John Hazle was not a typical British immigrant to Canada.
When he arrived in Ontario about 1870 he was nearing 50, with several adolescent children in tow. He had been a career soldier in the British army, retiring after 27 years in uniform, with a military record that stretched back to service in the Crimean War.
After hanging up his uniform he had the opportunity of a civil service job in England, but he turned that down. Instead he took up work as a shoemaker, a trade he had plied as a young apprentice before joining the army.
Recognizing that opportunities in England were limited and not very lucrative, he decided to pull up stakes and move his wife and family to Canada. He found a position in Brantford as a shoemaker. It was then his troubles started. His eldest son, through with school, found work in Brantford, and also found a circle of disreputable friends who introduced him to all-night drinking binges. The boy soon quit his job.
A short time later he and the boy argued, and that led to a full-out fist fight. Hazle threw him out of the house. The boy found another job, in a planing mill, but shortly after injured his hands. He recovered, but quickly returned to his dissolute ways.
Hazle believed that the boy’s example helped lead his daughter, Eliza, down the garden path. He found a job for her at a Brantford dressmaking shop, where she stayed six months.
Then she met up with a man, who took her to Paris, Ontario. Hazle followed her there, and brought her home, but she soon ran away again.
Seeking a fresh start for his family, John Hazle moved to Guelph, where he found work as a shoemaker in the employ of W.D. Hepburn, owner of the largest shoe store in the Royal City. Hepburn manufactured some of the shoes and boots he sold.
Eliza, though, did not reform her ways. She was far more interested in carrying on with any man who showed the slightest interest in her. She repeatedly ran away from home, and Hazle spent a lot of his time and energy tracking her down and bringing her back. In desperation, he placed her for a year, at a cost of $70, in the Magdalen Home in Toronto, operated by the Roman Catholic Church, but she ran away from there after a few months.
Periodically she returned home, where conditions became increasingly strained. On the evening of Aug. 15, 1874, Hazle was out for a walk after dusk, strolling through the old Catholic cemetery on Guelph’s Edinburgh Road, which was then in the Township of Guelph. He spotted a couple walking along the railway tracks to Elora. He was sure that the woman was his daughter and the man was a fellow he had forbidden her to see.
He rushed to his house, which was nearby and grabbed his revolver, then went off in pursuit of his quarry. The couple had been ambling along slowly. Out of breath, Hazle caught up with them, though by then it had become so dark that they were merely dark forms ahead.
When he was within 20 feet or so of the couple he pulled out his pistol and fired at the man, and then at the woman. They had heard the rapid footsteps behind them, and had paused to let the person pass. After the first volleys Hazle repeated the rounds, as the couple turned to try to run away.
For a career soldier, Hazle proved to be a poor marksman. Or perhaps Providence had guided his hand. In any case, one of the shots grazed the man above the eye, and another entered the woman’s mouth and exited through her cheek. A second shot entered her neck. Hazle ran up, pushed the man off the track, and caught up with the woman. He grabbed her from behind, and was raising the pistol to fire again when she identified herself.
She was Mary Calver, she said, as she recognized Hazle, who she knew slightly. The words struck Hazle like a mallet. “My God, what have I done, I will swing for this,” he cried out.
Meanwhile, her companion, Daniel Hurley, ran to his home nearby to get help.
Hazle helped Mary, half carrying her to the gate of the Hurley house. Then he disappeared.
By then a Hurley family member had gone to retrieve Dr. Herod. Initially he considered the wounds very serious, but miraculously, neither victim had suffered serious injury. Dr. Herod easily removed the slug in Hurley’s head. The one in Mary’s neck proved more troublesome, but it, too, was extracted with the help of other Guelph doctors. Mary’s condition remained grave for a few days, but she, like her boyfriend, quickly recovered.
Meanwhile, the inept Police Chief Kelly found Hazle, and he appeared before a magistrate on Aug. 26, 11 days after the shooting. Both Mary Calver and Dan Hurley testified, as Crown Attorney Henry Peterson presented his case. Hazle was unrepresented, and offered no defence.
The magistrate ruled that Hazle be held in custody until the October Assizes, on two counts of shooting with intent to murder, and one on shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Hazle’s case came up for trial on Oct. 9, 1874. The matter proceeded quickly that day, after having been the subject of much rumour and gossip for more than six weeks. Hazle, through his lawyer, Fred Biscoe, entered pleas of not guilty to the attempted murder charges, and guilty to the one of intent to harm.
Perhaps believing that his case for attempted murder was a weak one, Henry Peterson withdrew the two serious charges, and delegated the case in court to an underling. Biscoe addressed the court on behalf of his client, outlining his military career, showing medals he had been awarded, and describing the faultless life he had led prior to the shooting incident. He even had a letter from the Magdalen Asylum to Hazle, expressing sympathy with the father of a girl “so utterly fallen.”
As is the custom, the judge asked the prisoner whether he had anything to say prior to the sentencing. John Hazle rose, and gave the court an extraordinary description of his daughter’s dissipate lifestyle over the previous couple of years, and his tragically unsuccessful attempts to set her on a straight path.
The tale began in Brantford, where, Hazle related, his daughter began frequenting saloons and staying out all night with men of poor reputation. He had threatened a saloon keeper in Paris in defence of his daughter, and been involved in fistfights with gangs of toughs in his pursuit of Eliza and her various male companions, and had scars on his body to prove it. He had followed her to Acton, Brampton, and Malton.
When she returned to Guelph, he said, she took up residence for a time in a notorious Woolwich Street house, “where she might cater to the immoral vices of men,” he told the court. He had followed her to Elora, Fergus, and then Harrisburg. Several times he brought her home, but she was always enticed away again, he claimed.
After Eliza threatened to kill him and burn the house down, Hazle placed her in the Magdalen refuge in Toronto, after she spent a short time in the Guelph jail. While at the Magdalen, she was intimate with a staff member, he told the court, “from whom she contracted a foul disease.”
After a stay at the Toronto hospital she returned to Guelph, and within weeks she resumed her old activities. This time he was determined to straighten the girl out, he said, as he explained his actions before the shooting. Hazle concluded by pleading his extreme sorrow at having shot two innocent parties.
Then Hazle collapsed in his chair, exhausted at the amazing revelations he had placed into the record. It was a superb example of Victorian melodrama and pathos, an epic of the conflict between virtue and vice, a classic example of a father defending his daughter’s virtue. There was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom, and even the judge had a catch in his throat when he spoke.
One year in gaol was his ruling. That was the minimum sentence he could impose, he croaked, but he would be happy to sign a petition to commute the sentence to a suspended one.
So ended one of the more curious episodes in 19th century justice. The further lives of the Hazle family seem to be lost to history, but Mary Calver and Dan Hurley had scars to remind them of the episode for the rest of their lives.