and under such circumstances the rubric forbade the solemnization of funeral rites.

From all such musings he was recalled by the voice of Chief Justice Powell, demanding if he had aught to say ere the sentence of the court should be pronounced upon him. The sentence of the court! For the best part of two hours he had been wool-gathering, and the words beat upon his brain without arousing any just appreciation of their significance. He now once more awoke to the fact that he was on his trial, but he could not grasp the potentialities of his situation, nor could he for the life of him recall the precise nature of the offence with which he had been charged. He did, however, realize that the jury had returned a verdict to the effect that he had been guilty of refusing to leave the Province, pursuant to the order served upon him. By a desperate effort he managed to rally his senses sufficiently to remember that he had been accused of being a seditious person, though whether the accusation had been made yesterday, or the day before, or half a century ago, he was wholly unaware. Turning towards the jury-box, he enquired of the nearest occupant whether he had been found guilty of sedition. Suddenly it flashed across him that he had prepared a defence, together with a written protest against the anticipated verdict. But by no mental exertion of which he was capable could he remember what he had done with the defence, nor could he call to mind the word "protest," although at that moment he had the written one in his pocket. After a moment's struggle to remember what he wished to say, he found himself hopelessly befogged, and abandoned the attempt. Then, to the amazement of all who heard him, he burst out into a loud, strident peal of unmeaning, maniacal laughter—laughter which had no spice of merriment in it, and which was a mere spontaneous effort of nature to relieve the strain upon the shattered nerves. Bench, bar, jury and spectators stared aghast. Such laughter sounded not only incongruous, but sinister, ominous. It was suggestive of the expiring wail of a lost soul. It was more eloquent than any mere words could have been, and spoke with most miraculous organ. Over more than one heart there crept a sort of premonition that a dread reckoning must sometime arrive for that day's work: that Eternal Justice would sooner or later exact a fit penalty for the cruel perversion of right which was then and there being consummated. It would be interesting to know what, at that particular moment, were the innermost sensations of William Dickson and William Claus, both of whom sat within a few feet of their victim, and both of whom had repeatedly received offices of kindness at his hands.

Strange to say, the miserable man's memory was merely suspended, and he afterwards recalled with much clearness the thoughts and reflections which passed through his mind during that delirium of more than two hours. He even remembered the senseless bray of laughter which, to the sympathetic mind, is not the least impressive feature of that iniquitous trial. His overwrought nerves being temporarily relieved by the cachinnation, he regained for a few minutes some measure of composure and sanity. With the return of reason came a returning sense of injustice and oppression. He made a brief but ineffectual attempt to argue the matter with the Chief Justice, who informed him that the facts had been dealt with by the jury, and that he could be permitted to speak only on questions of law. The sentence of the Court was then pronounced. It was to the effect that the prisoner must quit the Province within twenty-four hours. He was reminded of the risk he would run in the event of his presuming to disobey, or to return to Upper Canada after his departure therefrom. He would be liable, according to the words of the Act of 1804, to suffer death as a felon, without benefit of clergy. The Chief Justice finally proceeded to read him a severe lecture upon his past course since his arrival in Canada, and furthermore to give him some excellent advice. He informed him that in this country the law is supreme; that no man can be permitted to run counter to it with impunity; that those who administer the law should be no respecters of persons; that justice is even-handed, and metes out impartially to the poor man and the rich. He advised him to turn his great abilities to practical account, whereby he would no doubt win happiness and distinction. "Perhaps," says George Eliot, "some of the most terrible irony of the human lot is to hear a deep truth uttered by lips that have no right to it." Poor Gourlay was conscious of some feeling of this sort when he heard such truths proclaimed from such lips. To his morbidly-sensitive nature, such irony seemed an aggravation of all he had endured. To think that, after such experiences as had fallen to his share, a Family Compact judge should gravely inform him that in Upper Canada the administrators of the law should be no respecters of persons! that justice is even-handed! To think that such an one should presume to advise him to become practical, with a view to wealth and happiness! It was like the adulterous woman who, on eloping with her paramour, wrote to her husband enjoining him to be virtuous if he would be happy. The incongruity struck the prisoner so forcibly that for a moment he was on the verge of another explosion of sardonic laughter. Before leaving the dock he made one last attempt to draw attention to the treatment he had sustained while in prison. By way of heightening the effect of his narration, he informed the Court that his letters had been suppressed by the sheriff:[18] that while his enemies had been allowed to fill the newspapers with lying diatribes against him, and to prejudice the public mind in view of his impending trial, his own letters to the Niagara Spectator had been rigidly withheld from the light of day, and this by official interference. Chief Justice Powell put the cap-sheaf upon the pinnacle of absurdity by informing him that if he chose he might prosecute the sheriff. Prosecute the sheriff! when he had just been sentenced by the Chief Justice himself to leave the Province within twenty-four hours, and when he was liable to the last penalty of the law in case of his return to prosecute!

