The Great Dublin Lodging House Theft, 1847

From the Freeman’s Journal, 29 May 1847:


The following very curious case came to light yesterday and perhaps in the annals of clever rogues, the hero of the present story has been the most successful during his career, which is estimated at about 12 calendar months from the date hereof, and what makes the case more remarkable is, the fact that these very ‘knowing gentry,’ the ‘detective police,’ have been completely at fault during that period. However, it remained for one of the aforesaid detectives to reveal a very strange case indeed, and this man’s name is in excellent keeping with his profession-his name is Hawks – a very appropriate name for a detective. Yet, though he be a Hawk and a detective, he is a very efficient and respectable officer, and deserves much credit for his conduct on the present occasion.

The police, for the last year had received accounts, almost daily, of robberies com- mitted in lodging and other houses throughout the city by a person whose description always accompanied the report, but the fellow always contrived, chameleon-like, to change his colour – the colour of his clothes at least, and the cut of his hair or beard, so as to avoid detection up to the present. He carried on his operations in the following successful manner. Into every respectable house, where he saw a bill with “furnished lodgings” on the window he went, and at once entered into negotiation for taking the spare apartments, stating that he was sent by a gentleman from Trinity College, and that he had authority to engage the lodging for his friend, whom he represented as a man of considerable property, and great respectability.

He generally said- ‘Myself and friend were driving past in our cab yesterday, and we took a great liking to the respectable appearance of your house, and came to the conclusion at once of coming to live here. The situation is very cheerful and the street respectable; all of which we require and we are determined to have the lodging. What is your price by the month?’ And then, of course, a bargain followed, and the airy bedroom and desirable sitting-room, drawing room or parlour, as the case might be, were at once engaged.

There was a good deal of attention paid by him to the culinary department of the house. The teapot must be silver, the spoons of the same metal; the egg cups must be plated at least, and the kitchen utensils could be nothing less than copper highly tinned. In fact, everything should be perfect, and nothing wanting, as his friend of the College was most particular in these matters-the more so as he always paid with a liberality to compensate for all trouble that might be taken.

The fellow had an eye to trade also; for in one place the paper of the bed-room was quite out of fashion, and must be replaced; in another, the sideboard was too antique, and a more fashionable one a should be ordered, as his friend would engage the lodging for twelve months certain; in a third, the fire-irons and fender were quite out of keeping with the rest of the room – it would not cost much to get new ones, and this would render a real service to the proprietor, as the whole would look so genteel, and please his college friend vastly.

So matters went on; the room was newly papered, the sideboard ordered, the fire-irons purchased, and all done to order. The lodgings were to be taken possession of the next day; but when the morrow came it brought not the ‘gentleman from college,’ but, on the contrary, the visitor generally was a policeman called off the beat, in order to recelve a description of a fellow who had engaged apartments the previous day, and who contrived to carry off a gold watch, a lot of silver spoons, a teapot, or any other article that lay convenient at the time of this visit. Nor did the fellow mind trifles-a pair of trousers, a vest, or shirt, was just as lawful a prize as a double-jewelled patent lever repeater. He had a great fancy, too, for silver snuffers and trays, and if a box of surgical instruments lay in his way he made as little scruple of carrying it away as would its owner when going to perform a post-mortem examination and a body at a coroner’s inquest.

At last his tricks became too broad to bear with, and there being about two hundred complaints lodged against him the police resolved to grip him under any circumstances. Hawks got a scent, and after seven weeks hard trail he at last earthed the fox in a house, 11 Moore Street. The prisoner, whose name it appears is David Givvins, was brought before Mr. Tyndall yesterday evening at College Street Police Office, and such a scene as was presented seldom takes place in a police court. Old and young ladies were there, servant maids and little boys came forward to give evidence. The prisoner appeared to be about 24 years of age, with a peculiar knowing cast of countenance, and penetrating eye. His hair long, and combed backward, his whiskers nicely curled, and coming round on his chin, his shirt (a stolen one) collar was turned gracefully down over a black satin scarf, and altogether the fellow looked more like a half exquisite on town, than an accomplished robber.

Out of the innumerable number of charges preferred against him, the following only were brought forward for the present, the first being that of his last exploit, which was performed at the house of Mrs. Campbell, 137, Upper Leeson-street. On the 20th instant, he went to the house, engaged a sitting and bedroom, and while examining the latter in presence of Mrs. Campbell, he stole her gold watch chain, some rings and a locket, which were attached. Of course, the lady did not see him take the articles, but she missed them shortly after he left, and she was certain they were in the room a few minutes before he entered it.

From the 6th of March, up to the 20th of May, he committed the following robberies, all while engaged taking lodgings. From the house of Mrs. Austin, Holles Street, he abstracted a silver table spoon, and two forks of the same material; from Mr. G. Kennedy, of Coburgh Place, a five, a three, and a one pound note, a vest, scarf, and pair of trousers; Mrs. Wallace, of North Earl Street, lost a top-coat and pair of silver snuffers ; Miss Byrne, of King street, was minus a night shirt and pair of boots; Mr. O’Dwyer, of Newcomen Lodge, a pair of black dress trousers, quite new, value 11 shillings; Mr. Walsh, Denzille Street, lost a silver tea pot; Mrs. Ryan, Harcourt Street, a silver spoon; Mrs. Kennedy, Mountpleasant, a silver jug, gilt inside; Mr. Graves, of Queen Square, a box of surgical instruments; Mr. Rooney, Upper Dorset Street, a silver snuffers; and Mr. Clapperton, Middle Abbey Street. a gold chain, a diamond ring, and gold locket.

It appeared that the prisoner generally had a large top-coat with ample pockets inside the skirt, and into these receptacles he stored away every article that he could lay his hands on. When engaging the lodging he would turn back to admire the prospect from the bedroom window, saying he was particularly struck with the beauty of the scene. Of course, he had previously surveyed the apartment and the attendant being thrown off guard he was enabled to conceal any article that came within his grasp. lie was identified by several witnesses, and Mr Tyndall committed him for trial, saying he never in the course of his experience heard of such a case.

The prisoner, it was said, is respectably connected. A gentleman who happened to be in the Office on private business seeing the prisoner-not knowing he was in custody-called a policeman and said: ‘Take that person into charge – he robbed my house about two months since of a large quantity of property.’ The gentleman was informed that the prisoner was in charge already, and the gentleman was very much surprised when he heard the number of complaints preferred against him. Besides the above number of complaints against the prisoner there will be over forty other Indictments sent up at sessions by persons who are able to identify him. It is supposed that he has realised several hundred pounds by his plunder. Lodging-house keepers should be on their guard against similar practitioners; but at present it is supposed that he acted purely on his own account.”

David Givvins’ real name turned out to be Daniel Levins, or Levine, a former ship’s steward and now a so-called tailor. He had previously been a member of the Irish Methodist Church, whose coffers he had also plundered.

History does not record what happened to Mr Levins.

Making exorbitant demands of one’s victims which need to be complied with quickly remains a key tactic of fraudsters today!

Image Credit

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

Leave a Reply