Four Prisoners Break Out – Oct 19, 1896

Gaoler's Mews, Vancouver, BC

Four prisoners escaped from the city lock up, which was said to be “most insecure, badly constructed”. Prisoners apparently used a saw to cut their way out during “boisterous” Salvation Army services when the noise would not be noticed. Two or three “paupers” boarding at the jail (!) were blamed for not alerting the guards that the prisoners were planning an escape.

This transcript was made in 2020 by Transcribimus volunteer  Joanne McCormick

Gaoler’s Mews (modern photograph)

Original handwritten minutes:
City of Vancouver Archives
COV S 31 Volume 7 pages 337-345
to see original handwritten minutes, click here

[Volume 7, Page 337]

The Council met on Monday October 19th 1896
Present: His Worship, the Mayor and Aldermen Painter, Schou, Banfield, McPhaiden, Brown, MacDonald, Bethune and Coldwell. The Minutes of last meeting were read and adopted.

From the City Auditor reporting that certain Counsel fees in liquor information cases were not paid into Court. Referred to the Finance Committee.

From J.G.V. Field-Johnson claiming $150 as the value of three hounds impounded and sold by the Pound Keeper. Referred to the Police Committee.

From the {Acting} Chief of Police reporting on the electric lights. Filed.

From J.O. McLeod etal, complaining about a stable on the lane in Block 36, DL 541 {on a 25-foot lot, a menace to public health and the drays a source of danger in case of fire}. Referred to the Health Committee.

The following Reports were received and read:

Finance Committee
The Finance Committee met on Friday October 15th 1896
Present: Aldermen Banfield, Painter, McPhaiden, Brown and Bethune

The following accounts were recommended for payment:
News, advertiser supplies                                   $10.84
G.A. Roedde             supplies                               $6.00
A.E. Crickmay          brokerage                           $18.70
CPR Co Land Dept,  Final payment on Lots    $3180

[Volume 7, Page 338]

From H. Bell-Irving stating that he intended to locate the Can Factory in ‘New Minster’. Filed.

From D. Robson, Government Agent, New Westminster, stating that James H. Gillespie had applied for certain water from a creek flowing through District Lot 192 for bringing out shingle bolts and for canning purposes. He asked whether the Council had any objection to the granting of Gillespie’s application.
Resolved that he be informed that the Council has decided objections to any rights being granted to Mr. Gillespie in that locality.

The following applications were received for the position of Assessor which were referred to the full Council to make the appointment: T.M. Quigley, David F. Douglas, F.L. Budlong, Samuel Gibbs, R.H. Cooke, Thomas M. Rae, A.J. Paterson and John Devine.
The following contracts were approved and authorized to be signed by the Mayor and City Clerk and the Corporate Seal affixed thereto:
George Wright      7th Ave            6-foot sidewalk
S. Sheriday            Broughton St  6-foot sidewalk
Ditto                       Thurlow St      6-foot sidewalk
Signed J.J. Banfield, Chairman

Moved by Alderman Banfield; Seconded by Alderman Painter
That the Report be adopted. Carried.

[Volume 7, Page 339]

Water & Market Committee
The Water and Market Committee met on Wednesday October 14th 1896.
Present: Aldermen Brown, Painter and Bethune

Resolved that EJ McGarrigle’s tender be accepted for repairs to the Market Hall for $125.

Resolved that the Fire Hall Lots on Cordova Street East be fenced.

From the BC Iron Works asking to have the time extended for receiving tenders for water pipes.
It was resolved to extend the time to November 14th next.

From Residents on Lorne Street asking to have the water main enlarged. Referred to the City Engineer.

The following accounts were recommended for payment:
W.J. McPhalen                  market            $72.30
Market Hardware Store     supplies          $11.20
Evans, Coleman & Evans  supplies          $36.40
M.J. James                         supplies            $2.25
John Boyd & Co                supplies          $41.21
BC Iron Works Co             supplies          $52.13
Thomas Dunn & Co          supplies           $68.07
Thurston & Son                 supplies             $5.44
Con Railway Co                supplies             $5.00
J. Armand                          driving piles    $31.44
Crowder & Penzer             supplies           $29.53
J. Carnahan                        scavengering     $2.25
F.W. Boulsbee                    duly paid         $12.50
C.F. Farinan                       supplies             $3.95
E.G. Prior &Co                  supplies               $.65
National Meter Co             supplies           $28.45
Hooper etal                        labor              $627.15

[Volume 7, Page 340]

The Committee then adjourned.
Signed William Brown, Chairman

Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Bethune.
That the Report be adopted. Carried.

