Barrister Magistrate Marries his Nurse, 1908

From the Dublin Evening Telegraph, 28 April 1908:


At St Patrick’s Church, Monkstown, at half-past nine o’clock yesterday morning, Mr Thomas J Wall, K.C., 26 Longford Terrace, Monkstown, was married to Miss Gertrude Garland, of Dublin. The ceremony was performed by the Rev Father Eaton, P.P., of Monkstown. The son of the bridegroom is stated to have been present, presumably in the capacity of best man. Mr Wall, Junior, is about 26 years of age, and a very popular young gentleman, being a captain in the City of Dublin Artillery Militia. After the ceremony the bridegroom, Mr Wall, and Mrs Wall, departed by the ten o’clock train from Sandycove station on their honeymoon southwards. To-day the wedding is the talk of Monkstown, and even of Kingstown, mainly because of the romantic circumstances attached to it, and to the local regret that Mr Wall, who is so well known a public man, would have conducted his nuptials in so discreet and quiet a manner. No one knew of the celebration, except those immediately concerned.

Mr Wall, who has lived at Monkstown since he became Chief Divisional Magistrate of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, has become extremely popular there, having for many years occupied a prominent place in the legal profession. He was called to the Bar as far back as 1861. Though on the Bench somewhat inclined to be severe in manner, impartially hard upon all classes of witnesses, a veritable note of perpetual interrogation, he is known in private life to be extremely affable and to be, in fact, a most amiable personality. He is a man extremely devoted to his public duties. After a long day’s work in the Police Courts – not shortened by his anxiety to have every possible witness and circumstance brought before him – he has been known to light his pipe, cigar or cigarette, and to roam as an ordinary citizen about the streets of Dublin where the poor live and where his form and visage is perfectly known, studying for himself the conditions of the classes, a proportion of whom usually come before him in public. And it is remarkable that it has never been known that an angry or even an impolite expression has been used towards him on any of this Haroun al Raschid peregrinations although the Sultan went always disguised, Mr Wall went on his own – open and undisguised. The fact is that his sense of justice and cordial feeling for the poor have been recognised.

The story of the wedding current in Monkstown, if romantic, is creditable alike to bride and bridegroom. there is a certain disparity in their years – it might not be May and December, but certainly July and November. Mr Wall had settled down into widowhood, which happened some years ago, when he was attacked by a severe illness. A nurse was summoned from a leading city hospital to attend him, and the lady connected did her duties so kindly and winningly that Mr Wall decided he could not do without her, and on her part she conceived a sincere affection for her patient. So they married, and the congratulations and good wishes of all their friends, both in public and private life, will follow them on their excursion into the sunny South.”

Not mentioned in the article, and presumably long-forgotten by 1908, was Mr Wall’s interesting early history – before joining the Bar, he had taken monastic vows, only to subsequently renounce them and successfully recover his property from the Order in question on the basis of undue influence! Interesting, then, that, nonetheless, he ended up in… Monkstown!

Mr Wall died in July 1910 at the age of 75, after collapsing due to acute pneumonia. One obituary described him as having ‘often created much amusement in court by the pungency of his sallies, directed for the most part at police witnesses,’ which may go some way to explaining his popularity. His early institutional experiences might go some way to explaining his distrust of authority!

Mr Wall sat as a magistrate until the last day of his life – here’s one of his decisions.

Mrs Biggs Again, 1840-42

From the Waterford Mail, 21 October 1840:


A female of very showy exterior named Eliza Biggs, who resides at No. 5 Hardwicke Street, was summoned to answer the complaint of Mr Wilson, the respectable linen merchant of Sackville Street, for obtaining blankets, quilts and other articles from him, to the amount of £7 by means of false pretences.

