Matthew, John and Simon MURPHY
from King's County, Ireland to Bytown, Ontario and Aylmer, Quebec

Painting by Ruth McMillan in 1976
Shows the Head of the Rideau Canal Locks in Ottawa, Canada in 1893

October 25, 2002:


I've completed the creation of the Webpages (that I mentioned to you last
month) that presents the more historical family information we have gathered
on our "Murphys of Ottawa", "Rosses of Ross Township", "McConnell of West
Quebec" and "Wright of Edwardsburgh Township". Please feel free to link or
copy for the "Bytown or Bust!" Website: or click here.

Best regards,

Michael Ross Murphy (Bytown)

April 16, 2002: Al: Some information about our Murphy family for the "Bytown or Bust" Website. Mathew (aka Matthew) MURPHY (b. 1814, Portarlington, Kings Co.; m. 1842, Nepean Twp., Upper Canada; d. 1887, Aylmer, Quebec). He married Elizabeth Catherine "Betsy" EBERT (b. 1815, Utica, NY, USA; d. 1873, Aylmer, Quebec) and had eight children. When Elizabeth died, Mathew remarried (Martha WRIGHT; b. 1830; d. Jan 20, 1909, Ottawa). Mathew is known to have at least two brothers: John "The Penman" MURPHY (b. 1809, Ireland) and Simon "The Ironman" MURPHY. There is rumoured to be at least one sister as well. We don't have a precise date of emigration, although family tradition holds that they emigrated first to the northern states of the USA, where Mathew is believed to have worked on the construction of the Erie Canal. The brothers may have landed at Quebec, which was the least expensive destination reachable at that time, and was used as a "jumping off point" to other places. By 1828, he and his brothers were in Bytown (which later was renamed to Ottawa as the capital of Canada). According to a local historian (Anson Gard, in "Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa"): "John Murphy, known as "The Penman", by reason of his being the most adept writer in the Valley. He was long with the Union Forwarding Company. He came from Dublin, Ireland, in about 1828. He first came to Quebec with his father and a large family of brothers -- five -- and one sister. The brothers, in a way were among the most noted in Bytown, in the early days when main strength counted. Among them were Simon and Mathew, stories of whose prowess would fill a book. John became a noted linguist and violinist, aside from his ability with the pen. He could speak the Indian language, which stood him in good in trading with the various tribes who came down the Ottawa with their furs." The reference to Mathew regards a single incident, where he became somewhat of a national hero in the summer of 1839 by scaling the Brock Monument at Queenston Heights to plant the British flag in commemoration of Sir Isaac Brock, a Canadian hero of the War of 1812 (between the US and the Canadas). The family once in Canada were Methodists for generations. I would suspect they were Protestant while in Ireland. They were certainly "Orangemen" for generations after. After lumbering with his father and brothers, my g-grandfather moved to Woodroffe, where he and his sons became housebuilders. His brother, William H. Murphy, was also well-known in the Britannia area as a carter and ice supplier. We have a large database of many descendants of Mathew MURPHY (my gg-grandfather) and John MURPHY in the Aylmer, South Hull, and Ottawa areas.... Michael Ross MURPHY
Here's an excerpt from Lett's Bytown: The belt was worn by anyone Who had the latest battle won, 'Til Simon Murphy's springing bound Lit on that ancient battle ground And from that hour he was King Of our young pugilistic ring !

May 8, 2002: (more from Michael Ross Murphy):

Story of How Young Matthew Murphy Flirted With Death To Plant British Flag on Top of Bomb Shattered Monument. Scaled Loose Lightning-Rod and Swung by Arms a Hundred and Fifty Feet From Ground.

In verse elsewhere on this page is chronicled the story of a wonderful feat performed by a Bytown youth - Matthew Murphy - in scaling the outer walls of the shattered Brock's monument on Queenston Heights nearly a hundred years ago to plant the British flag on its topmost pinnacle. Following are further details of Matthew Murphy's adventures and his amazing performance.

In the summer of 1839, in company with a younger brother, Simon, known in Bytown as the "Iron Man", Matthew started on a tour through the United States. In the spring of the following year they decided to return to old Bytown. When they reached Lewiston they boarded the ferry to Queenston. Here they shipped aboard a schooner employed in carrying cut stone to Toronto.

About the 24th of June there came on board the schooner a sergeant belonging to a company of volunteers stationed at Queenston to prevent regulars deserting to the American side. The sergeant made mention of the great Brock meeting which was to take place on the 30th, and told the crew that the British flag must wave upon Brock's monument that day. He explained that the hoisting of the flag would have to be accomplished by means of the lightning-rod on the monument's side, the circular stairs inside having been entirely destroyed and the monument split in several places at the time of the Canadian Rebellion in '38, by a blast of powder doubtless intended to demolish the whole monument.

