The major focus of interest as February, 1876 began was the trial of Michael McConnell.
The Spectator covered the testimony in great depth :
“After the close of our report yesterday, the cross-examination of Sarah E. Smith was continued as follows:
When prisoner walked up Queen street, my belief is that he carried the knife in front of him; I did not see prisoner in Mr. Mills’ house the day before the stabbing; cannot say whether prisoner was excited or not after the stabbing.
Diana Garrow, sworn: Live on Ray street; remember 5th of January last; was going down George street from west to east that morning; I saw Mr. Mills about half way between Main and George streets; also saw a man and a woman, he was standing at Mr. Mills’ door, and the woman was a step or two behind; he left her, and she cried after him, “here, here; don’t, don’t;” the man went through Mr. Mills’ gate and towards Main street, meeting Mr. Mills; when they met, the latter started and jumped inwards off the sidewalk; Mr. Mills then ran across the street, followed by the man; I saw him stab Mr. Mills on the head; I could not look any longer at it, but ran down street and shouted murder; that was the last I saw of it.
Cross-examined: When McConnell went through Mr. Mills’ gate, the woman with him first said, “here, here; don’t, don’t” and when he went off she gave a pitiful wail or cry.
Thomas Hays, sworn: Remember the 5th of the present month; was on Queen street that morning about ten minutes to ten; was on the east side of the street and walking towards the mountain; James Balderstone was with me; saw prisoner and a woman near George street; he seemed to be quarrelling with the woman; he walked along Queen until near Main street, when I heard a scream of murder; think it was a woman’s voice; I turned around and saw Mr. Mills running across Queen street from the west to the east side; prisoner was pursuing him with a knife in his hand; Mr. Mills fell near a tree near Watkins’ house; here prisoner stabbed him in the face and head; Mr. Mills broke away from him and ran up George street – prisoner still pursuing; Mr. Mills fell again and prisoner stabbed him in the bowels; after the stabbing, prisoner went up Queen street, and I followed him to his own house; immediately after he went into the house, I saw Detective McPherson coming in a buggy; the latter went into the house and I followed and identified the prisoner; Bailiff Smith came in about the same time; I saw the knife there; the marks of blood were fresh upon it.
Cross-examined: Saw a shank of meat in the prisoner’s house; did not see a box covered over.
James Balderstone, sworn: Was with Hayes on the morning of the 5th of January, going along Queen street.
James Greenfell, sworn: Live on Queen street; am a carpenter; knew Mr. Mills for many years; saw the prisoner that morning on George street; he was near the centre of George street; was being helped in by his wife; was alarmed by cries; prisoner had a knife in his hand; blade covered with blood; said “he took it out of me and now I took it out of him;” was distant from Mr. Mills about twenty feet.
C. Schooley, sworn: Came into Hamilton with a load of wood; came through George street between nine and ten o’clock; saw a man fall; thought it was a fight; did not know the parties; prisoner had a knife in his hand; he stabbed a man in the breast; saw the men on Queen street; was about the length of a couple of wagons when the man fell.
Norman Walker, sworn: Live on the corner of George and Queen; remember the 5th of this month; did not know prisoner; saw Mr. Mills fall on the corner of Queen and George; prisoner was striking him with a knife; had the knife in the right hand; saw blood in the street and on the fence; saw Mr. Mills running and the prisoner after him; Mr. Mills fell opposite his own gate and prisoner stabbed him there; prisoner went south and had his knife with him.
