Wednesday 14 March 2012

March 15, 1876

Yesterday afternoon at half past three o’clock, Dr. White, M.D., summoned a coroner’s jury for the purpose of holding an inquest on the body of the late Michael McConnell.”
                             Hamilton Spectator      March 15, 1876
The case of Nelson Mills and his murderer, Michael McConnell continued even after McConnell’s lifeless body was cut down from the scaffold.
As the law required, a coroner’s inquest had to be held.
The Spectator report on the inquest follows :
“After viewing the body, the jury retired to a comfortable room in the jail.
          After the evidence of Sheriff McKellar, who testified that Michael McConnell had been sentenced to be hanged, and that he had seen the sentence carried out. John Henery, the Governor of the Jail, and two outsiders who had witnessed the execution, were sworn and testified to having seen the late Michael McConnell hung by the neck.
          The inquest was then adjourned until eight o’clock in order to get the medical evidence.
          John Wellington Rosebrugh, M.D., sworn : Am Surgeon to the County Jail, knew the prisoner, Michael McConnell, saw him shortly after he was committed to jail for murder; he was then in a good state of health; he has been under my constant observation from that time until today; it was my duty to be present and witness the execution; at the request of the Sheriff, I advised the hangman as to the carrying out of the details of the execution, and in accordance with the recommendation of Dr. Houghton, of Ireland, the hangman was instructed to suspend the prisoner so that death would take place with the least possible suffering; his weight being only 138 pounds, the drop was made ten feet, and the knot placed under the chin, so that the shock came directly on the vertebrae, the result being instantaneous death without any suffering; there were only two or three slight inspirations without muscular movement; at three o’clock this afternoon, assisted by Drs. Mullin and Malloch, I made a post mortem examination of the body; rigor mortis was only partial; the body was in a well nourished condition; it apparently weighed 135 or 140 pounds as stated by himself on his admission to the jail; the body lying upon the table measured five feet three inches in height. There was great lividity and congestion on the head and neck. There was an abrasion on the left side of the neck about four inches in length, and one above and parallel to it, about half an inch in length, both evidently caused by the rope; there was an abrasion on the centre of the top of the head, which was made yesterday by himself by running and precipitating his head against the wall of the cell. This was about two inches in length, half an inch in width, and only superficial. There was a cicatrise or scar in the forehead, commencing in the centre at the superciliary ridge, extending upwards and outwards to the left side over the frontal eminence, two inches and a half in length; half an inch below and parallel with tjis was an elevated curved ridge or bone two inches in length; upon making an incision through the scalp, it was found full of dark fluid blood; upon removing the skull cap, the Dura Mater was found adhering in many places, particularly on the left side.
          The brain was taken out and weighed 53 ounces; there was no depression of the internal table of the frontal bone opposite the elevated ridge previously described; the bone at that point was thinner than natural and appeared to be somewhat wasted as if absorption had taken place to some extent; upon examining the neck there was extravasation of blood under the integument, and rupture of the sterno-mastoid muscle on the left side; the second vertebrae was fractured through the right superior articulating process; both fractures extended into the vertebrae for amonia; there was some displacement between the second and third vertebrae; the heart was examined and the right side was found full of dark fluid blood, and the left side empty and contracted; the brain was subsequently examined and nothing abnormal found except some congestion; the immediate cause of death was the fracture of the spinal column of the neck at the second vertebrae; during the tens weeks the deceased was under my observation, the question of his sanity has been a perplexing one to me; during most of the time my conviction was that the man was insane; again from time to time,  I have been in doubt; there was no acting on his part, no pretence, no volunteering of complaints, but only by dextrous cross-questioning could I get him to tell me how he felt; in that way I ascertained that he suffered from a continuous, bad, indescribable, unnatural feeling to his head, amounting at times to intense agony; taking this, and his whole bearing, from beginning to end since his imprisonment, into consideration, I am unable to dismiss from my mind the conviction that the man was insane.
          Dr. A. E. Malloch corroborated the evidence of the last witness in regard to the post mortem examination.
          The Coroner’s jury returned the following verdict:
          “That the deceased, Michael McConnell, being a prisoner in the Hamilton jail, came to his death on the 14th of March, 1876, in the jail yard, by being hung by the neck in accordance with the sentence of the Court passed upon him February the 2nd ultimo.””
          McConnell, even in death after his execution, still had another rather bizarre indignity done to his body:
       The Sheriff yesterday had a plaster cast taken of the head and shoulders of the murderer, McConnell, hanged yesterday. It was taken solely for phrenological and physiological purposes, as scientific men who had no opportunity of seeing and judging McConnell would be able to form an opinion of his character by the appearance and shape of his head.”
          In other news, a rapid fire burst of short items addressed the other news of the day:

-         “The next Provincial Fair will be held in this city.
-         The billiard tournament will be concluded tonight.
-         The blue birds are not so plenty as they were a week ago.
-         The Jail Surgeon has given his conviction that McConnell was insane.
-         The attention of the Board of Works is drawn to the state of the streets.
-         A grand leap year neck-tie party will be held in the Revere Hall tomorrow evening.
-         A grand pyramid pool tournament for the championship of Hamilton will soon be held.
-         The principal New York and Chicago papers contain accounts of the execution of McConnell.”

       As the city of Hamilton was to be the site of the province of Ontario’s main fall fair, it was decided that the civic committee in charge of the Crystal Palace grounds should make a tour of inspection to see what improvements might be required:
          “The Provincial fair of 1876 is to be held in this city. Yesterday, a number of the Provincial Fair Association, accompanied by His Worship the Mayor, and Ald, Waddell, Chairman of the Parks Committee, visited the Crystal Palace grounds, and after viewing the buildings concluded that many of them would have to be enlarged and issued instructions that the work be commenced immediately. The Improving of the inside of the Palace is to be left to some other time. No resolutions were passed. On their return from the grounds, the party dined at the Royal Hotel and spent some hours in pleasant conversation.”
Finally, an interesting item in the Spectator of March 15, 1876 concerned a project which would ultimately produce a “Bird’s Eye Map of the City of Hamilton” showing every building, park, wharf etc. as if viewed from a hot air balloon hovering over the city:
“Messrs. Parsons and Patchen have arrived in town with the new bird’s eye view of Hamilton, for which orders were taken some time ago. The picture is a very creditable one; it is in fact a genuine work of art. It is printed in colours and the shading is very fine. It gives a capital idea of location and distances and is particularly accurate in its delineation of public buildings, such as churches, manufactories, etc. Every house in the city is shown, and the names of different streets distinctly marked, so that no matter how small or humble the dwelling, every citizen can easily pick out his own residence. The principal private residences are also very nicely delineated. The view of the bay, dotted over with steamers and small boats, is excellent and imparts a lively tone to the whole work. Altogether, the picture, though not intended as a map, is one of the most useful, and at the same, one of the most ornamental views of the city we have seen. It should find a place in every hotel, office and residence in the city. Those who have not ordered copies should take means to secure them at once.”

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