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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


County Carlow

The Trial of Arthur Wallace

By John Rea 1800

This account by Bernard O'Neill (Carloviana, 1949)


Tuesday, August 5th 1800 was no ordinary day in Carlow. According to Bernard O’Neill (Carloviana, 1949),

Deighton Hall. CarlowThe Assizes were on, bringing to the town the usual influx of Judges, Grand Jury, Cavalry, Litigants, and to the Courthouse, which is now the Deighton Hall, a crowd of highly interested townspeople, for the trial which opened that day was that of a fellow-townsman.

At least one book, The Trial of Arthur Wallace commemorated the day’s events and recalled how Arthur Wallace was charged committing forgeries upon Carlow’s Post Office. Understandably, perhaps, there is little or no mention made of Arthur Wallace’s execution. This unfortunate lacuna was due – in part at least – to the fact that, at the time, the press in most capital cases said little or nothing of the execution that followed. Furthermore, while everyone could not afford time-off to watch a prolonged trial, people could witness for themselves all there was to be seen of an execution. Indeed, coach loads of visitors from outside the county were known, occasionally, to attend ‘big hangings’.

Apart, therefore, from the judge-of-trial’s solemn pronouncement of the death sentence and a few lines in the local newspaper mentioning the culprit’s final departure, little by way of commentary or social-analysis followed the nineteenth-century execution. And the eighteenth- century execution was even more dismissive! In the case of Arthur Wallace, people from far and near gathered in Barrack Street, Carlow, to witness the gruesome event for themselves.

Ever since the mid-eighteenth century the execution of a man after sentence took place with indecent haste. Under the Murder Act (1752) convicted murderers were to be hanged within 48 hours of conviction. And the only thing that prolonged this very short stay of execution in which an appeal might lie, further evidence might be revealed, or the defendant might get his worldly affairs in order, was the fact that if the execution-date fell on a Sunday, the execution was put back to the following Monday. The same act also made provision for the dissection of persons so executed, their bodies to be sent to surgery for dissection (anatomised).

There were several reasons why executions might not be reported in any great detail. Even though they were common, they were sometimes spectacular and people sometimes came in droves from far away to witness them. In so doing, they hardly needed to have the event described to them again on a newspaper. Apart from the fact that public executions were plentiful, print was at a premium, spontaneity of action rather than of reflection was the order of the day, and death had a finality that even defied the Christian insistence to the contrary. Additionally, there was always the ingredient of ‘good taste’, which prevented the newspapers, with some exceptions, from indulging in anything beyond a factual description of an execution, especially where female executions were concerned.

Nevertheless, some anecdotal evidence exists in Arthur Wallace’s case to suggest that he made a last-ditch effort to get free of his captors. According to Bernard O’Neill he used some unknown ‘contrivance of his own invention’ to escape. In the absence of a better account, one suspects that he suffered an injury while trying to escape – which is why, perhaps, he had to be conveyed to the scaffold in Barrack Street in a sedan chair, where on Augumanner.

A Popular Post Master

So, who was Arthur Wallace?

Arthur Wallace was a small inoffensive, civil, colourful and popular man about town. Born and educated in county Mayo, he lived with his wife and family in Carlow, where as a journeyman, he served his time to Mr Reed, the Carlow Apothecary. In time, Arthur Wallace succeeded his master. His ‘apprenticeship’, it might be recalled, was not altogether without incident; Mr Reed claimed that he (Wallace) had been dishonest in his dealings. Wallace was outraged and suitably retaliated by suing Reed for defaming his character. The defamation-action failed, thereby putting Wallace to considerable expense. Notwithstanding his losses, however, it was thought that he emerged unscathed: his name remained intact, and the action served more to reinforce his personal prestige, than diminish it. Indeed, Arthur Wallace never looked back. Through his industry, charm, and forthright attitude, he came to enjoy the confidence of a large and influential coterie of friends, He came to be described affectionately as a ‘man‘ of great address’.

