From the Freeman’s Journal, 10 May 1837:
“DUBLIN POLICE COURT, COLLEGE-STREET
A coal porter of the name of Fogarty was brought before the magistrates, charged by a little boy of about six years of age, with having robbed him of a pound note minutes before.
The little boy being previously cautioned as to the nature and liability of a false oath, was sworn. He deposed that, having been sent in by his mother from the Black-rock to receive some money due to her for washing, he called at Carew’s, 95 Lower Mount-street, and obtained one pound. Being aware of the difficulty found in procuring change in the country, he called at some shops to get change. On going through Townsend-street for that purpose, the prisoner snapped the note which he was holding in hand from him, and ran off. He pursued him, but the coal porter evaded him through the lanes which abound in that neighbourhood. He then told the circumstances at the quay police station.
The policeman who apprehended the prisoner stated that he found him in company with several other coal porters, drinking in a public house. The little boy at once pointed him out.
The prisoner said the occurrence took place in Brunswick Street, corner of Westland-row, and the boy found the note in the street and picked it up. A carman then snapped it from him and ran away – he happened accidentally to be running past, and the boy fastened on him, though he was as innocent as a child.
The magistrates took the information and committed the prisoner for trial.”
At common law, a child even as young as six years old was competent to give evidence if capable of understanding the nature and consequence of an oath. Technically speaking, if so competent, they could also exercise the common law right of private prosecution. That said, the idea of a child of that age actually doing so appears incredible.
Indeed, what appears nearly as incredible is the idea of a six-year-old child travelling in from what was described as ‘the country’ village of Blackrock to collect a very substantial sum of money for his mother. Could a child so young even walk that far on foot? Just about, but still…
On closer examination, two facts come to light which make this story more believable. Firstly, the Blackrock to Dublin railway had opened a few years previously. 95 Lower Mount Street was a mere hop, skip and jump from Westland Row Station.
Secondly, the occupier of 95 Lower Mount Street, from whom our unnamed hero had collected his mother’s washerwoman earnings, was a solicitor, Mr Lynn Carew. One suspects that he may – perhaps out of guilt at entrusting such a large sum to a six-year-old – have been the instigator behind the prosecution. Mr Carew and his family continued to live in Lower Mount Street until his death in the 1870s.
We do not know what happened to the young prosecutor. Is it too much to imagine a future legal career? Feel like following his journey from Westland Row to Lower Mount Street and back again? You can zoom into the mid-19th century Dublin streetscape here.
More on the history – and current status – of private prosecutions in Ireland here.