by Ted Jones (click here for bio)


October in Fredericton is one of the memorable months of the year with autumn, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. There is also the haunting memory of a senseless crime that took place many years ago and then went unavenged as a miscarriage of justice.

It happened on a Thursday evening, Oct. 8th, 1868. A soldier's battered body was found beside a fence on the green area at the corner of George and Smythe Streets. The beating had been quick but vicious, leaving the skull crushed, the face beyond recognition. Blood soaked the ground and, during the days ahead, hundreds would come to see the scene of the murder, trying to imagine what had really happened.

Ever since Fredericton became a garrison town in 1784, the soldiers and the civilians appeared to live on friendly terms but, beneath the surface there was dissatisfaction with the military presence. The main complaint was the negative influence upon the local youth.

Timothy Driscoll (age 37) and his wife Catherine (age 35) were concerned parents in 1868. They operated a butcher shop at the corner of Queen and Westmorland Streets, where they lived and raised their seven children: John (18),Patrick (16), Elizabeth (15), Helena (13), Johanna (11), Louisa (9), Timothy Jr. (8). The Driscoll family also had a boarder by the name of John Shaughnessy, a tall, stout, 21-year-old who always wore a straw hat. He came from King's County to be the hired hand on the Driscoll farm at Kingsclear. The oldest son, John, worked with him, the two travelling back and forth each day, spending their evenings in Fredericton.

Since his arrival in May of 1868, Shaughnessy had become infatuated with the oldest Driscoll daughter. However, his intentions were not encouraged or returned. The beautiful young Elizabeth was interested in someone else. Unbeknownst to her parents, she had been attending the military dances at the Exhibition Barracks (located back of town) and it was here that she met a dashing young soldier who would capture her heart. His name was John Brennen, a Private in the 22nd Cheshire Regiment. He was 25, having been born in Newtown, near Mount Kennedy, County Wicklow, Ireland. He was handsome, with a touch of grey in his dark sideburns. He was popular and well-liked, especially by his commanding officers and fellow soldiers. But John Brennen had one great misfortune: he fell in love with Elizabeth Driscoll and the subsequent relationship was totally forbidden by her parents. Thus, in the beginning, it was a clandestine affair with contrived meetings supported by close friends. Brennen never went to the family home or farm.

Many Fredericton families welcomed the gallant soldiers of the 22nd, ever since their arrival in the Spring of 1866. The hopeful prospects of a marriage for the idle young daughters of Fredericton pleased most families, even though it meant leaving home and travelling abroad to wherever the Regiment was stationed. A military marriage for Elizabeth Driscoll would have had an ulterior motive -- escape. She would be free from Shaughnessy, the jealous suitor, for whom she did not care; there would no longer be the family who tormented and stalked her, threatening to burn all her clothes, locking her out of the house, forcing her to plead with fearful neighbours to take her in. LOOKING BACK: This rare photo from the 22nd Regiment album, now preserved at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives, shows some of the officers in front of the quarters on Queen Street in Fredericton.

Her brother John, a short slight boy with a hateful personality, became obsessed with his sister's relationship with Brennen, making every attempt to locate her hiding places. In a rage, he would knock on doors and search through woodsheds. On one occasion, after he found her, he was about to strike her, but ordered her home instead, his parting words being heard throughout the neighbourhood: "If I ever meet you with that damned soldier, I'll kill him and murder you too!" Another threat came on a Monday morning, Oct. 5th. Shaughnessy was having his breakfast at the Driscoll home when, in the course of the conversation, he yelled: "So help me God, I will leave John Brennen a corpse!" Elizabeth was present and heard the comment. Her next rendezvous was planned for Thursday evening, Oct. 8th.

The couple met at the corner of King and York a few minutes after seven and walked out to George Street, where they turned and started towards Smythe. It was overcast and extremely dark, there being no gas lamps on the back streets, the candles that illuminated various front windows providing very little light. Other than Brennen greeting a few soldiers, the only sounds were Elizabeth's long skirts brushing against the picket fences and the distant bell of the Baptist Church (which would soon be stopping at its regular time of 7:30). When they reached Westmorland Street, they were observed by Sergeant Joseph Moore of the 22nd, who was having a smoke and leaning on the gate of his rented house. Moore also saw two shadowy figures lurking along the street, stopping and starting whenever the couple did. The followers, a tall person and a short one, eventually crossed at St.Anne's Chapel, concealing themselves behind a pile of lumber.

Before Elizabeth and Brennen reached Smythe Street, the two figures caught up and passed by, reaching the corner, where they stood waiting. Elizabeth recognized the straw hat and knew at once that it was the boarder Shaughnessy and her brother John. She told Brennen to run: "They are going to kill you." He replied, "They can't kill me," and kept on going. At this point, Elizabeth turned and ran back down George Street for help. But it was too late; she had already heard a blunt instrument hit Brennen's skull. Passing three soldiers of the 22nd (Privates James, Rolfe, & Greely), she cried, "For God's sake, go up to the corner. They're killing Brennen and he has no one to help him." Then, reaching the home of Mrs. Mary Watters, whose husband John was also in the 22nd, she flung open the door and gasped, "My brother John and John Shaughnessy have murdered Brennen."

As the traditional eight o'clock gun was sounding at Artillery Park (corner of George & Regent), John Brennen was found -- unconscious and badly beaten about the head. He was carried to the little Military Hospital inside the garrison compound (corner of York & Queen), where the Regimental Doctor examined the fractured skull and the deep facial wounds. There was no hope. Death came at half-past the hour.