The trial was ended, and—blissful thought!—for the ensuing twenty-four hours he was free to come and go whithersoever he would. He was taken in charge by his friends the Hamiltons, and spent the night in their house at Queenston. Next day—Saturday, the 21st of August—he obeyed the mandate of the law, and shook from his feet the parched dust of Upper Canadian soil. His mental condition was far from satisfactory, but he would brook no interference with his actions, even from his best friends. The feeling uppermost in his bosom was a delicious sense of being at large, with no one to shut the cell door upon him, or otherwise to control his actions. He felt like one recalled to life. The unhappy man was well aware that his brain was weak, but he also knew that he was not what is ordinarily understood as insane. Like Baldassarre, he carried within him that piteous stamp of sanity, the clear consciousness of shattered faculties. His feebleness was as patent to himself as to others. He knew that he was the mere wreck of what he had once been, and he knew further that his mental and bodily ruin was due to the triumph of tyranny and injustice. Still, he was, for the moment, happy. There was sunshine in his heart, and gladness in his eye. Having crossed the Niagara river, he knew that he was beyond the material grasp of those whose baneful shadow was nevertheless destined to darken the rest of his life. "I thanked God," he writes, several years afterwards, "as I set my first foot on the American shore, that I trod on a land of freedom. The flow of animal spirits carried me along for more than two miles in triumphant disgust. It carried me beyond my strength, till, staggering by the side of the road, I sunk down, almost lifeless, among the bushes, and awoke from my dream to a state of sensibility and horror past all power of description. If at my trial, and so long after it, I was callous to feeling; if I was blind to objects around me, and regardless of consequences, the scenes I had passed through were now too visible: my senses were too keen; my feelings too acute. Before, all was frozen and rigid; now, extreme relaxation resigned me to the torture of a distracted mind, feeble, doubting, and irresolute. In fact, my nervous system had undergone a most violent change; and, to this hour, the effects are permanent: to this hour, with every effort and every appliance, my natural tone of health and vigour cannot be regained."[19]

One of the bitterest reflections which forced itself upon him was that he, a man of unimpeachable loyalty, had been banished—"flung out like a spoilt jelly,"[20] under a statute which had been passed to guard against the machinations of aliens and traitors. "Banishment" was to him a word replete with repulsive and disgraceful associations. He liked it no better than did the sweet rose of the Capulets.

"Banished: that one word—banished.

* * * * *

There is no end, no limit, measure, bound, In that word's death."