Some, of course, thought that Arthur Wallace’s popularity was attributable as much to his enviable wealth and generosity as it had been to his winning charm and character. Several accounts were given to prove that he had accumulated his wealth long before he ever entered the service of the Post Office. Accoaffluent circumstances.

 ‘I knew him in January, 1798 to lend a gentleman £550 before he got the Post Office; it was Captain Loftus of the 9th dragoons.’

According to the eminent historian and lawyer, Jonah Barrington, (famous for his Personal Sketches), Wallace was earning £700 to £900 a year as an apothecary. Barrington, who was friend to Wallace for some nine years prior to his trial, testified that he became Wallace’s confidante in financial matters. From this vantage point he said he knew him ‘to be a romantic’. By this he meant that Wallace’s first marriage to Ms Byrne, a local girl, had been for love. He described it as a ‘a runaway affair’. This description also had another meaning. In a rakish age characterised by the Chaugraun, Tom Jones, Moll Flanders, Don Giovanni, widespread Abductions, incorrigible Bucks, Fops and Dandies, not to mention the Bucks of the Hell’s Fire Club – marrying for love meant marrying without a dowry – a circumstance which was almost unthinkable amongst gentlemen, Protestant or Catholic. And even in Arthur Wallace’s case the spontaneity of romance was soon tempered with considerations of ‘geld’; for, shortly after their wedding, we learn that the gallant received an undisclosed fortune from the Byrnes, his parents-in-law. According to Barrington – who obviously knew about these things -- Wallace’s second marriage was more ‘regular’ in that his betrothed came to him with a dowry of £500 up front.

Further testimony of his ‘financial’ status came from Mr. Samuel Boileau, a Dublin wholesaler and druggist. Boileau testified that Arthur Wallace’s account with him was worth £500 per annum. He added, speculatively -- ‘an apothecary makes more than 50% profit.’

Apart from his charm and energy, Wallace was also an astute businessman, ever with an eye to turning a shilling. And with this in mind, he made the acquaintance of Mrs. Lydia Wall, Carlow’s Post-Mistress. She happened at the time to be on the look-out for an assistant. Wallace, so the story goes, ‘had a way with him.’ He managed to convince the Post Mistress that he was her man. Under the arrangements entered into by both parties shortly before the ’98 Rebellion, Mrs. Wall would reserve to her self her Post-Mistress’s salary, while allowing Wallace the ‘incidental profits’ accruing to his service in the Post Office. Within the space of little more than two years, Arthur Wallace was making incidental profits in the amount of £60 per annum while continuing his practice as an Apothecary. He virtually ran the Post Office. In due course he acquired a great expertise in dealing with large sums of money and managed to amass a veritable fortune in the process.

Wallace’s wealth might go some way to explain the unusual number of well-wishers he attracted from both sides of one of the most enduring religious divides in human history. One is even tempted to believe that the commercial classes at the time were less susceptible to expressions of religious animosity, and were, in other words, more inclined than the poorer sections of society to take such sentiments cum grano salis, particularly when the wind blew strongest from soap box and pulpit. But such an analysis does not stand up historically. Indeed, the higher one went in the social structure in nineteenth century Ireland, the more one touched the religious intolerance that rested squarely upon the original convictions which begot the Christian conquest. And it is this that makes one appreciate all the more the abilities of Arthur Wallace to attract to himself respectable members of an Irish bourgeoisie that flourished on both sides of an irreconcilable Christianity. And how they all found a shared space in the Deighton Hall, remcuriosity as does Wallace’s personality.

Testimonials

Some of the opinions and testimonials submitted on Wallace’s behalf were designed to impress the court.

One Dublin Druggist said:

“I have, known the prisoner nine or ten years, and I never knew a more punctual man in all his dealings.”

Edward Duggan swore as follows:

“I know the prisoner, and have known him six years. I never knew a fairer or better character in the whole course of my life.”

