George Brown could never have guessed what would happen to him on the afternoon of March 25th, 1880.
Before having a college in Toronto named after him, George Brown was a Father of Confederation. Though he and Sir John A. MacDonald seldom saw eye to eye, they were able to work together when it came to unifying Canada into a country. Another lasting part of Brown’s legacy was The Globe newspaper, which he started in 1844 and would later become The Globe and Mail.
On March 25th, 1880 a man was lurking outside the offices of the Globe newspaper in downtown Toronto. He was drunk, and he was angry. In his pockets, he had letters of grievances against employees of the Globe for ways that he felt they had wronged him, complete with violent threats of revenge.
George Bennett worked at the Globe in the engineering department for 5 years. Though he was initially thought to be an excellent employee, his reputation quickly declined due to his drinking. He wasn’t much better at home, finding himself arrested for domestic violence. He was eventually fired from the newspaper.
Brown had nothing to do with Bennett’s firing, nor did he know who he was when Bennett walked through his office door that March afternoon.
Bennett was agitated, placing a letter indicating the length of his employment at the Globe onto Brown’s desk and insisting he sign it. Brown refused, attempting to send the man away. He was more focused on the inconvenience of being interrupted than the ramblings of a drunken man. When Bennett unexpectedly pulled out a pistol, he had Brown’s full attention.
They scuffled, and a shot rang out. The bullet lodged itself into Brown’s thigh. Despite the injury, Brown overpowered Bennett, wrestling the pistol from him. By then, others in the office heard the commotion, and separated the two men. Bennett was immediately arrested, swearing his revenge on the police.
Brown’s wound didn’t seem life-threatening, and he even laughed about how worried his colleagues were about his condition. He continued his work from home. Four days after the shooting, though, the wound became infected. Still, his doctors told him he would recover, even as his thigh became swollen and inflamed. On May 9th at 2 o’clock in the morning, Brown was pronounced dead.
Bennett was charged with murder, found guilty and sentenced to hang. On July 23rd, Bennett was walked to the gallows at the Don Jail. With his final words, he expressed regret for what he’d done, blaming the alcohol for clouding his judgment. The gallows were dropped, and George Bennett was dead.
A funeral procession for Brown was held on May 12th as he made his way to his final resting place in the Necropolis Cemetery. Bennett, on the other hand, received no ceremony, and his body wouldn’t be found until over a hundred years later. But that’s for another post… Stay tuned.
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Some pics of the Don Jail where Bennett met his fate: