The Disappearance of an Official Assignee, 1885

From the Freeman’s Journal, 2 June 1885:

The prolonged absence from duty of a prominent official connected with an important department in the Four Courts has given rise to rumors more or less compromising… the official in question more than three weeks ago obtained leave of absence on account of ill-health, that he repaired to an English watering-place, whence he wrote to his family one letter.  No second communication was received, nor for the last fortnight has any tidings of his whereabouts been gleaned… The official in question has borne the highest character, and his intimate friends, while puzzled and pained at his now unaccounted for absence, still believe that it will be satisfactorily explained.”

The following day the same publication reported that

The unaccounted for absence of an official connected with the Four Courts is now so freely and openly discussed that there is no longer any reason for withholding the name.  The gentleman is Mr Charles Henry James, who has for nearly 30 years filled the post of Official Assignee in bankruptcy.  He had the reputation of being a most careful, accurate and painstaking officer, and until this extraordinary incident there never was a question of the perfect correctness of his conduct in all the relations of life. There are some who fear that the gentleman has met with a fatal accident, or it may be committed suicide in  sudden and overmastering fit of melancholy.

If the above was a hint to Charles Henry James he did not take it. On the 16th July 1885 he returned to his residence, Rockfield, Dundrum. Thanks to a representative of the Freeman, who called on him there the following day, we know that

“ill-health, which compelled him to obtain a doctor’s certificate entitling him to leave of absence, and was very greatly aggravated by anxiety of mind arising from business matters in his office, rendered it absolutely necessary for him to seek a long interval of repose as the alternative of an utter breakdown.  [Mr James] also expressed his thanks to the Freeman’s Journal for the tone in which it had referred to his absence, which had of course unavoidably become the subject of public comment.  The friends of Mr James will be glad to learn that he appears to have greatly gained in health and appearance by his somewhat prolonged holiday.

In his absence Charles Henry James had been replaced as Official Assignee and a full inquiry commenced into the accounts of his office. Within two months of his return he found himself in court charged with misappropriating monies entrusted to him from various estates passing through the Bankruptcy Court.

On the 22nd October 1885, however, all charges were thrown out by a Grand Jury. Discharged from bail, Charles Henry James lived quietly until his death some decades later. His obituary described him as late Official Assignee. without reference to the extraordinary events of 1885.

The first recorded incidence of a mid-life crisis?

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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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