Mr Wilson stated that on Wednesday last the defendant came to his shop and purchased goods to the above amount; they were sent home with directions not to be left till paid for; the defendant was not at home, and the goods were brought back, but an apprentice was sent next morning to inquire if Mrs Biggs was at home; he saw the female and she told him to bring the goods, and she would give him a draft on the Bank for the amount; the goods were sent by the porter, and Robert Darlington, an apprentice, with the bill, with positive directions not to leave the goods unless paid for; the defendant came out and gave the young man an order on her husband, whom she stated to be a cashier in the Bank, telling the young man it was as good as the draft she had promised him; the young man came back with the order, and he (Mr Wilson), when he saw it, imagined at once there was something bad about it; he, therefore, without going to the Bank went to the house of defendant with the intention of recovering the goods; the house appeared to be in a state of dilapidation; he entered the place and the defendant stopped him on the stairs, saying ‘I have the goods in my possession, and you dare not take them;’ He went through the house, but found it unfurnished, with the exception of one room, which was fastened with a latch; he pushed in the door and saw a man, who leaped up and swore if he (Mr Wilson) did not leave the place he would shoot him; he did not leave the place, however, until he was satisfied the goods were not in the house, and he then went to the Bank with the order, where he found the husband of Mrs Biggs, who is a clerk in the establishment; but he refused to pay the order, and showed some placards and advertisements which were published by him against his wife…

Mr Nolan argued that the bench could not take information in the case, and contended that the husband was liable for the debt. 

The Magistrates consulted for some time, when

Dr Kelly said ‘Mr O’Callaghan will take informations in this case.’

Mr O’Callaghan said he had not the slightest hesitation in doing so”.

It seems that Mrs Biggs, whose detention and subsequent release from Swift’s Hospital in 1838 has been discussed in previous posts, had turned, possibly from necessity, there being limited career options for mid-19th century women who had left their husbands, to the practice of procuring goods on credit without paying for them.

We find her again before the Henry Street Magistrates in March 1842, when Mrs Douglas, proprietor of a general provision establishment in Capel-Street, applied to the same Dr Kelly for advice and assistance, saying that in the course of the previous week a person calling herself Mrs Biggs, and stating her residence to be Lower Rutland-Street, had ordered some hams to be sent home to her, to be paid for on delivery.   The hams were sent to order, but on delivery Mrs Biggs made some excuse for not paying for them, and put in a further orde for honey, raspberry vinegar, butter, choose, flour, wholemeal, hogs’ cheeks, pickled tongues, and one box of long mould fours, promising when furnished to pay for all.  Mrs Biggs later sent her an order for the amount on her husband, who held a situation in the Bank of Ireland, but on it being presented, he handed the messenger a printed notice cautioning the public against giving credit to his wife and referred Mrs Douglas to the Henry Street Police Office.

This time, Dr Kelly said that the fact was, that Mrs Biggs was but too well known to that office, and he regretted to say to the public generally.  Mrs Douglas had reason rather to congratulate herself on the trifling amount of her loss than to make the matter the subject of complaint.  At all events he could do nothing for her.  Mrs Biggs, he should say, always contrived to evade the law, but he trusted that the publication of the present case would act as a warning to shopkeepers and traders in future.

Another interesting Biggs-related incident occurred in May of the same year, when the Dublin Morning Register reported that Mary Hanlon had summoned Mr Pearson Biggs, of the Bank of Ireland, before the Lord Mayor’s Court for six months’ wages for the nursing of his child.   According to the Inquirer, the details of the case were elaborate, and, for the most part, unfit for publication, but it did provide the following facts:

“It appears that Mr Biggs and his wife have lived separate for the last six years, and that he allows her 14s a week to support her.  About six months ago the wife of defendant gave the alleged child of Mr Biggs to the plaintiff to nurse, and the latter was now summoned for the salary.  The Lord Mayor, after a patient hearing of the case, dismissed it.”

It seems that Mrs Biggs had given birth to a baby in the autumn of 1841, whom she claimed was the child of her husband Pearson.  Had the warring Biggs couple momentarily reconciled after her appearance before the Dublin Magistrates in October 1840? It seems from Dr Kelly’s remarks that the prosecution against her did not proceed – was this because of her husband’s intervention?

Or was the father of her child the unidentified man also residing in the empty house in Hardwicke Street in October 1840 – with Mrs Biggs’ claim that the baby had been sired by Pearson merely an attempt to rely on the presumption of legitimacy to procure financial support?

We shall never know, because after this both Biggses completely disappear from the record.  I cannot even find the dates of their respective deaths.  Did they pass away from cholera or starvation during the Famine?  Did they emigrate?  And what happened to their numerous children?

All information welcome!