* * * * *

On the 27th of August, precisely a week after the trial above described, a high and mighty English nobleman who was for the time domiciled in Canada underwent a more terrible experience than ever fell to the lot of Robert Gourlay. He was travelling at the time through a part of the county of Carleton, and while wandering through the woods, attended by several companions, he found himself exceedingly unwell. His spirits were depressed, and he was dominated by what seemed an unaccountable dread of water. His valet had noticed that for a day or two previously he had shrunk from performing his customary ablutions, and had cleaned his hands and face by the application of a damp towel. On approaching within a few yards of a forest stream he was seized by violent spasms. By a desperate resolution he forced himself to take his seat in a canoe which had been provided, but the little craft had not proceeded many yards ere he was seized by a fresh paroxysm, and in a frenzied tone ordered the boatman to land him on the nearest bank. The order was promptly obeyed, and he had no sooner escaped from the boat than he ran frantically into the depths of the wood. He was pursued and overtaken by his companions, who found him foaming at the mouth and raving mad. They secured him until the paroxysm had spent itself, when they conveyed him to a neighbouring shanty. The sufferer, at his own request, was soon after removed to an adjoining barn, where he said he should be more comfortable than in the shanty, as it was further from the water. Throughout the rest of the day and ensuing night he was subject to repeated returns of the paroxysms, during which he suffered untold agonies. It was evident to himself and those about him that he was afflicted by the most terrible of all maladies to which humanity is subject—hydrophobia. He had been bitten by a tame fox a few weeks before, and the deadly rabies had ever since been rankling in his system. He realized that he must die, and the instincts of his race—he was a remote by-blow of royalty—taught him to make an ending in a manner becoming a gentleman. Towards evening he consented to be taken back to the shanty, where a bed had been prepared for him. Except while the paroxysms were upon him, he was perfectly calm and collected, and gave his last sad directions to a friend who stood by his side. About eight o'clock on the morning of the 28th the death-agony came upon him, and his excruciating tortures were at an end.

Thus passed away Charles Gordon Lennox, Fourth Duke of Richmond, Earl of March and Baron Settrington in the peerage of England; Duke of Lennox, Earl of Darnley and Baron Methuen in the peerage of Scotland; Duc d'Aubigny in France, Governor-General of Canada, lord of Halnaker, Goodwood and West Hampnett. There was, as has been above hinted, a bar sinister in his escutcheon, for he was descended from King Charles the Second and the fair and frail Frenchwoman Louise Renee de Querouaille, who was commonly known among Englishmen of her day as Madam Carwell. This lady, who was probably the least bad of the unlicensed prostitutes of Charles's seraglio at Whitehall, was for her many virtues created Duchess of Portsmouth. Her descendants, like those of Nell Gwynn and the rest of that frail sisterhood, are reckoned among the great ones of the earth. The Duke whose melancholy fate has just been chronicled was the father of Lady Sarah, spouse of Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.

* * * * *

Was there any connection between these two tragical events: the trial of Robert Gourlay and the death of the Duke of Richmond? Mr. Gourlay evidently leaned to the belief that there was.[21] The Duke and his son-in-law had passed through Niagara during the hot weather of July, while the victim of Family Compact villainy was gradually having his health and reason tortured out of him in the jail at that place. He was of opinion that the two distinguished visitors should have exercised their prerogative by setting him at liberty. This, of course, was an altogether unreasonable belief. His Grace was not at all likely to interfere in the matter, and as for Sir Peregrine, he was completely in the hands of Mr. Gourlay's enemies. The belief, however, is worth recording, as exhibiting the extent to which Mr. Gourlay's persecution continued to prey upon his mind, even after the lapse of years, and when he was in as good health as he ever regained.

