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1905 Old Home Week - return to table of contents
|June 30, 1905,|
The old cemetery in Perth has had its growth; and now age and decay are written upon its
wooden pailings, around forgotten graves, upon the moss-covered tombstones and upon the
sinking mounds that cover the remains of what were living men and women who, after their
days of joy and sadness, have gone to join the innumerable throng who sleep their
indeterminate slumber in the earth's bosom. Old as it is, it must not be assumed this
graveyard is an eyesore or spot neglected because disused. Any such impression would be
erroneous. Before this, some years, private parties have seen to it that bushes grown rank
were thinned out, superfluous trees cut down, and all rubbish removed. Later on, the
Horticultural Society undertook to do the same work thoroughly, and this they accomplished as
if it were a labor of love, and now it is a pleasure to see that all rotting grave fences have
been taken away and thinned out, headstones that were broken or were standing awry or had
fallen down have been placed upright and braced up where necessary, and the old place made to
wear an aspect of neatness and decent old age to which it had for years been a stranger.
The fences and gates have been repaired or renewed, trees set out along the roadways, and in
some cases flower pots have been set out at the inner approaches. Elmwood cemetery, which
stands in its park-
Near the centre of the Church of England section of the burying ground stands a modest
little headstone of grey marble which would likely be overlooked by a stranger passing by.
But observe the inscription, of which this is a copy :
To the Memory of
in mortal combat
13 of June 1833
in the 20th year
of his Age
Requieseat in Pace.
Very early one morning in June, 1833, a party of three men from Smith's Falls, paddling a canoe up the Tay River on their way to Perth, landed on the McLaren farm, near the town, to rest and eat their breakfast. While thus engaged they heard a shot and voices. Pushing their way through the underbrush in the direction of the sounds they came to a clearing at the bank of the river, and were just in time to see a second shot fired and one of the men there turn half round, throw up his arms and fall stone dead. They then became aware that a duel had been fought.
The late Mr. Robert Douglas, a contractor, going through the town a short time before,
met the duelling party at the "Sand Hill," near St. James' church, going toward the scene of
the fatal meeting. The victim of the encounter was Robert Lyon, student-at-law. The five men
forming the duelling party and the witnesses are all dead and gone, but the field of blood
stands as it was on the level banks of the Tay, overlooked by the spires of Perth, and is
part of the farm on the Scotch Line, North Elmsley, known long afterwards as the Presbyterian
clergy lot. The present owner of the farm, Mr. Archibald McLaren, can show the exact place in
the clearing, now a meadow, rich with grass and blossoming clover, where the fatal bullet did
its work. The clearing has since been widened until it embraces the whole part of the farm
on the right bank of the river; but the one spot in the field of blood, memorable from the
tragedy which so stirred the hearts of men and women at the time, and when minor occurrences
have been forgotten has ever since been one of the main historical reminiscences of the town,
is still marked by an elm tree, and the placid river flows peacefully by as it did
Robert Lyon was the son of a Scottish officer in the British army, Captain Lyon, who settled at Richmond, in Carleton county. He was a law student in the office of the late W. M. Radenhurst, a barrister of prominence in his day, and whose sister was young Lyon's mother. The Lyon family afterwards became more or less prominent in Ottawa and neighborhood, one becoming a member of parliament and another a county judge. Mr. C. H. Lyon, of Perth, is one of the same family. The younger Lyon was a fine looking, dashing youth, an athelete, genial and handsome, of aristocratic ideas and associations. He was somewhat the antithesis of another young man, who had recently arrived in the town, John Wilson, a law student in the office of Mr. (afterwards honorable) James Boulton, but notwithstanding these points of contrast it is quite certain the two were friends, and it is no wonder, for though Wilson was of lowly origin and came only yesterday from the backwoods of Dalhousie, twenty miles away, he had brains, perseverance, self reliance and a consciousness of talent which in time brought him to the first rank at the bar and on the bench. His ambition impelled him to high aims, and in callow youth he left his father's farm and started on his career as school teacher, by which he earned enough money, as many a Scotch boy had before him, to pay his board in Perth and put himself through his legal studies. He boarded when in town at William Rutherford's, who lived in the house yet occupied by his daughter, corner of Brock and Wilson streets, and took special lessons in classics, etc., from the late Rev. William Bell, Presbyterian minister. Some of his nephews are yet living in the townships of Dalhousie and North Sherbrooke. Concerning him and his career a writer in a late issue of the London (Ont.) "Advertiser," says:
"John Wilson came in 1834. Born near Paisley, Scotland, in 1809, he came with his
parents to Canada to pass his early days on a farm in Lanark county, where he acquired a
knowledge of farm life and a sympathy with the feelings of the back-
A quarrel between the two friends and fellow law-students arose out of some words in
reference to a young lady, who afterwards became the wife of Wilson. One was accused by the
other of having spoken slightlingly of the lady in question; the lie was given and a blow
given by Lyon to the other separated the two friends forever. Lyon was much the stronger
and larger man, and Wilson was unable to retaliate effectually, and for the time the
fracas ended between them, only to be retailed, with the flourishes added to it, so consistent
with our erring human nature, by five hundred tongues within an hour or two after. The
young lady who was the innocent inspiration of the altercation and assault, was a Miss
Elizabeth Hughes, a daughter of a Unitarian clergyman, recently out from England, and who
came to Perth to fill the position of assistant teacher in Miss Ackland's select
school for young ladies. She had a brother David J. Hughes, who followed his sister to this place
the next year, and entered the "Courier" office to learn the trade of printer.
