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A Debtor's Revenge
by Christopher Doty

george goodhueGeorge Jervis Goodhue was one of London's first merchants, opening a general store across from the old courthouse in 1830. He prospered and was acclaimed as the first mayor of community after its incorporation as a town in 1840.

By the time he reached the age of 70, Goodhue was London's wealthiest citizen with an estate of $650,000 - a staggering sum of money at the time. Goodhue's success was due to a mixture of thrift and ruthlessness. He lived in an austere brick house with the grandoise name of Waverly Hall and he showed little mercy when it came to matters of the purse.

According to the late historian Orlo Miller, Goodhue made his money by providing loans to hard-up homebuyers at outrageous rates of interest - 20 per cent of higher. If the borrower was unable to pay him back, Goodhue would foreclose, seize the property and then sell it for a higher price. In the words of author Frederick H. Armstrong, the merchant was reputedly London's "least beloved citizen."

At one point, Goodhue used this tactic on a newly-married Irish emigrant. When the young husband was unable to pay, Goodhue ordered the bailiff to evict the couple from their home. Without shelter, the wife was forced to have her baby in a roadside ditch. Both mother and child died.

Shortly afterwards the young man forced his way into Goodhue's office and cursed him. "A good old-fashioned black Irish curse," Miller recounted in 1962. "Cursed unto the second, third and fourth generations."

Goodhue shrugged off this distasteful incident and continued in his mercenary ways until misfortune began to overtake him and his family.

In his mid 60s he was diagnosed with tuburculosis. Despite visits to the best doctors his condition worsened to the point where he had to refuse a senate seat in Canada's first parliament. In October 1869 his eldest son died. A few weeks later, Goodhue's health took a turn for the worse.

On the evening of January 11, 1870 the servants at Waverly Hall were busy cleaning up the dinner dishes when a horrible shriek was heard from their master's bedroom. As they burst in, they found a terrified Goodhue curled up by the headboard of his bed like a cornered animal. He was staring at something in uncomprehending horror with his hands thrust out, as if to fend off some unseen murderer.

"Keep him away from me!" screamed the old man, "He has come for me!"

There was one final cry and then the lifeless body of George Jervis Goodhue slumped across the bed.

A provision in Goodhue's will stated his estate would not be distributed until his wife's death. However, Goodhue's children and their spouses swarmed upon their inheritances like vultures. Costly litigation lasted until Louisa Goodhue died in 1880. By that point, a good portion of the estate had gone for lawyers' fees.

Goodhue's children squandered their father's wealth on lavish European trips and huge mansions which they were unable to maintain. His home on Bathurst Street was turned into office space before being torn down in 1960. Today, only a stain glass window depicting the Sermon on the Mount in the chancel of St. Paul's Cathedral remains to remind Londoners of the legacy of George Jervis Goodhue - and the curse that was visited upon him.