Crime and Punishment

Bigamy in the 19th century: how common?

I’m going to guess: not very common. And yet, it certainly did happen. I’ve actually come across very solid evidence of a bigamy case in the 1840s in the parish register for St. Philip’s RC Church in Richmond. No relations of mine, or I would certainly post about the case.

When you think about 19th-century parish registers, you probably think about names and dates and records. Well, that’s what I generally think about, because I most often consult the parish registers searching for names and dates in the records. But if you read through the parish registers very closely (which I sometimes do, and find myself engrossed in the perusal of records that don’t even mention my own ancestors; but I can’t stop reading, because here is a window into the world of my ancestors, even when they themselves are not cited), you will find traces, and sometimes more than traces, of human dramas and human sorrows; of misjudgments and miscalculations; of criminal violence and sexual exploitation; of the scandals that once blighted actual lives, and that once ruined the hopes and expectations of those who were once living, breathing, flesh-and-blood people.

Incest? Yes, I have seen one obvious 1 instance in an Ottawa Valley RC parish register: it was shocking to come across, even 150-or-so years later. “Illegitimate” (i.e., out-of-wedlock) births? I’ve seen too many instances to enumerate (though the vast majority of RC baptismal records that I’ve read, I should add, concern an infant who was “born of the lawful marriage of [name of father] and of [name of mother].” Bigamy? Yeah, I’ve seen evidence  of that, too; though, in the interests of accuracy, even it runs against an impulse toward sensationalism, I have to say that I can only think of one example (at St. Philip’s, Richmond, already mentioned above) of obvious bigamy.

I suspect that one of the brothers of one my 2x-great-grandmothers was guilty of bigamy. But I haven’t yet posted the details, because so far the evidence I’ve amassed is highly circumstantial, and I haven’t yet found the “smoking gun” that would prove him guilty of what I now just suspect. This is one of those cases where things just look a bit weird, and the details don’t seem to add up. Am I just letting my imagination run away with me? Perhaps. But there is definitely something a bit irregular here, something that doesn’t quite look right. I will post details if and when I find that crucial piece of documented evidence.

For the most part, my Ottawa Valley ancestors (and yours too, if you had ancestors who settled in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century) lived in small, face-to-face communities, where bigamy was not at all a viable life strategy: too many eyes and ears, too many folks who knew exactly who you were, and where your parents came from, and what your father did. And the penalties for bigamy in 19th-century Britain and the British colonies were quite severe: up to seven years of penal servitude, after all, and by “hard labour,” they meant, “We will work you so hard, we will make you wish you had never been born.”

On the other hand, the boundaries between regions and provinces, and even between the British-run Canadian dominions and the newly-forged American republic, were in the nineteenth century highly porous and permeable, and easy enough to slip through. You could cross the border into America without a passport in the 1900s (which was decades before the establishment of a regular system of passport control); you could totally game the system (which was not yet a “system”). For those with the ambition, or perhaps with the law breathing down their necks, there was always the chance to cross over (into the States), to head out, to head west, to “light out for the Territory.”

The brother (of the 2x–great-grandmother) that I suspect of bigamy was raised in Lanark Co., Ontario (whether born in Lanark Co., Ontario, or perhaps in Ireland: this I do not know), and he died and was buried a couple of thousand miles away, in Washington State, in the US of A. Did he cross that border, and take that escape route, into a new life with a new wife?

Have you come across any evidence of bigamy in your own family tree? Not to reduce genealogical research to the status of a gossip mag or a scandal sheet, but ‘enquiring minds want to know!’

  1. Obvious, as in, the priest explicitly spelled out the relationship between the parents of the baptized children, which was that of an uncle and his niece. The priest could not hide his disapproval of the “unlawful” union of uncle and niece even as he baptized their innocent children, and who could blame him? Btw, in the 1851 census, the uncle and niece were recorded as a married couple, which they certainly were not.

The Queen vs. Kelly: Part V

Continued from The Queen vs Kelly: Part IV (see also Part III, Part II, and Part I).

What Happened to John Kelly and Mary Hourigan?

When I wrote Part I of “The Queen vs. Kelly,” I had no idea what had happened to John Kelly after his release from the Dominion Penitentiary in May 1842. Nor did I have any expectation of finding him, once I had determined that he did not return to March township.

According to family lore, he had “gone to the States,” which certainly didn’t sound too promising. The States covers a vast territory, of course, and with a common surname like Kelly, and the even commoner forenames of John, Mary (his wife) and Ann (his daughter), searching for this family seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack. I did do a search of the 19th-century US federal census returns, but (not surprisingly, as it turns out) came up with nothing.1

It was while searching for another record (unrelated to the Kellys and the Hourigans, as a matter of fact) in the parish register for the Mission at Mattawa that I happened upon the burial record for Mary Hourigan, who was buried as  “Mary Horrigan, Dame John Kelly:”

Burial record for Mary Hourigan, widow of John Kelly.

