Stone-throwing, ferret stealing and harsh punishments for tiny sum thefts, there’s no doubt crime was different in 19th Century Ireland as this fascinating article in Ireland’s Independent News & Media shows.
Interestingly, murders during the Victoria era were seven times higher than the present day – which just goes to show you that the fear of crime is often disproportionately related to actual crime figures.
So what was the most common crime?
Assault topped the list with 28,353 cases reported over a 32-year period from 1863-1893, while breaking of license conditions totalled 28,092 cases and there were 23,345 incidences of theft.
The Royal Irish Constabulary, the body that tackled crime in Ireland from 1814 to 1922 published a Hue and Cry, a newsletter that gave information on crime committed, the rewards offered and people who had gone missing.
The Phoenix Park Murders 1882
In May 1882, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke were stabbed to death in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. At the time, Cavendish was the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland and Burke was the country’s most senior civil servant, a Permanent Undersecretary.
They were killed on 6 May at some time between 7-8pm by a group of four men, thought to be a radical splinter group of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was known as the Irish National Invincibles.
In the Hue and Cry, the description of these men read that one man was about 35 years old, stout and had a recently clipped moustache. Another was described as about 30, with a brown faded coat that looked as it had been over exposed to the sun. The third was whisker free and wore a soft black hat, while the fourth had a bread, moustache and dark clothes.
If you had any information on the crimes, a whopping £10,000 sterling was offered in reward. (Roughly £84,000 or €98,600 in today’s money.)
The Munster Bank Embezzlement 1885
Robert Farquharson, the assistant manager of the Dublin branch of Munster Bank, was reported to have absconded from his office and left his accounts in an unsatisfactory state. It turned out that he had embezzled more than £70,000 – or more than £58 million and just over €69 million.
He then vanished without a trace. Farquharson was a native of Scotland and he disappeared on 28 July 1885.
The Maamtrasna Murders, 1882
Five members of a family were massacred in their cabin in Mayo on 17 August 1882. The family were made up of John Joyce, his wife Bridget, son Michael, daughter Peggy and his mother-in-law Margaret. The daughter of the family, Patsy, was the only one to survive. The Times described the crime as “an outburst of unredeemed and inexplicable savagery”.
Ten men were convicted for the murders and three of them hanged for it. Although most of them spoke only Irish, they were tried before a judge and jury in English, and it’s widely thought that one of those who was hanged, Myles Joyce, was not guilty.
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