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The Dancing on Air Mystery: Who was Portia?

                  

 

On Monday, February 7, 1949, two days after Judge Emerson handed down the death penalty in the murder trial of Alfred Beaton, a mysterious letter appeared in the St. John's Evening Telegram. It contained an emotional plea for mercy and a call to action against capital punishment in Newfoundland. 

The eloquent letter writer persuaded thousands of citizens in the city and across Newfoundland and Labrador to demand an end to a barbaric practice. The final outcome was a surprise. Who was the mystery lady, Portia? For the first time in over 60 years it is now possible to identify her. ...but the reader has to pick up the clues in the text.

 

 

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

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If you have comments on this site or reviews of Dancing on Air, please e-mail me at ericcolbourne@ericcolbourne.com.

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From the Ballad of Reading Gaol

 It is sweet to dance to violins

  When love and life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

  is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

  To dance upon the air!

 

                       ...Oscar Wilde

New Edition: Dancing on Air

More Questions About an Execution

The case of Wilbert Coffin who was convicted of murder and hanged in Quebec more than 60 years ago raises many new questions. For the full story see: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/wilbert-coffin-execution-cda-1.3441076.

Excerpt from Dancing on Air

(A Hanging in Quebec, 1902)

 

 

...Until the mid-1800s some 200 offences were regarded as capital crimes that carried the death penalty. In a modern age most of those offences now seem absurd.

 

John Dean, variously described in the records as a child of eight or nine, may have been the youngest to suffer death by hanging. On February 23, 1629 he was convicted of arson at Abington, England for setting fire to two barns in the town of Winsor. The judge saw evidence of wickedness in the boy's actions, an attitude which led directly to his death sentence.

 

In early August, 1814, an unfortunate William Potter received the death penalty at the high court in Chelmsford, England, for damaging an orchard. He had chopped down an old apple tree for firewood. To no avail at his trial, William pleaded ignorance of the law. The judge had second thoughts several days after sentencing, but with the wheels of justice already in motion, William was hanged about a week later on August 12.

From our Readers: Dancing on Air

I finished the book this morning and my only regret is that I couldn't read more....The exacting research gives real context in shaping the period, but it's Colbourne's ability as a writer that allows the reader to feel the crisp bite of the wind, smell the damp night air, and experience the pain and anguish of the characters. Colbourne's deft footwork in handling the historic record while giving life to the characters is to be applauded, and it separates this work from the pack.  (Glen Tilley)

 

An absolutely lovely read....The book reads like a richly textured novel but the story is flawlessly woven into the historical account (or borne out of it). It is clear that the book is meticulously researched...An excellent read on all fronts. Difficult to put down! (Monty Henstridge)

Disappeared

Excerpt from the story 'The Black Arts Book' in Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland.

 

...Old Meriam was indeed dead but no one seemed to know how she had died or where she was buried, all of which added to the mystery of her life  and the power of her witchcraft.

 

After her death, the old house seemed lonely more than anything else, sitting way out on the point by the landwash, facing the September storms and enduring the sad soundings of the ocean swells.

 

With each passing season it added a deeper tone of grey as the harsh weather of late fall and winter took its toll. Nobody in the village could understand how the old house could withstand so much punishment.

 

Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland  has been named a top seller on KOBO, one of the largest e-book distributors in the world. It continues to receive positive reviews in Canada and fifteen other countries. Disappeared is also available from amazon.ca and amazon.com in kindle and print format.