James Campbell Keenan (Abt 1840 – 1878)

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james campbell keenan - hamilton police, ontario

Basic Facts About (James) Campbell Keenan

Born about 1840, possibly Belfast
Occupations: “Driver,” Royal Regiment Of Artillery, Policeman, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Spouse: Mary Mason
Children: 3 Mentioned, One Located Registration: Thomas Benjamin Keenan (b. 17 MAY 1877)
Last Known Residence: Peter Street, Hamilton
Death: 27 JUNE 1878, Pneumonia
Parents: Probably brother of Mary Keenan, who married Hugh McDowell (Parents of Sarah, Mary Ellen, John George McDowell et al).

Who Was The Relative That Would Become A Police Man In Hamilton, Ontario?

Years ago, my father had shown me a police baton that he claimed at the time, was the baton used by a relative who would be the “Chief” of police in Hamilton, Ontario. You have to understand the times that were happening when he told me this; I had made a decision in early 1982 to go onto study “Law & Security Administration” at Humber College of Applied Arts & Technology in Rexdale, Ontario upon completion of high school.

With a policing career himself under his belt, my father thought it interesting that I was considering such a career even though it had definitely not been one he had encouraged me to do. But he had said something like, “perhaps policing is in our blood” in a joking kind of way, as he told about a relative that had immigrated to Canada and apparently would become a “Chief” in Hamilton.

As he showed me the baton, he unscrewed a cap that revealed an inner cavity that could be filled with liquid; whiskey, my dad told me, in order to warm up during very cold foot patrols during the bitter winter weather. Of course, as my father told me this story, his eyes twinkled a bit as he was not a person to be fond of alcohol – but the idea of it being sipped by a policeman while fighting off the cold in days gone by was a bit of a humourous idea.

I wish my father had written more things down (although I have found some probably errors in the bit he did write down) – and that’s been part of my own motivation to spend time on family history research, and try to bring some of the names, more “alive” – for those that might be interested later.

For many years, I was under the mistaken impression that this relative that had gone to Canada and had become a policeman was a Scott – possibly a brother of my great-grandfather. Or a Bailey, from his mother’s side. I spent many hours trying to confirm my dad’s story, but now realize I had been going down the wrong track. Those hours had even included inquiries years ago, of the Hamilton Police Services historical department – but they had no record of a Scott or Bailey.

I recall even asking another person who I discovered (it was a weird experience to discover him) had been doing extensive research on the Bailey side, but he knew nothing of any relative on that side that had gone to Canada and took up policing.

So, for years, this has been in my head, wondering what my father might have been talking about. Perhaps it was just a story he had heard somewhere, but wasn’t really factual. Over the years, I continued on with family research as I could, with the hope in the back of my mind I might be able to find more hints in regard to this Hamilton policing connection.

An Amazing Photograph Solves the Mystery!

Last evening, I was browsing recent photos that my sister Janice had scanned from the collection of family photos left after our mom passed away two years ago. As soon as I saw the photo, (above), I knew what I was looking at – and as I clicked on the arrow and saw the written inscription on the back of the photo, it was a “Eureka!” moment for me!

Clearly, the photo was taken by a Hamilton, ON photographer of a police officer out in winter time. On the back, the name, “James Campbell Keenan,” and an address including Dunadry, Co Antrim (and probably meant to be “Shaneoguestown” above it).

Presently, I’m not 100% sure of the family relationship, but I believe this James Campbell Keenan was a brother to Mary Keenan, who married Hugh McDowell. It would be into this family that our Great-Grandfather married into; in other words, James was probably the brother to our Great-Grandfather Scott’ mother-in-law. Also, probably an Uncle to John George McDowell.

I have not confirmed this relationship, and at the time of writing, have no other information – but was excited to discover the photo and put an actual name to the story my father had told me.

There are so many new photos to go through of many people – which is exciting, and I’ll add more names to this Scott Family Stories section as I can.

An Encouragement To Others

Please write your stories down and get those old photos scanned. Don’t wait; life can be too short. I am sure my father never expected he would pass away at such a young age of 65 – and I know he had always wanted to research his family history; a strong desire he passed on to me. Both photos and memories can fade with time as well; do what you can now to preserve both, while you can.

I’ll add more information as I find it on James Campbell Keenan as well as any replies to my most recent inquiry of the Hamilton Police historical department.

