The abduction of a child is a fear of many parents, even though the vast majority of such cases are perpetrated by a family member as part of a larger domestic dispute, rather than by a stranger.
Such domestic situations are nothing new. A good example is the case of 11-year-old Jane Smith, who in 1892 was living in Drayton with her uncle, Lewis Newton.
Jane’s mother had by then lived an interesting marital life. In the early 1880s, she married a man named Angers. That marriage apparently dissolved, and she next married a fellow named Smith, with whom she had three daughters, of whom Jane was the youngest. When that marriage ended – whether through divorce or death – she married for a third time, to a man named Levi Newton, who lived at Newbridge, in Huron County.
The two elder daughters from the marriage to Smith went to live with a man named John A. Gardiner and his wife, who was a sister of the first husband. Gardiner operated a music store at 594 Yonge Street in Toronto. As the youngest, Jane stayed with her mother after the marriage to Levi Newton. Soon, though, the Newtons complained of their poverty, claiming they were in no position to support young Jane. They shipped her off to Drayton to live with Levi’s uncle, Lewis Newton, who operated a small dairy in Drayton.
Jane’s living conditions with Lewis Newton were less than ideal. He treated her more as a servant than as a member of the family. Word of her unhappiness and wretched living conditions got back to her sisters and the Gardiners in Toronto. John Gardiner contacted Lewis Newton, suggesting that the three sisters be reunited in his household. Newton would have nothing to do with the idea, claiming that he had adopted the girl and that she was happy and well cared for in his household.
Gardiner did not believe it. He resolved to bring the sisters back together. On Jan. 6, 1892, he took the train from Toronto to Guelph, and hired a rig at a livery stable there. He had already made contact with a man named Stapleton, who lived at Guelph and worked for the Bell Piano and Organ Company. Presumably, Gardiner knew him through his profession as a musical instrument dealer.
Together, the two drove to Drayton, and about 7pm registered at the Royal Hotel there.
Gardiner asked the proprietor about Lewis Newton and the location of his residence.
Leaving Stapleton and the rig at the hotel, Gardiner walked to the Newton residence. Newton was not at home, but his wife was, as was Jane. The girl recognized him at once, and showed her delight and surprise to see him. Gardiner asked Mrs. Newton for permission to take the girl downtown to get her a dress or a pair of shoes as a gift. She readily agreed.
When they reached the Royal Hotel, Stapleton was waiting with the horse and rig. Gardiner helped Jane get in, and the three took off at a brisk pace, heading out of town. When they reached Elora, they put up for the night, and continued to Guelph the next day. Gardiner and Jane boarded a Grand Trunk train for Toronto.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Newton became anxious when Gardiner and Jane did not return. Wisely, Gardiner had not given his name to Mrs. Newton, relying instead on Jane’s enthusiasm at seeing “Uncle John.”
It did not take Newton long to figure out what had happened. His suspicions were confirmed when he talked to the proprietor of the Royal. To identify himself and allay suspicions, Gardiner had given the publican his business card.
Determined to get Jane back into his custody, Newton spoke to the Drayton constable, who was less than co-operative, and then to a lawyer. On Jan. 17, 11 days after the incident, the lawyer sent a telegram to the Toronto police, asking them to arrest Gardiner for child abduction. That evening, detectives Slemin and Black called on John Gardiner and placed him under arrest.
At the police station, the prisoner was happy to talk to the reporters who frequented the place seeking leads for stories. He gave the eager newspapermen a story that put himself in the best possible light.
On Jan. 6, he claimed, he had been in the Drayton area on business involving his musical instrument store, and decided to drop in to see Jane at the Newton residence. When he saw her he immediately had realized that she was not in the best condition nor well cared for, and had decided to take her away with him. He gave the reporters a lurid account of the girl’s mother and her multiple marriages.
The two older girls had been living with him for some time, he said, and they were quiet and well-behaved. The girls were nieces of his wife, he explained, and it was their duty to make certain that the three girls were well cared for. It was right and proper, he insisted, that young Jane should be happy and comfortable with her sisters, rather than “slaving for strangers, who would not give her proper attention.”
The reporters found Gardiner’s story convincing, and the police believed he was sincere and wished to have the matter resolved in a civilized way. He had offered no resistance or insults when the police arrested him.
At a hearing before a sergeant later that night, he was released without bail. The authorities had no fear that he would attempt to flee to avoid his day in court. John Gardiner faced a magistrate the next morning. Cases such as this one presented a major problem to courts in that era. There was no family court to consider family cases, and there was no agency to look out exclusively for the interests of the children. In those days, the Humane Society made an attempt to deal with family problems, but they had to share that attention in dealing with abused horses, stray cats, and abandoned dogs.
The magistrate quizzed young Jane on the matter. She pleaded that she was much happier with the Gardiners and her sisters than she had been in Drayton, and pleaded not to be sent back. Though Gardiner had been technically guilty of abduction, he acted out of frustration because there were no viable alternatives available to him under the laws and regulations of that period. Otherwise he was a law-abiding and useful citizen. Nothing would be gained by sending him to jail. Presumably, Jane and her two sisters grew up to be good citizens. Jane’s time in Wellington County was certainly not a typical experience, but is not unique either, and seems to have turned out happier than most children whose lives were marked by family breakup.
All too often they are invisible in the history of our communities. Indeed, the Drayton newspaper devoted only a very brief story to the case, and even that was a condensed version of a piece in the Guelph Mercury.
With newspapers of the time so reticent, and other records non-existent, it is difficult to gain a full understanding of the lives of youngsters such as Jane Smith in the late 19th century.