September 19, 1882
A prison cell is no place for a ‘chaw’.
St. John’s, NL is known internationally as a “party” city. The iconic George Street is on the itinerary of every tourist. Unfortunately, however, when large numbers gather and alcohol is involved trouble follows. But did you know that night life in St. John’s is tame today compared to what it was in the 1880’s.
In the 1880’s the court reporters for the city newspapers were busy reporting on multiple arrests for drunkenness and fighting, typically there would be seven to thirteen individuals thrown into the “Lock up” on any given weekend night, this pales in comparison to the one or two that we get today.
With so many people being arrested for disorderly conduct and other related alcohol charges in September 1882 the condition of the “Lock up” became such a concern that the Editor of the Evening Telegram penned an editorial about the deplorable conditions. The editorialist wrote:
“Attention has been frequently called to the condition and insufficient accommodation of our Lock up. This place, that is proved by the government for the temporary detention of prisoners, has time after time been found most injurious of the health of its occupants. Deaths have occurred there. In consequence of which a want of proper attention has been attributed to the police authorities; but no blame could attach to them, as it was not through their fault that such sad events have taken place.”
The “Lock Up” the newspaper reporter suggested because of its size was a breathing ground for “fighting and disorderly conduct.” The editorial stated:
“As the Lock up is at present situated, it contains four small and dark cells, and as many as eighteen prisoners have been confined to them, at one and the same time. It no wonder then, we find huddled together in a small space, the greater number who are doubtless excited through the influence of strong drink. Last night seven prisoners confined to those four cells, on Sunday morning last here were thirteen having been arrested for the usual offences of drunkenness and disorderly conduct.”
It appears that some of the men who were arrested liked their peace and quiet in the ‘lock up.’ One night In September 1882 a man named Neagle of Riverhead (west end of St. John’s) who was found fighting on the street was taken into custody and was placed in a cell with the “indomitable Andrew Kearney” who had been arrested for being incapable of taking proper care of himself.
Kearney was not amused with his very talkative roommate and his pleas for him to be quite fell on deaf ears. About 2 o’clock in the morning Kearney had had enough and gave Neagle a black eye and a bloody nose. Asked by the constable why he had beaten his cell mate Kearney stated:
“that that “chaw” whoever he was, was trying to make a big fellow of himself.”
His Worship (Judge Prowse) was most displeased with the two men. Andy Kearney was given twenty days imprisonment for his assault in the cells, and Neagle got fifty days for striking the constable earlier in the evening. In imposing the sentence Judge Prowse stated “that any person who would raise his hand against policemen would be punished by him with the utmost severity.”
The calls for reform to improve the “lock up” with its “four small dark cells” also fell on deaf ears. The “lock up” remained home to all those who broke the law until the Great Fire 1892.
Recommended Archival Collection: The Evening Telegram and other newspapers give very detailed accounts of all citizens that were arrested. It might be interesting to explore to see if you will find an ancestor in the “lock up.”
Lost Word Meaning: Chaw: a talkative person. Example: Terry is a fine young man, / But he has a lot of ‘chaw,’ /
Newfoundland Expression: “More chaw than a sheep’s head” refers to one who talks too much.
Chaw Bag – Newfoundland and Labrador Language Lessons. Watch This: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBOgkY02Q-c