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GUEST COLUMN: “To be hanged from the neck until dead”

Published on

Katie Braet

The first hanging known to have occurred in Sarnia took place in December of 1862.

A man named Thomas Cleary was convicted of murder after stabbing a co-worker several times during a fight.

Cleary and the victim, Edward Burke, had previously worked together cutting wood for the innkeeper of an establishment called Barron’s Tavern.

Katie Braet
Katie Braet

On the night in question, the pair had been drinking heavily with a few of their friends. A fight broke out between Cleary and Burke in the early hours at a place called the National Hotel, on London Road.

The reason for the scrap is unclear and it was broken up by the hotel’s owners.

Four of the men decided to head back to Barron’s Tavern, which was located two miles out on the London Road.

Cleary was the first to arrive and witnesses said he was restless, moving from inside the pub to the barn, all the while downing even more alcohol.

When Burke arrived Cleary me him, and they fought a second time. Cleary stabbed Burke in the back of the hand, the neck, behind the left ear and then in the back, just under the left shoulder blade.

The final blow struck Burke under his collar bone.

He died a short while later.

Cleary was hung in an open field on the south side of Durand Street, near the intersection of Christina Street and across from the original Sarnia Jail.

As it would turn out, Cleary dropped ten feet from the platform, a distance that was rather too far for a hanging. As a result, only part of his neck was dislocated, which left him struggling for air for several minutes.

Thomas Cleary, 28, was buried in a Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Another hanging that took place in Sarnia was of a woman, Elizabeth Workman.

Workman had beaten her husband to death with a mop handle after he threw a lamp at her. She was tried and sentenced and then executed on June 19, 1873.

It is worthy to note that her husband, James Workman, was an abusive drunk and the court heard that Elizabeth didn’t intend to kill him.

But in the end, James Workman succumbed to his injuries two days after the beating.

Elizabeth Workman was executed despite the wishes of the jury, which strongly recommended mercy, and those of 1,000 Sarnia residents, including Mayor Charles Taylor.

But her fate was sealed; the sentence carried out: to be hanged from the neck until dead.

Katie Braet is a St. Patrick’s High School student doing a co-op placement with the Sarnia Historical Society



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