Police Raid - 1881
“Cock fighting has been quite prevalent in and about Hamilton for some time, and the sports had got to feel so secure that they neglected ordinary precaution against surprise. For two or three weeks mysterious convocations of bird fanciers have been noticed, and it was discovered that sundry well-known fighting birds were receiving unusual care, and that a main of extraordinary proportions was being arranged, became evident to the experienced detective.”
A Cockfight Spoiled : The Raid of the Police on the Sports at Rock Bay”
Hamilton Spectator. March 18, 1881.
Around midnight, Wednesday, March 16, 1881, Hamilton Police Chief A. D. Stewart, Detective Gates and Constables McNair and Spohn hired a hack (taxi) to take them, accompanied by a Spectator reporter, out along York street towards the west end of the bay where the Rock Bay hotel was located.
The police had learned that a major cock fight was to be held there. When several sports were spotted sulking about the side streets with their birds in bags over their shoulders, Chief Stewart decided that it was time to move.
Getting out of the hired wagon some distance from the hotel, the policemen silently approached the location where it was rumoured that the cock fight was to be held.
The continued barking of a dog in the vicinity almost gave them away, but, as noted by a Spectator reporter covering the event noted, “after some some difficulty and a good deal of moral suasion, the policemen succeeded in quieting the dog, and approached the hotel without being noticed.”
Creeping towards a hotel window, Chief Stewart and his men peeked through some window blinds and saw a pair of birds being put in a pit, a space about 14 feet square located next to the bar. Men were observed placing bets of upwards of ten dollars per battle, and large quantities of cash were seen being exchanged.
As the police looked on, a bird named Tom Kelly was being prepared for his bout. Tom was a locally famous rooster, and cries of “Five to one on Tom Kelly” could be heard.
At this point, as described by the Spectator man, the chief, after posting a man at every exit, strolled up to the hotel’s main entrance, “and performed a well-executed Masonic rap.”
Suddenly someone shouted, ‘the police, by God!” Pandemonium then reigned as all inside made a rush for one of the exits.
The exit covered by Detective Gates was the first to be approached. After the door was thrown open, the detective coolly remarked, “you needn’t run, boys; there’s no need to hurry.”
The crowd then assembled at an alternate exit where “the gentle and kind-hearted Constable Spohn blocked that potential escape route.
The windows then were approached, thinking that they were only possible way to get out of the hotel remaining.
Again as delineated by the Spectator coverage of the chaotic scene, “sashes were carried away, and people began to drop out of the second storey windows. One well-known young man caught his pantaloons upon a nail, and hung suspended in the air for a time. They scattered in all directions, some concealing in the bar, other behind fences, and others making big time for home across the ice.”
Back inside the hotel, everything was in a state of confusion. Chairs and tables were upset and the temporary bar set up within the cockpit itself was smashed.
Those unable to escape by the windows, pulled up their collars and pulled down the hats in a vain attempt to walk past the policemen without being recognized.
However, as recounted by the Spec’s young man, “they were all spotted. “You needn’t run, Jimmy,’ or ‘good evening, Harry,’ or ‘what’s your hurry, Billy?’ from the officers proclaimed to them that they were recognized. But still they felt that they were wanted at home right away, and for home they picked, as fast as possible.”
Overcoats, umbrellas, canes, hats and game birds were all left behind in the crowd’s haste to escape.
Of the fifty to sixty men attending the cockfight at the Rock Bay hotel, forty names were secured by the police. As noted in the Spectator article informing everyone about the bust, “the list embraces many men who are considered to be quite respectable, and who are frequently seen in devout attitudes at church.”
The thirty-two game birds which were confiscated at the hotel presented Chief Stewart with a dilemma as to their disposal. The usual procedure was to wring their necks and donate the carcasses to charity to be cooked into a free meal for the poor.
As game bird meat was very tough, and as the birds were very valuable, it was suggested that the birds be sold at auction, and the money so raised then donated to charity.
The birds were taken to No. 3 police station to await their fate.
The following morning after the raid, police court proceedings were frequently interrupted by defiant crows from the incarcerated fowls. Finally, the somewhat exasperated Police Court Magistrate Cahill gave notice that the birds would immediately be turned over to Thomas Burrows to be auctioned off.
The Saturday morning auction was attended both by a Spectator reporter and what he described as a crowd of “motley description which embraced representatives from all quarters of the city. The sporting element was decidedly present, and the proceedings were enlivened by a fistic set-to between two members of the first families of Corktown.”
There was suspicion among some suspicion that some of the birds included in those being offered at auction were not among the ones confiscated in the raid. The sentiment told the Spectator man was that “dunghills had been substituted for the game birds which originally occupied the bags.”
The representative for the Spectator, although having arrived well before the advertised starting time of the auction, was unable to make his way through the dense crowd to see and hear the auctioneer well.
Then he was recognized and was allowed to pass through the crowd.
“Let the gintleman in” someone in the crowd said, “It’s mesilf seen him at the fight, and shure, he’s come to buy his birds.”
“The words were magic,” the reporter later wrote. He was jostled through the crowd to a prime spot up front, and he noted that “great is the power of similarity of tastes.”
After a few birds had been auctioned off, a large, dark bird, with a white neck, was brought forward to loud cries of “dunghill” and “no good” from the crowd.
Mickey Flynn then yelled out, “on me father’s estate in Donegal, there was jest hundreds of burrds like them kilt for nothing iles but manurin’ the fields around the castle.”
An acquaintance of Mickey Flynn interrupted fim, shouting, “manure the peat bog around yer mother’s cabin, ye mane, Mick! Shut yer face, an’ don’t be stritchin’ yer long bow here.’
When a large bird with long legs was presented for sale, someone in the crowd shouted, “ ‘E looks like Joe Gates, blow me tigh if he don’t.”
Joseph Gates, the detective who assisted Chief Stewart in the raid, was a less than popular figure with many in crowd.
After the large bird had been compared in looks with the detective, someone in the crowd shouted “well, thin, he isn’t much use av he’s like like him.”
Unbeknownst to the two making the observations, Detective Gates himself moved in behind them. As observed by the Spec man, their comparisons of the bird and the detective were “silenced by a tap on the head from the redoubtable Joe himself.”
When another bird was offered for sale, someone in the crowd yelled, “there’s not a crow in him, he’s a silent bird!”
“Faith, thin, he’ll do to send to Parlymint,” cried out someone else, “tisn’t them as crows the most as does the most anyhow or ye’d be a fine bird, Patsy!”
As the auction proceeded, the crowd became more and more restive.
Sam McNair, who was assisting the auctioneer, held up a rooster and shouted, “here’s a $25 bird!”
Several in the crowd disagreed and gave vent to prolonged shouts of derision. One cried out, “does his mother know he’s out?”
McNair, resenting the sarcasm, shot back, “be aisy, or ye’ll be out yerself.”
The argument continued and a fist fight was only narrowly averted.
Finally, all the birds were auctioned off. The total receipts were $26.95, far below what was expected.
Nonetheless, the money was turned over to charity bringing an end to that part of the raid aftermath. All left was for the appearances of all those in attendance at Rock Bay to appear in police court to face their charges.