Essay on Murder, Part 2

For the second part of “Essay on Murder,” I have searched the records of Bonavista Bay as well as Trinity Bay. Both of these bays are located on the Northeast coast of Newfoundland, where many small communities were located. Little outports in both these bays were home to some of my ancestors.

The Bugden family had been in Trinity as early as 1770 when John Bugden married Sarah Batson, daughter of Bernard and Martha, on 07 May of that year. John was born in Christchurch, Dorset, England, the son of John Sr. and Ann (Gould) Bugden. He apparently came to Newfoundland some years before. A friend of the Bugden family, Montagu Harding, formerly of Sturminster Marshall, made a will in 1759 when he was residing at Bayly’s Cove (Bonavista), Newfoundland. The will was made at Wimborne Minster, Dorset.

In that will, Harding made a bequest to “… friend John Bugden, son of John Bugden of Trinity, Boatkeeper.” This indicates that John Bugden was at Trinity as early as 1759. John’s brother, William, also married in Newfoundland, in 1777 at Trinity. Three of William’s children, two sons and a daughter, married into my ancestral family, the Baileys. Hence, my keen interest in this case.

During the month of June 1771, John Bugden, John Quinlan and William Ivany were in a skiff, near the community of Heart’s Content, Trinity Bay. They were going out to set nets. Bugden and Quinlan had a dispute about something. Quinlan reportedly said he was going to “lay in the mainsail” when he grabbed Bugden and threw him overboard. According to the testimony of young Ivany, who was presumed to be around 16 years old, Quinlan grabbed Bugden by the collar with one hand, and the other between his legs.

Quinlan threw Bugden into the sea on his back, as the boat was under sail “with the wind in the quarter.” Ivany asked Quinlan if they should take in the sails, but Quinlan said it was “no matter, let him bide.” There was obviously some wind for Ivany said the sea was “breaking,” and they soon lost sight of Bugden. Quinlan and Ivany remained at Heart’s Content that night. When asked how his master came to be overboard, Quinlan, unaware that Ivany had witnessed the incident, said he did not know.

They returned to English Harbour the following morning, as the wind was fair. Ivany was steering the boat, as Quinlan had said that he “could not steer her.”

Ivany was afraid to discuss how his master had drowned until about a month later, when he was so troubled by the incident that he told Mrs. Sweet. It appears that both Quinlan and Ivany were boarding with Mrs. Sweet, the mother-in-law of John Bugden, who had remarried after the death of her first husband. That good lady then said that she would not keep such a fellow in her house. When the authorities came to look for Quinlan, they found him with his hands tied behind him. William Ivany’s statement was sworn before Michael Gill, J.P., on 23 July 1771.

John Quinlan was brought before the General Assizes in St. John’s, Newfoundland on 03 October 1771. The case was heard by Michael Gill, Edward Langman, William Thomas, George Williams and Charles Walley, commissioners appointed by his Excellency the Honourable Governor Byron, and the Grand Jury. The charges against him were read and Quinlan, a mariner of English Harbour, Trinity Bay, was asked to enter a plea. He pleaded “not guilty” and elected to be tried “by God and his country.”

Sheriff Richard Welsh then brought Quinlan, who had been in custody, to the bar. Quinlan was instructed that the petty jury were to pass upon him “Life & Death” and that he had the right to challenge any of them. He had no objections to the jury which consisted of Edward Stokes – Foreman, Michael Little, Richard Penson, Richard Wills, Thomas Seward, Edward Hunt, John Decan, Thomas Eyres, Giles Evans, Thomas Row, John Jones and Thomas Wakeham.

The principal witness for the prosecution was William Ivany, who was questioned regarding his sworn statement. When asked if he had seen the prisoner throw his master overboard, Ivany replied, "I did see the prisoner throw my Master overboard by taking him by the Collar and between his legs." Ivany was then asked why Quinlan could not steer the boat, to which he answered, "He said he could not steer the boat home."

Several witnesses were then called. William Beaton, fisherman of Trinity, was asked if he had ever heard of "any bad actions done by the prisoner?” to which he replied "I have heard of his misbehaviours by the people."

Joseph Pinhorn testified that he had "heard John Quinlan say on the very day he was apprended and taken up that the Boy should not live long."

