Primary Sources: The Murder of J.P. Radelmüller

Although the murder of John Paul Radelmüller looms large in Toronto’s popular memory, the legend’s veracity has often been questioned. In an effort to demystify the ghostly aura surrounding this urban myth, this page presents a selection of primary documents relating to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, John Paul Radelmüller and his untimely demise.

Archival citations are provided and links included for sources available online.

Eamonn O’Keeffe
March 2016

Want to learn more about Radelmüller’s murder? Check out New Light on Toronto’s Oldest Cold Case.

The Murder

Radelmüller’s murder apparently attracted scant attention from the people of York across the harbour. Few contemporary sources touch on the case and none offer up substantive details on the circumstances of his death. Nevertheless, a few surviving period documents do mention the keeper’s demise, if only to discuss how to find his replacement!

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Upper Canada Sundries, RG 5, A 1, vol. 22, p. 9229-30.
Microfilm reel C-4544
William Allan to Edward McMahon, clerk of the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada

                                                                                          York 5th January 1815
I am sorry to have to inform you, that the same may be made known to His Honor The President, of the Death of John R Miller the person, who has been in charge of the Light House, ever since it was established at Giberaltar [sic] Point; as Collector of the Customs at this place he was under my directions. In consequence of which I have thought it necessary to make this communication without loss of time, in order some person may be appointed to take charge of the Light House & other Public property there. I take the liberty of adding that it might be a situation for some old Soldier or person accustomed to make signals or provided he is a sober man, which is very necessary.[1] The Pay is only 1/5 p. day.[2]

                                                                                        I have the Honor to be
                                                                                          Your obed. Serv.

W Allan
Collector of Customs

[1] An interesting remark, although Allan makes no comment on whether Radelmüller fit the criteria!
[2] 1 shilling 5 pence per day.

Charles John, an illiterate former sailor in the Provincial Marine (the British Great Lakes coast guard service) was evidently eager to apply for Radelmüller’s old job, submitting a petition to this end on 6 January. Although this document, as with Allan’s letter, makes only passing mention of Radelmüller’s demise, such sources nonetheless provide some helpful information on the case. For instance, the fact that they both unambiguously refer to the death of Radelmüller so soon after the murder further discredits undocumented modern claims that the lighthouse keeper disappeared and was ‘never seen again’. The absence of a body would have caused far greater uncertainty over the lighthouse keeper’s ultimate fate.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Upper Canada Sundries, RG 5, A 1, vol. 22, p. 9236.
Microfilm reel C-4544

To His Hon Gordon Drummond Esquire President, Administering the Government of the Province of Upper Canada, and Lieutenant General Commanding His Majesty’s Forces in the Said Province     &c.       &c.       &c.

The humble petition of Charles John
That your Petitioner was born at Quebec – that he is 48 years old, that during the whole period of his life your Petitioner has resided within His Majesty’s Provinces. That he served as a Sailor with [the] Provincial Marine, in this lake[1] upwards of six years under Commodore Bouchette[2] & others. That for three years of the above mentioned period he can produce a certificate of service & discharge but lost another relating to the remainder of that time. That he has taken the oath of allegiance and begs leave to refer Your Honor to the recommendation hereto annexed.[3] That in consequence of the unfortunate death of Mr Radelmiller, the man formerly stationed at the York Lighthouse, a Vacancy being thereby occasioned; Your Petitioner humbly prays Your Honor, in consideration of past services, and of his being rather advanced in years, would be pleased to consider your petitioner favorably, and grant him such relief, as Your Honour may seem fit. And as in duty bound Your petitioner shall ever pray –

Charles X John[4]

Took 6t[h] day of
January 1815

Lake Ontario.
[2] Commodore Jean-Baptiste Bouchette (1736-1804) – see his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
[3] The enclosed recommendation is now missing.
[4] John ‘made his mark’, suggesting that he was illiterate as he could not sign his name.

Charles John’s application was unsuccessful, for William Halloway was appointed as the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse’s second keeper in 1816.

The existence of the two York Gazette notices of Radelmüller’s murder are often cited as proof of the legend’s factual basis. However, previous commentators have called the existence of these reports into question, causing further ambiguity and confusion over the veracity of the case. These doubts stemmed from John Ross Robertson himself, who mistakenly wrote in Landmarks of Toronto that the York Gazette did not mention the murder.

YG 1815 Radelmuller

As proven by the accompanying image, the York Gazette reports on Radelmuller’s death do indeed exist, as other authors would no doubt have discovered had they consulted the microfilm of the newspaper, held at the Toronto Reference Library, instead of repeating Robertson’s assertion.

