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Donald Morrison's Defence Fund

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--July 3, 2019.

In honour of the 125th anniversary of "Megantic Outlaw" Donald Morrison's death, QAHN is pleased to re-issue the following short article on the response to Morrison's arrest by the Scottish community of the Eastern Townships.

medium_morrison_0.jpgDonald Morrison is one of the truly legendary figures of Eastern Townships history. Often referred to as "the Outlaw of Megantic," Morrison was the son of Scottish immigrants. He was born in the 1850s near Lake Megantic, in the eastern part of the region. He has been the subject of numerous historical and fictional works. During his lifetime, he caught the imagination -- and sympathy -- of his fellow Scottish Canadians, in particular those in the Townships. And by the second half of the nineteenth century, Megantic and parts of Compton County were home to a large number of Scottish settlers.

Donald Morrison's trouble arose following a financial dispute in 1886, in which Morrison lost the family farm to a Major Malcolm McAulay. Morrison, who believed he had been cheated out of the property, began harassing the farm's new owners. Special constable Lucius Warren was hired to arrest Morrison, but Morrison shot and killed him in June, 1888; he then went into hiding in the Megantic countryside.

For several months, and with the assistance of sympathetic fellow Scots, Morrison avoided capture. Finally, in April, 1889, the by-then famous outlaw was captured and imprisoned. He was eventually sentenced to eighteen years of hard labour for his crime. He did not fare well in prison, however, and within five years, he was dead of consumption.

Though the Donald Morrison affair has been widely reported, it seems that some aspects of the story are not so well known. One of them involves the fact that Scottish residents and organizations around the Townships joined together to raise money for Morrison's defence. Though Morrison was ultimately convicted, the affair represents an interesting example of solidarity (even across class lines) among one segment of the local population.

tighsolas.norm_.jpgThe following letter, courtesy of Dorothy Nixon, was written to Norman Nicholson, Nixon's husband's great-grandfather. Nicholson, of Scottish ancestry, was a prominent resident of Richmond, and a member of the Caledonian Society of Richmond, Melbourne, and Vicinity. He was one of the many sympathetic Scots engaged in raising money for Morrison's defence. His correspondent is writing from Stornoway, in Winslow Township, which is not far from Lake Megantic in the heart of the Scottish settlements in the Townships.

"Stornoway, 24th May, 1889

My Dear Nicholson,

Delighted to hear from you and to see the interest that you take in this matter.
Will be glad to give you at any time all the information in my possession. Now to let you know all so far as we have gone. We have had a public meeting and elected the following gentlemen and committee to collect, disburse and account for a Fund to be collected for the defence of Donald Morrison, viz.: Hugh Leonard, Mayor of Winslow; Alex Ross, Mayor of Lingwick; William McAulay, Mayor of Whitton; Dr. J. H. Graham, Richmond; Henry A. Odell, Sherbrooke; Malcolm Matheson, Lake Megantic; William Matheson, Stornoway; and Mayor McMuir of Marston. Dr. Graham was elected Chairman, Hugh Leonard Treasurer and Mayor McMuir Secretary. Sub Committees to be appointed in all localities thought necessary. A Sub Committee of Defence elected.

Treasurer to appoint Sub Committees wherever he thinks necessary. You will hear from him in a few days appointing you Sub Treasurer for your locality. A Report of the meeting and an advertisement of the Treasurer's will appear in the Montreal, Richmond and Sherbrooke papers next week. The Sub Committee of Defence have not yet selected Counsel. In regard to Morrison's health, I had a letter from Sherbrooke yesterday in which it says "Morrison is feeling better now than he has since he was captured. He is bright, cheerful and talkative." I don't think his trial will take place before October.

Will be glad to hear from you again.

Yours very truly,
(signed poss.) Malcolm McAulay"