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LUNDRIGAN (Landergan, Landrigan, Lanergan), JAMES, fisherman, b. c. 1790 in Newfoundland, probably in Cupids; m. Sarah Morgan, and they had at least nine children; fl. 1818–30.

James Lundrigan was one of two central figures (the other was Philip Butler of Harbour Main) in a celebrated episode in Newfoundland history. A native-born Newfoundlander, he was a relative of Edward Lanergan, who in 1789 “cut and cleared” an extensive fishing room on the south side of Cupids in Conception Bay. In 1818 Lundrigan, married and with a young family, contracted a debt of over £13 with the supplying firm of Graham McNicoll and Company, which was active in Conception Bay. In May 1819 an action for debt was brought against him by the firm in the surrogate court at Harbour Grace, and a decision was given in favour of the merchants, with costs. (The surrogates were, by this date, local notables, normally Anglican clergymen; they presided over legally constituted and movable courts of civil jurisdiction, and proceeded usually by summary conviction. In this case the surrogate was the Reverend Frederick Hamilton Carrington.) Judgement was by default, since Lundrigan himself did not appear in court. A constable then proceeded to Cupids and attached Lundrigan’s room together with “a boat and craft”; these attachments were made for two executions, one against Lundrigan himself and another as security for James Hollahan, also of Cupids, who was apparently his fishing partner. Together the debts amounted to over £28. Lundrigan’s property was sold to Donald Graham, a clerk in the employ of the creditor. After the sale an attempt was made to take possession of Lundrigan’s house, but the fisherman was not at home and his wife threatened “to blow” a constable’s “brains out.” Whereupon the seizure of the property was deferred to another date.

A year later, on 5 July 1820, a surrogate court sitting at Port de Grave (or at Bareneed) summoned Lundrigan to appear before it, but he declined to attend. Constable William Keating later testified that Lundrigan “said he had no shoe to his foot and was nearly naked, and was ashamed to appear before gentlemen in the Courts. He was engaged at that time with two men in hauling a caplin sein, and said he was getting a little fish for the support of his wife and children, who had nothing besides to eat.” On being told by another constable, Michael Kelly, that he would return with a party of marines to arrest him, Lundrigan replied (according to Kelly) that he wished them “a damn good time of it.” His refusal was reported to the court, and a special warrant was issued to apprehend him. He was taken into custody late in the evening of 5 July, and was held on board the Grasshopper, commanded by one of the two surrogates presiding in the court, Commander David Buchan*, a veteran in the Newfoundland service.

The next morning Lundrigan was brought ashore at Port de Grave to appear before Buchan and a recently appointed surrogate, the Reverend John Leigh, Anglican priest at Harbour Grace. Lundrigan seemed “much dejected.” The warrant against him charged him with “divers contempt of court and resisting constables in the execution of their duty, and particularly for refusing and neglecting to attend” the court on the previous day. A summary conviction was made after Kelly’s testimony, and Lundrigan was sentenced by Leigh (with Buchan concurring) to receive 36 lashes on the bare back. It was further ordered that Kelly, “with such assistance as he shall find necessary,” take possession “this day” of Lundrigan’s premises. The order meant, in effect, the immediate eviction of Lundrigan’s wife and four young children.

Surgeon Richard Shea was called to attend the execution of the sentence, since Lundrigan “stated that he was subject to the falling sickness” (elsewhere called “fits,” presumably epilepsy). He was taken from the court and tied by his wrists and legs to the shore of a lake. The boatswain’s mate of the Grasshopper inflicted 14 lashes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, at which point Lundrigan fainted and Shea “desired the punishment to stop.” The victim was cut down and taken into the house in which the court had sat, where, in Shea’s words, “he appeared much convulsed.” According to the court records, the remainder of the sentence was remitted on Lundrigan’s “promising to deliver up the premises without further trouble.”

A day later the same court sat in Harbour Main, and the Irish fisherman Philip Butler was sentenced to receive 36 lashes for contempt. He was given 12. When Butler’s wife persisted in her refusal to vacate her home, which she claimed was her own property, the door was broken down and she and her children were evicted.

The treatment given to Butler and Lundrigan provoked deep outrage in Newfoundland and quickened the movement for reform. Hitherto that movement, though it had been a force on the island for a decade, had existed principally at the level of theoretical argument. William Carson* had railed against the surrogates and clamoured for a legislature, but in fact the old paternalistic system inherited from the 18th century had muddled on. The Butler and Lundrigan whippings gave Carson’s cause momentum. An image of official tyranny over poor, helpless, outharbour fishermen was provided to galvanize the public into recognition of the need for judicial and constitutional change. The fact that one of the fishermen was native and both were Roman Catholics added to the symbolic value of the event. So did the element of mercantile greed displayed in it, which Patrick Morris* in particular, now drawn for the first time into politics, was quick to seize on. The locally sensitive matter of right to property seemed also to be an aspect of the affair. Altogether, as the lawyer William Dawe perceived, “the moment was too favorable to be lost,” and the reformers moved quickly to take advantage of it.

