January 20, 1885
Many people trying to manage debt problems have unfortunately experienced the added stress of dealing with persistent calls from collection agencies. Today, the collectors harass by phone but there was a time when it was much more personal, much more “in your face.”
In January 1885 Charles Coveyduck of Upper Gullies was determined to get his friend and neighbor Edward Corbett to repay £5 that he had loaned him, so determined was Coveyduck that he harassed Corbett day after day. This relentless pursuit was known as “dunning”, the word stems from the 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.
Edward Corbett was fed up with the “dunning” and told his neighbor in no uncertain terms. The conversation got rather heated, Coveyduck shouted that “he had something better to do than dancing attendance upon Corbett” and “called Corbett out of his name.”
Their animosity had grown such that the local St. John’s newspaper, The Telegram reported on January 20, 1885:
“Thereupon Coveyduck caught Corbett by the collar of the coat and administered what the spruce young chap on Prescott Street would term “condign punishment.” However, it was a square game of fistcuffs on both sides, a mode of settling disputes that has a certain recommendation, in itself in these troublous times. They departed bad friends and as Coveyduck wadded through the evergreen glades of the pleasant village of Upper Gullies he vowed that he would make his antagonist “sweat for it in Mr. Prowse’s Court.”
True to his word Coveyduck with his lawyer, Mr Carty at his side and Corbett with his lawyer, Mr. Emerson at his side stood before Judge Prowse.
His worship, Judge Prowse heard the case fully but as there were certain mitigating circumstances in favor of the accused, (the excessive dunning) he fined Corbett only fifty cents and costs.
The smile was soon wiped off Corbett’s face, in the subsequent civil action for recovery of the £5, judgment was given to Coveyduck in the full amount claimed.
The two friends, Coveyduck and Corbett, should have heeded the words of Shakespeare:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77
Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to explore GN 170 Newfoundland and Labrador court records collection. (microfilm) The collection of court records looks at decisions of the court s predominantly involving debt, forgery, manslaughter, murder, property disputes, assault, smuggling, noise complaints, larceny, damages, judgments, casting away of vessels, indecent assault, rape, arson, drunkenness, etc. http://www.therooms.ca/archives/
Old Word: “Dunning” is the process of methodically communicating with customers to ensure the collection of accounts receivable. Communications progress from gentle reminders to almost threatening letters as accounts become more past due. The word stems from the 17th century verb dun, meaning to demand payment of a debt.