Barrister Sentenced to Six Months’ Hard Labour for Stealing Books from Trinity College Library, 1840

From the Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail, 18 April 1840:

CONVICTION OF A BARRISTER FOR FELONY. Robert Harman, a barrister, was indicted for stealing a number of books from Trinity College Library, the property of the University. The prisoner, when placed at the bar, trembled from head to foot, and during a great portion of the trial remained in a half-kneeling posture, as if anxious to avoid the observation of a crowded court.

For a considerable time books had been stolen from the library of Trinity College, and it was necessary to prosecute in the present instance, in consequence of there being upwards of £70,000 worth of books exposed to the liability of being abstracted. All the graduates of the College had free access to the library, and the number of those who obtained admission to it was very great.

The prisoner was member of the bar, and a graduate of the university, and it would be proved that, from time to time, a variety of books were lost, and in last summer they were found at different pawnbroker’s shops, and the prisoner at the bar was identified by the pawnbrokers’ clerks as the individual who pawned these books.

Mr Fitzgibbon, for the defendant, said that the transaction had occurred so long ago as January 1839, and it was not too much to say that the clerks were mistaken as to the prisoner’s identity, and the jury would long hesitate before they returned a verdict of guilty.

The Recorder charged the jury, who retired to consider of their verdict at half past six o’clock, and at a quarter to seven they returned with a verdict of guilty. The Recorder said that the only thing which could have been urged by Counsel during the trial in the accused’s favour was the improbability of a person in his station being capable of committing the crime of which he was charged, but having been found guilty that circumstance was only an aggravation of his offence. The prisoner should be imprisoned in the jail of Newgate for six months and kept to hard labour.”

The books included ‘Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrapbook’, ‘Barnes’ History of the Cotton Manufacture’ and ‘The Practical Treatise on Locomotive Engines.’ No law books!

We now know – and indeed a trial judge must formally warn the jury – that identifications can often be mistaken. We can only hope that Mr Harman was not unjustly convicted!

Feeling like a walk back in time to 1840? Follow in the footsteps of Mr Harman from Trinity to the Four Courts by clicking here and zooming in on the image shown!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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