Acid Attack on Solicitor Charged with Indecent Assault, 1884

From the Belfast News-Letter, 14 March 1884:

Miss Lillie Tyndall, a young lady of prepossessing appearance, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer outside Arklow [was] charged with having thrown a bottle of… vitriol into the face of [Mr John Kelly Toomey, a well-known solicitor].

[Information sworn by Mr Toomey, from hospital] Lillie Tyndall came to my office… asked me to write a letter that I had no intimacy with her beyond a business acquaintance… to get paper I turned my back…, and [she] threw something against the right side of my face and ran…”

[Counsel for Miss Tyndall] It was in the defence of her virtue and honour that she threw this bottle of acid. “

Subsequent prosecutions of Mr Toomey for indecent assault and for Ms Tyndall for assault with intention to cause grievous bodily harm both resulted in acquittals.

Miss Tyndall (now Mrs Gyll, having married the manager of a local chemical works) claimed that the married Mr Toomey had made improper advances to her, and that she had been forced to throw the acid to stop him violating her. Mr Toomey asserted that he had done no such thing and that Ms Tyndall had been driven to carry out a premeditated attack by her then fiancé’s completely unfounded jealousy of him.

Fortunately, the vitriol did not get into Mr Toomey’s eye, and his presence of mind in speedily tearing off his clothes saved him from burns that could otherwise have proved fatal.

The Wexford People of 2 August 1884 summed up as follows:

There are those, who, considering the position of the parties and the unpleasant character of the sensational occurrence, may deem the proceedings satisfactorily concluded; but it may be observed that it is scarcely in the public interest that both sides should escape where one or other was undoubtedly guilty of an abominable crime – either he attempted her virtue, or she attempted his life.

One feature of the case, outside the guilt or innocence of the parties, will not have escaped attention. the delightful impartiality of the legal mind or, as it might be put, the highly accommodated conscience of the bar was never more conspicuously displayed. Sergeant Hempthill, Mr Anderson QC and Mr Armstrong prosecuted on behalf of the Crown when Mrs Gyll stood in the dock… the identical counsel prosecuted on the same behalf, when Mr Toomey was the accused…

The married Mr Toomey was indeed fortunate to avoid any serious injury to his face, though perhaps not his reputation, the general view being that, although Miss Tyndall hardly happened to have a bottle of vitriol on her by accident, there might well have been improper advances made to her on previous occasions.

As for the jealous Mr Gyll, he appears to have escaped unscathed. I wonder where that bottle of vitriol came from?

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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