Hangman: The True Story of Canada’s First Official Executioner by Julie Burtinshaw

Having come across John Radclive’s name several times in my reading of Canada’s historic crimes, I was interested in finding out more about him. At the time, hanging was the punishment for murder and other capital crimes, and as Canada’s official executioner, it was Mr. Radclive’s duty to travel to wherever they incarcerated the prisoner to carry out the deed.

Hangman: The True Story of Canada’s First Official Executioner by Julie Burtinshaw is more of a ‘fictionalised’ account of John Radclive’s history from his post-Royal Navy life in England to his death in Canada, making it difficult to classify this a non-fiction title (as one would expect from the title). There is a fair amount of an invented dialogue between John and his wife Sarah and with his employer, John Laxton, at the Sunnyside Boating Company in Toronto. There is no bibliography, footnotes, or any type of references within the book aside from some cited newspaper accounts. No photographs as well. (A rudimentary Internet search couldn’t locate anything regarding Laxton or the boating club, so a list of references would have been helpful).

Now, to be fair, the author has written a book that many would find interesting, as I did, but I like facts and not dialogue. Assuming that this was going to be more of a biography, it certainly misled on that account.

Yet, despite my disillusionment, Ms. Burtinshaw well conveys the controversy surrounding capital punishment and the role of official executioner (the populace wanted murderers to die, but shied away from Radclive’s company), the outcry over needlessly prolonged deaths of prisoners from botched jobs, and Radclive’s increasing reliance on alcohol, leading to the eventual dissolution of his family and his premature death at age 56. It also would have been interesting if Ms. Burtinshaw had followed up on any of John’s existing family, as he had a son and two daughters, who apparently returned to England with Sarah after she left Radclive in Canada.

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Hangman: The True Story of Canada’s First Official Executioner will certainly interest those who enjoy true crime, however many of the basic facts of John Radclive’s life (and of his successor Arthur Ellis) are found in an online search.

About the Author

Julie Burtinshaw was born in Vancouver and has lived in many cities and towns both inside and outside of Canada.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Tidewater Press (Sept. 25 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 199016014X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990160141

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