The Divorce of a Deputy Crier, 1885-91

Angry woman yelling at man Ruth Cannon BL barrister
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From the Freeman’s Journal, 10 November 1885:


Before the Right Hon Judge Warren, and a Common Jury

CARNEGIE V CARNEGIE – This was a suit by the wife for a divorce a mensa et thoro, on the grounds of cruelty. The petitioner is Phoebe Louisa Carnegie, who carries on business as a milliner and draper at 41 Henry-street, and the respondent, Richard Mackett Carnegie, is deputy crier of the Court of Chancery, verger of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and carries on business as a wholesale basket manufacturer at Bride-Street. The husband denied the cruelty and filed a cross-petition for a judicial separation on the grounds of cruelty.

Mr. McLaughlin, QC; Mr. Cleary, QC and Mr. Hannigan (instructed by Mr. Walsh) were for the petitioner. The Solicitor-General, Dr Houston QC and Mr. HG Kelly (instructed by Mr. HL Kelly) were for the respondent.

From the statement of Mr. McLaughlin QC, it appeared that the petitioner, whose maiden name was Ducros, was married in ’75 to a Mr. Johnston, who died within a year after the marriage, and there were no children. In August 1878, she married the respondent, who was a widower with four children – three sons and a daughter. He had been in the habit of calling at her place of business in Henry-street. They resided together at 18 Longwood Avenue, South Circular Road, and within a year after the marriage the petitioner alleged that her husband struck her and knocked out her teeth. On another occasion she complained that he threw her on a sofa and attempted to strangle her, and that finally, in March last, during her absence from business, he had the furniture removed out of the house, and left her without the necessaries of life.

Longwood Avenue, Portobello, Dublin, Ruth Cannon BL barrister
Longwood Avenue, Portobello, Dublin, today. Image via Haven Homes

The petitioner, Mrs. Carnegie, stated, in reply to Mr. Cleary, that she was married to the respondent in St Mary’s parish church on the 28th of August 1878. In August 1878, while they were living in Longwood Avenue, he struck her on the eye and blackened it, and then ran upstairs to his daughter’s bedroom, where he slept all night. Next day he said he was sorry for it. Within about a year he became very violent to her, and on one occasion he caught her by the throat, threw her on the sofa, and tried to strangle her, and the servant came in and saved her. He called her an opprobrious name for contradicting him. He did not return to her room for several weeks, and on one occasion she did not see him for five months at a time. On a subsequent occasion she was confined to her bedroom for nearly a fortnight suffering from a black eye which he gave her. He also kicked her and marked her legs and arms. In March, during her absence, he removed the furniture and took lodgings in Camden Street. He locked her up and placed men to watch her. He remained away from the house from that date. He left her in charge of a Mr. Elliott to take lodgings for her and look after her. In May last he published a notice in the newspapers cautioning the public against giving her credit, and that he would not be responsible for her debts.

Judge Warren – How long were you locked up?  Nearly four months.

Could you not get out? I could, but I had no place to go. I was locked up to prevent anyone coming into me (laughter)

You could go out whenever you liked? Yes, but I would not be allowed back.

Examination resumed – The notice in the newspapers stopped my credit, and my business is ruined by it. I still have my place in Henry Street. I never struck my husband, and I was never drunk or guilty of any cruelty whatever to him.

Cross-examined by the Solicitor-General – I never called one of his daughters a ‘hunchback of hell’ but on one occasion in Henry Street he alluded to my sister as a ‘pock-marked girl’ and said she was as good as his hunchback. I never referred to his former wife in opprobrious terms or took up a knife. I raised a small penny ink-bottle off the counter after he pushed me and threw it.

At what? I did not throw it at anything.

At things in general? To frighten him out and he ran out. The ink bottle did not go through the window. I remember being at a picnic at Killiney on one occasion. I did not separate myself from my party and go and join another party and sing for them. 

The witness, in answer to further questions, denied that he ever struck any of her husband’s daughters. She admitted having taken some flowers which he had given her and thrown them on the floor because he had given the best ones to his daughters, but she did not stamp on them.

She got a present of a bunch of flowers on one occasion, and when she came home in the evening from business, she found half of them gone. She found a letter on the mantlepiece next day beginning ‘My darling Richard,’ and thanking him for the flowers and saying ‘You know I always loved you’ (laughter)  She thought the letter had been left there by some of the children to annoy her, but at first she thought it was a letter from a paramour. 

She said on one occasion that she would take the pledge to set an example to her husband. In 1883 the Reverend Mr. Ovenden was called in to try to arrange matters between them. Mr. Ovenden showed her a letter that he was going to send to her husband’s son Willie. Counsel read the letter as follows.

