May 15, 2014: Dead Men Leave No Info Booths
Spent the better part of yesterday exploring St. John’s. We’d been here nearly a week and barely managed to get out. Though to be fair, that’s mostly because I’ve been sleeping and Adam’s been working. Regardless, we decided it was time.
We headed downtown and I was raring to go. I had the misguided hope that I might find a labradorite bead to fit one of my piercings, but alas, traditional jewelry stores don’t carry them and piercing parlors were scarce. Other than that, we had an decent time downtown. Got some good poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie.
Having found little to occupy us (the true George Street experience was missed, as we were there at one o'clock in the afternoon, well before opening time. In future, I do look forward to being "screeched in.") we decided to head to Signal Hill. It’s the historic site where the first transatlantic signal was received by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901. If you grew up in Canada in the 90s, the name probably sounds familiar thanks to something the Canadian goverernment funded called Heritage Minutes. It’s also the site of St. John’s military defenses and Cabot Tower. Our hosts drove us through this area on our second day in, mentioning something about hangings being performed there and rumors that the bodies were then flung into an unusually deep pond at the bottom of the hill: Deadman’s pond.
Knowing this, I suggested we head back for a better look, given that St. John’s downtown was very much like other downtown area’s we experienced. We got back into our borrowed car (Thanks again, Karen!) and headed off to the nearby attraction.
We followed the road that snaked up the hill before parking at the very top. The weather was good, so we wandered around, reading dozens of signs explaining various parts of the park (all very interesting, I assure you).
But we found nothing referencing hangings or Deadman’s Pond. To be fair, it is possible we got a little lazy and skipped the vigorous hike that would have been required to head down Signal Hill and follow the path around the pond. Either way, we made the most of it and got the usual pics you get from the top of the hill.
After taking all the same shots everybody else takes, we retreated to the car for some much needed warmth and headed back home. The curiousness of this hanging rumour and mysterious pond were getting to me.
Later that night, I started to look up Signal Hill. I got the usual wikipedia article and the government sites, but nothing even mentioning hangings. Then I realized that the bump that had been pointed out to me on the hill was actually called Gibbet Hill.
With this new bit of information it was much easier to find out the morbid reality of that extra bump in the park.
Turns out that no one was ever executed or "hung" on that little outcropping. What actually occured was something called "gibbeting," the practice of hanging up the dead bodies of executed criminals as a warning to others. It would seem that modern Newfoundland is just as dismayed with the practice as the colonists that lived here a hundred plus years ago, as there is little information to be found on the subject. There's a recorded incidence of the townsfolk actively rejecting the practice and taking a gibbeted body down and depositing it on the doorstep of the local magistrate with a note warning him that the locals wouldn't stand for it.
Other than that, there doesn't seem to be too much available online about it. Had I more time, I'd head over to the Rooms Provincial Archives and have a poke around.
I have yet to find any information corroborating the rumor that gibbeted bodies were case into Deadman's Pond. Though, it must have gotten the name somehow.