A Wreck in the Hall of the Four Courts, 1884

From the Ulster Echo, 7 February 1884:


DUBLIN, WEDNESDAY. – To-day, outside the Court of Exchequer, a large portion of the ship Clara, which was wrecked off McCammond’s Rock, County Down coast, on which occasion (except one seaman) the captain and crew were lost, was exposed for inspection, having been brought up from Belfast by Messrs Barkley & Co, shipowners, to satisfy the judges as to the soundness of the timbers, this question being raised in Skelton v Barkley, which stands for judgment.  The Lord Chief Baron, Mr Baron Dowse, and Mr Justice Andrews had an opportunity of satisfying their minds on the question of soundness or unsoundness, as the fragments of the wreck were labelled in exhibition order.”

Skelton v Barkley was a case brought by Mary Skelton, widow of Clara’s master, Graham Skelton, of Belfast, claiming damages under Lord Campbell’s Act from Matthew Barkley and others, for having negligently sent to sea the schooner Clara whilst it was in an unseaworthy condition.  The defendants denied unseaworthiness and said that the vessel was lost due to the carelessness and default of Mr Skelton.

The jury found for the defendants, but the Court of Exchequer, after viewing the remnants of the Clara, set aside the verdict as unsatisfactory and directed a new trial. The new trial, however, never took place, as the decision of the Court of Exchequer was reversed on appeal by the Court of Appeal in Ireland, established in 1877 as the final appellate court within Ireland. There was no attempt by Mrs Skelton to appeal to the House of Lords.

The wreck of the Clara was just one of many unexpected items of real evidence to turn up in the Four Courts over the years, including, in 1906, an elephant.  Read about it here.

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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