  1. If the Kellys had gone to the United States, by the way, their daughter Ann’s Canadian birthplace would have been the best bet for identifying them in the US federal census. Since both John Kelly and his wife Mary Hourigan were born in Ireland, they would have been listed in the US census as John and Mary Kelly, born in Ireland and now living in America, but with no indication of a decade or two spent in Canada. Their daughter Ann’s birthplace, on the other hand, if accurately listed (and there are many such ifs when it comes to census data) would have been recorded as Canada. I have found other Ireland-to-Canada-to-America families in the US census by searching for children born in Canada.

The Queen vs Kelly: Part IV

Continued from The Queen vs. Kelly: Part III.

Hard Times, Hard Labour

As reported in Part III, John Kelly entered the Dominion Penitentiary at Kingston on 15 May 1841, to serve a one-year sentence for the manslaughter of his brother-in-law Michael Hourigan.

Dickens described the penitentiary as ‘well and wisely governed’…

While we don’t have any details specific to Kelly’s one-year confinement in the penitentiary, we can assume it was a harsh, if not hellish experience. Though touted as a model of the new, and more humane approach to punishment and rehabilitation — when Charles Dickens visited the Dominion Penitentiary in the 1840s, he described it as “an admirable jail,…well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated, in every respect” 1 — the new prison at Kingston was in fact “a place of violence and oppression.” From an online history at Correctional Service Canada:

At the root of its problems in the early years was its first warden, Henry Smith. Smith’s use of flogging, even in an age when it was an accepted form of discipline, was flagrant. In 1847, inmates were given 6,063 floggings, an average of 12 per inmate. Women, and children as young as eight were flogged. As well, Smith punished inmates with shackling, solitary confinement, bread-and-water diets, darkened cells, submersion in water, 35-pound yokes, and imprisonment in the “box,” an upright coffin. His son ran the kitchen, profiteering by diverting food and serving rotten meat. In his spare time, he tortured inmates, once putting out a prisoner’s eye at archery practice.

Even by the severe standards of the day, Smith’s treatment of the prisoners was considered outrageous, and he was removed from his post as warden after an investigation into his abuses in 1848.

  1. Charles Dickens, American Notes (London: Chapman and Hall: 1874), etext edition, University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center 1996, pp. 240-241.

‘Wilful Murder’ and Black Sheep Ancestors: Introduction

Bytown Gazette, 29 November 1837. The "Lachie" named here was Daniel Lahey, husband of Catherine Lahey, and "the person who struck the blow" was his brother-in-law, James Lahey.

Yet another tale of murder and mayhem in March township. And, like the case of The Queen vs. Kelly, yet another story of a drunken altercation between two brothers-in-law, ending in a shocking fatality. And, again like the case of John Kelly’s killing of Michael Hourigan, yet another instance of either murder or manslaughter involving my (ahem, not always illustrious, but comparatively well-documented: because the Crown, it tends to leave some records in its wake…) ancestors, the Laheys of March.

But where, in the case of The Queen vs. Kelly, it was a Lahey (Michael Hourigan, son of Timothy Hourigan and Mary Lahey) who was the victim; here we have a Lahey as victim: Daniel Lahey, husband of Catherine Lahey, who was the sister of Mary (Lahey) Hourigan and the aunt of Michael Hourigan; and also a Lahey as perpetrator: James Lahey, brother of Catherine Lahey and of Mary (Lahey) Hourigan and uncle of Michael Hourigan, and my 3x great-grandfather.

The Queen vs. Kelly: Part III

Continued from The Queen Vs. Kelly: Part II (and The Queen vs. Kelly: Part I).

John Kelly’s trial for the murder of Michael Hourigan took place on Thursday, 20 May 1841, at the original Bathurst courthouse in Perth.1 The following is based on the account published in the Bathurst Courier (28 May 1841), which enlivened its recital of the facts of the case with bits and pieces of boilerplate didacticism (much like the tablid press of today).

A Fatal Affray

‘They finally made it up over some beer,…but got disputing warmly afterwards about a child.’

On Good Friday, 9 April 1841, John Kelly arrived at Henry Smith’s brewery “between 9 and 10 o’clock” in the morning, and “stopt some hours there.” His brother-in-law Michael Hourigan (spelled Horrogan in the newspaper account) came to Smith’s brewery at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. While there initially appeared to be “some coolness between them,” the two men “finally made it up over some beer, at the suggestion of Horrogan.” However, the truce was short-lived; and Kelly and Hourigan “got disputing warmly afterwards about a child” (two-year old Ann Kelly, daughter of John Kelly and his wife Mary Hourigan and granddaughter and goddaughter of Mary [Lahey] Hourigan) in the presence of Henry Smith the brewer.