More circumspectly Robert Cornwall, Esq., swore:

“I have not known the prisoner but by character until very lately, and when the stamp office of this town became vacant, I procured him the appointment. I never had any reason to think of him but as a man of integrity and honesty until this charge.”

John Alexander swore:

“I know the prisoner eight or nine years; his general character has been always that of an upright, honest, sober, and industrious man.”

Mr. Robert Coots swore:

 “I have had dealings with Mr. Wallace; he has often given me large bank notes for small ones; this was before he got the Post-office. On one occasion he lent me above fifty pounds.”

Mr. Charles Cox swore:

“I know the prisoner nine or ten years; during that period his general character has been very good, as a man of probity and integrity. I would entrust him with half what I possess.”

Despite the weight of all this testimony to wealth and character, it never really touched the matter of the indictment, and it was here that the case lacked any realistic defence. The crux of the matter was that Arthur Wallace found himself facing an indictment for defrauding the mail: -- more specifically -- that on the 1st March, in the 40th year of the King, at Carlow, he feloniously did secrete and embezzle a packet directed to Henry Loftus Tottenham at Ross, which packet was sent by the post.’

The indictment contained a list of thirteen other counts, each charging him with detaining or appropriating promissory notes to overall value of £1,000. And however gentlemanly he may have appeared before the fraud, such testimonials could never constitute a defence. Once the charges were proved, such testimonials amounted to humbug. In the decisive words of a remarkable plod named De Joncourt, the ambivalent nature of the trust in which Wallace was held was made quite clear:

“I have had dealings and intercourse with the prisoner, and until my first suspicion of him arose, I had as good an opinion of him, as a man of honour and integrity, as I had of any other man.”

As soon as Arthur Wallace pleaded Not Guilty to the several charges, the onus fell on the Crown to prove its detailed allegations – none of which would have been possible without the evidence of De Joncourt.

An Important Case

While the case of Arthur Wallace was one of many serious cases, it nevertheless attracted enormous attention. This can be seen from the array of legal talent present. Six counsel on either side, the Attorney General leading for the Crown. The famous lawyer John Philpot Curran, father of Robert Emmet’s sweetheart, Sarah Curran, led the defence. Another luminary in the Deighton Hall was the trial Judge, Lord Kilwarden. (Three years after sentencing Arthur Wallace to death, Lord Kilwarden lost his own life in the Emmet Rising in Dublin.)

There was no doubt about it – and everyone knew it -- the Government wanted a conviction and, if it could be achieved, to make an example of Arthur Wallace. But this deterrent strategy of ‘making an example’ of someone only works – if at all -- when there are few other examples like it. In Arthur Wallace’s day capital sentences were too commonplace for his execution to constitute an ‘example.’ Nevertheless, it was a time of revolution, and the government, to restore faith in Ireland’s capacity to conduct secular and civil business, desperately needed to clamp down on financial crime. Highway robberies and frauds were so common in these times civil government did not seem to be working.

Perhaps it should be recalled that at the end of the Eighteenth century, the routes to and from towns and cities were always vulnerable to attack. Though very small and one time walled, Carlow as conurbation was always open to attack. There was always the Castle and the nexus of lanes and alleyways around it, but progress and demographic growth was particularly slow. In 1800, indeed, Carlow town was a mere crossroads. Or, in the less diplomatic language of one traveller, it consisted (in 1788) of ‘one main street, and another not so large that crosses it in the middle, together with two or three back lanes.’ If we look at Speed’s sketch of Carlow for 1735, we get a good idea of the skeletal background and extent of the urban area of the town. By 1790 Topham Bowden observed the ‘many new buildings’ that were being erected in Carlow. More than anything else it was the security of the public roads that was under constant threat. The Tullow road, for example, was infested with armed banditti, presenting the greatest insecurity to the postman and the official mail (Carloviana, Jan., 1948). And banditti were constantly expected on the main Kilkenny- Carlow-Dublin Road, which featured Milford, Castledermot (and Athy) -- all haunts for periodic mail-and-coach spotters.

