Dublin Solicitor Dies in Lover’s House of Ill-Fame, 1879

From the Freeman’s Journal, 29 September 1879:

On Saturday morning at ten o’clock Richard D Lawless, solicitor, formerly resident in Lower Mount Street, was found dead in his bed, at the house No 4 Mecklenburgh-street.  Deceased sixteen years ago was a member of a respectable and thriving firm of attorneys on Usher’s Quay.  After a time the partnership was dissolved, and Richard Lawless practised his profession on his own account for a year or two, when he suddenly disappeared from Dublin, leaving his wife and children at their residence in Mount-Street.  He was next heard of in Belfast, living a disreputable life with a woman of bad character, who pursued a shameful business in the Northern capital with lamentable success.  The police authorities of Belfast, after several attempts, rid the town of the parties, and Lawless was again seen in Dublin with his companion, not often walking in the streets, but frequently driving about in a handsome brougham.

The end came this morning under the circumstances detailed at the inquest, a report of which is published.  Deceased, before he quitted the decent paths of society, was a well-looking man, stoutly built, of dark complexion.  When he re-appeared in Dublin he had a remarkable aspect from his extreme corpulency, deeply lined face, grizzled moustaches and hair, and general aspect of premature old age.

On Saturday Dr N Whyte, city coroner, held an inquest at the Morgue on the body of Richard Denis Lawless, formerly a solicitor, who died the previous day in a house of ill=fame, No 4 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, under peculiar circumstances.   Before the jury was sworn, the Coroner explained that the deceased had been, it would appear,  living in a brothel, where he died.  He held the inquest with great reluctance because of his death in such a place suddenly.  He need not point out to them that a person dying in such a place might be ill and in danger of death, and was from the surroundings of the place liable to be neglected, and might die without proper care or attention having been paid to him.  He, therefore , always found it well to hold an inquest in such a case, as much for the sake of the unfortunates who live in these places as for the general public, and unfounded accusations had from time to time been made which such an inquiry served to bring up.

The jury was being sworn when the Coroner, pointing to one of the persons in the jury, asked – Are you not one of the persons who live in the house, 4 Mecklenburgh Street?  

The person referred to said he was – that he was the ‘coachman.’

The Coroner – It is a shame to see you there.  You had great effrontery, sir, to get into that box at all.  Go away at once.

The jury was then sworn.

Mrs Anna Williams, who was dressed in deep mourning, and wept bitterly during the inquest, was sworn, and deposed – I live at 4 Mecklenburgh Street.  I am the owner and proprietoress of the place.  It is a house of ill-fame, and I am sorry to have to acknowledge it.  The deceased Richard Denis Lawless lived with me for twelve years.  He was in no way owner or proprietor of the house.

He did not own any property in it?  Not a pennyworth; not a farthing.

He was a solicitor, I believe? Yes he was.

And married? Yes.

And his wife living? Yes.

How long has he been confined to his bed?  For nine days.

And was he drinking heavily?  No, no, no.  He was a man who never drank.

Was there a doctor brought in?  No.  That is the only thing I am to blame for, I suppose.

Did he object to a doctor being called in? He objected to see one; he thought he was not ill. I  never dreamed he was ill.

On Thursday night did he seem in any danger? At nine o’clock yesterday morning I spoke to him and he seemed no worse.  He was not ill at all.  If he was ill I would get him a doctor.  At one o’clock he was dead.

Why was he lying in bed if he was not sick?  Was he suffering from drink?  He was a helpless man.  He was very stout, as you must all see, but he was not drinking heavily.

A Juror – Why did she not bring in a doctor to see if he was sick?

The Coroner – It appears he would not have one.

The Juror – But a doctor should have been sent for.  A doctor would have known if he was ill.

Witness – At some time after nine o’clock a knock came to the door.  I knew it was one of the servants, and I said I would not open the door.  I then went asleep.  At ten o’clock I was alarmed at not hearing him breathe.  I then found he was insensible, and sent for a doctor, when it was too late.  This lady (pointing to a woman in court) was in the room sleeping with me.  Dr Nedley was sent for and came, and pronounced the poor man dead.

The Coroner – Are his family aware of his death?  Oh perfectly well.

And are they aware an inquest would be held?  Yes, well.

Have they made any statement, or made any claim? No.

A Juror – Might we learn what time the doctor arrived?

Mrs Williams – As soon as possible, but it was too late.  It was about half past ten o’clock.

The Coroner – He had been drinking during the week? 

Mrs Williams – He never drank much. He drank nothing for years but soda and milk.

Several jurors expressed an opinion that from their knowledge of the deceased he never was much given to drink.

Another juror said that the deceased had been a consummate drunkard.

Dr Richard Egan deposed that he had made a post mortem examination of the deceased.  The cause of death was apoplexy.  His liver was indicative of a man who had been of intemperate habits.

Have you formed any belief that he was neglected?  No; I never saw a body in which there was so much fat.  How his heart acted under the circumstances I am almost at a loss to know.

A Juror – Were his own friends aware that he was unwell?

Mrs Williams (crying bitterly) – Yes, they did.  Every day he was there they knew of it.

The Juror – What means of knowing it had they? 

Mrs Williams – His son-in-law was there every day, and his daughters were there – every day – they all knew it.

The Coroner – Unfortunately it is so.

Mrs Williams – They all knew it, well.  It is a terrible exposure on his poor daughters, but they knew of it, and were there.

The jury returned a verdict to the effect that death resulted from apoplexy.”

The following note was also published below the Freeman’s report of the inquest:

“Sir – Several statements made at the inquest on my unfortunate husband are untrue.   I was not informed of his illness until I was told of his death; I am not in a state of mind clearly to comprehend them all.  I declare that my two daughters were never at the house 4 Mecklenburgh Street until after their father’s death, and then they went there with his brother, without my knowledge or consent, to see his remains.  It is a cruel addition to our misery to have that statement obtain circulation.  I am, sir, the Afflicted Widow C Lawless.”

Mrs Williams’ premises at 4 Mecklenburgh St in the Monto area of Dublin featured in the Southern Police Court in March 1881 when young woman by the name of Maude Sutherland asserted to be residing there was charged with having stolen 17s from John McSkerritt JP of Mountjoy Square while in her company at the Chatham restaurant, Chatham St.  

Mr McSkerritt’s initial request not to proceed with the prosecution was refused by the Magistrate, Mr Exham, who said that he had brought the case and he should take the consequences.

Mr McSkerritt was then sworn and deposed that he was a Justice of the Peace for County Kildare, and had known Miss Sutherland for some time and she had taken the money out of pique when he got into a temper with her due to having missed his bet on the Grand National.

Mr Exham: You say you are a magistrate. And you charge a girl with larcency, though you believe she took the money in a freak.  I must discharge the prisoner for want of evidence.

The accused was then discharged.

Clearly Mrs Williams’ establishment at 4 Mecklenburgh Street (later Tyrone and now Railway Street) was patronised by some very respectable Dublin citizens!

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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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