Archive for August, 2007

The state of the “common gaols” in the future Canada did not escape notice. In one petition signed by a number of judges – including Alexander Wood – the Toronto prison was causing prisoners “to suffer more than the laws sanction or humanity approve.”

At the same time, there’d been a movement afoot for some years 60 in Britain and the United States, toward changing the function of the prison. The goal of the “gaol,” they said, was not simply to punish — it was to make sure that when a convict was released, they were ready to rejoin society.

This was done by getting convicts used to manual labour and routine, giving them an education, and putting inmates in the care of priests and ministers. This new kind of prison had a new name – “penitentiary,” from “penitence.” The religious overtones were quite intentional. Prisoners were seen as prodigal sons who would one day return to the fold of religion and society.

The Provincial Penitentiary at Kingston opened its doors in 1837. Not surprisingly, the number of convictions increased almost immediately. Compassionate juries were more willing to return “guilty” verdicts and judges more ready to sentence if the criminal was going to be reformed rather than killed or sent to a dungeon.

Life in the King Pen

The Penitentiary was definitely an improvement on the “common gaols.” Inmates got simple meals, their cells were much cleaner, and the illiterate were taught to read and write there. Women and children were put in the penitentiary, too, though the women were watched over by a matron, and not just the male guards.

On the other hand, if the Provincial Penitentiary was imagined as a humane alternative by the public, no one told that to its first warden, Henry Smith. Smith’s treatment of the convicts – especially his brutal whippings of children as young as ten for such crimes as “smiling” and “laughing” – caused a colony-wide scandal, a provincial enquiry, and finally resulted in the firing of the warden.

It was into Warden Smith’s delicate care that the penitentiary’s first “sodomites” were delivered.

The Names

Samuel Moore and Patrick Kelly are remarkable for several reasons. Aside from being Kingston’s first “sodomites,” they are the first men I can say almost for certain were convicted and sentenced for gay sex between consenting adults, though there may have been others I haven’t been able to find.

They are also the first to make the papers. The Western Herald of June 16, 1842, is much more concerned with libel suit against one of its reporters, but mentions in passing a few other cases before the courts, including “Samuel Moore and Patrick Kelly, [convicted of] Sodomy, to be executed on the 15th day of July next.”

Some records still survive in the Ontario provincial archives of this trial. Moore and Kelly had separate trials, though on the same day and they shared one witness. The court was too proper to name their crime, simply entering it in the sessions books as “Felony.”

The men pleaded not guilty, but there were witnesses. A John Cooper was a witness to both cases, and was thus likely the witness who caught them — it was near-impossible to convict for “sodomy” between consenting adults unless there was a direct witness.

Kelly was unfortunate to have several men testify. In addition to Cooper, there was a Joseph Dwyer, a John Barker, and a man whose name is completely illegible in the clerk’s bad handwriting, but which looks like a Sergeant S. It therefore seems probable that Kelly had more of a reputation that Moore did.

Moore and Kelly were not executed. The letter staying their execution was written by the governor’s secretary and dated August 22, 1842:

”I have the honour by commission of the Governor General to acquaint you, that His Excellency … has been pleased to order that the sentence of death pronounced on Samuel Moore and Patrick Kelly, present prisoners in the jail at Sandwich [Windsor, Ontario], should be commuted into Imprisonment in the Provincial Penitentiary during the term of their respective natural lives…”

I’ve done my best to research these men. Fortunately, the wardens and chaplains at the penitentiary were excruciatingly careful record keepers, and included a great deal of information in their annual reports to the government, so I can give these men more than just names.

I feel it’s important to raise these men up from out of the abyss of history, to help dispel the silence gathered around our history. For that reason, I include the minor and seemingly pointless details, like the physical descriptions. In some cases, it’s all we have.

Samuel Moore was convicted at what’s now Windsor. He arrived at Kingston on October 8, 1842, facing a life sentence. The governor later shortened his sentence, and he was released on August 2, 1849.

