The Terrifying Tale of the Tipstaff’s Niece, 1835

The following story worthy of Dickens, or perhaps Wilkie Collins, was reported in the Dublin Morning Register, 4 September 1835, and the Leeds Times, 19 September 1835:

[Margaret Feltis], who is only 17 years of age, was left an orphan, and taken [in} by her uncle… a man of excellent character, of the name of John Love, who… holds the situation of tipstaff in the Four Courts. [He] gave her permission… to go to the neighbourhood of Ferns, in the County of Wexford… to visit her aunt… her uncle received no tidings of her [until] a woman called at his residence, and stated to him that… his niece… had died in the month preceding.

Last July Mr Love received a letter from the head turnkey of Kilmainham gaol, stating that Margaret Feltis was under sentence of transportation, having been convicted in Wexford of vagrancy. [He] immediately repaired to Kilmainham.. it was not until a convict ship was on the point of sailing… that his efforts were finally successful.”

The unfortunate Margaret had apparently

“witnessed a robbery committed by some men who were related to a female living under the protection of an individual of some influence… this female was the contriver of a plot which [by arranging Margaret’s wrongful arrest and informing her uncle of her supposed death] put the only witness against her relatives out of the way, and, thus screened them from their well-merited punishment.”

The unnamed ‘gentleman of influence’ must have been very influential indeed, because no further investigation seems to have taken place.

Was transportation really used as a means of nobbling witnesses? Or was the whole extraordinary tale merely an Irish Franchise Affair – the imaginative creation of a teenager who had landed in trouble with the law after faking her death to evade avuncular supervision?

A scary story no matter which way you look at it!

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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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