An American Journalist in the Dublin Police Court, 1907

From the Belfast Weekly News, 29 August 1907:


Extraordinary Story Told in Dublin Police Court

An extraordinary story was unfolded on 22nd inst. in the Police Court before Mr Swifte, upon a charge of obtaining money by false pretences. The accused, a young man with an American accent, was described as Harry B. Desmond, alias William Harris and A. O’Neill.

An advertising clerk in the Irish Times Office deposed to the following advertisement being handed in on the 9th inst:

‘Housekeeper wanted by a gentleman near Dublin, age over 30, a home assured.’ It appeared in next day’s paper.

Mrs Travers, 15 Chester Road, Ranelagh, said that having answered the advertisement, she received the following reply

‘Mountain View, Dublin, 16th August, 1907. Dear Madam, I am directed by Sir Thomas to inform you that your application has reached his London address, and has been given to Mr Harris, our steward, who will communicate his decision in due time – Yours truly, HT Waters (Secretary).’

On 20th August she got another letter…

‘St John’s, Meath Road, Bray, County Wicklow (Mountain View was also on it).

Dear Mrs Travers

Your letter has come to me from our secretary. Personally, I am satisfied with what I have learnt of you. I will be pleased to send a favourable report to Sir Thomas. Your position as lady housekeeper carries a salary of 35 pounds per annum. There are ten servants well trained. Our place, the Grange, is at present in the hands of workmen, getting ready for the coming of age of young Master Harold. The family are at present in London, but all will be in the city for 31st August. You will find Sir Tom a good and kind master. Of course, you know he is a widower. We are making a present to the young master. It comes from all our own household. It is a motor bicycle. All the names are to be engraved on an address of welcome. The under servants have subscribed ten shillings each, some more, and if you would care to have your name along with it I would be pleased to put it where it belongs – at the head of the household staff. I will be free next Saturday afternoon until 3 p.m., and will be pleased to see you at above address on that day (cheap fare from Dublin). The list of names, together with your appointment, goes to Sir Thomas for approval on next Thursday evening. I would certainly like to have your name thereon when it reaches Sir Thomas. He is having the letter engraved in London. Do not fail to write, as I have to send my report on Thursday. –

Respectfully, Wm Harris (steward).’

She replied, asking to whom she would make the cheque payable, but got no response.

Mr Shuley, printer, proved sale and delivery of the headed notepaper to the accused as HB Desmond, 32 Queen Street.

Detective Sheen, who arrested the accused at that address, detailed the conversation which he said took place between them. He stated that on being shown the advertisement defendant said that his name was A O’Neill, that he wanted a housekeeper, and that he was a sworn policeman of the King and a private detective in business. In his portmanteau, which bore the initials ‘HBD,’ was found a house-breaking implement and portion of a jemmy, which he said he had for chipping rocks. A pair of blue goggles which he had he said he used in cycling.

The accused, who was represented by a solicitor, said he was no criminal, he was an American journalist. On 4th July he landed at Queenstown in company with Miss Kelly, the lady he was going to marry, a letter from whom the sergeant had suppressed. He came up to Dublin, and took lodgings and furnished them, with the intention of seeking Miss Kelly to marry him right away, but she could not, as she had to attend at the harvest.

He had written several articles. He made his money by writing, and editors nowadays would not take any notice of any thing that was not sensational. They must have something out of the common, and it was with that intention that he set out the advertisement for a housekeeper. His primary object was to show what a criminal could do if he really were a criminal, but he was not a criminal. He wanted local colour, and he had got it with a vengeance (Laughter). He advertised and wrote the letters, not asking people to send him money. He never intended to receive it, and never had. He wrote to Mrs McCarthy, a lady at Bray, and instructed her to return the letters to the postman as soon as they came. He simply wanted copy for an article he was writing.

With regard to the instrument, which the sergeant maliciously called a jemmy, it was an ordinary chisel, which he had brought to examine rocks, as he had seen some auriferous rocks. O’Neill was the nom de plume under which he wrote his Irish article. He was a special policeman in Montreal in the service of the CP Railway, and a London journal had an article from him on one case he had run down last October, in which he recovered for the company over 2000 dollars’ worth of silver taken from one of the cars.

The prisoner was then remanded.

The Wicklow NewsLetter and County Advertiser of September 1907 was rather smitten by Mr Desmond, describing him as

“a young fellow of about 34 years of age, and of rather commanding appearance. He stands about 5 feet 10 inches, and has red hair and beard. His long eyelashes drop down over his expressive blue eyes, and on Monday, when Detective-Sergeant Ahearne was in the witness-box giving evidence about a chisel, there was a suspicious twinkle in them. He was respectably dressed in a tweed Norfolk suit, and did not at all look like a person who would be guilty of the charge alleged against him.”

The jury took a different view. Harry B Desmond was convicted and sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment. Hopefully he got some good copy out of his incarceration!

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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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