Upon release, the penitentiary usually gave personal data on its prisoners. In the 1840s, this data was mostly about physical appearance. Thus we know that Moore was 39 years old, that he had black hair, a dark complexion, hazel eyes, and stood at 5’9”.

Patrick Kelly shared Moore’s conviction, his verdict, and the change of verdict. They arrive together, but Kelly was pardoned four years later than Moore, in 1853 — due likely to the larger number of witnesses at his trial. He was 27 at the time of his conviction. By the time of his release, the Kingston’s warden was giving sociological statistics rather than physical descriptions – thus we know that Kelly was Irish and working class, a labourer.

We also know that Kelly was one of the prisoners who complained of mistreatment at Kingston. According to the prison inspection of 1849:

“Convict Patrick Kelly, a life-prisoner for sodomy, is called to state, that he fell from a scaffold in December, 1846, on a Thursday morning ; that the Surgeon did not see the injury until the following Monday, when he was sent to the hospital from his cell ; that he was a fortnight in his cell before it was discovered that his thigh was broken ; that a splint was then put on it, and remained on six weeks, and that he is lame still. He admits, however, that he ‘blames his not lying as the Doctor directed him, for the shortness of his leg now. The Doctor threatened to tie the witness down, to make him lie in a proper direction.’ Hospital-keeper Jones proved, that every patient in the establishment has been regularly examined by the Surgeon daily, and Kelly could not have been three days unexamined ; that Kelly’s accident did not occur when he says it did, but that he came into the Hospital on the 26th September, 1845 ; that lotions were applied until 9th October, when a splint was applied for fractured neck of the femur ; and that the case was discharged from Hospital on the 7th of January, 1846.”

The inspectors did not believe him, pointing out a difference between his version and official records. Kelly’s leg never healed properly, and from the sound of it he walked with a limp the rest of his life.

Moore and Kelly were most likely lovers – though I have no way of knowing whether they were caught in a casual one-time encounter, or whether this was a long-term relationship.

Cortland Travers, frequently named “Travise” by mistake in court records, is the only “sodomite” to arrive alone. The records of his trial at Ontario’s provincial archives strongly suggest that his was not a victimless crime. Charges were brought against him by a Susan Ann Stull, a Maria Stull, and a Dr. Robert McCulloch. I strongly suspect that a fourth person named later in the records, was the victim — Charles Kennedy. If so, he was underage, or else he would’ve been named among those bringing charges. An “Elijah Travise” was a witness for the defence.

Of course, our details are scant, and the records are vague. It’s possible that Travers was arrested for something consensual, and that his partner got away before his arrest, or escaped prison. Travers was only seventeen at the time of his conviction, and it’s also possible that Kennedy was a consenting partner who was not much younger, but turned his lover in as a “rapist” to escape conviction after they were caught in the act.

(From the GLBT histories of countries with more complete records, we know such things happened quite regularly.)

Cortland Travers was sentenced at Hamilton in 1843. He only got seven years. He arrived at about the same time as Grace Marks, the murder convict who is at the centre of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.

Travers was originally sentenced to death, but received a handwritten letter virtually identical to the one Moore and Kelly got. The governor’s secretary was not even sure of the boy’s name – he writes, “Cortland Travers or Travise.”

We know that Travers was Irish. The warden’s report describes him as having a fair complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, and standing at 5’7”. He was not pardoned – instead he served his full 7 years, being released at the age of 24 on November 30, 1850.

George Hogg and George Smith come in together in 1856, lovers again — though whether casual or partners again I don’t know. They were convicted at Kingston. Both were working-class, common labourers, both English immigrants, both members of the Church of England. Hogg was much older than his partner – at 60, he was twice Smith’s age.

These last two spent the celebration of Confederation in prison. Then in 1871, a very elderly Hogg died of tuberculosis in the former Provincial Penitentiary – now renamed the Kingston Penitentiary. Hogg has the dubious distinction of being the first “sodomite” to die in there – by all accounts a horrible place for an elderly man to spend his last days.

