Lawlessness blamed on St. Mary’s Bay Rum


June 27, 1884


On  June 27, 1884 an outrage against the population in St. Mary’s, St.  Mary’s Bay, Newfoundland  was considered so offensive that it made the newspaper headlines internationally. The North Otago Times, in New Zealand   featured this account of the event in St. Mary’s, St. Mary’s Bay. The article reads:

“An outrage was perpetrated on Saturday, June 27, 1884 by the crew of the barque Lady Elibank. The crew broke into the Catholic church of St. Mary’s in St. Mary’s Bay, and demolished the furniture and appointments of the sanctuary, destroyed the tabernacle, abstracted the chalice, and other sacred vessels, smashed the candelabra, and strewed the debris about the streets, and in various ways desecrated the church. Five men were arrested.

As soon as the knowledge of this desecration of the church spread amongst the Catholic population, not less than 500 boats were manned for the purpose of firing and scuttling the vessel ; but the influence of the parish priest  and the supplying merchants prevented revenge.”

In Newfoundland, the local newspapers the “Newfoundlander” and “Evening Telegram” carried every detail of the story. 

The “Newfoundlander” on July 1st, 1884 described the event as:

“An act of monstrous desecration and sacrilege was committed at St. Mary’s. Five of the sailors – four of whom are Germans (later to be determined Norwegian) and one a Negro – broke into the Roman Catholic Chapel at a late hour of the night, knocked down the altar furniture, tore up one or more vestments, and even made away with the chalice. The perpetrators of the shocking outrage have all been arrested, …  it is the first act of scoundrelism of the kind that has taken place in this country. As yet, there are no further particulars than those given above, and it is assumed that drink has been the prime mover. “


The hint that St. Mary’s rum was involved gave rise to an unusual defense by Mr. George Emerson the lawyer for the sailors, said to the learned gentlemen:

St. Mary’s rum is of so deleterious a character that not my unfortunate clients, but the vendors of such poison, should be placed in the dock.”

He argued the sweeping charge should be made against the liquor sellers of St. Mary’s.

Judge Philip Little was not receptive to the argument.  He gave his instructions to the Grand Jury. The jury returned; Kenner was to be sentenced to two years, Gustafsen to one year and ten months, both with hard labour in the Penitentiary.

Recommended Archival Collection:    Read the many great stories that is our history in The Evening Telegram: [1879-1886]-1978 Microfilm and in the Newfoundlander  [1827-1835], 1837-[1846-1849, [1851]-[1855-1856]-[1858]-[1860]-[1863]-[1865]-[1868]-[1873]-[1877]-1884 microfilm