Note: This is Part II of a two-part series about the Notorious Brook’s Bush Gang. You can read Part I here.
In August 1857, James Gokey alias DeLavelle, Thomas Readmond, Andrew Jenkins, and Samuel Hannon, who were described as “four stout fellows”, and Susan McCormack and Mary A. Walton, “abandoned females”, were charged with being connected to the gang of thieves who infested Brook’s Bush, and who would pounce upon travellers passing the Don Bridge, rob and assault them, and otherwise “conduct themselves in a most lawless manner”. The constable who arrested them visited the bush and said the eastern end of the city was not safe from the low characters who infest it. The party were fined, sent to break stones, and sent to prison.
The episode provides a great account of the operations of the gang. First, it describes the physical and possibly social identity of the group. The men were stout and imposing – the kind that would be involved in physical assaults and worse. The description of the women as “abandoned” has been described previously, and their inclusion with men in the acts was common. The Don Bridge would come to be a common setting for their crimes, which would culminate in their most dastardly act a few years later. The general sentiment was of lawlessness and danger, particularly in their area. The gang were also targets of the police and were often sentenced to monetary fines, or breaking stones at the House of Industry when they could not pay, or time in prison.
A Series of ‘Motley Spectacles’
Over the next five years, the Brooks Bush Gang were involved in several robberies and assaults which terrorized the east end. In October 1857, six males and five female “disorderlys” of Brook’s Bush were brought into custody by Sergeant Smith, who dealt frequently with the group, and charged with disorderly conduct. They were fined 20s and those unable to pay were sent to gaol for a month and ordered to be kept at hard labour.
The year 1858 was eventful for the gang. On New Year’s Day, The Globe reported a Samuel Hannah, who was known to police, was charged with “uttering a flash bill”. He visited Mercer’s eating house at 24 Church Street at Wellington Street and paid with a counterfeit bill. The landlady, Mrs Verena as per the 1859 City Directories, told him the bill was bad. She informed the police and Hannah was arrested and “committed…as a rogue and vagabond to hard labour in the common gaol for one month.”
Later in January, denizens of the Brooks Bush Gang were charged with several acts of robbery. Those involved were Catherine O’Brien, Catherine Hogan, Bridget McGuire, and Matthew Flynn, the latter of who was described as a “rough-looking fellow”. The crimes included hen houses being robbed, clothes stolen off clotheslines, and other thefts which have led to citizens’ inability to leave any items in gardens and yards. Two officers, including Sergeant Smith, pursued two thieves on Parliament Street and caught up with one of them. Flynn hid in a culvert at Gerrard and Parliament Streets with his stolen goods hidden in a nearby culvert. Among the property were shirts, a pail, an axe, an iron pot, and other things. Flynn was going back to the Bush after the robberies. The officers found at the site poultry, two geese, three lanterns, two boilers, and other property. O’Brien, Hogan, and McGuire were also waiting there with supper for Flynn and his accomplice. In court, Flynn acted with “great effrontery” and “appeared as if he had been recently drunk”. He defended himself that the goods were his own and he was protecting them from his landlord who he owed rent. However, several people — Francis Langrill, Mrs Hagarty and Mrs Murphy — refuted the story and identified the items. In the directory for the year, Langrill was listed as a “butcher, 30 St. Lawrence arcade, house Parliament Street”. A Patrick Hagerty was listed at 279 Parliament Street between Gerrard and Dundas. The identities of the ladies are unknown. Flynn was later reported to be sent to the Penitentiary for two years.
Following the thefts, a reader of The Globe wrote into the newspaper expressing a hope that “there will not be too much clemency shown towards him”. He lamented how City and York Township authorities have allowed the group to annoy the public and residents of the area. The only course was to make an example of the group and clear the bush of its denizens so local inhabitants can live a little easier.