It was deemed advisable that Mr. Gourlay's case should be a perpetual warning to any and every person who might thereafter dare to tread in his venturesome footsteps. Accordingly, as has been seen, he had to drink the cup of mortification to the very dregs. And, by way of deterring public writers from aiding and abetting any such pestilent innovators for the future, it was determined that a notable example should be made of the editor of the Niagara Spectator, who had dared to side with the oppressed against the oppressor, and had published some of Mr. Gourlay's attacks upon the abuses of the time. His name was Bartemus Ferguson, and he had on several occasions manifested his sympathy with projects of reform. The discipline inflicted upon him was swift and severe. He was seized while in bed, in the middle of the night, a hundred and fifty miles from home, conveyed to jail at Niagara, and thence to York, where he was detained in prison for some days out of the reach of friends to bail him. He was tried for sedition at the Niagara assizes a day or two before Mr. Gourlay. In order that public journalists of the present day may note in what comparatively pleasant places their lines have fallen, I transcribe the sentence of the court, which was as follows:—"Therefore it is considered by the said court here that the said Bartemus Ferguson do pay a fine to our said lord the King of fifty pounds of lawful money of Upper Canada: That he, the said Bartemus Ferguson, be imprisoned in the common jail of the District of Niagara for the space of eighteen calendar months, to be computed from the eighth day of November, in the sixtieth year of the reign of our said lord the King: that in the course of the first month of the said eighteen months he do stand in the public pillory one hour, between the hours of ten o'clock in the forenoon and two o'clock in the afternoon: and that at the expiration of the said imprisonment he do give security for his good behaviour for the term of seven years: he the said Bartemus Ferguson in the sum of five hundred pounds, and two sureties in the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds each; and further, that he, the said Bartemus Ferguson, do remain imprisoned in the said jail until the aforesaid fine be paid and security given."

The composition for which the editor was thus held to so stern an account was a letter written by Mr. Gourlay, and signed by his name, published in the Spectator during the editor's absence from home, and without his knowledge. It animadverted pretty sharply on the Administration of the day. In the jingling and jangling phraseology of the indictment, it was calculated to "detract, scandalize, and vilify His Grace Charles Duke of Richmond, Lennox and Aubigny, Captain-General and Governor in and over the Provinces of Lower and Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and their dependencies; and to scandalize and vilify Sir Peregrine Maitland, Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, His Majesty's Lieutenant-Governor of this Province of Upper Canada." Certain public officials, not specifically alluded to by name, were referred to as fools and sycophants. But the letter did not contain a syllable which was not literally true, and was mildness itself when compared with letters and articles which are constantly published with impunity in newspapers of all shades of political opinion in these present times. It appears that, upon the humble and unequivocal submission of the culprit, some of the most severe penalties imposed by the court were remitted, and that he was erelong allowed to resume his business;[22] but all enthusiasm for the public good had meanwhile been crushed out of him, and he became one more added to the list of subservient tools which the Executive always managed to have at their control. Such were the glories of a free press in enlightened Upper Canada sixty-six years ago. Such were the "good old times" which our grandfathers are never weary of belauding to the echo. How bright are the hues of retrospection! But for us of the present generation, let us be thankful to the Giver of all Good that such brave old times are long past, and that they can never return. Let them go; but surely it is too much to expect us to pronounce a benison upon their dead and departed dry bones.

Even before the commencement of proceedings against Mr. Gourlay under the Alien Act, his conduct had furnished a pretext to those in authority for striking a heavy blow against freedom of speech and action. The holding of conventions, whereat meddlesome persons of the Gourlay stamp might air their grievances and agitate for investigations into public abuses, was a thing not to be tolerated in Upper Canada. Upon the assembling of the Legislature at York, in October, 1818, the Lieutenant-Governor, in his opening Speech, hinted at a law to prevent the holding of such meetings; and in the course of the ensuing session a Bill to effect that object was introduced into the Assembly by Mr. Jonas Jones, member for Grenville. The Bill was supported by twelve out of the thirteen members present, and was speedily passed into law; but, as will hereafter be seen, it was not destined to a long life.

* * * * *

After a brief delay in the State of New York, Mr. Gourlay repaired to Boston, and thence took ship for Liverpool. On a subsequent page we shall catch one more brief glimpse of him, but with that exception the present work has no further concern with his chequered existence. He will be referred to from time to time, but only incidentally, and for purposes of illustration. Those who may feel sufficient interest in him to follow his fortunes and misfortunes to the bitter end, will find some account of them in the authority quoted below.[23]


[1] Not, however, his immediate judicial successor. Mr.—afterwards Sir William—Campbell became Chief Justice in 1825, and Mr. Robinson's succession did not take place until four years later.

