How to Use This Site

This website is essentially an archive of primary documents with some secondary interpretations added on, and it is organized into thematic sections. One of our goals is to offer users a taste of archival research, so within each section the documents are organized as we found them and as they would likely be in any archives: by document type and then by date.

These are the real documents, typed or resized, but otherwise exactly as they appear in the archives. Even the numerous typographical errors and the spelling mistakes have been kept as they appear in the original documents. You will encounter these documents in much the same way as would any historian who goes into the archives. You have to do the detective work to piece together the story of what happened, why it happened and what the outcomes were. Like any mystery, the documents contain clues, contradictions and even some misinformation.
Where necessary we have added comments in [square brackets]. Where we could not read a word we indicated this by [illegible] and where we have guessed at a word we have added [?] after it. If we have excerpted a section from a larger document the gaps are indicated by [...].

Given the wide body of existing work and attention paid to the Donnellys, why is this website necessary? To answer, most students and the public alike have not had the opportunity to personally assess the many documents concerning the Donnellys in order to form their OWN conclusions. In contrast, on this website you will examine a great deal of primary evidence that will lead you down a variety of pathways. The material will demand that you not only solve the mystery of who killed the Donnellys (this is relatively easy to determine), but also why the murder took place and why the murderers were not punished.


The Massacre of the “Black” Donnellys website is split into eight main sections. The titles of each section are found on the medium green horizontal bar situated beneath the site's title. The sections are as follows: Home, Context, Prelude, Massacre, Aftermath, Library, Archives, and Characters. Each of these titles is a clickable button and in selecting one or another of these buttons, you can navigate freely from one section of the website to another. The button indicating the section you are presently in will be darker than the other section headings.

Three things will happen when you click on one of the headings at the top -- the top bar will change to reflect the new section, the menu on the left-hand side of the page will change, and the content in the centre of the page will change as well. The left menu will now have a button labeled "Introduction" highlighted, as well as the other selections available in the section of the site. For example, the left bar in the Context section will have five selections--Introduction, Immigration, Lucan and Farming Life, Religious and Ethnic Strife, and Inmates at the Gaol. The section you are in/viewing will be highlighted.

Clicking on one of the subheadings in the left menu will change the content in the center of your screen, and will present you with a list of sources to view. These sources will be listed according to the type of source. Once one of the titles of the sources in the center of your screen has been clicked, the source itself will be displayed in the centre of the screen. After you have finished reading it, and you want to get back to the list of sources, simply click on the "Return to Parent Page" button at the bottom of each source. If you want to go back to the last page you viewed, then your browser’s “Back” button will also work.

Every document will have a link to “About This Source”. This will tell you why the source was created, how to understand what it means and how to find out more about it. It may also help you determine how much credibility to give to the information in the source.


The citation indicating the source of every document and where you can find the original item is indicated at the bottom of every document. For photographs and drawings the citation/caption is available by “mousing” over the image.


The main sections of the website are Context, Prelude, Massacre, and Aftermath. The Context section will help you to understand the milieu in which the Donnellys lived and died. The Prelude section details the events that led up to the murder. The Massacre section examines the murders as well as the criminal trials that followed. The Aftermath section explores what happened to the remaining members of the Donnelly family and their neighbours after the trials concluded.

To help you sort out the events, we have done some of the work for you by creating three timelines that are accessible in three of the sections--Prelude, Massacre, and Aftermath. These timelines trace the events listed in the section in which they are located.

The Library section includes “Sources Beyond this Site” which will lead you to other Internet and library resources about the Donnellys. The Library section also contains interpretations about the Donnelly murders. These interpretations are written by a range of experts. Not surprisingly, they do not all agree with each other. This section is protected by a password that your teacher/instructor may choose to give you after you have come to your own conclusions.

In addition, all of the documents listed in the Context, Prelude, Massacre, and Aftermath sections have been assembled together in the section called Archives. The archives contain exact duplicates of all of the documents in the main sections. The documents in the archives are organized by document type and then date.

We have also written brief descriptions of the main characters that appear in the documents. These are accessible in the Characters section along the top menu bar.

Get Sleuthing!

By now, you should have a sense of how to use and navigate this website. All that remains is for you to find clues about the Donnellys and their murder by reading the primary documents, as would a professional historian. There is no “correct’ way to begin your journey. What you choose to read and the order you follow is up to you. In other words, decide for yourself what path you will follow to solve the mysteries surrounding the infamous Donnellys.