Witness John Gillett, in his statement, said that he "heard the said Quinlan declare and say before the whole boat Crew that his Mistress should not long enjoy herself after his caneing?” Pinhorn and Gillet's statements were sworn before Edward Langman, Justice of the Peace, on 01 October 1771.

It seems, then, that young William Ivany may have had reason to fear Quinlan, and for not talking about the death of his master sooner.

John Quinlan was then given an opportunity to speak in his own defence. He said that “My Master, self and Boy went out to sea he bid me make flip.” “Flip” was a very potent mixture of rum and spruce beer. Quinlan said they went to Bonaventure, and then to Rider’s Harbour. “We had his fish which I dressed while I was boiling the kettle then I took it up and we eat it and a pint of Flip.” He said his Master then told Bill (Willliam Ivany) that he had better lay down in the Miren(?).

Quinlan said his Master saw that he had worked hard all day and told him to take a spell. “… and before I turned my face he was overboard. I screeched out and tried to take him in and before I came to him he was gone so I put into Bonaventure and my Mistress said she would pay me my wages. And the boy said he was in fear of his life.” The jury was then instructed that “a person of fourteen years of age is sufficient,” was asked to retire and bring back a verdict. It appears there was some discrepancy in the exact age of William Ivany, indicating the young lad was between the age of fourteen and sixteen. A verdict was reached in about half an hour and Quinlan was found guilty.

Quinlan was brought to the Bar by the Sheriff to hear the sentence, “That you John Quinlan be returned to the goal from whence you came and from thence be led to the place of Execution and there to be hanged by the Neck until you are Dead, Dead, Dead and the Lord have Mercy upon your soul.”

John Bugden was 29 years old at the time of his death, meaning he was born around 1742. A son of Mrs. Sarah Bugden was christened at St. Paul’s Anglican Parish, Trinity, on 25 February 1772, at the age of 55 days. The child, therefore, was likely born on 02 January and would have been conceived around the early part of April, just two months before the death of his father. This child, named John, married Jane Abbott on 19 October 1798 in the Bonavista Anglican Parish. The couple went on to have a family of two sons and three daughters who, no doubt, provided a number of descendants for their murdered grandfather.


A great number of Irish immigrants came to Newfoundland in the 1700s. Some were genuinely looking for a better life while others were sent from their homes as punishment for some crime. No doubt, some of the convicts settled peacefully, but others continued their unlawful ways and were eventually sent back to Ireland. Drink was often the undoing of many young Irish fishermen, especially the very potent mixture of rum and spruce beer known as “flip.”

Many young men also came to work with the merchants who were engaged in the salt fish trade. Conditions on board the ships they traveled in were probably not the best and some succumbed to illness before or shortly after reaching the island. While this was not murder, it could certainly be classed as “death by negligence.”

The schooner Nelson arrived at Trinity on 03 May 1816 with a group of young men. Some of them died less than a month after arrival. How many died before the ship landed? Four deaths were recorded in the books of St. Paul’s Anglican Church: Edward White, aged 19 years, buried 09 May; James Gavier, aged 17 years, buried 17 May; James Baker, aged 22 years, buried 21 May; and Charles Birch, aged 16 years, buried 23 May. Each of these young people was recorded as “a youngster belonging to Mr. G Garland, who arrived here on the Nelson.”

Whether these young men had been sent away from their homes as punishment, or were trying to escape a life of poverty in their native land, is not known. Their deaths, whatever the cause, was not criminal but certainly cruel.

Sometime in the mid-1770s, John Green came from Kilkenny, Ireland to settle in Newfoundland. Whether he came willingly or was sent is not known. Green was employed as a servant to Mr. Hector at Riders Harbour, Trinity Bay. For some unknown reason, another servant of Mr. Hector’s murdered John Green. He was laid to rest on 20 September 1766, following a burial ceremony at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Trinity.

The resident physician in Trinity in 1768 appears to have been Doctor George Godlove Teish, who had in his employ several servants. One of these employees was a man by the name of Richard Cones. Records show that Cones was “deluded” by unscrupulous person or persons, to steal from his master and apparently made off with several valuable articles. When he was found, in a house that belonged to someone else, Cones had been strangled. It would seem, therefore, that he had been set up, used by others to steal items for them, and then murdered. Perhaps he was killed in order to silence him. Richard Cones was buried on 19 November 1768.

