Posted in Posts and podcasts

A Vagrant – 1849

The Prophet Jonah Sistine Chapel (1471-1484) Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564)
The Prophet Jonah Sistine Chapel (1471-1484)
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564)



A VAGRANT (abridged)

An ingenious defence was made in a case tried at Galway at the present assizes.   M. Connelly was placed at the bar and arraigned, the grand jury having presented him as a vagrant.   The evidence adduced against him clearly proved that he was a notorious bad character.  He had no settled place of residence, was constantly brought before the magistrate at petty sessions on charges of sheep-stealing and killing sheep; he has publicly sold in markets legs of mutton at 6d each, and was committed for trial both at quarter sessions and assizes; but so ingeniously did he continue to commit these offences that evidence could not be adduced legally to convict him.  That he was a public nuisance was proved by four gentlemen, two of whom were magistrates, namely, J.B. Kernan, R.M., and  – Jopdell Esq., before whom the prisoner had been frequently brought, and upon the corpulent appearance of the second named gentleman the prisoner made part of his defence.  

The case for the prosecution having closed, and the prisoner being called on for his defence, made a few observations in Irish, which Mr. W. Bourke stated he would, for the information of the court, translate, the statement of the prisoner being both ingenious and poetic.  Baron Lefroy expressed his thanks to Mr Bourke.

Whale, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Photo: Whit Welles Wikimedia Commons
Whale, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Photo: Whit Welles
Wikimedia Commons

Mr Bourke said, “my lord, the prisoner submits that all the evidence given on the part of the prosecution must be construed in his favour, and that the fact of his being so often tried, and on no occasion convicted, clearly shows he must be an honest man -(laughter).

For the same reason, my lord, as the prisoner states, that the more frequently gold is molten in the furnace and tried for its genuine character the purer it becomes” (loud and continued laughter, in which Baron Lefroy heartily joined).

“He further submits, my lord, that his case is analagous to that of Jonas in the whale’s belly (laughter). When Jonas escaped from the belly of the whale he went forth an untainted character.  The prisoner insists he should be considered a Jonas as he escaped from the clutches of Mr. Lopdell, who is very like a whale, and who sought to devour him” (loud laughter).

He further, my lord, insists that the fact of his having meat frequently in his possession, and having gone about the country selling legs of mutton, demonstratively proves his innocence, for that it is merely evidence to show he is a man of industrious habits prosecuting his trade as a butches (loud laughter).

He submits, my lord, to go into the dock and stand his trial for sheep stealing or any other offence that may be brought against him; but he denies the existence of a power in the jury to find him guilty as a vagrant, the whole weight of the evidence, in his opinion, going to prove that he is an honest man (loud laughter).

The Lady Penrhyn convict transport ship Gooreen collection Wikimedia Commons
The Lady Penrhyn convict transport ship
Gooreen collection
Wikimedia Commons

Under these circumstances the prisoner, whose statement I have literally translated, submits he is entitled to an acquittal.”

Baron Lefroy, who was greatly amused during Mr. Bourke’s delivery of the translation of the prisoner’s statement, said it was a defence  very proper for a jury to deal with, which the gentlemen in the box did, by finding the prisoner “guilty”.  He was sentenced to the usual penalty in such cases, namely, to find security within three months for his future good behaviour, or in default thereof to be transported for seven years.

Daily News, August 26



B.A., M.A.(Archaeology); Regional Tour Guide; Dip. Radio Media Tech; H.Dip. Computer Science.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s