Don't You Bully Me... Justice I Want if There Is Justice to Be Had': The Rape of Mary Ann Burton, London, Ontario, 1907

AuthorConstance Backhouse
E ChapterF
BEHADThe Rape of Mary Ann
Dwasthedea ntretortofMaryAnnBu rtonherbold
commandi ssuedfromt hewitness boxinthe LondonPoliceCourt on
hadThestirringremarkwaskindledbyasearchingandr uthlesscross
examination asit wasdescribed bythe London Free Press, at the hands
of criminal lawyer Edmund Al len Meredith, KC. Mary Ann Burton, who
hadlauncheda complaintofrapeagainstJosephGrayon Julyhad
withstoodMeredithsmerciless grillingw ithcourageanddign ityAs her
words indicated, she was incensed at both the substance and t he tone of
the interrogation.
rarely spoke with such temerity and force. Those who suggested otherwise
were responsible for perpetrating one of the greatest mythologies embed
dedin lawS eventeenthcenturyEnglish juristSir MahewHalehad been
the rstto pronouncethat rapewas anaccusation easilyto be madein
his HistoriaPlacitorumCoronaepublishedposthumouslyin
This un
substantiated dictum had come to be ensh rined in the texts and judicial
decisionsofc riminaljustice systemsthroughouttheA ngloAmericanlegal
world.Despite theendlessobeisa nceconferreduponHaleshomilyitwas
common knowledge that most rape victims made no public outcry at all.
Women weighed the shame and embarrassment of public disclosure against
the trauma of dealing with coerc ive sexual assault in private, and voted over
whelmingly for perennial si lence. The few women who did resort to the law
for protection found themselves crushed in t he process, typically tormented
and abused on the witness sta nd by defence lawyers who stopped at nothing
tobesmirchthecredibilit yoftheprosecutrixastherapecomplaina ntwas
anach ronistical lycha racterized What such women thought of their t reat
ment is generally not recorded.
MaryAnnBurtonist heexceptionalthoughfewsawttorecogn izeher
for this in her own time. The w ife of a tanner, Mrs. Burton was a poorly
educatedworkingclass heavyset woman of uncerta in ageShe l ivedin
a dilapidated rental house in a rundown neighbourhood at the fork of the
ThamesRiverinLondonOnta rioWorkingclassar easstuckoutlikeasore
thumbinturnofthecent uryLondontheForestCitythatprideditselfon
the wealthof itsin habitantsthe elaboratebrickandstone structures that
dentialman sionsthatgraced theparklike boulevardsTheselfsatisfact ion
of city burghers was pricked by pockets of unr eclaimed poverty, such as
the ramshackle row house that was home to Mrs. Burton. Like many of her
class, Mary Ann Bur ton cooked and cleaned for a few boarders who paid
tolivein theupstairsofhermodest dwellingHertwostoreyrowhouseat
DundasStreet Westbacked ontothedumpAlongsideitstoodLancaster
Boat Builders, several other shambling residences, and assorted industrial
factories, including the Dennis Wire & I ron Works and the Elec tric Construc
tionCompanyTheforbiddingCity Jailloomedovereverything justdown
the block and across the street.
MaryAn nBurtonsrape trialwouldnotbecome alandmarklegalprec
edent, so far as lawyers and judges were concerned. The records suggest that
hereorts tospeakjustice werebetrayed byherhusband thephysician
whoexaminedherthefriendsandneighbourswhotestiedathertria lthe
lawyersthejudgeandthepressThere waslileherethatwasnoteworthy
to those who parsed cases for legal ruli ngs and precedent. The decision was
notpublished in thelaw reports Itwas anordinar y runofthemill rape
trial. The jury was never asked to deliberate on the evidence. The outcome
wasa nacquial ona directedverdict TheCrown oeredno appealThe
spirited resistance of Mary An n Burton, thrown up in the face of all odds,
has been buried in the a rchives for over a century. Her impassioned words
deserveouraention thismanyyearslaterbec auseshegavevoicetowhat
so many others must have thought, but dared not express.
London Room, London Public Library, PGO 66
DundasStreetWestcsshowingD undasStreetbridgeand
Dennistee l Ltd., formerly Dennis Iron Works
WMJulywil lneverbecompletelyrecover
ablefrom thesurviving documentationMary AnnBurtonsdescription of
theeventswas lteredthroughpolice investigatorsprosecutingCrownat
torneys, and the tightly struct ured criminal trial proc ess. Yet hers was the
most detailed version to survive in the records, because it was she who was
the main focus of the judicia l proceeding. Her story, pieced together as fully
as possible from the remaini ng records, follows.
withafr iendandarrivedhomeattheheightof thehazymiddayheatThe
row house was quiet and empty, her husband and boarders long since de
partedfor work MrsBurtonbegan thetiresome taskofpuing thehouse
to orderShe scrubbed t he two upstairs rooms made the boarders beds
sweptoutthestairs andpassagewayandhada biteofcolddinnerleover
fromSundayThenafriendand formermaleboarderofMrsBurtonswho
now rented just down the street, dropped over. Mrs. Burton interrupted the

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