Medieval Dublin; A Tale Of Two Cities

Irish History Podcast

By the late 13th century medieval Dublin had reached its zenith. Having benefited from over a century of trade, it was unquestionably the primary settlement in Ireland. While not the biggest walled town – it was surpassed by Drogheda and New Ross – its sprawling suburbs made it the most populous settlement with ten to fifteen thousand people living along the banks of the Liffey. Although it was the centre of Norman colonial administration, containing the exchequer buildings, it was not the busiest port, as judging from customs receipts, by the late 13th century this honour fell to New Ross.

While economically the wider Anglo-Norman colony reached its zenith between 1292-4, when the exchequer was returning around £9,000 per year, colonial society was already in decline. While Dublin was protected by the Vale of Dublin to its south and medieval county of Kildare to its west, and the Lordships of…

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Queen Victoria escapes would-be assassin’s attack on Constitution Hill

There was much shock in May 1849 across the United Kingdom and the British Empire at the news that there had been an attempt made on the life of Queen Victoria as her carriage passed along Constitution Hill in London by an unemployed and disgruntled Irishman named as William Hamilton.
Details of the attack on Queen Victoria were published in the News Letter in the paper’s edition of May 25, 1849 and declared in its opening lines: “We regret exceedingly being called on to announce that an idle miscreant raised his hand against the person of the Sovereign on Saturday evening as Her Majesty was returning from an afternoon through the parks.”
It was reported how Queen Victoria had left Buckingham Palace shortly after five o’clock in “an open carriage and four” to take a drive through the parks of the British capital. Her Majesty was accompanied in the carriage by their Royal Highnesses Prince Alfred and Princess Alice and Helena, and attended by the Honourable Miss McDonald. His Royal Highness Prince Albert, who was attended by his equerry, accompanied Her Majesty on horseback and General Wemyss was the equerry in attendance upon the Queen.

Royal family get-together: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children in 1846.

Royal family get-together: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children in 1846.

After accompanying Her Majesty round Regent’s Park His Royal Highness Prince Albert took leave of the Queen and, attended by his equerry, returned to Buckingham Palace. But it was shortly after His Royal Highness Prince Albert had left the side of his Queen and their children that the would-be assassin Hamilton struck.
The News Letter related how the Queen’s carriage had passed through Hyde Park and had gone no more than 300 yards Constitution Hill in the direction of Buckingham Palace when “a man in the garb of a bricklayer’s labourer, who was standing on the green sward within the iron railings” had “levelled a pistol” at the Royal carriage and “fired it at the moment the Queen was passing”.
The News Letter’s report continued: “Her Majesty heard the report [the pistol being fired] and looked round, but manifested no symptoms of alarm. The Royal carriage passed on, almost without the postillions being aware of the occurrence; but General Wemyss instantly pulled up, and rode towards the spot whence the report came.”
But before the general could reach the rails the miscreant Hamilton was “in safety custody” having been seized by first the park keeper named George Maulden, who was formerly an employee of Lord Palmerston, the then British foreign secretary, and then subsequently by a police constable, “to neither of whom did he make the slightest resistance,” noted the correspondent from London.
Indeed the correspondent went on to remark: “The villain was seized by one of the park keepers the instant after his was raised and the pistol that which he had just discharged having been taken from him, he was dragged off to the police station amidst the execrations of the crowd, who, not for the activity of the police officers and others, would have executed Lynch law upon the miscreant.”
Hamilton was removed immediately to police custody. The correspondent wrote: “The fellow was taken by the police to Buckingham Gate where a hackney cab was procured and [he] was then conveyed to the police station at Gardiner’s-lane, King-street, Westminster whither he was followed by General Wemyss, the park keeper (George Maulden) and other person who had witnessed the transaction which gave rise to his apprehension.”
During further police investigations into the attempt on Queen Victoria’s life that day the pistol that Hamilton was reported to have fired at Her Majesty was produced as evidence. The London correspondent described the pistol as “a small old-fashioned pocket pistol, which screws off and has a flint. It has the words ‘Clarke, London’ on it”.
The correspondent went on to give further interesting details in the weapon used in the assassination attempt. They wrote: “The weapon was examined by a gunsmith, and he was decidedly of the opinion that, when fired at Her Majesty, it was not loaded with [a] ball. The presumption that the pistol was not loaded with a ball is confirmed by what subsequently transpired, for, upon inquiry at the prisoner’s lodgings, 4 Eccleston-place, it was ascertained that he borrowed the pistol from his landlord that afternoon, saying that he was going into the fields to shoot some birds; and it further appeared that a little boy, who lives in the same house, furnished him with a halfpenny worth of powder.”
As news of the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria spread throughout London there was great relief when it was learned that the Queen and the Royal children had not in any way been injured.
At Her Majesty’s Theatre where a crowded audience attended a performance of Il Barbiere de Siviglia the opera was halted by Mr Lee, the official speaker of the theatre, who came forward and declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, under the impression that a portion of the audience may be labouring under the anxiety, and as a loyalty is here paramount to all other thoughts, I am commissioned by Mr Lumley to inform you, that, although Her Gracious Majesty and the Royal children were shot at whilst returning to the palace, they have (thank Heaven!) escaped unhurt.”
And what of “idle miscreant” Hamilton? What happened to him? He was charged under the 1842 Treason Act and he pleaded guilty and received the maximum sentence of seven years of penal transportation.
Hamilton’s attempt on the Queen’s life was not the last. In June 1850 Queen Victoria did sustain injury when she was assaulted by ex-Army officer, Robert Pate, who was believed to be insane. On that occasion Victoria had been riding in a carriage during a visit to Cambridge House in Piccadilly when Pate struck her with his cane, crushing her bonnet and bruising her. Pate was later tried; he failed to prove his insanity, and received the same sentence as Hamilton, and was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, which we know today as Tasmania.

