On Sunday last, a man named John Kelly, was lodged in gaol on a charge of murder, in having in the township of March, on the Friday previous, stabbed one Michael Horrogan, his brother-in-law, in an affray, from the fatal effects of which he did not recover.We are informed it was committed whilst in a state of intoxication.1
It was on Good Friday, 9 April 1841 that John Kelly killed his brother-in-law Michael Hourigan.
According to an account published in the Bathurst Courier (28 May 1841), the two men had spent the afternoon drinking at Henry Smith’s brewery, where they had been overhead quarrelling “warmly” over a child, but had then seemed to make it up. After leaving the brewery in the late afternoon, however, Kelly and Hourigan got into a fight “on the road near Captain Bradley’s.” Kelly stabbed his brother-in-law several times with a knife, and the injuries proved fatal.2 It was, in the words of the Bytown Gazette (see inset, right), a “shocking murder” and a “sad catastrophy.”
Who was Michael Hourigan?
The following account of the Hourigans is based on the (extremely thorough) research of D.T. Lahey.
Michael Hourigan was the eldest son of Timothy Hourigan and Mary Lahey (sister of my 3x great-grandfather James Lahey). Born about 1816, probably at or near Ballymacegan, in the parish of Lorrha, Co. Tipperary, Michael emigrated in the summer of 1825 with his parents and his siblings Patrick and Mary. Shortly after their arrival in Upper Canada, the family met with grave misfortune when Timothy Hourigan was killed by the fall of a tree (an occupational hazard for early Upper Canadian settlers).
Mary (Lahey) Hourigan was now a widow with three young children and a fourth child on the way (Thomas Hourigan, born late 1825 or early 1826, who would marry Julia Moran, sister of my 2x great-grandfather Alexander “Sandy” Michael Moran). The unhappy circumstances of the family were related by Mary’s brother Patrick Lahey in a letter to Peter Robinson, written in a desperate (and failed) attempt to prevent the family’s eviction from Lot 8, Concession 2 in March township:
Sir. At my coming to this Country which is now four years this faul I stoped in the township of March and paid Frederick W. Richardson ten dollars for his goodwill of Lot No. 8 in said township the north west half.
I could have sat on many a better lot that was vacant at the time. But he tol’d me as I was not able to pay for it that any other man could throw me out and he tol’d me it was a Crown lot and that he got provision of leave from John Burk and would make good same to me. But he having cut away all the oak was in a hurry to part with it.
Me self, me brother [probably my 3x great-grandfather James Lahey], and brother in law [Timothy Hourigan] settled and improved on it until the following summer me brother in law was killed by the fall of a tree. The widow and three children fell in charge to us.2
On 8 January 1826, Mary Hourigan submitted a petition to the Crown, asking for a piece of land for “the support of herself and her fatherless Children:”
Petitioner with her husband Timothy Horahan and children arrived in this Country in the year 1825, the 26th August, of which year her husband was killed by the falling of a tree whilst working for the support of his wife and large family, who have been left destitute by his death.
Petitioner has four Children, 3 boys & 1 girl, one of whom was born six months after her being deprived of her husband.
Petitioner most humbly begs that a lot of land may be assigned to her for the support of herself and her fatherless Children, her husband having been killed before his being located to any Land, and yr Petitioner shall ever pray. Mary X [her mark] Horahan.
The petition was supported by a character reference (25 September 1826), which certified “the deceased husband and his Widow to be persons of very good character and worthy of the Commiseration of His Excellency the Governor in Chief,” and which was signed by four members of the local elite, including Tory landowner and politician Hamnett Pinhey and Captain John Benning Monk (under whom my 3x- great-grandfather Denis Killeen had served in the 97th Regiment of Foot, and for whom he worked as a “soldier servant” in March township).3
The Widow Hourigan’s petition was successful, and on 4 July 1827 she moved her family to Lot 19, Concession 2 of March township, for which she received a Crown patent on 24 February 1831.
In 1835, Mary (Lahey) Hourigan made a payment of £5 toward a piece of land for her eldest son Michael. Unfortunately, the record of this payment got lost, and it took Hamnet Pinhey ten years to recover the money. “The poor woman now seeking restitution of her money,” wrote Pinhey, “is in great affliction — purchased this lot through me for her son, then a young lad, and just as he had become the support of his mother was by some ruffians most brutally murdered.”4 By the time she finally received a refund of her money, in July 1845, her son Michael had been dead four years, the victim not of “some ruffians” but of his own brother-in-law John Kelly.
Who was John Kelly?
I know very little about John Kelly.
He was born about 1813, very probably in Ireland, and was a resident of March township by 1838. Unfortunately, the record of his marriage (Notre Dame, Bytown, 20 August 1838) to Mary Hourigan, daughter of Timothy Hourigan and Mary Lahey, and sister of Michael, does not supply the names of his parents. At his trial, he was described as a “shantyman,” which term might refer specifically to someone we would now call “a lumberjack,” but which might also be applied more loosely to an Irish labourer. The designation suggests that he was not a farmer/landholder. Apparently some of his neighbours, not to mention his mother-in-law, thought he was a “dangerous character.”
Indeed, so concerned was his mother-in-law Mary Lahey, aka the Widow Hourigan, over Kelly’s propensity to violence that she took custody of his young daughter Ann, who was both her grandchild and her goddaughter:5
(To Be Continued…)
- Bathurst Courier, 16 April 1841. ↵
- Patt Lahey to Peter Robinson, 10 July 1828. Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of March Ontario (Guelph, Ontario: 1991), vii-viii. Part of this letter (from Crown Lands Township Papers, RG I, C-IV, Lot 8, March, Archives of Ontario) is also quoted in Bruce S. Elliott, Irish Migrants in the Canadas: A New Approach (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994), p. 349, n. 92, where Pat Lahey is identified as “an Irish Roman Catholic immigrant” who may have later become a “migrant” (which is more or less accurate, I think). ↵
- Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of March Ontario, pp. 14-15. ↵
- Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of March Ontario, p. 15. ↵
- Baptismal record for Ann Kelly, who was baptized 25 September 1839, “aged 5 months, lawful child of John Kelly & of Mary Hourogan. Sponsors Michael Nash and The Widow Hourogan.” Ottawa (basilique Notre Dame/Notre Dame Basilica), Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1836-1840, image 57 of 80, database, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca/: accessed 20 May 2010), Ontario, Canada Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967. ↵