Orangeville’s Very Own Solomon: Magistrate Joseph Pattullo

From the mid-1870s until 1925, magistrate Joseph Pattullo had to pass sentence on a range of human foible and sin. The record suggests he usually judged the accused with fairness and sensitivity.

September 16, 2019 | | Historic Hills

Joseph Pattullo, like other police magistrates of his time, was a local appointee, and that added a special challenge to his role. A person accused before his bench could well be a citizen he would normally greet on the street – a citizen like Joe Deighton, for example, dubbed “Jack the Hugger” by the local press.

Early in the winter of 1908, women walking in Orangeville after dark were being confronted suddenly by a man who would hug them fiercely, sometimes kiss them, often swear, and then run. The number of incidents grew with disturbing frequency until a 16-year-old girl pointed her finger at Joe, who was quickly arrested.

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  • Joe was a young man employed by a town blacksmith. He denied the charge and, indeed, the evidence against him was somewhat wobbly. Every witness wavered except for the girl who, when challenged to confirm her testimony, refused to repeat the swear words she had allegedly heard. Still, the whole town – police magistrate Joseph Pattullo’s town – was watching, which may explain why, despite a vigorous defence by Orangeville solicitor John Island, Joe was found guilty and sentenced to four months. Instead of sending him to the notorious Central Prison in Toronto, however, Pattullo let Joe serve the time in the far more relaxed Dufferin County Jail. (Of note: Following the trial, the huggings stopped.)

    Some sentences were heavy

    Pattullo didn’t hesitate to use Central Prison if he felt it warranted. When a pickpocket at the Orangeville Fair was nabbed at the very moment his hand was in the pocket of a lady’s skirt, and then vigorously resisted arrest, Pattullo sent him to Central for a year.

    The Kingston Penitentiary also figured in Pattullo’s canon of punishments. Orangeville’s infamous Bob Cook got his first stint at KP in 1910 courtesy of Pattullo. Bob had received light sentences in a number of previous court appearances, but it seems nothing bothered Pattullo more than someone who failed to realize he had previously been given a break. A similar recipient of His Honour’s irritation was Joe Grasley, a well-known character in Dufferin and Peel who in 1909 got two years in KP. Grasley had scored a suspended sentence from Pattullo on a charge of theft, with the suggestion he leave the district. When he reappeared weeks later, again charged with theft, Pattullo came down hard.

    Some taught a lesson

    Jail records show this P.M.’s sentences for larceny were quite harsh, and offences against king and country annoyed him, too. In 1912, when two new recruits to the 36th Peel Regiment failed to show up for mandatory training at Niagara, and then were found working for the CPR near Proton, they were charged with desertion. When it was revealed they had enlisted simply to get a uniform – free clothes – Pattullo added a civilian theft charge.

    Some brought a smile

    If His Honour had Solomon-like qualities, they were often most evident in situations that seem trivial, but only once the dust settled. Such was the case of the wandering cow. Said cow, owned by John Rusk of William Street, grazed its way onto the property of a feisty neighbour who not only came after the cow with an axe, but tried to use it on Rusk too. After a long, noisy hearing, Pattullo bound all parties over to keep the peace. No fines.

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  • A similar peace bond was issued to a group of brawling housewives. Their conflict began with a misunderstanding, was further stirred by name calling, then escalated into an all-out kitchen battle that ended in multiple arrests.

    On the other hand, a fine of $10 (with $30 in costs) suggests that Pattullo felt some behaviours needed a stern response. It was assigned to a man who tried to kiss a young woman while driving her to Waldemar in his buggy.

    Many were tedious and sad

    Much of Pattullo’s work came under the heading of legal drudgery. The 1890-91 Dufferin County Jail records, for example, list P.M. Pattullo as the sentencing official in more than 90 per cent of the cases. Of these, the vast majority were vagrancy charges. Whether Pattullo liked it or not, he had to participate in Dufferin County’s regrettable failure to establish a House of Refuge, and so indigents (and often the mentally ill) were sentenced to jail where they could be housed and fed. To his credit, newspaper reports suggest Pattullo was resolute in making the well-being of these unfortunates a priority.

