At the time of this article, the Donnelly Family of Lucan, Ontario had approximately twelve hours to live. It is said that James Donnelly Sr. made purchases the afternoon before his death on account, stating that the shopkeeper could “…charge them to the Queen, for he may well not be around to pay the debt himself in future.” – A chillingly accurate premonition to say the least.

In the months leading up to the massacre, a drunken, vengeful mob of thirty or more men had gathered for regular, late-night meetings at the Cedar Swamp School on Highway 23 to plot the downfall of one of Southwestern Ontario’s most prominent and prosperous families. On this night, one hundred and thirty years ago, they fully intended to shed blood – As Orlo Miller put it:

The Donnellys Must Die.

Shortly after midnight on February 4th, in the deeply religious lands of Biddulph Township, four Donnellys including a cousin visiting from Ireland, were brutally bludgeoned at the hands of their fellow parishioners. The victims were laid out to burn in a crude cremation of sorts, as their home was torched in an effort to destroy any evidence of the crime. The fifth and final murder of that fateful night came from gunshot wounds inflicted at point-blank range, which tore the torso of John Donnelly like a machete through paper-mâché. Thankfully, a young boy named Johnny O’Connor escaped the massacre at the Donnelly Homestead and lived to tell the tale in court, while John’s brother Will and others witnessed his assassination from only yards away. Interestingly enough, not a single conviction was made in the capital murder trial, and the entire travesty has become the stuff of legend. Often mistaken, always controversial and rarely fully understood.

Nearly a century and a half later, this crime remains one the most bizarre and perverse in the annals of Canadian History. Lest we forget that a lynching occurred only seventeen miles north of London, Ontario in 1880 – The infamous “Biddulph Tragedy.”

As a primary benefactor and honoured sponsor of The Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum, scheduled to celebrate its grand opening in May; I fully appreciate the cultural significance of this crucial facet of our past. It is my sincere hope that through continued education and understanding, the lingering memories of the Donnelly Family and their raucous times in 19th century Ontario will serve to proliferate a concussion which blasts through our collective psyche with as much fervor as it did during their lives.


At Rest – Biddulph, Ontario


Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: February 3, 2010, 12:33 pm |

Leave a Comment

Your comment

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.