Shaughnessy returned to the Driscoll home where he was arrested later in the evening; John Driscoll left town and could not be found. As they both fled from the scene of the crime, they dropped the weapon -- a thick, three-foot wooden stake with points at each end. When a young boy by the name of Chalmers Turner discovered it at dawn, it was partially covered with blood and clumps of black hair. On Friday morning, a postmortem examination took place and, in the afternoon, the Coroner's Jury held its deliberations in the Council Chamber of City Hall. Coroner S. D. MacPherson and Mayor William Needham presided. Based upon the evidence of Elizabeth Driscoll, which she gave while under oath, the verdict of the Jury was as follows: "That the said John Brennen was maliciously and wilfully murdered on the night of the eighth day of October by John Shaughnessy and John Driscoll."

Elizabeth Driscoll was declared the principal witness and was placed in protective custody until the preliminary investigation was over. Unfortunately, an unprecedented lapse in the justice system allowed her mother to have a private visit with her daughter. It was this visit that would alter all future proceedings.

On the Friday evening, the tension between the soldiers and the "town rowdies," which had been developing for some time, erupted into street riots and physical confrontations. Feeling deeply aggravated at the loss of a comrade in such a violent manner, the military had reason to seek revenge. One of the sergeants said that, if he had his way, the Regiment would sack the whole bloody town. Instead, he formed his men in a line, gave the command to charge, and rushed down Queen Street, breaking store windows as they went.

On Saturday, the anger had subsided as the citizens of Fredericton and the entire 22nd Regiment (led by Colonel Francis Pym Harding, who was also the Lieutenant Governor at the time) marched in the funeral cortege that carried John Brennen to his grave at St.Dunstan's Cemetery on Regent Street (where the school building is now located). He was buried with full military honours, including a gun carriage upon which the casket was placed, a firing party with arms reversed, and the band playing "Dead March in Saul." As the procession passed near the York County Gaol, Elizabeth Driscoll and John Shaughnessy sat in their cells and heard the muffled sounds of the drum.

On Sunday, John Driscoll was found hiding in a barn near the family farm at Kingsclear. His father and Sheriff Thomas Temple brought him back to Fredericton, Bishop John Medley saying that the father demanded and accepted the $500 reward or else he would take the City to court. The preliminary investigation began on Monday, Oct. 12th, in a private dwelling on Queen Street. Standing in the midst of the crowds that lined the route from the Gaol was Juliana Horatia Ewing, a prominent British author whose husband, Alexander, was a Captain in the 22nd. Her keen powers of observation resulted in interesting details that were written home to her family.

Mrs. Ewing was surprised that the prisoners were on foot, the brother, whom she had heard "has always been a bad lot," walking first, doing the jaunty, the other looking very sad. The Mayor and the City's two policemen were the escorts. Elizabeth came last, "a very sweet looking, ladylike girl." Both Driscoll parents were present and showed no reaction when their son pleaded, "Not Guilty, most decidedly." However, when Elizabeth was placed on the stand, her mother motioned and her father stood. At this point, the girl revoked all testimony she had given at the Coroner's Inquest, pausing at first, and then continuing in a mesmerized manner. She testified that she saw no one and that she could remember nothing about the fateful night of October 8th.

When the case came before the Supreme Court in Nov., it continued to fall apart. The presiding judge, Charles Fisher (a Father of Confederation), admitted that he had not read the depositions; Timothy Driscoll swore that his son John and and his hired hand Shaughnessy were with him all evening on the night of the crime; younger son Patrick supported his father's testimony. By the time the defence called the father of John Shaughnessy, the trial had lost all credibility. Mr. Dennis Shaughnessy spoke highly of his oldest son and of his seven other children. He presented letters from clergymen and prominent people, all testifying to the "unimpeachable character" of John Shaughnessy. The jury retired for 17 minutes and then returned with a verdict of "not guilty." The two prisoners waited in the box until the Crown dispersed and then they stepped back into the world and became a part of society once again. Each was escorted out of town in his father's horse and wagon, Driscoll travelling to Carleton County, Shaughnessy back to King's County.

When Timothy Driscoll returned, he discovered that the house and barn at his Kingsclear farm were burned down, the result of an incendiary fire. He had no insurance; his loss was heavy. After the insurance on his Fredericton property was cancelled, he and his family moved to Kingsclear and began to rebuild. According to the census for the next 20 years, there were 10 children in the Driscoll family, the names of John and Elizabeth among them. Both had returned to live with their parents. There was no John Shaughnessy on the list.

NEVER RETURNED HOME: This soldier from Ireland never saw his homeland again. John Brennan was murdered in Fredericton and his killers got away with the crime.
Elizabeth Driscoll had been indicted for perjury and was committed to stand trial in the Supreme Court. Due to missing documents and inadequate preparation on the part of the justice system, her case did not appear until early May of 1869, at which time the Grand Jury failed to find a true bill against her. In late May of 1869, she stood on the wharf and watched the 22nd Regiment leave Fredericton, the last of the Imperial troops to be stationed in the City. They were on their way to Ireland, the homeland of John Brennen, and she might have been going with them, along with the 80 young brides from the City. Instead, the strains of "Auld Lang Syne" would remain with her for a long time.

Before the departure of the Cheshire Regiment, the officers and soldiers placed a monument over John Brennen's grave -- an eight-foot shaft of Italian marble. In 1910, this impressive tombstone disappeared when the St.Dunstan's Cemetery was moved to the Hermitage on the Woodstock Road. In the year 2000, a common memorial was unveiled at the Hermitage to honor all those who had been buried at St.Dunstan's. John Brennen's name appears on the first tablet with the year of his death -- 1868.