Aristocratic Insolence in the Dublin Police Court, 1830

Rutland Square, Dublin, c.1817, by William Frederick Brocas, via Mutual Art

From the Freeman’s Journal, 26 May 1830:



‘A chiel’s amang ye takin notes

And faith he’ll prent it.’

Robert Burns


Lord Langford attended before Mr Cole, the sitting magistrate at this office, to substantiate a complaint which he had previously preferred against James Carroll, a servant recently in his Lordship’s employment.

It appeared that Carroll had been for fifteen months in Lord Langford’s service; that he had lately a quarrel with a fellow servant, which induced his Lordship to send him to the watch-house, and had him afterwards committed for disorderly conduct; that Carroll then processed his Lordship for wages which he alleged was due him, but his claim being dismissed in his absence, he could not be convinced of the justice of the decision, and meeting his Lordship near his residence in Rutland-square, he craved his wages.  At that moment Lady Langford was coming up to enter her carriage, then at the door when, horror-struck at the sight of her old servant, she ran back and fainted the instant she reached a sofa in the drawing room – and continued fainting every ten minutes for an hour.  His Lordship then, with those affectionate connubial sensations which are not always inseparable from the ‘higher walks of life,’ and highly irritated at the thought of his Lady’s indisposition, immediately proceeded to Henry Street Office, where peace informations were taken and a warrant issued for the apprehension of Carroll, who attended this day, with his attorney, to answer the charge against him.

During the investigation, Lord Langford frequently, and in a very unbecoming way, interrupted the respectable professional gentleman (Mr W Wilkins) concerned for the accused; indeed, throughout, his conduct was very arrogant and overbearing.

Mr Wilkins (attorney) to Mr Cole – ‘The informations as tendered by his Lordship to bind the man to keep the peace, are not in themselves sufficient – inasmuch as he said he apprehended danger from Carroll, without assigning any reason therein by any act or deed of the man; and if such informations had been tendered to his Lordship as a magistrate, in a case where he was not a party himself, I am satisfied that he would consider them insufficient to hold the party to bail.

Lord Langford – ‘You have no right to make any observations about what I would do were I similarly circumstanced, and I don’t see what right you have to interfere at all.  It is extremely improper to defend this man in any way.’

Mr Cole – ‘The gentleman is but doing his duty.  He is conducting himself with extreme temper, prudence and moderation, and he has no right to castigation here.’

Lord Langford –‘He has no right, then, to draw inferences from what I have sworn.’

Mr Cole – ‘He has every right to draw what inferences he pleases.  If other people would conduct themselves with the good temper and forbearance he has manifested on this occasion, we would be able to get through the business of the office with some facility and-‘

Lord Langford – ‘Stop, Sir! – Are you aware there’s a reporter in the room.  There is a man here taking notes.’

The Reporter of the Freeman – ‘There is a gentleman here taking notes – who knows how to conduct himself as becomes one – and whose situation is that of a gentleman.’

Mr Cole – ‘I don’t care who is in the room.  If there is a reporter present, he, of course, knows his duty.  I make no objection to any person coming to this office; and if people don’t say any thing they are afraid or ashamed of, they need not dread a reporter.’

His Lordship, though previously expressing himself in very vindictive terms regarding Carroll – who was directed to find bail to keep the peace towards his Lordship and Lady – now became very merciful, and signified his wish that the man should be discharged.

The mild and gentlemanly behaviour of the worthy magistrate strongly contrasted with that of Lord Langford – who should frequently attend there, if for no other purpose than to improve himself by association with that gentleman.”

Why was Lady Langford so upset by the unexpected appearance of her old servant, and why was Lord Langford so keen to take steps against him but at the same time anxious that those steps not be reported?

The answer may lie in subsequent proceedings brought in the English Court of King’s Bench in 1836, in which Lord Langford sued a young gentleman called Barrett, who had entered his family as a tutor, for criminal conversation with the Lady referred to above.  Evidence was given that Mr Barrett and Lady Langford often went between one another’s rooms in their dressing-gowns, when Lord Langford was away in London; Barrett’s bedroom door was often locked when Lady Langford was in the room with him, on one occasion he was heard say that she had beaten him, and torn the hair off his head, and she was heard saying to him, when the door was locked, ‘You may scream, the door is locked and no one can get in.’

Following evidence that Lord Langford had been guilty of repeated acts of adultery with other women, had drawn Barrett’s attention to the beautiful hair of his wife, had desired Barrett to amuse her as well as he was able, and to this end had brought Byron’s ‘Don Juan’ home for him to read to her, the jury awarded him nominal damages of one shilling. 

Lord Langford’s death in 1839 did not stop him making a posthumous appearance in the Irish courts a few years later, when a will, allegedly made by him in favour of Mrs Anna Maria Bennett Little, was challenged by his son and heir.  It transpired that Lord Langford had kept Mrs Little for many years in a house in Baggot Street.  There is no report of the final hearing of these proceedings, and it is possible that they were settled.   A legal dispute regarding another will made in favour of the same Mrs Little by John Stanislaus Comyn of Galway, dragged on for a further thirty years until the will was eventually held to be a a forgery in 1863.

Clearly there were a lot of domestic issues in the Langford household, and indeed similarly troubled Langford descendants were to keep Irish and English matrimonial lawyers busy for decades to come! I wonder was Mr Carroll a predecessor of the unfortunate Mr Barrett? If so, it might explain a lot about Lord Langford’s strange behaviour in the proceedings before Mr Cole.

The moral of the story? Several! Those who fear reporting often have something to hide; sometimes our so-called ‘betters’ are no better than they should be; and the vital importance of a bench, bar and press unafraid to speak truth to power when the rights of ordinary citizens are at stake!

Good old Mr Cole!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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