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The Lady Alleged to Have been Mad, 1836-9

A continuation of Wednesday’s post

From the Dublin Morning Register, 24 September 1836:

“On yesterday Mr Cummins, the governor of Swift’s mad house, came to this office, in consequence of a private letter written to him by Mr Cole, to give an explanation, as far as he could, with regard to a lady at present in Swift’s hospital, the particulars of which appeared in our paper of yesterday.  Mr Cummins came to the office shortly after two o’clock and stated to the magistrates that the lady in question was in the hospital when he came there, and that some time after the Lord Lieutenant Lord Mulgrave came to visit the house and happened to see her; she was a fine-looking and interesting woman… addressing herself to Lord Mulgrave, she told a tale of the greatest oppression and hardship… at the suggestion of his Excellency a communication was sent to the lady’s husband to take her away… she came back to Dublin, and commenced annoying her husband by going to the Governor of the Bank of Ireland, where he did business, and telling the most extraordinary tales about her husband having robbed the bank, and so on… the annoyance she gave her husband was so great that he sought to get her back into the mad-house… of her insanity there was no doubt, it was chiefly directed against her husband, accusing him of having robbed the bank and given her disease, in every other respect she was harmless.  For his (Mr Cummins’s) part he would give five pounds of his own to have her out of it, he agreed that it was a most melancholy case, the lady was a fine looking woman, and would make any person believe that she was normal.

Mr Cole said that it was a case in which the magistrates could not interfere.  She could only be removed by habeas corpus before one of the judges, but there was a circumstances stated by the lady who came before him on yesterday, which looked suspicious – it was this, when the unfortunate woman got out of the mad-house, she summoned her husband before the Lord Mayor, to recover maintenance, and his lordship ordered that he should pay her a guinea a week, and that he first should be paid on the spot; it was paid, but when the next instalment became due he did not pay it, but suffered himself to be summoned to the Court of Conscience, where an order was made against him, and the very day following the woman was brought to the mad-house.

Mr Cummins said he knew nothing of what might have happened before the lady came there.

Just at this moment the lady who had made the complaint on the previous day came into the office, accompanied by Mr Fullam, the attorney, who came forward to the Bench and said that he did not appear for Mrs Biggs as her attorney, but as her friend, and knowing much of the matter.  The lady happened to have lodged in the same house with him after she got out of the mad-house through the Lord Lieutenant’s interference, and he (Mr Fullam) was never acquainted with a more sensible, religious, correct or discreet woman than was Mrs Biggs.  Her husband held a lucrative solution in the Bank of Ireland, and he believed that there were facts connected with the case of the most extraordinary character, when brought to light; and before it went further, he bluntly accused Mr Cummins, now present, of having treated the lady with cruelty.   The unfortunate woman was confined in a cell, and deprived of the comforts she was accustomed to.

Mr Cummins said that the doctors who certified for her insanity could prove that she was so, and he believed it was the wish of all the friends of Mr Biggs to have her in a mad house.

Mr Fullam said that as to physicians certifying, doctors differed with regard to her case – for two other respectable medical gentlemen, Surgeon Boland and Doctor O’Callaghan, certified that she was perfectly sane.  There never was, in his opinion, a case of a more mysterious character, and the matter should be brought before the King’s Bench.

The magistrates said again they were sorry they could do nothing in the case.”

Mrs Biggs must have got out of the asylum not long after, since, in 1839, Mr Callwell, lodging house keeper, sued her husband, Pearson Biggs, for her board and lodging in his house in North Cumberland Street.  On his cross-examination, Pearson said that his wife was mad and no man could live with her.  Mr Biggs’ counsel Mr Brooke QC, addressing the jury, said it was not to be tolerated that a woman should be at liberty to desert her husband, her children and her home, and then come before a jury to seek the amount of whatever debts she might contract him her extravagance and folly.  He referred to Mrs Biggs’ previous stint in Swift’s, saying that she had got out under a promise that she would go to Sligo with her father, but instead of doing so, she commenced a series of persecutions against her husband, and hardly a week had passed when she had not had him summoned to the Court of Conscience or one of the police offices looking for maintenance.  When a wife separated from her husband, without any misconduct on his part, he was not bound to pay the debts she might contract even for necessities.

