The Saturday Funnies

11 February 1905

Comic strips are a standard feature in most newspapers. The Ottawa Citizen currently publishes twenty comics daily, ranging from one image stories to four- or five-panel strips. On Saturdays, the Citizen publishes the comics in colour—sticking with a tradition of a weekend colour comic supplement that goes back to the dawn of newspaper cartoons. Most of the comics in the Citizen are written by Americans whose work has been syndicated to other newspapers around the world. The only exceptions are Carpe Diem, written and drawn by Niklas Eriksson of Sweden, and Between Friends by Canadian Sandra Bell-Lundy. Many of the strips have been published for decades. In longest production is Blondie whose run began in 1930. Cartoonist Chic Young wrote and drew the strip until his death in 1973, when his son Dean Young took over.

comic bayeux wikipedia

Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, circa 1070, showing the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The Latin inscription reads Harold Rex Interfectvs est, meaning King Harold is slain. Wikipedia.

But comic strips, which can be defined as a telling of a story through a series of pictures, have a far longer and illustrious pedigree. Some historians contend that Trajan’s column in Rome, which tells in sculptured pictures the victory of the Roman emperor over the Dacians (modern-day Romanians) in the second century A.D., is a precursor form of a comic strip. A thousand years later in about 1070, Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissioned the making of another early “comic strip” known today as the Bayeux Tapestry. Made by female needle workers, possibly nuns, in Canterbury, England, the tapestry recounts the story of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror that had occurred four years earlier. Bishop Odo was Duke William’s half-brother and principal supporter. Embroidered on linen cloth using multi-coloured woollen yard, it is roughly 68 metres long and 50 centimetres high, and is composed of 75 picture panels. Complete with Latin text, the tapestry is a marvel of medieval European art.

Following the invention of the printing press, satirists and caricaturists used cartoons to mock the social, political and religious life of their times. William Hogarth (1697-1764), an English painter, painted in 1731 a series of moralizing but humorous paintings that he subsequently had engraved and sold together called A Harlot’s Progress. Highly successful, this series was followed by the famous A Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode. The British caricaturist and illustrator, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was the author of many satirical and funny cartoons that lampooned the aristocracy, including King George IV and Queen Charlotte. He was one of the first to employ the multi-panel structure and dialogue bubbles used in cartoon strips of today. His 1849 comic strip The Preparatory School for Fast Men starred the likes of Professor Boozey Swizzle who taught drinking class and Professor Swindle in charge of Finance. See George Cruikshank in Lambiek Comiclopedia.

funnies, yellow kid

The Yellow Kid by R.F. Outcault, 1896, Wikipedia

Newspaper cartoon strips begun appearing at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. They quickly swept North America when newspaper owners realized that comics sold copies. American Richard F. Outcault (1863-1928) is generally regarded as the father of the modern newspaper cartoon strip. He introduced readers of the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, to Uncle Eben’s Ignorance of the City in 1894. He also created the character of The Yellow Kid—a street urchin. Wearing a hand-me-down, oversized, yellow shirt, the Kid was likely drawn bald to indicate that his head had been shaved to prevent lice, a constant problem in the crowded urban slums of North America.

The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph, written in 1896, is believed by many to be the first modern comic strip that combined multiple image panels and speech bubbles. When Outcault was lured away from Pulitzer to the New York Journal-American by William Randolph Hearst in 1907, competing versions of The Yellow Kid were produced by the two newspapers as Outcault had failed to obtain a copyright on the character. The less-popular World version was written by George Luks. The expression “yellow journalism” is based on the Pulitzer/Hearst cartoon rivalry. The expression came to mean an emphasis on comics, fictitious news, exaggeration and misleading headlines. In Britain, it is often referred to as “tabloid journalism.”

Canadians were also active in the early days of newspaper cartooning. Henri Julien (1852-1908), who reportedly spent part of his childhood in Ottawa, drew cartoons for Canadian Illustrated News and satirical publications such as Le Canard. He later became the artistic director for the Montreal Daily Star. Palmer Cox (1840-1924) created the Brownies, a very popular series of humorous cartoon stories about sprite-like creatures based on British mythology. Like later twentieth-century cartoon characters, the Brownies were widely merchandized as toys, games, cards, etc. though Palmer apparently didn’t reap the rewards. Even the early Kodak camera, the Brownie, capitalized on their popularity.  Another prominent early Canadian cartoonist was Arthur Racey (1870-1941). He drew a series of humorous drawings called The Englishman in Canada in 1893-94 that incorporated speech bubbles. Racey took over Julien’s position at the Montreal Daily Star after the latter’s death.

