Jephson v Brenon, 1909, Pt 3: The Evidence of Edward St. John Brenon

Rome, as it was in the 1860s, when Boyce and Brenon first travelled there together. Watercolour by I Martin, via Meisterdrucke.

From various Irish and English newspaper reports of 26-30 June 1909, including but not confined to the Daily Mirror, the Dublin Daily Express and the Northern Whig, Part 3 of the saga of Jephson v Brenon, edited and abridged (links here to Part 1 and Part 2):

“As part of his case that a deed executed in 1875 by John Boyce, now a lunatic, transferring his property to Edward St John Brenon should be set aside, Sam Brown KC, appearing, with Tim Healy KC, for Boyce’s committee, called a number of witnesses to establish Boyce’s eccentricity.

They included Boyce’s brother-in-law, CS Finch, who gave evidence that Boyce had never smoked, but used to carry a cigar with the end painted red in his hand and never drank anything but ginger beer.

Mr. Brown also called Fanny Croker, daughter of Major Croker, of Lawrenny Castle, who against her father’s wish had gone out walking with Boyce when she was a girl.  Miss Croker described him as much below other men in his ability to express himself.  They thought him a very queer specimen.

‘Not a young man that a young girl would admire’ suggested Mr. Brown.

Certainly not! replied Miss Croker.  She explained that it was just after the Crimean War, and she was just back from school at the time.

The defence case then commenced.  Mr Longworth KC, counsel for Brenon, provided an initial narrative of the career of his client, who had met Boyce as a child, lived with him in London, Naples and Rome as a young man, but who had been the victim of persecution and sinister rumours from other members of the Boyce family.

According to Mr. Longworth, Boyce believed that Brenon, ‘a man of remarkable promise at the time,’ showed capacity for becoming one of the great men in English history.   Boyce, beginning to get a little disappointed with his own ambitions, became taken up with the idea that he should take a great part in the shaping of Brenon’s character.  He also wanted to secure Brenon’s lasting friendship. During the year 1873 Boyce made a proposal to put practically all he had in Brenon’s possession, saying to Brenon, ‘I want you to have these lands.  I know you will always keep me well supplied,’ the entire conversation being based on the idea that eventually, at some later date, he would come in for other property in case anything went wrong. It was so, and not as a result of any undue influence from Brenon, that Boyce stripped himself of all his property.

Examined by Mr Longworth, Brenon said he had been the principal boy soloist in the Chapel Royal, Dublin.  He first met Boyce when he was about twelve years of age at the Dargle.  He remembered the occasion, because he sang for him the song ‘Faithless Emma’ which he had often sung afterwards at the Catch Club.  From 1861 to 1865 Brenon played the organ and gave piano lessons, his last pupil being Lord Farnham.  He left Dublin for London in 1865. He had saved up some money, and intended to go to the English Bar, but he went to Italy with Boyce.  There were other reasons why he did not go to the Bar.

Mr. Longworth: Is there any truth in the assertion that you enticed Boyce to Rome – Not an atom.

At that time was Boyce a person of sound mind? Very.

You knew he was a painter? Yes, he studied with Brocas in Dublin.

Was he capable of understanding business? Thoroughly

Was he capable of understanding business – Thoroughly.

Was he capable of acting on his own initiative? Certainly, and did.

Brenon went on to state that in 1867 he began his political work in England, and contested Gloucester as a Conservative in 1868.  In 1867 he wrote a book of poems ‘Ambrosia Amoris.’  He had previously published ‘Bianca, the Flower girl of Bologna.’  While in Rome he and Boyce had become constant companions and steadfast friends.

Mr. Longworth ‘Had you a conversation with Jack Boyce about your future? Many.

Was he anxious as far as possible to help you? Yes. He knew I was ambitious to stand for parliament, and I had to have some influential means to do so. 

Witness was married in Kill of the Grange Church, Carrickmines, in October 1868.  He and his wife returned to Rome to live in the same house as Boyce.

Mr. Longworth – During your stay in Rome was there anything about a duel?  I sent my seconds to a man called Daniel.

Master of the Rolls: Did you kill him, or did he kill you? They did not let me have a chance of killing him.

Mr. Longworth? Was the duel broken off? Mr. Daniel did not come in to meet me but had me arrested – the old game.

