The Man of Many Wives, 1884-1895

From the Illustrated London News, 14 June 1884:

“At the Dublin Commission Court, before Mr Justice Lawson, on Saturday, Brian Denis Molloy, son of a magistrate for the County of Mayo, and who, on the death of his father, will become entitled to £1000 per annum, was indicted for bigamy.  The prisoner has married five times, the last person with whom he went through the ceremony being his own first cousin, a lady of about forty, Miss Robertina Greene, who has an income in her own right of £400 per annum.  The prisoner pleaded not guilty.

 Mr Curtis, for the defence, said he would be able to shorten the case. Substantially their defence was that the prisoner was insane.  Dr Banks was examined, and deposed that he had been physician to the prisoner’s family for a number of years; with regard to the accused he said that at one time he was labouring under symptoms of insanity, and had been placed in a private lunatic asylum.  He also understood that he had been confined in two lunatic asylums in Bruges, and that he escaped from one recently.

Mr Curtis: Do you think he is capable of discerning right from wrong?

Witness: Certainly not as regards his matrimonial alliances (laughter).

Serjeant O’Brien (for the prosecution) I never heard of a more captivating character (Laughter) No less than four ladies have succumbed to his winning influence.

Here, Miss Greene, who had been intently reading the newspaper during the proceedings, looked up and smiled, whilst another of the ladies, Miss Cassidy, laughed aloud.

Mr Justice Lawson: There is no accounting for taste (Laughter)

Serjeant O’Brien: You know, my lord, when men are afflicted, women are the ministering angels.

The prisoner was found guilty of the charge alleged, and on the verdict being entered the jury found that the prisoner was insane at the time he went through the ceremony of marriage.   He was then ordered to be detained in an asylum during the pleasure of his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant.

When leaving the dock Molloy, who himself looked the picture of misery, smiled to each of the women.”

Mr Molloy was liberated from the asylum after two years on the petition of his magistrate father, who undertook to be his surety for good behaviour.  The following year, in London, he married yet again – to Emma Jane Moreton, half his age –  without having divorced his first wife.   On discovery of the true situation, Miss Moreton, less understanding than her predecessors, reported her new husband to Scotland Yard.  

Another bigamy prosecution resulted, and this time Mr Molloy was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment; indeed, he was lucky not to get more, as the court does not seem to have been made aware of his previous conviction in Ireland, or the fact that the complainant was in fact his sixth concurrent spouse (she was reported as being his third).  The first Mrs Molloy finally brought her divorce action in 1895, to which her errant husband consented, and was awarded £8 a month alimony.

What to think of Mr Molloy – a reprehensible bounder or just one of many sent to asylums by families for daring to flout social convention?   At least as far as his Irish ‘wives’ went, perhaps, as the Glasgow Evening Post remarked, his only fault was that he loved too well!  And could the above series of events mean that the record for the most wives ever – outside Utah at least – belongs to an Irish magistrate’s son?

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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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