“DEAR WILLIE – Mrs. Carnegie and I have come to a good understanding as to your domestic affairs. She regrets the past, and of her own accord wishes to be a total abstainer. She desires to live in peace and quiet with her husband and to pay due consideration to the children.  I have asked her to report to me any disagreements which may take place, and the cause of them, and she is willing that you should do the same I trust, however that there may be peace in future. Mrs. Carnegie signs this as a token that she has seen and agrees with it.”

The witness denied that she ever broke a door with a hammer or poker, but she remembered having broken the keys of the piano and the Reverend Ovenden ordered her to buy a bottle of gum, and mend one of them. She broke the keys because her husband spoke scandalously of her in the presence of his son. The latter told her that if she opened her mouth, he would call a policeman in, and she said they would have some occasion to do so and broke the keys of the piano (laughter). She also broke a pane of glass in the bookcase, because it was locked and there were some of her books in it. She denied that she was singing the ‘Ballybough bridge Brigade’ while she was smashing the piano. She did not smash tea things, but she broke a small China candlestick which she threw downstairs at William. On one occasion he said that if it were not for her, he could get a woman with £5000. The children never locked their door to protect themselves from her.

She denied that she was ever drunk at an oratorio in Patrick’s Cathedral. At her husband’s suggestion the Henry Street business was vested in trustees for her own use. The son Willie never complained that he was unable to pursue his medical studies owing to her singing and shouting in the house. Bills had been sent to the respondent for goods supplied to her before the publication of the advertisement.

Reexamined by Mr. Cleary – The respondent’s daughters were allowed to manage the house and keep the keys, and that was the cause of all the trouble.

Norah Stanley, a servant, stated that she saw the respondent holding his wife by the throat on the sofa one night. Next morning, she had a black eye. She saw her looking for one of her teeth in the room next morning (laughter) Witness found half a tooth on the floor near the fireplace.

An assistant in the petitioner’s shop in Henry Street stated that on one occasion the respondent came into the shop and called her offensive, and said she was a strange woman. Mrs. Carnegie threw an ink bottle at him which went through the window into the street.

The petitioner’s case having closed, the Solicitor-General stated the case for the respondent. The petitioner, he said, was madly jealous of her husband’s first wife. She was sadly addicted to intemperance, and on several occasions, she appeared in public under the influence of drink. She turned his home into a pandemonium, drove him out of his bedroom on one occasion, and when she was unable to get at him with a poker she smashed the piano, china, and other property downstairs in the drawing room. Ultimately, he endeavored to procure a separation and undertook to provide for her, but she refused to leave and threatened to ruin both him and his family.”

The jury subsequently found that Mr. Carnegie was not guilty of cruelty, but this did not end the litigation. Mrs. Carnegie now filed a petition for restitution of conjugal rights, opposed by Mrs. Carnegie, which came back before the Probate and Matrimonial Court in May 1886. Mr. Carnegie’s barrister, Dr Houston QC, characterized these proceedings an unfounded and vexatious, calling attention to the evidence given at the hearing of the earlier petition and submitted that this disentitled her to carry her application and that the object was to ruin her husband by litigation.

Mr Justice Warren said, even if Mrs. Carnegie were proved guilty of cruelty such as to entitle her husband to a separation, still he would be bound to make provision for his wife. It would be better for Mr. Carnegie’s own sake that an order for alimony should be made, otherwise he would be liable to have actions brought against him by any shopkeeper who might supply her with necessaries.  Mr. Carnegie said he was wholly unable to pay, as he had been put to such heavy expenses as a consequence of the proceedings that he had not a penny at present and had, in fact, to borrow money. Judge Warren said she could not help that. The case might be a very hard one, but he was bound to decide the matter according to law.

A subsequent argument by Mrs. Carnegie’s lawyers that Mr Carnegie was estopped from relying on the charges of cruelty brought by him against her in the divorce proceedings (he having earlier withdrawn his cross petition for divorce after her divorce petition had been dismissed) was rejected both by Mr Justice Warren and, on appeal, by the Court of Appeal in Ireland. 

At this point, the litigation appears to have settled.

We find Richard Mackett Carnegie again at the Easter ceremonial levee on 16 April 1891, preceding the Lord Chancellor and bearing his mace – something described as ‘a circumstance occurring the first time at these processions.’  Maybe the Lord Chancellor felt sorry for him after all his marital difficulties, or perhaps it was a gesture to his deputy crier’s failing health – Mr Carnegie died in May 1892, after an attack of pneumonia.

Although we may never know whether he reconciled with the fiery Phoebe, the Carnegie divorce proceedings illustrate the comfortable lifestyle enjoyed by a deputy crier of the Irish superior courts – picnics in Killiney, not one but two side hustles, books and china in the cabinet and a drawing-room piano – and also, how quickly such financial security could be eaten away by the costs of litigation!  

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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