Foreward and Author's Preface

Acknowledgements

Characters

Scene 1: Under a fish flake, 1763

Scene 2: The Supreme Court, 1812

Scene 3: Port de Grave, 1820

Scene 4: The Supreme Court, 1820








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Rough Justice: A Play in One Act
by Tom Cahill


Scene 1: Under a fish flake,
St. John's, 1763

A merchant, CORNELIUS QUIRK, appears in historic costume, complete with homespun shirt, leather vest, tricorn hat, etc.

QUIRK:

Good evening. My name is Cornelius Quirk. I'm a merchant. I heard that a crowd of lawyers and judges were gathering here this evening to celebrate, with a little pageant, the 200th anniversary of the start of all their wonderful reforms in the law they claim eventually led to the granting of Representative Government in Newfoundland. We merchants certainly didn't celebrate any granting of Representative Government. We called it putting the inmates in charge of the asylum! I know they're going to use the merchants as the scapegoats to explain why it took so long. If you want history to treat you kindly you've got to write it yourself, they say, and the first two histories of Newfoundland were written by judges. Of course, all the justices and lawyers are portrayed as upright, noble and dedicated, and all the merchants as heartless money-grubbers. So I thought I'd step out of the past here tonight and say a word in defence of that contradiction in terms: the honest merchant.(Behind him, as he speaks, actors carry on a fish tub, 2 bottles of Calabogus and a court document, set them in place and exit.)

Because let me tell you something, friends, it wasn't lawyers and judges who made the world go 'round in them days, but merchants. It was merchants who sent Marco Polo to Cathay and Christopher Columbus to the Indies. And us merchants from Bristol who outfitted John Cabot to come and find the very place you're sitting down in today.

Look, all we wanted to do was keep Newfoundland as a great ship moored off the Grand Banks to dry our fish on before we shipped it home to make a bit of money and use it as a nursery for the British Navy. The reformers say we tried to stop settlement. Sure we did. Because we came to the sensible conclusion that the only people who would want to settle here were either two jumps ahead of the hangman or crazy in the head. I ask you, with the whole North American continent to choose from, why else would anyone want to settle in Newfoundland? Are you going to try and tell me it was the climate? Six months of winter and the other six wondering if it's going to end!

The reformers started out complaining because the Merchants Society in Bristol persuaded the King to make the first fishing captain who reached Newfoundland every spring Governor of the Colony, Chief Judge, Admiral of the whole international fleet on the Grand Banks, and anything else he wanted to be for the rest of the season. What was wrong with that? If a man had the guts to get here first, he deserved to be in charge. The fact that most of the captains were working for us, and not sympathetic to settlers' complaints was unfortunate. (An actor comes to tap him on the shoulder, he turns to listen, then glances back at the audience.)

All right. We'll let 'em make up their own minds then. (CAPTAIN HOLLOWAY greets him with a handshake as he walks into the scene.)

QUIRK:

Ah, Captain Holloway, the new Fishing Admiral. Sorry we don't have a better court room than an upturned fish tub under a flake, but there it is. I'm Cornelius Quirk, the merchant who's pressing the charges today. Being one of the few people in the Colony who can read, I usually double as Court Clerk, so I've noted down the ....

HOLLOWAY:

(Waves away the document he presents.) I can read charts, compasses and stars, but no writing! Now my ship sails for the Banks in an hour, so let's get on with what we have to do. (He hiccups loudly.)

QUIRK:

Alright, here's the license money for my tavern up the street where you were having a few drinks, two pounds. As Chief Justice, you get to keep all fines and fees. And here's a little present, a couple of bottles of our famous home-made Calabogus.

HOLLOWAY:

Chief Justice! Ha! The only time I been in court was for stabbing a man in a brawl in Plymouth.

QUIRK:

(As HOLLOWAY uncorks the bottle sniffs and gags.) At least you been in court, that's more than some of our past judges can boast.

HOLLOWAY:

Calabogus did you say this was called? (He takes a swig.)

QUIRK:

They boil the branches of spruce trees and throw in yeast, molasses and black rum.

HOLLOWAY:

(Spitting some of it out.) Are you sure that's all they throw in? (He has another swig and sits on the tub, centre.) Alright. Court is in session.

QUIRK:

(Yelling off.) Send in the guilty party!

HOLLOWAY:

They have to be proved guilty, don't they? Even I know that!

QUIRK:

(As a fisherman shuffles in.) He wouldn't be up before court if he wasn't guilty, would he?

HOLLOWAY:

(Takes another swig of Calabogus.) Good point!

QUIRK:

This is Stephen Delaney, Fisherman. He owes me 9 pounds for supplies and drinking Calabogus at my tavern all winter and has no money to pay.

HOLLOWAY:

(After another swig at his bottle.) If he has no money to pay and there's no jail to put him in, what's the point of having him in court? Besides, drinking this stuff all winter should be punishment enough for anybody. (He rolls the empty bottle aside and staggers to his feet, emitting a huge belch.) The court declares a recess to consider a matter of importance. Where's that other bottle of bilgewater you brought me? (As QUIRK passes it to him, he reels back to his tub, sits, and has a swig.) Proceed!

QUIRK:

This man has built a house, married a wife, planted a garden and claimed land along the shore next to my fishing rooms, all against the law. It should all be confiscated and sold to satisfy my claim.

HOLLOWAY:

Who's going to buy it? (He drinks again.)

QUIRK:

I am. (He hands over the money.) I offer 2 pounds. Here's your money. (HOLLOWAY pockets the coins.)

HOLLOWAY:

Before the court renders a judgement, I'm supposed to ask whether this criminal has anything to say in his defence, right? Speak up, man!

DELANEY:

I'll have money to pay him at the end of the season. Don't let him take me property ....

QUIRK:

Holding property used for anything but the fishery is illegal in this colony, and growing things is not part of the fishery.

HOLLOWAY:

Stop whimpering, Delaney, and get your arse down to the wharf for a berth on my vessel that'll earn you enough money to get back to England in the fall.

DELANEY:

What's to happen to my wife?

QUIRK:

She can go back on the streets where you found her. (HOLLOWAY leans back to roar with laughter at this and falls off the fish tub, passing out as he hits the floor. DELANEY and QUIRK go to peer down at him.)

DELANEY:

Is he dead?

QUIRK:

Dead drunk. God bless Calabogus. Court is adjourned. Help me carry his Lordship back to his vessel.

DELANEY:

(Whimpering as he picks up HOLLOWAY by the arms.) I lost me land, me house and me wife for two pounds!

QUIRK:

(As he picks up the Captain's legs and they start off.) Ah, shut up. That's more than they were worth! (QUIRK walks out front to address the audience again as two actors bring on a table and two chairs and clear away the fish tub and Calabogus bottles, etc.)

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