comic fatty 11-2-1905 oej

Fatty Felix by Walter McDougall, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905

The weekend funnies came to Ottawa on 11 February 1905 when the Ottawa Evening Journal published without fanfare three multi-pane cartoon strips. The first was called Fatty Goes On An Errand To The Doctor’s And Gets Sick, featuring Fatty Felix, created by the American cartoonist Walt McDougall (1858-1938). McDougall was an illustrator for the New York Graffic, and was published in Harper’s Weekly and Puck Magazine. Reflecting the power of cartoons to effect society, McDougall’s 1884 satirical cartoon The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings, which appeared in the New York World newspaper, skewered James Blaine, the Republican nominee for President, and is credited with helping Democratic Grover Cleveland win the U.S. Presidency that year. McDougall drew Fatty Felix originally for Philadelphia’s North American. Later, the comic strip also appeared in newspapers associated with the New York Herald’s syndicate. McDougall is also well known for his Handsome Hautry and The Wizard of Oz comic strips.

 

comic muggsy

Comic Strip Featuring Muggsy by Frank Crane, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

The other major cartoon strip in the Journal was called Muggsy Saves A Dude From The Billposter’s Paste drawn by Frank Crane (1857-1917). Crane, who had graduated from the New York Academy of Design, became a cartoonist and later the art editor for the New York World and later for Philadelphia’s North American. Muggsy was also distributed through the New York Herald syndicate. Crane produced the Muggsy comic strip from 1901 to 1915.

comic unknown, 11-2-05 toej

Untitled by unknown cartoonist, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

Sandwiched between the McDougall and Crane comic strips was a short four-panel strip featuring a circus elephant getting his tooth pulled. There is no title or dialogue, and the author’s name is unclear.

comic buster b 13-1-06 toec

Buster Brown and Tige, by R. Outcault, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 13 January 1906.

The Ottawa Citizen began publishing regular comic strips a year after its rival. From the beginning of January 1906, Richard Outcault’s full-page Buster Brown comic strip, which originally appeared in the New York Herald, could be read in the Citizen. Buster Brown was an upper-class imp with a page-boy haircut who was accompanied by his pit bull terrier Tige. The series was like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes. When Tige spoke only Buster could hear him. Each Buster Brown story ended in a moral with Buster resolving to do something. As was the case with the Yellow Kid, the comic strip got caught up in the Pulitzer/Hearst rivalry with competing versions of the cartoon being produced. Not having the rights to the strip’s title, post-1907 Buster Brown comic strips produced by Outcault were published without a title. Buster Brown became hugely popular across North America. The comic spawned the 1904 silent short movie Buster Brown and the Dude. That same year, Buster Brown’s name was licensed by the Brown Shoe Company. The company also produced “Mary Jane” shoes named after Buster Brown’s comic sweetheart.

In later decades, Ottawa’s two major newspapers carried all of the famous American comic strips, many of whose names remain household words. The Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, and Mutt & Jeff were published by the Journal in the 1920s and 1930s. Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Superman followed in the 1940s. Blondie, with her hapless husband Dagwood Bumstead, debuted in the Journal just a couple of weeks before the start of World War II. Readers of the Citizen would find Felix the Cat, Henry, Li’l Abner, and Tarzan during the 1930s and 1940s, and Roy Rogers Joe Palooka and Dennis the Menace in the 1950s. Beginning in 1957, Citizen readers could also enjoy the philosophy and wisdom of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus when the Peanuts comic strip of Charles Schultz first appeared.

So, the next time you pick up the newspaper to read Bizzaro or Hagar The Horrible spare a thought to their rich comic history that stretches back at least two thousand years.

Sources:

America Comes Alive, “Buster Brown Shoes and Mary Janes,” https://americacomesalive.com/2016/06/20/buster-brown-shoes-mary-janes/.

BBC History Magazine, 2018. “5 Bayeux Tapestry facts: what is it, why was it made and what story does it tell?,” History Extra, https://www.historyextra.com/period/norman/5-bayeux-tapestry-facts-what-is-it-why-was-it-made-and-what-story-does-it-tell/.

Haltz, Allan, 2018. Strippers’ Guide, http://strippersguide.blogspot.com/.

Lambiek Comiclopedia, 2018, Palmer Cox, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cox-palmer.htm.