After leaving Smith’s brewery (whether together or separately is not clear), Kelly and Hourigan were seen together by two witnesses, John Brennan and William Headley, both residents of March township.  William Headley was apparently the first of the two witnesses to see the two men together, when he and his wife came by in a sleigh. Having been shown “a stab on the side of [the deceased’s] head, inflicted by the prisoner,” Headley urged Michael Hourigan to get into his sleigh. Unfortunately, Hourigan refused, stating that “he would have satisfaction;” and Headley and his wife drove on.

  1. At the northwest corner of Craig and Drummond Streets. This building, erected in 1822, was destroyed by fire on 1 December 1841 (Bathurst Courier, 7 Dec 1841), and replaced by a new District Court House and Gaol in 1842-43.

The Queen vs. Kelly: Part II

Continued from The Queen vs. Kelly: Part I.

The Queen vs. Kelly

Bathurst Courier, 16 April 1841

“We are informed it was committed whilst in a state of intoxication,” wrote the Bathurst Courier (16 April 1841) of John Kelly’s fatal stabbing of his brother-in-law Michael Hourigan.

Not surprisingly, the Courier took a lively interest in the case, publishing three brief notices of Kelly’s arrest and detention, along with a lengthy account of his trial. A case like Kelly’s offered the newspaper a chance to entertain its readers with the lurid details of a brutal act of violence, while moralizing on the theme of peace, order, and good government. The fact that “the unfortunate man Kelly” was the only person arraigned at the Assizes for a crime, opined the editors at the Courier, “[said] much for the otherwise peaceable and orderly condition of the Districts.”

Occupation: Inmate

Search tip: If someone’sU.S. World War I Draft Registration card lists his occupation as “Twine worker” and his address as the Minnesota State Prison in Stillwater, Minn., the guy’s an inmate at the prison.

Here’s a photograph (Minnesota Historical Society, Photograph Collection 1925) of the twine factory at the Stillwater Prison. More photographs and background information (.PDF file): James Taylor Dunn, “The Minnesota State Prison during the Stillwater Era, 1853-1914,” Minnesota History, December 1960 (Minnesota Historical Society).

Back up Your Online Genealogy Data!

Or: do as I say, and not as I did. 

What I did was to fail to back up my site. My old (private and password-protected) family history website, that is. Oh, I still have the information (in gedcoms, files, notes, photocopied documents, and so on), but it’s scattered all over the place. And I lost some of the brief (and sometimes not-so-brief) narratives that I had written, and which I now have to rewrite from scratch if I want to publish them here.
Most annoyingly, I lost my account of how James Lahey killed his brother-in-law Daniel Lahey by hitting him on the head with a block of wood, leaving James’s sister and Daniel’s wife Catherine Lahey a widow with numerous young mouths to feed. It was a shocking act of violence, and a family scandal the effects of which reverberated for several generations at least. As a child, I heard a version (not entirely accurate, but accurate enough, as it turns out) almost a century and a half after the fact, and it left a powerful impression on me. So I think this one is worth rewriting.
But I should have backed up my original account, of course.

The Queen vs Kelly (Part I)

‘Barbarously Murdered’

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.

Bytown Gazette, 15 April 1841

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


It was the Hourigans’ custody of the child Ann Kelly which led to the deadly altercation between the two brothers-in-law.

(To Be Continued…)

  1. Bathurst Courier, 16 April 1841.
  2. 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).
  3. Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of March Ontario, pp. 14-15.
  4. Cited in D.T. Lahey, The Laheys of March Ontario, p. 15.
  5. 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.

Breach of Peace in Perth Town: John McGlade and his son Michael

On 11 August 1856, John McGlade was convicted of “Breach of Peace on Sabbath,” for which he paid a fine of £1 to the Town of Perth (Co. Lanark, Ontario, Canada). This was no doubt a hefty sum for a labourer, and especially for a recently married one, whose wife, Bridget Dunne, was expecting their first child (Michael James McGlade, born 28 December 1856 at Perth). Another man, Michael Lee, was likewise convicted of the same offence on the same day, but his was apparently deemed a more serious breach of the peace, since the fine levied against Lee was £3 10s. The charges were brought by George Graham, Chief Constable of the Town of Perth.

I’m not sure what exactly constituted a “Breach of Peace” on the Sabbath, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d imagine that it involved the consumption of alcohol on a Sunday. I have to wonder if the complaints against McGlade and Lee were connected to the conviction, on 12 August 1856, of Hugh McMullan, Inn Keeper, for “Keeping a noisy, riotous, and disorderly house in the Town of Perth on the Lord’s Day,” for which offence he suffered the loss of his tavern license (“License to keep an Inn in Perth abrogated”).1