In the early hours of the Eleventh of September, 1867, Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy were arrested in the centre of Manchester on a vagrancy charge. News of their arrest was immediately sent to Mr. Disraeli, the Prime Minister, as Colonel Kelly was the most prominent Fenian of them all, having only recently been confirmed as Chief Executive of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and as such was considered quite a capture.
On the Eighteenth of September, the two prisoners were conveyed from the Court House in Manchester to the County Jail on Hyde Road, West Gorton. The two Fenians were handcuffed and locked in two separate compartments inside the Police van, there was a posse of twelve mounted policemen to escort them.
On the journey, as the van passed under a railway arch, a man darted into the middle of the road, pointed a pistol at the driver and called on him to stop. At the same time, a party of about thirty men leapt over a wall at the side of the road and surrounded the van and seized the horses, one of which they shot. The police being unharmed offered little resistance, and were soon put to flight.
The rescuers after a vain attempt to burst open the van with hatchets, sledge hammers and crowbars, called upon Police Sergeant Brett, who was inside the van with the prisoners, to open the door. Sergeant Brett refused, thereupon one of the rescuers placed his revolver at the keyhole of the van and fired, at that moment Sergeant Brett had put his eye to the keyhole to see what was going on outside, the bullet passed through his eye into his brain and killed him. The door was opened from the inside and Cplonel Kelly and Captain Deasy escaped, never to be recaptured.
Other casualties were a police officer shot in the thigh, and a civilian shot in the foot. After a chase, the police made 29 arrests, including, they claimed, the three men who had fired the revolvers. By November, five of the men arrested for taking part in the rescue; William O'Mera Allen, Michael Larking; William Goold alias O'Brien, Thomas Maguire and Edward Stone, were found guilty and sentenced to death. Maguire was pardoned and discharged, Stone's sentence was commuted on the eve before the day fixed for his execution.
Allen, Larkin and O'Brien were publicly hanged on the Twenty Third of November, 1867.
A Memorial was erected to their memory in Moston Cemetary. In St. Ann's Church, St.Ann's Square, Manchester, is a plaque to the memory of Sergeant Brett.
The rescue took place on the borders of West Gorton and Ardwick, but I do not think anyone will object if we claim it to be a part of the history of West Gorton.
Return to Archive List