Thursday 5 January 2012

January 6, 1876

This afternoon, Mr. Nelson Mills, the gentleman who was brutally stabbed by the man McConnell, is reported easier. He does not suffer as much pain as last evening, and it is thought he may yet recover. The bleeding at the lungs has ceased and the wound in the stomach is not of as dangerous a nature as was at first supposed.”
          Spectator January 6, 1876

          The day following the brutal attack he experienced, Nelson Mills seemed to be doing as well as could be expected. Hopes were entertained that he would survive.
His assailant, Michael McConnell, was in the jail on Barton street, kept in solitary confinement.
          Hamiltonians wondered what kind of a man this McConnell was. And the curiosity was not confined to Hamilton, and news of the crime was carried in all the Toronto newspapers and beyond.
The Spectator carried an extensive investigation into the background, and personality, of Michael McConnell, resulting the article quoted completely as follows :
       The prisoner Michael McConnell, who made such a brutal attack upon the person of Mr. Nelson Mills yesterday morning, instead of being an Irishman, as was rumoured throughout the city, is a Scotchman by birth, having been born near the city of Glasgow.  From what can be learned of the previous history of McConnell, it appears that he was a man of unbridled passions and of a most unfeeling and cruel nature. He married his present wife in Scotland some years ago, probably for the sake of a small income, which she received annually. The match did not prove a happy one, and for some time they continued to live a very unhappy life, chiefly through the harsh treatment which McConnell bestowed upon his wife. At last matters came to such a state that McConnell determined to leave Scotland and come to America. This project he carried out so far as he himself was concerned, but his wife steadfastly refused  to accompany him, and he was obliged to come alone. About eight years ago, he arrived in Hamilton, where he settled down. After being here for some time, he was seized with a desire to have his wife with him once more and in order to effect this he commenced writing letters home to Scotland to ask her to come to Canada, promising again and again that in the event of her doing so, he would be a better man than he had been and would do all in his power to make her life a pleasant one.  Yielding to his oft-repeated entreaties, Mrs. McConnell at last consented to come out to her husband, stipulating, though, that she should be allowed to bring her sister with her as she was afraid to come alone. Accordingly, the two came to Hamilton and took up their abode with McConnell. For a time, matters went smoothly enough, but it was not long before his old habits began to resume a full sway again, and the husband by brutal conduct made his wife more wretched than ever. Such a thing as domestic felicity was entirely unknown in the house in which they lived. Both women were in continual fear of their lives. McConnell was in the habit of flourishing knives and pistols and of using the most terrible threats against the defenceless women, both of whom, by the way, are rather weak-minded. Something over three years ago, Mrs. McConnell was confined, and for several weeks she lay at the point of death, her fiendish husband refusing to allow her to have a doctor’s attendance or the benefit of the kind offices of the neighbours, many of whom were anxious to render assistance to the poor woman. One benevolent lady did make an attempt to enter the house, but was driven away and did not dare to return. Finally, however, Mrs. McConnell recovered, and then she determined, if possible, to make her escape from the fiend who had so cruelly ill-used her. The story of her wrongs having reached a gentleman in the city, he went to see her and advised her how to proceed, in order to get away. Acting on his instructions , she procured assistance, had everything in readiness for a convenient opportunity whenever it should occur. This soon presented itself and one morning when McConnell was out in the country, purchasing some stock to kill, the two women took an early train from this city, and before the tyrant from whom they were fleeing knew that they were gone, they were far on their way to New York, whence they took passage to Scotland. The arrangements they had made for their flight, and their destination, were kept secret, and it was not for a considerable period after their departure that McConnell was able to discover where they had gone. However, he did find it out and after waiting for nearly two years, he once more set about getting his wife back again. Renewed promises of amendment were made, scores of good resolutions were written and sent to the wife by the husband, and woman-like, she once more yielded, and during the past year, she once more crossed the ocean to share the home which cruelty formerly had made her desert. Since that time, they have lived together in something like the old style, although the treatment which the wife received was not so hard as formerly. Still McConnell’s vicious nature would occasionally assert itself and his outbursts of temper were sometimes almost uncontrollable. In view of these facts, it is not to be wondered at that he at last in a fit of passion made a murderous assault on a fellow-citizen who he imagined injured him.”
          Once again, the editorial writer weighed in extensively about the nature of the McConnell case, and the ultimate outcome of the judicial proceedings on it which were to follow:
