Here’s a very weird and unpleasant story about a man who, after conducting a lengthy incestuous relationship with his daughter (not half-sister, as the above notice states), finally killed her in a fit of jealousy and drunken despair. This sad tale was published in a pamphlet written by the murderer himself, Joseph Bevir, while in jail. Interestingly, Bevir comes across as very articulate and appears to reveal his emotions and motives honestly. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether everything he says about his life is true, so I have to take his word for it. The passage of 199 years between the murder and today has softened it into a gruesome curiosity, but at the time it must have been an awful situation.
For brevity – and because, let’s face it, is it really necessary? – I’m going to withhold my comments about these events and just present them as Bevir did. Original spelling and punctuation are retained, and I’ve indicated short edits with an ellipsis.
Bevir writes that he was born in the Parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Surrey, England. However, I think this is actually in London, and was part of the Surrey County seat until it changed in 1868. (See the Wikipedia page on Bermondsey). His father was a shipwright and his mother worked as a midwife, so the family had a good deal of money. When Bevir was thirteen his father died, at which time an uncle came to visit the family. Bevir describes him in passing, in a way which seems telling in light of later events:
His mind was rather narrow and his temper morose – his whole study was to accumulate the filthy trash of this world. . .
The uncle persuaded Bevir’s mother to take him out of school at age fourteen, despite his teachers’ protestations. Now becoming a shipwright like his father, Bevir was eventually taken on as a ship’s carpenter and sailed to Honduras. When he returned to England, he found he had a daughter by his mistress Betsey Jenkins. This was the daughter he later murdered. (Although in a footnote Bevir claims he probably wasn’t her father, this may just be wishful thinking). Meanwhile, Bevir told everyone he had married Betsey, and they began to live together. The couple had another daughter, and although Bevir now planned to stay in England, he was taken up as a ship’s carpenter again in 1793 or 1794 and sailed to the West Indies.
From here on, he recounts the many adventures he had in the Caribbean and the United States, including being captured as a prisoner of war by the French. I’m going to skip this section because it’s a bit confusing and not altogether necessary for our story; however it’s in this section that Bevir’s love of liquor makes its first appearance.
Upon returning home eight years later, Bevir found his children grown up, and understandably they were strangers to one another. Nevertheless, he became particularly fond of his eldest girl, Mary, who liked to go on Sunday afternoon “rambles” with him. On one of these walks, Mary became upset at the news that Bevir would be leaving again, to work in Canada. Although he had asked Betsey to come with him on this trip, she refused. Now Bevir, after a drink or two in a public house, had a change of mind:
Here Satan, ever willing to promote evil, put it into my head that this girl might supply the place of her mother, being of a fit age; after resting ourselves and drinking a little hot brandy sling, I told her I could see no reason if she found any loss in my leaving her, that she should not accompany me. She blushed, but I could perceive she was pleased; asked what would the world think of it. This gave me to understand that she knew what was to be the consequence of it. As to what the world would say, I cared nothing; every one would suppose us father and daughter.
Before leaving for Quebec, Bevir had Mary swear fidelity to him, and after a sixteen-week voyage she emerged pregnant with a baby boy. Although Bevir describes them as “very happy” at this point, tensions arose. During their third year in Quebec, a male boarder who Mary ran off with one night stirred up Bevir’s jealousy. Things were only to get worse when the family moved to Kingston at the outbreak of the War of 1812.
Living on a ship docked at Point Frederick, Bevir worked as a shipwright and Mary became a cook. They lived comfortably for almost a year, until an offer for Bevir to work in the “upper Lakes” was enthusiastically applauded by Mary, so much so that he immediately put his name down to go. However, Bevir then fell ill, and upon going to the hospital, a comment from a workman set his teeth on edge:
[S]o you have turned the poor girl out to that blackguard Irishman . . . oh you need not deny it, for it is very well known upon the hill . . .