His lover was pardoned that same year. I like to think that this was an act of compassion on the part of the government, though this is probably much too optimistic.

After Hogg and Smith arrive, and right up to Confederation, the records become confusing. The second warden — Donald Aeneas MacDonnell — was in poor health, and his record-keeping suffered.

At one point in the same year, it looks like there are two “sodomites” (Hogg and Smith) in the penitentiary. At another, it looks two have been added anonymously; and later still, it looks like there an extra four. After that, there is a gap in the records that lasts years. At some point, a same-sex rapist is added, but his name is never mentioned.

After Confederation, the convictions began to steadily increase, with a sudden increase after 1890. By that time, the death penalty had been rescinded — making judges much more willing to convict. We’ll turn to the end of the death penalty for “sodomy” in our next instalment.

Before I end this section, I’d like to take off the historian’s hat for a moment. Writing this section became an obsession. I was startled by the information I dug up – information no real historian has ever seemed interested in.

Cortland Travers was a teenager, and one of the dozens of poor Irish immigrants who landed in prison that year – they are by far the largest single ethnic group to be sentenced for any crime in 1842. He spent the best years of his youth in jail. George Hogg was an elderly man forced to spend his declining years within Kingston’s grey walls, and died of the “prisoner’s disease.” Samuel Moore and Patrick Kelly were delivered to the tender care of a warden known to be a brutal psychopath, for a “sin” of desire and a “crime” with no victim.

Fury is useless. The men involved – victims and victimizers – are long dead. The laws have been changed. The prison system has been reformed. There is nowhere to spend fury practically here, no useful channel down which I could direct outrage.

Yet, still, I feel outrage. Maybe I have to, because no one felt outrage at the time.

Sources: My sources on these men’s lives are primarily the wardens’ reports of Henry Smith and Donald Aeneus MacDonell, collected in the Appendices to the Journals of the Province of Canada from 1837 to 1871, though the other prison reports collected along with the wardens’ reports sometimes proved useful. I was able to order the letters commuting the death sentences of these five men from the Canadian Archives, and found the newspaper reference to Kelly’s and Moore’s trial on PaperofRecord.com. I have since updated this section with information from the court minutebooks of three of the trials — Moore’s, Kelly’s, and Travers’ — which can be found on microfilm at Ontario’s provincial archives as reels MS 530 (3) and MS 530 (4).


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Homosexuality was rarely talked about in early Canada, and when it was, it was described a foreign vice. If there had been a stereotype of the English homosexual, it would probably be a stereotype imported from the metropolis – the decadent aristocrat, raised in “effeminate” wealth and luxury. Indeed, when the first homosexual character appears in a Canadian novel, this is exactly what he looks like (a subject I’ll come to later). George Herchmer Markland matched the stereotype perfectly.

Canadian judges, however – who saw the real “sodomites” in court – may have had a different stereotype. Whenever a profession is attached to the name of a sodomy convict in the 19th century, it is almost always “labourer.” These were the men who did the rough, physical work, from construction to the carrying of heavy loads to mining. Once the industrial revolution reached Canada, the labourers are joined by factory workers. Often though, no profession is listed — these were most likely drifters. The typical “sodomite” then – from the court’s point of view – was working-class.

The Early Days – 1763 to 1840

The few works researching homosexuality in early Canada make the happy declaration that there weren’t many “sodomy” cases, and that no one has ever found a “sodomy” convict that got the death penalty. This encouraging statement – while true – deserves some fine print, as I discovered from my own researches.

Firstly, these records contain rather large gaps. Some have been burnt or water-damaged with the years. Others are gone altogether. Often vital information (like the verdict and the sentence) was never recorded. Sometimes we have information about a case in one source, and not in another. For example, I have been able to find Thomas Clotworthy’s subpoena, but not his statement of indictment — which would provide greater detail.