The increasing use of banks and Negotiable Instruments -- bank notes, cheques, promissory notes and the like – made wealth all the more mercurial. It also made it easier to appropriate and to convert money to one’s own use. Moreover, with the aid, ease and secrecy of the postal services, it made money easier to conceal, to carry and to transfer. Indeed, money’s new mercurial nature required greater government protection, for if civilised commerce was to be safe-guarded, then it depended quite unmistakably upon the safety of the mail, whether in transit or temporarily housed in the country’s Post Offices.

Highway robber in actionEver since its inception in May 1784 (as a separate Irish institution), the reliability of the Irish Post ran parallel in importance to the King’s peace and the safety of the King’s highway, the security of the open Highway reflecting the trustworthiness of the Post Office’s in-house dealings. Conversely, an unsafe highway was synonymous with an unreliable post: and Carlow’s post office, though small, was nevertheless central in significance to the advancement of civil society in Ireland. It was this civility and the inner security of the mail that Arthur Wallace threatened – hence the importance of his case – not to mention the severity of his sentence. And Carlow, once the seat of government, had long since fallen from such brief central grace and was at times closer to the Marchlands of Laois than it was to the pale it purported to inhabit. There was also the fact that disaffection had been all too evident two years earlier – which is why the Union was enacted in the first place.

The concern of the Legislature was to protect the mail (as it had protected coinage, the highways and other essential public services). Where possible it tried to stop the rising tide of frauds. It was no surprise, then to find that Post Office-frauds were punishable by death. However draconian such deterrent measures seem to us in the twenty first century, perhaps it should be remembered that, while the Post Office was a rather sacrosanct institution in 1800, most other crimes, particularly before the 1830s, also attracted a capital sentence. Offences like stealing a horse, an ass, a cow, even clothes or potatoes, housebreaking, rape and its attempts, robbery and possession of arms, coinage, defenderism, whiteboyism, and highway robberies – all were punishable by hanging.

A High Risk Crime

It is pertinent to ask whether Arthur Wallace, an otherwise sensible man, had been aware of the risks he ran. Certainly there were plenty of reminders as to the seriousness with which the protection of the mails was regarded.

In December 1792, for example, The Hibernian Journal stated that

 “... Two women were condemned to be hanged for robbing the Wicklow mail, and ... two men, father and son, had been executed for feloniously opening a post-letter and taking bills there from.”

Nearer home, in February 1799, Finn’s Journal described how

 “...A troop of Midlothian cavalry arrived at Thomastown for the purpose of protecting the Dublin mails to and from Luke’s well.”

And at the same time as Handel’s Messiah was being celebrated in the Dublin Evening Post (April 10,1800,) a further warning was being sent to embezzlers like Arthur Wallace:

 “At the adjournment of the Quarter Sessions held before the Recorder on Tuesday last, 40 prisoners were tried. The only trial which engrossed the attention of the court was that of Thomas Cravey, who was found guilty, and received sentence of death, for uttering notes of the Bank of Ireland, knowing them to be forged.”

Even as close as Athy, another unfortunate, John McGrath, was tried contemporaneously with Wallace for ‘robbing the Carlow mail coach’. He was similarly sentenced to death the same month. (PPC 1413, document dated 19/08/1801)

Why these other cases, intended as examples (among so many), did not deter Wallace and others like from contemplating the same and similar crimes is a mystery.

According to Finn’s Journal (April 4, 1801) the culprits came in gangs:

Royal Mail coach Bath to London"We hear that two of the numerous banditti who lately robbed the mail coach near Carlow have been taken up somewhere about Athy, in the vary act of attempting to pass some of the notes which they had taken out of the mail. The notes have been positively identified and there can be little doubt that these villains must soon discover the entire gang of their companions.”

