February, 1880 to February, 1881
Early Afternoon of February 3, 1880
The Vigilance Committee holds a meeting in the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse. They speak to James Feeheley and ask him to spy on the Donnellys later that night.
Afternoon of February 3, 1880
The Donnelly family members busy themselves preparing to attend their trial for the burning of the Ryder barn to be held in Granton the next day. They fetch Johnny O’Connor, a thirteen year old neighbour boy. He is going to care for the animals in their absence.
Evening of February 3, 1880
John Donnelly leaves the family homestead and goes to William Donnelly’s home in Whalen’s Corners to borrow a sleigh to take the family to court the next day. He decides to spend the night at William’s home. Friend Martin Hogan Sr. also spends the night at William’s. Back at the Donnelly homestead, Tom Donnelly and Johnny O’Connor care for the animals, eat supper and some apples. Tom, Johnny, Johannah, James Sr. and neice Bridget from Ireland are present.
Late Evening of February 3, 1880
James Sr. decides to go to bed and he takes Johnny O’Connor with him. They retire to the bedroom at the front of the house. James Feheeley arrives and talks with Thomas, Bridget and Johannah. Feeheley likely assumes that Johnny O’Connor is John Donnelly. Feeheley leaves and Tom retires to the bedroom off of the back kitchen. Bridget and Johannah sleep together in the room next to the bedroom of James Sr. at the front of the house.
Shortly Before Midnight, February 3, 1880
The Vigilance Committee gathers at the Cedar Swamp Schoolhouse. They proceed past John Doherty’s farm to one of the farms owned by Patrick Ryder.
Shortly After Midnight, February 4, 1880
John and William Donnelly and Martin Hogan go to bed at William’s place. Nora Donnelly is already asleep. John and Hogan share one room, and William and Nora another.
Shortly After 1 a.m., February 4, 1880
The mob proceeds to the Donnelly homestead. They meet James Feeheley who incorrectly tells them who is at the Donnelly homestead. Carroll allegedly enters the home first via the back kitchen door. He handcuffs Tom. Bridget and Johannah awake and start a fire. Carroll proceeds to the front room and awakens James Sr. Johnny passes James his coat. The mob quickly enters the home and attacks James Sr. and Johannah. Johnny takes cover under the bed and watches the violent scene. Johnny then follows Bridget who runs upstairs, but she shuts the door so Johnny is unable to follow her. Johnny returns to his hiding spot under the bed. Johnny claims he sees Tom run outside, but Tom is dragged back into the house. Johnny then says that he sees some of the mob go upstairs to kill Bridget. The mob then spreads coal oil and sets fire to the cabin.
1:30 a.m., February 4, 1880
Johnny O’Connor flees out the back door and goes to the home of Patrick Whalen. Johnny tells them about the murders and the fire and after some time they go back to the Donnelly cabin. The house burns and the body of Bridget falls through to the main level of the house. It snows for most of the night, covering the scene of the murders.
Around 2 a.m., February 4, 1880
After killing Bridget, Tom, Johannah and James Sr., the mob travels to William’s house at Whalen’s Corners. The mob separates and surrounds the house. Members of the mob shout “fire”, hoping to awaken William. Instead, John awakes and goes to the door to see what is happening. He is mistaken for William and is shot, allegedly by Martin McLaughlin and James Ryder Jr.. Hogan, Nora and William hide inside and watch John die.
Early Morning of February 4, 1880
People come to view the burned Donnelly home and the remains of the murdered victims. Some scavenge for souvenirs. The police arrive and put what remains of the bodies into one casket.
Afternoon of February 4, 1880
Coroner Thomas Hossack gathers a jury to start hearing testimony at the coroner’s inquest.
February 5, 1880
James Carroll is arrested, as are 12 others.
February 6, 1880
A funeral is held for James Sr., Johannah, Bridget, Thomas and John Donnelly. Father Connolly delivers a controversial funeral address and it is clear that the community is split over whether the death of the Donnellys is to be celebrated or mourned.
February 11, 1880
The coroner’s inquest readjourns. They meet again on February 18 and March 2. They decide that the Donnellys were murdered by “persons unknown.”
February 21, 1880
The Preliminary Hearing is held from February 21 to March 13. Six prisoners (James Carroll, John Kennedy, Martin McLaughlin, Thomas Ryder, James Ryder and John Purtell) are committed for trial at the Spring Assizes. Two others, Patrick Ryder Jr. and William Carroll are allowed out on bail.
April 13, 1880
The O’Connor family home is burned to the ground. Many suspect arson. Johnny is under guard in London. His family, however, tries to take advantage of the situation and asks Crown Attorney Charles Hutchinson for money.
April to May, 1880
Prosecutors, aware of the bias against the Donnellys, ask for a change of venue, but the judge refuses. In May, prosecutors appeal to the superior courts for a change of venue, but they also refuse to move the trial from London. This is in part due to the influence of Attorney General Oliver Mowat, a Liberal, who does not want to appear anti-Irish Catholic and thus alienate voters. Newspapers take sides in the conflict and the case is held over until the Fall Assizes.
Summer of 1880
William Donnelly works tirelessly to gather evidence for the trial. There is trouble gathering a jury.
October 4-9, 1880
The Grand Jury returns True Bills, so the trial begins October 4 under Justice Armour. First on trial is James Carroll who is charged with the murder of Johannah Donnelly. The testimony heard is much the same as that at the inquest and Preliminary Hearing. Justice Armour issues a strong charge to the jury, but they can not reach a verdict. Four want to convict, 7 want to acquit and 1 jury member is undecided.
November to December, 1880
Attorney General Mowat decides not to wait until Spring for another trial to be held. He orders a special commission to oversee an earlier trial. He appoints two justices--Matthew Crooks Cameron, a staunch Conservative, and Featherstone Osler, who takes a subservient role to Cameron. Crown Attorney Hutchinson is disheartened by the developments and because the O’Connor family continues to push for more money to ensure that Johnny will testify.
January 24, 1881 to February 2, 1881
The second trial takes place. Again, testimony changes very little. Justice Cameron often aids William Meredith, chief defence lawyer and a fellow Conservative. Cameron’s charge to the jury favours a non-guilty verdict. The jury indeed finds Carroll not guilty of the murder. The rest of the prisoners are granted bail and are never tried for the Donnelly murders.