Wilful Murder in Lindsay - 1856

  Our townspeople have been thrown into a state of the greatest excitement by the commission, on the main street, in open daylight, by a mere boy, of a murder which for cool deliberation we have seldom known equalled, and never surpassed. The facts of the case we will endeavour to lay, as intelligibly as possible before the reader.

On Tuesday evening last, at about half past 5 o'clock, we were startled by the report that a man had been shot dead on Kent street, and following the directions of our informant, we proceeded to the store of Mr. John Thirkell, where we found the unfortunate man -- one John McGuinty, a blacksmith in Mr. Thirkell's employ -- surrounded by a crowd of sympathizing acquaintances all anxious, but unable to render assistance to the sufferer.

A look was sufficient to show that the case was hopeless. The clothing had been cut from the right side of the wounded man, and a most shocking sight presented itself. The bullet had entered a few inches below the right arm striking first against a rib and then glancing off in the direction of the liver, which the medical men expressed their belief was desperately wounded.

The unfortunate man was lying on his left side in a pool of blood, with his back resting against the counter, and leaning over him, administering the last consolations of religion, was the Rev. James Chisholm, pastor of the Roman Catholic church in this Town, of whose congregation McGuinty was a member. We may add that the murdered man was removed on a shutter, as soon as practicable, to his own home and that he expired a few minutes after reaching it.

On leaving the store we mingled with a knot of persons talking over the affair, and learnt that deceased had been shot by a boy about 16 years old, named Robert Barlass, son of William Barlass, a person who kept a saddlery and harness shop in this town, owned by Mr. Walton of Peterborough, and that the father handed the pistol to his son. We also heard, to our surprise, that the murderer had escaped, for allowing which the bystanders were vehemently blamed -- unjustly however, for no one imagined that the pistol contained anything but powder, and as McGuinty walked into his employer's store (close to which the affray took place) after being shot, it was some time before the contrary was known; and, during the uncertainty, young Barlass decamped to the woods.

The moment, however, the fatal truth was known, the father was placed under arrest, and hunting parties, bent on the capture of his son, started in all directions, taking the leading roads, as it was thought certain that the fear of loosing himself would, sooner or later, compel him to leave the woods; a conjecture perfectly correct, for at daybreak the next morning, Wednesday, he was made prisoner by a young man named O'Keefe, who, with the three of four companions took the road leading to Emily Village. When caught, Barlass was only between six and seven miles from Lindsay, the intense darkness of the night, and the muddy state of the roads, rendering it impossible for him to travel at any considerable speed. O'Keefe states that he burst into tears upon being informed that his victim was dead; but he soon recovered his hardihood, and wished to "treat" at every tavern they came to, pulling out a five dollar bill for that purpose, and when passing through the streets of Lindsay, he stood up in the wagon, pulled off his cap and cheered, as if in defiance and derision.

An examination of both prisoners was held at 10 o'clock yesterday, in the Town Hall, before Wm. McDonnell, Esq., J. P., when a number of witnesses -- whose statements differed but slightly -- were examined, and the following facts elicited.

We must premise, however, that some slight unfriendly feeling had for a length of time existed between the deceased and the elder Barlass, a man of naturally violent passion, frequently rendered uncontrollable by strong drink, and who by some extraordinary perversion of judgment, considered it incumbent on him, as a Loyal Orangeman, to carry loaded pistols in his trousers pockets, and keep skull-crackers in easily accessible places. On the evening in question these two men, both slightly affected by drink, came in contact in the neighbourhood of Mr. Thirkell's store, and after some little quarrelling (sic), and quarrelling again, during which the deceased once or twice put himself in a threatening attitude, Barlass said words to the effect that "if McGuinty wanted to fight, he (Barlass) would lay his pistols aside and fight him" and, in accordance with these expressions, pulled his pistols from his pocket and handed them to his son who was standing beside him, The deceased, however, did not appear anxious to fight, and Barlass, wishing to restore his pistols to their accustomed Resting-place requested his son to return them. The boy immediately handed back one of them, when the deceased threw himself upon the elder Barlass as if with the intention of wrestling the weapon from him, and a struggle commenced.

At this juncture the wife of the deceased came out of Thirkell's Shop, in which they had taken refuge, rushed between the combatants (sic), and succeeded in half parting them; at which instant the boy, Robert Barlass, presented his pistol deliberately at McGuinty and shot him in the side. The elder prisoner then said to his son "Go indoors you young rascal, you've done it now!" and the deceased, as we have recorded above, walked into Mr. T's store exclaiming to young Mr. Thirkell, who was behind the counter, "William, I'm shot! young Barlass shot me! give me a drink of water: I shall die.!" (sic) He then, growing weak, sank upon his knees, and afterwards fell upon his side. Deceased, who was 37 years old, is said to have been a mild, good-tempered man, generally very sober and never drinking to excess. He leaves a wife -- his second -- and six little children, all by his first wife.

An inquest was held yesterday afternoon by Coroner Allanby, and a Jury of twenty-three of our most respectable and intelligent townspeople. A great number of witnesses were examined: the substance of their testimony we have given before. It was late last night before the verdict was returned, the chief obstacle in the way of unanimity of opinion on the part of the Jury being a difficulty in agreeing as to the exact amount of culpability attachable to the elder prisoner. Finally, their deliberations resulted in the following verdict, which was adopted without a single dissentient voice, and to which we think every unprejudiced person in the community will give a ready approval.

VERDICT The Jurors of the Jury, empanelled (sic) to enquire into the cause of death of John McGuinty upon their oaths present; That the said John McGuinty came to his death from a pistol shot discharged by Robert Barlass against the said John McGuinty, and in accordance with the testimony given before them, they fond the said Robert Barlass GUILTY OF WILFUL MURDER.

The Jurors further present that William Barlass, father of the said Robert Barlass, was at the time of the said murder, engaged in fighting or scuffling with the said John McGuinty, And further that the said William Barlass, after the committing of the said Murder did aid the said Robert Barlass in escaping the consequences of the said act.

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