Duncan Campbell, of the city of Toronto, Doctor of Medicine, being sworn, deposed,: I am Examiner of Physiology and Microscopic Anatomy for the Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario: In accordance with a message received by telegraph I came to Hamilton in order to assist in the post-mortem examination of the late James Nelson Mills in conjunction with Drs. Vernon and Husband of Hamilton; examined deceased and found him to be a man apparently fifty-seven years of age, body well nourished and robust; in the head and face were four incised or punctured wounds; 1st, the one across the forehead on the right side, three and a half inches long and penetrating to the frontal bone; 2nd, a wound apparently a stab on the left side of the frontal bone, about three-quarters of an inch in length and penetrating to the bone, which upon raising the scalp was found to have been chipped, a portion about half an inch in length, and about an eighth of an inch in thickness, being loose and detached. The third wound was an incised or punctured wound on the left side of head, above the ear, penetrating to the to the parietal bone and cutting it slightly. This wound is semi-circular and about three inches long. The fourth wound was an incision three and a half inches long, extending from the left eye-bone down the cheek cutting deeply in the cheek but not the bone. The fifth wound was about three-quarters of an inch in length apparently a stab in the right hip over the dorsum of the right ileum penetrating to the bone. None of the wounds above enumerated especially endanger life. The sixth wound was on the left side of the back, about four inches from the spine; a punctured wound between the eleventh and twelfth ribs of the left side, which slanted upwards and inwards, grazing and chipping slightly the eleventh rib and penetrating into the cavity of the chest. Upon subsequently opening the body, the wound was found to have gone through the lower lobe of the left lung, about an inch from its lower margin. This lung was greatly collapsed and consolidated, the cavity of fleura in the left side containing ten ounces dark liquid blood. The right lung was healthy, as well as all the rest of the organs within the chest; I do not consider that this wound caused the death of the deceased, but I do not think that he would have long survived it. The seventh and fatal wound was a punctured wound in the epigastrium, about an inch from the medium line and about an inch in length, penetrating downwards and inwards, both toward the medium line and the interior of the abdomen; this wound, upon opening the abdomen, was found to have penetrated the large (illegible) of the stomach about two inches from the pylorus, making two openings, having apparently passed twice through the stomach, cutting through a fold or distended portion of it; the omontum was found inflamed, and the abdomen, with the exception of these evidences of inflammation were all sound and healthy. I believe deceased died from inflammation of the peritoneum, caused by the contents of the stomach passing through the wounds in it into the cavity of the abdomen and that no treatment of any kind would have been of the least avail.
The fact that the deceased lived so long after such terrible injuries is an evidence that the treatment was judicious.
Cross-examined by Mr. Crerar – The wound in the abdomen was the most deadly, but that could not have been known until after the post-mortem examination; the wound in the back was the one which would alarm a surgeon most, because the danger would be apparent to him; think the problem of the wound in the epigastrium, if done gently and judiciously, was a proper method of ascertaining the extent of the injury done; I would have used a probe under the circumstances.
Re-direct – The probing had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of the deceased; the collapse of the lung was caused by the wound in the back.
Dr. Vernon, sworn – Was the attending physician of the family of Mr. Mills; was called to deceased on the 5th of January, about ten o’clock in the morning; I found him sitting, bent up in great pain; found the wound in the back described by last witness; upon removing the cloth from it blood and air were emitting showing that the lung had been penetrated; witness enumerated other wounds described by last witness; Dr. Husband and I attended deceased until his death; the wound in the epigastrium was the immediate cause of death; deceased did not expect to recover.
Dr. Husband, sworn: Was called to attend Mr. Mills on the 5th of January last in the morning; found him lying on his face on a couch, pressing his hands to the pit of his stomach, sheening and manifesting signs of great distress; I put him on his back, but he could not lay that way; we then got him into a recumbent position; I examined the wound in the stomach with a small light; probed and found that the cavity of the abdomen had been pierced; Mr. Mills was extremely weak, suffering from shock and loss of blood; I considered him in immediate danger; my opinion is that death was caused by the wound in the stomach; was present when the Police Magistrate took the deceased deposition; he had not any hope of recovery.
The court assembled at ten o’clock. The jury of course had been locked up all night, but Sheriff McKellar had evidently attended to their creature comforts and they looked none the worse for their confinement. The courtroom was but comfortably filled, and not nearly so crowded as yesterday, but this was rather owing to the discrimination of the constables than from any want of applicants for admission. The first witness called was
James Cahill, sworn: I am Police Magistrate of this city; knew Mr. Nelson Mills; complaint was made before me on the 5th of January that Mr. Mills had been stabbed by some one; the Chief of Police and I went to Mr. Mills’ house and took his deposition; the prisoner was sent for and was present while it was taken; he had an opportunity of cross-examining Mr. Mills; I asked prisoner if he had any questions to ask; he said it was not necessary; Mr. Mills signed the deposition; he was sworn before making it ; he expressed an opinion that he would not recover.
The following is the deposition: “ I saw prisoner and his wife at my gate; he came to me and drew a butcher'’ knife and said, “here he is;” he came up to me and struck me on the head with it two or three times; I ran across Queen street; he followed and overtook me, and I fell; he struck me with his knife once or twice in the face while I was down; I then got up and ran to George street, when he got me down again and stabbed me in the head and in the side and then stepped back and left me; I called out murder when he first attacked me.
