The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law: Enforcing Masters' Rights in Montreal, 1830-1845

By Pilarczyk, Ian C. | McGill Law Journal, May 2001 | Go to article overview

The Law of Servants and the Servants of Law: Enforcing Masters' Rights in Montreal, 1830-1845


Pilarczyk, Ian C., McGill Law Journal


The law governing masters and servants offers a unique point from which to examine the history of Montreal labour law during the early nineteenth century. The author examines the methods by which masters attempted to enforce their employment rights in the judicial district of Montreal during the years 1830 to 1845. Using primary sources from various Montreal court records, the author reconstructs the judicial and quasi-judicial processes that accompanied the manifold master-servant disputes. He concludes that while the letter of the law may have favoured masters, courts were relatively even-handed in adjudicating such disputes. He examines the role of newspaper advertisements as tools for protecting masters' rights. Through analysis of these advertisements the author paints a colourful and animated portrait of master-servant relations at that time. The article also focusses on the role of courts in interpreting disputes--especially those involving desertions of indentured servants. While the author concentrates his attention on the role of courts within the city of Montreal, he also draws a comparison with the role of courts outside the city limits. Although many similarities existed between the respective courts, there nevertheless remained significant differences.

Le droit regissant les relations entre employeurs et ouvriers constitue un excellent point de depart pour l'etude de l'histoire du droit du travail montrealais au debut du XIXe siecle. L'auteur examine les moyens auxquels les employeurs avaient recours pour faire respecter leurs droits dans le district judiciaire de Montreal durant les annees 1830-45. Il reconstruit les processus judiciaires et quasi-judiciaires associes aux differents conflits employeur-ouvrier en analysant diverses sources primaires provenant des dossiers des tribunaux montrealais. Il arrive a la conclusion que, bien que la lettre de la loi semble avoir ete en general plus favorable aux employeurs, les tribunaux etaient relativement impartiaux dans la resolution de ce type de conflits. Il examine le role qu'ont joue les annonces placees dans les journaux a titre de moyens de proteger les droits des employeurs. A travers l'analyse de ces annonces, l'auteur presente un portrait colore et vivant des relations employeur-ouvrier au debut du XIXe siecle. L'article met egalement l'accent sur le role des tribunaux dans l'interpretation des conflits, en particulier ceux resultant de l'abandon de l'emploi par des ouvriers lies par contrat. Bien que l'auteur se concentre principalement sur le role des tribunaux dans la ville de Montreal, il effectue egalement une comparaison avec le role que jouaient les tribunaux en dehors des limites de la ville pour conclure que, malgre de nombreux points de ressemblance, il existait a ce niveau d'importantes differences.

Introduction

I.   Newspapers as Quasi-judicial Tools

II.  The Role of Courts within City Limits
     A. Desertion Prosecutions
        1. Convictions
           a. The Police Court
           b. The Court of Weekly and Special Sessions
        2. Suspended and Variant Dispositions
        3. Acquittals
     B. Refusal to Obey Orders, Refusal to Work or Enter Service, and
        Negligence
     C. Third Party Employment Offences

III. The Role of Courts outside City Limits
     A. Desertion Prosecutions
        1. Convictions
        2. Suspended and Variant Dispositions
        3. Acquittals
     B. Refusal to Obey Orders, Refusal to Work or Enter Service, and
        Negligence
     C. Third Party Employment Offences

Conclusion

Appendix: Figures

Introduction

On 26 January 1841, a seventeen-year-old apprentice painter and chair maker named Robert Bruce McIntosh stood before a Montreal court, charged with having deserted Thomas Albert Martin's service for the second time. McIntosh had earlier been convicted and sentenced to fifteen days' hard labour in the local prison, and was ordered to return to Martin's service immediately after his release. …

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