The death of Michael Kennedy at Bonavista in 1774 appeared to be a cut and dried case – once you weave through all the “aforesaids” in the record! Fifteen times out of 469 words! Why does the legal system require things to be written in such a way as to be totally confusing to us ordinary mortals?

Kennedy was a native of the “Kingdom of Ireland”, engaged as a servant at Bonavista. Nothing else is known about him, except that he was killed by George Ryder on New Year’s Day of 1774. Was Kennedy perhaps working for Ryder? It does not seem logical that he would kill the servant of another man unless it was a personal matter.

George Ryder was a merchant from Poole, Dorset. He was well established in Bonavista by 1762 and was apparently the first of that name in the community. Outgoing correspondence at the Colonial Secretary’s Office, dated 17 September 1762 contains a list of settlers who were in debt to George Rider, namely: William Tilley, Messrs. House & Cotteral, Newlass Poor (probably Nicholas Power), Hugh Abbott, Thomas Porter, Robert Tilley, Lewis Bartlett and William Stafford. The Colonial Secretary's Office also holds outgoing correspondence from George Ryder of Bonavista in 1767, 1770, 1774, which establishes his presence in the community. However, he appears to have been doing business in Poole as well.

The case went to trial at the General Assizes in St. John’s, Newfoundland on 03 October of that year.

It is not known how Ryder pleaded to the charge of murder but, according to the record, several Jurors were sworn so he must have chosen to be tried by “God and country” as was often the case. In presenting their findings, after deliberation, the Jury said that George Rider, “with force and arms near his house at Bonavista … upon Michael Kennedy … feloniously did make an assault.”

Kennedy is reported to have “first stricken the said George Rider,” indicating that there may have been a fight between the two. Using a gun, “loaded with lead” and valued at ten shillings, Rider shot Kennedy “under the ear.” Michael Kennedy, who apparently had no weapon, received three mortal wounds and died instantly.

The Jury said that George Rider “feloniously did kill against the peace of our Lord the King His Crown and dignity,” but no mention of sentencing was made.

Court Records for Trinity show that on 22 September 1755 Sarah Lage (Lege?) claimed that the father of her 18-month-old daughter, Martha, was Captain George Ryder. On 10 September 1773, 19-year-old Martha Rider was baptized in St. Paul’s Anglican Parish, Trinity.

George Ryder is listed in Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping for 1764-1766. In 1764/5 he was master and owner of the vessel Cecilia, on route from Poole, Dorset to Newfoundland. The ship was built in Boston in 1754, was 140 tons, carried six guns and had a crew of eleven men.

On 22 April 1767, George Rider, mariner of Poole, apparently sued David Burrey, mariner of Poole, for the sum of two pounds to cover his passage from Newfoundland in the sloop Besty. Rider, therefore, must have owned this boat as well. Then, on 25 April 1768, Rider, again listed as mariner of Poole, sued Richard Osmond, mariner of Poole for the sum of ten pounds “for goods supplied.”

Ryder reportedly served as surrogate or JP for the northern part of Newfoundland. He was no stranger to the courts and seems to have been on opposite sides of the law at different times in his life.

What causes any individual to use extreme violence against another? Can there ever be any justification for taking a life? Was George Ryder seeking revenge? Some Irishmen had apparently been involved in several gang rapes in the area prior to the incident, including the rape of a woman named Margaret Ryan. Had Ryder served as JP when one or more of those events had occurred?

In the 1780s a petition to the Governor of Newfoundland accused George Ryder of public mischief and excessive drinking. If this was the same man then, obviously, he did not receive the death sentence for killing Michael Kennedy. Maybe it wasn’t so cut and dried after all.

Although there are many stories of murder and death under suspicious circumstances, one wonders how many such incidents slipped through the cracks. And the outcome is always sad – widows, and sometimes widowers, left to raise families alone; children robbed of parents and grandparents. Of course, it’s not just the victim’s family that is affected, but the family of the accused also. So many people suffer from any act of violence, and violence is not unique to the 21st century, but can be found throughout the pages of history.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Apr/May 2010

Non-fiction 1

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