Carson Cross-Examines in Waterford, 1880

Later to become one of the most famous cross-examiners of all time thanks to his performance in the Oscar Wilde libel actionSir Edward Carson cut his legal teeth in local courts in Waterford, Ireland. A considerable number of his clients were women plaintiffs – read about one of their cases below.

From the Waterford Standard, 26 June 1880:



This was an action to recover certain articles of jewellery valued for about £14 –

Mr Carson BL, instructed by Mr Delandre, for plaintiff; Mr Thornton for defendant.

Mr Carson, B.L., in stating the case, said that it was one brought by Miss Mary Feehan, a lady carrying on a very prosperous business in this city, against one Terence Hanan, to recover possession of certain articles of jewellery. 

He regretted to say that the case was not altogether favourable to the gallantry of the young men of Waterford, although during his experience of them he never found them anything but attentive to the gentler sex (laughter).  His client, a young lady of great respectability, was obliged to come into court to recover possession of certain articles of jewellery which were retained by Terence Hanan of the value of about £14.  Although they might not be of any great value to any person else, they were, nevertheless, of the utmost value to her, because they were heirlooms of her family, and bearing the crest of its members.  It was but natural, then that they should be highly prized by her. 

It appeared that a couple of years ago this young lady, being in want of a clerk or manager to assist her in the conduct of her business, engaged the defendant, who came from London, for the purpose.  Therefore, anything he had to say against him would not be derogatory to Irishmen (laughter).  Although a servant in her employment, she was very kind to him, and on one occasion during his illness displayed unmistakeable symptoms of her anxiety for his welfare.  An attachment sprung up between them which it was thought would culminate in a happy alliance. But the same relations did not exist between Terence and Maryanne – the feeling was not reciprocated (laughter) – Terence got ‘rusty’ in fact (renewed laughter).

 The relations between them were such that they led his client to believe that it would be a sacred union.  But it was not so.  She exchanged presents – valuable presents – with him, and when the engagement ceased she expected that he would return those presents which she had made him, as she had returned his.  He would not detain the court further, but would call upon Miss Feehan, who would tell her own story.

Miss Feehan examined by Mr Carson – I believe Miss Feehan you are a merchant in this city?  No – manufacturer (laughter).

When did the defendant enter your employment? In December 1878.

I believe you became very friendly with him?  Well I did (laughter).

And you made him presents? I did.

Presents of jewellery?  Yes, I gave him three diamond shirt studs, two gold collar studs, and one pair of gold sleeve links.

You had those in your possession for some time previous? I bought them.

And the crest of your family was on them, was it not?  Yes.

Did you give him anything else? Yes, some books.

Anything else?  I gave him the jewellery and some books.

Just tell his honor under what circumstances you gave those things.  Was there an engagement of marriage?  There was.

Was it on condition that he was to marry you that you gave those things?  Certainly; I considered we were engaged.

Chairman – When was this? In November 1879.

Mr Carson – How long did this continue? I think up to April – this summer.

Who broke off the engagement?  Well, it was mutual; when I found it was not I asked back the jewellery.

Did he give it?  No, he said he had given the matter into the hands of his solicitors – Dobbyn and Tandy, but I afterwards found out that this was untrue that he had not.

What do you value those goods at? About £10.

Did you buy them? I did.

Cross-examined by Mr Thornton – Now, Miss Feehan, did this gentleman ever proposed marriage to you?

Chairman – I do not think it is necessary to go into that.

Mr Thornton – Well if I do not I don’t know what I am to do.

Chairman – I don’t think you need.

Mr Thornton – It has been made part of the case at the other side, and I think that I am justified in asking the question with all respect to you, sir.

Chairman – Very well.

Mr Thornton – Did he ever propose to you?  He did.

When? On the 17th November 1879.

And when did you give him the jewellery?  Subsquent to this.

Did you not give him a ring? I did.

Chairman – This is the first I heard of the ring.

Plaintiff – I omitted to state that I gave it to him.

And why did you give him this ring on this occasion?  As a token of friendship.

Then you gave him the jewellery?

Chairman – She says so.

Mr Thornton – I believe you were well satisfied with him up to this? I was.

When did you make him the next present?  On the 23rd November.

When did you give him the other things?  I gave him the studs, slieve-links and collar studs.

Did you not buy those things? I did.

Where did you buy them? At Morleys.

Then it is not true that they were heirlooms of the family as Mr Carson stated? (No answer)

Now, Miss Feehan, didn’t you give him those things unconditionally? I did not.

Did you give him them at Christmas? Some time about then.

Didn’t you give them to him as a Christmas gift? I did not.

And when did you ask them back from him? In May.

Now was there any engagement when you gave them to him?  I considered there was.

Chairman – Now, what is the good of all this, Mr Thornton.

Mr Thornton – With great respect, I think there is.

Chairman – Would you want a young lady who considers herself engaged, when making a present to the gentleman, to say ‘Now I give you this on condition that you will marry me, and if you don’t you will have to give it back?

Mr Thornton – Oh no.

Chairman – I don’t know what you did when you were about being married, but –

Mr Thornton – I forget, it was so long ago (laughter).

Mr Delandre – He ought not, for he was married twice (renewed laughter).

