Father of the Munster Bar Falls Prey to Thieves while Holidaying in London, 1865

The start of the legal Long Vacation in August marked – and continues to mark – the annual abandonment of the Four Courts and the flight of its inhabitants further afield.

But, try as holidaying lawyers might to escape, sometimes Justice draws them inexorably back.

Such was the case with the 78- year-old Father of the Munster Bar George Blake Hickson SC, whose 1865 vacation jaunt to London culminated in unanticipated testimony at the famed Bailey and Middlesex Sessions.

From the Belfast Newsletter 8 September 1865:


At the Middlesex Sessions on Tuesday, Thos. Seale, 19, John Kerrick, 18, Henry Williams, 15, and John Williams, 19 were indicted for stealing a gold watch worth £25, the property of George Blake Hickson.

Mr. Blake Hickson was called, and said –

‘I live at Summer Hill, Dublin, and am a barrister and Queen’s counsel.  On Sunday the 6th of August last, I was going to the pier at the bottom of Essex Steet, a few minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon.  When I came to the stop of the steps going down to the pier, I saw two young men, well dressed, one standing on the second step and the other at the top, apparently playing with capes in their hands.  The one on the second step I identify as John Williams.  John Williams stepped aside, and immediately in front of me.  I said “I beg your pardon.  I want to go down.”  At that moment I got a blow from behind on the left temple, and at the same time I felt both my arms pressed close and tightly by my side, as if I were held by several persons.  One of them laid hold of my watch, which was in my left fob, and tore the watch and chain away.  The man who seized my watch ran down the steps and called out ‘Booty’ The men who were holding my arms disengaged me, and I at once ran after the man who had called out, and, as I was gaining upon him, I lifted up my stick (produced) and intended to strike him, when I was tripped up from behind and thrown forward down the steps.  As soon as I recovered, I followed him.  He turned short to the right at the foot of the steps into a lane, and I lost him.  The chain was dropped just as he turned.  I got up the steps again, but the persons were all gone.  The watch was worth £25.’

Essex Street, London, where Mr Hickson met with his misadventure. Image via Wikipedia.

George Franks, a little errand-boy, who witnessed the transaction, corroborated the prosecutor’s evidence, and also identified the prisoners.

This witness was cross-examined at considerable length by the different counsel for the prisoners, but nothing material was elicited.

Edward Collins, pier master at the Temple Street Steamboat Pier, proved that the prisoners were together immediately before the robbery.

William Ackrell, Police-Sergeant 15F, was called, and in reply to questions by Mr. Montagu Williams, he said he had only known the boy Franks since these persons had been taken into custody.  He came to the station, and gave a description of the men who, he said, had stolen the prosecutor’s watch.

Mr. Warton, on the part of Kerrick, said that the police were exercising a most unconstitutional power – a power which was rapidly growing up, and this country was threatened with becoming one of the most police-ridden countries in the world.  He commented on the fact the Serjeant Ackrell was not called on the part of the prosecution and said significantly that they might see men in that court with stripes upon their arms who, only a few years ago, were in the lowest call of policemen.  But (said the learned counsel) how did they obtain those stripes?  Why, by getting a number of convictions, and those convictions were obtained by employing little boys to get up cases and to give evidence in their favour.

The Deputy Assistant Judge (Serjeant Dowling) interposed, and said indignantly – ‘I must say, Sir, that you have no right to make these wholesale charges, or to hurl your anathemas indiscriminately on a most respectable body of men.  You have no right whatever to say that they are in the habit of employing persons to get up evidence, or to infer that they suborn them to commit perjury, for if they did so they would be the greatest miscreants that ever diseased society.  You have no right, I saw, to hurl your anathemas in this way, for if they were true this country would then be the most degraded the world has ever seen.’ (Suppressed applause in court)

Mr. Warton – It is well known.

The Deputy Assistant Judge – I say it is not true, and it is not well known.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty against Beale, Kerrick and John Williams. Henry Williams not guilty.”

Whatever about mistreatment by the police, Beale, Kerrick & Co appear to have been somewhat meanly disparaged by the Newsletter’s headline. Garrotting, strictly speaking, refers to the killing of someone by strangulation, especially with a length of wire. No such act was referenced in the evidence.

Had an attempt been made to carry out such an attack, the perpetrators might have got more than they bargained for. Mr Hickson, from Tralee, was the son of Lieutenant Robert Hickson, famously known for his one and only duel in a candlelit Dublin gaming-room of 1783. The opposing party, an experienced duellist, fell victim to Hickson’s beginner’s luck when the latter’s sword pierced his heart and killed him in a few minutes. Clearly the Hickson family were not to be underestimated in combat!

A report in a Kerry newspaper of an opinion given by Hickson in a nuisance abatement case, via British Newspaper Archive. From the days when barrister’s opinions were shared publicly!

George Blake Hickson lived to the age of 82, dying at 78 Lower Leeson Street in 1869. There were to be no more duels in the family, but legal sparring continued into the next generation – George’s only son William went on to become a County Court judge. The story of his father’s memorable holiday in London in 1865 survives as a warning to all would-be barrister tourists to take care when holidaying abroad!

Top Image Credit: Wikipedia

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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