14th January 1815, The York Gazette


On the evening of the 2nd of January, J.P. RADEMULLER Keeper of the Light House on Gibraltar Point. From circumstances there is every moral proof of his having been murdered. If the horrid crime admits of aggravation, when the inoffensive and benevolent character of the unfortunate sufferer are considered – his murder will be pronounced most barbarous and inhuman – The parties last with him are the supposed perpetrators, and are imprisoned.

15th April 1815, The York Gazette

‘No conviction of the supposed murderers of the late J.P. Raddelmuller.’

The Trial of Privates John Henry and John Blueman

Archives of Ontario (AO), Court of Queen’s [sic, King’s] Bench assize minute books, Criminal Assize 1810-1819, RG 22-134-0-4, microfilm MS 530, reel 2, pp. 190, 192.

p. 190
Home District                                                1815

At the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery held at York on Tuesday the 28th March 1815, before
The Honorable Thomas Scott Chief Justice and Thomas Ridout Esqr. Associate

The Commission Read, the Grand Jury called and Sworn,

  1. Alexander Wood, Foreman
  2. Duncan Cameron
  3. William Allan
  4. Stephan Heward
  5. William Chewet
  6. Stephen Jarvis
  7. David Thomson
  8. James Fulton
  9. Peter Robinson
  10. John Dennison
  11. Thomas Hamilton
  12. John Ashbridge
  13. Andrew Mercer
  14. Thomas Bingle
  15. Robert Gray
  16. Frederick Baron de Hoen
  17. Thomas Ward
  18. Elisha Beman
  19. William Tyler

The Charge was given and Whitesides the constable Sworn to attend the Grand Jury

Wednesday 29th March 1815, the Court opened from Adjournment
The Honorable Thomas Scott Chief Justice
Thomas Ridout Esquire Associate

The Grand Jury came into Court and having presented the following Bill

The King vs John Blowman & John Henry  { Murder }   A True Bill    –      Retired

p. 192
Friday 31st March 1815
The Court was opened pursuant to Adjournment

Present:           The Honourable Thomas Scott Chief Justice
The Honrable Mr Justice Powell
and  Thomas Ridout Esqr Associate

The King vs. John Blowman & John Henry  {  Indictment Murder }  Prisoners arraigned and plead Not Guilty

Petit Jury called and severally Sworn as follows:

  1. John Taylor
  2. Martin Snider
  3. John McBride
  4. Peter Lawrence
  5. Abraham Johnson
  6. John Willson Junior
  7. Stillwell Jackson
  8. Nathaniel Hastings
  9. Benjamin Cozens
  10. Luke Stoutenburgh
  11. Edward Wright
  12. Philip Clinger

Witnesses for the Crown

  1. Jacob White
  2. John Moore[1]
  3. Joshua Pitt[2]
  4. Thomas Plested[3]
  5. Lewis Newor[4]
  6. David Thomson[5]
  7. Thomas Cooper Coroner[6]

Verdict: Not Guilty

[1] Private John Moore of the Glengarry Light Infantry. Enlisted at Halifax, 6 June 1812 and discharged 1 July 1815. Captured at the Battle of Fort George (27 May 1813) and exchanged at Halifax 24 March 1814.
[2] Private Joshua Pitt of the Glengarry Light Infantry. Born in England, enlisted at Quebec, 15 March 1812 and discharged 27 April 1815.
[3] Private Thomas Plested of the Glengarry Light Infantry. Born in England, enlisted on Prince Edward Island, 22 October 1812 and discharged 22 October 1815.
[4] Probably Private Louis Naddeau of the Glengarry Light Infantry. Born in Lower Canada, enlisted aged 20 at York, 13 March 1812, discharged 13 March 1816. See Winston Johnston, The Glengarry Light Infantry, 1812-1816 (Charlottetown: Benson, 2011).
[5] A forefather of the billionaire Thomson media family, mason David Thomson helped rebuild Fort York in 1815.
[6] Thomas Cooper, son of William Cooper, the official coroner for the Home District.

Glengarry Light Infantry Quarterly Pay Lists – Blueman and Henry
The National Archives (UK) (TNA), WO 12/10800

December 1814 – March 1815
John Blueman – ‘detained by the Civil Power, York, acquitted’
John Henry – ‘detained by the Civil Power, York, acquitted’
March 1815 – June 1815
John Blueman – ‘Civil Power, acquitted, discharged 28 April, p[ai]d to 26 May’
John Henry – ‘In hands of Civil Power, acquitted’
June 1815 to September 1815
John Henry – ‘deserted 30 June’

These transcriptions © Eamonn O’Keeffe 2016