1880: George Bennett, assassin of George Brown

Add comment July 23rd, 2020 Headsman

He has gone to his death through an oversight on my part. It was a foolish thing for me to have drawn the revolver, but I was in liquor or I would have never done it. I could not control the event. I went there purely on a matter of business and my business was very simple and very plain. The result was as it was. I am prepared to die.

-George Bennett

George Bennett hanged at Toronto on this date in 1880 for murdering George Brown.

By far the more consequential figure in the transaction was the victim. One of the Fathers of Confederation, the visionary Scottish emigre bequeathed to the country he helped to shape such institutions as the Liberal Party and the Toronto Globe (now the Globe and Mail, after a 20th century merger with a rival newspaper). His personal and political rivalry with Conservative lion John A. Macdonald, and the “Great Coalition” formed by these two to steer a faltering polity deadlocked by the mutual vetoes Anglophones and Francophones towards the Canadian Confederation, is the subject of a fine 2011 CBC film, John A.: Birth of a Country.

Brown’s killer, and our date’s principal, was Brown’s employee for five-ish years, as an engineer in the boiler room. He had a dissolute, chaotic life, marked by frequent domestic disturbances and heavy drinking. It was his propensity for turning up to work drunk that set in motion the tragedy, for his mishandling of the boiler one night early in 1880 led to his dismissal by the foreman.

A great scribbler of words, Bennett in this time produced copy by turns vengeful and despairing, and of course he kept hitting the bottle. On March 25, he turned up at his former workplace where he rantingly accosted several former coworkers. By late afternoon he’d found his way to George Brown’s office, and inviting himself in he proceeded to importune the publisher with his disordered grievances. At last he pressed Brown to sign a paper affirming his length of employment. Brown had little idea who this impertinent drunk was, and still less that the impertinent drunk was armed; the boss’s attempts to redirect Bennett to his supervisor or the business administrators to address his paperwork request enraged his ex-employee, who suddenly produced a pistol and through a scuffle put a ball into George Brown.

One wouldn’t think the injury pictured above would be fatal; indeed, the next day’s Globe exulted that “Yesterday afternoon one of the most seditious and dastardly attempts at murder ever made in this city took place in the private office of the Hon. George Brown in the Globe Building. Fortunately, owning mainly to Mr. Brown’s presence of mind and superior physical strength, the attempt was unsuccessful, the only results being a severe flesh wound to the thigh and the nervous prostration which is the inevitable result of such an encounter. Had the miscreant who made the murderous assault been a little more prompt in taking his aim, or had the pistol been of a different construction, the attempt could hardly have resulted so favourably, for he persisted in his efforts to effect his bloody purpose until he was overpowered and the weapon was wrenched from his grasp.” But the relief proved premature when the leg wound torn by Bennett’s bullet turned gangrenous and eventually — seven weeks later — killed Brown.

Monuments to the murdered statesman abound in Canada, including the Second Empire home he built and died in, preserved as the historic George Brown House, and George Brown College. His whiskered statue strides on Parliament Hill.

Brown’s widow returned to Scotland with her children, and the Canadian hero’s son George Mackenzie Brown followed his father’s career in both printing and politicking: per Wikipedia, “As a publisher, he produced Arthur Conan Doyle’s books; as a politician, he beat him to win election to the House of Commons.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims

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