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Local journalism initiative

Remembering the uprising in St. John’s

Americans must date back to 1814 when British soldiers invaded Washington during the War of 1812. For the last time an angry mob searched their legislature. In the winter of 1931/32, many people in Newfoundland lived on a dole on just a few cents a day. The fisheries had collapsed and the national government (Newfoundland was then a self-governing rule like Canada and Australia) was crippled by massive debt and had to cut its spending. Sir Richard Squires was in his second term as Prime Minister, and some old tendencies were resurfacing. He was no stranger to corruption allegations as he had been ousted 10 years earlier on suspicion of bribery. This time he was accused of diverting public funds into his own pocket and then covering it up. When his finance minister Peter Cashin resigned in protest on February 4, the population was raged with anger. Citizens packed a strategic meeting at the Majestic Theater on the night of April 4, where a delegation was formed to petition the government the next day calling them accountable. “It is not the people, but the representatives of the people who are to blame. There is only one thing left and that is to assert by force, ”Rev. William Godfrey told the crowd, as reported by The Evening Telegram. “By violence I don’t mean violence. I am convinced that what is done tonight and tomorrow will be enough for our purpose. Members of the house of the congregation are your servants, not your masters. You defied the law. “Godfrey had good intentions, but things didn’t quite go as planned. The next day, a parade of about 8,000 to 10,000 citizens marched from the Majestic to the colonial building. “When the parade reached the steps of the colonial building, the Union Jack was brought to the lower steps and there was a burst of cheers,” reported The Telegram. “Mr. HA Winter, KC, Rev. WE Godfrey, Chairman Howell, and other members of the Civic Service to table the resolutions, went up the steps and there was more cheering.” Then nothing happened. The crowd waited, thinking someone might come out to talk. Half an hour went by. “The guards band that led the parade opened the ‘Ode to Newfoundland’, and every man and youth in the huge gathering stood with their heads bared until the play The Telegram reporter remarked. “It was an impressive sight.” The delegation was finally allowed to enter the building, but the crowd was already restless. “The shouting in front made those behind us push forward, and apparently the mounted police took them away Intending to hold her back, took positions in front of the steps. Angry at the attempt to push her back, some of the crowd attacked the mounted men, one of whom had had one’s cloak torn off. “The De Legation eventually reappeared and persuaded part of the crowd to return to the Majestic, but others got none of it. Someone found an iron bar on the premises and the mob used it as a battering ram. “A door panel was quickly reduced to a match. The police used their batons through the opening for anyone who came within range. “Once, 25 police officers stormed out of the building and beat everyone within range with their clubs. They cleared the steps for a moment. Then all hell broke loose. “The desire for vengeance took over the crowd like a flame, and the police had to take refuge inside the building. Stones, sticks, and rockets of every kind were hurled through virtually every window in the place. There were no leaders, but the crowd seemed to be divided into sections to prevent the police and heads of government from leaving. “Without the intrepid eyewitness from The Telegram, the resulting chaos would be hard to imagine. “Eventually access to the rooms of the first floor apartment was gained and everything that was movable was either torn up or removed. A Miss Morris piano was removed from the building and demolished along with some records. The piano was taken to Bannerman Park and completely destroyed. A little later, two young men disappeared from the house with four bottles of White Horse whiskey. This was consumed on the adjacent site. “Sir Richard was now in a bind. The crowd clearly wanted his head on a platter. Once the police tried to take him away in a car near the east gate. “Just as they turned left to head towards Bannerman Road, where the car was parked, the crowd shouted ‘There he is’ and immediately a rush began and before the prime minister and his escort got to the car they were it stopped. “The entourage managed to take refuge, but when he tried to move away again things got even more surreal. The crowd pressed against his group as they tried to leave the premises. It took about an hour before they finally reached a Mrs. Connolly’s residence at 66 Colonial Street, where the Prime Minister took refuge. The crowd stood outside determined to wait for him, but Squires had other plans. A local clergyman dropped a taxi on an adjacent one Lot on Bannerman Street waiting for him. Squires sneaked out the back door, climbed the fence, and made his escape. “The crowd on Colonial Street awaiting his reappearance artete did not believe that such a trick had succeeded, “reported The Telegram,” and to please the angry gathering, ten or twelve were allowed to enter the Connolly house and search every corner in front of them. “were satisfied that he was as stated had escaped. “That was the end of the rule of the squires. He called an election for June, and his Liberals won only two seats out of 28. In 1934, Newfoundland gave up self-government and became again a parish of the British Crown under a government commission. This stayed up to joining Canada in 1949. Peter Jackson, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, The Telegram

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