The jury (made up of Dublin merchant men, who almost certainly banked with Bank of Ireland) found in favour of Pearson Biggs, who subsequently arrested Callwell and had him detained in the Four Courts Marshalsea for failure to discharge the costs of the proceedings. Callwell managed to get out by promising Biggs to discharge the money, then subsequently petitioned for insolvency. His later discharge from insolvency was objected to by Biggs.

More on the subsequent career of Ms Biggs here!

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Husband Alleged to Have Had Estranged Wife Declared Insane to Avoid Paying Maintenance, 1836

From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 26 September 1836:

“HENRY STREET POLICE-OFFICE, DUBLIN. – Two ladies, of respectable appearance, came before the magistrates, and made the following statement:- They said, that some time in the month of July last, a lady of respectability came before their worships, at that office, to say that she dreaded her husband would send her to a madhouse, and requested advice of the magistrates.

Mr Cole said that he remembered the circumstances perfectly well, and it was one which surprised him a great deal, as the lady appeared to have been perfectly sane at the time. He then told her, that if any attempt was made upon her liberty by her husband, from whom it appeared she was living separate, her friends could bring the matter before the bench. One of the ladies, in continuation, stated that such was precisely the case. That a few weeks after the lady in question made this application, she was standing with the informant in her own garden, when they saw three desperate looking fellows pass by; the lady exclaimed, ‘there are the three men whom my husband got to beat me in my own house.’

On the following day the lady was carried off, and placed in Swift’s Hospital, where she has remained since the 18th of the month. She wrote to this lady, who went to see her, and it was her opinion that she was perfectly sane, and that she was getting very bad treatment, not being allowed any tea or any means of comfort. The governor of the prison mentioned to the informant that he was surprised the lady should have been allowed to remain in the house, that she was not a subject and that he would wish she was out of it. Here the lady took a letter from her pocket, written by her friend in the mad-house, and read it for the magistrates. It appears to have been the production of a person perfectly sane, as the writer complained of the harsh treatment she got, being denied tea and every other comfort and necessary to which she had been accustomed. The lady further petitioned that the husband of the unfortunate woman had consented to pay her a guinea a week as a separate maintenance, and that it was for the purpose of getting rid of the payment of the sum that she was sent to the mad-house, it was said, too, that the husband was living with another woman.

The magistrates said it was altogether the most extraordinary case that ever came before them; and they would, at first instance, write to the governor of Swift’s and have a private interview with him regarding how the lady got in there, or if any doctor had certified as to her insanity, and then they would better know what course to adopt.

The gentleman against whom these charges have been levelled holds a lucrative situation in one of the public offices.”

Wives committed to insane asylums by husbands who wanted them out of the way to steal their fortunes was one of the tropes of Victorian romantic literature, but this is the first case I’ve read of where the husband did so to avoid paying maintenance!

This lady was lucky she had such loyal friends! Great to see women looking out for one another – though one does wonder whether the ‘other comforts’ of which the incarcerated one described herself as having been deprived might perhaps have included that class of beverages described by Victorians as ‘ardent spirits’? 😉

Story continues here

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The War of the Motions: Silk Precedence in the Court of Exchequer, 1834-39

From the Dublin Morning Register, 24 February 1836:

“By some strange combination amongst the clients, almost all the law business of the country is brought into the Court of Exchequer, the Common Pleas being perfectly idle, the judges absolute masters of their own time, and being frequently met with at one o’clock in the day during the middle of term at Kingstown or Howth, enjoying a little country air ‘after the fatigues of business.’ Unfortunately it does not appear to be the policy of this court either to accommodate the public or the junior bar; the rights of the latter it has attempted to crush altogether.

I allude more particularly to Baron Pennefather’s decision the other day, when he sat to hear the arrear of motions. On the last of the eight motion days this term the juniors had precedence, but that day was altogether consumed by a motion which stood over from some days before, and which was argued by King’s Counsel. A junior counsel got up to move as soon as Baron Pennefather got on the bench, but that learned, self-sufficient and infallible baron at once stopped him by saying that he thought the inner bar had not had sufficient opportunity of moving and that he should call on them.

