Archive for August 19th, 2020

1830: Cornelius Burley

Add comment August 19th, 2020 Cornelius Burley

(Thanks to Cornelius Burley for the guest post, which was originally his “confession” on the scaffold at the first-ever hanging in London, Ontario, on August 19, 1830. “Poor, ignorant, weak-minded and almost an idiot,” he’s an unlikely author for the erudite tract — so it’s a fair bet that it was wrung out of him/ghost-written by his minister, who published the dang thing afterwards. More serious than the style is the content: many people to the present day have suspected Burley innocent of the crime to which he here “confesses” and that the real killer of the constable might have been one of the Ribble family with whom he was hiding out. -ed.)

As I am on this day to be executed as the just reward of my crimes, and the only satisfaction which can be made to meet the penalty of the civil law which I have violated, I feel it to be my duty to all those who stand here as spectators of my disgrace, and also to God, who has been justly offended with me on account of my transgressions, to make the following humble confession before I die; and I sincerely pray that it may be acceptable in the sight of the Almighty God, and have a tendency to check the progress of evil, and prevent others from doing as I have done.

I have always been wicked and thoughtless from my youth, having been brought up under the tuition of my parents who were tender and kind in many respects, but never appreciated the benefits arising from education of religion therefore I never was instructed to read or write, nor did they ever attempt to impress my mind with religious sentiments; having no attachments to any system of religious instruction themselves, I was left to wander through the world under the influence of depravity, with out the advantages of education or religious instruction to counter-balance the influences of my natural propensities of evil of various kinds, particularly that of frequenting places of profane resort. I was often found in the merry dance, and lost no opportunity of inducing thoughtless and unguarded females to leaves the paths of innocence and virtue. I lived in constant neglect of the holy Sabbath, and considered it as a day of profane amusement and I entirely neglected the worship of God; and daring profaneness employed my tongue, which ought to have been employed n the service of God, and in imploring his pardoning mercy.

I was married at the age of 21 to a respectable young woman by the name of Sally King; but soon found pretext to forsake her, as jealousy arose in my mind (perhaps without any just causes) that she was guilty of the same crime that my propensities led to. Some time after this, perhaps in June 1829, I married a second, (the first being still alive) — her name was Margaret Beemer, of Waterloo.

The unfortunate circumstances which led to my untimely end were as follows: A misunderstanding took place between Mr. Lamb and myself, in which I considered that the said Mr. Lamb defrauded me; and I could get no legal redress for the fraud, and being influenced partly with a spirit of revenge and partly with a desire to get redress, I took the law into my own hands and shot a steer belonging to the said Mr. Lamb for which transgression a warrant was issued, and I was pursued and taken; but by a stratagem I escaped from the constable, and fled to the township of Bayham in London district, whither I was pursued by Mr. Pomeroy, the unfortunate victim of my rashness.

I made use of various means to escape from him and those who were aiding him in pursuit of me, until the dark and unhappy night of the 15th September, 1829, when the heart appalling deed was committed, the thoughts of which produce the keenest remorse.

That evening I took the fatal instrument of death and after close examination that it was in order to do execution, I fled to avoid them, but in my flight I came near meeting them before I was aware of my danger; but as soon as I saw them I stepped behind a tree to avoid being seen by them, but Mr. Pomeroy at this moment altered his course and came toward the tree behind which I stood. I then supposed that he saw me, and was determined to take me; I then under the impression at the moment, concluded that my escape could not be effected without taking the life of Mr. Pomeroy; I accordingly presented my rifle, and ordered him to stand back, but gave him no time to escape till I fired on him, which shot was instrumental in bringing him to an untimely grave, and me to this disgraceful end. Yes! O yes! It was I who did this murderous deed; it was I alone who was guilty of this horrid and bloody crime, and none but I was guilty of shedding the blood of that trusty man, Mr. Pomeroy, who was faithfully performing his duty to his King and country.

As an act of justice due to Anthony Ribble, I am constrained to say that he had no hand in the crime whatever. Neither had any other person. It was altogether my own act for which I now feel to abhor myself and feel deeply humbled in the sight of God. O that I could recall that most shocking and dreadful deed! But as I cannot, I wish to warn all others nor to do as I have done. And I further say, that now considering myself as a dying man, I attach no blame to his Lordship the Chief Justice, nor his assistant on the Bench, the Sheriff, the Jurors, or Witnesses in my conviction and execution, as I believe they all acted from pure motives, and did their duty with punctuality in obedience to the laws of the country; and I only suffer the penalty that is justly due my crimes. I feel grateful for, and desire to acknowledge the favour of being visited by the ministers of the different denominations, whose instructions have been instrumental in leading me to my last refuge, which is Christ alone; and in my great extremity I have gained a confidence that through the merits of Christ alone I will be saved, although the chief of sinners.

I now big farewell to the world, and to all earthy things at the age of twenty six; and I sincerely hope that all you who behold my disgrace, will take a warning by my untimely end, and avoid the snares into which I have run. I freely forgive all that have injured me, and I sincerely ask forgiveness of all whom I have injured, but particularly God, whose righteous laws I have violated, but who has become the reconciled through Jesus Christ, and had given me as evidence of his love. O praise the Lord! I now leave this world with the fullest confidence that my sins are washed away in the Blood of the Lamb, and with sincere desire for the happiness of all I leave behind, I say again FAREWELL.


After his hanging — and his second hanging, when the rope broke on the first try — Burley’s skull was removed and sawed open by a phrenologist. It took a circuitous route through private collections and museums and was only buried in 2001.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Canada,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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