Colonial Justice: Justice, Morality, and Crime in the Niagara District, 1791-1849

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David Murray, Colonial Justice: Justice, Morality, and Crime in the Niagara District, 1791-1849 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2002), xii + 285pp. Cloth. £35. 0-8020- 3749-6.

This useful book spans at least three major themes. First, it provides an overview history of the Niagara peninsula in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Niagara river was the point at which many European travellers to North America first encountered British colonial rule, and were almost invariably struck by Canadian backwardness in contrast to the thrusting prosperity of the United States. Murray sketches how the development of an area hailed as a potential paradise was skewed by external factors. Pulled both east-west as a natural land bridge and north-south by the Welland Canal, the district was slow to establish an effective urban centre, as Niagara-on-the-Lake vied with St Catharines, while nearby Buffalo asserted a geographical supremacy. Proximity to the American border conveyed some advantages (although not in the enforcement of justice) but these were long counterbalanced by the devastation caused by the War of 1812. Secondly, Murray traces the fate of those English-style institutions so beloved by Governor Simcoe. The paraphernalia of Justices of the Peace, Quarter Sessions and Assizes were first adapted to Canadian conditions and then replaced altogether. As in the old country, Grand Juries dealt with moral issues such as insanity and charity until replaced by a modern system of elected local government in 1849. Thirdly, Murray examines claims that the courts were corruptly manipulated by a selfish elite. …