Old St. Andrews



Execution of Thomas Dowd, 1879



St. Andrews Bay Pilot, Jan 16, 1879
Execution of Thomas Dowd
The Charlotte County New River Tragedy has at last been finally disposed of, by the execution of Thomas Dowd; and the sentence for the incarceration of Mrs. Ward in the Provincial Penitentiary for several years.

The Tragic Drama
Tuesday morning, the 14th day of January opened up the tragic drama of the Execution of the unfortunate Thomas Dowd. The High Sheriff, with his usual desire to carry out the duties of his official position with strict fidelity to the injunctions, the letter and the spirit of the law, took every necessary and available precaution to fulfill the stern demands of the death-sentence in accordance with the law. The grounds adjacent to the Jail were guarded by a posse of men, in order to keep hundred of would-be spectators from witnessing the dread spectacle of the hanging of a fellow creature. The High Sheriff, in keeping with his duty, admitted the members of the press, and a certain number of others, to whom it is his prerogative to give admission—all others, were excluded.

The Hour
Fixed for the execution, was 8 o'clock in the morning; and long before that hour, the streets of St. Andrews presented an unusually life-like scene. People hurrying to and fro, as tho' stirred into action by some powerful agency—it was "Dowd is to be hung!" His Appearance At about 17 minutes past 8 o'clock, Thomas Dowd came down stairs preceded by the Rev. Father Doyle, Parish Priest, of St. George. The condemned man, wore dark pants and vest, with white shirt and no coat. He walked through the hall and out of the back door to the stand where he was to die, bearing a lighted candle in candlestick, in his hand. The Reverend Clergyman walking by his side, and bearing a crucifix.

Scene at the Gallows
On coming to the plank-stand both Father Doyle and Dowd kneeled on its outer edge with their backs to the spectators, facing the jail windows. The priest, with open book, reading the solemn prayers and services—Dowd, the meanwhile, "crossing" himself, according to the religious usage of the Roman Catholic Church, and, when the Rev. Father held the crucifix to his (Dowd's) lips, he kissed reverently, five times, in accordance with the number of the "five bleeding wounds" which Jesus received for sinner! This was a most affecting scene! And, as if to heighten it, Mrs. Wards, his fellow-prisoner, was seen standing at a basement window, near the back-door, gazing at Dowd, and weeping bitterly!

Final Preparations
On the priest, and Dowd, rising from their knees—the priest whispered a few words to him, and then retired a few paces; when the jailer, Mr. Mark Hall, placed him under the end of the long plank in which was fixed an iron ring; and into which the rope was secured with the fatal "knot" prepared. The jailer now secured his arms and feet, with leather straps when the unfortunate man, with almost a deathly gaze, looked upon the few, but solemn faces of his fellow-creatures there before him for the last time.

He Speaks
The last words of Thomas Dowd.
"I am much obliged to the Sheriff; and Mr. Hall, and his family. They have showed me every kindness; and gratified my every wish. I feel every kindly feeling to the people of St. Andrews. I wish you all well. God bless you all."

The Fatal Knot
Immediately, following Dowd's dying expressions, the jailer passed the rope over his head, fixed the "knot" in its place; and, adjusted the black cap on his head, covering face and eyes! In a Moment The rope secured inside an upper window of the jail, was cut; and, Dowd, was jerked upwards some three feet from the platform—when, to all appearance— Death was instantaneous. A slight twitching of the body, principally between the shoulders, was nearly all that was perceptible; and, the impression generally was, that, the unfortunate Dowd, suffered the extreme penalty of the law, with but little more than momentary suffering. The arrangements made by the Sheriff were admirable; and, all the persons acting under his directions, performed their respective duties, properly and well.

Taking down the Corpse
After the lapse of about 15 minutes, the body was lowered—and Dr. Gove felt the wrist; and opening the shirt bosoms (outside and inside shirts) laid his ear against the left breast for a few seconds; also, lifted the cap from the face, and looking upon the features pronounced him "dead."

Thus expiated, Thomas Dowd, his crime of murder; and, as far as human expiation goes, justice is satisfied. And, it is only merciful to hope, that the manifest sincere repentance of Dowd, was accepted by the God of infinite mercy, and that, although' the body has been consigned to a deep, dark grave, the "spirit has returned to the God who gave it." May the sad, awful death-drama, enacted in St. Andrews, on this the 14th day of January, A. D. 1879, be a serious and salutary warning to all young men and boys, to shun the ways of evil; and to live soberly and righteously—the only safety from Sin, and its awful consequence.

Removal of the Body
Shortly after the execution, the body being deposited in the Coffin, it was conveyed to the C. C. Church where a requiem high mass was performed—and the remains subsequently interred n the Catholic Cemetery. Additional Remarks By direction of the Sheriff, a guard of twelve men, under Capt. E. S. Polleys, in uniform; armed with muskets and fixed bayonets, were detailed around the jail grounds, to keep them from intrusion by spectators. The people, however, were remarkably orderly and the utmost decorum prevailed. Some 40 persons had gained access to the roof of the Hospital which stands in close proximity to the jail, overlooking the "Yard" where Dowd was hung; and, they had every facility to witness the operations. The coffin, was on the ground, but concealed from the sight of him who was so soon to be its occupant.

Previous to the execution, Mrs. Hall, the Jailer's wife, on visiting Dowd, said—"Tommy, I hope you are prepared—you, are about to pay a debt we'll have to pay sooner or later." (Mrs. Hall was weeping.) He replied—"Yes, but do not fret, it is nothing—good bye, God bless you! I hope we will meet in Heaven." Just before 8 o'clock, Dowd signed a petition, witnessed by Father Doyle, to the Governor General, praying for the further commutation of Mrs. Ward's sentence of seven years in the Provincial penitentiary; as she was entirely innocent of any participation in the murder, or the knowledge of it. If this be so, and who would dare question the authenticity of a dying man's confession—then, this Mrs. Ward, with all her manifest faults, should be permitted to go out again in the world—Free—but, bearing with her, the intolerable stigma of having her name so closely associated with the murder of her husband, must ever cause her to feel, like Cain, that her punishment is greater than she can bear.

We are glad that this, New River Tragedy is over. May the Press of Charlotte County, never gain have such a record to publish to the World. Again, we express hope that the awful doom of Dowd will prove a salutary warning to old and young to shun the road that leads to vice and run.