—————————-, 2018. Frank Crane, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/crane_frank.htm.

—————————-, 2018. George Cruikshank, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cruikshank_george.htm.

—————————, 2018, Henri Julien, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/j/julien_henri.htm.

—————————, 2018. Walt McDougall, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/mcdougall_walt.htm.

—————————, 2018. Richard H. Outcault, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/o/outcault.htm.

—————————-, 2018, Arthur Racey, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/r/racey_arthur.htm.

Old Things, 2013. Buster Brown by R.F. Outcault, 31 October.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 11 February 1905.

San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, Newspaper Comic Strips Guide, http://ead.ohiolink.edu/xtf-ead/view?docId=ead/xOhCoUCR0001.xml;query=;brand=default.

Saturday Evening Citizen (The), 12 January 1906.

 

 

Ill-Starred Royal Romance

26 February 1941

Mrs Thorkild Jueslberg died at her Danish estate, Bjergygaard, near Copenhagen on 26 February 1941 at the young age of 43. With Denmark occupied by the Nazis, news of her passing went through consular channels to her widowed mother who was living in California in neutral United States before being relayed to the rest of her family in Ottawa. It was the end of the last chapter of what had been an ill-starred royal romance that rivalled that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer a half century later.

Mrs Jueslberg was born Lois Frances Booth on 2 August 1897, the only daughter of Mr and Mrs John Frederick Booth, and granddaughter of John Rudolphus Booth, Ottawa’s pioneering lumber baron. In late 1923, it was announced that she would wed Prince Erik of Denmark, the first cousin of both King Christian X of Denmark and King George V of Great Britain. The couple had met at Lake Louise, Alberta. At the time, Prince Erik was a rancher near the small hamlet of Markerville, Alberta, located roughly 30 kilometres southwest of Red Deer. Because he was marrying a commoner, Prince Erik, was required, as was customary at that time, to renounce his (distant) right to the Danish throne and forfeit the style “Royal Highness.” Instead, he became known as His Highness Prince Erik Count of Rosenborg.  His wife would receive the title “Her Highness Princess Erik Countess of Rosenborg.”

Princess Erik

Wedding Party of Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik of Denmark, Ottawa, 11 February 1924

On the bright, sunny morning of 11 February, 1924, Prince Erik, accompanied by the bride’s brother, went to city hall for a marriage licence. The city clerk, Mr Norman Lett, described the prince as a “nice, pleasant, young man.” The wedding was held that afternoon at 4pm at the All Saints Anglican Church at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Chapel Street. It was the society event of the age. Some 1,000 guests were invited, including all of Ottawa’s elite. Among the attendees were Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and Sir Robert and Lady Borden. The Governor General, Lord Byng of Vimy, and his wife also attended. Many members of Prince Erik’s family were in Ottawa for the wedding, including his father, Prince Valdemar, and brother, Prince Viggo, who acted as one of the four ushers at the nuptials. Prior to the ceremony, Mackenzie King hosted a reception for the visiting “royals.”

More than 4,000 mostly female spectators jammed the streets around the church to get a glimpse of the bride as she was driven in a limousine the short distance from her family home at 285 Charlotte Street to the church. So great was the crush that spectators who had climbed onto curb-side snow banks to get a better vantage point were pushed into the road, blocking traffic. At the church, guests had difficulty negotiating the crowds to get inside. Mackenzie King, who walked to the church from his home across the street, was lucky. He had arrived early, avoiding the worst of the crush. Other dignitaries fared less well. The Governor General and his wife only managed to get inside with the help of a police escort who had to physically push back the throngs to make way for the vice-regal vehicle.

Notwithstanding the cold, the temperature of the crowd reached a fevered pitch with the arrival of the bride. An awning over the entrance way of the church was pushed off its moorings and began to sway dangerously. Reportedly, Miss Booth said “Oh dear, I’ll never be able to get through.” Appeals from the bride’s father standing on the running board of the limousine, and a phalanx of policemen, were successful in opening up a narrow path up the stairs to the church doors. But the two little page boys who were desperately trying to hold up the white satin train were separated from the bride. It was only with the help of two policemen and a Citizen reporter that the pages were able to gather up the bride’s train and avoid it from being ripped.

