Swallowing the Evidence, 1839

From the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent, September 1839:


A young gentleman, called Rathbane, charged Anne Lynch with having stolen his watch.

Complainant said he was passing through Marlborough Street when he was followed by the prisoner, who snatched the watch out of his waistcoat pocket.  He seized her on the spot, and had her given up to a policeman who was passing.  She was brought to the station-house, and although the most rigorous search was made by a female, who was there for the purpose, it could not be found, and all hopes of recovering it were given up, complainant having concluded that the prisoner dropped the watch on the street.  In the course of the night, however, she became ill in the station-house, and without the aid of an emetic the watch was forthcoming, although she acknowledged that she had completely swallowed it when she took it from the gentleman’s pocket.  What made the case more extraordinary was, that there was six or eight inches of black ribbon attached o it.  It was a thin fashionable gold watch, but not at all a small one.

The Magistrates said that the prisoner should be committed for trial.  

The complainant said he would not prosecute her as he was sure she had already suffered sufficiently. 

The Magistrates said that the complainant could not get his watch unless he prosecuted. 

He then swore informations, and she was fully committed.”

The Freeman’s Journal of 5 October 1839 records an Anne Lynch being sentenced to three months imprisonment and hard labour before the Recorder of Dublin for stealing a watch from Joseph Rankin found on her person.  The report doesn’t mention anything about her swallowing the watch but the names Rankin and Rathbane sound similar.  The same woman?

Another evidence-swallowing tale, attributed to Mr Justice Grantham (above) appeared in the Sligo Champion of 1924:

There have been many dramatic moments at the Old Bailey, but none more so than when a daring and ingenious barrister ate poisoned cake to save his client.  The barrister was defending a woman accused of having murdered her husband by means of a poisoned cake made by her own fair hands.  As the greater portion of the cake was captured by the police and produced in court as an exhibit, the question of her guilt or innocence ought to have been settled without any difficulty.  

But for some reason the facts in the possession of the prosecution were by no means conclusive when the trial began, and counsel for the defence determined on a bold line of action.  ‘My lord,’ he said in a contemptuous tone, ‘it is ridiculous to talk of this cake as being poisoned. Why, I will eat some of it myself here and now.’ 

He was as good as his word, and, having swallowed a sample of the exhibit, he was about the resume his address and let the judge, jury and audience wait for the test to work its way to a finish when a messenger arrived with a letter containing the news that his mother was seriously ill. ‘May I have your lordship’s permission to retire into another room in order to write a reply?’ he said gravely.  

Permission was granted, and five minutes later he was in court again continuing his speech for his client.  As he suffered no ill-effects from his daring experiment, it is not surprising that the jury should  have acquitted the prisoner.

But that ‘bold, brave, barrister’ was not so confident of his client’s innocence as he induced the court to believe, for he arranged for the letter to be delivered into his hands immediately he had swallowed the portion of the cake so that he might have an excuse to leave the court and take an emetic.

What a delicious fact-scenario for an ethics and professional conduct seminar! Apocryphal surely – but who would dare doubt the word of a High Court judge?! Does Mr Justice Grantham look like the sort of man who would make up tall tales? Study his photograph above and decide for yourself!

Image Credit (top) (middle)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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