Showed Interest

The sergeant remarked that it was a shame, with so many British seamen on the lakes close at hand, that a Yankee should have to be brought from Buffalo to hoist the British colors. His words fell on eager ears. Matthew Murphy stepped from among the crew and enquired if he could visit the monument that night, as the vessel might start ere morning. He was told that the sentries were already on the beat. "But", asked the sergeant, "have you any notion of trying it?"

"If I could see the monument and the rod," Matthew answered, "I would tell you whether I would make the attempt or not."

"Well," said the sergeant, "I'll put you past the sentries and show you the monument and rod."

They thereupon went up the heights together. Mr. Murphy examined the lightning rod which was of five-eighth inch iron, and then climbed it about 40 feet - the monument's total height was 160 feet. At this point a large loose stone hung out against the rod and he climbed no higher; but on descending he said to the sergeant, "I don't know how the joints may be, whether they are safe or not… but I'll put the British flag on top, or die in the attempt, before any foreigner will do it!

Two days later young Murphy returned to Queenston Heights. Multitudes of patriotic Canadians were arriving, and the Niagara river was fairly alive with steamers. At the foot of the monument he noticed a man fitting a pair of hand-wires on to the lightning-rod and he asked him what they were for. The man replied that they would be good things to give a fellow a rest if he got tired on the rod. Then it was evident to young Murphy that this was the man from Buffalo and he asked him to go up the rod a piece without the hand-vice. The fellow made a sort of bungling attempt at climbing and then came down.

Then the young Bytonian went up about thirty feet in lively fashion, and the Yankee said when he came down, "You're pretty good at climbing."

The flag was now brought up and placed in young Murphy's hands and he was asked what he required. He told them he would need 300 or 400 feet of twine sufficiently strong to hoist the flag to the top after getting up. He then stacked his duds on the ground, fastened one end of the twine to his pants, and commenced the ascent with nothing on but pants, shirt and socks while a man below carefully paid out the twine to him.

Dangerous Task

His hardest and most dangerous part of the task was about 15 feet from the top, where a gallery projected out about six feet. But the difficulty was surmounted. Relating how he did it Mr. Murphy afterwards said:

"I had to swing by my arms, a hundred and fifty feet from the ground, and move hand over hand on the rod till I reached the edge of the gallery. Many of the fastenings pulled out leaving the rod quite loose, but I dragged myself over the side of the gallery the best way I could. Having tied the string to the banister, I slowly hoisted the standard up onto the gallery and then carried it to the top of the monument.

"The staff would not stand erect in the stone socket and I called down for chips to wedge it with, and a small bundle was sent up by the string; with those I made the flag-staff stand upright. On my descent a few more of the fastenings pulled out, but I reached the ground in safety."

Next day a Niagara, Ontario newspaper published the following commentary on the amazing feat:

"One of the most remarkable and gratifying sights, and in fact the only feat performed at the great Brock meeting on Queenston Heights was the ascension to the top of the monument by the lightning-rod by Matthew Murphy, a jolly tar from Ottawa district. By this hazardous undertaking we are proud to say that the assembled multitudes were gratified by once more beholding the flag that has braved a thousand years in battle and the breeze's wafting, from yon proud fields, courage to its friends and defiance to its enemies."

Article by Ottawa Citizen columnist Earl G. Wilson, published in the Stories of Earlier Days section of the Ottawa Citizen, dated Saturday, December 17, 1938.

Also from Michael Ross Murphy on May 7, 2002:
Enshrined in the records of Canadian achievement a century ago, is the fascinating and thrilling story of a daring feat performed at Brock's monument on Queenston Heights by a young Bytonian -- Matthew Murphy, father of Mr. J.A. Murphy of 412 McLeod Street. Mr. Murphy has penned the following lines relating to the historic incident but fuller details will be found in a story elsewhere on this page.


Well nigh a century ago,
  Beside Niagara's river,
On Queenston Heights was struck a blow
  Brock's monument to shiver.

A dastard alien's coward hand
  Had piled within its bottle
A quarter hundred powder bags
  The tower to o'ertopple.

When fired, the blast was strong enough
  The wooden stair to shatter,
Mortar and stone proved all too tough,
  For such a piffling matter.

As angry embryo nation rose
  To right the wrong intended,
From town and country, copse and close,
  Their various ways they wended.

Not trains nor aeroplanes, nor cars
  Conveyed these sturdy yeomen.
None carried arms though some bore scars,
  But all were worthy foemen.

