from The Times  May 6, 1880 page 3
Some people care little how they attain notoriety, so long as they can make themselves talked about. To possess an indifferent character, and induce public discussion of it, is one way of becoming notorious; and their morbid desire is gratified whether what is said of them is favourable or unfavourable. Such a person seems to be one of Mr. Frank Nugent's clients, who has won questionable fame by a suit tried at the Assizes at Cobourg, and who, from motives of spite, dragged the editor of The Times, with a large number of other citizens of Port Hope, to Cobourg to attend the Court as witnesses in his libel suit, not because they were in any way connected with it—not because they knew anything material about it— but to give them annoyance. This person has had the impudence—we may say cheek—to have a Toronto Solicitor send us the following letter:—

Toronto, April 27, 1880
Re Wm. T. R. Preston :
Dear Sir,—I am informed by Mr. Wm. T. R. Preston, that you and others continue to repeat the basely false libel, entitled, 'a moral footpad,' appearing in the Ottawa Daily Free Press, of 11th Nov., 1879, and for the publication of which, as you are aware, Mr. Preston, on the 21st inst., obtained a verdict for damages at the Cobourg Assizes, against the proprietor of the Free Press. I trust that from this time forward, you will entirely desist from, in any way whatever, spreading the said libellous article, and, on your failing to observe this request, I am instructed by Mr. Preston to take legal proceedings against you and all others who, after the said verdict, will venture to persist in injuring him.

Hoping you will comply with this request, and thus spare Mr. Preston any further annoyance and legal proceedings.
I am, dear sir, Yours very truly,
Frank S. Nugent.

J. B. Trayes, Esq.,
Editor of The Times, Port Hope.
Instead of acknowledging by mail the receipt of the above from Mr. Nugent,—whom we take to be a gentleman and a clever young lawyer,—we avail ourselves of this means of replying, and have simply to say that as far as his client is concerned we did not even know him by sight until he was pointed out to us in the court room on the first day of the Free Press trial.
The rumours that preceded him here were such that we did not desire to know him, or have anything to do with him. We determined he should get no advertising free from this paper, and in consequence some grossly personal references have been allowed to pass unnoticed. As to this libel, of which complaint is made, we never did 'repeat' it, or in any way circulate it. Parties who came into our office and asked to see the Free Press were allowed to read the article, and beyond the quoting of a few words of it in The Times, it never obtained circulation through us.

But all this time Mr. Nugent's client was going about breathing fire and brimstone against us, and goodness knows what he wasn't going to do. Fortunately, we are not very easily frightened, and we do not tremble very much even at the receipt of that dreaded document, 'A Lawyer's Letter.'

If our readers will look at the date of the above letter they will see it was written on the 27th April. On the 24th, we published the evidence of the Free Press trial, so that no doubt this letter was ordered to be written to endeavor to intimidate us from publishing the addresses of the counsel and the Judge's charge to the jury, but if that was the intention it will signally fail, for we flatter ourselves, we know what our duties as journalists are better than to allow any such consideration to deter us from the performance of a public duty, and the addresses and charge will appear in our issue on Saturday next. We might have allowed this case to have passed over as being too long for our limited space had it not been that up to the time of the appearance of the evidence in our columns only a disgracefully garbled report of the trial had been given the public, and but for the above letter we might not have again referred to the subject. The Ottawa Free Press of Tuesday contains a full short-hand report, and that portion we have not already published we shall reproduce.

And now, Mr. Nugent's client can exercise his own sweet will. We dare and defy him to go on with his case against us. There is this difference between us, that whereas he is utterly worthless, and five cents could not be collected from him, we are good for whatever sum he may be able to get judgment for.

Mr. E. Budge has also received a similar letter—the one being a copy of the other. This is the merest cowardice, as that gentleman informs us, as far as he is concerned, the letter is a tissue of falsehoods from beginning to end, and he throws the same defiance in the teeth of Mr. Nugent's client as we do.

from the Evening Guide  Saturday February 14, 1925
A Prominent Port Hope Man as Seen by the Toronto Daily Star

Ever bury a cat you believed you had drowned, and then see its auto resurrection? Times almost too numerous to mention Tory executioners have disposed of W. T. R. Preston, and then have seen him come back smiling with a governmental report in his hand, as chipper as if he'd never been near the water. He has done it again; this time his bombs drop where they test maritime forces within the empire, commercially considered, which has brought support from great British journals. He is already past seventy. But he seems to become chipperer the more of a senior he becomes. He used to show a short and snappy beard, but he has disposed of it for severaI years—laying aside every weight so as swifter to chase offenders against light and Liberalism.

