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The Early Legal History of the Bathurst District
and County of Lanark

This undated, unsigned typescript was written for the Perth Historical and Antiquarian Society, about 1900.


The title of this paper is one which in a technical sense, is not justified by the material composing it. The early legal history of this District should, strictly speaking, deal with the constitution of Courts of Justice, with legal procedure and with litigious matters of interest in our early history. While this might be of interest to a law society, had three quarters of a century worked a material change, which it has not, I feel that were I to enter in detail into the history of the above points, it would prove neither interesting nor instructive to this Society.

I have chosen then, rather to deal with persons, with those who from time to time in the history of this District appeared upon legal stage, if I may so term it, performed their part and passed off the stage into history. Some few have left names, relatives and records with which we are all familiar, but the great majority have passed completely from our midst.

It will, of course, be necessary to say a few words with reference to the introduction of Courts of Law into the Bathurst District, in order to connect both as to date and position, those into whose charge were first given the Scales of Justice.

When the Bathurst District was settled, we were connected with the Johnstown District for judicial purposes and this state of affairs obtained up to the year 1823, when by an Act of that year the Bathurst District was raised to Judicial District, and the Town of Perth named as the seat of Law. The District Judge of the Johnstown District however still presided over our District Court. At that time the jurisdiction of the Courts was vested in different tribunals much as at the present day.

There was the Court of Requests, presided over by two or more Justices of the Peace, with a Jurisdiction in Civil matters up to five pounds. This Court was known to the layman as the small debts court and is represented to-day by the Division Court, which has a more extended Jurisdiction of course but is a continuance of the principle of a simple, speedy and inexpensive means of realizing small debts. Then there was the Court of General Quarter Sessions which, in addition to its Municipal functions of government, dealt with in a paper on the Municipal history of the District, had a jurisdiction over criminal offences of minor importance. This Court was composed of the Justices of the Peace of the district and was presided over by a chairman elected by the bench of Justices. We still have the Court of General Sessions of the Peace, of which the County Judge is the permanent chairman. The Court meets semi-annually, instead of quarterly as formerly, and the Act now renders it unnecessary for any associate Justices to be present, so that the jurisdiction is now virtually vested in the County Judge.

Then there was the district court with a civil jurisdiction over amounts from fifty shillings to fifteen pounds. This Court is to-day known as the County Court.

Civil and Criminal matters without the jurisdiction of the above Courts were dealt with by the Courts of King's Bench, and nisi afterwards, the Courts of Queen's Bench, and which after much change in its constitution and divisions is now known as the High Court of Justice.

I will pass over the Courts of Requests without referring to those who from time to time constituted it as the Justices who exercised the jurisdiction of this court were fully dealt with in the paper on Municipal Matters.

From 1823 to about 1845 there was no judge of the District Court in the Bathurst District. The Court was held in Perth but the Judge who presided was the judge of the Johnstown District, to which the Bathurst District was attached for judicial purposes. At this time the District Judge of Johnstown was George Malloch, brother of the late Judge John G. Malloch and he came here from Brockville and presided at our District Court. About 1840 Judge Armstrong, who had been a lawyer in Kingston, was appointed Judge of Bathurst and came to Perth. His stay here was short, less than two years, and he does not seem to have moved his family here at all. He lived at Wm. Matheson's Hotel. In 1842 Judge Armstrong was transferred to Ottawa as Judge of the District Court for Ottawa City.

In 1834 John Glass Malloch came here from Brockville to practice law. His office and residence were where Mrs. Laurie's Store now is. He practiced here until 1842, when he was appointed to the Judgeship rendered vacant by the transfer of Judge Armstrong. Judge Malloch died in 1873 and was succeeded by our present Judge who at the time of his appointment was practicing in Brockville.

True to the traditions of the profession we find that in the very earliest days of the settlement there were men learned in the law, who were willing to brave the hardships of pioneer life in order to minister to the legal requirements of those who had pushed their way as far inland as Perth, and when poverty and lack of available assets rendered litigious settlers unable to pay tariff fees, we find the members of the legal profession willing to adapt themselves to the requirement of the time, and take a deed of everything in sight, except the settler and his family.

