Academic journal article Journal of Canadian Studies

"Blood with the Taint of Cain": Immigrant Labouring Children, Manitoba Politics, and the Execution of Emily Hilda Blake

Academic journal article Journal of Canadian Studies

"Blood with the Taint of Cain": Immigrant Labouring Children, Manitoba Politics, and the Execution of Emily Hilda Blake

Article excerpt

One of two women executed in Canada in the 50 years after Elizabeth Workman was put to death on 23 May 1873, Hilda Blake was the only woman ever executed in Manitoba. Given the record of Crown intervention from 1873 to 1920, the execution of Blake is difficult to account for as the federal cabinet had to reject a number of arguments for granting clemency or ordering a new trial. While an explanation for the cabinet decision must include reference to the undisputed role of Blake in the actual murder of Mary Lane, Blake's social origins as a working-class orphan, and Victorian notions of gender, class, and crime, the overriding concerns appear to have been Liberal political misfortunes in Manitoba and Clifford Sifton's determination to place political survival ahead of other considerations.

Hilda Blake, l'une des deux femmes exécutées au Canada durant les 50 années qui suivirent la mise à mort d'Elizabeth Workman le 23 mai 1873, fut la seule femme jamais exécutée au Manitoba. D'après le rapport sur les interventions de la Couronne entre 1873 et 1920, il est difficile de rendre compte de l'exécution de Blake. Le Cabinet Fédéral dut en effet rejeter un certain nombre d'arguments pour accorder sa clémence ou ordonner un nouveau procès. Bien que la décision du Cabinet doive inclure, dans son explication, certaines références quand au rôle indéniable de Blake dans le meurtre de Mary Lane ainsi que sur ses origines sociales d'orpheline issue de la classe ouvrière et les notions victoriennes de genre, classe et crime, le souci premier du cabinet semble avoir été les infortunes politiques du parti libéral au Manitoba et la détermination de Clifford Sifton de placer la survie politique au dessus de toute autre considération.

On the morning of 27 December 1899 Emily Hilda Blake, a 21-year-old domestic servant who had come to Canada from Norfolk, England, as a 10-year-old orphan in 1888, was taken from her cell in the Brandon jail and executed for the murder of Mary Lane, the wife of Brandon businessman Robert Lane.1 The expectant, 32-year-old mother of four young children, Mary Lane had died of gunshot wounds on 5 July 1899. Following a confused and inconclusive search for the assailant and the discovery of the murder weapon, Hilda Blake confessed to the crime.2 During her subsequent trial, Blake refused to accept legal counsel, to defend herself against the charge of murder, or to associate herself with a movement which developed to seek a stay in her execution from the Governor General in Council. However, two weeks before the date set for her execution, Blake alleged in a brief autobiography that her decision to murder Lane arose from Robert Lane's urging and his related promise to marry her. Such an assertion, if accepted by the Crown, would implicate Robert Lane in the death of his wife.3 On 22 December 1899, in the last of a series of meetings on the case the federal cabinet rejected petitions for Crown intervention in the case and Blake's assertions of Lane's complicity, and directed that the sentence of death be carried out.

One of two women executed in Canada in the 50 years after Elizabeth Workman was put to death on 23 May 1873, Hilda Blake was the only woman ever executed in Manitoba. From 1873 to 1899, the federal cabinet commuted the death sentences of six women and ordered a new trial in the case of a seventh. Following the executions of Hilda Blake and Cordelia Viau in 1899, the death sentences of 12 women were commuted in the years prior to the execution of Florence Lassandro in 1923.4 Given this record of Crown intervention, the executions of Viau and Blake are puzzling. While Viau's execution may be explained by her dominant role in the brutal death of her husband, Blake's execution is more difficult to account for as the federal cabinet had to reject a number of arguments for granting clemency or ordering a new trial. First, the Attorney General of Manitoba and petitioners in Brandon and Winnipeg had urged a delay of the execution, clemency, or a new trial. …

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