[2] "Upon my soul, you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know! You have no right to come this sort of move!"—Little Dorrit.

[3] For a much more comprehensive account of Mr. Gourlay's life than the one here given, the reader is referred to a sketch by the author of this work in The Canadian Portrait Gallery, Vol. III., pp. 240-256.

[4] More than half a century later the venerable Doctor thus wrote to his old school-fellow: "... I received your interesting letter ... with no slight emotion of kindness and respect, having ever regarded you as one of the ablest of my fellow-students at St. Andrews; and who, if human life had not been the lottery it is, would have earned by his talents, and merited by his friendly disposition, a place of high and honourable distinction in society."

[5] The following observations, written concerning Mr. Young by Mr. Gourlay many years afterwards, contain, so far as they go, a singularly accurate portraiture of the Banished Briton himself:—"He was an enthusiast, and of course honest: he was well educated, and a gentleman. In all his voluminous writings a mean sentiment is not to be found. His habit of making free with people's names, and taking liberties with their writings, arose from an uncontrollable ardour in the cause of improvement.... His inclination to accumulate crude and undigested information, sufficiently evinced in some of his tours, had their full scope: he then lost himself, and bewildered others, in the confusion of detail. I question if he ever had the power of correct abstract reasoning. His imagination was too busy for it: his eye was too ravenous, devouring all within its reach."—General Introduction to Statistical Account of Upper Canada; p. xcvii.

[6] Canadian Portrait Gallery, Vol. III., p. 241.

[7] Ex. gr.:—"The law! the law!" impatiently exclaimed the Reverend Doctor, in his most strident vernacular, when the question of Barnabas Bidwell's expulsion from the Assembly was under discussion in his hearing—"Never mind the law; toorn him oot, toorn him oot."

[8] "The local situation of Upper Canada exposes it to the inroad of aliens of all nations, who, having no tie of allegiance or affection to Britain, may thence be suspected of evil designs; and for that reason terrors may be held out to keep them at a distance; but for British subjects to be suspected and made liable to penalties on mere suspicion, is contrary at once to nature and the spirit of our constitution. It is more especially absurd when we consider that the law was expressly made for their protection."—General Introduction to Statistical Account of Upper Canada, p. lxviii.

[9] Seven or eight years after this time Swayze narrowly escaped prosecution for the murder of Captain William Morgan, who is presumed to have been slain for his threatened disclosure of the Masonic Ritual. Swayze openly boasted that he had been concerned in the abduction of Morgan, and in the execution of Masonic vengeance upon him. He professed to be able to indicate the precise spot where the body was buried—which spot, he declared, was not far from the bottom of his garden. Upon investigation these vainglorious boastings proved to be utterly without any foundation in fact.

[10] Dickson had originally made Gourlay's acquaintance in 1810, when he visited and spent a week with him at his farm in Wiltshire. See Gourlay's Statistical Account of Upper Canada, Vol. 2, p. 494.

[11] General Introduction to Statistical Account of Upper Canada, p. ix.

[12] In these times there was but one jail delivery per annum in Upper Canada.

[13] Statistical Account, Vol. II., p. 342. In a note to p. xv. of the General Introduction, Mr. Gourlay says further: "The jury in this case was notoriously packed. To guard against the effects of this as much as possible, I had, in the expectation of trial for libel, obtained lists of inimical jurymen, and had people willing to appear in court to swear that many of them had prejudged me openly, in the rancour of party dispute. These lists were handed to me through the door, before and during the assizes; but all caution and care forsook me in the time of need."

[14] Referring to a letter written to attract sympathy to the case of the editor of the Niagara Spectator, who had been imprisoned and shamefully abused for publishing several of Mr. Gourlay's criticisms. Some account of the persecution to which this gentleman was subjected will be found on a future page.

[15] Statistical Account, Vol. 2, pp. 393, 394.