The following month, Sergeant Smith placed Patrick Matthews, Samuel Jocelyn, Catherine O’Brien, Catherin Cogan, and Margaret MacGuire in front of the bar again. Smith had found stolen property such as axes, lanterns, tins, boilers, and geese and fowls. Richard Boles of Sumach Street, who had three fowls and an axe stolen, went to the Brooks Bush shanty and said he recognized Matthews, who told Boles that he would “knock the brains out of any person who dared to enter”. The alleged victim appears in the 1859-60 Caverhill Toronto City Directory, listed as “Richard Bowles”, a labourer at 185 Sumach Street in the Dundas Street area. In July, William Brown, Robert Brown, J. Pigeon, P. Matthews, James Hallachy, and Samuel Josleyn were brought up with the charge. Sergeant Smith said he went to the shanty and found several of the prisoners and three females, which he took into custody. The females said they were in the shanty all night and Pigeon, R. Brown, Hallachy, and a man named Smith not in custody came back early in the morning with the poultry. Robert Brown, John Pigeon, and Hallachy were founded guilty and a sentence was deferred.
In April 1858, James Harrachy, William Brown, Patrick Matthews, Samuel Josleyn, Robert Brown, and Bridget McGuire were brought again to the bar for crimes of theft. William Brown was acquitted, but the others were found guilty. Robert Brown was imprisoned for ten days in the city prison and then in the provincial penitentiary (in Kingston, Ontario) for three years and three months. Harrachy was committed to ten days for larceny; Matthews for three years and three months in the penitentiary; Josleyn was sentenced to three years and four months and McGuire to two years and one month. John Pigeon was charged with larceny and committed to ten days in the city prison and five years in the penitentiary.
In June, three ruffians of the Brook’s Bush attacked two men on Queen Street. One of the victims got away but the other was struck in the face, neck, and shoulders with a black bottle and severely cut.
In September, Cornelius Leary was charged with assaulting a feeble-looking woman, Mary Sheppard. The lady said she had a dispute with Leary in which he struck her and dragged her toward a shed. She fell and he stepped on her, severely injuring her. Constables said both prisoners (it is unclear if this meant Sheppard too) were part of the Brooks Bush gang. Leary was fined $5 but was unable to pay, so he was sent to break stones for a month.
In November, Jane McDonald, Margaret Evans, Sarah Fielder, Mary Ann Walton, Mary Crooks, James Brown, and Thomas Willis appeared in court and “presented a very motley spectacle.” The men were fined $5 and the women were sent to prison for a month. In an odd layer to the story, Mary Cary, also of the gang, went to the police station to find them, but behaved “disorderly”. She too was arrested and sent to gaol for a month.
In May 1859, four coats and a bag of coppers were stolen from Leak and Matthews, soap and candle manufacturers on Palace Street (today’s Front Street East). The Directories identified this at 62 Palace Street near George Street. There was also a “Leak’s Wharf” associated with the business at the foot of George Street. A witness heard them chuckling over the haul. Several days later, several officers on The Esplanade were monitoring the water for “persons bathing during prohibited hours” and attending to arriving and departing steamers, when they interrogated four suspicious fellows. One had a bundle in his hand. They were taken into custody — they were Thomas O’Brien, John Connolly, Barker Coulder, and John Scott of the Brooks’ Bush Gang. They appeared to be sheltering in an old boat moored off the Esplanade.
Also in May, William Reid and Henry Miller, of the gang were brought up on the charge of stopping a young man on the Don Bridge. They offered to leave the city and were discharged. The judge was about to send them to prison for a month as “disorderly characters” but relented after hearing their pleas.
Maurice Malone, John Clyde, John Esson, Margaret Hagarty, Elizabeth Nolan, Mary Ann Pickley, Mary Ann Flanaghan and Bridget Drew were sent to gaol for a month each. William Edwards and Francis Curran were sent for 14 days for disorderly conduct as well as Charles White for a similar offence with hard labour.
In August 1859, the Globe reported a number were in custody for assaulting Edward Closghey. There was a chase for them. Among the party is a desperado named John Clyde, who replaced the former ringleader, Carr, who was committed to the Penitentiary. James Tuck, Denis O’Dowd, Edward Short, Martin Kelly, William Macpherson, Marry Ann O’Bryan and Elizabeth Nolan were brought in for assaulting Edward McCloskey. The victim fell into the company of Clyde, Kelly Marry Ann O’Bryan, and Nolan on Carlton Street. They had a bottle of whiskey and asked him to drink part of it, which he did. He paid a dime and tried to leave but was stopped by Clyde. Clyde struck him and tried to kill him with the help of Martin Kelly. Eliza Nolan tried to protect the victim. McCloskey got away and Clyde threatened him again not to tell on him or “he would make him suffer for it.” Clyde and Kelly, the attackers, were sent to Assize Court. Nolan got “only two months in gaol” for protecting McCloskey. O’Dowd was discharged for previous good behaviour. The others were sent to gaol for three months.