He remained a year or two, then left to study law in his brother-
As has been said, the encounter became the talk of the town, and it is not unreasonable
to assume that the matter would have ended in talk and gossip if the two had been let alone.
The days of duelling were past, though the remembrance of the duels and the old
Henry La Lievre was a man of powerful frame and herculean strength, full of courage,
handsome, reckless and not troubled with scruples where self-
The duel went on. The first fire proved harmless to either. It has been said that the
pistols for this shot were loaded only with blank cartridge, but Judge Hughes claims that
Wilson's temple was grazed and his hair brushed by a flying bullet from Lyon's pistol.
Reade and Robertson, now did their best to have the affair end there, and Lyon was
willing to apologize to Wilson, but La Lievre would not hear of it. "Load up again," said
he, and his ferocious counsel prevailed. His vindictive nature could not bear to allow the
"affair of honor" to end in this bloodless way, and the pride of the young men came to his
aid. The pistols were again charged, and there was no doubt this time that they were loaded
with ball. When the word fire was given both weapons went off together. Lyon's bullet
went harmlessly by, but the shot of Wilson carried death with it. Simultaneously with
the report, Lyon was seen to throw up his hands, and then fall to the ground motionless.
When taken up he ws dead. The bullet from Wilson's pistol passed under his extended arm,
passed through his body, piercing the heart. Wilson and Robertson were horrified at
this ending and at once gave themselves up to the authorities. Wilson was kept in Perth
jail some three months, until the next Johnstown district assizes were held at Brockville,
where he was tried before Chief-
The eastern part of Upper Canada was at that time divided into the Johnstown, Bathurst and Midland districts for judicial purposes, and the boundary between Bathurst and Johnstown ran along the Scotch Line, just outside the eastern limits of Perth. This is the reason the dueling party took that direction, for they found themselves outside the jurisdiction of Bathurst district, merely by stepping across the Scotch Line. This is also why the trial took place at Brockville.
Whatever the feelings La Lievre may have had at the result of his disappointment or of apprehension, we cannot say, but he fled the scene, and became a fugitive for a time, the exciting and impelling feelings having gone by. After a while he found his way back to Ottawa and Montreal, where his friends lived: and long years after came to Perth, his mission here being to attend the funeral of Mr. J. F. Baker, whose wife's father, Daniel McMartin, Esq., Q.C., was one of the friends of his youth.
The body of Lyon was brought to the house of his uncle, Mr. Radenhurst,
corner of Craig and Wilson streets; and his grief and rage were excessive, vowing he would
shoot down Wilson were he to meet him. A sheet was procured at a neighbor's, Mr.
William Rutherford, to help envelop the corpse, and in a day or so a sad procession
left the Radenhurst mansion, with the remains of young Lyon born in its midst. The
funeral cortege moved down to the cemetery and the body committed to the grave, earth to
earth. The interment was made in a vacant lot just in rear of the Radenhurst plot, and in
close proximity to the pretentious monuments that mark their dead in the grass-
Lyon's friends in town subscribed money through the efforts of the late Mr. William Fraser, county treasurer, and with it erected a small headstone at the head of his narrow bed, commemorating the sad event as shown near the beginning of this article.
In his old age Henry La Lievre and his unmarried sister Louise left Canada for Australia to live with their sister, Mrs. (Dr.) Mount, where they both died a year or two after, weary of their exile to that faraway country. Their portraits given here were kindly loaned us by Mrs. Baker, and show strong, handsome faces, as one might expect, though taken in the evening of their life.
Mr. Wilson left town in 1834 and next year married the woman of his choice, Miss Hughes, the governess whose name was so intimately connected with the duel. The husband preceded his consort to the grave at least thirty years, the lady dying only in 1904. Wilson rose rapidly in his profession, to a high mark and was made a judge of the Superior Court. By the whirligig of fate he took his turn in holding the assizes at Perth, in the fifties, and in the course of his reply to an address presented to him by the bar of the county, he stated that "Perth was associated with some pleasant recollections and some very painful ones," the reference being of course to the unpleasant tragedy that clouded his existence, and which he above all others could not forget.
The story of this duel has been written up many times, and various writers over the
province have dealt with it differently. Mr. Charles L. Shaw, a native of this town,
once gave a very interesting account of it in "Saturday Night"; and Judge
Hughes, to correct some mistakes in another narrative of it, wrote a brief summary of
the tragedy from his standpoint, and we think as far as he goes the story told by the judge
may be relied upon as correct. His honor is yet living, but he was not in Perth at the time of
the duel; and with the death of Mrs. Wilson last year the last of those directly interested
in the tragic episode left the scene; only the little piece of time- [Transcriber's note: the set of dueling pistols used in this duel are on permanent display
at the Perth Museum].
[Transcriber's note: the set of dueling pistols used in this duel are on permanent display
at the Perth Museum].