    Over that same period, in addition to the many cases he simply dismissed or settled by negotiation or an occasional scolding, he pronounced sentences for larceny (nine times), arson, illegal sale of liquor, assault, burglary and, surprisingly, just one drunk and disorderly. It was not a year of high drama and it was very typical.

    Nobody’s perfect

    In a career so long and unbroken – and local – Pattullo inevitably ruffled feathers from time to time and even, albeit rarely, underwent official review. Usually when criticism was levelled, it was over dissatisfaction at the outcome of an issue, as in an April 1877 case aimed at closing a thriving brothel in town.

    Technically, brothels were not illegal, and at the time, if they were quiet and discreet, Ontario communities would often tolerate them. Still, it’s no surprise there was intense opposition from key citizens described by the Orangeville Sun as “those whose brows are encircled by the coronet of virtue.” Following a customary procedure, Pattullo allowed a charge of creating a disturbance, which was illegal. This enabled His Honour to fine “two interesting young ladies” (so described by the Sun) four dollars each and order them to leave the premises – and preferably the town.

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  • However, the young ladies in question simply relocated their business locally, causing a hit to Pattullo’s reputation that may have cost him the 1878 federal election when he stood as a Liberal candidate. The Shelburne Economist dismissed that theory, explaining Pattullo had simply “met the fate that usually befalls Liberal candidates in this neck of the woods.”

    A worthy legacy

    For the most part and for a very long time, P.M. Joseph Pattullo was held in high regard by a community where he also twice served as mayor, and was a councillor and member of the school board. In a tribute following his death in 1928 at age 92 (he had retired at 88), the Economist eulogized: “[he] had a rare understanding of human nature and … [was] a kindly man as many an unfortunate found when brought before him in his magisterial capacity.” If it was Pattullo’s aim to balance punishment with fairness and sensitivity, it seems he had succeeded.

    More info

    The Police Magistrate

    In Ontario, the police court, run by a police magistrate, dates back to 1849. The system was established to deal with local issues, petty crime, property disputes and the like. It was considered a lower court because few magistrates had legal training. A typical P.M. was a mayor, reeve or other prominent citizen. But because the legislation governing magistrates was vague – and not fully clarified until the 1960s – many police magistrates took on expanded roles. During Pattullo’s tenure, possibly because he was a lawyer (his law practice in Orangeville overlapped his judicial role for quite some time), Orangeville’s police court often took on matters more typically reserved for upper court, such as major crime, civil suits, bigamy, assault and other matters usually the domain of judges.

    A matter of trust

    Joe Agnew’s habit of serenading Orangeville from the middle of Broadway after midnight had earned him a number of drunk and disorderly charges, though magistrate Joseph Pattullo consistently sentenced him with a light touch. In 1889, for instance, Joe bargained a six-month sentence down to 30 days by promising to be the jail cook for the period. In July 1891, though, Joe must have caught Pattullo on a bad day. Joe’s Dominion Day serenade on Broadway earned him another six months, non-negotiable. After a few days, however, Joe realized being in a cell would mean missing Orangemen’s Day, so wrote His Honour a letter promising to disappear permanently if he was released to celebrate the Glorious 12th. Pattullo agreed and Joe got out. He marched in the parade and was not seen in Orangeville again.

    Did anyone get the joke?

    Pattullo’s court was fully reported in all local papers, most prominently in the Orangeville Sun where James Foley Jr.’s colourful and ironic prose regularly inserted honorifics like P.M. Pattullo, Squire Pattullo and Cadi Pattullo. A cadi is a lower court judge in a Muslim community where Islamic religious law is followed.

    About the Author More by Ken Weber

    Caledon writer Ken Weber’s best-selling Five Minute Mysteries series is published in 22 languages. Ken wrote 103 Historic Hills columns for In The Hills over more than 25 years, capping his pen in 2022.

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