It was in vain that the junior replied that the junior bar had no opportunity of moving on any other day. The learned baron was inflexible, and he called on his brother, Mr Pennefather, to move, and next on his brother-in-law, Mr Bennett. Both had their bags well filled and the court to themselves for many hours, while the junior bar, whose right to precedence was never before questioned, was for several days deprived of the exercise of that right, to the serious loss and inconvenience of themselves and their clients.


At the time, eight days were set aside for motions in the Court of Exchequer each term, with no advance listing of motions and with Seniors having precedence in relation to moving same save on the last of the eight days, when Juniors had precedence (at least once the choir of Christchurch had finished singing).

Complaints about senior motion privileges had already been aired in the Inquirer in May 1834, when it had been stated that the effect of the precedence given to KCs in that court in relation to the moving of motions, each having the right to move three, had had the effect of almost creating a monopoly for ‘that portion of the bar who want it least, having surmounted the difficulties of an arduous profession.’

The same article also pointed out that because of the weight of business in the Court at the time, ‘an entire term will often elapse before the junior who may have been entrusted with some motion can get an opportunity to move it.’

The February 1836 letter provoked a reply from another barrister (gown material unstated) which described the profession as having more confidence in the Court of Exchequer, and as more satisfied with the manner in which business was carried on there, than in any other court (the fees were also higher!) and saying that the charge of self-sufficiency and want of courtesy against Baron Pennefather was one with which very few members of the bar would concur, and that the good baron had in fact subsequently gone to the trouble of sitting on additional motion days to ensure all junior bar motions were dealt with before vacation.

In November 1837, when junior bar motions were again not dealt with in full during the eight motion days, and had to be assigned an additional motion day, the junior bar did not attend at all on this additional day. Whether intended as a statement or not, this non-appearance failed to make any impression at all on Baron Pennefather, who merely remarked that he hoped that there would be no more complaints about motions not being heard.

Of course, the junior bar’s objection to seniors taking precedence at Exchequer motions was not really about motions not getting on, but more about discouraging senior practice in motion lists, it being thought that if the senior bar had to wait around in line they would not be interested in engaging in this sort of work at all, thereby leaving the field free for their junior colleagues.

In January 1839 junior bar agitators took the further step of calling a general meeting of the bar to vote on a resolution that motions in the Court of Exchequer be listed according to their dates and called in the order of the list. Although the resolution was carried, it all came to nothing when the then father of the bar, Mr Dickson QC, insisted on having it engrossed and left in the library for signature, thereby giving members a second chance to decide as to whether to vote for call in order of the list or in order of seniority. Possibly as a result of pressure from the senior bar, a number of juniors then changed their mind, with the majority of signatures ultimately favouring call in order of seniority.

Their covert attempt to discourage the senior bar from appearing in motion lists having failed, the agitators fell back on the more extreme tactic of having QCs excluded from motions altogether – something which met with surprising judicial support. In June 1842, the Dublin Register gleefully reported that

“The Lord Chief Justice [of the Queen’s Bench] refused the other day to hear Mr Brewster make a motion of course, which should, by right, have been made by a member of the outer bar.  His lordship observed that he could not sanction silk gownsmen making those motions which properly belonged to the junior branch of the profession.  Mr Hatchell came on the following day to make a similar motion, and Mr Justice Crampton, acting upon the preceded given by the Chief Justice refused to hear him.  We trust that the other two courts, particularly the Exchequer, where so much junior business is done by Queen’s Counsel, will following the example set by the Queen’s Bench.”

Before long, the Courts of Exchequer and Common Pleas had followed suit in barring seniors from moving any but the most complex and involved motions. Perhaps, if Mr Dickson QC had not acted to frustrate the resolution of 1839, the senior bar might not have lost their motion practice so definitively.

The Lord Chief Justice so instrumental in excluding QCs from motion work was the very same Edward Pennefather previously accused by the junior bar of having unfairly taken up motion time which should have gone to junior counsel. Shocking though the letter at the start of the piece may have seemed at the time, it certainly seems to have achieved its objective – and then some!

The 19th century junior bar was a formidable group unafraid to argue its case against silks and solicitors alike! More to come!

