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The Harbour Grace Affray
Dec. 26, 1883



Five died in religious violence.

Religious animosity between Catholics and Protestants was far from unknown in Newfoundland's past, but only once did it erupt into major violence- the Harbour Grace Affray of Dec. 26, 1883, which left five men dead and 17 wounded.

Historian Paul O'Neill and Jim Hillier, head of Memorial University's history department spoke on the affray to about 25 people Thursday night at a meeting of the Newfoundland Historic Society.

Of the dead, one was with the Catholics, one was a bystander and three were Orangemen. The Catholic, Patrick Callahan of South Side, was shot through the head. John Bray, who was not in the procession, died of a fractured skull. Of the three Orangemen killed, William French, of Courage's Beach, died from wounds to the back of the head; William Jeans of Carbonear, was shot twice and had 62 wounds to the front of his body; Thomas Nicholas, of Otterbury, died from eight shot wounds in the back and side.

The 17 men wounded were: John Webber and William Anthony of Death Hill, Harbour Grace; William Brown and Moses Nicholas of Mayne's Brook, Harbour Grace; Solomon Martin of Martin's Brook,Harbour Grace; Reuben Courage and James Bray of Courage's Beach, Harbour Grace; Thomas Luffman of Noad Street, Harbour Grace; Robert Lilly, The Marsh, Harbour Grace; Henry Noseworthy, Bryant's Cove; William Cleary, Carbonear; William Best, Harvey Street, Harbour Grace; William George, South Side; William Vatcher, Carbonear; Patrick Dormody, Thomas Walsh, and Edward Callahan of Riverhead, Harbour Grace.

July 12 is the date observed by Orangemen to commemorate the victory of King William and the Protestants over the Catholics and the battle of the Boyne.

However in Harbour Grace in 1883, most of the men were engaged in the ground fishery or the seal fishery in July and so the observance was transferred to St. Stephen's Day or Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

Historians say 400 Orangemen marched along Harvey Street that day, with the leader holding the King James version of the Bible. They insisted on going beyond what the Catholics considered their territory and, as a result, a riot broke out with guns fired as the parade went past.

Although there was religious animosity displayed in most Conception Bay communities during the Orangemen's parade, the historians say, the Harbour Grace Affray was the only major violence that occurred in Newfoundland during the observance.

O'Neill says the surprise is not that there was a violent outbreak in Harbour Grace, but that there were not more in communities around the Bay, considering the event took place during the Christmas festivities.

O'Neill's research shows a record of religious accord between the denominations in Harbour Grace in the early 19th century, at least until the arrival of an Italian bishop. He frowned on the Benevolent Irish Society for allowing membership to non-Catholics, but the BIS insisted it was an open and civic organization. The argument caused a split even among Catholics themselves, many of whom stopped going to Mass.

The historian says in 1883, a Bishop MacDonald brought in American Redemptorist missionary priests who preached hell, fire and damnation to get them back to the church. The result appears to be even more religious fighting between the Protestants and the Catholics,and, says O'Neill, the economic tensions at the time did not help. The Catholics made up only one quarter of the population and the suspicion festered that economic power lay in the hands of the protestants.


The story goes that const. Edward Doyle, an Ulster Protestant, heard there would be trouble on the day of the parade and told his police to keep a general watch on the parade. He claimed his men were not armed.

Men had gathered on a bridge along the route early in the day, but this was later disputed. A volley of shots was exchanged, with const. Doyle accused of pulling a gun and killing Callahan. Medical envidence disproved this later.

Doyle was arested for the murder of Callahan,but the charge was dropped . It is not known why. Josiah Bray, Edmund Butt, Edward Ambrose Williams (discharged for lack of evidence), James Courage and Charles French were also arrested for murder, but never came to trial. Arrested for the murders of William Jeans and others were: Michael Coady, James Quirk, John Walsh, Patrick Harper, Richard MacKay, Nicholas Shannahan, William Russell, Thomas Duggan, Thomas Bradbury, Jeremiah Lee, Robert Donnelly, Patrick Smallcombe, Pierce Wade, Thomas Morrisey, Patrick Walsh, John McCaarthy, John Flemming, Richard Flemming and Nicholas Bradbury. They were all brought to trail in St. John's and acquitted, to the outrage of the Protestant population in Harbour Grace.

The events of the affary, have been told by grandparents to their grandchildren, many of whom are living today. One member of the audience,Thursday night, said his recollection of it is that his father would not go out to the parade that day and was always considered a coward for it.



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Page Revised by Ivy F. Benoit (Wednesday March 06, 2013)

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