17 April 2018

I feel I should be writing something today....

...but I don't know what.

I could go back over the Jubilee Riots thing, but I would prefer to let that sit a few more weeks before I revisit it.  I would like to add some pictures to that thing, because everybody knows, everything is better with pictures.  Hard to tell who owns the copyrights, though. Anything I would want to use should be public domain, but I would also need permission from the owners of the pictures.  it's complicated.

In my research for that I found a lot of other stories that could be told.  The story of Matthew Sheedy is interesting.  "The Murder of Matthew Sheedy: riot and murder in the streets of Toronto" would make a nice title,  but the story is difficult to tell accurately.  The problem I had throughout the Jubilee Riots- contradictory versions- is doubly so in Sheedy's case.

The facts are as follows: tensions were already running high on the day of the St Patrick's parade of 1858.  The night before, a group of Irish Catholics eating dinner at the National Hotel found their quiet evening celebration in honour of the saint interrupted when the hotel was surrounded by Orangemen and rocks were thrown through all the windows and shots were fired at the hotel.  Among the people assaulted was future Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Though many policemen were present, not one was arrested.

The next day a cart driver- who was also an Orangeman, drove his cart into the line of the parade.  In the melee which followed, Matthew Sheedy was stabbed in the groin, apparently while trying to help the police restore order.  He was taken to a nearby bar where he was treated by a doctor, then taken to the hospital.  He died the next day. He was married and all of twenty three.

An inquest was summoned to hear the events and recommend whether or not charges should be laid.  The jury consisted entirely of Protestants, many of whom were Orangemen.  The Catholic papers of the time complained about this, and the men on the jury were deeply offended that anyone would question their impartiality and ability to see that justice was done.  However, one of the jurymen would ask every Irish Catholic witness whether or not they were a ribbonite- a wearer of the green ribbon, symbol of the desire for Irish home rule.  It would be the only question he would ask the witnesses.

The coroner said Sheedy was stabbed in the groin with an instrument that left a diamond shaped hole.  He thought it was a knife.  Others argued it was a pitchfork.  Someone saw someone else with a pitchfork.  Others said it couldn't be him: the pitchfork was held by another.

The owner of the pub (And Orangeman) said he spoke to Sheedy as he lay in the pub at a time when there were no other witnesses.  He said Sheedy told him he had been stabbed accidentally by a friend, but he wouldn't say whom. Others spoke to Sheedy and said he claimed not to know who stabbed him, but he would recognize him if he saw him again.  Some say he gave a description.  Some said he gave another description of someone completely different.  One witness came in drunk and indicated he knew what had really happened, but he wasn't going to say.  he was sent to jail for contempt, and changed his story by the time he had sobered up.  Everyone saw something, and everyone else saw something else.  The juror continued to be concerned over who wore a green ribbon and who didn't.

Even the identity of the driver of the cart was disputed.  At first, all the papers claimed it was one driver, but that man wrote to the papers and claimed it couldn't be him, as he was turned back by the police before he could get near the parade.  The number of attackers that started the riot was also disputed.  It was a lone man who broke the parade line, it was a group of about four, it was a small group that came out of the cart and then they were joined by Protestants nearby who came at the sound of trouble and joined in.  The police saw nothing.

Faced with the incredibly contradictory testimony, the jury could not recommend the laying of charges on anyone.  The murderer of Matthew Sheedy remains unknown.

It would be impossible to accurately tell Matthew Sheedy's story.  The only information I could find on his life was that he died, the how being rather iffy.  It could be a story of how he was denied justice, but it is not entirely certain that he was denied justice.  The testimony was too varied.  if Sheedy did indeed know who stabbed him, he took that knowledge to the grave, and no one else knew for certain.  It could be a story on the vagaries of nineteenth century justice, and how it was reliant on unreliable witness testimony, but that would work.  It is popular in books that go back to study historical unsolved crimes to give a new theory as to who really did it.  It is as impossible to say who struck the fatal blow today was it was 160 years ago.

And what is the significance of his murder?  It was a spur to the police reforms which had already begun after the Fireman and Clown Riots of 1855.  It stopped the St Patrick's Day parade for three years.  But other than that, it was just something that happened to someone a long time ago.  At best, it is an example of the wrong person- an Irish Catholic- being in the wrong place- Toronto- at the wrong time- St Patrick's Day, 1858.  His death and the nothing that came of it was both a rallying cry and a warning to all his fellows for years to come.

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