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?

The Original Judges’ Car Park, 1852

The annual State Trials for conspiracy and treason were a very exciting time at the nineteenth-century Four Courts.

Many members of the public of all political persuasions attended to observe and comment.  All tried to put their best face forward.  None more so than the Judges.   The style of their arrival on such occasions was so impressive as to merit the above illustration in the popular press.   Not only were the judicial means of transport slightly different from today, but their parking facilities were in a different location!

When a post-Famine judiciary sought to adopt a lower-key approach, this resulted in complaints in the popular press, such as the following letter by an anonymous correspondent published in the Catholic Telegraph of 3 April 1852:

“Formerly, the Lord Chancellor, Master of the Rolls, Judges and superior officers of the courts, were in the habit of driving to court in handsome private carriages.  The incomes are the same as formerly, and Free Trade has considerably reduced the price of most of the necessaries of life; yet, with one or two exceptions, the squares of the courts are now quite deserted by private equipages, and too frequently visited by inside and outside jaunting cars, which have a monopoly there.”

It seems that, in this delicately balanced political era, demonstrations of magnificence on the part of the judiciary were seen not as an indulgence, but as essential to the majesty of the law. Such pageantry, of course also gave employment to a wide variety of Dublin artisans and tradesmen!

Barristers’ Bags Stolen and Recovered, 1853

From the Freeman’s Journal, 7 June 1853:

“A man named John Whitaker was… charged with having stolen a large number of briefs and a law book the property of Messrs. Robinson, QC, Robert Owen Lawson, JF Martley and McCarthy, barristers.

It appeared that a person named McDonnell had been employed by several barristers to carry their brief bags to the Four Courts every morning during term. Having called as usual some mornings since he got four of these bags into his care, and having to go to another house he left the four bags at the doorway, from which they had been stolen by the prisoner, who threw them into a cart which he was driving at the time.

[T]he police… succeeded in tracing the missing papers to the shop of Mrs Kelly, Cook Street, where they had been sold as old paper by the prisoner for seven pence. The papers, which were all recovered, having been identified by the gentlemen to whom they belonged, and the police having stated that they found the four missing brief bags in the lodgings of the prisoner, he was fully committed for trial…”

A barrister’s worst nightmare! Almost certainly there were wigs and gowns in the bags, too. I wonder if they got them back?!

Groom Obtains Habeas Corpus in respect of Bride, 1824

From the Dublin Evening Post, 22 June 1824, a story of young love’s struggle against parental opposition:

“Mr Sheil… moved for a Habeas Corpus against William Ormsby, the Marshal of the Four Courts Marshalsea, commanding him to bring up the body of his daughter, Jane Ormsby.

Mr Sheil said, that he moved upon the affidavit of Nicholas William Whyte, which stated, that he became acquainted with Miss Ormsby, about fourteen months ago, at Booterstown, and was introduced to her father and mother, who received his visits. Miss Ormsby formed an attachment for Mr Whyte, and entered into a contract of marriage.

Her father disapproved of Mr Whyte’s proposals and… adopted a system of rigour in her regard, which had the most pernicious effect upon her health. She was confined by him in the Marshalsea, or the house adjoining to it; and such as the impression produced by her father’s menaces, that for several days she became deranged…

[S]he had applied for a Habeas Corpus in order to effect her liberation. She was upwards of twenty-one years of age, and, therefore, her own mistress.

Judge: Is there a positive affidavit that the motion be made at her instance?

Mr Shiel: There is, my Lord.

Judge: Then let the Habeas Corpus issue, returnable forthwith.”

A joyful ending? Sadly not! When the victorious Mr Whyte subsequently turned up at the Marshalsea with the order directing that Jane Ormsby be released from her imprisonment, he found that she had already been spirited off to England with a view to marriage to another suitor.

Further research also suggests a reason why Jane’s family might have been so particular about her spouse – her father was in serious financial trouble following the recent escape of a prisoner from the Marshalsea. As Marshal, he bore a liability to compensate the creditor for the prisoner’s debt.

A case of the Marshal of the Four Courts Marshalsea successfully auctioning his daughter off to the highest bidder?