The first lawyer to come to Perth was Mr. James Boulton. He arrived here about 1823. He built the brick house now known as the Ryan house, opposite the Church of England. Mr. Boulton owned at one time the twenty-five acre block, bounded by Wilson Street on the West, Drummond Street on the East, North Street on the South and Isabella Street on the North. This property had been owned by one Adamson, who was a baker and another of the many, who at different times occupied the Red House on Craig Street. I have not learned whether he conducted his bakery there or not, but if so, as is quite likely, it will add another to the numerous purposes for which this property has been utilized. To come back to the twenty-five acres, however, and its transfer to Mr. Boulton -- the story, as told to me, is short. A dispute with a fellow settler, a consultation with a lawyer, the fleeting pleasure of a lawsuit all was over and Mr. Boulton took the twenty-five acres for his costs.

Mr. Boulton left here in 1833 and moved to Toronto, where he died. When Mr. Charles Rice was eleven years old Mr. Boulton wanted to take him as an apprentice under articles which would expire when Mr. Rice was twenty-one. Mr. Boulton was to educate him and put him through law, to use Mr. Rice's own words, "Father was willing, but mother wouldn't part with her boy, so little Charlie lost the chance of his life."

Mr. Thomas M. Radenhurst came to Perth about six months after the arrival of Mr. Boulton. Mr. Radenhurst came from St. Johns, Quebec. He was the second Treasurer of the District and practiced law here until the time of his death, which was about 1854. The family are all so well known to the present generation, that it is without the province of this paper to deal with the subject.

The third lawyer to settle here was Mr. Daniel McMartin, who was decidedly the most conspicuous figure of his time in the profession. A keen shrewd man who dearly loved a fight and who would neither give nor take a quarter. He was always at loggerheads with Mr. Boulton, and it is said the boarding house kept by Mrs. Walker opposite the site of the present public school, and where they and Dr. Wilson had quarters was a lively house. During the time Mr. John G. Malloch practiced here before his elevation to the bench, he and Mr. McMartin were in very keen competition, and it was no discredit to any member of the profession of that time to say that Mr McMartin rarely came out second best, for he knew his law and was a man of much more than ordinary natural ability. When Mr. Malloch was raised to the bench, as might be expected, he took all his human nature with him. Mr. McMartin evidently was unable to distinguish between Mr. Malloch, the practitioner and Judge Malloch. The Judge on the other hand expected from Mr. McMartin that respect and consideration which is due to the bench, and smarting under past injuries, he was able to and did wage an unequal war with the pugnacious attorney, when this respect and consideration were not accorded him. The stories told of the passages at arms, between the Judge and lawyer, are varied and although interesting are not perhaps historical gems and better unrecorded.

Mr. McMartin built the house now owned by Mrs. Dr. Grant, and also erected the building occupied by Mr. Northgraves for an office. Mr. McMartin's American and anti-Canadian tendencies were very pronounced. At the time he built his house the contractor wanted to plant some Canadian maples in front of the house, but Mr. McMartin objected to having a Canadian shrub on the lot, and sent to northern New York for the cotton trees at present in front of the house. All the material for the house and even to the fence came from the United States, and the workmen came from the other side to do the work. Mr. McMartin enjoyed a very large practice in the early days, which gradually declined, as other and younger men made their appearance. Mrs. McMartin has two addresses delivered to the Jury in civil cases by Mr. McMartin in the twenties, which are quite interesting from a legal standpoint. Mr. McMartin died in the sixties.

The earliest law students in Perth were John Wilson, Robert Lyon, and Simon Robinson, William Reade, Jones Hubbell, James Hubbell, A. Morris, all of whom are connected with the most thrilling event in the early history of Perth. I do not propose to write the history of the duel as it has been worn threadbare by both historians and Provincial writers of fiction, but I do propose to deal with a phase of the event which to me is new. John Wilson we have all heard about in former papers. Robert Lyon was a son of Col. Lyon of Richmond and Simon Robinson was a nephew of the late Hon. Roderick Matheson. A fourth party whom I wish to introduce at this point is Henry Le Lievre. The three first were studying law in Perth, the fourth was a son of Col. Le Lievre, who owned and lived on the farm now occupied by John Farrell, just below the Roman Catholic burying ground. Mrs. Thom was a grand daughter of Col. Le Lievre. Young Le Lievre, as far as I can learn, was not occupied otherwise than socially and as a consequence had considerable leisure time at disposal. When the differences arose between Wilson and Lyon, it was Le Lievre who engineered the duel.

