Solicitor’s Spouse Springs Prisoner from the Marshalsea, 1850

If you were to find yourself in a 19th century Victorian cab, driving through Dublin, where would you direct the driver to go? The Four Courts of course! Be careful, though, to check your pocket for your fare, or you might end up at the other Four Courts – the Four Courts Marshalsea – where debtors were sent for not paying their debts!

Sometimes the two institutions overlapped, with interesting results, as shown in this story from the Montrose Standard of 5 July 1850:

Mrs Philips, the wife of a solicitor, has been tried at Dublin on a criminal charge for conspiring to aid Miss Thompson to escape from the Four Courts, Marshalsea. Miss Thompson was a prisoner for debt; one evening she entertained some friends, and Mrs Philips was continually passing through the prison gate in making or pretending to make preparations for the entertainment; and when it grew dark, she changed duties with the prisoner, and Miss Thompson hurried out of the prison in the guise of the busy Mrs Philips.  Miss Thompson has not been recaptured. In the course of the trial, it appears that the seal had not been affixed to the writ of execution until after the flight of Miss Thompson. This was held to be a fatal objection to the proceedings against Mrs Philips, and she was acquitted.”

The ‘busy Mrs Philips’ was very lucky to be acquitted!

I wonder what happened to Miss Thompson?

The Zoo Next Door, 1821

From Saunders’ News-Letter, 21 April 1821:


The Public are respectfully informed that Polito’s Grand Menagerie, is removed from Abbey Street, to Ormond-Quay, near the Four Courts, where they will be exhibited for a short time previous to their final removal from this kingdom, and in order that all classes may have an opportunity (which may not occur again) of witnessing this rare assemblage of Natural productions – the admission for Ladies and Gentlemen will be reduced to Ten-pence and for the working Classes and Children, Five pence.

N.B. – That most beautiful and astonishing Animal, the Boa Constrictor Serpent, is included in the above Grand Collection, which is a complete contradiction of the fabulous tale, that nothing of the Snake or Serpent tribe can exist in this kingdom, the above being in excellent health.”

Polito’s caged animals stayed on Ormond Quay for some time. Presumably they left some kind of atmospheric impression on the site. I wonder if barristers and mediators working late in the Ormond Meeting Rooms ever hear a low growl, a hiss or a gulp from time to time?

The Original Judges’ Car Park, 1852

The annual State Trials for conspiracy and treason were a very exciting time at the nineteenth-century Four Courts.

Many members of the public of all political persuasions attended to observe and comment.  All tried to put their best face forward.  None more so than the Judges.   The style of their arrival on such occasions was so impressive as to merit the above illustration in the popular press.   Not only were the judicial means of transport slightly different from today, but their parking facilities were in a different location!

When a post-Famine judiciary sought to adopt a lower-key approach, this resulted in complaints in the popular press, such as the following letter by an anonymous correspondent published in the Catholic Telegraph of 3 April 1852:

“Formerly, the Lord Chancellor, Master of the Rolls, Judges and superior officers of the courts, were in the habit of driving to court in handsome private carriages.  The incomes are the same as formerly, and Free Trade has considerably reduced the price of most of the necessaries of life; yet, with one or two exceptions, the squares of the courts are now quite deserted by private equipages, and too frequently visited by inside and outside jaunting cars, which have a monopoly there.”

It seems that, in this delicately balanced political era, demonstrations of magnificence on the part of the judiciary were seen not as an indulgence, but as essential to the majesty of the law. Such pageantry, of course also gave employment to a wide variety of Dublin artisans and tradesmen!

Barristers’ Bags Stolen and Recovered, 1853

From the Freeman’s Journal, 7 June 1853:

“A man named John Whitaker was… charged with having stolen a large number of briefs and a law book the property of Messrs. Robinson, QC, Robert Owen Lawson, JF Martley and McCarthy, barristers.

It appeared that a person named McDonnell had been employed by several barristers to carry their brief bags to the Four Courts every morning during term. Having called as usual some mornings since he got four of these bags into his care, and having to go to another house he left the four bags at the doorway, from which they had been stolen by the prisoner, who threw them into a cart which he was driving at the time.

[T]he police… succeeded in tracing the missing papers to the shop of Mrs Kelly, Cook Street, where they had been sold as old paper by the prisoner for seven pence. The papers, which were all recovered, having been identified by the gentlemen to whom they belonged, and the police having stated that they found the four missing brief bags in the lodgings of the prisoner, he was fully committed for trial…”

A barrister’s worst nightmare! Almost certainly there were wigs and gowns in the bags, too. I wonder if they got them back?!

Groom Obtains Habeas Corpus in respect of Bride, 1824

From the Dublin Evening Post, 22 June 1824, a story of young love’s struggle against parental opposition:

“Mr Sheil… moved for a Habeas Corpus against William Ormsby, the Marshal of the Four Courts Marshalsea, commanding him to bring up the body of his daughter, Jane Ormsby.

Mr Sheil said, that he moved upon the affidavit of Nicholas William Whyte, which stated, that he became acquainted with Miss Ormsby, about fourteen months ago, at Booterstown, and was introduced to her father and mother, who received his visits. Miss Ormsby formed an attachment for Mr Whyte, and entered into a contract of marriage.

Her father disapproved of Mr Whyte’s proposals and… adopted a system of rigour in her regard, which had the most pernicious effect upon her health. She was confined by him in the Marshalsea, or the house adjoining to it; and such as the impression produced by her father’s menaces, that for several days she became deranged…

[S]he had applied for a Habeas Corpus in order to effect her liberation. She was upwards of twenty-one years of age, and, therefore, her own mistress.

Judge: Is there a positive affidavit that the motion be made at her instance?

Mr Shiel: There is, my Lord.

Judge: Then let the Habeas Corpus issue, returnable forthwith.”

A joyful ending? Sadly not! When the victorious Mr Whyte subsequently turned up at the Marshalsea with the order directing that Jane Ormsby be released from her imprisonment, he found that she had already been spirited off to England with a view to marriage to another suitor.

Further research also suggests a reason why Jane’s family might have been so particular about her spouse – her father was in serious financial trouble following the recent escape of a prisoner from the Marshalsea. As Marshal, he bore a liability to compensate the creditor for the prisoner’s debt.

A case of the Marshal of the Four Courts Marshalsea successfully auctioning his daughter off to the highest bidder?