On entering the church, the bridal party made their way through six evergreen arches, draped with clusters of southern smilax. White lilies, hyacinths, and freesia perfumed the air. Palm trees and ferns also decorated the church interior. In addition to the bride and groom, the bridal party consisted of a matron of honour, four bride’s maids, (two of whom were daughters of the Earl of Stratford, nieces of the Governor General), four ushers, two flower girls and two page boys. The service was conducted by Rev. J. C. Roper, the Bishop of Ottawa, assisted by Rev. Hepburn, rector of All Saints Church. Miss Booth’s gown was made of white, duchess satin, embroidered with pearls at the yoke, with long plain sleeves edged with pearls and a satin train. Her veil was held in place with a bandeau of pearls and rhinestones. She wore a corsage of rubies and diamonds presented to her by Prince Valdemar, and a diamond bracelet, a gift of her father. Her bouquet was made of lilies of the valley and maidenhair fern. Her attendants wore pale turquoise blue crepe gowns, edged with fur and embroidered with silver and blue forget-me-nots.

After the short ceremony, the bridal party left for the reception held at the bride’s family home. Their departure from the church was even more fraught with difficulty than their entry owing to the crowd of well-wishers and sightseers which had swollen to about 6,000. As Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik left the church, a cry went up “Here they come” which elicited more pushing and shoving. Two women fainted and had to be carried off on the shoulders of policemen. The tattered awning over the church entrance was reduced to a twisted wreck. Police locked arms to force back the crowds to allow the newly married couple to get into their car; lilies were torn from the bridal bouquet, while the bride’s veil was disarranged. Fortunately, there were no serious accidents, and everybody remained in good cheer.

At the Booth home, guests were greeted in the drawing room with refreshments served in the dining room. The pièce de résistance was a four-tiered wedding cake decorated with Danish and British flags, and tiny sugar elephants, emblems of Danish chivalry. Wedding presents were on display in the billiards room; Prime Minister Mackenzie King gave the couple a large sterling picture frame with a photograph of himself. The bride’s father gave the couple a cheque for reputedly $4 million (about $56 million in 2014 money). There was a rumour that her grandfather had provided half of the dowry but this was later denied. The couple also received hundreds of congratulatory telegrams, including ones from King George V and Queen Mary, and Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother. After the reception, the royal couple took a train to Montreal before leaving for New York. They later sailed for London, and then onto the French Rivera, before going to Copenhagen to meet the Danish King.

The couple settled in Los Angeles County, California where they started a chicken farm. There, in 1927, their daughter, Alexandra, was born. Unfortunately, the chicken business failed the following year.  The couple subsequently moved to Denmark, where there son, Christian, was born in 1932.

As was the case with Prince Charles and Diana decades later, the marriage did not last. On 16 November 1934, it was announced that the couple had separated and were seeking permission from the Danish king to divorce. This request was granted and the marriage was dissolved in 1937. Lois lost her titles as Princess Erik Countess of Rosenborg. Days later, on 8 July 1937, it was announced in Copenhagen that she had married her secretary, Thorkild Jueslberg, six years her junior. Jueslberg was the son of the director of the Copenhagen Post Office. After a honeymoon abroad, plain Mr and Mrs Thorkild Jueslberg settled down in the former princess’s Danish estate, Bjergygaard, where she died four year later. After the war, her body was interred, as she had requested, in the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa alongside that of her father.

 

Sources:

The Citizen, 1924. “Bright Sunshine For Wedding Of Miss Lois Booth,” 12 February.

—————, 1924. “People of Ottawa Pay Loving Tribute To Their Princess,” 12 February.

—————, 1924. “Wedding Of Miss Booth To Prince Erik Causes Unparalleled Scenes Of   Enthusiasm In Capital,” 12 February.

—————, 1941. “Former Princess Erik, Lois Booth, Passes On,” 27 February.

The Daily Gleaner, 1934. “Danish Prince is Seeking Divorce,” Kingston, Jamaica, 19 November.

The Montreal Gazette, 1937. “Ex-Princess Erik Believed Married,” 9 July.

The New York Times Archives, 1998. “1923: No Longer Heir: In Our Pages: 100, 75, and 50 Years Ago,” 28 December.

Time, 1937. “Milestones,” 26 July, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,758044,00.html.

Wikipedia, Count Erik of Rosenborg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_Erik_of_Rosenborg.

Image: Wedding Party of Their Highnesses Prince and Princess Erik of Denmark, by Central News, 1924, Royal Weddings in Postcards, http://www.royalpostcards.be/royal%20weddings.htm.

