The Cruel Master, 1778

A sad story tonight, from Saunders’ News-Letter, 30 January 1778, involving a murder and secret burial in the graveyard of St Michan’s Church next to the Law Library buildings at 158/9 Church Street.

“Last week one of those chimney sweepers who employ a number of boys or children, adapted in their size to the narrowest tunnel, brought a small creature to make his first effay in a chimney in Dirty-Lane, Thomas-Street; when the poor child attempted to ascend, a sudden fear seized him from the dismal and gloomy prospect he had to encounter; he piteously entreated to be let down after he went up a little way, and his master as obdurately insisted on the contrary: the child, however (his fears at length urging him to a resolute despair) refused to ascend higher than to avoid the blows of the unfeeling master, whose cruelty and rage increasing by the disappointment of his vengeance, had recourse to the following barbarous contrivance to enforce compliance to his will, he set fire to a bundle of straw in the grate, telling him he must either make his way up or be burned, a few moments after which the poor creature fell down suffocated.  The master had him secretly buried in St Michan’s church-yard, without suspicion, but the other children he employed discovering the matter to some neighbours, the body was taken up, and a coroner’s inquest being held on it, brought in their verdict wilful murder.  The fellow was in consequence apprehended and lodged in Newgate on Friday last.  It would be an insult on the feelings of justice and humanity to comment on this barbarous transaction.”

We have come a long way since the days of child slave labour! 

A salutary reminder not just to look out for children who may be at risk during lockdown – but also to be kind to work colleagues and employees even if you fail to understand their anxieties and concerns.  No one wants a backtrack to such an unfeeling era, and we must not let the isolation of lockdown lead to a lack of empathy for others.

I wonder if the poor child victim of this appalling crime remains buried in St Michans?  It would be wonderful to locate and perhaps clean up his grave!

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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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