Court Documents Stolen for Possible Sale as Toilet Paper, 1860

From the Evening Freeman, 27 February 1860:

“Bessie Birmingham… employed for sweeping a portion of the offices at the Four Courts, Matthew Campbell and Philip Keely were brought up in custody… charged with having stolen and sold a number of valuable parchment and paper documents from one of the offices of the Court of Exchequer… several documents had been missed and information was given to the police, who proceeded to Keely’s shop in Pill Lane and asked if he had purchased any law papers… he replied that some had been purchased… went with the policeman to the courts and pointed out Birmingham as the woman who had sold him the documents as waste paper. She was taken into custody…. a search was then made and a large quantity of valuable documents were discovered… identified by officers of the Court of Exchequer and Common Pleas as instruments that should have been deposited in one of the vaults of the Four Courts, to which no one should have access but one of the officers of the court in presence of the person retaining the keys of the vaults… the three prisoners were remainded, and bail was refused.”

We all know about the great loss of deeds in the Four Courts Fire of 1922, but what about all the other documents stolen or lost in the Four Courts over the years?!

Back in the 19th century paper itself was often more valuable than what was written on it. Recycled paper had a number of uses, including sanitary ones, with the pleasantly smooth quality of parchment in particular making it the Quilted Northern Ultra-Plush of its day.

The temptation for underpaid staff members to lift unguarded deeds must have been irresistible. I hope they tightened up security in the Four Courts after this incident!

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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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