So far as the mail was concerned, the death sentence was almost automatic:

“Patrick Horan, for burglary and robbery; John Dempsey, alias Captain Dwyer, for the same and W. Pritchard, Sergeant Major of the Meath Militia, for robbing the mail near Birr, and taking out several bank notes, the property of Messrs Armit and Borough capitally convicted – Sentenced to be executed on the 1st of May”

(Finn’s Leinster Journal, From Saturday 17 to Wednesday April 21, 1802)

Even twenty years later – as generally throughout the nineteenth century – Highway Robbery was still popular. On December 9, 1817 The Carlow ‘Morning Post’ reported of the infestation of robbers on the Carlow-Tullow road, and in a further issue reported:

 “The Tullow road still continues to be infested by armed banditti. The Postman who conveys the mail between Tullow and this town had a very narrow escape on Tuesday night last. His safety and that of the mail may be attributed to the swiftness of his horse. Since the above date the man has been obliged to wait for daylight to ensure the safe delivery from this town to Tullow, Clonegal and Newtownbarry.”

The Trial

Defrauding the mails, however risky, was not an easy type of prosecution to prove. Crown counsel would have to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that Arthur Wallace actually had interfered with the mail and had broken his position of trust by deliberate acts of fraud.

After several ‘peremptory challenges’ on behalf of the Post Master to those who would do jury-service, the Jury was at last sworn. The surnames of the Jury may still resonate in Carlovian ears: these were -- Herring, Budds, Butler, Bennet, Brown, Barker (2), Nicholson, Morton, Nowlan, and Little (2).

It was the Crown’s case that Wallace’s fraudulent activities went indicted because he was in the habit of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. Theoretically speaking, such a scheme could go on forever, if one thought with a certain loose logic and an inordinate amount of mathematical optimism. More particularly, however, Arthur Wallace lifted notes to the tune of £1,000 out of Henry Loftus Tottenham’s package and replaced them with notes, which he in turn appropriated from other packages.

Henry Loftus Tottenham, described as a gentleman holding office under the Crown, lived in New Ross. As officer of the Crown it was customary for him to transmit large sums of money. Accordingly, in February, 1800, he sent a package containing £1,000 from the Bank of Sir Thomas Leighton and Co. Dublin, to his address in New Ross.  The package contained a letter, some old notes and bills. It was duly sent to Mr. Tottenham at New Ross. To get to Ross, however, the package had to pass through Carlow and, because of the difficulties with rights of passage in the county at the time; night travel with the mails was out of the question.  Carlow became the place of rest -- which meant that the mails for Ross, Cork, and Tullow arrived in Carlow at 5 p.m. and departed at 6 a.m. the following morning. The mail was, therefore, in the custody and control of Carlow’s Post Office, which meant, in effect, that it came under the overnight control of Arthur Wallace.

The court had been told much about the lax condition obtaining in the Post Office, especially as it related to the mail runs. It was alleged that money was found on the ground outside as well as behind the Post Office, that the mailbags were strewn on the floor of the office, often in unexamined and un-inspected disarray.

One witness, Patrick Murphy, for example, a ‘letter-carrier’ and witness for the defence recounted the following incident:

“I know Mr. Wallace.  I live in the cellar under the next house to him. In August last, I found a paper on the ground outside his door. It was about twelve o’clock in the day. I brought it to Mrs. Wallace in half a minute after I found it. I handed it to her, and said, my fortune was made. She opened one of the papers; it contained the halves of four ten pound notes. We went into the parlour, Mrs. Wallace, Mrs. Jennings, and myself, and after examining the halves, we could not get any two of them to agree in numbers.

Mr. Wallace was not at home. Mrs. Wallace said, they must have been dropped there by some person who would be uneasy..., and that she would keep them till Mr. Wallace came in. She folded them up like a newspaper, open at the ends, and put them in her pocket.

