The Minute Book
Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Soldier's Suicide; 1888
Topic: The RCR


An Infantry School Soldier Ends His Life With a Revolver

The Capital, Fredericton, NB, Saturday, 26 May 1888

Michael Kelly, a private in the Royal School of Infantry, fired a shot on Sunday evening last, that caused his death the following morning at 4 o'clock. Kelly was addicted to drink, but for two years, up to a fortnight before his death, he did not touch it. Getting off to St. John, however, he broke out, and on his return home, last week, went into hospital, from which he was discharged Friday week in good health. On Sunday he was detailed for guard, and was to have gone on at 2 o'clock. He, however, got a substitute and spent the afternoon around town. As far as can be learned Kelly did not drink any that day. The sergeant of the guard says he was perfectly straight when he left him at 2 o'clock and it is believed at the barracks that he has not taken liquor since returning from St. John, and that the cause of his attempt in his life was nervous prostration, the result of the St. John experience.

The shooting occurred about nine o'clock in the evening. Kelly, who acted strangely on the veranda of the barracks, was taken to his room by Privates Purchase and Patterson, who left him with his shirt and pants on, lying on his bed. They had been gone from the room only a moment when the report of a revolver was heard, and on returning they found the unfortunate man on the floor weltering in blood, which flowed freely from a gaping bullet hole in his left breast.

Kelly was at once removed to the hospital. Surgeon Brown, Dr. Currie and Dr. Frank Brown were quickly at his side, and dressed the wound. The doctors found the bullet had entered the breast just at the upper edge of the heart which was perceptibly grazed, cut through the left lung and breaking a rib in the back embedded itself there. The bullet was extracted.

The poor fellow was conscious for an hour and a half after the shooting (recognizing the doctors, the officers of the corps, his aunt and Rev. Father McDevitt, who came to administer spiritual comfort) but did not utter a word. He died at 4 o'clock on Monday morning.

The unfortunate man belonged to Fredericton. His father, Jeremiah Kelly, died 21 years ago, and his mother 14 years ago. Before entering the infantry school when it was first started, he was a printer and worked in the Farmer and Gazette offices. He is about 25 years of age. The weapon from which the bullet was fired was a 32 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver. Only one chamber was emptied.

On Monday afternoon Coroner Currie held an inquest on the body in the hospital. The witnesses examined were: Hospital Sergeant Cochrane, Corp. Patterson, Pte. Purchase, Dr. Frank M. Brown, and Surgeon T. Clowes Brown. The main pointed elicited, in addition to the foregoing, are that Kelly returned from the street to the barracks at seven on Sunday night; that an hour later he had told Patterson and purchase, who occupied the same room with him, that he wanted to go out again, being then in his stocking feet. He comrades remonstrated with him and asked him to put on his shoes. Kelly replied that he would never need shoes again. Patterson would not allow the deceased to go out alone and he then said he would go to bed, but the men thinking his actions and his words were rather strange. Determined to take him to the hospital. This they did but Sergt. Cochrane was out and they brought Kelly back to his room. They then retired to the veranda to talk over what was best to do, leaving Kelly lying on his back in his cot.

Patterson, apprehensive of something, stepped to the window commanding a view of Kelly, and in less than a minute saw Kelly turn on his left side and raise his right arm. The report of a revolver rang out, and Kelly's career as closed by his own hand. Patterson and Purchase ran in, sounded the alarm, and the wounded man was borne to the hospital. The revolver was found behind the bed. He had deliberately bared his breasts and aimed at his heart. In the hospital, while yet conscious, he admitted to Dr. Brown that he fired the shot himself and enquired both of the doctor and Adjt. Young if there was any hope of saving his life. When asked his motive for the deed he only sadly shook his head.

Surgeon Brown made an autopsy of the body, and found the fatal bullet embedded in the muscles of the back, having pierced the lung and broken a back rib. The bullet was battered almost out of shape.

The evidence of all the witnesses confirmed the impression that Kelly was perfectly sober when he committed the deed, and that he was laboring under temporary insanity. The verdict of the jury was in accordance with the evidence.

The remains were interred Tuesday morning at 7:30 o'clock, with full military honours. The whole of the troops in Barracks, with firing party and band, marched to St. Dunstan's Church, where the service for the dad was celebrated by the Rev. Father McDevitt. The remains were interred in the Roman Catholic Cemetery. Kelly was 25 years old.

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 19 November 2014 12:20 AM EST

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