The Queen vs. Kelly: Part One


bytown gazette
Bytown Gazette
15 April 1841
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. It was, in the words of the Bytown Gazette (15 April 1841), a "shocking murder" and a "sad catastrophy."

The fight took place "on the road near Captain
Bradley's," whose property is shown on this 1830
township survey. Early patent plan of Huntley
Township and March Township, ca. 1830. Archives
of Ontario, RG 1-100-0-0-1037.

Who was Michael Hourigan?

Michael Hourigan was the eldest son of Timothy Hourigan and Mary Lahey. Born about 1816, probably at or near Ballymacegan, in the parish of Lorrha, Co. Tipperary, Michael emigrated from Ireland to Canada 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 with a fourth child on the way (Thomas Hourigan, born late 1825 or early 1826, who would marry Julia Moran, daughter of James Moran and Margaret Jamieson). 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 (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.

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.

Petition of Mary Hourigan (here Horahan). Library and Archives
Canada, RG 1, L-3, vol. 233, Canada Land Petitions, H bundle 15,
1827, no. 15

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 Denis Killeen had served in the 97th Regiment of Foot, and for whom he worked as a “soldier servant” in March township).

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.” 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 in Ireland (county unknown), 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.

marriage record
Marriage of John Kelly and Mary Hourigan (here Horrigan), 20 August 1838. Ottawa, Notre Dame of Ottawa, Baptism,
Marriage, Burial, Confirmation; Ottawa; 1825, 1829-47. Database,, Ontario, Canada, Roman Catholic
Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1760-1923.

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 certainly 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.

baptismal record
Baptism of Ann Kelly, "aged 3 months," 23 September 1839. Her baptismal sponsors were Michael
Nash and The Widow Hourogan [Hourigan]. Ottawa (basilique Notre Dame/Notre Dame Basilica),
Register of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1836-1840. Database,, Ontario, Canada
Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967.

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

A Fatal Affray

Irish labourer
Irish Labourer
'Rideau Canal, Long Island on the Rideau River,
August 1830,' by J.P. Cockburn. Royal Ontario Museum

John Kelly’s trial for the murder of Michael Hourigan took place on Thursday, 20 May 1841, at the original Bathurst courthouse in Perth. 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 tabloid press of today).

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.

When John Brennan saw the two men, Michael Hourigan was ahead of John Kelly, "who seemed to be in a violent rage, with a knife in his hand." Brennan was "afraid of prisoner, and kept out of his way, advising deceased to do so also, and go with him," but Hourigan refused, "stating he would go back and fight Kelly." Brennan saw Kelly stab Hourigan and knock him down, before jumping on him and "inflicting some further blows."

After a struggle, Brennan succeeded in "wrenching the knife from prisoner," while Hourigan fainted away. Brennan then went to his neighbour Morgan’s house for assistance, and was followed by Kelly, who was driven away only when Brennan "went into the stable and got a pitch-fork, threatening to stick prisoner if he would touch him." Kelly "went off up the road, he had a stick in his hand." When Brennan returned to the scene of the fight "about a quarter of an hour" later (and without neighbour Morgan, who was sick), he found Michael Hourigan lying dead.

At some point afterwards (it is not clear when, from the account given in the Courier), Dr. Hill, "a Surgeon in the township of March," was called upon "to examine the wounds of the deceased." Hill found four wounds, "the fatal one being a stab on the femoral vein, the others were but slight." Hill testified that the deceased "could not have existed longer than 6 or 7 minutes after the fatal stab was given."

Go to Part Two.

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