The Bigamist Barrister, 1846

From the Liverpool Mail, 18 April 1846:

“At Dublin, on Saturday, the trial of Mr Henry Augustus Browne, barrister, for bigamy took place in the Commission Court… Mr Browne is a remarkably well-looking man of about 24 or 25 years of age… a prime favourite with his brethern at the Bar. The prosecutor was Mr Charles Copeland, the manager of the Royal Bank of Ireland. In the summer of 1844 he and his daughter [were] in the neighbourhood of Galway [when] the prisoner was going the Connaught circuit… his attentions to Miss Copeland became marked [and] a marriage took place.

Some time after, a female called to the house… It was discovered that Mr Browne had been married before to this female, whose maiden name was Mary Downes… not his equal in rank, a knowing servant-woman of 29, a cook who had entrapped him into bed... that marriage could have been broken if he chose to take the proper proceedings, but he considered… that she was not his wife, and that therefore he was at liberty to marry any one…”

A serious error of judgment from such a promising young barrister! The jury found Browne guilty of bigamy. He was sentenced to seven years transportation, and also disbarred.

However, when Ms Downes herself was subsequently convicted of bigamy in relation to her marriage to him, Browne was pardoned on the grounds of ill-health and allowed to leave the country – though never, it seems, reinstated as a member of the Irish Bar!

If only adequate proof of Ms Downes’ earlier marriage to a Mr Fitzgerald, had been forthcoming in the earlier proceedings, Browne might have escaped conviction. Perhaps he also showed poor judgment in his choice of legal team – or possibly Mr Fitzgerald only made himself known after the event?!

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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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