The Fire & Police Committee met on the 13th of Oct; Present the full Board.

The following accounts were recommended for payment:
William Ralph                                supplies           $18.90
Scoullar & Co                                 supplies           $15.40
B.S. Parsons                                    hack hire           $1.00
Fred Allen                                       supplies           $79.64
J.C. Woodrow                                 supplies           $27.34
William Ward {Chief Constable}   transportation  $13.50
Can. Gen’l Elec. Co                        supplies            $37.50
William Murphy                             supplies          $120.75
C.W. Hutchings                              supplies             $15.50
J. Carnahan                                     scavengering       $5.00
Thomas Dunn & Co                       supplies             $13.85
C. Casselman                                  supplies               $6.85
J. Dodson                                        supplies             $25.34
McLennan & McFeely                   supplies                $9.40
E. Clough                                        drayage                  $.50
C.F. Foreman                                  supplies              $27.58
A. Blayney                                     supplies               $11.25
R. Robertson                                  supplies                 $2.70
C.H. Jones                                      supplies                 $3.75
H. McLaughlin                               Pound expenses    $1.25

From JD Langlois making application for $5.00 withheld from the estate of the late Fred Atcheson. Referred to the City Solicitor.

From the Chief of Police reporting the escape of four prisoners. See Report.

From WC Murdoch applying for a position on the Police Force. Filed.

[Volume 7, Page 341]

From IGV Field Johnson reporting that three of his hounds were impounded and asking for their release.
Resolved that he be informed that he will have to pay the license fixed by By-Law and pay all expenses in connection with their impounding.

From the Pound Keeper furnishing Report for September. Filed.

Resolved that John McAllister be appointed Special Constable until the new Chief of Police is appointed. Salary to be fixed at the rate of $60.00 per month.

Resolved that the Chairman and the Chief of the Fire Department be authorized to order three rubber coats for the Firemen and necessary stoves for the Department.

Resolved that William Ball now supported by the Police Department in the Jail be sent to Germany at the reduced rate.

Resolved that the incoming Council be asked to place a sum in their estimates to make the Jail more secure for the keeping of prisoners.

The Committee having thoroughly investigated the escape of the four prisoners Abbott Smith, John Clark alias King, J.W. Kelly, Albert McGarrach and having taken the evidence of Jailers North & Clough, Pauper William Ball, prisoners Hazelton and Henry, have the honor to report that there can be no blame attached to either of the Jailers as their own evidence fully corroborated by the prisoners convinced us that they had attended to their duties in going through the prison and having noted that all the prisoners were on hand either in the cells or the corridors at ….

[Volume 7, Page 342]

……. the hours between the hours of 12 noon and 5:15 pm. It seems evident to us that assistance was given to the prisoners from the outside as they certainly had a file and a burglars’ saw which they had used successfully in sawing the hole through the coal shed wall and filing the locks and irons.

We are of opinion that during the confusion naturally incident to the rather loud and boisterous mode of religious instructions given the prisoners by the Salvation Army people who had been holding service in the Jail during the day the prisoners certainly took advantage of that circumstance to get their work done so efficiently and we recommend that should the Council consider it desirable that Church service should be held in the Jail by these people or others that a guard should be constantly in attendance.

We also suggest that William Ball who has been now a regular boarder in the Jail for two and one half years occupying a whole cell himself and cannot be considered a trusty also the man Johnson who has boarded and lodged there for the last eight months should be both removed to other quarters for the following reasons:
1st, They constantly pass out and in when they require to do so making the Jail more like an hotel than a prison;
2nd, Their cells are required for prisoners;
3rd, The City prison cannot be considered a poor house or a place to house paupers. It is undesirable that these two men should be kept among prisoners and it certainly seems very mysterious how prisoners can file locks and irons, cut up blankets to make ropes of right under their eyes and not report upon the matter to the police.

We strongly recommend to the Council the most urgent necessity of providing a Jail as the present building is the most insecure, badly constructed City prison …..

[Volume 7, Page 343]

….. in existence in any City the size of Vancouver at the present time, and if the funds necessary cannot be provided immediately we suggest that it is one of the recommendations for next year and an amount to defray the cost be placed in the estimates. As to increasing the force we would consider two detectives and two more men sufficient for the present requirements. And we also recommend that a Rogue’s Gallery be established that means that noted criminals’ photos should be taken and retained at the Police Station for reference. The cost of this would be very little.

Signed C.A. Coldwell, Chairman
Moved by Alderman Coldwell; Seconded by Alderman McPhaiden
That the Report be adopted. Carried.