The Master of the Rolls – You were arrested?  It was merely a formal arrest to stop the duel. 

Witness produced an Italian newspaper.

The Master of the Rolls said he did not want to see it.

Witness – It was that that attracted Boyce.  Everyone was talking about it in Rome.

According to Brenon, the Boyce family had colored his antecedents with falsehoods of the grossest kind in order to bury him in contempt in Rome and everywhere else they could.  He had only discovered that Boyce could not spell in 1863.  Whenever Boyce went to write a letter, he shut himself in a room and studied there for hours with books and a dictionary, working very hard.  He constantly asked Brenon how to spell so and so, and Brenon told him whenever he was in trouble to ask him.

Mr. Longworth? From 1868 you began to assist him in spelling.  Yes.  He read well.  That was the extraordinary thing.

Did he submit drafts of letters to you for you to correct the spelling? Generally.

What was the character of Boyce in Rome?   He was a man liked by everybody.  He was a bright conversationalist, satirical, witty in his own dry way, a constant worker at his studies morning and night.  He was a popular man; everybody liked Jack Boyce.  He used to dress himself out in his best to promenade on the hill. He never missed the promenade at four o’clock. He was well known by all the artists.  Every night he used to be in the British Academy of Arts.

Describing the house Boyce resided in from 1882 until 1907, Brenon said it was in the most aristocratic quarter in Naples, with one of the greatest nobles in Naples occupying the first floor, the the second floor also occupied by a noble and the third floor by a captain in the army.  The rooms where Boyce lived, and where Brenon and his family also lived with him for a time, the so-called garret, was opposite the rooms of a famous painter.

Brenon went on to state that he and his family had left Naples in 1873, around the time that he received a transfer of 9,647 pounds from Boyce and also around the time Boyce made a will in his favor.

He went back to Naples in September 1875 and again resided in a room in the same house as Boyce and was there when the deed was executed by Boyce transferring Brenon the remainder of his property.  There was always an honourable understanding between him and Boyce.  It might not be appreciated by a court of law.

Brenon was then brought through his newspaper career.  He had been for a time a leader writer on the Irish Times and entered into politics in Ireland where he had unsuccessfully stood as a candidate for Tipperary under Isaac Butt.  He then became an intimate friend of Parnell, who, in a letter written by Tim Healy KC, (now, coincidentally, the second KC for Boyce’s committee in the case) had offered him any constituency he liked.  When Mr. Healy speedily intervened to say he had prevented Mr. Parnell from having anything to do with witness (laughter), Brenon responded that the letter did not show that.

Brenon further gave evidence as to his supply of money to Mr. Boyce, and said the latter asked him for 5 pounds a month, but often asked for more, and Brenon sent more when it was asked for.  Since the death of his wife in 1904, Brenon had been absolutely a dying man, with moments of revival like the present; it depended on the atmosphere.  There was no truth in the allegation that he had tried to keep Boyce’s family in ignorance of the deed.  It had nothing to do with him.  It was a spontaneous matter by Boyce.  At all times that he knew Boyce the latter was of sound mind, memory and understanding.

 Mr. Healy began his cross examination of Brenon by pointing out that his evidence that he was in Naples at the time of the execution of the deed by Boyce conflicted with an earlier affidavit sworn by him saying he was residing in London at the time.  Brenon explained this as a lapse of memory.

Mr. Healy then passed on to another branch of the case, and read letters from Boyce to Brenon, complaining about the worn-out state of his clothes, and asking to have a pair of trousers sent to him, drawing attention to Boyce’s lack of ability to spell ‘trouser’ and his writing of ‘British’ for ‘breeches’ and ‘hegionously’ for ‘hideously.’ 

Brenon – There are men know neither how to read or write, and who are millionaires.

The Master of the Rolls – With regard to this matter of spelling, I don’t think that the spelling, which is of the most extraordinary kind, can possibly help either one side or the other in the case.  I have formed a very decided opinion that Mr. Boyce was the worst speller in the world, but I have also formed the opinion that when you read the letters, or most of them, aloud, his composition is not so bad…”

What would the final opinion of the Master of the Rolls be on the extraordinary case of Jephson v Brenon? What happened in the end?

Find out in Part 4 here.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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