|A postcard depicting the Donnellys|
|Modern image of The Roman Line in Biddulph Township, on the southern outskirts of Lucan. St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery in background.|
|James Donnelly, Sr., the patriarch of the family. This sketch was created shortly after Donnelly's death in 1880 by famous Canadian portrait artist, Robert Harris.|
James Donnelly, Sr. and his wife Johannah raised seven sons and a daughter who were contemporaries of the sons and daughters of John Culbert and Mary Ward.
|Typical street scene in Lucan c1875. This photo shows Bernard (Barney) Stanley's Cash/Hardware Store. Stanley was the wealthiest man in town, and an enemy of the Donnellys.|
|The sons of John Culbert & Mary Ward circa 1865. "A wild bunch of boys." Left to right: Henry, William, Thomas, Joseph, and Richard.|
|Illustration by Terry Culbert depicting a Donnelly fight.|
With their reputation as ladies' men and successful entrepreneurs, jealously played a part in the resentment they faced from many of the locals. The Donnellys weren't above using their fists to settle an argument and as a result, they were blamed for the many robberies, arsons and assaults in the township, whether or not they were actually responsible for the crimes.
There's much more to be said about the reasons and the events leading up to the "Biddulph Tragedy" but to make a long story shorter, let's fast forward to the night of February 3rd, 1880.
|Headline in the Exeter Times, 5 Feb 1880, page 1.|
A Vigilance Committee comprised of about 35 men (many of them inebriated) made their way in the darkness along the Roman Line to the Donnelly homestead, armed with guns, pitchforks, axes, and shovels. The angry mob brutally massacred five members of the Donnelly family and burned the homestead to the ground.
The mob then went to the home of Will Donnelly, further up the road, planning to kill him. When the door opened, they shot and killed his brother, John who was spending the night at Will's house. Thinking they'd killed Will, the ringleader of the family, the murderers left the scene of the crime and went off to celebrate.
In 1889, a tombstone was erected on the Donnelly grave at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery on the Roman Line.
|The original Donnelly tombstone. This photo doesn't show the full height of the stone which is considerably higher than pictured. If you squint, you can see the word "Murdered" under each name.|
The tombstone became a popular attraction, attracting thousands of tourists, many who chipped away pieces of the stone as souvenirs, and were said to have caused damage to the church property. Owing to ongoing vandalism, and the fact that the priest didn't want the publicity, the original tombstone was removed in 1964 and replaced. Donnelly family members erected a new tombstone and replaced the word "Murdered" engraved under the names of each victim, with the word "Died."
|Me (Mary Jane Culbert) in the late 1990s with the replacement headstone at St. Patrick's Catholic Church Cemetery. The word "Murdered" under each name has been replaced by the word "Died."|
|Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum on Main Street, Lucan, Ontario.|
|Replica of the Donnelly's log cabin on the grounds of the Donnelly Museum.|
|Jeff Culbert: Playwright, director, actor, singer, songwriter, musician. Yeah, he pretty much does it all.|
THE DONNELLY-CULBERT CONNECTION
It's likely that all the Culbert brothers knew the Donnelly brothers regardless of the fact that they attended different churches and different schools. Their properties were only a couple of miles apart and they would have mingled with them in town (Lucan) and at the local taverns.
Thomas Culbert (born 1846 on the Culbert homestead on Biddulph's Coursey Line) owned and operated a livery (a boarding stable for horses) in Lucan. Tom was also the proprietor of the Central Hotel in the nearby village of Granton. It was at Tom's hotel that the Donnellys often stopped for a drink or two.
|Thomas "Tom" Culbert c1865.|
McKinnon was a heavy weight champion who stood six foot three and weighed 215 pounds. McKinnon was also a private detective, hired to keep watch over the Donnellys. McKinnon tried to ingratiate himself with the Donnelly brothers but the Donnellys sussed out his plan.
In a scheme to make some fast cash, the Donnelly brothers set up a ruse with McKinnon. The Donnellys spread the word that this stranger in town (McKinnon) could beat the daylights out of Tom Donnelly. The villagers placed heavy bets on Donnelly to win. The Donnellys however, with the help of some accomplices, covered all bets.
The London Free Press reported on the fight, adding that McKinnon “gave Donnelly such a blow as sent him sprawling out of the door where he lay for some time as if dead.”
Tom Culbert (one of the gamblers) was furious about the set-up. So Tom Culbert and Rhody Kennedy (a one-armed police constable) confronted Tom Donnelly and his brother, Bob Donnelly. Accusing the Donnellys of fraud, Culbert and Kennedy demanded that the Donnellys return the money to the duped villagers. Culbert was told to “go to hell” and a fight broke out between Culbert and the two Donnelly brothers. After the Donnellys had flattened Tom Culbert, they set in on the one-armed Rhody Kennedy who obviously couldn’t defend himself.
|Brothers Bob Donnelly (left) and Tom Donnelly. Our Tom Culbert brawled with these brothers. Photo from the cover of Ray Fazakas' book, The Donnelly Album.|
For a much more detailed account of this set-up and Tom Culbert’s involvement, see Chapter 16 “McKinnon” of Ray Fazakas’ book, "The Donnelly Album: The Complete and Authentic Account Illustrated With Photographs of Canada's Famous Feuding Family." And be sure to check the index of that book for more references to Thomas Culbert.
Yet another account of a scuffle between Tom Donnelly and Tom Culbert comes from Tom Culbert's grandson, Milton Richard Culbert in his book, The Culbert Chronicles.
Milton Culbert relates how Tom Donnelly walked into Thomas Culbert's hotel and had one drink too many. A drunken Tom Donnelly asked for another drink and our Tom Culbert refused him. A fistfight ensued. Donnelly later apologized to Culbert for his behaviour and the two remained on friendly terms.
And so ends my account of The Donnellys and their connection to our Culbert family.
More about the life of Thomas Culbert in the next post.
|Thomas Culbert in his later years.|