The Gambling Devil, 1836

For young 19th century lawyers not yet able to afford their own carriages, the daily trip to the Four Courts not only posed health and safety risks but also – in circumstances where it was impossible to reach Inns Quay without passing at least one of the numerous gambling dens or ‘hells’ encircling it – devastating threats to their finances.

In Autumn 1836 the Dublin Freeman breathlessly reported that:

“[a] young man who previously held a lucrative situation in the Four Courts, but from his being a constant visitor of the Arcade Hell, lost 1000l, was obliged to pass bills – was thrown into prison – was disinherited by his uncle, from whom he expected a fine property, and now lives in the most abject misery!”

Tragic stories have a way of provoking reaction and indeed the Arcade Hell closed when the Royal Arcade on College Green burnt down mysteriously the following year. Sadly, its conspicuous destruction, beautifully depicted by William Sadler above, did nothing to stop many other Dublin hells wreaking financial havoc on future generations of barristers.

But what else, after all, could anyone possibly expect from a profession also heavily dependent on luck and chance, full of young members at a loose end and even christened “devils”?!

Female Lay Litigant Insists on Being Described as a Lady, 1836

Female advocacy did not begin in 1919. Throughout the previous century, there run accounts of skirted lay litigants occasionally creating consternation in the manly precincts of the Four Courts.

As this story from Saunders’ Newsletter of 6 December 1836 shows, they could prove courageous opponents, capable of turning any point – including the approaching season of goodwill – to their advantage!

Mrs Reynolds, a loquacious good humoured woman, addressed the Court… for the purpose of [compelling] the receiver to pay to her a sum of money… She stated that she had not a penny to support herself, and she… looked to Baron Pennefather for a “happy Christmas”.

Mr Lyle… was interrupted by Mrs Reynolds, who said she overheard him state she had been guilty of fraud. She appeared there as her own counsel, and she would make Mr Lyle account for accusing her of such a crime, and tarnishing her spotless reputation… [Also] Mr Lyle had called her a woman.

Baron Pennefather said she should in the future be designated a lady and also intimated to her that the receiver would account for her satisfaction.

Could we possibly have this event to thank for the origin of the dread term ‘lady barrister’?

A ‘Seduction’ and its Consequences, 1830

A tragic story from the Pilot, 12 April 1830:

“On Friday a child only about fourteen years old, and small for her age, appeared before the magistrates at College Street Police-office, to charge an unfortunate associate in crime with having taken two shillings from her the previous night. When questioned about her connection with the prisoner, she detailed the following circumstances: – Her father had been a painter, and was dead two years; her mother and a younger sister were living, and were supported by her prostitution! She had been employed selling fruit in the Four Courts, and was seduced some time ago by a young lawyer, and since then had pursued the unhappy course thus opened for her. She denied that her mother or any female acquaintance had instigated her to these habits, but that she pursued them of her own accord, and divided the profits of her melancholy pursuit with her parent and her associates! We forbear to give the name of her seducer, who is a young gentleman of respectable family and character, but we deplore that any man of his rank and society should be so connected with such depravity.”

For those wondering why this did not result in a criminal prosecution, the age of consent at the time for females was 12 years, raised to 13 in 1875 and 16 in 1885. There also existed a civil action for seduction; however it had to be brought by the girl’s father, or her employer, and unfortunately, neither were in existence here.

Nonetheless, certainly behaviour calling for disbarment!

Boy Racers on Arran Quay, 1834

The entry of a stray bull into the Round Hall in 1835 proved a one-off event. Livestock, in general, were not attracted to the Four Courts.

Carriages, on the other hand, were an entirely different matter, particularly when driven by intoxicated Dublin youth attracted to the long straight stretch of quay in front of the portico.

An account of one such incident is to be found in the Clonmel Herald of 10 December 1834:

“On Saturday, about three o’clock p.m., two coal porters in the last stage of intoxication got into a dray, and put the unfortunate horse that was drawing it into full gallop, at which pace they came along Arran-Quay, to the great terror of all who happened to be passing… at this furious rate they arrived opposite the Four Courts.

The further progress of these ruffians was arrested by the car having struck against the lamp post, when a number of gentlemen, barristers and solicitors, leaving court at that moment, very properly seized the offenders and detained them…”

A shocking story – not least because it records courts sitting for business on a Saturday! Good to see our 19th century predecessors triumphing over the hardship of a six day week to emerge as the heroes of the hour!

Barrister Kills Solicitor, Becomes Attorney-General, 1814

Regrettable personal differences often arise between Irish barristers and solicitors. Fortunately, not all end as tragically as this dispute reported in the London Courier & Evening Gazette of 19 February 1814:-

“On Saturday evening… a meeting took place on the Strand in Sandymount, between [recently qualified barrister] Counsellor Hatchell and Mr Morley… an eminent attorney. Mr Morley fired first without effect, when his fire was returned by Mr H, and… the ball hit Mr M… took a direction through the kidneys, and killed him instantly…. in the hall of the Four Courts, Mr M addressed himself to Mr H, requiring him to acknowledge that a trial… in which both parties were professionally concerned, “was a falsehood.” Mr H would not comply with the requisition… Mr M immediately struck the barrister, and a challenge ensued… Mr H will surrender to abide his trial…”

It is somewhat shocking to discover that Mr Hatchell BL not only avoided trial, but went on to become Attorney-General. He even merited a mention in that intriguingly-titled publication ‘Voice of the Bar No 1: the Reign of Mediocrity’ (1850), which says of him: “who could quarrel with that jolly, good-natured personage?”