Now being ill and jealous, Bevir stayed behind in Kingston and became acquainted with Mary’s Irish lover, John Moore. Moore began to talk about marrying Mary, and offered to take care of her (by now) three children. Bevir initially agreed to this arrangement, but only, he claims, because he was drunk. In any case, Bevir remained totally attached to Mary, and he was convinced until his dying day that she never really loved John Moore.
Upon discovering the pair meeting for a tryst one night, Bevir was cut a severe blow. Mary claimed she was drunk after a party the night before and didn’t know what she was doing, but if she was allowed to marry Moore everything would be put right. Bevir believed she knew well what she was doing, and refused her plea. When she asked again a few days later for his consent, Bevir states:
I told her that I never should; she briskly replied then she would soon put herself out of the reach of both him and myself, and before I was aware of her meaning, made a stab at her bosom with the scissors she was working with; and if any of the gentlemen that were at the inquest, searched the body they must have perceived a stab in the pit of the stomach: I immediately wrested the scissors from her, she still struggled to get hold of something else, and she began to frighten me, wretch as I am!
Mary only stopped when the children came in the room, but she continued to threaten suicide if she was not allowed to marry. Apparently, she even told Bevir her marriage would not change their sexual relationship. “This some people may not exactly believe,” Bevir comments, explaining he relates this only to show the unholy grounds the marriage would have been based upon. “She must know me better,” he writes, “of all other things, that of shearing a part of her bed with another willingly, would be the last I should consent to.” However, at this point he suddenly blesses their union. The banns were published, and everything appeared to be going well until Bevir and Moore celebrated with a 36-hour drinking spree that left Bevir in a state of despair, “bordering on madness.”
At this point in the story – the night before the murder – the narrative is interrupted by an editor’s note. Bevir resumes writing with a lament:
Alas! My doom is fixed; the Fatal Judgment is passed! Awful sentance, to be hanged and my body given to the Doctors!!
He then continues to describe his anguish:
I pictured to myself a miserable wretch, cast off by one for whom I had left friends and connections; – banished myself to a miserable and inhospitable country, where life could not be made supportable without her; to whom I was loving and beloved; yes, such did I love her, that I determined this day, if she did not denounce Moor forever, to put an end to my own existence.
Getting his pistol, Bevir attempted to load it with a musket cartridge, which would not fit. He made his own bullet out of sheet lead with his teeth, and went once again to ask Mary to give up Moore. She refused. In a state of intolerable despair, Bevir went for the last time to see Mary at 6 o’clock that evening. Brandishing his pistol, he asked her to give up John Moore. But Mary had had enough.
[S]he then said, “what do you come here for with your pistol, if you want to shoot me, shoot, shoot, shoot!” – The Devil then entered my thoughts! I levelled the pistol, pulled the trigger! Oh, spare a poor wretch, I can say no more!!!
Bevir pleaded not guilty to the crime, but the jury found him guilty after fifteen minutes. He was executed on September 4, 1815. In his last words, Bevir blamed his problems on liquor and advised people to beware of it. He felt he deserved his punishment, and went to the gallows praying fervently. Indeed, while in jail he was gratefully attended by Rev. (later Archdeacon) George Okill Stuart and spent his time piously writing hymns.
In 1815, the court house and jail in Kingston were located where the Customs House is now, on the corner of King and Clarence. Therefore, Joseph Bevir spent his last moments in what is now the area around Boucher Park and the old post office. A grim end to a sad story – although I do wonder what happened to the children.
Joseph Bevir’s pamphlet entitled A short account of the life and dying speech of Joseph Bevir, who was executed at Kingston, (Upper Canada) on Monday, the 4th day of September, 1815, for the murder of Mary Bevir, his daughter. Written by himself while in prison. This pamphlet was published and sold by Stephen Miles, who also published the Kingston Gazette, Kingston’s first newspaper. There might be a page missing towards the beginning.
July 18, 1815 edition of the Kingston Gazette (murder notice)
September 5, 1815 edition of the Kingston Gazette. (execution notice)