J.G. Hamilton, sworn – Am assistant Bailiff to Mr. Smith, the high constable; went to prisoner’s house on the 5th of January last with a landlord’s warrant for the purpose of seizing goods to make rent for Mr. Mills for the amount of $14; took an inventory of the things; Mrs. McConnell was aware of my errand and went out to go and see her husband; I (…lengthy illegible…review alternate microfilm) prisoner came in; he had a knife in his hands; it was bloody both in blade and handle; think the knife produced is the one; I asked why he did pay the rent; he said it would be all right in a few minutes; the knife that Detective McPherson got was the knife that the prisoner brought in.
Cross-examined – When prisoner came in he seemed a little nervous, but not to any extent; when he said it would be all right, I understood him to mean that he would pay the rent.
J.C. McPherson, Detective, sworn: - Remember the 5th of January; received information that an attempt at murder had been made; got in a buggy and drove to Mr. Mills’ house; was told that the prisoner had gone up Queen street to Concession street; drove to prisoner’s house and found him washing his hands; I arrested him; he said he would not resist; he gave a revolver out of his pocket; it was loaded in all seven chambers; found a butcher’s knife with spots of fresh blood on it; the knife produced is the one; found fresh spots of blood on his clothing; he told me that I did not know all about it; it was about money; I took him to the cells; we conversed on the way down; he talked bitterly against the Mills’ family, and said the deed was done and couldn’t be helped.
Examined by Mr. Crerar – When I arrested prisoner, he was excited, both his hands were bleeding, they seemed to be bruised, not cut.
Dr. Thos. White, sworn – am a coroner of the county; knew Nelson Mills; held an inquest on his remains; the post-mortem was made by Dr. Campbell of Toronto, assisted by Drs. Vernon and Husband of the city of Hamilton.
This closed the case for the Crown
The first witness called for the defence was
Dr. E. C. Reid, sworn : Am a physician in this city; have known the prisoner three years; was called upon to attend an injury in his head about three years ago; it was a large wound on the temple; the wound is perceptible now; the cut was about three inches long; the soft parts were raised from the bone, and the bone was depressed and fractured; have seen a good deal of prisoner since; have thought him peculiar in his opinions and actions; he was very excitable;, and he entertained peculiar opinions ; phrenology was one of his hobbies for some time past; have heard him say that he had the head of a perfect man; he could not keep cool upon any subject oncehen got started up on it; I consider the fracture already alluded to affected his brain.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sinclair: The wound in the prisoner’s head injured to the bone; don’t recollect how long he was laid up with it; can’t say how much my bill was for attending him.
Peter McConnell (son of the prisoner) sworn: Am eldest son of prisoner; am past fifteen; my father has been those times in this country; he has complained of head aches for two years past; he said it was like (illegible) in his forehead; the fits of it would come on every few days; he would take off his hat and would walk round with it in his hands even on cold days; he went regularly to see Mr. Maranseen on the mountain; he would be very ill-tempered when the headache was on him and he would sleep badly; he would get up out of bed and take two looking glasses and look at his head; he has told me that he had the head of a perfect man, and compared it to the head of Rufus Chaoate; my grand cousin was crazy; he died in an asylum about three years ago; remember the 3rd of January last; father had one of his fits of headache on that day; he went home ill; he was not much better next day; I could always tell when his fits of headache were on; I would warn the younger children at such times not to speak to him owing to his crossness; he were not cross at other times; his fits would come on twice or three times a month; my mother went home to Scotland in 1871; she went for her sight; I went with her; we stayed a year and then returned; remember the 5th of January; I was standing at the stall when my mother came (illegible) that morning; I followed a little afterwards; I asked her what was the matter; at this time father was taking off his apron; he then put his spectacles in their case; mother told me the bailiffs were at the house; by this time, father was ready to come out; he had not had his coat off that morning; he told me to close the stall at the usual hour; I did not see him take a knife, but heard him sharpen it; have seen carry a knife up his sleeve; we had some meat at home that day to chop for mince meat; there were two hocks and a shank; it was kept on the table, and was being thawed out; the bone had to be taken out; there was no knife at home fit for that purpose; when father left the stall that morning he told mother to come on; did not hear him make any threats or use violent language.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sinclair: Do not recollect father’s first coming to Canada; he told me about it; I came from Scotland first in 1871 and remained two or three years; went home with my mother in 1873; think it was in February; father has been taking a phrenological journal for a year and a half; he was reading it in his stall on the morning of the 5th of January; I came with him from the house that morning; he complained of his head; I saw my grand cousin who was crazy; I saw him in 1868; I was then eight years old; know he was in an asylum because his father told me; on the 5th of January my father did not express any intention of going home until my mother told him the bailiffs were in the house.
