More on the Milltown Outrage, 1861

I previously posted a short video about the Milltown Outrage, which occurred in Dublin in September 1861. It involved an attack on a 19-year-old governess by the cab driver engaged to bring her home from Sackville (now O’Connell) Street to Rathgar.

At the end of the video it was disclosed that an arrest had subsequently been made. The name of the man arrested was John Curran. Unusually for the perpetrator in a 19th century Dublin criminal trial, we have a contemporaneous drawing of Curran (above).

Curran was a 24-year-old husband and father living in Grant’s Row, off Lower Mount Street. He did not live with his wife, who was in service as a nurse (she lost her job as a result of the trial). He and his two children lived with his aunt, Mrs Meares, who kept a lodging-house. The children slept with Mrs Meares; Curran shared a bed in another room with two of her male lodgers. He owned a horse, and rented a cab from Mrs O’Connor in Baggot Street, where he also stabled the horse.

The trial of John Curran took place in the Commission Court, Green Street, Dublin (now Green Street Courthouse) the month after the attack. It would have occurred earlier, were it not for the fact that Miss Jolly was in poor health following the attack. It was, to say the least, an eventful trial, with one of the witnesses being subsequently convicted of perjury. There were also some unexpected witnesses – the crew of a cross-channel ferry called the SS Moorsom!

The key issue in Curran’s trial was one of identification of the perpetrator – something which is of key relevance in many criminal trials today. Although the law has evolved since then, the warnings given by the presiding judge in his charge to the jury regarding the dangers of identification evidence still apply.

Ironically, Curran shared his name with two of Ireland’s greatest advocates – John Philpott Curran, father of Robert Emmet’s beloved Sarah, and his own defence counsel, John Adye Curran. His trial was one of the most widely reported Irish criminal proceedings of the 19th century.

What was it that made the Milltown Outrage and its fallout of such concern to Dubliners? In 1861, Dublin’s middle-class community was enthusiastically expanding into the red-brick South Dublin suburbs of Ranelagh, Rathgar and Rathmines. But not all of the new arrivals had private carriages. Safe transportation for women living in these areas, particularly at night, was a must. But the only alternative to the cab was the Rathgar omnibus, which had already fallen into the Grand Canal at Portobello in April of the same year, resulting in the loss of a number of lives.

A further spark to the fire: Ranelagh, Rathgar and Rathmines were Protestant areas, and Miss Jolly herself was a Protestant. It may not have escaped the notice of older Dubliners that the Bloody Fields, where the attack occurred, was exactly where citizens of Anglo-Norman Dublin had been massacred by a contingent of Wicklow Gaels in 1209. No one would have wanted the attack on Miss Jolly polarised in similar terms, but as long as the perpetrator remained at large, there was always the risk that it might be characterised as sectarian.

For a trial that prompted so much newspaper coverage both in Ireland and abroad – in London, one man was charged with attacking his wife due to a difference between them as to Curran’s guilt – it is amazing that the Milltown Outrage has now been wholly forgotten.

See below a further video detailing the events at the trial and subsequently. I hope you enjoy!

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