Chairman – Well I know that when I was making my wife a present I didn’t say ‘If you don’t marry me you will have to give this back.’

Mr Thornton – I don’t doubt that (laughter).

Chairman – It is absurd to suppose they do (laughter).  Human nature is the same.  There was a great man in Cork who used to say we are all of the same material – human nature.

Mr Thornton – And very bad material it is in some cases (laughter).

Chairman – There is no use in pressing this young lady.  Sure I know how it was done (laughter).

Mr Thornton – I suppose so (laughter).

Chairman – What did he give you, or did he give you anything?

Plaintiff – Yes; he gave me a locket with the name ‘Harriette’ embossed on it.

Did you return it to him? I did; he still retains my gifts to him.

Mr Carson examined defendant, who is endowed with a very rich brogue – Why don’t you return the girl the jewellery?  Well, in the first place they were given to me simply as presents, and I do not think I am legally bound to return them (laughter).

Chairman – I am afraid you are mistaken as to nationality – Mr Carson (great laughter)

Mr Carson – I rather think so, your honor (renewed laughter)

Chairman – What countryman are you? (great laughter).  I am an Irishman (laughter), but I am not a Waterford man.

Chairman – Mr Carson was saying you were from London? (laughter) Lawyers often make mistakes (laughter).

Chairman – But judges never do (laughter).

Mr Carson – Not on legal points (laughter).

Chairman – Well Mr Carson have you anything more to ask this gentleman?

Mr Carson – Oh yes, did you give her any presents? I did not.

And what about the locket? (laughter).  She almost demanded the locket and I had to give it to her (laughter).

But you didn’t demand the jewelery of her? (laughter) I did not; she forced me to take it (laughter)

Chairman – Now mind what you say.  How did she force you?  Had she a revolver in her hand? She had not; but if she had not a revolver she had an ink bottle (great laughter).

Chairman – Remember you are on your oath, and that is nothing to be trifled with.  I do not think you should have allowed this case to come into court at all, much less to try and make light of it.  You made her a present which she returned, and you still retained her presents.

Mr Carson – Do you think it honourable to retain those things? I do.

Chairman – Well I don’t.

Mr Carson – Are you a Lothario? (laughter)? I am not.

Chairman – What is a Lothario, Mr Carson? (great laughter).

Mr Carson – I don’t think I need tell your honor (laughter)

Chairman – I wish you would.

Cross-examined by Mr Thornton – Was there ever an engagement between you?  There never was.

And did you consider those gifts given to you with a view to matrimony?  I did not.

You did not take them conditionally?  I did not.

Were they forced upon you? They were.

Chairman – You need not go into that Mr Thornton, she evidently made the presents believing that this man to whom she made them, was to be her future husband, and it is not a nice thing at all that he should have to be brought into court to compel him to do what any honourable man would do at once.

Mr Thornton – Was there any engagement when she gave you those things?  There was not; I never took the things on condition, or with the understanding that I was to marry her [This concluded the evidence.]

Chairman – What is your defence, Mr Thornton?

Mr Thornton – Why, that the articles were given as presents, unconditionally.

Chairman – Would you have me believe that Miss Feehan did not think there was an engagement at the time those presents were made.

Mr Thornton – She may have, but they were presents all the same.

Chairman – Miss Feehan considered there was an engagement, and made those presents to this man believing that he was to be her husband.  Your client says that there was no engagements, but having heard Mis Feehan to-day swear that she believed there was an engagement, and that it was on the strength of this engagement the presents were made, and doubtless knowing this before, he should have returned the presents, and not have allowed the case to be brought to court, and the feelings of this lady hurt.  I do not think that there is an honourable man in England, Ireland, or Scotland, who under such circumstances, would act as this man has acted, and keep the presents.  He heard Miss Fehan today say that she believed there was an engagement, and yet he allowed the case to be proceeded with, and says many things that he should not say.  I am sorry for the sake of our country that Mr Carson was not right – and that he was a Saxon.  There was really no defence.

Mr Thornton – With all due respect, I think there is.

The Chairman pointed out that there was one great principle of law – that to make a contract binding it required two consenting minds.  Miss Feehan had made those presents believing that Hanan was to be her husband, and she accepted his gift in the same spirit.  Finding what she considered to be an engagement broken off, she at once returns the present he had given her, and asks that he should return those she had given him.  In point of honour and law, he should have given them back, and his honor would therefore give a decree for that amount.

Defendant – I will give them back at once.

Chairman – You should have done so before the case was brought to court.

The defendant said the reason he retained the articles was that plaintiff owed him a large sum of money.

The Chairman said it was very cruel to bring the case into court at all – it was so hurtful to the feelings of the plaintiff.  Defendant might as well have struck her.  Her feelings towards him –

Defendant – But I am not responsible for her feelings.

The Chairman remarked that although not responsible for her feelings, the defendant, or any man, should do nothing to offend the feelings of a woman.  Woman was the weaker, and if she relied upon man, he should in every way consult her feelings and never offend them.

The defendant undertook to return the jewellery.

Mr Carson – And there are some books.

Defendant – I know nothing of them.  She should have made out a list.

Chairman – That is the business – pure business again.  – A couple of trifling cases having been disposed of, the court adjourned.”

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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