The surviving early 19th-century records are scattered to every corner of Canada – often in the archives of whatever city the courthouse was in, making it hard to track them down. I wouldn’t even know where to look for Newfoundland’s oldest records, if these still exist. Its first trials were conducted by sea captains.

To make matters worse, most of the historians who’ve looked into this before me didn’t seem to have done much legwork. I kept reading that Montreal’s first sodomy case in 150 years was the Clotworthy case in 1840. Yet, when I went diving for records, I discovered another one, in 1813.

So while we’ve never found a case where a sodomite was sent to hang, that may just have more to do with poor record-keeping – or poor record-reading – than anything else.

Sentencing and Punishment in Early Canada

Justice in the colony’s early days was cruel. The colonial government lacked both the resources and technology to build modern-style prisons. Until the 1830s, few even believed such prisons were necessary.

There were around 200 crimes on the books in colonial Canada that earned a convict the death penalty. This penalty could be commuted by a judge, but some crimes (like “sodomy”) required the intervention of the colonies’ governors to save the convict from their date with the gallows.

The governors, however, were quite merciful. They very often commuted death sentences, even for “sodomites.” They also frequently wrote pardons. One book on early crime in Canada, Terror to Evildoers, states that between 1790 and 1835, Upper Canada only used the death penalty 138 times for all crimes combined. This was a tiny number by the standards of the age.

For this reason, even though “sodomy” carried a mandatory death penalty, the few convicted “sodomites” I’ve been able to trace turn up at prison instead, and frequently were allowed to leave before their time is up.

If a sentence was commuted, the convict would be either sent to prison, or to “transport.” “Transport” meant that the person would serve their sentence as a temporary slave, first in the future United States and then (after the American War for Independence) working for the colonists of Australia.

Prisons were awful. “Common gaols,” as they were called, were stone dungeons where prisoners were locked up in leg chains. Prisoners in “common gaols” had to buy their own food, so the poorer prisoners ones unless a member of their family supported them. Disease was rampant, and convicts frequently died of tuberculosis. In the unclean cells, the air was toxic. On the other hand, wealthy prisoners could buy their way out of their leg irons. Once past this defence, “common gaols” were notoriously easy to break out of, and the prisoner could make a run for the American border, or escape by ship.

“Sodomites” before 1841

Gathering records for this era has been extremely difficult. I doubt I’ve even uncovered a quarter of the country’s early trials for “sodomy.”

Worse, it wasn’t until the penitentiary at Kingston was built and the first really detailed criminal statistics appear. Only then do we have a good idea of what crime these men were convicted. “Sodomy” in the early 1800s could mean homosexuality, same-sex rape, and male/male paedophilia. “Buggery” included all these things, plus bestiality.

Of the five names of “sodomy” convicts and possible convicts I’ve found before 1841, one – 17-year-old printer Thomas Clotworthy – was went to trial for what we’d call paedophilia with an 11-year-old boy, and another – Jean Baptiste Coulombe – was on trial for same-sex rape. Both these men would likely have been charged in our time as well.

Yet, both these men’s trials are relevant to this study because they reveal how deep the homophobia ran. The real issue for Canadian courts before 1841 was not the lack of consent involved in these cases — that simply meant there was one accused rather that two — but the homosexuality involved. The indictment papers of Jean Baptiste Coulombe demonstrate this skewed perspective. Note how it’s the homosexuality, not the lack of consent, which really seems to bother the court:

The Jurors for our Lord the King upon their Oaths, present that Jean Baptiste Coulombe, late of the Parish of St. Mary, commonly called the Parish of Montreal …, labourer, not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor the order of nature, but being moved and seduced by diabolical instigation on the Eighteenth of June [1813] … at the Parish of La Prairie de Magdalen, in the county of Huntingdon … with a certain Cour. then and there being unlawfully, wickedly, and diabolically and against the order of nature did make an attempt carnally to know the said Cour. with intent that most horrid, detestable, and abominable Crime (among Christians not to be named) called Buggery…

The name of the other man is illegible. It looks like it begins “Cour,” and is probably the Pierre Courtois who was a witness at the trial. The notation of the verdict is bizarre and confusing on both copies of the indictment paper, though it went to trial and it looks like Coulombe was found not guilty.

