UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A depressing story? : homicide rates in late Victorian Toronto Reimer, William


The slogan "peace, order, and good government," associated with the debates surrounding Canadian Confederation, was part of a broad nineteenth-century impulse that emphasized both the importance of the general well being of the community and the importance of the individual. While it is perhaps difficult to isolate this humanitarian impulse, it can be demarcated by a number of developments in nineteenth-century Canada. These include the restricted use of capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, the expansion of the voting franchise, and decreasing levels of interpersonal violence. Phillip S. Gorski, while accepting Elias’ overall thesis, emphasizes the disciplinary power that the Reformation unleashed that had its earliest and greatest impact on the Calvinist states of England, Netherlands, and Prussia. While the resultant social order cannot be easily measured, the level of crime is a rough indicator of a culture’s domestic order and stability. Gorski argues that murder rates, which provide the most reliable indicators of crime, were dropping more quickly in England and Holland than in the surrounding European countries during the Early Modem period. Most historians of crime extend this drop into the nineteenth-century and contend that these relatively low rates of homicide continued until beyond the mid-point of the twentieth-century. The present thesis argues that this disciplinary impulse, as measured by murder rates, can be extended to late nineteenth-century Canada, and in particular to Toronto. Late nineteenth-century Toronto is as likely a place as any to test the thesis of the existence of a Protestant disciplinary impulse. By any measure late nineteenth-century Toronto was steeped in a broad evangelical Protestant culture that defies the category of "sectarian." By examining reports of all homicide cases that appear in the Toronto newspaper The Globe, I conclude that Toronto indeed had a very low incidence of homicide. In the final section of the thesis I examine the religious affiliation of prisoners in the Kingston Penitentiary and the Central Prison, by means of Canada Census data, and conclude that Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptists were significantly under-represented while Anglicans and Roman Catholics were significantly over-represented.

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