He prevailed upon Lyon to issue the challenge and when the same was accepted by Wilson he arranged the details of the meeting. Wilson chose Simon Robinson as his Second, and Le Lievre had been selected by Lyon. After the duel Wilson and Robinson immediately gave themselves up to the peace officers and were placed on trial for manslaughter.

They were acquitted. Le Lievre was never seen in Perth afterwards, and was never heard of until about three years ago. He left the scene of the encounter and was known to have crossed the Rideau at Oliver's Ferry. He was seen at Lombardy and from that time all trace of him was lost until about three years ago news was received of his death in a gold settlement on the West coast of Africa. Twenty years after the deadly charge at Balaklava when only a mere handful of the noble six hundred survived the fearful ride it was estimated that at least two thousand men were still living who were among the few who survived the charge. In fact there was in Ontario about one thousand of this number. It seems quite the proper thing for every one who had been a British soldier to claim connection with this historic event. It is much the same with this duel: every person in town who was here at the time can claim some special connection with the event. To use a sporting term, there were those who had a tip before hand, those who saw the parties going to the scene, those who heard the shots and those who saw the mournful procession returning with the body of young Lyon. After the duel Wilson went to London to complete his study of law. He was raised to the bench of High Court of Justice and is the only student or lawyer from this County who has been appointed to a like position in this Province. [Ed. Note: see The Wilson-Lyon Duel and The Duel of 1833 on this website.]

Another student of the very early days was a son of Josiah Taylor. He studied with Boulton, but never practiced here. Henry Sache also studied here but died shortly after the completion of his term.

Shortly after John G. Malloch came here to practice law, Mr. W. O. Buell came out from Brockville and entered Mr. Malloch's office. After completing his studies he entered practice and remained here until his death.

James Thompson, our present Sheriff, studied law with Mr. Buell, and was appointed to his present position the year he passed his examination as attorney, which was 1852. M. C. Cameron, son of the Hon. Malcolm Cameron was also a student with Mr. Buell, and at present practices his profession in Goderich.

J. D. Buell, late of Brockville, was also a student with Mr. W. O. Buell, but never practiced here.

John Deacon studied with Mr. McMartin and practiced here until his appointment as Judge of Renfrew County in 1866, a position he still occupies.

McNairn Shaw was also a student with Mr. McMartin and practiced here until his death in 1868.

Joshua Adams studied with Mr. Buell and went to Sarnia to practice where he still remains. Sheriff Thompson and the late J. D. Buell were his fellow students.

Donald Fraser, son of Col. Fraser who lived near Lanark, was a student with Mr. Radenhurst and practiced here until his death in 1871. Mr, Fraser lived in the Buell house after his marriage, and then moved to the residence occupied by Hon. Peter McLaren after Col. McMillan's time. He also lived in the house now occupied by James Armour, at the time Mr. Bell was manager of, and lived in the Commercial Bank which is now the Merchants Bank. Mr. Fraser also lived at one time in the house which formerly stood where Mrs. Henderson now lives and also in the Bailey property in the East ward. Mr. Fraser's son also entered law and practiced in Almonte. He was accidently shot last fall while out deer hunting.

Mr. J. W. Dennison's step father Mr. Eben Bell also studied law but never completed his course.

Mr. Robert Lees, brother of Mr, William Lees studied with Radenhurst and went to Ottawa to practice.

Mr. Alexander Morris, son of Hon. W. Morris, went to Quebec and passed the bar of that Province. In 1861 he came back to Perth and formed a partnership with John Deacon. Those opposed to him in politics allege his return to Perth was for the purpose of finding his way into parliament. However this may have been, the fact is he was almost immediately lately returned as member of the old parliament of Canada, and was one of the prominent fathers of Confederation. He was a Cabinet minister in the first government after Confederation and was a few years afterwards appointed Chief Justice of Manitoba and resigned that position to accept the Lieut. Governorship of that Province. At the expiration of his term as Governor, he returned to Perth and entered the Conservative Convention in 1878, called to choose a candidate for the Local Legislature. The other candidates before the Convention were Edward Elliott, William Lees, Thomas Brooke, and Abraham Code. The Convention was carried by Mr. Elliott and Mr. Morris left Perth for good. He resided in Toronto up to the time of his death.