To Mr. Creeper: My father’s headaches were different from anybody else’s that ever I saw.
Hampton Smith, sworn: Have known prisoner for years; remember 3rd of January last; saw him on that morning; he was walking with his hands behind his back and head down, round the Market Square; he afterwards ran round the same way; soon afterward he came to Walker’s stall; heard him tell Walker that he felt like killing somebody; Walker said to prisoner that he (prisoner) would never be right until he got into the big house on the hill; they then laughed and parted; I have often seen him kicking up a fuss at a butcher’s wagon of a morning.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sinclair: Was not intimate with McConnell; thought him peculiar.
Wm. Walker, sworn: Have known McConnell for a number of years; saw him on Monday the 3rd of January; he was walking round the Market Square with his head down and his hands behind his back; he afterwards ran round and then came to the water closet without his hat; have often argued and joked with him; he would always take the opposite side; he would get excited in argument.
Cross-examined: When I told the prisoner that he would have to go to the big house on the hill, we were laughing and joking together.
John Smith, sworn: Live on Concession street about 150 yards from McConnell’s house; took notice of prisoner last May building a sod fence; he would build it up and take it down again, and finally he took it down altogether; he always looked as if he was in a deep study; he would not hold up his head like any other man; he was going past my house one day with a shovel and a rake, and he stuck them in the ground and went off singing, and after a while commenced and then ran back for his shovel and rake. Another time he told me that he had dug a couple of bushels of potatoes out of one hill; have seen him out working on cold, rainy days when it was not fit for a dog to be out, and would stay out until he was ringing wet.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sinclair – Never gave any information to the police authorities that McConnell should be placed under restraint.
J. W. Blasdell, sworn: Reside on the corner of Locke and Robinson streets; have known prisoner since July; on Christmas day I was talking with him and Gerald Barry; during the conversation he looked up suddenly and said he could have nothing to do with us because our two noses were alike.
Gerald Barry, sworn; Know McConell; remember his building sod fence; he would build it up and then knock it down again; he would sometimes run at it and kick it down; I argued the matter with him and he said he wanted to try if it would stand cows. (Witness here related the incident told by last witness). There was a peculiarity in his manner; he was easily excited; have seen him out in wet weather digging holes in the ground and filling them up again.
Thos. Wilson, sworn – Have known McConnell since 1872; I was sent for after McConnell got hurt; he seemed to be in a curious state of mind; he said he wanted to have a conversation with someone who could do him good; he then went round the house muttering, “They have done it,” referring to his (illegible) and said he wished he could find out (illegible) ; he was afraid it had made a (illegible) on his mind….(illegible) I told him not to make a fool of himself (illegible) on a Sunday afternoon; he sang the hymns then wanted to start a song; I tried to dissuade him but he got the concertina and sang. I left him soon afterward; another Sunday he asked me to go to Stoney Creek with him and when we got ready he said he would have to go to his stall; he went there and barricaded it up then went home; have met him mornings with his hat in his hand.
Cross-examined by Mr. Sinclair: The Sunday he sent for me was soon after he got hurt; did not see him for two months after his arrest; he asked me to go to Stoney Creek in 1873.
Dr. (Illegible) called: Have done business with McConnell at his stall; have always thought he was a peculiar man; he seemed to me to have a superior intelligence; I noticed that he was in the habit of reading in his stall and I have always found that the books were of a superior order; he was easily excited if contradicted; so long as we agreed we got on pleasantly but when we disagreed I had to stop the conversation.
Cross-examined: He made a speciality of Phrenology; the man was excessively excitable; he conducted his business quite properly as far as I could see.
Re-direct: Though I said that he was an intelligent man, and on occasions a sensible man, he was peculiarly irritable and violent.