 

 

 

The Hanging of Patrick Whelan

11 February 1869

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the much revered Canadian statesman, nationalist, poet, and orator, died by an assassin’s bullet on 7 April 1868 as he was entering his boarding house on Sparks Street. Immediately, suspicion fell on the Fenian Brotherhood, a secretive group of Irish extremists founded in the United States mid-19th century, but with cells and sympathizers in major Canadian cities, including Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. At that time, waves of poor, Irish immigrants were flooding North America each year to escape the potato famine, poverty, and British neglect and misrule in Ireland. Bringing anti-British sentiments with them, most settled in the major U.S. northeastern cities. Between 1866 and 1870, armed groups of Fenians, many battle-hardened from service in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War (1861-65), launched a series of raids into Ontario and Quebec from the United States in an attempt to hold the country hostage and force Britain to free Ireland. In one of the worst of these incursions, some 1,300 Fenian soldiers led by a former U.S. Civil War colonel captured Fort Erie in southern Ontario in June 1866 before being forced to retreat back to the United States.

McGee, an Irish radical himself during his younger days, had provoked the wrath of Irish extremists when he became their most outspoken critic.  Being a senior member of the Canadian government, McGee was seen as a traitor to the Irish cause, a sell-out to British interests. What probably hurt the most was that McGee ridiculed the Fenians, calling them deluded and foolish. He also poked holes in Irish nationalist shibboleths, arguing that Canada under the British Crown was a far better place for Irish immigrants to settle than republican United States. Instead of discrimination and exploitation, Irish Catholics would find acceptance and equality. In Canada, Irish settlers were becoming prosperous landowners, and were well represented in the professions and business.

Darcy Mcgee reward

Wanted Poster issued by the City of Ottawa, 7 April 1869, Bytown or Bust

The City of Ottawa offered a huge reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of McGee’s assassin. Meanwhile, police swooped down on known Fenian sympathizers, arresting several and held them for questioning.  But a sandy-haired, whiskered man named Patrick James Whelan quickly became a subject of interest, and was charged by Detective Edward O’Neill with McGee’s murder. Police searched Whelan’s room in a nearby hotel and found copies of the Irish American, a Fenian newspaper, that had supported the invasion of Canada. Also discovered were Whelan’s membership cards and badges for radical Irish societies, and, most incriminating of all, a Smith & Wesson revolver. Power residue suggested that it had been fired within the previous two days. Later, evidence emerged that Whelan had been stalking McGee, twice going to his boarding house in the days preceding the murder. He had also watched McGee from the House of Commons visitors’ gallery on the night he died. In an odd encounter, Whelan had shown up at McGee’s Montreal home late at night the previous New Year’s Day. When McGee’s half-brother opened the door, Whelan, using an assumed name, had warned the family that their house was about to be fire bombed. Fortunately, nothing happened.

Patrick Whelan

Patrick James Whelan, 1840-68

The ensuing trial was a sensation, pitting two of Canada’s top legal minds. Ironically, for the prosecution was James O’Reilly, an Irish, Catholic, Queen’s Counsel from Kingston, who excluded all Catholics from the jury on the grounds that they might be prejudiced in favour of Whelan. For the defence was John Hillyard Cameron, grandmaster of the Orange Order, a rabidly Protestant, Loyalist society. He took the job of defending Whelan on principle, and for the money; his considerable fees were paid for by funds raised by Irish Catholics who feared hasty justice.

There was general agreement that both attorneys were in top form. The defence counsel proved that six weeks before McGee’s murder a maid at the hotel where Whelan had been staying had accidentally discharged his revolver when she found it in his bed. But this did not explain the powder residue which experts testified was no more than two days old. More successfully, Cameron rubbished the supposed eye-witness testimony of Jean-Baptiste Lacroix who didn’t show up at the police station until two weeks after the assassination. Lacroix said he saw a small, whiskered man follow McGee down Sparks Street to McGee’s boarding house. But in reality, Whelan was a big man, taller than McGee. He also said McGee had been wearing a black hat whereas the hat had actually been white. The defence also presented witnesses who cast doubt on Lacroix’s reliability, and said that he had only come forward for the reward money—$10,000, a considerable sum in those days. Harder to shake was testimony that Whelan had repeatedly threatened to kill McGee, and that Whelan’s New Year’s Day visit to McGee home was an aborted assassination attempt. Even more damning was testimony by Gaelic-speaking Detective Andrew Cullen who, when planted in a nearby cell to Whelan’s in the Ottawa jail, overheard him say to a fellow prisoner “I shot the fellow…I shot him like a dog.”