A colossus of British Liberalism approaches the end of his life

The end was near for the liberal leviathan William Ewart Gladstone who was approaching death at his residence at Hawarden Castle, Flinthshire, Wales, in May 1898 reported the News Letter.
The News Letter published the following account of Gladstone’s condition which it had received courtesy of the Press Association who had themselves come by the details from “a trustworthy source”.
The account stated: “Mr Gladstone’s condition is one of increasing weakness, and the apprehensions that are being felt as to a fatal issue in the near future are based not so much on the progress of the local disease, which might run a course yet of another three weeks, as on a general failure of his powers. His circulation and pulse are sometimes very weak indeed. Failure of the heart’s action, which that condition implies, might cause death unexpectedly.”
The report continued: “On Wednesday night he was delirious and rambling, but on Thursday morning he was quite himself again, and partook of liquid nourishment. His inability to take sufficient food is, no doubt, the main cause of his weakness. He retains full possession of his senses.
William Gladstone (1809-1898) by John Millias 1885“Medical science has beneficially assuaged his pain, and with calmness and confidence he faces the future with absolute tranquillity of mind. Indeed the invalid has through the trial of affliction and racking pain found life to be such a burden that, despite the wrench of severance from those so near and so dear to him, he is willing and almost eager to lay it down. His fortitude, patience, and perfect faith in what future holds for him are described as being very beautiful.”
Another report on the condition of Gladstone came from a correspondent in Chester. They telegraphed: “From special inquiries made as to Mr Gladstone’s condition, I gather that it has assumed an exceedingly serious aspect. During the past two days Mr Gladstone has been growing so weak that delirium has occasionally supervened.
“Last night the bulletin, referring to inadequate circulation, betrays a suspicion that the end is drawing near. Yesterday morning Dr Dobie was summoned from Chester, and, with Dr H Biss, held a consultation at Hawarden Castle. Mr John Morley had, it is said, a pathetic interview with Mr Gladstone previous to leaving the castle yesterday. Lord Rosebery is staying at Hawarden.”
Meanwhile, at the annual conference of the Southern and South Western Counties Union of Women’s Liberal Associations which had been held this week in 1898 at Bristol a vote of sympathy with Mr Gladstone was passed and a touching reference was made to his great influence for “good and freedom”.
Gladstone was to die on May 19, 1898 at Hawarden Castle, aged 88. His death was registered by Helen Gladstone, his daughter, “present at the death”, on May 23, 1898.
The cause of death is officially recorded as “Syncope, Senility, certified by Herbert E S Biss MD” and not metastatic cancer, as is frequently reported.
“Syncope” means failure of the heart and “senility” in the nineteenth-century meant the infirmity of advanced old age rather than a loss of the mental faculties.
The House of Commons adjourned on the afternoon of Gladstone’s death, with A J Balfour giving notice for an Address to the Queen praying for a public funeral and a public memorial in Westminster Abbey.
The day after, both Houses of Parliament approved of the Address and Herbert Gladstone accepted a public funeral on behalf of the Gladstone family.
W E Gladstone’s coffin was transported on the London Underground before his state funeral at Westminster Abbey at which the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future George V) acted as pallbearers.
Two years after Gladstone’s burial in Westminster Abbey, his wife, Catherine Gladstone (née Glynne), was laid to rest with him.

