NEALE, PERCY REGINALD, NWMP officer and convicted felon; b. 1851 in England; m. Sarah Champness; d. I Feb. 1906 in Winnipeg.
After serving in the British army, Percy Neale came to Canada, probably in 1873. In that year he joined the newly formed North-West Mounted Police as a senior NCO. Almost immediately he was the pivotal figure in a minor incident at Lower Fort Garry, Man., that helped mould the esprit de corps of the NWMP. He intervened when a junior NCO was being unjustly disciplined by a militia officer, Lieutenant-Colonel William Osborne Smith*, who had just turned over command of the force to Commissioner George Arthur French*. French supported the actions of the NCOs, thus bolstering the morale of the men.
Neale was moderately successful in the NWMP. On 15 July 1875 he was appointed quartermaster of the force and, stationed at Regina, he quickly brought efficiency to a supply service in disarray. He was rewarded in 1876 with the commission of sub-inspector, later renamed inspector. Neale continued as the supply officer and on 1 April 1884 he was promoted superintendent. During the North-West rebellion of 1885 he commanded the NWMP component of Lieutenant-Colonel William Dillon Otter*’s column, the part of the North-West Field Force that was sent to Battleford (Sask.). On 2 May he fought in the attack on the camp of Poundmaker [Pītikwahanapiwīyin**] near Cut Knife Hill.
Following the rebellion Neale assumed command of the NWMP division at Fort Macleod (Alta). Divisional command was an onerous duty and perhaps contributed to the personal problems that Neale developed. He began to drink excessively, so that he could not even keep the stores in order at his post. He and his wife were extravagant and fell deeply in debt. When she became ill, worry affected Neale’s work further. On 8 Dec. 1888 Commissioner Lawrence William Herchmer* relieved him of his duty and sent him on leave. Neale never resumed command and on 31 July 1890 was retired from the force for health reasons, with a gratuity of $1,750.
After he retired Neale tried to put his experience as a supply officer to some use. He became a storekeeper in Lethbridge (Alta), advertising a variety of goods from field-glasses to stationery. He and his wife shared a home with her parents, Fred and Sarah Champness. Fred Champness was the collector of customs for Lethbridge and on 1 Nov. 1892 a new customs office was established under him on the St Mary River. The officer appointed there was Percy Neale, who also took over the running of the Fort Macleod customs office a year later. On 1 Sept. 1894 Neale absconded with $6,976.20 of public funds and set off across the United States, headed for England.
Pursuit was mounted and by 19 September Neale was in custody in London. Brought back across the Atlantic for trial in Regina, he was able to give back $4,740 of the sum stolen. He pleaded guilty and requested leniency, saying he had been temporarily insane and citing many years of faithful public service. The presiding judge, Hugh Richardson*, was an old personal friend but he was not impressed and, remarking that Neale knew the law better than most, sentenced him to seven years in prison. After his release Neale lived in Winnipeg, where he worked part time with the city engineer’s office. He died on 1 Feb. 1906 of a brain haemorrhage.
NA, RG 18, 9, 118; RG 31, C1, 1891, Lethbridge: 15. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Headquarters (Ottawa), Hist. Sect., Service file 0.34 (Percy Neale). Macleod Gazette (Fort Macleod, [Alta]), 1890–91, 1894. Regina Leader, 1894. Can., Parl., Sessional papers, annual reports of the commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, 1873–90. Philip Goldring, “The first contingent: the North-West Mounted Police, 1873–74,” Canadian Hist. Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and Hist. (Ottawa), no.21 (1979): 5–40. Herbert Legg, Customs services in western Canada, 1867–1925: a history (Creston, B.C., 1962).
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