Lord Chancellor’s Emissary Saves Lady from Singed Cat, Incurs Husband’s Wrath, 1838

From the Waterford Mail, 5 March 1838:

“There is a story running the rounds of the hundred and one coteries that assemble in the Four Courts, that is creating much amusement. You shall have it, and you may take it, as far as its authenticity is concerned, quantum valeat.

It appears that Sir Anthony Harte, the Lord Chancellor, was engaged some days since in superintending the hanging up of paintings in his new residence, when a message from a distinguished lady, who lives in a neighbouring house, was received by his Lordship, begging as a favour that the workmen should desist for a while, as she was labouring under serious illness.

Of course the Chancellor at once gave the necessary directions that the work should cease; but fearing that the issuing of his orders would not be sufficiently complimentary to the lady, he despatched a legal friend who holds a high appointment under him, with his compliments to the lady to express his Lordship’s regret, & c. The delegate instantly called on the lady, and was shown into the drawing room, where she was sitting. He explained the object of his visit, and was requested to be seated. He had hardly taken his seat and commenced a general conversation, when a singed cat, which by some curious accident or other was concealed in the chimney, sprung from it, screeching and springing about in such contortions as to make the lady think the animal was affected by hydrophobia. She screamed, and it appears was seized with violent hysterics.

The poor barrister, who had got himself into a disastrous tête à tête, flew to the assistance of the lady in distress. The servants rushed upstairs and the husband of the lady followed them rapidly. When he saw his lady screaming on a sofa, and so violently agitated, he could of course think of nothing else but that his unknown visitor had been impertinent in some way to the lady, and that in such case he was in duty bound to chastise him, which, the story adds, he did with amazing effect. The entire business, as you may guess, was easily settled by an explanation; and what at first was tragical has resulted in more laughter than can be described.”

Hydrophobia was not unknown in Ireland in 1828 – a woman died of it in Collooney, Sligo, in March, and there was at least one other case at Greashill, in Co Offaly, in May. The lady may have been thinking of a case reported in the newspapers to have occurred in London the same month in which a father died of hydrophobia after being bitten by his children’s cat. A rabid dog was shot by a police officer in one of the quadrangles of the Four Courts as late as 1900 (as the officer was unarmed, the gun was obtained from an Ormond Quay resident).

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Merrion Street today, via Instant Street View. Possibly one of the chimneys on the right?

Sir Anthony, Lord Chancellor of Ireland between 1827-30, lived in Merrion Street, Dublin, during his short stay in Ireland. The Enniskillen Chronicle and Erne Packet of 17 April 1828 contains a write-up of a splendid Ball and Supper given by him there in 1828, remarkable for his mansion’s brilliant illumination, and for the profusion of the choicest plants, flowers and exotic blooms with which it was ornamented, the corridors and stairs decorated with fruit trees in full bloom.

Although there had been Irish Lord Chancellors in the 18th century, all early 19th century appointees to the highest judicial office in Ireland were from the English Bar. Sir Anthony’s successor, William Plunket, was the first 19th century Irish barrister to be appointed to the position. Despite his non-Irish status, Sir Anthony was a very popular Lord Chancellor. Some nice images of him from the British Museum below.

Neighbour disputes can be tricky, and it was prescient of Sir Anthony to delegate the responsibility of settling this particular one! I hope his unfortunate emissary did not take long to recover from his cat-astrophe!

Top Image Credit: Picryl. Bottom Images: British Museum.

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