Other students of about this and in some cases of an earlier period were, Hon John Haggart who served his five years with Deacon, not with any idea of following up the profession, but for the purpose, as he says himself, of acquiring a sufficient knowledge of law to enable him to keep out of it.

John W. Beyon studied with Deacon and entered practice as a partner of Mr. Fraser. He afterwards went to Brampton where he still lives. Mr. Edward Malloch studied with Fraser.

Mr. R. Moffat of Perth and Mr. B Stanley of Burgess, were students in Mr. Malloch's time but never completed the course. Stanley was a son of Michael Stanley of Burgess after whom Stanleyville was named.

John Bain was a student with Morris and gravitated to Manitoba where he is now one of the Judges of the High Court of the Province.

Marshall Matheson was a student with Radenhurst and went to Ottawa to practice. He was appointed master in Chancery for Ottawa which position he held up to the time of his death. C. A. Matheson and A. J. Matheson were students with Deacon but the former withdrew from law and entered the mercantile business.

W. H. Radenhurst studied with his father and with Fraser. He started practice in Ottawa where he remained until 1866 when he returned to Perth and formed a partnership with Hon. Mr. Morris, at the time of Judge Deacon's elevation to the Bench. George Radenhurst studied here and went to Barrie where he is still in practice.

Thomas Deacon studied with his brother and went to Pembroke to practice where he still lives. He was appointed Junior Judge of the County of Renfrew a few years ago.

Joseph Deacon, another brother, also studied with John Deacon and went to Brockville where he is still in practice. He is Police Magistrate of Brockville. Joseph Jamieson and Edward Elliott were students with Buell. Mr. Jamieson practiced in Almonte until his elevation to the Bench. He is now Judge of Wellington and resides in Guelph. Mr. Elliott is Judge of Middlesex and resides in London.

F. A. Hall studied with McNairn Shaw and afterwards formed a partnership with him.

James S. Sinclair studied with McNairn Shaw and went to Goderich to practice. He was appointed Judge of Wentworth.

Alexander Shaw, a brother of McNairn Shaw studied here and went to Walkerton where he is still in practice.

John McKay, a son of the first Deputy Clerk of the Crown for this District completed his course and left Perth for the South. He was never heard of afterwards.

W. R. Berford studied with Fraser. He practiced here and was for years treasurer of the County of Lanark. Berford and Elliott started practice in partnership and also edited and managed the Perth Expositor. Mr, Berford died about eight years ago.

Samuel R. Clarke of Balderson, studied with E. G. Malloch and went to Toronto where he is still in practice.

W. D. Hogg also studied with Malloch. He is now a prominent lawyer in Ottawa.

Edward O'Brien was a student with Radenhurst and went to Prescott where he died a few years ago.

Alfred Greig studied with McNairn and went to Almonte where he is still in practice.

John W. Douglas studied with Fraser and formed a partnership with Radenhurst after Morris left Perth. He was prominent in Militia matters and was Captain of the Perth Company. He went to Manitoba during the boom and afterwards returned to Ontario. He now practices in Sherbourne.

A review of the above will show Perth to have been much favored in the appointment of Judges.

This brings us up to a date within the recollection of us all, and I will now go back to 1822 and deal briefly with the occupants of the legal offices since the settlement of the District -- Clerk of the Peace, District Court Treasurer, Registrar, Post Master.

Col. Powell was the first Sheriff of Bathurst. He was appointed in 1822. He resigned the position and went to Ireland where he died. John A. H. Powell, son of the first Sheriff succeeded his father in the position in 1832. He died about 1843. The Powell homestead was on Drummond Street just south of Brook. The land is still known as the Powell property. Andrew Dickson of Pakenham, was appointed Sheriff in 1845. He was also post master at Pakenham. Sheriff Dickson never lived in Perth and was the only district or County Officer who did not make this his home. In 1852 he was appointed Inspector of Penitentiaries and resigned his position as Sheriff. The present occupant of the position, Sheriff Thompson, received his appointment in 1852, and has occupied the position for nearly half a century. The first gaoler was James Young who was dismissed for allowing some prisoners to escape. He moved on to a farm out near Balderson's. Young was succeeded by the versatile Bill Matheson, who seemed capable of managing anything from a hotel to a gaol, and who seemed to be on hand whenever anything in the way of positions was being passed around. Matheson was succeeded in 1853 or 1854 by Robert Kellock, who resigned in 1880 when the present Governor, Mr. W, H. Grant was appointed.

