Mr Dunn BL Goes to Law, 1840

Angelina Burdett-Coutts, by all available evidence a kind, intelligent and highly philanthropic woman, saw her youth, marital prospects and hope of a family comprehensively destroyed by the relentless pursuit of Irish barrister Richard Dunn who followed, beset and litigated against her for over two decades in the absence of any justification or encouragement. Image via Alamy.

Previous posts on the long-running saga of Irish barrister Richard Dunn: (1) Mr Dunn BL in Love, 1836 (2) Mr Dunn BL in Love Again, 1838 (3) Mr Dunn BL in Prison for Love, 1838 (4) Mr Dunn BL Back in Town, 1839-40.

Early readers of this blog will remember the amorous Irish barrister Mr. Dunn, who first came to notoriety for his pursuit of the beautiful Miss. Burgh at the Royal Hotel, Kingstown, in 1836 and subsequently, after travelling to London with other Irish barristers for the coronation of Victoria, turned his attentions not to that Queen herself but to the second most eligible woman in England, sweet-faced heiress Angelina Burdett-Coutts. 

Hotels clearly had had some amorous association for Dunn, as he also pursued Miss Burdett-Coutts by leaving letters in her bedroom at the Queen’s Hotel, Harrogate. A resulting spell in York Prison failed to discourage him from his pursuit.

Dunn’s next strategy was to take a hotel room directly across from the windows of Miss Burdett-Coutts family mansion in London’s Stratton Street, resulting in his brief incarceration in Tothill Fields Prison.

Undissuaded, Dunn then elected to follow the entire Burdett family on their Spring vacation to the to the Park Hotel, Norwood.  There, more drama ensued when Dunn’s appearance at the Park to demand an audience with Angelina’s father Sir Francis Burdett resulted in his summary ejectment by hotel staff, as a result of which he brought the following proceedings – by no means his first court appearance in the context of his interaction with Miss Burdett-Coutts, but the first initiated by him as complainant.

The saga continues below.

From the Northern Standard, 16 May 1840:



UNION HALL – Charles Crawley, the proprietor of the Park Hotel at Norwood, where Sir Francis Burdett, his lady, and Miss Angelina Burdett Coutts, were lately staying, was brought before Mr. Trail, charged by Mr. Richard Dunn, the Irish Barrister, with aiding and assisting an alleged assault on Mr. Dunn.

Mr. Dunn stated that he called at the Park Hotel for the purpose of seeing Sir Francis, that having sent in his name by a servant, word was sent out that the gentleman could not be seen, and Mr. Dunn was about to retire, when he was accosted by Mr. Crawley and another gentleman, one of them saying that he had no business there, that although his appearance was lie that of a gentleman, yet his conduct was not of that character.  At this period several persons came up and collected about him, and he heard Mr. Crawley exclaim that he, the complainant, deserved to be thrown into the pond, this was on the road opposite to the hotel, and when he got about one hundred yards from it, he was followed by the defendants and others, one of whom snatched up some dust and gravel out of the road, and threw it in his face.  Mr. Dunn added that he declared most solemnly he never went to the Park Hotel for the purpose of insulting or giving offence to anyone whatever, and that he never anticipated the gentleman whom he called would not have received him.

Mr. Crawley said that an accusation had been brought against him, and that he wished to publicly rebut it.  He then proceeded to state that Sir Francis Burette, Lady Burdett and Miss Angelina Coutts Burdett, had been subjected to a degree of annoyance on the part of Mr. Dunn, particularly the latter young lady. Some days previous to the transaction in question, Mr. Dunn made his appearance at Norwood, and soon found the Park Hotel. On that occasion Miss Angelina was walking with a lady in the grounds attached to the house, and the moment Mr. Dunn espied her, he commenced waving his handkerchief, and actually got over the hedge into the grounds, no doubt for the purpose of approaching, when the ladies, no doubt alarmed at such behavior, made a precipitate retreat into the hotel, for the purpose of shunning the intruder.

