Irish Barrister Escapes Prison, Elopes to France in a Barrel, 1820

Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin, c.1800, from whence Mr Hodgens would certainly have taken ship to France, though whether in a barrel or not is debatable.

From the Weekly Irish Times, 26 April 1902:

“In the early years of the last century, a youthful barrister named Hodgins, just called to the bar, fell in love with a pretty girl he had noticed coming out of a fashionable boarding school in Mary Street. She smiled upon him, they managed in some way to become acquainted in spite of difficulties, and then he eloped with and married her. But ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ The young lady was an heiress, and a ward of court, daughter of a deceased State Lottery Agent. The hard-hearted Lord Chancellor separated them, and clapped the young husband in the Four Courts Marshalsea Prison for his contempt of court. However, Love laughs at locksmiths, so he found his way out into Thomas Street and into an empty herring barrel which, with a number of full ones, was conveyed on a cart to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and there put on a vessel that carried him to safety in France. More than sixty years afterwards he appeared once more in the Four Courts, this time before the present Lord Chancellor, in a property dispute, to establish the rights of his grandson.”

What the story doesn’t mention is that Thomas Hodgins (or Hodgens) was accompanied to France by the lady in the case, Anne Walker, with whom he had previously eloped on two separate occasions. It was third time lucky for Thomas; the couple remained abroad until Anne had reached full age, when their marriage was sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor. He probably could do little else given that Anne’s reputation had been ruined as a result of their prolonged cohabitation.

Perhaps because of his previous legal difficulties, Thomas Hodgens’ subsequent bar career was not marked by any notable success. Not that he needed a professional income. During their sojourn abroad, Anne’s claim to the estate of her late uncle, Thomas Walker, had been upheld by the Irish courts, thereby entitling her to the very substantial sum of eighty-three thousand pounds.

Anne’s entitlement on the intestacy of Mr Walker, bookseller and publisher of The Hibernian Magazine, had originally been contested by other relatives. Their basis for objecting to her claim was that the doubtful reputation of her mother (described as a lady of easy virtue from Grangegorman) was such that she was unlikely to have been married to Anne’s father, thereby making Anne illegitimate. The court disagreed. More about the Walker will case here.

A happily ever after ending? Not exactly. Anne later eloped with an army doctor, Surgeon-General Anthony Patrick Mahon. A subsequent criminal conversation trial, with Daniel O’Connell appearing for Thomas Hodgens and Nicholas Purcell O’Gorman for Mahon, resulted in full disclosure of the Hodgenses’ marital history.

In particular, it was disclosed that far from Thomas falling in love with Anne at first sight, she had been approached by him with the connivance and consent of her mother and older non-marital siblings, after he had advised them of her legal status as her father’s sole heir. His initial strategy, on first meeting her, was to offer her sweets; the second time they met, he brought fruit; on meeting for the third time, she agreed to marry him, at the age of just 13 years old.

After their third, successful, elopement, he kept her in two rooms, locking her in one when he was out, with only one dress, which she had to wash herself and stay in bed until it dried. Moreover, following their marriage, he beat her, was mean with money, and had a number of mistresses, including some of their servants.

Most advocates for Thomas Hodgens would have given up at this point. Not so O’Connell, whose reference, in his closing speech, to ‘a wife and husband clinging to each other with a passionate and devoted fondness until the adulterer came to dissolve the dream’ brought tears to hardened reporters’ eyes and secured a verdict for his client of no less than three thousand pounds in damages. During the brief period of the marriage described in such glowing terms by O’Connell, the Hodgenses lived at 112 Stephen’s Green, where the Unitarian Church is today – something to think of when next passing that spot!

In separate proceedings, Lord Chancellor Plunket, unswayed by sentimentality, made an order denying Thomas any entitlement to Anne’s property. The Lord Chancellor’s decision – unprecedented in those times – was upheld on appeal by the House of Lords. The contents of their judgment, available to read in full here, confirm the assertions made against Thomas at the criminal conversation trial.

The Lord Chancellor’s ruling enabled Anne and Surgeon Mahon to live together for the rest of their lives, and they had two daughters, although Anne’s sons by Thomas remained with him in the house in Stephen’s Green, which he was allowed to retain along with its furniture.

Thomas Hodgens’ character becomes of still more doubtful repute when an investigation of the 1874 litigation referred to as establishing his grandson’s rights discloses that he had in fact participated in this litigation for the purpose of opposing those rights and claiming the estate of the now-deceased Anne for himself. The decision in the case is reported in the Irish Jurist Reports, again available to read in full here.

Thomas Hodgens died shortly afterwards, at Bath Avenue, Dublin, leaving an estate of only £100. Did he ever escape in a barrel as reported above? It seems so – at least if his evidence before the House of Lords is to be believed – he swore on affidavit that he was ‘put in a provision cask, having holes made therefor to admit air, and forwarded in a dray with other casks containing provisions, and put on board a ship about to sail for London,’ with Anne also being brought on board, in disguise. He was then let out of the cask after the ship was in open water. Maybe he should have been left in there!

Some say that only the good die young, and Thomas Hodgens appears to have been fortunate enough to live long enough to rewrite his life history – not the first, nor yet the last, miscreant Irish barrister to do so!

Image Credit: Whytes (closer zoom facility at link)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

Leave a Reply