In September 1859, William McPherson, John Burns, Jeremiah Leivy, James Tuch, James Brown, Thomas Richardson, James Cochrane, John Eppison, Mary Anne Pickely, Mary Anne Walton, Sarah Fidder, Ellen McDonald, Margaret Hill, Mary Crooks, Mary Sheppard and Isabella Convony were found at the bush and arrested. The offences are unknown. The females were sent to gaol for fourteen days and the men for a month.
The Murder of John Sheridan Hogan
On December 1st, 1859, Mr John Sheridan Hogan, a journalist turned member of parliament for Grey County for the Province of Canada, was visiting a female acquaintance on Terauley Street ( now Bay Street). The unmarried 44-year-old man left the home at 8:30 to visit the office of the new editor of The British Colonist, his publication. It was the last time he was seen alive.
Hogan’s disappearance was not noted by police until months after his last known sighting. He lived a peculiar life in Toronto, having few friends and no family and living a transient life with the Rossin Hotel as his base. His sudden disappearance was a mystery. His body was found washed up at the mouth of the Don River in March 1861, some sixteen months later, by some fishermen. He was identified by Mrs Laurie, the acquaintance he visited on the December night, identified a broach or patch she put on his clothing.
Suspicion quickly turned to the Brook’s Bush Gang for having something to do with Hogan’s death. His final location at the mouth of the river suggested he had washed down from somewhere upriver — potentially the Queen Street bridge, a location the gang had notoriously terrorized over the past five or so years. But pinning it on The Brooks Bush Gang was a task.
The key to the case was the testimony of Ellen McGillick, a member of the Brook’s Bush Gang present when Hogan was murdered. In the four years leading up to the event, McGillick had often given witness testimony about the actions of the gang, which the Police trusted as truth. The detective on the case, a Colgan, hailed from the same Irish place as McGillick and went to question her. McGillick told him about the murder and who was involved. Arrests were made soon after of Jane Ward, James Brown, also known as ‘English Jim’, William Reid and Mary Crooks.
McGillick testified seeing two men struggling with each other and another woman with them on the east end of the Don Bridge. The woman, who turned out to be Jane Ward, told one of the men, James Brown, to throw the other man, Hogan, off the bridge. She also noted other gang members were present and how they spoke of tying Hogan’s legs before throwing him into the river. Ward also told McGillick how she robbed the man and was holding a rock and handkerchief. Members of the gang after the murder threatened McGillick not to say anything about it. McGillick finally added that there was blood on the rail of the bridge and Brown had gone the next day to clear it; police corroborated by finding blood on the bridge.
In a trial in April 1861, John Sherrick and Jane Ward of the Brooks Bush Gang were acquitted. James Brown was found guilty that fall in a separate trial. He was retried again in 1862 with the same result. Brown was a labourer born near Cambridge, England in 1830. He moved to the United States and then Toronto in 1852, hoping to find work in shipyards. At some point, he fell in with the Brook’s Bush Gang (the first mention of him in the newspapers was November 1858). Brown was hung in front of spectators on March 10, 1862, at the York County Courthouse on Adelaide Street. It was the last public execution in Toronto.
The End of The Brooks Bush Gang
After the Hogan trial, references to the Brooks Bush Gang dwindled. In August 1862, members of the gang were charged with assaulting and robbing a farmer a short distance from the city. They were tried at Yorkville as the crime was outside city limits. In 1864, John Smith was violently assaulted and nearly robbed near the Don River by two ‘desperadoes’. The victim was possibly a property owner as the Smith family was known east of the Don. The attack was very much like the antics of the Brook’s Bush gang, “who infested the neighbourhood some time ago”, which signified that although they were not behind the attack, the gang was no longer present and their memory still haunted the area. Interestingly, Charles Sauriol noted how E.T. Seton said members of the gang destroyed his cabin in 1875, although this may be dubious as it was much after the early 1860s.