This was Friday the 25th of April. I remember it; it was the last day of the quarter session. When Mr. Wallace came home I was in the parlour, he asked me how and when I had found them  He told me he would get them advertised; and next day he desired me, when I would go out with letters, to say that such things were found, and in his custody. I carried out letters for him, and whenever I carried letters with money, he always made me bring him an acknowledgment.

I have often been in the house when the mails came in. The Clonegal bag was often brought without a seal, and thrown on the office floor. One day that I saw it tied with a little string, I said there was the devil in the bag, and, on examining it, I found in it a brace of wild fowl, and the letters all (encased?) with the blood.  

The mail guard did not come for the bags above once in a fortnight. The people that cleaned the horses -- or little boys about the stables --used to be sent for them to carry to the mail-coach hotel Wallace employed me to arrange them.” When suspicion first fell on Arthur Wallace, the most immediate question centred on figuring out how he did the fraud. How could he interfere with the mail, which was in transit? When could he physically manage it? And where and how did he dispose of the booty? In a word, what evidence was there against him to support the charges made?

Apparently, Wallace found a packet with the signature of one Mr Tottenham. It so happened that amongst his other talents Arthur Wallace was an ‘ingenious penman,’ such that, according to Crown counsel, he could now forge Tottenham’s signature with consummate conviction. By forging the signature of Tottenham, Wallace was able to cash some monies and redistribute other monies, by using other accounts if needs be. In this way, some bills that required to be kept in circulation were, and new accounts were used to supplement the short fall in the older ones.

In many respects Wallace was playing banker and, like all banks, he managed everyone’s affairs on the basis and in the knowledge that on no given day would everyone demand their assets in cash. At least that was the theory -- but theory is one thing, customary human behavior another. Eventually some notes that were drawn in Tottenham’s name were presented for payment at Leighton’s Bank, only to be dishonoured. This signalled a crisis that required a preliminary investigation, which in turn revealed that Tottenham never received the package addressed to him. This sounded the bank’s security bells and threw the whole postal service into paroxysms of doubt. Something special was called for.

A Detective and a Gentleman

To clear up the mess Mr. De Joncourt entered the frame. De Joncourt was regarded as a man ‘of considerable sagacity’, a ‘gentleman of considerable trust in the Department of the General Post Office.’ De Joncourt was no ordinary detective. On the contrary, he was specialised in the sole business of protecting the mails from all the considerable frauds to which the service had since its inception become exposed. And a more active sleuth or a more useful officer his Majesty never possessed.

It was he who initially copped on to the fact that the Tottenham signatures on Smith’s bills were forgeries. Thereafter several other of the ’Tottenham notes’ in circulation were found. The evidence pointed in Wallace’s direction.

These initial suspicions bore fruit and eventually, De Joncourt got himself into such a confident position that he had a warrant issued for Wallace’s arrest. This was a bold move, for De Joncourt knew that, while he could give evidence about how Wallace was defrauding the Post Office and its subscribers that evidence would not of itself carry the prosecution to a secure conviction. Further evidence would be necessary.

Before leaping to have an arrest-warrant issued, therefore, he advised the Crown prosecutors to hold back until he set a trap for Wallace. Of course it wasn’t at that time called a ‘trap’. Even in 1800 the rules of evidence could be pernickety, and provoking or inducing Wallace to do something that he might not ordinarily do, would still amount to the shenanigans of an Agent Provocateur , and that meant he would run the unlikely risk of rendering vital evidence inadmissible – or, worse – having the whole case thrown out of court. No; De Joncourt wasn’t interested in setting a ‘trap’, but he was most particular to carry out what he otherwise called it -- “a full and fair experiment” aimed at proving Wallace’s guilt or innocence.

In this police-like vein, and with the assistance of Mr Waddy, Solicitor to the Post Office, De Joncourt arranged to have some easily identifiable letters containing marked bills to be written and submitted for posting in Carlow. They were no sooner posted than an inside man, Waddy’s clerk, observed Arthur Wallace lift up the cover of the receiver-mail bag and take these letters, amongst others, into his sorting office.