Christopher Lorenson, sworn : have known McConnell for four or five years; saw him on Monday 3rd of January; he came to my house in an excite state of mind; he complained of severe head ache, and said there were shooting, burning pains in it; he talked a great deal of rambling talk; he would draw long sighs, I reasoned with him and told him he had better go home and take a dose of medicine; have seen him in a similar state occasionally before; have often heard him complain of his head; have seen him drop his knife and fork at a table and clap his hands upon his head; he threw himself in front of a team, and the team paced over him, the same day he made a long bellowing noise; he was frequently much excited about politics and money matters; sometimes he complained of conspiracies against him to drive out of the market and otherwise injure him; never regarded him to be at any time thoroughly rational; knew him to be much excited when contradicted in ordinary conversations; never knew him to drink to excess, but regarded him in all ordinary relations of life as an exemplary man.
To the Judge: He was run over by the wagon before he was hurt in the head; once he took so strong an inclination to have some wood belonging to me that I had just to put powder in some of it and make him and make him believe it would be dangerous to use it, to get rid of him.
Cross-examined: He always said he was a superior man; never took any proceedings to have put in a lunatic asylum; he visited my house during four or five years; I first noticed his eccentricities about nine months after I had known him; always found him fair and honest in his business dealings; on New Year’s day he was in high glee, and said that he would be an actor and go on the stage.
It being half past one o’clock the court adjourned for three quarters of an hour.
The Court reassembled at half-past two o’clock.
Mrs. Catharine Griffin, sworn: Know McConnell’s family; nursed Mrs. McConnell with her last two children; was about twelve days each time; I saw McConnell fixing a piece of glass on a table, and comparing himself to great men whose portraits were in a phrenology book.
Dr. Joseph Workman, sworn: I was in charge of the Toronto Lunatic Asylum for twenty-two years; have examined the prisoner I found evidence of a fracture above the left eye brow; in certificate of insanity presented to me, blows on the head have been very frequent assigned as the cause of insanity; often the blow will date back years before the development of the insanity after such a blow; the insanity may show itself at once, or not for years afterwards; a man may be a lunatic without its being perceptible to ordinary observers; irritability is a symptom of insanity both latent and manifest; when a lunatic commits acts of violence, there may be excitement, but as a general rule may be said to be, that they show indifference and a want of appreciation of the enormity of the offence. Lunacy may be intermittal, here today and gone tomorrow; it may return fitfully or at regular periods. Suspicion or fear is a common symptom of insanity. In examining prisoner, I found him open to suspicions of various kinds; he seemed to be in fear of what he called the crowd. It is sometimes very difficult to prove lunacy.
Counsel here summarised the eccentricities in the conduct of prisoner, which had been deposed to, and asked if witness regarded them as indications of insanity.
Dr. Workman : If I should have been consulted in such a case, I should have advised his friends to look sharply after him; I would fear that insanity was incubating, and that it might break out suddenly; the conduct of the prisoner on the morning of the murder as told by the witnesses does not seem to me to indicate insanity.
In other news, the completion of the conversion of Christ’s Church on James Street north into Christ’s Church Cathedral was newarly completed and plans for a major celebration of the opening of the cathedral were being made.
The extremely poor state of the economy in the winter of early 1876 resulted in a number of homeless, unemployed men wandering about the city and country – a situation which, as noted in the following from the Spectator caused much unease :
“Tramps and vagrants are looked upon with the greatest suspicion by the people in the country. So many fires have occurred lately that the farmers are commencing to think that they are caused by tramps sleeping over night in the hay mows. Several petty thefts have been committed lately also which are blamed on the miserable looking characters who are constantly prowling around the country.”
On the Hamilton waterfront, a major fire, caused a severe blow to business in that section of the city’s economy:
“This morning shortly after two o’clock, Birely and Williamson’s warehouses, near the long wharf, owned by Mr. Myles, were completely destroyed by fire. The loss is supposed to be $9,000, partly covered by insurance. Birely & Williamson originally paid $8,000 for the building but have made several additions to it since. The place has been empty for some time past, and it has been a favorite resort of loafers and “sand rats” who would go in there of a Sunday and play at cards, out of reach of the police, who had commenced to look upon it as the resort of suspicious characters, and it is more than likely that some vagrants allowed a coal to drop from his pipe and thus caused the loss of a valuable warehouse. The loss will be doubly great as Messrs. Birely and Williamson had intended to stock the place with oats during the winter for spring shipment.”