The Flat Earth Society

Following the Herd


"I need some of that Bog Rosemary you mix with your Raspberry Screech," said spouse. "Go up to Mount Scio tomorrow and see if you can round some up."

She has been toiling relentlessly in the kitchen recently, experimenting with the free samples of weed handed out at her training session a while back, to see if she can come up with a drinkable version of Mary Jane that compares with the power of my usual midnight libation, Raspberry Screech with a splash of Bog Rosemary tea.

The results so far are promising except that whole stretches of my short-term memory have been erased. Just yesterday, she mentioned Eddie Joyce in a casual comment--for the life of me, I could not remember who she was talking about. But I experienced a tremendous sense of tranquility coupled with my vacant mind.

"We are making progress," she said.

There may be other reasons for my relaxed state of mind.

Now that Ball's lackeys have departed Confederation Building to spread glad tidings of great joy across our pine-clad hills, a serene atmosphere of peace and solitude has settled over our shining city. The whole Liberal herd has traipsed off to congregate in Gander and graze on canapes of farmed salmon, caviar, filet of Kobe beef, and cod au gratin. They have gathered to shout hosannas for Dear Leader Duh-wite.

Even George Murphy was filled with the spirit and welcomed back to the Liberal pasture by Dear Leader. Yes, THE George 'Oil Can' Murphy is now a voting member of the Liberal herd; he, who betrayed the NDP savior, Lorraine Michael, and denied knowing her three times before the rooster crowed atop Confederation Building; he, who wept bitterly on TV for his dastardly denial. George has a new messiah.

Those who demonstrated critical thinking at the gathering were declared to be apostates, enemies of the herd, and denied voting privileges.

Dear Leader's toadies have even circulated a story at the Gander gathering that he was born at the very top of Gros Morne, his birth being foretold by a bull-bird and heralded by sun-hounds. In another version of Duh-wite's origins, he was raised by a kindly farmer and his wife in Deer Lake who found him floating down the Humber River on a mat of swamp grass.

Later, at the age of four, Dear Leader hiked the Gaff Topsails all by himself. In grade six, he designed an engineering marvel, a tunnel under the Straits of Belle Isle. By age ten, he had invented 2000 life-saving drugs and then announced his intention to open a pharmacy.


Dear Leader promised the flock in Gander that he would be their eternal premier. Basking in the glow of adulation, he even issued a challenge to Donald Trump to meet him in New York although we are not sure why.

We heard not a peep about Dr. Dale, former minister of illiteracy, nor of Bullying Big Eddie, former minister of outports, since Dear Leader ordered that both be stuck in a corner of the House of Assembly like misbehaving school children.

Spouse is of the opinion that Dr. Dale and Big Eddie will be welcomed back into the fold after a suitable period of penance during which they will wear robes of sackcloth and ashes. In the meantime, I point out, they are both on leave with pay, pulling down $150,000 a year.

An eerie calm has settled over our household as well as households across the whole province leaving us wondering where it is all headed.

To complement the sound of silence, summer has delayed its appearance, preferring instead to linger in the badlands of Quebec and Ontario. Dandelions brave enough to raise their heads during the day are quickly decapitated by killing frosts at night.

"I suspect Dear Leader Duh-wite has the power to manipulate the weather," I said. "It's a plot to force everyone to leave so they'll have the place all to themselves."

"You are becoming more paranoid by the minute," said spouse.

"Well, just look at what's happening," I said. "Since Duh-wite came along we have lost nearly 20,000 people who have departed to escape destitution, unemployment is creeping up to twenty percent, and Muskrat Falls is just around the corner.

Whatever the reason for the tranquility, the constabulary has not knocked on our door lately except for that incident last week when they came to inform me that a neighbor had complained he had seen me coming up the street dressed as Davy Crockett with a brace of ducks over my shoulder. I suspect it was the same neighbor who also reported a strong smell of marijuana coming from our deck.

Speaking of weed, the owner of the convenience store where spouse worked part-time as potential manager of marijuana sales has been disappointed in his quest for a vendor's license. Only friends of the party can push weed on the street.

Spouse is now without a job and our source of supplementary income has evaporated, forcing us to visit the food bank down on Military road.

