Mr Dunn BL Back in Town, 1839-40

Professed beloved of Mr Dunn, Angela Burdett-Coutts, dressed for the theatre, which she loved.

From the Leeds Intelligencer, 29 December 1838:


At Bow-Street, on Monday, Miss Angelina Burdett-Coutts, accompanied by her father, Sir F Burdett, and attended by Mr Parkinson and Mr Humphries, solicitors, appeared before Sir F Roe to proffer a charge of annoying and insulting conduct against Mr Richard Dunn, an Irish barrister, whose ridiculous attempt to appear in the character of the lady’s suitor produced, on former occasions, no small share of annoyance to her and her family, and the source of some inconvenience to himself.  It appeared that, after the defendant obtained his liberation from York Castle, to which prison he had been committed, for want of sureties on the charge of Miss Burdett Coutts for similar annoyances, he proceeded direct to London in pursuit of the lady, and, having ascertained that she had gone to her residence in Stratton Street, Piccadilly (the house left to her by the late Duchess of St Albans) he immediately took up his quarters at the Gloucester Coffee-House, where he hired a bedroom, the windows of which commanded a view of Stratton Street, across the Duke of Devonshire’s grounds, and here he resumed the system of annoyance towards the lady which he had practised elsewhere, by making signals to her when she appeared at her windows, and followed her about, either on foot or horseback, wherever she drove in her carriage.  

This species of annoyance became at length so intolerable, that the assistance of an officer was applied for, and Ballard was sent some weeks ago to watch the movements of the defendant, and to protect the lady from personal violence, which she had reason to fear was meditated, against her.  The defendant, however, without resorting to any such act of violence, still pursued his unmanly course of persecution until a warrant, founded on the sworn information of Miss Burdett Coutts, was at last applied for and obtained, and on Monday morning it was placed in the hands of Ballard, who immediately proceeded with Fall, another officer of the establishment, to the Gloucester Coffee-House, Piccadilly, where they succeeded in apprehending the defendant, who was conveyed to the office, and taken before Sir E Roe in his private room, where the lady herself, attended by her father and two solicitors, were ready to prefer the charge. 

The Gloucester Coffee-House, Piccadilly, around this time.

The inquiry was private, and confined merely to the facts deposed by the complainant, and Ballard, the officer, as to the conduct pursued by the defendant, the lady declaring that from his pertinacity in following her about from place to place, and his general behaviour, she apprehended personal violence from him. 

The defendant was about to make a speech, but was stopped by the magistrate, who told him that the topics he was about the introduce had nothing whatever to do with the subject matter of complaint against him, and as it appeared that he could give no satisfactory answer to the charge, Sir F Rowe called upon him to find bail to keep the peace towards Miss Angelina Burdett-Coutts and the rest of her Majesty’s subjects for the next twelve months, himself in £500, and two sufficient sureties in the sum of £250 each.  The lady and her father then retired, and the defendant being unable to find the required bail, was taken to the office of the principal clerk until the warrant for his committal was made out, and here an occurrence took place of rather an unusual description, which, however, went to support the charges made against the defendant.”

What Mr Dunn would have seen on arriving at Tothillfields Prison.

Mr Dunn had, perhaps in the hope of encouraging him to come to sense, been left in a room with Miss Burdett Coutts’ sworn averments against him on the table; he read them, got upset and attacked Officer Ballard, all before being conveyed to Tothillfields prison.  Not for long though!  On the 19th January 1839 the Intelligencer reported that he had been liberated, on application made to Lord Denman, grounded in an informality in the commitment. 

Meanwhile, his widely circulated antics seemed to have set the English Bar askew; or perhaps led to things being reported which might not otherwise have made the public domain.  Again on the 19th January 1839, the Freeman’s Journal carried a story from a London paper regarding a 25-year-old English barrister, Mr Sands, who had recently been held to bail for causing a disturbance at the house of a widow lady named Isherwood, aged 55, and possessing property to the amount of £30,000, because the lady refused to convert friendship into love, and accept him as a husband.

Perhaps chastened by his spell in prison, all was quiet with Mr Dunn until June 1839, when the Freeman’s Journal reported as follows:

“Miss Coutts Burdett, in her great admiration of Mr Kean’s talents, has visited the Haymarket theatre on each night of his performance during the past week; she has, however, suffered much annoyance from the impertinent importunities of that learned barrister, Mr Dunn, who upon two occasions followed her to the theatre, and stationed himself immediately opposite her private box.  On the third night (Friday) he took ‘nothing by his motion’ Mr Frederick Webster, the stage manager, having prudently received and conducted Miss Burdett through a private way to another private box.”

The great actor Charles Kean, known for his melodramatic performances. Alas for Mr Dunn, Miss Burdett-Coutts preferred her melodrama on-stage.

Given the times that were in it, some people most unfairly blamed Miss Burdett-Coutts for the whole affair, with the Wilts and Gloucester Standard of 12 January 1839 seeing fit to remark, without mentioning anybody’s name, that

“Young ladies would require to be very careful of how they look and how they act in the Park.  The want of this circumspection on the part of ladies, and especially of marriageable ladies with large fortunes, has in repeated cases been attended with very inconvenient results, both to the love-struck swains themselves and to those ladies whose attractions of face or fortune have inspired the tender passion.”

John Gibson Lockhart, to whom Miss Burdett-Coutts was at one time rumoured to be engaged.

One suggested solution was for Miss Burdett-Coutts to marry, in so doing acquiring her own permanent protector, and indeed on the 19th October 1839 the Northern Standard reported that she was to be led to the altar by Mr Lockhart, of literary celebrity, but either this was a misrepresentation, or the engagement was broken off, because no marriage ever occurred.

On 4th May 1840 it was again reported in the Dublin Register that Mr Dunn, the Irish barrister, had been again annoying the Burdett Coutts family after becoming aware that they were residing at the Park Hotel, Norwood, during the Easter holidays (the combination of eligible young ladies in hotels, carriages or both, seems to have proved irresistible to Mr Dunn). 

The Park Hotel, Norwood. Today a convent.

According to the Freeman,

“Nothing daunted at the treatment he had received on former occasions, Mr Dunn began walking in front of Norwood Park, waving his handkerchief, and making himself otherwise offensively conspicuous.  Not the slightest notice was taken of these follies; so the learned gentleman grew bold, and a few days since and the audacity to call at the hotel, and demand an audience of Sir Francis Burdett which, it is needless to state the worthy baronet declined giving.  Mr Dunn, on being made acquainted with Sir Francis’s refusal to see him, became most outrageous in his conduct.  The servants, at length, disgusted with the insolence of his bearing, were directed to eject him from the premises.  This was the work of more than one or two, for the barrister is a powerful man, and in endeavouring to expel him from the grounds, blows ensued, and, after being severely pummelled by the lackeys, the learned gentleman retired with a rueful countenance.  We understand the whole affair will come before the public this week, proceedings having been taken to prevent the fortune-hunter prosecuting his addresses to Miss Coutts in future.”

What would happen next – and what effect would the errant Mr Dunn’s behaviour have on the never-very-good name of the early 19th century Irish Bar? 

Not heard of Mr Dunn BL before? Catch up on his previous here!

Image Credits (from top): (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

2 thoughts on “Mr Dunn BL Back in Town, 1839-40”

Leave a Reply