The following morning De Joncourt stopped and examined the mail at Castle Dermot. He confirmed that a note enclosed and directed to a Mr O’Rigney had been removed and replaced by one of Mr. Tottenham's securities. It was this additional proof pointing to Wallace’s guilt that sent De Joncourt in search of Major Swan. Suitably armed with a warrant Major Swan and his men surrounded Wallace’s house. Wallace was arrested and searched.

But he only possessed a guinea note. They asked him if be had any more money. He declared ‘upon his honour’ that he had none. Major W. B. Swann – a doubting Thomas of the old school of doubters – wasn’t having any of Wallace’s gentlemanly charm. As he himself testified:

 “I made him take off his shoes. I opened his waistcoat and found a red waistcoat under his outside waistcoat, and in a pocket in it, some little packets. I opened one of the packets and found in it some banknotes.”

The half notes found tallied with the markings ascribed to them by De Joncourt. And in Wallace’s pocketbook was found the same note that was taken out of the letter to O’Rigney and put into the office the evening before by Mr Waddy’s clerk.

Details of all the notes were given in the report of the trial. In effect there was little or no defence and the Jury saw through the testimonials. It took them only twenty-five minutes to find Arthur Wallace guilty.

Note: An account of the trial of Arthur Wallace was published by John Rea, 57 Exchequer Street, Dublin, in the year 1800, and thanks to Mr Thomas King, Carlow Librarian, Tullow Street, Carlow, a photocopy of it was provided freely to the author. Herein also by kind permission of Mr King is a copy of the inner page of the trial.

***

Arthur Wallace

Tuesday, August 5th 1800 was no ordinary day in Carlow. According to Bernard O’Neill (Carloviana, 1949),

The Assizes were on, bringing to the town the usual influx of Judges, Grand Jury, Cavalry, Litigants -- and to the Court house, which is now the Deighton Hall -- a crowd of highly interested towns people, for the trial which opened that day...

At least one book -- The Trial of Arthur Wallace -- commemorated the day’s events and recalled how Arthur Wallace was charged with committing forgeries upon Carlow’s Post Office. Understandably, perhaps, there is little or no mention made of Arthur Wallace’s subsequent execution. This unfortunate lacuna was due -- in part at least – to the fact that, at the time, the press in most capital cases focused mainly upon trial procedures, and, except in the more unusual cases, said little or nothing of the execution that followed. Furthermore, while everyone could not afford time off to watch a prolonged trial, people could witness for themselves all there was to be seen of an execution. Apart, therefore, from the Judge-of-Trial’s solemn pronouncement of the death sentence and, perhaps, a few lines mentioning the execution on the local newspaper, little by way of commentary or analysis followed the nineteenth-century execution. And the eighteenth-century execution was even more dismissive!

Another aspect contributing to the lack of analysis of executions was the indecent haste with which the mid-eighteenth century executions followed upon conviction. Under the Murder Act (1752) convicted murderers were mandatorily hanged within 48 hours of conviction. And the only thing that prolonged this very short stay of execution in which an appeal might lie, or further evidence might be revealed, was the fact that it fell on a Sunday -- in which case the execution was put back a day to the following Monday. The same act also made provision for the dissection of persons so executed; their bodies to be sent to surgery where they would be ‘anatomised’ (dissected).

Despite the absence of any recoverable written account of Arthur Wallace’s execution, some anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that he made a last-ditch effort to get free of his captors. According to Bernard O’Neill he used some unknown ‘contrivance of his own invention’ to escape. In the absence of a better account, one suspects that he suffered an injury while trying to escape – which is why he had to be conveyed to the scaffold in Barrack Street in a sedan chair, where on August 16 1800 he bade farewell to his remaining friends and departed dignified a manner as was within his power so to do.

Images source: Unexplained Mysteries & Media Storehouse

Article Source: Seamus Breathnach’s Irish-criminology.com


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