They rode, they ran, they sailed, they swam
  O'er trails through swamps, wet, dreary;
Berries and leaves their stomachs cram,
  Footsore they were, and weary.

From nearby hills and dales they come,
  From broad Ontario's beaches,
Where'er a spark or loyal flame
  Gave urge to man the breaches.

Another such determined host
  Not all our land could muster
They frightened rebels from our coast
  And quelled the Yankee bluster.

To us who live, with swords sheathed,
  On dainty foods a-plenty
Their sacrificial faith bequeathed
  Strength, comfort and nepenthe.


To her who honored England's throne,
  In eighteen-thirty-seven,
Who ruled, by faith in God alone,
  Hearts purged from ancient leaven.

Three years had passed, her natal day
  Sanctioned their thus assembling,
The Empire's call they must obey,
  None fearing or dissembling.

The flag that braved a thousand years
  The storm and stress of battle
Again should float, through blood and tears
  O'er winds and waves' wild rattle.

But how ascend the monument
  That oft so proudly bore it?
How scale those walls so rudely rent,
  Until they first repair it?

The hour demanded utmost haste,
  Strength, skill, and nerves like iron.
And who would dare their lives to waste,
  And burst their birth's environ?

"Cast thyself down", the devil said,
  "To earth from yonder pinnacle!"
But few were here who knew the ropes
  From spanaker to binnacle.


Then forth stepped one, a jolly tar,
  Who hailed from far-famed Bytown;
"Give me a thirty-fathom cord,
  And I will make a try-down.

"I'll put the colors on the top,
  Or die in the endeavor!"
To count the cost he did not stop -
  'T'was "do it now or never!"

He quickly stripped off all his gear,
  Save trousers and suspenders,
Tied twine to button, void of fear,
  Then grasped the lightning fender.

The rod, by staples lightly held,
  Sustained its ten-stone burden.
And soon beneath the parapet,
  His vision was his guerdon.

A platform, eight feet wide, girt round,
  Fifteen feet 'neath the summit;
Nigh thirty fathoms from the ground,
  As measured by the plummet.

Leaving the wall, still on the rod.
  Under this platform swinging,
With nothing 'twixt him and the sod -
  There were no joy bells ringing.

Twenty-five thousand pairs of eyes
  Watched one pair legs a-dangle.
His eyes look'd upward to the skies,
  With never a downward angle.

At last above the rail he went,
  Like sailor on the crow's nest;
His ardent spirit, nigh forespent,
  Felt grateful for the floor's rest.

Then o'er the top he drew the twine,
  With stronger cord combining,
On it the folded flag rose fine -
  And bright the sun was shining!

Alas! The flagstaff wobbling leans -
  Which taxed him to the limit;
By signs, with knife on string - such measures -
  They sent up chips to shim it.

From twice twelve thousand throats the cry
  Rang out as from an army,
"Fling out our banner! Raise it high!
  And nothing e'er can harm ye!"


The task his ardor had begun
  Seem'd done - but not yet finished;
Life still was sweet beneath the sun;
  And now, with strength diminished,

He climbed the battlements and swung,
  At arm's length, 'neath the coping.
Hand over hand, till ankles wrung,
  Knees scraped, on rubble stopping.

The loosened staples, giving way,
  His eyes with mortar sprinkled;
His tongue was parch'd, his face was gray,
  His brow a wee bit wrinkled.

He told them, as he gained his breath,
  Of soldiers deftly drilling.
Across the river, threatening death,
  And plunder, rapine, killing.

However, though they strove to sow
  In York, the seeds of treason,
No further did rebellion grow
  'Gainst right and truth and reason.

Peace, strength and vision were restored,
  When died the Family Compact,
And soon the vile, adventurous horde
  Foreswore their devilish contract.


Our patriotic escapade
  Gave Britain's door its hinges,
Made safe the avenues of trade,
  From th' Great Lakes to the fringes.

Victoria, Winnipeg, Montreal,
  Quebec and Halifax.
Swing through these gates, which ne'er shall fall,
  While Britain wields the axe!

"What axe?" you cry: the battle axe
  Of God's advancing kingdom.
This Britain holds, and nothing lacks,
  To meet earth's wrangling ring-dom.

All ye who speak our mother tongue,
  So much at ease in Zion,
Join with the race from which you sprang
  Whose God you still rely on!

So shall there be one conquering host,
  By men of vision led on.
When all the alien armies boast
  Their strength at Armageddon.

Supplement to article by Ottawa Citizen columnist Earl G. Wilson, published in the Stories of Earlier Days section of the Ottawa Citizen, dated Saturday, December 17, 1938.