(A table entitled “Criminal Statistics for the District of Montreal” in The British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science for November 1846 confirms that there was not one conviction for “unnatural crimes” between 1829 and 1843 — which means that Clotworthy was found “not guilty.” Indeed, I haven’t yet found one conviction for “sodomy” prior to 1841.)

We know little about Jean Baptiste Coulombe, but about other “sodomites,” I’ve been able to find even less. Were François Marois, John Langs, and Moses Winters homosexuals, paedophiles who abused boys, or rapists who attacked men? The records I’ve found don’t specify.

In the case of Langs (from the Hamilton area, tried 1827) and Winters (from the Toronto region, tried 1831), the records I found don’t even tell us if they were found guilty or innocent, if they lived or died. It is probably a testament to the cheapness of human life in this era that we do know exactly how much their trials cost, however – Langs’ fight for his life appears on the balance books at £1, 13 shillings, and 6 pence.

I was able to find out a bit more about Marois, though not exactly what he was charged with. François Marois was the only person in the 19th century to be sent to Quebec City’s “common gaol” for his “sodomy” sentence. The prison register records that he was a Canadian-born 40-year-old, 5’8” in height, with a dark complexion.

Whatever kind of sodomy he was convicted of, he couldn’t have been considered a real threat to society – he only got one year’s imprisonment, plus some time in the pillory. Even this was apparently too much for Marois, who broke out of prison a month an a half after he arrived on August 14, 1821. As far as I can tell, he was never caught.

He was not the only one to escape the arm of the law. In a government survey of the justice system in 1842, a lawyer named Étienne Martel complained that escapes were common:

”There have been, during the last three or four years, in the County of Bonaventure [on the Gaspé peninsula], two or three cases of rape, one of sodomy, and one of bestiality. In one of these cases, the accused was imprisoned, and sometime afterwards released. All escaped prosecution.”

The unwillingness to prosecute is intriguing — and it’s not the only reference to this strange leniency. In one paper dated January 5, 1863, there is a small blurb:

“SERVED HIM RIGHT — John Gilmour, a private soldier in the 62nd regiment, stationed at Kingston, has received fifty lashes, and when his back is healed will be drummed out of the regiment for having committed an unnatural offence.”

Nowhere is the possibility of arresting and charging Gilmour mentioned.

The Quebec jail — though it only contained one sodomy convict — contained a fairly large number awaiting trial. Duncan McKinley, a Scottish immigrant, was charged with same-sex rape in 1815, and found “not guilty.” So was John Rose, a man from the West Indies, in 1843. The specifics of Samuel Nash’s and William Smith’s alleged trials aren’t listed beyond the charge, but again, they were freed.

Interestingly, not one of the early trials I’ve been able to trace brought a couple before the judge. It may be there are other trials I haven’t found yet, but it still suggests these trials were rare if they happened at all. Most likely it means we’re not dealing with consensual homosexuality between adults here — though it’s always possible half the couple escaped without being caught, or broke out of prison before the trial. It is also possible that some of the victims in these cases claimed to have been raped to protect themselves (though not their partners) from prosecution.

Did judges – in spite of the official rhetoric that lumped gay sex in with same-sex rape, paedophilia, and bestiality – actually understand the difference between victimless crime and abuse? Did local authorities prefer to handle consensual gay sex quietly, the way the Family Compact did with its own members and friends?

Or is simply that – without a victim to complain – officials rarely heard about homosexuality? Constables in these days were not “pro-active” — they waited until a complaint was made before they acted. Consensual “sodomy” was also very difficult to prove, as only one homosexual act was illegal at that point. Try proving that a specific sex act took place when your two best witnesses are also on trial, and therefore likely to lie. If the lie were well-concocted, it would throw even eyewitness testimony in doubt.

