October 1, 1880
Judges have to deliberate on the evidence that is brought before them, evidence that at times might be challenging to believe. On October 1, 1880 the distinguished Newfoundland jurist Judge James Gerve Conroy had to consider the evidence – he had to consider the existence of fairies.
Newfoundland and Labrador has a rich fairy folklore tradition that is full of stories about fairies (also known as the Good People or the Little People) these fairies are often troublemakers and it was these trouble making fairies that landed (John Ebbs) before the courts.
Ebbs appeared before the Central District Court in St. John’s determined to recover the amount of his summer’s wages from his employer. The employer, Mr. J. Hickey refused to pay his salary arguing that “he (Ebbs) was absent from his work place, without leave, for about thirteen days.”
Ebbs argued that he had done all that he could to get to work, he told the count:
“he left his home two hours before dawn for the purpose of going to work and that all he remembered was seeing a funeral, when he lost his senses and was carried away by the fairies.”
A witness was called to support his story, the witness under oath told the court “that he discovered the plaintiff, (Ebbs) three days afterwards, lying speechless on the ground.
Hickey was not amused, the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported:
The defendant (Hickey) did not deny the allegation concerning the interference of the fairies, but submitted that the lost time should be made up.
Judge Conroy found the story of Mr. Ebbs “losing his senses and being carried away by the fairies” as being convincing and in his judgment ordered that the amount that Mr. Ebbs was suing for “with the exception of some cash” be paid by Mr. Hickey.
The Irish born Judge Conroy did not challenge the veracity of the story about being carried away by the fairies, the defendant Mr. Hickey did not deny the allegation concerning the interference of the fairies, Mr. Parsons the lawyer for the plaintiff and the lawyer for the defendant Mr. Greene all remained silent.
It would appear that the courts in St. John’s did believe in fairies.
If you should have an encounter with fairies traditional precautions should be taken, bread carried in the pocket is always a good idea when venturing out into the woods. It might be used as an offering, to allow the human to escape. The other sure way to escape the fairies is to turn an article of clothing inside out.
Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections Type: Central District Court or GN 170.
Recommended Reading: Rieti, Barbara. Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland. St. John’s, ISER Books, 1991. “The fairies” of Newfoundland oral tradition are variously envisioned, encountered and interpreted, and this study presents some of these concepts and experiences.