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The Donnelly Trial
A Chronology
of Events 1879-1881

February 1879– Father John Connolly is appointed parish priest of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Biddulph Township

June – Connolly has parishioners sign pledge to aid him "in the discovery and putting down of crime" that has been occurring in the community over the past few years; the names in the book form the foundation of the Biddulph Vigilance Committee

Summer - Bridget Donnelly arrives from Tipperary, Ireland to live with her uncle and aunt near Lucan, Ontario

September 2 – members of the Vigilance Committee search and upset James Donnelly’s home looking for William Thompson’s lost cow; some are charged with trespass, destruction of property and assault, but all charges are later thrown out.

September 20 – James Carroll appointed county constable at the urging of the Vigilance Committee

January 15, 1880 – Pat Ryder’s barns and stables are burned down; warrants issued for the arrest of Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly; after four adjournments, trial is set for February 4th in Granton

February 1 – Father Connolly preaches against depredation in the parish

February 3

afternoon - James Donnelly buys some provisions in the village of Lucan and picks up 13-year-old Johnny O’Connor to take care of the farm the next day while the family is in court

early evening - John Donnelly goes to his brother Will’s to get the cutter for their journey to Granton and decides to stay at Whalen’s Corners for the night

11 p.m. - members of the vigilance committee allegedly hold a meeting at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse

February 4

1:15 a.m. - Mob of men arrived at the Donnelly farmhouse, Lot 18, 6th concession of Biddulph Township, inside are old Jim, Johannah, their son Tom, Bridget and Johnny O’Connor

1:30 a.m. – O’Connor arrives at the home of Pat Whelan across the road and tells him the Donnellys have been murdered and their home set on fire

2:15 a.m. – John Donnelly shot to death at Will’s house

February 6 - funeral at St. Patrick’s Church, charred remains of four members are buried in a single coffin; Father Connolly breaks down weeping at the service

March 13 – preliminary hearing ends at London; six men committed for trial: James Carroll, Thomas Ryder, John Purtell, John Kennedy Jr., James Ryder and Martin McLaughlin

April 12 – trial postponed to fall assizes

Spring – request for a change of venue by the prosecution is refused; trial will be held in London

September – fall assizes open; all six prisoners plead not guilty; defense is granted a severance of trials, each of the accused will be tried separately

October 4 – trial of James Carroll begins at London and Middlesex Courthouse

October 9 – jury unable to reach a verdict

January 24, 1881 – second trial of James Carroll begins at London and Middlesex Courthouse

February 2 – jury returns "not guilty of murder" verdict, nearly one year to the date of the murders; Carroll is set free and charges against remaining five prisoners are eventually dropped

james carroll

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