Whatever the reason, as the Canadian system moved from the idea of punishing criminals to reforming them, “sodomites” start arriving in pairs rather than singles. When the Provincial Penitentiary was built at Kingston, its first two “sodomites” arrive as a couple.

But we’ll get to this in our next instalment.

Sources: Marois and other Quebec prisoners appears in the “grand écru” at the Province of Quebec’s genealogy website. Coulombe shows up in the Montreal archives, the King’s/Queen’s bench records (TL19,S1,SS38), which I’ve studied from 1796-1825. Clotworthy shows up in the subpoenas saved in another Montreal Archives collection (TL19,S1,SS62,D160), with additional details filled in by Montreal gay archives, les Archives gaies du Québec. Langs and Winters show up in the Journals of the Assembly of Upper Canada, available Early Canadiana Online. Details of the criminal justice system come from several sources, including Justice in Early Ontario, 1791-1840 by Charles K. Talbot and The Kingston Penitentiary: the first 150 years, 1835-1985by Dennis Curtis et al., and Terror to Evildoers: Prison and Punishment by Peter Oliver. Étienne Martel’s complaint can be found in the Appendices to the Journal of the Assembly of the Province of Canada, in Appendix G, for the year 1843. The source for the criminal statistics I have listed in the body of the text. I have stupidly neglected to keep the name of the newspaper that furnished the blurb on Gilmour, only the date. It would be somewhere among the Ontario newspapers on PaperOfRecord.com

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Alvaro Orozco Needs Help

Although this is mainly a historical website, today I’m hoping to bring the public’s attention to Alvaro Orozco, who had his refugee claim rejected because he couldn’t prove he’s gay.

Orozco figured out his sexuality early, and fled his native Nicaragua — where homosexuality is illegal and anti-gay violence rampant — at the age of 12. He headed for an Francisco. He details his adventures on his website. Suffice to stay, his reception when he got to the United States was not warm — he spent most of his teenage years in government institutions, or under the protection of religious groups (who did not know he’s gay).

Orozco finally reached Canada, hoping for a better reception. Sadly, our one-person refugee board — Deborah Lamont — decided she didn’t believe Orozco was gay based on a videotaped interview. She pointed out that he can’t prove he’s gay. She did not say what she’d consider adequate proof.

Under a law passed several years ago under the Liberals, refugees have the right to an appeal if they are rejected. Problem is, neither the Liberal nor Conservative governments bothered to set up an appeals board, so Lamont’s decree is the law unless the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley, gets involved. She has the authority to grant him a Minister’s Permit — a special exception.

The NDP’s Olivia Chow has gotten involved in the fight to keep Orozco from going back to a country where he risks jail time or worse, as has former Liberal House of Commons leader Bill Graham. Graham has been deeply involved in the fight, and even provided Orozco a place to stay. But only Finley can help Orozco at this point.

Now to my point: We’re trying to set up a letter-writing campaign, urging Immigration Minister Diane Finley to personally intervene to keep Alvaro Antonio Orozco Hurtado (immigration Client I.D. Number: 5489-8782) in the country, and grant him refugee status.

You can write to the minister, postage-free, at:

The Honourable Diane Finley
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Please take the time to write the letter. If Finley believes this is an important issue for people, she may be willing to grant that Permit, especially if she expects it to influence the vote next election.

Thank you.

UPDATE: Alvaro Orozco went into hiding when his claim was rejected. Since then, Lamont has rejected a gay Malaysian man who suffered violence at the hands of police, and a gay El Salvadoran who suffered harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of police in his own country. Gareth Henry — the Jamaican gay activist — is still before the board, but given the IRB’s atrocious record on GLBT refugees, it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be accepted.

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A Note About Updates

When I first established this site, I wanted to put enough material out there to solidly establish it, and so I was updating three or four times weekly.  That was a little too much.

I’m now going to update every Sunday — after this Sunday, which I’m taking off as a vacation —  not just because the reearch I’m doing is more intense than anything I’ve been doing previously, but because I’d like a little time for myself.

