Barrister’s Daughter Elopes in Mother’s Dress, 1878

From the Freeman’s Journal, 28 February 1878:


An extraordinary case of elopement has just come to light.  This morning there arrived in Belfast by the Royal Mail steamer from Glasgow a somewhat prepossessing young lady, said to be the daughter of a barrister residing in the Irish metropolis.  She was accompanied by Detective Inspector Crawford, and also by a male servant of her father’s with whom it appears she eloped a short time since.   The male servant in question is stated to hold the position of stable boy. 

The amorous pair were traced to Glasgow, and after a brief delay there they went to Sterling.  It was while they were sojourning in that historic Scottish borough that the young lady was arrested on the charge of taking away with her a dress, the property of her mother.  It appears that no charge can be legally brought against the stable boy, who left Belfast today for his native district in County Cavan.  The young lady, accompanied by Detective-inspector Crawford, took her departure for Dublin, where it is just possible the case may be heard of before the magistrates.”

The identity of the young lady was never reported, nor is there any evidence of charges having being brought – her arrest may simply have been a device to secure her safe return home. Her alleged theft, while unproved and relatively innocuous, marks her as a possible first in a line of light-fingered female offspring of members of the Irish and English bar slithering through the last three decades of the 19th century.

The Edinburgh Evening News, of 20 October 1880, records the arrest of Ida Mary Cleaves Lupton , aged 16, the daughter of a Liverpool barrister, for stealing a gold watch, which she subsequently pawned for £2.  In the course of the evidence it was shown that she was subject to delusions, and had in three days incurred debts to the amount of £122 for church decorations. Ida had originally claimed that she was being kept short of money, and half-starved. Were 19th century barristers mean with their female offspring?

One person who might have had an opinion on this question was Mr Whitely, founder of London’s first department store, whose business was regularly visited by three daughters of an eminent barrister, all prone to shoplifting. When approached, the barrister left London with his daughters to avoid a public scandal.

Probably the most notorious barrister’s daughter of the 19th century was the young and beautiful Florence Ethel Elliott (subsequently Osborne), who initiated civil proceedings after being accused of stealing two pearl earrings from her second cousin and selling them in London under an assumed name for £550. The Pearl Slander Case, as it was known, ended dramatically when Sir Charles Russell, Ethel’s counsel, informed the court that certain facts had come to his knowledge which rendered it impossible that he should continue to represent her in the case.   Ethel subsequently pleaded guilty to larceny and perjury and was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Thankfully, the honour of barristers’ daughters was restored by our very own Miss Eileen Nicholl, MA, of Rathgar, Dublin who died in August 1909 at Ventry, County Kerry, whilst making a brave attempt to save the life of a local girl in difficulties in the water.  Miss Nicholl, who was only 24 years of age, had had a very distinguished scholastic career and was looked upon as a student of great promise.  Perhaps, had she survived, she might even have gone on to become a barrister herself – possibly a better career choice than the criminal enterprises engaged in by her notorious predecessors?

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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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