In the following years, stories of past members crept up in the news. In 1864, Mary Ann Pickley was found dead. Since the murder and police broke up the gang, she had been living “here there and everywhere” but mostly in jail. The Globe reported she was one of the last of the gang with almost all of them dead. In 1868, the Globe reported Kate (possibly Catherine) Cogan, “the last of the Brook’s Bush Gang”, was arrested for breaking windows. Similarly, the newspaper also wrote in 1872 about a former member of the gang, Bill Reid, who was described as “probably the last who will ever be seen of the once dreaded Brooks Bush Gang” and how nineteen years ago he was “conspicuous even among the lawless community, and he was connected to them about the time of the murder of” Hogan. Finally, Jane Ward moved to Guelph in the mid-1860s, changing her name to Jane Lewis and saying very little of her past life. She wound up in the Wellington County House of Industry for the remainder of her life, dying in 1904. She was said by newspapers of the time to be the last member of the Brook’s Bush Gang.
The former haunts of the Brook’s Bush Gang east of the Don River disappeared too, leaving little geographic trace of the gang. By 1880, the lot near the Don Jail was subdivided, houses were built on it, and Holly Brook was buried. Even Withrow Park, the other possibility for the gang’s headquarters, was made a public park by 1910. In 1912, the Butcher’s Arms, the old hangout of the Brook’s Bush Gang, was torn down for houses, where a strip of Edwardian-style, century-aged homes stands there today.
The Globe also reported in 1924 on the upcoming demolition of a house at 154 Carlton Street at Homewood Avenue which stood on the site of a former Brook’s Bush Gang headquarters. There are few details of this “shanty”. The Oldright House was built in the 1870s according to The Globe piece and some of the gang’s belongings were found when the house was constructed. Its location was appropriately situated in the east side of the core of Toronto where the gang did some of their criminal activities.
The east end of Toronto was transformed in the decades following the end of the gang. In addition to the redevelopment of the specific woodlots mentioned above, the general area was laid out with streets and landmarks. ‘Brook’s Bush’ as a district name understandably fell out of use. On March 25, 1888, the area of Riverside was annexed by the city of Toronto (Riverside replaced ‘Don Mount’ as a name in 1880, the latter was likely used alongside Brook’s Bush; Riverdale later came into use in the early 20th century). Police protection, a lacking factor which allowed the Brook’s Bush Gang to prevail as a menace, was cited as a reason for annexation.
Appendix I: List of Members
Michael Barry (possibly an affiliate), Jane Ward, Catherine Cogan (possibly also listed as Catherine Hogan or Kate Cogan), Andrew Jenkins, Catherine O’Brien, John Clyde, Samuel Joslin, James Gokey alias DeLavelle, Thomas Redmond, Samuel Hannon (possibly also listed as Samuel Hannah), Susan McCormack, Mary A. Walton, Bridget McGuire, Matthew Flynn, Patrick Matthews, Margaret Maguire, William Brown, Robert Brown, John Pigeon, James Hallachy, Cornelius Leary, Jane McDonald, Margaret Evans, Sarah Fielder, Mary Crooks, James Brown, Thomas Wills, Mary Cary, “Yankee” Mary (unclear if she was one of the listed Marys), Robert Wagstaff, Thomas O’Brien, John Connolly, Barker Coulter, John Scott, William (Bill) Reid, Maurice Malone, John Esson, Margaret Hagarty, Elizabeth Nolan, Mary Ann Pickley, Mary Ann Flanaghan, Bridget Drew, a man named Carr, James Tuck (or Tuch), Denis O’Dowd, Edward Short, Martin Kelly, William MacPherson (possibly an affiliate), Mary Ann O’Bryan, John Burns, Jeremiah Leivy, Thomas Richardson, James Cochrane, Johm Eppsion, Sarah Fidder, Ellen McDonald, Margaret Hill, Mary Sheppard, Isabella Convony, Ellen McGillick, John Sherrick, John Coteau, William Dillon, Charles Gerne, Andrew McGuire, John Hudie, Patrick Fogarty, William Eppison, Sarah Hill, Anna Maria Gregory, Mary Carey, Catharine Dalton, Bridget Kane, Francis Furdon, Esther McDonell, Margaret Adams, Rachel Smith, and James Curtain.
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