September 23, 2002: I can't be sure, but there were at least two and possibly three John Murphys in the Bytown area from about 1825 through 1860. By coincidence, two of them were both known as "Captain John Murphy" and both worked for the Union Forwarding Co of Bytown. You can't imagine the confusion this has caused! There are several reference books concerning Aylmer and South Hull that have now gotten the two hopelessly confused.
One can be distinguished from the other because he used the middle initial "L.". He may have been of the Catholic faith. He was referred to as Captain John L. Murphy of Bytown, and was known as a capital financier. The title of Captain may have been a military one. It is not clear if he had any other connection to the Union Forwarding Company beyond his role as financier. Through some original documents in the National Archives of Quebec at Hull (concerning the sale of the Jean Delisle house in Aylmer to Mr. John Foran), I have begun to unravel the tangle. Below there is a photograph of Captain John L. Murphy taken in Quebec City in August 1863 that can be found in the collection. His eldest brother was William and he had a younger sister named Mary. Their father James was known as "Jemmy" and there is a photograph of the father and the three children taken in Clonmel, Coounty Tipperary. If you want it, I can email it to you as well. (Note the originals are in fairly good condition -- these are photocopies that I have scanned; I apologize for the poor quality!). The will of James Murphy, dated April 22nd, 1882 at Aylmer is also in these archives. I mention this will especially because it refers to his beneficiaries as "my aunt Bridget Cavanagh and her two daughters namely Winny Cavanagh and Anny Cavanagh". I have scanned an image and transcribed the document in full if you are interested in a copy...
The other John Murphy I know of was my gg-grandfather's elder brother, who was born 1809 in Ireland and baptised as a Protestant in the Church of England. Thanks to the historical "Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa" by Anson Gard, we know this John Murphy (known as "The Penman") emigrated to the Canadas in 1825 with his father, sister and four brothers. John worked at a lumbermill at Deschenes Rapids with Judge Ithamor Day from 1835 to 1845. When John Egan and Joseph Aumond started the Union Forwarding Company in 1845, John joined the company as a purser, then as a steamboat captain on the Company's operations between Bytown, Aylmer, Fitroy Harbour and Chats Falls near Allumette Island. He was a renowned writer, violinist and could speak some of the local Indian dialects. This John married twice -- first to Esther Ebert (d/o Martin Ebert) and then to Abigail Draper (d/o William Draper). He retired about 1875 and died in 1881. I have an address for a John Murphy in Bytown as of May 1st, 1827: "Lot 43 Vittoria Street". At this time, I am not sure which John Murphy it would be. The "third" John Murphy in early Bytown (or perhaps just another reference to the first one) we know of through William Pittman Lett's "Recollections of Old Bytown and its Inhabitants". At the end of chapter III we find the following poetic passage: "And brave John Murphy -- champion John! I can't forget as I pass on. As fine a fellow as e'er wore The scarlet coat in days of yore, With upright form of manliest grace, With wondrous beauty in his face, And perfect symmetry of limb; Apollo might have envied him ! And then he was as brave and true As e'er the sword or the bayonet drew, Full many a battle did he fight, His injured comrade's wrongs to right; For well he knew each mood and tense Of the old art of self-defense ; And woe to him who dared a fling With bold John Murphy in the ring. There many a pugilistic martyr Met his match and caught a Tartar." By the reference to the "scarlet coat", one could infer he was -- or had been -- a soldier. What are the odds of their being a THIRD "Captain John Murphy" in Bytown? In later years (1860's), another pair of Murphy brothers (James and John) from Ireland arrived in the Bytown/Ottawa area after settling in Arnprior. There are photographs of both of these men in the National Archives of Canada "William Topley" collection. I believe they were of the Catholic faith. I have more information about these two if you need it. Best regards, Michael Ross Murphy (Ottawa, Canada) P.S. I've cc'd this message to some other folks with a background in the history of Bytown in general and the steamer industry in particular. I welcome additions and corrections! Here's a link to some background material that can be found on the Bytown or Bust" Website. ... Michael Ross Murphy
Posted September 28, 2002: Al: I have a selection of some photos on my RootsWeb Website that may be of interest. They're rather large for emailing and (for the same reason) may be a tad large for posting on the Bytown or Bust! site. (I can downsize them w/ Photoshop)
James (Jemmy) Murphy, with children William, Johnny (the future Captain John L. Murphy) and Mary James (Jemmy) Murphy and children William, Johnny and Mary

Best regards, Michael Murphy (Ottawa, Canada)
E-mail Allan Lewis

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