Mummer, struck me a violent blow with a broom
January 9, 1860
On January 9, 1860 John Charles Snelgrove of Harbour Grace a fisherman swore before Robert John Pinsent, her Majesty’s Justice of the Peace in that town:
“On last Friday night (January 2, 1860) at about nine o’clock, I was on the main street in Caplin Cove, Harbour Grace in the District of the aforesaid when some MUMMERS came up and one of them named Henry Critch of Harbour Grace, Blacksmith, struck me a violent blow with a broom stick on my shoulder, I told him to leave me alone – but he would not, he struck me several blows more with the stick and knocked me down and beat me severely on my body and face, leaving marks on my face and body, he broke his broom stick on my body from the force of the blow he gave me. I did nothing at all to him. I pray that the said Henry Critch may be required to answer my complaint and be further death with according to law.”
The Justice of the Peace was not amused at the shenanigans of Henry Critch and his “mummer” friends and was quick to convict, sentencing Mr. Critch to pay a fine of one-pound sterling and to be imprisoned ten days.
In the Christmas tradition of mummering, friends and neighbours conceal their identities by adopting various disguises, covering their faces, and by modifying their speech, posture and behavior.
It was not surprising that some, using these disguises, would be up to no good. Some in disguise would use the mummering season to retaliate against those that they disliked or had some grudge to settle.
In order to control the violence associated with mummering such that had been experienced by Mr. Snelgrove, five months after the Snelgrove decision ( June 1861) the Newfoundland government passed an act which dictated that:
“any Person who shall be found… without a written Licence from a Magistrate, dressed as a Mummer, masked, or otherwise disguised, shall be deemed guilty of a Public Nuisance”. Offenders were to pay “a Fine not exceeding Twenty Shillings”, or to serve a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment (Consolidated Acts of Newfoundland, 1861: 10).
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives, St. John’s. GN5 /3/B/19 Box 24File 1R59 – A – 3
Recommended Song: Mummer Song: Original 1987 uncut TV broadcast. Newfoundland Christmas tradition inspired this hit Simani song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8OPy7De3bk
Recommended Reading: Any Mummers ’Lowed In? Christmas Mummering Traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador. Flanker Press, St. John’s, NL. 2014. Folklorist Dale Jarvis traces the history of the custom in Newfoundland and Labrador and charts the mummer’s path through periods of decline and revival. Using archival records, historic photographs, oral histories, and personal interviews with those who have kept the tradition alive, he tells the story of the jannies themselves.
Recommended Reading: MUMMERS ON TRIAL Mumming, Violence and the Law in Conception Bay and St. John’s,Newfoundland, 1831-18631 JOY FRASER Memorial University of Newfoundland St. John’s: http://www.shimajournal.org/issues/v3n2/h.%20Fraser%20Shima%20v3n2%2070-88.pdf