Governor Cochrane, “A perfect harmony, or should I rather say, tranquillity exists between them. Yet I am persuaded that a small spark could excite a flame not easily subdued.”
“Did we really lose the election Mr. O’Brien?”
“That’s what they say, Jimmy,” light flaring into the lamplighter’s eyes.
“What are you doing out so late?”
“The Temple is still packed, I’ll make money when they let out.”
Jimmy had swept the raised crossing on Duckworth at the foot of Cathedral since he could hold a broom. “No one is giving anything tonight, not tonight.”
O’Brien reached into his pocket and gave the boy his least bent copper. “Take this, go home, your mother’s probably worried sick.”
“Are you sure they won’t pay?”
“Mr. O’Brien, did you hear, they killed a man in Harbour Main!”
O’Brien nodded his head and something caught in his throat. “Go home Jimmy. And Jimmy? It’s best if you stay home tomorrow, there won’t be any money I promise.”
Jimmy surveyed the wonderfully muddy streets on his way home, thinking. “How could there be no money?” The lamplighters’ eyes were stretched up the street, animated voices squeezed the air close about his ears. Tomorrow would be Monday, May 13th, 1861.
The Elected Liberal Government Was Thrown Out Of Office, Dissolved
Elections have never been easy in Newfoundland, and always as personal as blood.
In a land where Liberal meant Irish Catholic and Conservative English Protestant, winner take all was visceral. The elected Liberal government was thrown out of office, dissolved, and dismissed by an appointed English Governor, probably not legally.
The following election would be the nastiest, most violent, partisan, and sectarian in our long history. The Catholic Bishop Mullock and the Protestant Bishop Field put the full weight of their priestcraft into the growing fires.
The Conservatives won 14 seats and the Liberals 12, with 4 undecided. Harbour Grace and Harbour Main would remain vacant due to extreme violence at the polling stations.
The Conservatives won 14 seats and the Liberals 12, with 4 undecided. Harbour Grace and Harbour Main would remain vacant due to extreme violence at the polling stations. Hugh Hoyles would be the new Premier, but violence was just beginning.
The Lamplighter continued his rounds. Morning seemingly arriving sooner than usual, he extinguished the coal-gas streetlamps, ending their fragile light. Jimmy awoke from a fitful night. It seemed the whole neighbourhood dropped by. Even now, tight voices rumbled through the thin walls. If he couldn’t sleep, thought Jimmy, he may as well earn money. What did he have to lose?
Mr. O’Brien, his work complete, joined the growing stream of people along Military to the Colonial Building. The new government was to be sworn in today and protests were planned. The Liberals believed that they were the rightful holders of the contested seats and sent their people in to claim them.
The Liberals believed that they were the rightful holders of the contested seats and sent their people in to claim them.
O’Brien sang the Irish songs of resistance he knew as a child, his voice one of many. Bishop Mullock egged the crowd on with inflammatory rhetoric, sharpening an ugly edge. Troops descended upon the crowd.
This show of force would escalate the situation to a point past reason. Fear, hatred, and the madness of a mob flashed forward. Windows being smashed, a panicked magistrate read the riot act.
Molten streams of enraged people poured down to the English wallets of Water street, intent on hitting back, to make them pay. In a running clash with soldiers, the mob smashed any English establishment within reach.
Jimmy was amusing himself by covering the crossing with as much mud as he could find. He hadn’t seen any people all morning let alone made any money. Hearing the chaos, Jimmy tumbled down the steps of the nearest alley and out onto Water street. To his right, a wall of Redcoat soldiers. On his left, dark wool and salt and pepper caps.
A red faced Mr. O’Brien grabbed the boy. “Jimmy! What are you doing?”
“I heard shouting” blurted the boy.
“What’s going on?” Mr. O’Brien answered to himself.
“They have dissolved a legally elected government, stolen an election, and now they use the military to take our right to protest. Enough.”
“Enough!” raged the mob.
“No further” muttered O’Brien. “No further!” roared the crowd.
The soldiers advanced and to their shock so did the crowd. O’Brien pushed the boy back. Jimmy could see through legs the fancy boots of the soldiers, the rough shoes of his neighbours, all now covered in mud and filth, looking very much the same.
For 4 Hours, Fists Were Met With Rifle Butts, And Clubs Were Countered By Kicks
For 4 hours, fists were met with rifle butts, and clubs were countered by kicks. It isn’t known if a single soldier buckled under the pressure setting off a cascade, or if someone gave the order. British soldiers, who marshaled under the banner of the Royal Newfoundland Companies, opened fire on British Newfoundland civilians.
With howls of pain, leaden bodies hit the ground. O’Brien, nearly crushed in the panic, stumbled toward Jimmy. The boy’s body was slumped over another. Jimmy was fine. Jimmy’s father had been shot.
In all, 23 civilians were shot. Three of them bled out into the cobbles of Water street
In all, 23 civilians were shot. Three of them bled out into the cobbles of Water street. The echoes of these guns are still with us. The Royal Newfoundland Companies were folded into the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment, in large part to erase the memory of May 13th.
They were pulled entirely in 1870, replaced by a revamped RNC, a civilian police force who became solely responsible for law and order in St. John’s.
The political powers were as a rule shared among the various religious denominations, and lastly but most significantly, as a direct result of this day, denominational schools were enacted. Churches would now completely run schools in Newfoundland.
It would be over 140 years before denominational schools could be made a thing of the past. Violence in our streets would be replaced by violence in our classrooms, the scars of which breathe to this day.
This was the first and only time British soldiers opened fire and killed British citizen protesters in the streets on St. John’s. A cold black day, a day to remember, Bloody Monday.
(Re-imagining of a real event. Sources: Heritage NF Royal NL Regiment Advisory Council.)