Just last week, I staked out a position outside Raymond's on Water Street, dancing jigs in my tight spandex swimwear and begging for loonies from the clientele--mostly politicians--who seem to be the only ones with money these days. But that venture was short-lived when people started complaining to city council.

But all is not lost. Spouse and I are hoping to patent Rose Mary-Jane Elixir by October 17. It deadens the mind so we can follow the herd.

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Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at

Advance Reviews:

     "What a fascinating read this is. It has all the suspense of a true crime novel ...Newfoundland itself emerges as a colorful character..." -- editor, Friesen Press

     "In Dancing on Air, Eric Colbourne exposes the raw politics and behind the scenes intrigue of critical events in Newfoundland and Labrador history. In the process, he has skilfully unveiled the human faces of tragedies which have remained with us for well over half a century."   --Mervin Wiseman, Political Activist, NL.

     "This is a great way to present history. It's emotionally engaging, highly instructive, and jam-packed with fascinating details."  --Editor, Friesen Press.

     Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland is a story of justice and injustice amidst war and political upheaval.

     On St. Patrick's Day, 1942 Herb Spratt, the youngest son of a prominent St. John's city councilor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defense at a two day trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland resulted in a guilty verdict coupled with a strong recommendation for mercy. The chief justice pronounced a sentence of death on April 28, 1942, but that was not the end of the story.

     Six years later, on October 23, 1948, during a night of terror in the town of Norris Arm on the central north coast of the island, Alfred Beaton stabbed his girlfriend and shot to death another young woman. At least 10 other individuals narrowly escaped death as Beaton rampaged through the community with a high powered rifle.

     Beaton went to trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland on January 31, 1949. The jury returned a guilty verdict without a recommendation for mercy. The chief justice again imposed the death penalty.

Alfred Beaton (center) after the death sentence

The incidents come together as a gripping account of a flawed justice system and of the impact of public opinion. With its cast of powerful characters, the story reads like fiction but what happened was only too real.  

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.







Eric Colbourne grew up in the small community of Lush's Bight-Beaumont on the northeast coast of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His earliest memories are of the tales spun by village elders under the flickering light of oil lamps in the kitchen of the family home on the isolated island. This tradition of story-telling is captured in his first book Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland which has enjoyed international success.


His latest work, Dancing on AIR: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland, published in October 2016 by Boulder Publications, represents an enduring fascination with the issue of capital punishment which he has researched extensively over many years in this country and around the world.


Colbourne was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland, The University of Reading in the UK, and at McGill University in Montreal. He has enjoyed a varied career in education, community development, tourism and senior management in the public service of Nunavut and the NWT. He currently devotes his time to writing and historical research.

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

Public Executions: Dancing on Air

At 5.32 a.m. on August 14, 1937 a young black man, Rainey Bethea was executed at Owensboro, Kentucky after his conviction for the rape of a white woman. A crowd, estimated at 20,000, gathered in Owensboro the day before and held 'hanging' parties throughout the night. One reporter likened the scene at the scaffold next morning to a sporting event. The hangman was intoxicated and barely managed to trip the lever. It was the last public hanging in the US.

The practice of public executions was abandoned in Canada in 1869 and in the UK in 1870. Many countries, notably Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran continue the practice to this day for crimes such as drug trafficking, witchcraft, disloyalty to the government. and homosexuality.


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

Advice for Writers

Elmore Leonard, a well known mystery writer who died last year offered a number of rules for good writing. A few of them:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Keep your exclamations points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

3.Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

4.Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

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

Historic Vote

In 1948, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador decided their future in two referenda. In the first vote, held on June 3, Commission of Government was eliminated but neither Confederation with Canada nor Responsible Government received a majority, making a second referendum necessary. Voting was heavy, nearly 89% on June 3rd and 85% on July 22nd. 52.34% of voters chose Confederation on the second ballot.

Where to Buy Disappeared

     Disappeared:Stories From the Coast of Newfoundland is available in print and e-book from and in e-book format from Kobo, Chapters etc. To locate it on Amazon, type 'Disappeared Colbourne' into their 'find' bar. Delivery is about one week.

     Author copies are also available directly from Click on the facebook link and send the author a message. Price is $15 plus postage.

     Due to the short print run the book will not be available in most bookstores.

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:

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 historical 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)


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 and in kindle and print format.