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Mother of Bride Dies of Apoplexy as Officer Groom Exposed as Fraudster, 1857

From the Carlow Post, 1857:

An extraordinary case just occurred in Kingstown [now Dun Laoghaire] Police Court. It appears that a gentleman who recently held a commission in the 95th Foot was about to be married to a lady in that town. On passing through Birmingham, last week, he purchased jewellery to the value of about £45 or £50, and gave a draft on a London bank, in the name of Lord Charles Hay, and then proceeded to Ireland. The draft, on being presented in London, was declared to be worthless – the drawer not being known. The jeweller, with a Birmingham police officer then started for Kingstown, where the offender was discovered on Sunday morning last, suffering in a frightful manner from delirium tremens. He was arrested and brought to the police-office. Informations were taken, and, on his being identified, he was transmitted to Kilmainham, prison on remand, to be forwarded to Birmingham as soon as the fit was over. The young lady’s mother received so terrible a shock, almost on the eve of the day fixed for her daughter’s wedding, that she was struck with apoplexy, and died on Sunday afternoon. The gentleman was a Crimean officer.”

In an era in which marrying off one’s daughters was a second career for society women, a broken engagement could be nearly as traumatic for the mother of the bride as the bride herself. I wonder were the jewels a present for the wedding party – if so, the shock of losing them may also have contributed.

Some might think the young lady here had a lucky escape!

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Lord Chancellor’s Mace-Bearer Fined for Assaulting Dublin United Tramways Conductor, 1902

From the Irish News and Belfast Morning News, 1 July 1902:


Today in the Southern Police Court, before Mr Wall KC, a respectable-looking elderly man named Matthew Orr, a crier in the Four Courts, was brought up in custody of Constable 46B, charged at the instance of Patrick Reddy, a conductor in the employment of the Dublin United Tramways Company, with having been guilty of disorderly behaviour by catching Reddy by the corner of the coat, shaking him, and striking him on the left jaw with his clenched fist, also refusing to pay his fare of one penny, and refusing to tell his name and address to the conductor, and further with endangering his life by running through the front door of the car and jumping from the platform onto the guard-shafts, the car being then in motion.  There was a second charge preferred by the constable of refusing his name when asked for it in Westmoreland Street, and also with assaulting him by catching him by the collar of the tunic and endeavouring to knock him down, and violently resisting arrest.

Mr Gerald Byrne prosecuted on behalf of the Tramway Company, and the accused was defended by Mr RF Todd (instructed by Mr Wm McCune).

When the defendant entered the dock, Mr Wall asked – What is this man? I know his face very well.

Mr Todd – He is the crier of the Court of Chancery.

Patrick Reddy, 6 Brighton Avenue, deposed that he was conductor of a tramcar coming between Rathfarnham and Drumcondra, which was proceeding northwards towards the latter place between four and five o’clock on Saturday evening.  Accused got on the tram at Leonard’s Corner at Clanbrassil Street and paid a penny fare.  The stage began at Harold’s Cross Bridge and ended at the Grattan Statue, College Green.  Witness on reaching the latter place told him that the stage was ended.

Mr Byrne – What did he say? He told me I did not know where he got on the car.  I told him I knew very well where he got on, and that in any case the penny fare was up.

Witness, continuing, said the car went on towards Westmoreland Street, and he asked Orr for an extra fare.  He said he would pay no more.  Witness demanded his fare three times altogether.

After further evidence the accused, acting on his counsel’s advices, apologised, and Mr Wall said that settled the case from the tramway point of view.  In regards to the police charges he would impose a fine of 10s.”

Mr Orr was a person of considerable importance in the Four Courts, being responsible for looking after the massive silver mace with ancient Irish ornament which had been part of the insignia of the Lord High Chancellorship since that office was first established.  Always displayed prominently on the left side of the court during the presence of the Lord Chancellor, the mace was carried before him by his crier as he moved from court to court.   

Stolen during the occupation of the Four Courts in 1922, the mace was subsequently recovered under the floorboards of Arran Quay.  The Weekly Irish Times of 15th July, 1922, ran a piece dealing with its recovery, which included (above) a late 19th century photograph of Mr Orr holding the mace.  It looks rather imposing, and with some sharp edges. Just as well its bearer was off-duty during his altercation with Mr Reddy – or he might have done a lot more damage!

The transition from a position of authority at work to mere everyday customer outside it can be difficult! But Four Courts tipstaffs could sometimes be over-zealous even in the pursuit of their official duties. Read about another criminal case from the mid-19th century involving a Mr Falkner here.