       The crime which startled this community yesterday morning, and which has brought a prominent citizen to the verge of death, is not only a shocking one, but it is also one of the most incomprehensible on record. It was almost with petulance that the prisoner urged yesterday before the Court, that he was in such passion when he did the deed that he had lost control of himself. He seemed to think that the Magistrate was losing sight of the main feature of the case in not bringing that fact prominently to the foreground. It is true that the law mercifully and rightly distinguishes between a deed done in hot blood, and one committed with coolness and premeditation. But no matter how hot the anger of this prisoner may have been when he dealt his murderous blows, he is not entitled to the benefit of the distinction which the law makes. In the first place, the alleged provocation was wretchedly inadequate to produce the anger which caused the assault, in any reasonable mind. In the second place, the prisoner had ample time for reflection between the moment when his murderous purpose was formed and that in which it was carried into execution. Had he got into a personal altercation with his landlord, and in the heat of the quarrel dealt a deadly blow, the executive Government might so far have extended mercy to him as to commute the death sentence which he would have justly earned, into one of imprisonment for life, but this was not the case. Had he been so poor a man that a distress warrant served upon him meant the turning of his family out of doors, that fact might have been urged as an extenuating circumstance, but this was not the case either, for when his wife came down to the market and told him that the bailiff was in possession, he promptly handed her the fourteen dollars necessary to settle the account, showing that he could have paid it before had he been so disposed. He does not plead that the rent was not due, nor that he was unable to pay it, but that his landlord had promised to repair a fence and had not done so, and that his landlord should attempt to collect his rent under such circumstances was the miserably inadequate cause of the mighty anger which the prisoner now pleads in extenuation. If this really was the cause, then a man with such a temper is just as dangerous to society as a murderer of any other type, and its safety requires that he should not be let loose upon it again. It is the experience of all of us to meet with vastly greater provocations than this in our walk through life, and the man who cannot encounter them without getting into a murderous temper over them is not fit to be a member of civilized society. That the anger which impels to murder should be occasioned by the miserable cause above specified seems incomprehensible on the ordinary principles of human nature. But even if this were otherwise, such paroxysms of rage are, as a rule, of short duration – a few moments are generally sufficient to cool their ardour, more or less. But, this culprit, as we have said, had time to reflect. He was in his stall in the market when he heard that the bailiff was in his house; from there to where he met Mr. Mills is a distance of about three quarters of a mile. In the surrounding circumstances there was everything to induce reflection and the exercise of self-control; he was not maddened by drink, for the evidence is that he was perfectly sober at the time; the consequence to himself and his family of committing such a crime could not have been absent from his mind during his walk from the market to Mr. Mills’ house; it was broad daylight, and he could not have hoped that the deed he was meditating would be unseen by others, or that if it were, he would escape recognition by his intended victim. His conduct after the crime was committed was as incomprehensible as any other part of it. The first impulse of the murderer generally is to escape, but no such impulse seized this criminal. After his brutal work was done, he stood quietly on the street and wiped the blood from his knife upon his coat sleeve, and then he walked deliberately to his own house. When the officers arrived, they found him washing himself, and with perfect calmness, he called for various parts of raiment preparatory to accompanying the officers to the cells. On the way down, he told one of them that he had no intention of killing Mr. Mills, that he intended only to teach him a lesson. And he seemed to think that there was sufficient merit in that motive, together with the fact that he was in a passion at the time, to save him from more than nominal punishment. The first trace of human feeling which he showed was in his attempt to cross-examine one of the witnesses at the examination, when he broke down and wept.
          ‘The very strangeness of this crime calls for its stern punishment. Should Mr. Mills survive, the culprit cannot, of course, be convicted of murder; but should he not, which is more likely, public sentiment will demand the execution of the extreme penalty of the law.”

          In other news that day, Police Magistrate Cahill rendered judgment on the assault of the actor Brent by Mr. McKinley at the St. Nicholas Hotel. Despite McKinley having the ability to hire Henry Carscallen, one of Hamilton’s leading lawyers, to defend him, while Brent argued his case by himself, the magistrate decided in favour of the actor. McKinley was convicted of aggravated assault and fined $10.

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