Monday 9 January 2012

January 10, 1876

“Yesterday morning at half past eight o’clock, Mr. Nelson Mills, the victim of McConnell’s murderous attack, expired. All that medical skill and the tenderest human care could do for him was done, but the inhuman assassin had performed his fiendish duty too completely for human hand to be of any avail in saving the unfortunate gentleman’s life.”
Hamilton Spectator . January 10, 1876
It was news that was not really unexpected, but it still was a very disappointing matter for Hamiltonians to learn of Nelson Mills’ death.
It had been a little less than a week since Mills had been struck down in the middle of George street by one of his tenants wielding a nine inch knife.
The Spectator appearing on the streets on Monday January 10 had the full details of final cause of Nelson Mills’ passing the previous day and the steps taken in the matter immediately after his death:
Yesterday morning at half-past eight o’clock, Mr. Nelson Mills, the gentleman who was so brutally stabbed by the man McConnell died at his late residence on the corner of George and Queen streets. Mr. Mills had been suffering from the hiccoughs the night before and that caused inflammation of the wounds and had weakened the sufferer terribly, and at the time above mentioned while engaged in conversing with his wife, he passed suddenly away – almost without a struggle. Coroner White was immediately notified of the fact and Constable Fitzgerald received instructions to subpoena a jury, and at half past eleven they were gathered at Palm’s saloon on the corner of Bay and King Streets. Here they were duly sworn in, and Mr. James Walker, Sr. was appointed Foreman. Dr. White stated that the reason he had called them together at this untimely hour was because the relatives of the deceased wished to take the body in charge which they couldn’t do until the jury had viewed it. The Physicians also wished to make a post-mortem examination before the body became rigid. The inquest by common consent was adjourned till three o’clock this afternoon. The jury then proceeded to the late residence of the deceased and viewed the body, all the wounds, eight in number being exposed and laid bare. As we go to press, the inquest is going on at Palm’s Saloon where eye witnesses of the murder are giving their evidence.”
Although the inquest into the death of Nelson Mills had barely started, the Spectator showed no inclination to give any consideration to the notion of innocent until proven guilty :
 The crime was so aimless in its stupidity, so barbarous in its ferocity, so utterly bereft of even the motives which could actuate a criminal breast, that the love of justice becomes whetted to a keener edge by an honest desire for revenge upon the perpetrator. One almost wishes that robbery had been the motive of the miscreant and murder was a means to that end, for while it would have added the intention of another crime, it would, at least, have lent a trace of naturalness to the horrid deed which it is now entirely without.”
Another Spectator editorial appeared in that same issue which again was less than neutral in its judgment on McConnell:
“The bearing of the prisoner before the Coroner’s Jury yesterday was such as to chill every feeling of commiseration which would naturally be felt for any man in his awful situation, and not infrequently the indignation of those present was with difficulty repressed. He grasped with capacious avidity at every apparent discrepancy in the evidence, and seemed to think that if he could contradict a witness on any point whatever, no matter how remote its bearing on the case, that it would be an advantage to him.”
Just hours after Mills’ death, the church just across the street from his residence, All Saints’ Anglican Church, was the location of a moving memorial to one of their community :
“The Rev. Dean of Niagara conducted the services at  All Saints’ Church. The Lord Bishop preached the sermon in the middle of which he touchingly alluded to the demise of the late Mr. Nelson Mills, and the circumstances leading to his death. The sermon was most beautiful and instructive, and was made doubly impressive by the allusions of his Lordship to the fact that that morning one of the congregation had been called to his last account, struck down by the hand of the assassin. The handsome church was well filled, and the choral service, as usual, was beautifully rendered by the choir.”
Michael McConnell was safely ensconced in the then-new jail on Barton street when officials went there on the day after McConnell’s death to inform the prisoner of the latest development :
This  forenoon, Mr. McNab, the Deputy sheriff, the Chief of Police, and representatives of the city press casually visited the murderer McConnell in the county jail. They found the wretched man engaged in reading a religious work with great coolness at a window. He showed no surprise on seeing his visitors, and taking off his spectacles, he laid them together with the book at the door of his cell. He did not seem to comprehend the awful position in which he was placed, and conversed with great ease and coolness. He endeavoured to justify his act by complaining of the legitimate steps taken by the late Mr. Mills in the matter of collecting rent, and stated that his landlord had refused to erect a fence on the premises by he could secured ‘ a nice garden.’  He said that he dealt the deadly blow in a fit of violent passion, but did not add that he was sorry for what he had done. He said that when he first heard that Mr. Mills was dead, he felt bad but very soon got over it, and added that what was done could not be undone. The coolness of the prisoner is something wonderful. He conversed on the subject of his crime with awful indifference, and never changed colour while the interview lasted. On being told that he would be brought up at the inquest, he simply nodded his head as if it were a very common thing for him. When the party was leaving he bid them goodbye and walked back to his cell with a firm step. He was brought up to attend the inquest this afternoon.”
Besides the new infamous prisoner, there was another newsworthy event at the Barton Street Jail on Saturday :
“A struggle in jail which resulted rather painfully for one of the turnkeys occurred in the County Jail the day before yesterday. One of the prisoners became unruly, and the turnkey, Mr. James Morrison, approached for the purpose of putting him to rights. Another turnkey, named Lawrence, advanced and attempted to strike the prisoner with a bunch of keys, but missed his mark and hit Jimmy over the head with the lump of iron. Morrison thought that it was another prisoner who had struck him, and that corridor was cleaned out in no time. The ‘mystery’ was finally cleared up, however, and the unruly prisoner returned to his cell.”

          The unusual weather of January 1876 again prompted a short comment in the Spectator:
       Yesterday evening was as soft and warm almost as a day in April, and this morning was as cold, rough and uproarious as a day in March. This is the kind of thing that prevents our Canadian winters from becoming monotonous.”
          In other news,Hamilton pool players would have been pleased to read the following :
The sporting public will be glad to learn that the urbane James, late proprietor of the Queen’s saloon, on James street, has leased the billiard room of the Royal Hotel. Mr. Phelan’s friends know by experience that he keeps none but the best tables, and the Royal will soon become the most popular resort for billiards in the city.”
Finally, a description of the newly redecorated Theatre Comique, and the new company of entertainers hired to perform there, was provided for Spectator readers :
       On Saturday night, the Theatre Comique opened with a new and first class company. The hall was crowded almost to suffocation, and the performance was well carried out. The principal feature of the evening was the performance of the La Rue brothers in their gymnastic exercises. Tonight they will give their celebrated trapeze act. Sage and Johnny Richardson in their Ethiopian eccentricies were immense, and Miss Richardson’s jig was well executed. Sam Howard, as usual, was irresistible as an end man. The old favorite, Mr. Casper, acts as prompter and stage manager. Tonight, Miss Nellie Clarke, the celebrated Indian club performer, will make her debut before a Hamilton audience.”

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