Skip to content

The mysterious death of James Anderton: Part 2 (4 photos)

In this week's Remember This, Mary Harris continues the story of a mysterious death in Barrie

A few hours after her husband departed for his orchard camping adventure, Mrs. Anderton began to wonder how her husband was doing and sent two hired men from the household out to check on him.

They saw Anderton’s tent with a lighted lantern hanging on the end. Instead of approaching Mr. Anderton, they decided to have a little fun and began to furiously shake an apple tree.

The result was the wild barking of a dog and Anderton’s loud threats that the animal would be set upon whomever was in the orchard.

Next, Anderton drew his revolver and fired two shots in the air. The men were quite satisfied that their employer was getting along just fine and they headed for home.

Around 3 a.m., a tremendous thunderstorm rolled through Barrie.

Some hours later, the orchard’s neighbours arose and discovered that the Anderton barn was on fire. Had it been struck by lightning?

Upon further investigation, the neighbours were horrified to find a man's corpse among the charred buildings.

The police were called and the coroner, Dr. Wells, summoned.

The entire situation appeared very strange and so it was quite obvious that an inquest would need to be held to discover what had really happened to James Anderton after the last witness had seen him the night previous.

One of the main puzzles was the revolver. Young Joseph Anderton had handed his father an unloaded gun after finding no ammunition with which to load it. In fact, James Anderton had shown the empty gun to the brewery worker who had brought him out to the orchard and told him that he had nothing to put in it.

Yet, later in the evening of the 8th of August, the two hired men claimed that Anderton fired two warning shots when he heard them among the apple trees.

Stranger still, the revolver found near Anderton’s body was made with copper while his usual gun was known to be of steel composition.

Some jury members wondered aloud why Anderton’s dog was alive and running loose on the property. As this was known to be his favourite pet, why would Anderton not have taken it into the barn with him if he had been seeking shelter from the storm?

The other concerning question surrounded the oil lantern. The entire area was searched on both the Tuesday and the Wednesday after the fire, but the lantern was never found. Somehow, on Thursday morning, it appeared in the middle of the driveway to the barn, unobscured by any debris. Some people wondered if there were attempts being made to alter the evidence.

Detective Rogers testified that he had consulted a Professor Heys who had analyzed the melted glass of the oil lantern in question. The expert found that particles of earth fused into the glass were the same as the earth found on the spot where it was finally discovered and concluded that it had lain there all along.

A gunsmith found that the gun had fired two bullets and that the remaining bullets found lying at the scene had been exploded by external heat and not by the firing of the revolver.

The coroner’s jury investigated the puzzling case on the Wednesday and Friday evenings following the death of Mr. Anderton and adjourned until Sept. 1. When they reconvened again, the jury produced a finding of accidental death.

Although they failed to answer all of the perplexing questions associated with the event, they stated that “James Anderton came to his death by being burned to death in his barn.”

The jury was unable to determine how the actual fire began.

To read Part 1 of this story, please click here.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.


Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
Read more