An illustrious Victim in Toronto

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (13) start of chapter

The same scenes of suffering and death were to be witnessed in the city of Toronto, as in the other cities of Canada during those memorable years 1847 and 1848. Sheds were constructed, and hearses and dead-carts were in hourly requisition. The panic was universal; but the humane and high-spirited, of all denominations, did their duty manfully. Two and three coffins were constantly to be seen on the hearse or waggon used for bearing the dead to the grave-pit outside the town. One day the horse drawing this hearse got restive, and, breaking from his conductor, upset the three coffins, which, falling into pieces, literally gave up their dead. This occurred near the Market Square, about the most public thoroughfare in Toronto, and at once a crowd assembled, horror-stricken but fascinated by the awful spectacle. Every effort was made to repair as speedily as possible the momentary disaster; but it was some time before the three wasted bodies of the poor Irish could be hidden from sight. The priests, as in all similar cases, were ceaselessly at work, with the usual result—the sacrifice of several of their number.

Among the losses which the Catholic Church had to deplore during this crisis was that of a venerable Irishman, Dr. Power, Bishop of Toronto. He was implored by his people not to expose a life so valuable to his flock; but he replied, that where the souls of Christians, and these the natives of his own country, were in peril, it was his duty to be there. 'My good priests are down in sickness, and the duty devolves on me. The poor souls are going to heaven, and I will do all I can to assist them,' said the Bishop. And, in spite of the most earnest and affectionate remonstrance, he persevered in performing the same labours as the youngest of his priests. The Bishop prepared for his post of danger by making his will, and appointing an administrator. The letters of administration were lengthy, and of much importance, embracing necessarily the financial and other concerns of the diocese. This document, most precious from its association with the voluntary martyrdom of the venerable Prelate, is preserved among the episcopal archives of Toronto. It was commenced with a bold firm hand; but as it proceeded amid frequent interruptions—his visits to console the dying being their chief cause—the writing became more and more feeble, until one might mark, in the faint and trembling characters of the concluding lines, the near approach of death, which soon consigned him to the tomb, another martyr to duty. Rarely, if ever, has a larger funeral procession been seen in Toronto, and never has there been a more universal manifestation of public sorrow than was witnessed on that mournful occasion. Every place of business in the streets through which the procession passed was closed, and Protestant vied with Catholic in doing honour to the memory of a holy and brave-hearted prelate.

Partridge Island, opposite the city of St. John, New Brunswick, was the scene of more horrors, more destruction of human life. In fact, wherever an emigrant ship touched the shores of the British Provinces, or sailed into their rivers, there is the same awful carnage to be recorded.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America