Who indeed? Or, as the ghost of poor expiring Mr Morley might gasp, who would dare to?

Barrister-Barrister Shooting, 1815

In addition to shooting solicitors they did not agree with, early Irish barristers also occasionally settled by force of arms disputes between themselves. One example is reported in the Dublin Correspondent, 9 May 1815:

“In consequence of some warm language which passed in the Four Courts yesterday, between Messrs Wallace and O’Gorman, two Gentlemen of the Bar, a meeting took place between them this morning, in Carton Demesne, the former attended by Mr Husband, and the latter by Mr Bennet. After discharging two shots each, Mr Wallace received a slight wound in the hip, which terminated the affair, and the two gentlemen left the ground perfectly satisfied.”

The uninjured party in this dispute, Nicholas Purcell O’Gorman BL (later QC), was famously sued for deceit some years later by James Magee of the Dublin Evening Post for having ‘induced him to publish an incorrect account of a trial in which he had been involved’. O’Gorman seems to have elaborated on what he actually said in court by making it more impressive than it actually was, thereby exposing Magee to liability.

The jury found against O’Gorman, who had to pay substantial damages. The start of a fraught relationship between the Bar and the Press?!

Female Lay Litigant Accorded Precedence Over Attorney-General, 1853

Another ‘lady’ advocate story from the Evening Freeman, 12 January 1853:

“The Hon. Justice Crampton entered court shortly after twelve o’clock, and took his seat on the bench, costumed in his full dress peruke and state robes…. Mrs Winter, who had been waiting the sitting of the full court… said that she appeared to sustain a motion for an attachment against the defendant, an attorney… The Lord Chief Justice observed that he did not see why Mrs Winter could demand to be heard just then, or how she assumed precedence before the members of the bar then present. For instance, the Attorney General was then in court….

Mrs Winter claimed precedence as a lady, and said that she had always understood that the ‘sex’ took precedence even at the judicial bar (this version of the law was received with cordial merriment and cheerful concession by all present, bar included)… After a long discussion between the lady and the court, she was directed to give notice of her present motion for Thursday next, with assurance that her case should receive just and patient consideration.”

Only one of many court appearances by the redoubtable Mrs Catherine Winter!

Lawyers Exit, Pursued by a Bull, 1835

From the Dublin Pilot, via the Leeds Times, January 3, 1835:

“On Thursday week, about one o’clock, a bull on its way from Smithfield, turned into the entrance of the Four Courts, under the grand portico, and immediately put to flight the crowd of litigants who were at the time actively engaged in what is technically termed ‘hall practice’. Some of the fugitives escaped into the Court of Exchequer, others ran for protection to the Rolls… The abrupt visitor, however, seemed to have no other object in view than merely, like other illustrious strangers, to satisfy a laudable curiosity and, having traversed the scene for a few minutes, he was suddenly beset by his attendants, who unceremoniously ejected him through the portico which he entered…”

The Court of Exchequer was today’s Court 3, and the Rolls Court today’s Court 5. Courts 1, 2 and 4 do not appear to have been sitting, or perhaps the judges inside were scarier than the escaped bull?

Tragically, there exists no contemporaneous illustration of the above event, but the above cartoon by James Gillray on a different subject seems appropriate for the Round Hall’s brief but dramatic agricultural tenure!

Solicitor’s Spouse Springs Prisoner from the Marshalsea, 1850

If you were to find yourself in a 19th century Victorian cab, driving through Dublin, where would you direct the driver to go? The Four Courts of course! Be careful, though, to check your pocket for your fare, or you might end up at the other Four Courts – the Four Courts Marshalsea – where debtors were sent for not paying their debts!

Sometimes the two institutions overlapped, with interesting results, as shown in this story from the Montrose Standard of 5 July 1850:

Mrs Philips, the wife of a solicitor, has been tried at Dublin on a criminal charge for conspiring to aid Miss Thompson to escape from the Four Courts, Marshalsea. Miss Thompson was a prisoner for debt; one evening she entertained some friends, and Mrs Philips was continually passing through the prison gate in making or pretending to make preparations for the entertainment; and when it grew dark, she changed duties with the prisoner, and Miss Thompson hurried out of the prison in the guise of the busy Mrs Philips.  Miss Thompson has not been recaptured. In the course of the trial, it appears that the seal had not been affixed to the writ of execution until after the flight of Miss Thompson. This was held to be a fatal objection to the proceedings against Mrs Philips, and she was acquitted.”

The ‘busy Mrs Philips’ was very lucky to be acquitted!

I wonder what happened to Miss Thompson?

The Zoo Next Door, 1821

From Saunders’ News-Letter, 21 April 1821:


The Public are respectfully informed that Polito’s Grand Menagerie, is removed from Abbey Street, to Ormond-Quay, near the Four Courts, where they will be exhibited for a short time previous to their final removal from this kingdom, and in order that all classes may have an opportunity (which may not occur again) of witnessing this rare assemblage of Natural productions – the admission for Ladies and Gentlemen will be reduced to Ten-pence and for the working Classes and Children, Five pence.

N.B. – That most beautiful and astonishing Animal, the Boa Constrictor Serpent, is included in the above Grand Collection, which is a complete contradiction of the fabulous tale, that nothing of the Snake or Serpent tribe can exist in this kingdom, the above being in excellent health.”

Polito’s caged animals stayed on Ormond Quay for some time. Presumably they left some kind of atmospheric impression on the site. I wonder if barristers and mediators working late in the Ormond Meeting Rooms ever hear a low growl, a hiss or a gulp from time to time?