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 Courthouse, which is now the Deighton Hall, a crowd of highly
interested townspeople, for the trial which opened that day was that of
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
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
‘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%
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.
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
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
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
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
Ever 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
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
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.
Finn’s Journal (April 4, 1801) the culprits came in gangs:
"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
“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
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
“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
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
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 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
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:
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
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
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’
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.
Unexplained Mysteries & Media Storehouse
Article Source: Seamus Breathnach’s Irish-criminology.com
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