Was Mr Orr a relation of David Orr, the Four Courts plumber involved in a gas explosion in the Bankruptcy Court in 1888? It would be interesting to know!

Slidecast 5: The Downfall of Enniskillen Solicitor John Macniffe, 1876-88

A slidecast about John Charles Macniffe, solicitor, husband of Oliver St. John Gogarty’s aunt Julia, whose tribulations kept newspapers selling steadily during the period 1886-88. How could all this have happened to one Fermanagh solicitor in his 30s? What had his life been like previously, and what happened to him after?

Index for quick listens to the various bits of Mr Macniffe’s story:

  1. 1877-1880 Marriage and children (00.30-3.52)
  2. 1877-1885 Practice in Enniskillen (3.52-9.42)
  3. March 1885- April 1886 Illness and marital breakdown (9.43-12.08)
  4. August-December 1886 A bounced cheque, prosecution, attempted suicide and acquittal by reason of insanity (12.09-15.26)
  5. 1887 Release from lunatic asylum, a new practice in Athy, slander proceedings against the Gogartys and others and a conviction for travelling first-class on a third-class ticket (15.27-21.31)
  6. What had the Gogartys said? (21.32-26.09)
  7. 1888 The divorce trial and alleged adultery with governess in Feb/March 1886 (26.10-35.54)
  8. 1888. Struck off the Roll of Solicitors (35.55-40.32)
  9. 1889-1920 After (40.33-46.25)
  10. Young Oliver and ‘Ulysses’ (46.26-46.08)

Also available to watch on YouTube.

Laughter at Under-the-Table Police Chase in Rolls Court, 1857

From the Wexford People, 17 June 1857:

The Master of the Rolls having taken his seat on the bench on Tuesday last, proceeded with the hearing of motions of course. Before they had concluded, Mr Richard Major Hassard, the well-known litigant, who has been for some years past in the frequent habit of making viva voce appeals in person to the equity judges, made his appearance at the side bar, and addressed his Honor, complaining of an order lately made by him in one of the suits in which Mr Hassard and his wife are parties.

Master of the Rolls – I have made my order, and if you are dissatisfied with it you may appeal. I will not discuss it with you now… you must go to the Court of Appeal, which is now sitting, if you are not satisfied with my order.

Mr Hassard, notwithstanding his lordship’s intimidation, continued to press his complaints, interrupting counsel who were speaking in cases fixed for the sitting of the court.

His Honor – Sir, I will not allow you to disturb the court. If you persevere I must have you removed by the police.

Mr Hassard – Very well, my lord, give me into custody at your peril.

Policemen having come forward to remove Mr Hassard, he made a sudden dive under the table and disappeared to the laughter of all the spectators. The policemen, who were far beyond man’s ordinary stature, vainly endeavoured to squeeze their persons into the small space between the table and the floor which had readily admitted the spare figure of the disappointed litigant. After a time, one of them succeeded in getting on all-fours into his concealment, and gave chase. On Hassard’s sudden disappearance, the business of the court had been resumed, and Mr Hughes, QC, addressing the court, was obliged to throw down his brief convulsed with laughter. The hero of a hundred legal battles flying along, still under the table, from the policeman who was in pursuit of him, had seized the eminent Queen’s Counsel by the legs. On this circumstances becoming known, the bar, the spectators, and even the ordinarily immovable gravity of the learned judge, were overcome.

Nor were the sounds that issued from under the table of a character that tended to diminish the ludicrousness of the occasion. Kicks and plunges might be heard, mingled with such exclamations as these sounding through the wood, like the conversations of Gallagher, the ventriloquist:- ‘Let me go’ – ‘That’s not fair’ – ‘This isn’t justice’ – ‘I’m getting no fair play.’

Mr Hughes at length suggested to his honour the propriety of adjourning the court for a few minutes. To this the learned judge acceded, and left the bench. A few minutes afterwards Mr Hassard emerged from his hiding place at the opposite side from that at which he entered, starting up covered with dust amongst the Queen’s counsel as suddenly as he had disappeared, at the same time that his colossal pursuer came up at the other side, his face red and swollen from exertions in the unusual enterprise in which he had been engaged.

