Myths & Legends: The Hanging of Tom Savage

By: Oral Mews

He was the last person hanged on the island and the crime that slipped the noose over his head was robbing the stage coach carrying money and mail to Torbay


Some thought it ironic, and others fitting, that Tom Savage met his end at the end of a rope in what would become known as the summer of small potatoes.

He was the last person hanged on the island and the crime that slipped the noose over his head was robbing the stage coach carrying money and mail to Torbay, a small comma of a community just outside town.

The disagreement on his dying was not unexpected. He was a highwayman and had always been a scourge to some and inspiration to others, so much so that his name could rarely be spoken out loud without a fist fight ensuing. 

Passing laws 

For that reason council had, two weeks earlier at the beginning of his trial, enacted a law that forbade the speaking of his name within the city’s boundaries. 

Some people, however, found they could not stop their opinions, forged in the hot furnace of their minds and fed by stories passed down through disgruntled generations, from speaking themselves.

But, growing tired of lugging arm loads of dried fish to the courthouse each day, they began instead to invite people into their boats where they would hold heated discussions about Tom Savage.

As the ocean belongs only to those it had claimed, they could not be fined the quaffle of fish or a dollar in coins, as they would have been if they were still on the earth.

There were no physical altercations. The men and women would stand inches from each other and scream into each other’s faces, but not one person laid as much as a finger on another.  

Word of this spread quickly to the other communities around the Rock and by the end of that summer all major disagreements, arguments and the ratifying of any votes were done in the small fishing boats that lived in the bays and inlets like dolphins.

In the days leading up to the hanging of Tom Savage, townspeople would come down to the dock to watch the arguments. At first it was just relatives of the people arguing, there to offer moral support and out shout the opposition’s relatives, but soon the crowds began to swell and cover the docks.

Carrying babies, blankets and beer, they came down to the harbour front, and settled in to drink the late afternoon away, cheering on one side or the other. 

Bologna boat 

The merchants, who lived further up the hill, began to lobby council to stop the gathering, as it interfered with the boats unloading their dry goods and gorging themselves on salt fish.

Things came to a head when the Sprightly Endevour could not unload the 3,000 sticks of bologna in its hole and exchange them for an equal amount of fresh lobsters.

Her captain, Ross Ryan from Dover in the UK, took it upon himself to fire three rounds from the Endevour’s cannons over the heads of the crowds into an empty space on top of the hill running up from the harbour that later became Bannerman Park.

The hole they caused was later turned into a swimming pool. He then warned the suddenly silent crowds that if they did not move their small boats away from the dock and disperse immediately, that he and his ship full of bologna would be heading back out through the Narrows.

A salty love-affair

Having been involved with the island’s sea trade for years, Captain Ryan was well aware of the people’s weakness for bologna, which they called baloney, and loved to fry until slightly burnt. Disgruntled, but calmed by thoughts of fried baloney, people started drifting back up the hill while the fishing boats drifted away from the dock.

Four people from Logy Bay were right in the middle of a good argument about where Tom Savage should be buried and agreed they would meet the following day down on the pond in Quidi Vidi on the outskirts of town.

The following morning they walked into town, carrying their row boats, the Undine and Lady Darling on their back. By the time they reached the pond there were several hundred people in tow, carrying babies, blankets and beer.

After a seven hour, profanity laced series of rants that left the air above the pond an opaque blue, there was still no clear winner and no one in sitting and lying on the hillside around the pond wanted to leave until there was one.

When those in the boats took a break to catch their breaths and think of curse words they hadn’t used yet, a voice rose up from the crowd asking why they didn’t just have a race up and down the pond to decide the winner.

A merchant in the crowd, who had recently been to Venice, Italy and seen the gondoliers race on the Grand Canal there, began shouting out the word regatta, which the locals called the races, between drinks of beer.

The crowd joined in, but not being familiar with Italian, they chanted, regret it, instead and some of thems even tried to do the wave, to no avail. The two boats made their way up to the head of the pond where a peace officer stood with his side arm raised in the air.

Merriment in the air 

Regret it, regret it, regret it, the crowd sang out until there merriment filled the air above the water.

Down near the empty harbour front, they’d finished constructing the temporary gallows beneath the looming stone courthouse that stared down on it with cold uncaring windows, while the evening crept in through the Narrows like a highwayman and stole the colours from their day.

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