Update – Shirley Lancaster – Are You Out There?

I received a very quick reply from Constable David Kerkhof #372, Hamilton Police Service Historian. He mentioned he “inherited” a file on Constable Keenan, and attached some email correspondence between his predecessor Tim Fletcher and a person who had been previously inquiring about Keenan. In going through the information, there are some oddities that could be researched.

I’ve reached out to the email address on record for Shirley Lancaster, the person who had been making inquiries, back in 2011. But I am not convinced her email is still valid; a google search on the name Shirley Lancaster found a few places where she had requested an email on record change from the one I have. I also tried to send to that, but it bounced back to me.

What interests me is that she also sent a scan of the same photo that we have. It’s actually considerably clearer as well. I have no idea if it’s a scan from an original print from the photographer; in fact I’d love to know how she obtained her copy. Perhaps she is a descendant of Constable Keenan.

No Mention Of ‘James’

One of the very interesting things I found and that is a bit of an oddity considering the information we have is that Ms Lancaster referred to the gentleman in the photo only as “Campbell Keenan.” From my later research, and what she also provided, it would seem that Keenan either dropped the name “James” at some point, or it is actually a middle name, or perhaps our grandfather/great-grandfather had recorded the name incorrectly.

Yet, I could find zero “Campbell Keenan’s” in the historical records that I searched. Ms Lancaster however had previous access to British Military records, which suggests his name that he used was Campbell.

My own follow up research didn’t add much to this. More on that below.

Keenan’s Military Record

Supposing we are talking about the very same person with the assumption that he dropped James, or it is recorded on our photo incorrectly, Campbell Keenan was a member of the Royal Regiment Of Artillery, and had come to Canada with that regiment. According to Ms Lancaster:

A colleague did find a mention of Campbell in British Military “C” Series (Record Group 8) at the Library and Archives Canada. “in Hamilton in December 1862. He was a Driver with “G” Battery, Royal Army Artillery. The Brigade Commander wanted new winter boots for his men and engaged in protracted Correspondence with his superiors in Canada and in England”.

Constable Kerkhof was kind enough to also send me the scan of the death notice as well as the obituary (linked below in the references).

Campbell Keenan’s Life In Canada

As noted, he apparently arrived in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with the Royal Regiment of Artillery. I have been unable to locate any military records (but have not spent a great deal of time after coming to a few dead ends with online sources) including when he may have been discharged from the military.

However, from the newspaper obituary, it seems Mr. Keenan had died after 3 years on the police force, after suffering a case of pneumonia. Within the obituary, we find that he left a widow and three children. I believe I have located the widow’s name, Mary (Mason) and one of those children, a son born May 17th, 1877 – just a year before Mr. Keenan passed away.

From the birth registration of his son, Thomas Benjamin Keenan, we can see that his wife’s name was Mary Mason.

(James) Campbell Keenan’s Importance

There are so many closer relatives to spend this amount of time on; so why on this (James) Campbell Keenan, of which any descendants would be distant cousins considering his probable location in the “family tree?”

He was important enough to my father that he told me about him, and somehow, my father had in his possession, the police baton that this relative had owned/carried while a police constable in Hamilton, Ontario (or so the claim goes that I recall, that the baton shown to me belonged to a Hamilton police officer that was a relative).

The fact that the photo of this Keenan was handed down to my father is also significant enough to spend time researching him and finding out what his life may have been like, as a member of the military who would be assigned to a post in Canada away from his native land of Ireland.

I have often wondered who this person was after my father had told me about him – and have spent, as mentioned, some time with incorrect assumptions – so it’s good to have this mystery resolved, at least somewhat.


Notes on Photo (Scan Above Article).

Constable David Kerkhof #372 Hamilton Police Services Historian.

Shirley Lancaster – Correspondence With Constable Tim Fletcher, Previous Hamilton Police Services Historian.

Hamilton Spectator Death Notice (JPG – 206 KB) – Please note typo – says 27th year – should be 37th year.

Hamilton Spectator Obituary JPG – 263 KB

Birth Registration Of Thomas Benjamin Keenan (Shows father Campbell Keenan & mother, Mary Mason). (JPG 390 KB)

Death Registration Of Campbell Keenan, Hamilton Ontario. (JPG – 204 KB)

Leave a comment below if you know more about (James) Campbell Keenan! It would be greatly appreciated.

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