Keep in mind that this obituary was written by a good friend of Michael Fennell’s and an Irishman at that, so there may be some exaggerations. This document was a tremendous help for me in my family research, before this I had no idea that he and his brothers lived in Montreal. I have found three other obituaries for Michael Fennell on only one references his wife and eldest daughter.
Michael Fennell – Obituary – San Francisco Catholic Monitor – Nov 1874
DEATH OF MICHAEL FENNELL
Mr. Michael Fennell, an old and well known resident of this city, died at his residence on Sixteenth Street, near the Mission, in the morning of last. His funeral, which took place Tuesday, was very somberly and respectfully attended, showing in significant manner the esteem in which the deceased was held by a large body of his fellow citizens. Mr. Fennell’s life was in certain respects, a more than ordinary one, and some incidents in it are at least worthy of brief relation, now that he has passed into another world. Before coming to California he was for many years a resident of Montreal, Canada where he and a brother were largely engaged in the contracting business. Montreal at the time was a hotbed of Orangeism, and the Fennell’s in a short time became prominent as opponents of that pestilent of bigotry. Employing large numbers of men they naturally had great influence, but besides that they enjoyed united confidence among the masses of their countrymen and co-religionists. They were, therefore, special marks for the loyalty of the “True Blue Brethren.” On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Mr. Fennell’s brother was assassinated* in a most outwardly and treacherous manner while crossing a street in order to get some mange facilitating payments for his employees.
Not satisfied with the perpetrator of this hideous murder, numbers of Orangemen assembled before the house in which the bleeding corps was lying, and gave out to their exultation in fiendish yells and cheers, declaring that before morning the other brother, Michael too, should be lying prostrate. This demonstration, as right to be expected, was resented by the Fennell’s, and a terrible riot ensued, in which several lives were lost. And the fight that Michael Fennell displayed was most superhuman, daring and endurance. Of his participation in this disturbance he was arrested and after a long incarceration, fought a trial; but, to great delights his party, and indeed of all just men, he was honorably acquitted by the jury without leaving their seats.
Some time, afterwards, thinking that an opportunity for a striking blow in favor of the independence of his native land had arrived, he made his way to New York shared his services in the Irish Directory; And before he could be assigned to any post, came of the utter collapse of ’48 rebellion, and all idea of an auxiliary government in America was abandoned. With his hopes of adding in the liberation of Ireland were frustrated. His fidelity was, however, made good use of in another direction. A gentleman, whose name it is not necessary to mention now, came from Canada to New York and informed the Directory that there was a widespread conspiracy among the French Canadians and Irish, having for its object the revolutionizing of the colony and its severance from the British dominions, and that if pecuniary aid were afforded the movement would surely be successful.
To secure the cooperation and advice of men thoroughly acquainted with the sentiments prevailing among both classes of the Canadian population, French and Irish and in whom the intended insurgents would have sufficient confidence to impart to them the secrets of their alleged organization.
The Irish Directory then sent for Dr. Robert Nelson, subsequently, well known and universally esteemed in this city, who had taken a prominent part in the rebellion lead by Papineau and others. In answer to inquiries he stated that, so far as the French Canadians were concerned, he was not aware of any such conspiracy, and did not believe in its existence; and that, so far as the Irish were concerned, he knew a man just arrived in New York who, he felt convinced, must be acquainted with the fact if there was any insurrectionary organization among them. This man, as might be supposed, was no other than Michael Fennell. When brought before the Directory and interrogated as to the reported conspiracy, he emphatically denied that any such thing existed, and declared it would be a sheer waste of money to push the investigation any further or make any experiment touching its reality. Notwithstanding these authoritative disclaimers a majority of the Directory were of the opinion that it was worthwhile to make further it queries on Canadian ground and resolved to appoint three committees of two men each with instructions to proceed to Canada, make all possible investigation among the French and Irish, and report the result. A considerable sum of money was voted to defray the expenses of the singular and dangerous embassy.
At Dr. Nelson’s suggestion a Canadian by the name Chapdelaine, who died in this city some years since and Michael Fennell were associated together as one of these Committees. When money was tendered to these two for the defrayal of their expenses, they firmly refused to touch a single dollar, and magnanimously declared that all the services they could perform would be cheerfully given gratuitously. They proceeded on their mission, traveled over a good deal of Canada, made all the investigation they could under the circumstances, and on their return reported that there was no conspiracy whatever of the kind indicated in existence, or likely to be. The second committee came back in due time with a report of precisely the same character. The third, for reasons not necessary to mention, never put in appearance at all. This investigation expedition cost about ten thousand dollars, all of which could have been spared for better purposes if Mr. Fennell’s advice had been followed.
It was not long after this that he came to California. He resumed the business he had followed in Canada, and was one of our earliest street contractors in San Francisco. He was a man of great firmness of character, and on all occasions openly avowed his principles, whether they happened to be popular for the time being or not. As was natural with one of his energetic temperament, he took an active part in public affairs and gained no little influence among the Order Party and opposed all turbulent demonstrations. Although, by sympathy and conviction a Democrat, he affiliated with the Republican Party during the war, no because he had any liking for that party, but because he believed Irish citizens had a duty towards the United States which could be best fulfilled by supporting the Federal Government and Administration. He held that it was a matter of gratitude to this Republic, for the benefits enjoyed under its free institutions by the oppressed of all nations, that Irishmen, above all others should not stand by and suffer the Union to be destroyed. But when the war ended and the integrity of the republic secured, he returned to the ranks of his old party comrades and thenceforward labored in the Democratic cause.
Mr. Fennell was a man of considerable natural abilities, and had his education been more thorough, would have made his mark as a journalist. He did, we believe, publish a paper in Canada called “The Harper”, and he was a frequent contributor to the newspaper here, the honesty of his purpose and his manliness of expression more than atoning for whatever literary defects were perceptible in his writings. To his pen “The Monitor” has been indebted for several interesting papers.
Mr. Fennell, was a native of Birr, King’s County, Ireland, and was about fifty-seven years of age at the time of his death. Strongly attached to the faith of his fathers, he had the happiness of receiving all the consolations of Holy Church before he expired. R. I. P.