[16] General Introduction, p. xv.

[17] General Introduction, pp. ccviii., ccix., and note.

[18] The sheriff was Thomas Merritt, father of the gentleman who afterwards became the Hon. William Hamilton Merritt, to whose enterprise, more than to that of any other man, we owe the Welland Canal. It is right to add that most of the subordinate duties of the office of sheriff were discharged by an underling, and that Thomas Merritt may have been personally free from blame in respect of Mr. Gourlay. Assuming him to have been blamable, his son, the Hon. W. H. Merritt, in after days, did his utmost to atone for it by espousing Mr. Gourlay's cause in the Canadian Assembly, as will be seen by reference to the Parliamentary debates of 1856, 1857 and 1858.

[19] Statistical Account, Vol. II., pp. 400, 401.

[20] Ib., p. 401.

[21] Mr. Gourlay was in error as to the date of the Duke's death. He represents him as "writhing in agony at the self same hour," and as dying on the same day when he, Mr. Gourlay, crossed over into the United States.—Statistical Account, vol. 2, p. 401. He was astray by exactly a week. By reference to the precept of the court, I find that Mr. Gourlay's trial took place on the day specified in the text—Friday, the 20th of August. He left the Province on the following day—Saturday, the 21st. The Duke's death took place on Saturday, the 28th.

It may perhaps be as well for me to refer here to a story which seems to have obtained some currency, to the effect that the Duke of Richmond's death was due, not to hydrophobia, but to delirium tremens. There is not the shadow of truth in the story. The evidence as to the Duke's having been bitten at Sorel by a tame fox; as to his showing the healed wound on his thumb several weeks afterwards; as to his dread of water during the day before his death, and as to all the circumstances attending that tragical event, is as clear as evidence can very well be. Moreover, his habits were by no means such as to lead to mania a potu. He was a bon vivant, but, so far as I have been able to ascertain, he did not drink to excess, and was always master of such brains as he possessed. His end was one which his family might honestly mourn, and there was little in his life, nothing in his death, of which they had any cause to feel ashamed.

[22] "Major-General" D. McLeod, in his "History of the Canadian Insurrection," p. 75, incorrectly states that Ferguson "died in jail from extremely cruel usage."

[23] Canadian Portrait Gallery, Vol. III., pp. 240-256.



The course of bitter persecution sustained by Mr. Gourlay was really the first remote germ of the Upper Canadian Rebellion. In making this statement I would not be understood as asserting that Gourlay was the first person to set himself up in opposition to authority in the Province, or even that he was the first victim of Executive tyranny. There had been more or less of dissatisfaction at the selfish and one-sided policy of the Administration ever since shortly after the departure of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe in 1796. Between that date and Mr. Gourlay's arrival in the Province several personages of some local note had paid heavy penalties for daring to have opinions of their own. Mr. Wyatt, the Surveyor-General, had been dismissed from office because he had presumed to point out certain official irregularities, and because he would not betray the trust reposed in him. Joseph Willcocks had been goaded into treason by a long course of persecution. Judge Thorpe had been driven from the country quite as effectually as Mr. Gourlay, for no other reason than that he had persisted in holding up official corruption to the public gaze. But none of these manifestations of "the oppressor's wrath, the proud man's contumely," had taken so deep a hold upon the public mind as did the case of Mr. Gourlay. The injuries inflicted upon him had been so cruel, the perversion of justice so vile, that the public conscience received a shock from which it did not recover during the existing generation. For the first time in Upper Canada's history signs of an organized Opposition began to appear upon the floor of the Assembly. Thenceforward the antagonism between the two parties grew in intensity from year to year. In process of time the Opposition frequently became the controlling power in the House. At a later stage of its development it divided into two parts. One of these constituted the moderate Reform Party of the Province. The other was made up of the advanced Radical element, whence emanated the Rebellion which forms the especial subject of the present work. All of which will hereafter be narrated with greater amplitude of detail.

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