The Irish Barrister’s Dead Sweetheart’s Belongings, 1900

From the Freeman’s Journal, 7 March 1900, and the Islington Gazette, 5 March 1900:

At the Clerkenwell County Court, Mrs Dorcas Poyntz sued Miss Rosita Tennyson, an actress, for £25.12s, the value of goods formerly belonging to her daughter, Evaline Poyntz, who had been visiting Miss Tennyson at the date of her death, and which Miss Tennyson had handed over to Mr Eustace Johnstone, a member of the Irish Bar resident in Dublin, where he principally practised.

Mr Johnstone said he was engaged to the deceased young lady, who went to stay with the defendant, as she was so unhappy at home.  Mother and daughter were on most quarrelsome terms… the goods claimed, except a brooch, had all been bought by him for the deceased, as his intended wife.

Mr Johnstone admitted that his age was between 52 and 54, and the deceased was only half his age.  

Mr Johnstone’s letters to Miss Poyntz were read, in which he wrote: ‘I feel as unnerved as if I have been struck by a torpedo.’

Mr Scarlett (cross-examining):  Were you ever struck by a torpedo?

Judge Edge: I am afraid we should not have been investigating this case if he had been.

Mrs Poyntz said there was no truth to the rumour that she and her daughter were living apart or on bad terms. As a matter of fact, the deceased died of blood-poisoning, and she was not satisfied about it at all.

Judge Edge said he thought the case had gone quite far enough for him to see the real question at issue.”

Mrs Poyntz must have felt some belated satisfaction in 1903, when Mr Johnstone and his friend Frank DuBédat, the former president of the Dublin Stock Exchange, were convicted of having fraudulently obtained money for shares from members of the public on foot of a cancelled concession. Both parties, however, were released when the crime was disproved by subsequent evidence.

At the time of the proceedings above, Rosita Tennyson was well-known to the British public through her recitations and singing of Kipling’s ‘The Absent Minded Beggar.’ Of reputedly Spanish, or possibly even Brazilian, origin, she was described by contemporaries as possessing a Rossetti-like beauty. She was also the long-term mistress of Frank DuBédat, whom she subsequently married.

Eustace Johnstone returned to practice in November 1904.  The Northern Whig of 1921 describes him in his later years as:

“a very old and also very wide member of the Irish Bar who was brimful of queer and out of the way legal points, yet if he got into court they seemed all to melt into thin air.

A bit like the circumstances leading to the death of this Irish barrister’s sweetheart, and the reasons behind his decision to retain her belongings, matters once possibly capable of determination, but now, with the passing of time, susceptible only to the airiest of speculations!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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