Two if by sea

Column by Ed Nicholson of the Ladysmith and District Historical Society

At 2 a.m. early Sunday morning on Feb. 4, 1912, Ladysmith Night Watchman Thomas O’Connell was making his rounds on High Street when he noticed that  the door of Rolston’s hardware was partially open.

As he climbed the steps to investigate, a men stepped out of the door and pointed a gun at him with the command, “Hands up!”

In response, O’Connell immediately stepped forward and grasped the hand holding the revolver. A struggle ensued. O’Connell was a big, powerful man, and he managed to wrest the gun from the burglar, who turned and ran down the street towards the harbour.

As the watchman reached down to pick up the discarded weapon, a second man stepped out of the store’s darkness and struck him across the back with an iron bar. O’Connell staggered to his feet, shook off the effects of the blow and ran after the fleeing men. He fired several shots in the dark, but the two burglars disappeared around the corner of High Street and Esplanade.

Just then, store owner Bob Rolston appeared from upstairs and rushed outside to where O’Connell was standing with the revolver, still searching for a target.

O’Connell explained what had happened, and they re-entered the store. They discovered  the two thieves had placed two rifles and some ammunition on the floor, along with several knives and other merchandise. They also found the front door lock had been sprung by the iron bar used to attack O’Connell and that in making their getaway, both men had left their hats behind. One of the hats bore the well-known insignia of a mercantile firm in Tacoma. Chief Constable Allen was immediately informed, and a formal investigation was begun.

This was the second burglary reported in a little over a week in Ladysmith. There were also recent robberies in Cedar and Nanaimo, and a boat belonging to Archie McKinnon had been stolen on the previous Friday.

Residents informed Const. Allen that a mysterious white sloop had been spotted in Oyster Bay on Saturday, and the navigator did not appear to be familiar with the harbour.

The manager of Ladysmith Hardware, William Rolston, told the police that a man had entered the store on Saturday and inquired about the price of the two guns later found on the floor on the night of the burglary.

In those days, committing a crime in Ladysmith was not difficult, but making your escape was problematic. A quick telephone call to the Duncan and Nanaimo officials could effectively seal off the highway to the south and north of the town, and escape by scheduled train was not recommended! That is why many of the criminals in that era chose to make their getaway by water.

As Josephine (O’Connell) Lineham recalls, “Dad told me that it was the practice of burglars or robbers from the mainland to keep hidden boats on isolated islands, and on dark nights to row over to Ladysmith and break in to Bob Rolston’s or Simon Leiser’s store to replenish their stock of guns, knives and ammunition.”

On Monday morning, Constables Allen and Cassidy and O’Connell engaged a gasoline launch and went out searching for the mysterious white sloop. They located the boat near Cowichan Gap and arrested the two men on board, William Sampson and Einar Landhims. O’Connell immediately identified Landhims as the man who had pulled the gun on him.

On Thurs., Feb. 8, the two accused men were brought before local Magistrate Harrison and were identified by both William Rolston and Edward Forward, employees of Ladysmith Hardware, as the two men who had entered the store the previous Saturday. Bill Rolston also testified that the hat found on the hardware floor was identical to the one worn by Sampson when he visited the store.

That was enough for Judge Harrison, and the two men were committed to trial and sent to the Nanaimo jail.

As a result of this incident, Tom O’Connell was cited by the town for his bravery in taking on two much younger men who, as the Chronicle boasted, “were no match for the strength and courage of Thomas O’Connell from County Cork.”

The veteran night watchman, whose salary had previously been paid by the local businessmen, was then sworn in as a Ladysmith police constable with the power to make arrests and collect fines. Mayor Dier reported to town council that such powers were necessary, as O’Connell “frequently must deal with rowdy miners, hotel drunks and quarrels over women of low repute.”

In addition, a grateful Bob Rolston presented O’Connell with a handsome Colt 45, which he was thereafter authorized to use in his nightly rounds.

Just Posted

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

A conceptual rendering of the commercial plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road. (Town of Ladysmith/June 15 Council Agenda)
Rocky Creek commercial plaza passes public hearing

The proposed plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road would bring commercial activity to Ladysmith’s north end

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

One Reconciliation Pole and two Welcome Figures were unveiled during a ceremony in honour of truth and reconciliation on National Peoples Indigenous Day at the Vancouver School District in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, June 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Horgan marks Indigenous Peoples Day by urging recognition of systemic racism

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been marked in Canada since 1996

Most Read