He is a born bomb-thrower. Sometimes his bombs drop where they produce real effect—as in this report on the North Atlantic conference. Sometimes they haven't permanent effects—such as his voluminous, not seriously contradicted, reports on the conduct of the polls in France and Flanders in 1917. Simon Pure unionists do not point with pride to the way the soldiers were induced to vote; for instance, when it was found that the soldier candidate in East York received not a single overseas warrior's support, much silent pondering was provoked in many who had been worried as to how the kaiser would have voted had he been there.

Mr. Preston has had unique journalistic, religious, political and administrative experience. He imbibed orthodoxes in his native Port Hope air—Methodist and political. Both have changed and are changing their expressions. The electioneering partisan who is not yet extinct developed remmarkable ways of looking at and presenting facts. Transportation is prone to breed imparticular assertions. We have heard railway promotion speeches which have said that on one highly glorified railway fares have been reduced to a cent a mile, and have gained the impression that on the coming line that will be the standard rate. The truth was that excursion rates only were reduced to a cent a mile, and the intended standard was two and seven-eighths cents per mile. The illustration recurs when one sees a Prestonian heading that Atlantic rates have gone up seven hundred per cent. Some of them have, and the Preston case is strong enough against the shipping conference, in all conscience, even if some rates are only thrice their pre-conference size.

Atlantic passenger rates have risen vastly higher than steamship running costs. It sermed scarcely possible that steamship companies could make money by carrying and feeding steerage passengers the three thousand miles between New York and Liverpool for twelve dollars and a half. But when you have crossed the Atlantic in excellent second class style on the fastest ships afloat for less than thirty-five dollars and have seen companies build bigger and bigger vessels out of their profits you wonder at what has happened. But you don't wonder that, as the result of seven months' ferreting, Mr. Preston has put the whole business in the dock. The Canadian government merchant marine has withdrawn from the conference, and the government is out to force cheaper rates. the situation suggests that the British shipowner is not the incurable altruist we have sometimes pictured him.

Mr. Preston had great advantages for his investigation. He was the first really aggressive emigration commissioner Canada ever had in Europe. He became intimate with almost every phase of the shipping business, especially as it affected immigration to Canada. He knew where to look for conferential kinks—and found them.

Mr. Preston has a literary style all his own—full of punch and clarity. His book on Strathcona is worth far more than most critics found in it; partly because it is more restrained than many well-informed observer of the Stathcona-Preston relations in London expected it to be. Strathcona finally inspired the transfer of his subordinate (who never felt like a subordinate to the autocratic old lord) to the trade and commerce department. That was how Mr. Preston came to be our trading ambassador in countries as far apart as South Africa, Holland and Japan. Myriads of times he has been called the stormy petrel of the Canadian public service. His kind of petrel should be spelt with an 'o,' for, as the latest news proves, he causes more explosions than mere beating of wings can effect.

To quote a Tory source:—"The author of this slanderous critique was a sometime newspaperman, a paid Liberal Party hack, William Thomas Rochester Preston known as 'Hug the Machine' Preston for the political patronage he enjoyed. But he was also called a lot of other things as well, none of them very flattering—'an unprincipled rogue,' 'a professional liar,' and a 'rotten swine.'":—

from the Evening Guide  June 13, 1927
"Cable despatches this morning give details of the unveiling of a bronze plaque at the Hotel de Ville (the City Hall) at Mons, commemorative of the capture of the city by Canadians on November 11, 1918. This is an event which might properly be allowed to pass into oblivion, very much regretted rather than glorified.

"There was much waste of human life during the war, an enormous loss of lives which should not have taken place. But it is doubtful whether in any case there was a more deliberate and useless waste of human life than in the so-called capture of Mons.