Mr Hassard then walked quietly out with the policeman, and remained for some time perambulating in the hall, an object of interest to all who saw him, and obviously pleased at the ‘sensation’ his antics had occasioned. His Honour immediately afterwards resumed his place on the bench, and the business was proceeded with as usual.”

This exciting chase took place in the Rolls Court behind the Round Hall, just about where Court 5 is today. The Master of the Rolls in Ireland at the time was Thomas Berry Cusack ‘Alphabet’ Smith, himself no stranger to courtroom dramatics, or indeed practical jokes by those wishing to puncture his dignity.

The 19th century Four Courts had a long and proud tradition of scene-stealing lay litigants.

Always an exciting day in the Four Courts when the aptly named Mr Hassard was about!

The Scandalous Divorce of Gogarty’s Aunt, 1888

From the Irish Times, 11 February 1888 and 14 February 1888:

“MCNIFFE V MCNIFFE (Probate and Matrimonial Court, Warren J)

The parties were married in 1877, in Dublin, and after their marriage they went to live at Enniskillen, where the respondent practised as a solicitor. For some years they lived happily, but in February 1886, the respondent went to Dublin with a governess in his employ… it was understood they would come home that night, but they did not come back that night… up to the time of her marriage, Mrs McNiffe had lived in a convent, and knew nothing of the ways of life of the respondent. Owing to the habits of her husband, the petitioner was compelled to occupy a different bed… in 1885, when Mrs McNiffe was up at the Horse Show in Dublin, Dr Gogarty, who is married to her sister, found that she was suffering from a loathsome illness….

Mr McNiffe, who conducted his own defence, read the petition in which it was stated that he committed adultery with Rose Carney, Margaret Atwell, Kate Chance and the family’s nursery governess Anne Lynch, and denied that he ever committed adultery with any of those persons. He repeated solemnly his denial that any impropriety had ever taken place between Miss Lynch and himself, and said that Miss Lynch simply took care of him, when he was in delicate health…

The respondent, who spoke with great emotion, and shed tears during his evidence, proceeded – in the months of February and March 1886, I was afflicted with one of the most serious diseases. I suffered from epilepsy from February 1884 till March last – one of the worst forms of epilepsy… my home in Enniskillen was a happy one until Dr Gogarty and his wife upset it, and I challenge any man in the town of Enniskillen to say that there was a happier home there.

The respondent then said that his wife deserted him and took the children away while he was lying on his sick bed, and two or three days afterwards, bailiffs came to his house. He went down to Galway to seek an interview with his wife, and to ascertain why she left him, and his credit from hotel to hotel in Galway was affected through statements made by Dr Gogarty and his wife. He came to Dublin, and wrote a cheque which he could not meet, and was placed in a lunatic asylum, and after a lapse of time allowed out, and then for the first time learned that those charges at to Miss Lynch were made against him by Mrs Gogarty. He took an action against Mrs Gogarty, and also against Dr Gogarty. As long as he had money he was courted and feted by the Gogartys in Rutland Square, and when he fell on evil times he was deserted by his wife and three children. He was fighting the case not so much for himself, for his domestic life was gone, but for his children, who might say when they grew up that their father might have his faults, but that his name was free from any charge against his morality… ”

Today, we know the Gogarty medical family best via Oliver St John Gogarty, immortalised as Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ But his father, Dr Henry Gogarty (shown above, with family), would have been immediately familiar to Irish lawyers of the 1880s as the man who delivered their wives’ babies – the most respected obstetrician in Dublin, with an enormous practice, a house in Parnell Square (also shown above) and a beautiful and pious wife, Margaret, sister to Mrs Macniffe in the story above.

Dr Gogarty also seemed to have a remarkable knack for getting into disputes with his brothers-in-law. In 1882, his sister’s husband, Patrick Mohan, had sued him to recover the price of a piano, bed and bedstead, gold rings, a diamond pin and a number of books including Homer, Macaulay’s Essays, and the Annals of the Four Masters, which he alleged had been illegally detained by Gogarty. The claim failed but Gogarty’s counterclaim for £30 succeeded, ruining Mohan, who, in the final round of litigation, admitted: “I have lost everything trying to bring you on.”

Had Macniffe likewise met his ruin at the hands of a domineering and vengeful Dr Gogarty?

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