Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly was born in Ireland in September of 1813, the 2nd of 8 children born to Dr. John Patrick Donnelly and the former Maria Catherine Caldwell. His father was born at Cookstown, (Tyronne County) in Ireland. Dr. John Patrick Donnelly received his medical training through the navy. He started as a surgeon’s mate, then became a surgeon’s assistant and eventually he became a surgeon, serving on a number of royal ships. While docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dr. John Patrick Donnelly met the Rev. Edmund Burke who was the rector of St. Mary’s Church. Rev. Burke turned out to be an influential man to Dr. John Patrick Donnelly.
Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly’s sister Marie Burke Donnelly, was born in Canada. Soon after the birth of Marie in 1809, Dr. John Patrick Donnelly moved his family to Tyronne, Ireland where Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly was born in 1813. When Dr. Donnelly was 2 months old his family moved to Quebec City. The remainder of Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly’s siblings were born in Quebec; Justine Donnelly was born in 1818, Emily Sophia Donnelly was born in 1819. In 1820, the Donnelly family moved to St. Roch, Quebec. His father purchased land along the St. Lawrence River and he started farming. Charles Felix Donnelly was born in 1822, Phillip Stephens Donnelly was born in 1827, Marie Julienne Lucie Donnelly was born in 1829 and John P. Donnelly was born in 1831.
Dr. Donnelly’s father was overcome with a desire to return to medicine during a cholera epidemic in Ontario. Dr. John Patrick Donnelly travelled to Simcoe, Ontario and appeared before the Canadian Medical Board on the 30th of June, 1832. Due to the epidemic, the medical board granted Dr. Donnelly a license on the spot to practice medicine and sent him to London, Ontario.
Dr. John Patrick Donnelly died of cholera on the 30th of July, 1832 in London. After the death of her husband, Dr. Donnelly’s mother moved to Lambton County and lived near Courtright. She died there on the 14th of September, 1871. She was said to have been a charitable woman, who attended to the sick on horseback.
It is unclear if Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly met and married his wife Anne McGuire in Ireland or in Canada, but it is known that Anne was born in Ireland in 1818.
In 1837, Dr. Donnelly travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana to assist with an outbreak of yellow fever. He was accompanied by his friend Dr. Thomas William Johnston of Lambton County. There were 412 deaths that year attributed to yellow fever.
Dr and Mrs. Donnelly became the parents of 5 children, 2 boys and 3 girls. Their eldest son Hadley was born in Canada around 1839. The next 2 children, Maria and Catherine were born in the United States and their last 2 children, Alice and Frank were born in Canada.
Dr. Donnelly, practiced medicine in Chatham from 1849 to 1871. Dr. Donnelly’s office was listed in the 1851 Canada Directory and the 1861 Great Western Railway Business Directory as being located on King Street (in Chatham).
Mrs. Donnelly died at her father’s home in Blairsville, Pennsylvania on the 19th of January 1856. A notice of her death appeared in the Weekly Planet on the 7th of February 1856. (The Weekly Planet was the name of the Chatham newspaper, at that time.)
Dr. Donnelly made a name for himself, when a train crashed at Jeanette’s Creek (Chatham-Kent) on the 27th of October, 1854. A total of 52 people were killed and 48 people were injured. There wasn’t a hospital in Chatham at the time and the dead and the injured were taken to where Tecumseh Park stands today. As a Coroner for the County of Kent, Dr. Donnelly called an inquest and concluded that human error was to blame for the train accident. Dr. Donnelly was listed as a Coroner for the County of Kent from 1854 until 1871.
Dr. Donnelly married Mary Isabella Grant on the 1st of October, 1857 in L’Orignal, Ontario. She was born in L’Orignal in 1818, the daughter of Alexander Grant and the former Jane McDonnell. Her siblings were Catharine, Harriett, Jane, Ellen and Allen. According to the 1851 census, she lived with her widowed mother in Prescott County, Ontario.
By 1871, Dr. Donnelly was residing in Essex County. An advertisement appears in the 1871 Lovell’s Ontario Directory under Windsor, advertising his medical practice. Dr. Donnelly travelled to California in poor health in 1872, in hopes that the weather would improve his health. After returning to Canada he died in Essex County on the 28th of January, 1873. He was buried at Assumption Cemetery in Windsor.
His wife Mary died on the 26th of March, 1889. She was buried at Cassburn Cemetery, which is located in Russell and Prescott County, Ontario.
*Below are sketches of Dr. Edmund Burke Donnelly’s parents and the tombstone of his wife, Mary.