Mr. John McKay was the first Deputy Clerk of the Crown, but McKay never performed the duties of his office which were delegated to C. H. Sache by power of Attorney. In 1862 Sache died and Mr. Charles Rice was appointed to both positions, which he still fills.

We have had six County Treasurers. The first was John McKay, above mentioned, as Deputy Clerk of the Crown. Then Thomas Radenhurst, who was succeeded by William Fraser. Fraser was at the time a clerk in McDonald & Thompson's store, which was where Love the barber now lives. He was succeeded by John Fraser who lived until a few years ago in the noted Red House on Craig Street. E. R. Berford succeeded Fraser and was followed by present occupant Mr. John Code.

The first Registrar of Deeds was Col. McMillan and he was succeeded in 1850 by Mr. James Bell, who in turn has been followed by Mr. James Armour.

In reviewing these offices one is impressed with the few changes witnessed in the last half century.

A paper on the legal history of this District would not be complete without referring to two events which if we are to judge from the demands made by the public upon the daily press of the day, are much more interesting than the dry bones of Civil Law. I refer to the execution of lsby [Ed. note: accepted spelling of this man's name is "Easby", but the author's spelling has been retained in this article. To read the details of the Easby murder, see The Early History of Balderson's Corners on this website.] and Baird, which are the only cases in the history of the County where the extreme penalty of the criminal has been exacted. We are all familiar with the history and the horrible details of lsby's crime and Baird's was equally deliberate and unprovoked though much less diabolical. I refer to these cases not for the purpose of dealing with the facts of the crimes but to show how decided a change had taken place in public sentiment in the District with reference to Capital punishment in the twenty years which intervened between the events. lsby was executed in 1832 and the day was a public holiday. Schools were closed, work of all kinds suspended, and settlers came from all parts of the District, bringing with them their families to witness an event which it was hoped would have a great moral influence on the community. The scaffold in this case was erected in front of the Court House and the roadway and every point of vantage was at a decided premium for hours before the time of execution. Isby was buried in the Old Church of England Cemetery, but by night so great was the excitement that his body was exhumed and was taken charge of by Dr. Wilson and assisted by A. Cameron, younger brother of Malcolm Cameron, and William Taylor a son of Josiah Taylor, Post Master, both of whom were medical students at the time. They skinned the body. The hide was tanned in a tannery which stood on Foster street about where Wilson's shoe store now is. It was then cut into small squares and found a ready sale in Perth. The price paid being in many cases as high as $2.00, which in the early days, when money was a scarce commodity, was a considerable price. Col. Powell was Sheriff at the time of Isby's execution, but it is not known who the hangman was. The event was so popular however that dozens volunteered for the position.

Public opinion had undergone a change however by 1851 when Baird was executed, and Sheriff Dickson found great difficulty in securing the services of a man to officiate. As a last resort he invoked the services of the authorities and a proposition was made to a prisoner in the Kingston Penitentiary, that if he would accept the position he would receive a pardon. This was accepted by the prisoner and he came to Perth in charge of a guard. He was kept in gaol here the night before. All that night and the next day there were rumors of an intention on the part of a section of the community to lynch the hangman. The authorities feared trouble and after the execution the hangman was smuggled into the Registry Office which was then presided over by Mr. Bell, and concealed in the vault in that building. At this time the stage from here to Brockville went by way of Smiths Falls and the hangman was taken from the Registry Office away down below the Red bridge, and there awaited the stage. The crowd were of course under the impression that he was in the gaol, and when the stage did not call there, thought his departure was being delayed.

It is a matter of gratification to know that during the term our present Sheriff has occupied the position, which is forty-six years, it has not been necessary for him to arrange the details of Capital punishment, although to use his own words there have been several close calls.


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