Following six days of testimony, and superlative closing addresses by the two attorneys, the jury found Whelan guilty of murdering Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Whelan was sentenced to hang by the neck until he was dead. Defence counsel appealed on the grounds that the judge had incorrectly ruled that Whelan couldn’t challenge potential jurymen for cause until after he had exhausted his 30 peremptory (i.e. without cause) challenges. The appeal failed. Two days before his date with the hangman, Whelan reiterated his innocence. He told his wife that it was better to hang than to be an informer. Whelan also said that he knew who shot McGee because he had been there.

After sleeping soundly for six hours, Whelan was roused at about 5.00am on 11 February 1869. After Mass in the prison’s chapel, he had some breakfast. Despite a driving snowstorm, people started to arrive at the prison at 9.00 to get a good view of the gallows. By 10.30, a rowdy throng of some 8,000 people were crowded into the streets in front of the jail. The Globe newspaper was shocked that many respectable women were in the crowd, along with hundreds of boys and girls. At 11.00, the sheriff appeared with Whelan on the balcony, with three priests in surplices. The bound Whelan looked “pale and excited” with beads of sweat on his forehead. After repeating the Pater Noster, Whelan moved to the railing to address the crowd. He begged pardon for any offences he might have committed and forgave all parties who had injured him. His last words were “God save Ireland and God save my soul.” He then stepped back over the drop.

At 11.15, the executioner drew a white bag over Whelan’s head and adjusted the rope. He then opened the trap door, and Whelan dropped to his death. It was not an easy one. Many in the crowd clapped as Whelan kicked his heels in the air before expiring. It was the last public hanging in Canada.

Many have subsequently questioned Whelan’s guilt and the fairness of his trial. Anti-Fenian feelings were running high in Canada at the time, and McGee had been a popular politician. The evidence, while compelling, was largely circumstantial; the only eyewitness was unreliable. Jailhouse confessions also have a dubious record of veracity. Moreover, while there were no complaints about how the trial was handled, even by Irish nationalist papers, it was flawed by today’s standards. Sir John A. Macdonald, the Attorney General as well as Premier, sat beside the judge during Whelan’s trial. While his presence didn’t raise negative comment at the time, it would be seen as prejudicial today. As well, the judge, William Richards, who presided over the trial had been appointed to the Court of Appeal by the time defence counsel launched an appeal. As a consequence, he sat on the court that listened to the appeal of his own ruling—a clear conflict of interest. He also sat on the bench when a subsequent appeal was made. In both cases, he made the deciding vote. However, the breach in court procedure regarding the selection of a jury by the defence was highly technical, and it’s hard to see how it might have affected the course of the trial.

Modern-day ballistic tests were conducted in 1973 on Whelan’s Smith & Wesson revolver and the bullet that killed McGee. However, owning to corrosion, it was impossible to conclusively say that the bullet had been fired from McGee’s gun. It would, of course, have be impossible for the tests to determine that it was Whelan’s hand that had held the gun.

Whelan was likely a Fenian, and he certainly held a grudge against McGee. His own words prior to his execution placed him at the scene of the crime. But there is no hard evidence that he was the triggerman.

The fascinating story of Whelan’s innocence or guilt is the subject of a play Blood on the Moon, a one-man production written and performed by Pierre Breau. The play premiered in 1999 in Ottawa in the same building that once was the court house where Whelan’s trial was held and adjacent to the prison where Whelan was hanged.

Sources:

CBC, 2009. “Shadows on Sparks Street,” Ideas with Paul Kennedy, http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/features/2009/12/18/shadows-on-sparks-street-cd/.

Slattery, T.P., 1968. The Assassination of D’Arcy McGee, Doubleday Canada Ltd. Toronto.

Scott, C., 2014. “Patrick Whelan,” Ottawa Stories, The Historical Society of Ottawa, http://hsottawa.ncf.ca/stories.html.

Sleeping Dog Theatre, 2004, Blood on the Moon, http://www.sleepingdog.ca/botm.html.

The Globe, 1869. “Execution of Whelan: Closing Scenes and the Agony of Death. A Short Speech and No Confession,” 12 February.

The Montreal Gazette, 1973. “Ballistic Experts Not Sure on Gun that Killed McGee,” 19 October.

Wilson, David. A., 2011. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Volume 2, The Extreme Moderate, 1857-1868, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston.

Image: Library and archives Canada, #3194915.