The duty of the coroner has changed a little over the centuries but basically remains the same. With minor alterations in wording each time the Coroner’s Act was amended, it essentially states that, “Where the Coroner is informed that within his jurisdiction there is the body of a deceased person, and that there is reason to believe that the deceased died from violence or unfair means, or in consequence of culpable or negligent conduct of others, or under such circumstances as require investigation, he shall issue his warrant and view the body and make such further inquiry as may be required to satisfy himself whether or not an inquest is necessary.”
If an inquest was deemed appropriate, the Coroner would quickly call upon at least five of the most upstanding citizens from the list of eligible voters in the community. Together they would examine all of the evidence related to the sudden death and decide five important facts: name of the deceased, date and time of death, place of death, cause of death, and manner of death which would be either natural, accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined.
Some time during the night, on either Aug. 8 or 9, 1892, a most bizarre death occurred in the town of Barrie that certainly warranted the attention of a Coroner’s jury.
James Anderton, a prominent local businessman who had for years operated a large family-owned brewery at the head of Kempenfelt Bay, was found dead in an orchard that he kept near the eastern end of Steele Street. He was discovered partially burned, lying on his back on the ground, and surrounded by the ruins of a barn, a shed and a haystack that obviously been destroyed by a very recent fire.
The 54-year-old victim was found fully clothed and still in possession of his watch and chain. Oddly, his key ring was found lying some five feet from his body, as was a revolver. What exactly had happened here?
During the inquest, several witnesses were called and they shed quite a bit of light on the reasons for Anderton’s presence in the orchard during the dead of night. However, their testimony raised a number of questions that the jury would have to sort out.
On the afternoon before the gruesome discovery, James Anderton packed up a tent, a cot and some other camping supplies and told his family that he was going to remain at the orchard for a week to see to it that his apples were not stolen again, as they had been in the past. He sent his son, Joseph, to his desk to load his revolver. Joseph couldn’t find any cartridges and so didn’t loaded the gun but never told his father this.
Anderton rode out to the orchard with a hired man and, after searching the property for anything untoward, sent the man back to the brewery to fetch his dog, a coal oil stove and a lantern. By 6 p.m. that evening, the hired man left Anderton comfortably installed in his canvas tent.
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