Hanging revisited

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

Steve Bartlett sbartlett@thetelegram.com
Published on March 26, 2012
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.”

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_