Norwood, once in Surrey and now in London, famed in the 1840s for its bucolic cemetery. When she saw Mr. Dunn – who had already pursued her in Harrogate and London in the complete absence of encouragement – waving his handkerchief at her over the fence of the Park Hotel, Miss Burdett-Coutts must have legitimately wondered if she would end up in one of its tombs in the near future.

The magistrate Mr. Trail said that there was no use in hearing any more on the subject, as he had determined on not giving a decision in the case.  The magistrate then adjudge Mr. Crawley to enter into his own recognizance in the sum of 50l to appear at the sessions to answer the complaint of Mr. Dunn.

The parties then left the office.”

We next hear of Mr. Dunn in London the following month when the London Evening Standard reported that about two hours prior to the closing of the Marylebone court, he had been brought before the sitting magistrate Mr. Rawlinson, to answer a charge preferred against him by Boyd Alexander, of No 15 Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park. Mr. Alexander stated that on the same day, between 12 and 1, Miss Burdett Coutts had come to his house for protection, and soon after Mr. Dunn knocked at the door which was opened by the servant, who answered him, and Mr. Dunn then went away, but as he still remained near the house, Mr. Alexander went out and seeing a constable, gave him in charge.

The lovely Nash-designed Hanover Terrace, London, today.
Image via Wikipedia.

“Mr. Rawlinson This is I believe an affair which we have all heard of before.  Have not articles of the peace been preferred against the defendant?

Mr. Alexander: I believe so, Sir.  I know he has been in custody.

Mr. Dunn Did I knock a second time.

Mr Alexander: I only heard you knock once.

Mr. Dunn – Where was Miss Burdett Coutts when I walked up to your door?

Mr Alexander: On the balcony.

Mr. Dunn – And pray, where was she before I knocked.

Mr Alexander – Under the arcade, taking shelter from the rain.

Mr. Dunn – Now, will you swear that she was not in an enclosure in front of your house playing with the children before I went to your door at all.

Mr Alexander – I don’t know whether she was or not.

Mr. Dunn – What did I say to you when you spoke to the policeman about us.

Complainant _- I cannot recollect.

Mr. Dunn – Then I will tell you.”

After propounding at length, Mr. Dunn was once again bound over to keep the peace.

The negative publicity arising from the above did not dissuade Mr. Dunn from continuing with his proceedings against Mr. Crawley in respect of the alleged assault at the Park Hotel. His case against Mr Crawley came up for hearing at the Surrey Sessions in Guildford in July 1840 and was not disposed of until past ten o’clock at night. During the whole of the time, the court was crowded to excess in every part and the proceedings appeared to create great interest.

Sir Francis Burdett, who had the dubious pleasure of being supboenaed and examined by his daugher’s barrister stalker.

Mr. Dunn had the thrill of being able to examine under oath his prospective father-in-law, Sir Francis Burdett, to whom he had written many letters requesting the hand of his daughter, the heiress Angelina Burdett Coutts, to whom Mr. Dunn, despite considerable effort, had so far never been formally introduced. Sir Francis said he had only read the first letter; after that, presumably to retain his sanity, he passed on all correspondence received without reading.

The jury, after a few minutes’ deliberation, returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ in respect of Mr Crawley.

Dunn, however, had had his day in court. If the Burdett family would not speak with him outside the courtroom, he could, by means of a subpoena, make them converse with him therein. It was by this means that Dunn, plying all the skills of the Irish Bar, and not a few of the modern stalker, subsequently proposed to wage his campaign for the hand of Angelina.

These days, this frustrated performance artist with a dash of legal knowledge and an unshakeable belief in his own ability to change reality, would probably have set up a website, or used mass email or social media as a method to communicate his delusions and boost his appetite for attention.

Would Dunn ultimately go too far?  Yes, but not for a long time, and with a different woman, after Angelina Burdett-Coutts’ future had been substantially destroyed by his obsessive and delusional pursuit of her.

More anon.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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