The next update will be next Sunday. This one will be about the early “sodomy” trials in Upper and Lower Canada, which I’ve spent the better part of this month researching.

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George Herchmer Markland was the closest thing to royalty that existed in the Canadian colonies. Born in 1790 at Kingston, in what was still the Province of Quebec before it became Upper Canada, Markland grew up in ease and comfort, and was educated by the Family Compact’s patriarch himself, the Anglican Bishop John Strachan.

At 20, Markland was coming into elite society. The lawyer John Beverley Robinson – the same man who named Alexander Wood “the Inspector General of private Accounts” – said that Markland was, “a good fellow, and very friendly.”

Yet Markland made Robinson uneasy. The lawyer confessed, “I prefer seeing a person his age more manly and not quite so feminine in either speech or action.”

Markland was in training to be an priest, but changed his mind. In 1812, he went to war as an ensign in the Frontenac militia, defending Canada from American invasion. At some point he married, as all men of his class were expected to, but he and Anna Markland never had any children. In 1820, he went into politics. He ran in Kingston, but lost.

Losing the election didn’t damage his political career – just the opposite. The Family Compact raised him up into their own ranks – he was promoted (unelected) to the highest lawmaking body in the land, the Legislative Council, probably thanks to Bishop Strachan. At 37, in 1827, he was given a full seat on the Executive Council, at the heart of government.

Not yet forty, Markland was now one of the most powerful people in the colony. He sat on numerous committees and boards, and was in charge of the leasing and sales of much of the land administered by the government. Most importantly, he was put in charge of the sale of school lands – lands sold to support the colony’s education system, and fund institutions like Upper Canada College.

In 1833, he was made Inspector General of Public Accounts – it was his job to inspect all government spending. This was a high position of trust. But Markland had reached his apogee – his star was about to fall.

The Investigation

In 1838, when Markland was 48 years old, rumour started to go around that he was meeting young men – mostly soldiers – in his office at the government buildings at night. Some began to get suspicious.

The housekeeper of the government buildings, a woman named Margaret Powell, tried to warn Markland in a note, writing, “Your Movements about this Building are watched, and have become the Subject of conjecture.” Markland did not take the warning seriously.

The rumours reached Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur, the colony’s chief official. He decided upon an investigation. Markland agreed, saying it was the only way to clear his name.

However, Markland begged the lieutenant governor to make his old teacher, Bishop Strachan, the only investigator. The bishop had remained a close friend of Alexander Wood’s even after the scandal, and Markland probably figured Strachan would be willing to look the other way when it came to his sexuality, too.

The lieutenant governor refused to appoint such a biased detective to the case, and instead turned to Markland’s fellow members of the Executive Council. And after only a week of investigation, these investigators turned up a mountain of dirt.

Most of this was rumour and innuendo. Two of the witnesses before the inquiry claimed that they’d heard that Markland had got several men out of the military and supported a law student named Frederick Creighton Muttlebury in exchange for promised sexual favours. The soldiers denied having promised anything.

Some of the evidence, however, was more telling. One witness claimed that Markland had tried to feel up his brother. Muttlebury said he got away from Markland because of (what The Canadian Biographical Dictionary called) Markland’s “increasingly bold and possessive attitude.” But Muttlebury added that nothing Markland did was actually illegal.

Margaret Powell – the housekeeper who had tried to warn him – gave the most damning evidence of all. She said that she had once listened at his office door and heard “such movements as convinced me that there was a female in the room, with whom some person was in connection [having sex].” When the door opened, it turned out only Markland and a military drummer had been in the room.

Markland became desperate. He begged for time to put his defence together. He claimed there was a witness, a soldier named James Pearson, in Toronto whose testimony could help clear his name. But then, strangely, he decided he didn’t want Pearson to appear before the enquiry. Frantic, Markland wrote a letter to the lieutenant governor, stressing all the good he and his family had done for the colony.

