Foreward and Author's Preface



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 2: The Supreme Court of Newfoundland in session in St. John's, 1812

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


There you are. A man breaks the law against settling, building a house, marrying a wife and planting a farm and what does he get? A summer's work and his passage home. He'll be back next spring and try it all again. To put a stop to all this supposed cruelty, a busybody reformer named John Reeves persuaded the House of Commons to establish the first Court of Civil Jurisdiction in Newfoundland in 1791, and of course, he got himself named Chief Justice. After Reeves, two doctors and a collector, we managed to get Thomas Tremlett named to the Bench. He had a terrible temper, but coming from a family of merchants we figured he might have some sympathy in his judgements for our cause. I hardly have to tell you he turned out worse than all the rest before him, mollycoddling those settlers. (He turns and walks into the scene to meet PETER CLARKE as JUDGE TREMLETT enters and sits behind the table.)


We have an appeal this morning, Justice Tremlett, from a fishermen here named Peter Clarke.


Against what sentence?


That he and two others, convicted of taking birds' eggs from the Funk Islands and offering them for sale, be publicly whipped with 14 lashes each.


On what do you base your appeal, Clarke?


(Stuttering with fear.) On the grounds I didn't steal any eggs to sell, sir. Only to feed me poor starving wife and children. There was nothing else to eat in the house.


Very well. The court finds these to be mitigating circumstances. Instead of 14 lashes in public, Clarke, you may be whipped in private. (He bangs a gavel.) Next!


(Turning to the audience.) See what I mean? Mollycoddling! Well, we soon fixed him. (He turns back to TREMLETT, taking a document from the table and passing it to him.)


What's this?


A petition from the St. John's Society of Merchants to the Governor and the British Parliament.


Another petition? What for? (Rising in anger as he reads down through the document.) Asking for my dismissal from the Bench! For incompetence . . . partiality . . . corruption. This is an outrage. (He throws aside the document and moves in front of the table to pace back and forth.) Take a letter, Quirk. (QUIRK scoots behind the table to sit and take the dictation.) "His Excellency Sir John Duckworth, Governor of Newfoundland & etc. . . I have the petition from the Merchants presented to you this date. As to the charges against me, to the first I answer that it is a lie. To the second charge, I say that it is a damned lie. And to the third charge, that it is a God-damned lie. Your most humble and obedient servant, etc."


And to the third charge, that it is a . . .


Wait . . . you'll probably use that against me too! ". . . and to the third charge, that it is a damned infernal lie." (He gathers up his satchel, etc. and heads for the exit, turning back at the last minute to point his gavel handle at QUIRK.) But as far as you crowd are concerned, it is a God-damned lie! (As he goes, QUIRK strolls again out to address the audience.)


We didn't manage to get him dismissed from the Bench, but he received a worse punishment. He was transferred to Prince Edward Island. But now a new racket started. Tremlett's successors began telling local agitators the only way to get real law reform, and break the power of the merchants, was to petition for their own government. We tried to put a stop to that movement but the Lundrigan case did us a lot of damage. It was tried in Port de Grave in the summer of 1820. Like many Captains of His Majesty's ships at the time, David Buchan, of HMS Grasshopper, on a survey of the coast, was appointed to act as a Surrogate Magistrate in the outports for the season, along with an Anglican Clergyman from Harbour Grace named John Leigh.

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