Murder on tap

Between 1860 and 1870, the commercial section of Dundas Street was filled with hotels and taverns; directory listings of Waterdown businesses record that there were as many as eight hotels in operation during this decade – one more than the number of churches that were known to have existed! All serving the large number of teamsters and stage coach traffic that passed through the village every day.

On January 19, 1869, The Hamilton Spectator, in an article titled, “Fatal Affray at Waterdown,” reported on the murder of Hamilton resident Carlton Shannon at one of the hotels, The American, on Dundas Street. Over the next three months, a number of articles about the incident and the outcome of a trial at the Wentworth Spring Assizes recorded the details for Waterdown residents.

On the night of the fatal occurrence, John Anderson, the hotel landlord and his wife went out, leaving Carlton Shannon in charge of the bar. During the evening, according to those who were in the hotel drinking, Shannon, George Armstrong and a small group of friends went upstairs to play a game of cards called “Bluff,” each staking a small sum of money on the outcome.

After several games, Shannon accused Armstrong of cheating. No blows were exchanged, but the lamp in the room was suddenly extinguished. Shannon seized the money and went down the stairs, followed immediately by Armstrong. Witnesses stated that as the two men reached the bottom step, Shannon turned and tried to hit Armstrong with a glass tumbler. The lights in the hallway also went out and a scuffle broke out among those who had followed the two combatants downstairs from the card games.When the lamps were re-lit, Carlton Shannon was found unconscious on the floor, but witnesses reported that after a few minutes, he recovered and went back upstairs to bed.

The next morning, Saturday, he was found dead in his bed. After Dr. Ormand Skinner had examined the body, a post mortem was ordered and performed by Dr. Henwood of Hamilton, Dr. William Philp of Waterdown having declined the request on the grounds that it was an extremely serious case and should not be handled by a Waterdown physician.

George Armstrong was promptly arrested and committed for trial in Hamilton on March 23, 1869. Called to give evidence, Dr. Henwood reported that the deceased had died as a result of a fatal blood clot in his brain, caused by severe trauma to the head. After hearing all the evidence, the jury brought in a verdict: guilty of manslaughter with a recommendation of mercy.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 14 April 2006.


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