Click on this image to order the book

Click on this image to order the book
The book version of James Gammell's life story is now available. Click on this image.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Journey to Quebec

Early on November 9, 1838, officials suddenly and unexpectedly entered the cell where James and his comrades were confined and ordered them to be ready in one hour’s time for an “immediate removal to Quebec, for safe keeping during the winter.” During their two months at Fort Henry,(1) they had heard rumors that some of the men might be sent to Quebec and others would be released on bail. As time went on, they became more hopeful for a chance of release, but in an instant all hopes were dashed. (Nine of the men being ordered for transportation still had never had a trial.)(2) They were given no time to prepare for this bitter cold journey. They had no means to buy warm clothing or supplies—even if they had been given the time—and besides “we were not even allowed to write to our friends, chains and handcuffs being put on our limbs within a few minutes after we received the notice.”(3)

At noon twenty-three Patriot prisoners were shackled in irons and marched one-half mile to the wharf, where they boarded the steamer Cobourg. The deck was already crowded with cavalry horses, so the prisoners had barely enough room to stand upright. During that bitter cold night some of them sank down on the deck in their chains and slept among the horses and the manure. The next morning they were placed aboard the steamer Dolphin. (The journey down the St. Lawrence took more than a week, each leg of the journey on a different steamer.) From the deck of the steamer Dragon they were disheartened to see the ruins of villages along the shore, some still smoldering from fires the British troops had set in order to quell the rebellion in Lower Canada.(4)

When they reached Montreal, the prisoners were housed for the night at the city guardhouse in an eight by sixteen-foot room, barely large enough for twelve men, let alone twenty-three. They were cold, and weak from lack of food. Many of their wrists and ankles were swollen from the weight of the chains—some so swollen that “the iron was buried in the flesh, causing excruciating pain.” During the night Gemmell and Vernon, who were chained together, refused to endure the discomfort any longer. They broke the lock that fastened their cuffs and attempted to saw the chain. At this point the jailer returned. They were punished the next day—required to wear the irons several hours after the others had been be unchained.(5)

The next afternoon the men were marched back to the wharf through the city streets crowded with spectators, who “seemed very anxious to stare at the ‘Upper Canadian rebels,’ as we were called. Many of them, particularly the French, manifested much sympathy in their looks, and…several burst into tears as we dragged our heavy chains through the mud.” (6)

Upon arrival in Quebec the captives were provided with better lodging and adequate food. Their irons were removed. Along with these comforts though, came more bad news. Since the day they left Fort Henry, they had been led to believe that they would remain in Quebec for safe keeping during the winter, but the very next day the sheriff informed them of his orders to ship them to England at once. Unlike the others, Benjamin Wait was encouraged by the prospect. He was sure they would find justice in the courts of England—justice that had been repeatedly denied them by the provincial courts of Canada.(7)
  1. Fort Henry is in Kingston, Ontario.
  2. This fact was the basis for their petition to the Queen’s Bench in London.
  3. Linus W. Miller, p. 106; Wait p. 38-39.
  4. Wait, pp. 41, 42, 50.
  5. Wait, pp. 44, 57.
  6. Linus W. Miller, p. 114.
  7. Wait, p. 60.

No comments:

Post a Comment