Attorney’s Apprentice Eschews Physical Combat in favour of Private Prosecution, 1821

Taste a la Mode, or the Rotunda Gardens in 1790, via The Dictionary of Dublin (1908)

From Saunders’s News-Letter, 10 July 1821:


Yesterday the Recorder, Aldermen Tyndall, Montgomery, and Hamilton, sat at the Sessions House, Green Street, for the trial of prisoners and traversers.

Edward Callanan, Esq, a traverser, was put to the bar, charged with having, on Friday evening the 22nd of June last, assaulted Stephen Blake, Esq, who, being swore and examined by Mr Finlay, stated that, on the evening laid in the indictments, he was walking in the Rotunda Gardens with some ladies.

Mr Blake is serving his apprenticeship to Mr McNevins, of Gardiner-street, Attorney; Mrs McNevins was leaning on his arm, in company with Mr and Mrs Richardson. It was near ten o’clock; the garden was extremely crowded. Mr Callanan came up to him and said, ‘Mr Blake, I want to speak to you;’ witness replied ‘as soon as he got disengaged he would be glad to do so.’ In the course of five or six minutes Mr Callanan came behind Mr Blake, and took hold of his ear, which he pulled, witness turned round suddenly, when Mr Callanan struck him a blow on the side of his head, and then disappeared among the crowd.

A few days after Mr Blake was in the hall of the Four Courts, where he saw the traverser in company with a gentleman of the profession, of the name of Byrne; Mr Callanan passed Mr Blake by, observing to his friend ‘have you any lattitats to serve, if so, here is a fellow that will do it’ (looking significantly at Mr Blake); Mr Callanan then said to witness ‘you are a damned coward!’ Mr Callanan repeated the same words, in the Court-yard of the building.

When cross-examined by Mr Everard, Mr Blake stated that there was no scuffle in the Gardens; he walked on with the ladies, told the whole truth as far as relates to the transaction; did not lift his hand, or in any way push Mr Callanan from him; he lodged information against Mr Callanan the day after the outrage.

Mrs Emma McNevins was then examined. This lady’s testimony went to corroborate the evidence given by Mr Blake, respecting the blow given to him by Mr Callanan, which Mrs McNevins distinctly saw, as at the moment she was in conversation with Mr Blake, but did not know what led to it. The prosecution here closed.

George Fenton, Esq, gave evidence for Mr Callanan that he was in the Rotunda Garden on the night in question. He saw Mr Callanan tap Mr Blake on the shoulder in a civil manner. Mr Callanan said ‘he wished to speak to Mr Blake;’ Mr Blake put out his hand in a very scornful manner, and said ‘I don’t want to have any concern with you,’ Mr Callanan then took Mr Blake by the ear, and gave him a very smart slap on the face; Mr Blake did not state the facts as they occurred. When cross-examined by Mr Finlay, Mr Fenton agreed that the Rotunda garden was not a very regular place to transact business, but stated that Mr Blake pushed Mr Callanan from him in a very disdainful manner.

Edward John Nolan, Esq, gave evidence that Mr Callanan called on him in his professional capacity, to consult how he (Callanan) could get up a bill of his which Mr Blake held, and which was paid. Here the Learned Recorder observed, that no previous transaction between the parties had any thing to do with the present charge, which was exclusively for the assault alone.

The defence closed. The Recorder then charged the Jury at great length, and pointed out the Law with his accustomed ability and effect, dwelling forcibly on every part of the evidence. The Jury retired for about five minutes, and on their return brought in a verdict of – Guilty.

The Recorder having conferred with the Magistrates on the Bench, proceeded to pronounce the judgment of the court, which was that Mr Callanan be imprisoned one month, pay a fine of 20 marks, and at the expiration of his imprisonment that he should give security to be of the peace to the prosecutor, and all his Majesty’s subjects, for seven years, himself in 100 l and two sureties in 50l each. The Court then adjourned.”

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, many houses in Mountjoy Square, Gardiner Street, Dominick Street and Parnell (formerly Rutland) Square were occupied by lawyers. The ground floor of these houses was usually devoted to business with the family residing upstairs. The Rotunda Gardens at the end of O’Connell/Sackville Street would have been the perfect place for a solicitor’s wife resident in Gardiner Street to take the air and exchange legal gossip – it seems that apprentice’s duties’ in those days may even have stretched to chaperoning!

As recently as the preceding decade, the dispute between Mr Blake and Mr Callanan (which appears to have originated in the purchase by the former of a debt owed by the latter – such buying of debts by legal professionals hoping to make a profit on their enforcement being commonplace at the time) would almost certainly have been settled by way of a dawn meeting at the Tholsel, Sandymount Strand or Bully’s Acre.

But, by 1821, in Dublin at least, the law was beginning to replace the pistol or the fist as the preferred means of avenging a gentleman’s honour – and who were lawyers, of all people, to complain about this? Certainly Mr Blake’s successful prosecution did not cause any damage to his professional progress with Mr McNevins – the two of them continued to work together on debt and bankruptcy cases even after Mr Blake had set up his own firm nearby.

Mr Callanan’s career was to be shorter-lived. According to the Galway Advertiser of October 1821, only a few months later,

[i]t is with sincere regret that a duel was fought on Saturday morning… between Patrick Donelan, Ballyeighter, and Edward Callanan, Esq of Eyre Court.  On the first discharge of pistols, both parties were wounded.  The former grazed across the eye brow, the latter slightly wounded in the leg.  No entreaties by seconds being of avail, and they not knowing that either was touched, another case of pistols were presented, and for the honour of humanity, we are confident, if known, would not have been given to them.  At this moment a simultaneous fire took place, and melancholy to relate, both shots took effect, Mr Donelan being shot in the shoulder and Callanan through the heart.”

An inquest subsequently returned a verdict of wilful murder against Mr Donelan.

Reading between the lines, one suspects that the slap inflicted by Mr Callanan on Mr Blake in the Rotunda Gardens was a deliberate challenge to arms – and that his subsequent references to ‘cowardice’ were prompted by pique at having been denied the satisfaction of physical combat.

How prescient of Mr Blake not to rise to the challenge!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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