The evidence kept increasingly. Finally, the lieutenant governor agreed to drop the charges if Markland would quietly resign his post as inspector general. Markland agreed. Over the next three years, he was gradually forced out of every government and military position he held. He retreated to Kingston.

In 1841, there was another Markland scandal, this time involving finances. It seems that while Markland was in charge of the school lands fund, he’d lost (or stolen) £5000 of money belonging to the schools. His enemies screamed embezzlement, and Markland agreed to pay back every cent in instalments, finally paying the rest of it in his will.

It has been suggested that the money was spent on his “favourites,” but this remains pure speculation.


Alexander Wood staged an astonishing comeback after a similar scandal forced him to flee to Scotland. George Herchmer Markland lacked his friend’s chutzpah.

Markland exiled himself to Kingston, and spent the last 24 years of his life as a recluse. From the time of his scandal on, he vanishes from history. He disappears from the biographies of political figures of the time, disappears from the history of the Family Compact. His story has been largely reconstructed by the efforts of 20th-century historians.

Most astonishingly, his name disappears even from the lips of his enemies. This is no small feat – politics in early Canada was a brutal game, and the mudslinging, rumours, and accusations outstrip even the most negative ad campaigns in American politics today. Anti-Family Compact newspapers were quick to spot the slightest opportunity to launch an attack on the morals of their enemies.

And Markland was a favourite target of the enemies of the Family Compact. He was being accused of mismanagement of funds long before the £5000 turned up missing from the school lands account.

These anti-Compact papers often took cheap shots, mocking Markland for things such as his pride in his family’s traditions – talking about “The ancestral pride of Mr. Markland, his proud escutcheon [coat-of-arms] and Ducal Coronet” (Correspondent and Advocate, February 22, 1836).

Yet no one has ever found a newspaper describing the investigation. I did my own search as well, and turned up nothing. Editors of the day were well-informed, and the rumours about Markland were widespread.

Markland’s fall from power in August, 1838, came less a year after the Mackenzie-Papineau Rebellions, which had nearly toppled the Family Compact and established a democratic republic. Britain was investigating the grievances, and grievance number one for the rebels in Upper Canada was the Family Compact.

Thus, they were weak at that point, and teetering. An accusation of “sodomy” against one of their most powerful members might have been the deathblow – homosexuality was the very symbol of corruption for English society, associated with the last days of Rome, with Babylon, with Egypt, and with the Catholic Church.

The anti-Compact papers chose to give up a golden opportunity to inflict the ultimate humiliation on their enemies. Why? They may have considered it unfair to drag a politician’s private life into the public spotlight, but this seems anachronistic and nothing in the papers suggests that they shied away from this under ordinary circumstances.

They may also have been afraid of a libel suit. But while that’s probably a contributing factor, I suspect that at least part of the reason was that the silence surrounding homosexuality in early Canada transcended partisan politics. Newspapers did not discuss it, however great the opportunity to score political points.

Last Days

Markland survived his erasure by 24 years. He traded his friends, his allies, his career, and his place in the history books for his life and freedom from prison. He lived out the rest of his days in Kingston in a financially comfortable exile.

Markland was far luckier than most. The nameless or little-known majority of those charged with “sodomy” did not have either wealth or powerful friends to protect them. It is to these men that we now turn.

As with my article on Alexander Wood, I did not have much in the way of primary sources to work with. As always, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online on the government of Canada website was enormously helpful. It was useful not only for Markland’s life – it has a page and a half devoted to him – but also for understanding the major players in Canadian society of the time. Another excellent source is Robert Burns’ article “Queer Doings,” which appeared in the April 1, 2003 edition of the Canadian historical magazine, The Beaver. Like Alexander Wood, Markland’s signature appears on many government documents, but – unlike Wood – I was able to frequently find useful stuff about Markland in the newspapers, most often screeds written by his political enemies. The anti-Family Compact paper Correspondent and Advocate, especially, raises the anti-Markland editorial up to the status of an art form.

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