"It was the last day; and the last hour, and almost the last minute, when to glorify the Canadian Head Quarters [sic] staff the Commander-in-Chief conceived the mad idea that it would be a fine thing to say that the Canadians had fired the last shot in the Great War, and had captured the last German entrenchment before the bugles sounded eleven o'clock, when the armistice which had been signed by both sides would begin officially.

"Canadian Headquarters sounded the advance upon the retreating Germans, unsuspecting that any mad proposal for further and unnecessary fighting was even contemplated. The men were sent on in front to charge the enemy. Headquarters, with conspicuous bravery, brought up the rear. The fighting may have been more severe than was expected. Certain it is the Germans did not take the attack lying down.

"Of course, the town was taken at the last minute before the official moment of the armistice arrived. But the penalty that was paid in useless waste of human life was appalling. There are hearts in Port Hope stricken with sorrow and mourning through this worse than drunken spree by Canadian Headquarters. Veterans who had passed through the whole four years are buried in Belgian cemeteries as the result of the 'glories of Mons'...

"Headquarters Staff assembled in the centre of the town as the eleven o'clock signal sounded that the official armistice was effective from that hour. Along the route that they had carefully and with safety made their way to the centre of the town, passing the dead and dying and the wounded, victims of their madness. lt was common talk among the soldiers that while the staff were congratulating themselves upon the great victory and enjoying the pride upon having 'fired the last shot in the Great War,' a sergeant advanced and whispered to one of the Staff that unless they withdrew immediately to a place of safety, they would not be allowed to leave the place alive, as the guns of the indignant Canadian soldiers were already trained on them. In less time than it takes to tell the story, Headquarters got into motors and were fleeing for their lives.

"It does not seem to be remembered that even Ottawa, neither by government nor Parliament, gave Sir Arthur Currie any official vote of thanks, or any special grant as an evidence of the esteem for his services. And this is the only case of this kind in connection with any of the commanding officers of the war. He was allowed to return to Canada unnoticed by officials of the government or of Parliament and permitted to sink into comparative obscurity in a civilian position as President of McGill University. The official desire to glorify Mons, therefore, deserves more than passing or silent notice. Canadian valour won Mons, but it was such a shocking, useless waste of human life that it is an eternal disgrace to the Headquarters that directed operations."

Arthur Currie took umbrage. Although he had been told that it would be impossible to get a favourable verdict from a jury, he wanted to fight back. In July, 1927, legal papers were served on Preston as well as Frederick Wilson, the owner of the Evening Guide. Thus began on April 16, 1928, one of the most melodramatic court cases in Canadian history, one that became known in the press as 'the fifty thousand dollar libel suit.'

by Philip Dansken Ross
Chapter 37: W. T. R. PRESTON

'Curses are like young chickens, and still come home to roost' —Old Proverb

WILLIAM THOMAS ROCHESTER PRESTON, of Ottawa originally, the man who, in 1929, was convicted of a rank libel against Sir Arthur Currie in regard to the Canadian capture of Mons at the end of the World War, has on three different occasions in his career entered suits for alleged libel against The Ottawa Journal.

Follows the story of his first libel action. But perhaps one may begin with something about Mr. Preston otherwise.

In the hey-day of the Liberal Government of Ontario under Sir Oliver Mowat, now long ago, W. T. R. Preston was the Chief Liberal organizer in Ontario. After service in this capacity, he was appointed by the Mowat Government, in 1893, Librarian of the Ontario Legislature. It was while he was thus a civil servant he acquired the cognomen of "Hug-the-machine Preston." He achieved that distinction prior to the close of the century, owing to a leak in telegraph service or some other mysterious catastrophe. A byelection took place in an Ontario constituency, West Elgin, in 1899, at a time when the Conservatives were making an outcry against alleged corruption by the provincial Liberal "machine". The Liberal candidate in the byelection, Donald McNish, emerging victorious, Mr. Preston wired him to "Hug the machine for me". Somehow or other the enemy got hold of this telegram of Jan. 12, 1899, and published it, and Mr. Preston was famous thereafter as "Hug-the-machine Preston."

The suggestive sobriquet, however, did not prevent the Liberal party from continuing to do honour to Mr. Preston. The Laurier Government at Ottawa in 1899 appointed him Inspector of Dominion Immigration agencies in Europe; and later, Comissioner of Immigration, with headquarters in London.

