Hanging revisited

Steve Bartlett
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Panel will retry case of the last woman executed in N.L.

Catherine Snow was hanged in St. John’s in 1834. Her case will be re-examined next week. — Photo illustration with images courtesy of Archives and Special Collections at Memorial University and Thinkstock.

The last woman hanged in Newfoundland maintained her innocence until her final breath.

Catherine Snow’s last words on July 21, 1834: “I was a wretched woman, but I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child.”

On Thursday at the Marine Institute’s Hampton Hall, almost 178 years later, a panel of legal eagles will explore how the case was handled at the time and how it would be tackled today.

“There’s two sides to that — did she get a fair trial under 1833 standards, and what would happen now?” explains Fred Smith.

He’s vice-president of the Newfoundland Historical Society, which is organizing the event that will include Supreme Court judges Carl Thompson and Seamus O’Reagan, as well as lawyer Rosellen Sullivan.

Thompson will be the judge, O’Reagan will act as Crown, and Sullivan will serve as Snow’s defence counsel.

The audience will be the jury.

According to details supplied by archivist Larry Dohey, Snow (nee Mandeville) was one of three charged with the 1833 murder of her husband, John Snow, in Salmon Cove, near Port de Grave.

Also charged were Tobias Mandeville, her first cousin, and Arthur Springer, one of her servants.

They went to trial Jan. 10, 1834, and the jury found each of them guilty within a half-hour.

Mandeville and Springer were hanged three weeks later, but Snow was given temporary reprieve.

It came out during the trial that she was pregnant with her eighth child and Gov. Thomas John Cochrane delayed her execution until after she gave birth.

There was also a movement to keep her from being hanged.

Bishop Michael Fleming, Roman Catholic bishop of Newfoundland at the time, was among those in her corner.

He was from Carrick on Suir, the same village in County Tipperary, Ireland, where Snow’s family originated.

According to Dohey’s research, the bishop was so interested in Snow’s case he had her seven children brought to St. John’s and placed under guardianship.

“I suspect this was done to garner the sympathy of the population and perhaps the court,” the archivist writes via email.

Dohey believes Fleming was motivated by a determination to speak out for someone with similar family roots.

He says their families would have known each other in Ireland.

As well, the bishop had correspondence with his family back home because his younger brother became ill and died in 1833.

“(He) would likely have been commenting on the Mandeville-Snows here in Newfoundland,” Dohey suggests.

But despite having such a powerful figure fighting for her, Snow met her fate a few months after her eighth child, Richard, was born.

She hanged where the Court of Appeal now stands on Duckworth Street.

“The unhappy woman, after a few brief struggles, passed into another world,” wrote the Public Ledger newspaper.

Snow’s husband went missing on the last day of August 1833.

A murder investigation was launched after blood was discovered on his fishing stage.

The Historical Society’s Smith says there is a culture in Newfoundland that believes Snow was innocent.

“I don’t know if she was or not, but that’s what we’re going to look at next week,” he says.

He notes a lot of evidence entered into the case — such as the blood — wouldn’t be admissible in the modern justice system.

“How would you know if it was human or not?” Smith asks.

He thinks it’s important to hold such events because of their historical significance.

The society, he adds, also wants to clarify any misconceptions about Snow’s case and show people how the courts worked back then compared to now.

The re-examination of the case begins at 8 p.m.

“It should be interesting,” Smith says. “We’re not going to do much for the poor lady, but it’s still of historical interest.”


Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Organizations: Marine Institute, Newfoundland Historical Society, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Salmon Cove, Port de Grave.Also County Tipperary Ireland Duckworth Street

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Recent comments

  • Jim Snow
    March 30, 2012 - 21:02

    Robert - It is thoughtful of you to ask about the 8 children. I am a descendant of John William Snow, one of the sons of John and Catherine Snow. John William remained in Newfoundland and raised a family. His son James, born in 1865, came to the U.S. through the port of New York in 1905 after having worked in the maritime trade in Newfoundland. I live in Princeton, NJ and most of my close relatives still live in the New York area. We have always been proud of our Newfoundland roots, and various members of the family have had the pleasure of visiting St. John's, Harbour Grace and other places along the coast in recent years. We are very grateful to Nellie Strowbridge and to the Newfoundland Historical Society for their work in presenting Catherine's story.

    • JIM SNOW
      April 01, 2012 - 12:10

      Very interesting story. I have to buy the book. I am from a Snow family in North River.Very close to Bareneed and Salmon Cove. I also have relatives in Brooklyn. N.Y. Not sure if there is any relationship. Now living in Ontario.

  • seanoairborne
    March 27, 2012 - 11:19

    It all seems pretty simple to me how this re-trial is going to work out.She'll be judged a martyr that gave her life because some evil men on the jury were puritans and she was blamed ,unjustifiably,because she was cutting around on the side with one of her accomplices who helped carry out the dastardly deed.I predict that she will be found to be completely guilt free and her male co-conspirators (in this latter day trial) should have been tarred and feathered before being hanged.Oh those evil men!

    • Nellie P. Strowbridge
      March 28, 2012 - 11:26

      There is no proof that either Catherine, Tobias or Arthur were guilty of murder. There was no evidence that John Snow was dead. The so-called testimonies given by the men were not verfied in court. Tobias was beaten, His testimony was not signed. Spring could not write or read. The only testimony the men accepted as theirs was one in which they agreed that they did not know what happened to John Snow.

  • Rachael
    March 26, 2012 - 21:52

    I have just finished reading the book, Catherine Snow. I feel that even though it's just a comparison of then versus now, she would be smiling down from heaven, as someone is actually going to view " her" side. Excellent read

    • seanoairborne
      March 27, 2012 - 14:15

      It boggles the mind!Are you saying that she was not given a fair hearing but her male co-conspiriters were?What nonense!She got the punishment that was meted out at that time in history,whether male or female.And,where does this "she would be smiling down from heaven"doo-doo come from?I don't believe in the"'she was a great person"stuff "that is"smiling down from heaven"after the fact.If she was a murderess when she was living,she's still a murderess even though she bought the farm. And all this re-trial stuff amounts to historical revisionism.I guarantee you she will be found innocent by these latter day jurists.That's what being PC is all about.Feelings not facts!

  • Dorothy Whitely
    March 26, 2012 - 18:33

    And of course, the original link: http://archivalmoments.ca/2012/03/a-re-examination-of-the-catherine-snow-case/

  • dan
    March 26, 2012 - 16:11

    I didn't realize our supreme court judges had so much free time on their hands.

  • Robert
    March 26, 2012 - 15:24

    Nothing boring about Ole St. John's in 1833 for sure. Whatever became of the 8 children left as orphans? Seems they paid the most here!

  • J. Sears
    March 26, 2012 - 15:20

    I just finished reading 'Riots and Religion' and this story is told in part of the book. Very interesting story.