1868 – Murder on the main street

We found the following article which outlines the case against Robert Hamilton in the shooting death of George Brownlee.  However questions remain. Was Hamilton found guilty and if so what was his punishment?  Why was Hamilton so angry about his son going to Ottawa with his militia company?  Why in the weeks following the Coroner’s inquest did Temperance, or the lack of it, become such a contentious issue?  Click to see the entire article and ensuing debate.

Ottawa Citizen July 3, 1868

The Murder in Richmond.

The Coroner’s enquiry on the body of George Brownlee closed on Wednesday evening.  The jury found that he came to his death by a gun shot, and that the shot was fired by Robert Hamilton, and consequently they committed him to the County Gaol, where he now awaits his trail.

The prisoner has been a resident of Richmond for many years, and is widely known.  He is a shoemaker by trade but of late years his time was chiefly taken up with other duties.  He was a Constable, a Collector for the Village, and a Bailiff of the Division Court; and in these several offices he seems to have discharged his duties faithfully, with the exception of being a little too hasty by times, and indulging, when irritated, in abusive language.  On the day on which the murder was committed, he became very much enraged because the Captain of the Volunteer Company insisted that his son should proceed to Ottawa with the Company as ordered.  He went to the field where the Company was drilling and made use of abusive and threatening language.  The Captain, in a very firm manner, ordered him to be quiet and cautioned him against disturbing the ranks.  Soon after he left the field, and seems to have spent two or three hours in walking about the village, resorting occasionally to a drinking saloon, abusing and finding fault with almost everyone.  Between eight and nine o’clock he was in company with Brownlee and several others at this saloon; no dispute seems to have arisen between any of them, but it is believed that many things were said to provoke and irritate Hamilton.  About nine o’clock they all left, and when on the sidewalk some one of them seems to have pushed another against Hamilton with such violence as to throw him into the ditch.  Hamilton rushes into the middle of the street and threatens to shoot any man that would come within twelve feet of him.  One of them then goes out, not apparently to attack but to walk down the street towards home confident that Hamilton would not harm him.  As he did so Hamilton joined him and as they walked on he saw a pistol in Hamilton’s hand; when they came to the next cross street, Hamilton turned towards his house and the other man continued towards his.  And when they had parted about eight or ten feet – this man alleges that some other man rushed up to Hamilton, seized him by the coat collar and threw him down, and that then another came and stooped over as if to part them, and then a shot was fired, as if by Hamilton, when one man ran a few feet away and as afterwards appeared fell, who turned out to be George Brownlee, the other man was not recognized nor seen afterwards.  Two other men were walking down the street, in the same direction, but about 22 yards distant when the shot was fired.  They state that they did not see any struggle nor observe a second man – but saw the flash and heard the shot of the pistol – heard Hamilton shout out “that he had shot one, let another come on.”  Immediately after found the body of George Brownlee in the street, but neither saw nor heard any one else near.  Hamilton says that he did not know who they were that attacked him, but that he was knocked down and that he fired in self defence.  The fact that Hamilton had a pistol when not in the discharge of duty, and had been using abusive and threatening language is very much against him; but how Brownlee came to be at that spot was a mystery.  He was at the Saloon and left with the rest, and lived in the opposite direction from where he was found.  He was not seen by any of the witnesses, and they were all in the street between the Saloon and the place where he was found dead, a distance of between four and five hundred yards; and it is a mystery how he could have passed down that street and not have been seen by any of them.  Brownlee was twenty-seven years of age, and had been married about a year.  He was usually a quiet and well conducted man.  His fault was one that is but too prevalent – that of spending too much time in saloons, though he was not given to excess; yet such habits lead to excess; they bring a man under the influence of bad company, and consequently into disgrace and danger.  Let this be a warning to those men that were at the saloon that night, and to others to keep away from such places.  It is a disgrace to have to say that some of them were married men, who should have been at home with their families; and it is a disgrace to the authorities that they allow such improper places to be kept open in Richmond.

Ottawa Citizen July 10, 1868

The Shooting Case in Richmond – A report it seems has sprung into circulation to the effect that Brownlee and Hamilton had been drinking very freely in Riley’s Hotel on the night of the fatal shooting affray in Richmond.  Such, however, was not the case.  Neither of the parties had been in Riley’s that night, and whatever drinking was done by them occurred in a place kept by a man named Mulligan.  Mr. Riley is well known, not only to the Village where he lives, but to almost all who visit Richmond, and has always kept a most orderly and quiet house.

Ottawa Citizen July 31, 1868

 Correspondence: – Dear Sir –

Your Richmond correspondent, in giving an account of the murder of George Brownlee, tried in every way to bring my place into disrepute.  I do not keep a saloon, but I do keep a dry goods and grocery store.  As there is only one other person and myself in Richmond who have a license to sell liquors, we get credit for all who are seen drunk in the streets.  On the day of the murder, Hamilton drank twice (and no more) in my place; Brownlee but once.  That same evening Brownlee was at Mr. Rielly’s Temperance Hotel and drank whiskey there.  I do keep as orderly and as quiet a place as Mr. Rielly or any of the rest of the Temperance Hotel Keepers in Richmond.  Hoping that you will insert this, as you did that which was derogatory to my character,

I remain

Yours, etc.

James Mulligan

Richmond, July 23rd 1868.

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