On 8 and 9 Nov. 1820, with the support of the reform party, Butler and Lundrigan made the extraordinary move of taking out actions of trespass for assault and false imprisonment against Buchan and Leigh in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. Both claimed damages, Butler £500, Lundrigan £1,500. The chief justice, Sir Francis Forbes*, ruled that the cases hinged on a question of law, namely, whether or not the surrogate courts had the right to punish for contempt. He stated his view that they did have that right, and the jury in each case returned a verdict for the defendants, though not without expressing “abhorrence” at the “unmerciful and cruel punishment” given to Lundrigan. Forbes, too, strongly rebuked Leigh and Buchan for “a mode of proceeding which disuse had rendered obsolete in England; and which in every view of the present case, was particularly harsh and uncalled for.” At the close of Lundrigan’s case, the fisherman gave notice of an appeal against Forbes’s decision to the Privy Council.

These were sensational events in the small trading and fishing port of St John’s. And much more was to follow. Soon after the two fishermen lost their cases, a public meeting was called at which resolutions were passed expressing “abhorrence and detestation” for the scourging of Butler and Lundrigan and a determination to pursue legal and constitutional means “to have the law repealed, which it appears sanctions such arbitrary proceedings in the Surrogates.” The committee struck to bring these and other resolutions into effect included Carson, Morris, the editor of the Newfoundland Sentinel newspaper, Lewis Kelly Ryan, and eight others. A powerfully worded petition was soon in preparation which linked the Butler and Lundrigan incidents to other grievances, including the lack of a house of assembly. Governor Sir Charles Hamilton* said in a dispatch that “it does not appear that any of the principal merchants even here have given their sanction to the petition,” and although this was an unfair comment it was true that support for it was largely Catholic and Irish – an indication of who would carry the torch of reform in the decades ahead. Hamilton notwithstanding, in looking over the names one is struck by the prominence of those who now professed liberal opinion. Well within a year of the Port de Grave atrocity, this petition reached the king, the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the colonial secretary, Earl Bathurst, who indicated to Hamilton that “alterations of existing laws” pertaining to Newfoundland would be forthcoming. (Bathurst also told the governor to caution the surrogates “against inflicting corporal punishment in the cases of a similar nature which they may be called upon to notice.”) In effect, the aroused feeling over the treatment of the two fishermen began a process of agitation which led to the new laws for Newfoundland of 1824. Among other reforms, the surrogates were replaced by a system of circuit courts presided over by qualified judges. Nevertheless, it would take a further eight years of argument and petitioning by Carson and others to gain a local assembly.

Lundrigan’s life after 1820 is obscure. The notice of appeal to the Privy Council against the decision of the Supreme Court was not acted upon by the reformers once they realized they could make gains by political rather than judicial means. Unlike Butler, Lundrigan appears to have made no claims for redress from the governor. William Keating described him as “a quiet simple man – and if he had a little more spirit during his life time, it would have been better for him. “This assessment may well have been a valid one. Lundrigan’s property in Cupids was bought back for him by a penitent Leigh, who claimed “it was from the unfortunate circumstance of great misrepresentation” that his punishment had been ordered. In an unusual act in 1830, nine of Lundrigan’s children were baptized as Roman Catholics in Harbour Grace, all on a single day. The event may hint at some family crisis, perhaps Lundrigan’s illness. Local tradition holds that he remained unwell after the whipping and died while still a relatively young man. His wife, by contrast, lived to enjoy her old age.

Patrick O’Flaherty

[The most extensive account of the Butler and Lundrigan incidents is in a pamphlet entitled A report of certain proceedings of the inhabitants of the town of StJohn, in the island of Newfoundland; with the view to obtain a reform of the laws, more particularly in the mode of their administration; and an independent legislature (St John’s, 1821). The relevant court records are available in the minutes of the Surrogate Court (GN 5/1/B/1, Harbour Grace, 1818–20) and the Supreme Court (GN 5/2/A/1, 1820–21), both at PANL, and in PRO, CO 194/64: 3–19 (see also 45–46, and 51–60). The legal context in which Forbes’s decision to hear the cases of 8 and 9 Nov. 1820 was made may be studied in PANL, GN 2/1/A, vols.28–31; see in particular 31: 350–56. For information on Lundrigan and Cupids in 1817, see David Buchan, ledger listing inhabitants of Brigus, Cupids, etc., 1817, in Nfld. Public Library Services, Provincial Reference and Resource Library (St John’s).

Information about Lundrigan’s family is in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (Harbour Grace), Reg. of baptisms, 21 Oct. 1830 (mfm. at PANL); see also PANL, Vital statistics, vols.34, 36A, for scattered references to his children. His fishing room is described in PANL, GN 1/13/4, plantation book, Conception Bay, c. 1805.

Little information from contemporary newspapers is available; however, see the Newfoundland Mercantile Journal for 23 Nov. 1820 and 5 July 1821. A wickedly ironical column directed at Leigh from the Newfoundland Sentinel (St John’s), 28 Nov. 1821, is preserved in Leigh’s file in PAC, MG 17, B1, C/CAN, Ia/19, folder 239, no.344 (mfm.), while the file as a whole provides insight into his character and helps to explain his response to Butler and Lundrigan.

Information about Lundrigan was also obtained from Newton Morgan and Edward-Vincent Chafe.  p.o’f.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Patrick O’Flaherty, “LUNDRIGAN, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lundrigan_james_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lundrigan_james_6E.html
Author of Article:   Patrick O’Flaherty
Title of Article:   LUNDRIGAN, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   May 29, 2023