Longueuil Explosion of 1856

This morning my friend Kevin Murphy shared on the United Irish Societies’ Facebook page the story of a catastrophic oil tanker explosion in the Port of Montreal at the Canadian Vickers Co. dry dock in the east end of the city on June 17, 1932. The article published in today’s Gazette, and written by Andy Riga, speaks of the death and carnage, including the death of Fire Chief Raoul Gauthier.

Kevin pointed the Facebook reader to a series of articles appearing in the Gazette the day following the explosion, June 18, 1932. In this more detailed account is mention of two firemen known to the history of the United Irish Societies’, Deputy Chief Carson and District Chief Doolan. Carson was Chief of the Montreal Fire Department when he was Marshal-in-Chief of the 1934 St. Patrick’s Parade and Doolan was District Chief when he served as Marshal-in-Chief of the 1932 parade.

The talk of explosions caused me to think about my trip to Cote des Neiges Cemetery in the Summer of 2013. I discovered numerous gravesites of people I have heard of and learned a little that day. The headstone that caught my eye that day read:

who died by the Fatal Explosion at Longueuil
10th of June 1856
Aged 40 years
Native of the Parish of Kings County, Ireland”

Who was Patrick Madden? How did he die? What were the circumstances surrounding the fatal explosion? A little research thanks to Google gave me some answers to my questions.

From his headstone we know Patrick Madden was born in Kings County, Ireland. Being 40 years old at the time of his demise, he was born somewhere around 1816. Did he come to the new world during the 1832 famine or perhaps during the Great Famine of 1847? I don’t know.

IMG_1101What I do know is Patrick Madden died in a fatal explosion at Longueuil on the 10th of June, 1856 and was subsequently buried in Cote des Neiges Cemetery. The fatal explosion mentioned on the headstone was aboard a Grand Trunk Railway steamship. Was Patrick Madden a passenger on the ferry? Not really. He actually was employed as a mail conductor. I’m not sure what that means however I presume he was responsible for getting the mail to/from Montreal. The Stanstead Journal, in its files from 1856, reported that the accident was the result of criminal recklessness and disregard of human life, on the part of the boat’s engineers and its managers. According to the report, a former fireman of the boat expressed that the boat’s engineers were not sober men. 27 people were killed and at least 40 injured when the ferry’s boilers exploded at the dock just after it had finished taking on passengers.

The coroner’s jury strongly condemned the entire management of the boat and awarded a fine of 10 000$ against the Grand Trunk Railway Co.

In the Journals of the Legislature of the Province of Canada for 1857, it is recorded that Catherine Madden was granted 75 pounds as a gratuity to her as “Widow of Patrick Madden, who lost his life by the late Steam Boat Explosion, at Longueuil, whilst in discharge of his duty as Mail Conductor”

And so we know Patrick was married. And, following a little research, we know Patrick and Catherine were married March 6, 1848 at Notre Dame Basilica, that Patrick’s parents were Timothy Madden and Elizabeth Redmond, and that Catherine Mohan’s parents were John Mohan and the late Eleanor Gilligan, all from King’s County in Ireland. The headstone tells us that their son John Madden was also buried in Concession F 00086G on October 19, 1853. Did they have other children? I don’t know.

What I do know is Patrick Madden from King’s County, Ireland went to work on the 10th of June 1856 expecting to go home at the end of his shift. However, due to the recklessness of the ship’s management he went to work that day and left Catherine Mohan a widow.

Ken Quinn, Historian


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