{According to the Vancouver Daily World, there was considerable discussion on this topic amongst Council: Alderman Brown expressed sorrow that he could not entirely acquiesce in the report. The city was to blame. The inefficiency of the jail was known therefore, the officers should have been more efficient. Prisoners who had escaped before were there and the officers knew it. They should have watched it carefully. If they did not watch carefully there was certainly no efficiency shown. The jail had held drunks and klootchmen, but whenever any persons got in there who knew what to do in order to get out, they soon showed their ability. These men had been in the city since escaping, and had tried to get into two houses, but the police never got them. The officers and the committee knew of the fact that the jail was insecure and that tools could be introduced and they should have acted accordingly.

Ald. Coldwell said that Ald. Brown was wrong in saying that there was no corroborative testimony. All the witnesses had been examined carefully alone and the evidence of each had corroborated the others.
Ald. Schou asked if the locks and bars had been examined before the service referred to had commenced.
Ald. Coldwell replied that the guard had walked through the jail and had seen the man Smith in his cell with the irons on him.
Ald. Brown said that Smith had escaped once before with irons on.
Ald. Coldwell, in reply, said that he might soon do so again.
Ald. Brown – Perhaps!
Ald. McDonald took exception to the clause referring to the appointing of two detectives. He thought that for that office promotions should be made from the force under the recommendation of the Chief and the committee.
Ald. McPhaiden said that if put in the jail he could cut his way out with a jack-knife. The jail was a disgrace to the city.
Ald. Brown – Oh, don’t talk that way.
Ald. McPhaiden – I am talking what I know.
Ald. Bethune objected to the slipping through of the clause relating to the appointing of detectives. He did not think that the Salvation Army exhorters were to blame in the matter. The prisoners were there after the Salvation Army people had gone away.
Ald. Banfield said that the Salvation Army was not blamed. It was only desired that they be not allowed in without a guard being present. Besides 10 was too many. Three would be enough. There was no need of having more saints than sinners there.

Another thing that did not seem to be understood was that with the exception of Smith the prisoners were loose. He considered that the suggestion of janitor Clough that Smith should be removed to New Westminster should have been carried out. As to the detective clause and the new jail clause they were simply recommendations as to action to be taken in the future.
Ald. Bethune said it was plain that the Salvation Army contingent were not responsible.
The Mayor said that as far as that was concerned there had been another band of exhorters present after the Salvationists had departed.}

Introduction of By-Laws
Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Bethune
That the By-Law to authorize the raising of $60,000 by way of Debentures for the extension of the Water Works System {pipes} be read a first time. Carried.

Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Bethune
That a By-Law for taking the votes of the Electors on the above By-Law be read a first time. Carried.

Under the head of unfinished business, the Council proceeded to ballot for the appointment of Assessor.
On the first ballot John Devine received a majority of the total votes cast and was declared elected.

[Volume 7, page 344]

Moved by Alderman Banfield; Seconded by Alderman Painter.
Whereas application has been made to the Government Agent, New Westminster District for the grant of certain rights and to direct and alter the course of a creek flowing through Lot 192 within the City limits for the purpose of logging and the establishment of a cannery thereon for a period of fifty years.

And whereas if such rights are granted it would be very detrimental to the interests of the City and the property in the neighborhood. Be it therefore resolved that the Government Agent be requested not to grant the water rights applied for it being considered by the Council in the interests of the City for sanitary and other purposes that all the water flowing down the said creek should be retained for the use of the City and citizens. Carried.

Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Bethune.
That the bonds for $5000 each for the due fulfilment of the electric lighting contract between this City and the Western Electric Company of the City of Chicago, USA be returned to said Company. Carried.

Consideration of By-Laws
Moved by Alderman Painter; Seconded by Alderman Banfield.
That the Amendments to the Fire Limit By-Law be read a second time. Carried.

Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Banfield.
That the Rules be suspended to allow of the second reading of the By-Law to authorize the raising of $60,000 by …..

[Volume 7, page 345]

…. Of Debentures for the extension of the Water Works. Carried.
The By-Law was read a second time.

Moved by Alderman Brown; Seconded by Alderman Banfield.
That the Polling By-Law be read a second time and that the Rules be suspended to allow of such. Carried.
The By-Law was read a second time.

The Council then adjourned.

Thomas Francis McGuigan     Henry Collins
City Clerk                                Mayor

Comments in parenthesis { } denote further illumination provided by the writer and from The Vancouver Daily World Newspaper; The City Council, October 20 1896, pg 6