A compendium of curious stuff from Sarnia’s past: Part 2

A vintage postcard showing a group of young people, referred to as “wharf rats,” swimming in the St. Clair River. Image appears courtesy of Dave Burwell Collection.

Randy Evans

When looking through old editions of the Sarnia Observer a researcher often comes across odd and interesting glimpses of life from our city’s past. Here are a few more:

A REAL BAD DAY

In 1905, William Atkinson accepted a temporary, one-week job in Watford. But for some reason he wrote his wife a letter of explanation and mailed it instead of telling her in person.

When he returned to Sarnia from the job, Atkinson was abruptly arrested for desertion of family. What’s more, his wife and children were nowhere to be found and the family home closed up.

Only after the Court received proof he had indeed written a letter to Mrs. Atkinson and it was languishing at the Post Office, unclaimed, were the charges dismissed.

JACK THE HUGGER

That’s how the newspaper referred to a man named

John T. Lumley, who was convicted of assaulted three Sarnia women.

In addition to time served, Lumley was given a choice of paying a $16.38 fine or doing two more months, with hard labour. He paid the fine.

Nevertheless, when he walked free his father Charles Lumley and brother Thomas Lumley remained behind bars.

During Lumley’s trial the father and brother had testified under oath that young John was at the family home in Enniskillen Township when the assaults occurred. The alibi failed, and the pair were charged with perjury and denied bail.

Eventually, the charges disappear from the docket and they were released, but not before paying a steep price for family loyalty.

A TOUGH COURT

Consider the 1905 case of James Kitchen, who forged a single cheque and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Or that of William Crowder, who was found guilty of bigamy and sentenced to two year and three months in Kingston Penitentiary. It’s not known if either wife awaited his return.

YOU AIN’T WANTED ‘ROUND HERE

Non-locals convicted at Court were often banished.

After William and Nancy Laurence were arrested for running a “disorderly house” on Mitton Street (see Nov. 25th edition), two men apprehended were given the option of going back to “where they belong.”

George Ellis, a vagrant from Wallaceburg, was bundled onto the first train.

Another time, two vagrants from Toledo, Ohio were given just 10 minutes to absent themselves, the paper reported.

“They reached a ferry boat within the proscribed time and bade farewell to Sarnia.”

SPITTIN’ IMAGE

Exasperated by the conduct of its constituents, Sarnia Town Council passed a Morals Bylaw in 1907 that seemed to prohibit any conduct short of perfection.

Given the time, it’s doubtful the decree brought an end to shocking reports of nude river bathing, “insulting and filthy language” and rowdies “splattering ladies dresses with tobacco juice.“

Randy Evans is a Sarnia resident and regular contributor to The Journal