While holding office abroad, Mr. Preston had occasion to visit Ottawa in 1902, when he appeared before a Committee of the Dominion Senate to give evidence on immigration matters. Mr. Preston's life story suggests an unfailing pugnacious, jealous, and vindictive temper; and in the course of this appearance before the Senate he made a vitriolic attack upon the memory of a deceased uncle, John Rochester, once member of Parliament for Carleton County, with whom in Mr. Rochester's lifetime Preston had quarrelled.

Next day William Rochester, son of John Rochester and cousin of Preston, came in to The Journal office with a letter assailing Preston. The letter contained a number of statements about Preston which were libellous, if untrue. But if true, publication was proper. Preston was a public official. No doubt the country has a right to have men of good record in public office. Cross examining William Rochester carefully about his letter, I came to the conclusion that the assertions made in it, although several of them were very nasty, were justifiable. The Journal accordingly published the letter.

Mr. Preston paid no attention to Rochester. He could have sued Rochester. He chose to sue The Journal. This was lawful; a newspaper is responsible for what it publishes. Preston entered an action for libel against The Journal for $10,000 damages.

The Journal pleaded truth and justification. The case came to trial at Ottawa, Sept. 26,1902.

Considerable evidence had been taken in court which slowed truth in the charges made, until a paragraph in the letter was reached which alleged that a judge had once said in court to Preston that he could not be believed on oath.

This part of the letter proved to be untrue. Rochester had made a mistake. A judge had actually indeed made that remark to a Preston. But not to W. T. R. Preston. It was made to W. T. R. Preston's father. Rochester had got the thing confused.

The law of libel is that you must not publish any false assertion to injure anyone. If you make a number of damaging assertions, a single one proved to be untrue cooks you goose. You are not protected from the consequences by proving all the others to be true. You have done wrong, and the law prescribes penalty. This, of course is quite right and proper. One should not publish untruth about anybody in any respect. In this trial we had proved a lot of damaging things about Preston, but in one particular thing we were wrong, and we were caught.

My lawyer, Mr. George F. Henderson, advised me that we were nailed; that the judge would have to charge against us—that the best thing we could do would be to get out of the hole as cheaply as possible.

Accordingly, when the court adjourned for lunch on Sept. 27, we asked Preston's lawyer, Mr. Heyd, of Brantford for an interview with him and his client. It took place in an ante-room of the court. Our side said that following the discovery of the untrue statement in the Rochester letter, The Journal was prepared to apologize and pay all costs.

"No damages?" Mr. Preston inquired.

Mr. Henderscm intimated that even if the verdict of the jury should go against us, which was by no means certain, the verdict would likely carry only a small amount for damages, also that the costs were heavy. He thought a fair compromise was suggested.

Mr. Preston said: "Let me see your apology."

I drafted an apology—an apology for the one specific statement proved untrue. Mr. Henderson passed it over to Preston's counsel, Mr. Heyd. Mr. Heyd after reading it handed it to Mr. Preston saying "I think that is all right, Mr. Preston."

Mr. Preston read it. "No, it isn't all right," he ejaculated. "This apology refers only to one item. I want an apology for the whole letter."

"But, Mr. Preston," returned Mr. Henderson, "that would imply that the whole letter was untrue, and that we admitted that, which would not be truth on our part."

I don't care what you infer," Mr. Preston snarled, "I've got you where I want you and you can crawl."

Our battle array invited Mr. Preston to go to a warmer climate, and left the room.

The trial was resumed. After conclusion of the evidence, and addresses of counsel, the judge delivered his charge to the jury. The charge, as Mr. Henderson had anticipated, was against The Journal. The jury retired. After a brief absence the twelve good men and true came back with a unanimous verdict of 'Not guilty,' in favour of The Journal.

Mr. Preston had to pay all the costs of the action, for both sides, which were heavy.

If Mr. Preston had accepted the apology and costs which were tendered to him he would have saved several thousand dollars besides a good deal of reputation; and probably have been thought by most of the public to have obtained a complete victory and vindication. The average 'man-in-the-street' would not have discriminated much about the nature of the apology.

Mr. Preston, by vindictiveness about his relatives started the fighting, and by arrogance he threw away the battle.

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