Friends and foes mourn passing of Daniel O’Connell at Genoa

Rumours of the death of the Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell at Genoa, Italy while he was on pilgrimage to Rome had proven correct reported the News Letter in May in 1847. O’Connell drew his last breath at Genoa on Saturday, May 15, 1847, he was aged 71 years old.
The News Letter published a number of letters which gave “descriptive” details of O’Connell’s final hours. The first was penned by an English physician called Dr Duff which had been written from Italy on May 16.
Daniel_O'ConnellDr Duff wrote: “On Monday, May 10, I saw Mr O’Connell for the first time, and he was then suffering from profuse and involuntary diarrhoea, with great pain in the abdomen under pressure, strong rapid pulse, flushed face, etc. Mr O’Connell had also chronic, bronchitis of some years’ standing.
“From the remedies employed these symptoms were much ameliorated, and on the morrow he seemed convalescent. But from Mr O’Connell’s great repugnance to swallow even the most simple medicine, this state of improvement could not be followed up.
“On the evening of Tuesday, the 11th, the new symptom of congestion of the brain presented itself. Active measures were immediately had recourse to, and from them there was a decided improvement. Again the aid of internal remedies was denied, Mr O’Connell refusing to take any medicine.
“Towards the evening of Wednesday, the 12th, the symptoms increased; Mr O’Connell was restless, and sometimes slightly incoherent. Our former measures were again employed, but with slight success.
“During Thursday all the symptoms increased, with great tendency to sleep, from which, however, he could easily bemused; the breathing was much embarrassed; circulation became difficult, and in some degree indistinct, and the mind wavered. Thursday night was passed in a state of profound heavy sleep, with increased difficulty of breathing; and, in addressing those about him, he imagined himself in London, and spoke to them as if there.
“On Friday he was much worse, the breathing very laborious, the voice scarcely audible, and the words half formed; in fact, all the symptoms had increased. In this state he lingered on till Saturday night, seemingly conscious of the presence of those about him, but neither attempting to move nor speak.
“My treatment of Mr O’Connell was always in conjunction with Dr Beretta, of this place, and a young French physician, who had accompanied him from Lyons, and, on the day preceding his demise, we had the advantage of consulting with Dr Viviani, the oldest practitioner of Genoa, and of high repute.
“By his advice, and as a last resource, a further application of leeches to the temples was advised, but all was in vain; he expired last night at half-past nine o’clock (pm), apparently suffering little pain.
“During the whole time of our attendance upon Mr O’Connell it was with the greatest difficulty he could be induced to take medicine, or even necessary food, and he perseveringly abstained from drink for fully forty hours. Had this been otherwise, the period of his death might have been procrastinated, but his failing health and spirits, with constant tendency to cerebral congestion, rendered certain his death at no very distant period.”
The other letter, which was published by the News Letter, was one written by the Reverend Dr J Miley, O’Connell’s chaplain, to Maurice O’Connell.
The Rev Miley wrote: “May the God of Mercy sustain and comfort you – the worst has befallen us – the Liberator, your illustrious father – the father of his country – the glory and the wonder of Christendom – is dead! Dead! No, I should say rather, O’Connell is in Heaven, his death was happy; he received in the most fervent sentiments the last rites, and up to the last sigh was surrounded by every consolation provided by our holy religion.
“You are already aware from my last letter, and that which was written by Daniel at a later hour, how matters stood up to six o’clock on last (Saturday) evening. From that hour up to eight o’clock he continued to sink gradually, but without suffering. Daniel and me, and his faithful Duggan, he recognised to the last.
“Our supplications, in the sublime and consoling language of the church, were mingled with our tears, as we knelt around his bed. When at last his mighty voice was hushed, his countenance – his hands – responded to the prayers.
“At thirty-seven minutes past nine, the hand of the priest of God, privileged ‘to bind and loose on earth even as it is done in heaven’, was extended over him. There was no struggle – no change visible upon the features, except, that, as we gazed, it was plain that a dread mystery had cast its shadow over him.
“We are thrown upon our own counsels, with nothing to guide us but what we inherit from his conversations and casually expressed wishes. Acting on this we have determined to have the heart embalmed –placed in a silver urn and transported to Rome, as of old the heart of Robert Bruce was carried to Jerusalem, when it was not permitted him in by Providence to perform, in his own person, that pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre which he had vowed, as O’Connell had vowed, his pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles. His body, also, is to be embalmed, and deposited in a chapel of the Church of our Blessed Lady, Delle Vigne, where it is to repose until, on our return from leaving the heart in Rome, we convey it to Ireland.”
Dr Miley concluded his letter to Maurice O’Connell by stating: “I should add that we are satisfied with the physicians. We are certain there was no mistake about the disease, and, but for the science and skill of the continental physicians, it must have had much sooner a fatal termination, or one still move afflicting. We have had a cast taken of his head, which has filled with wonder the physicians who have seen it.”

BOOK REVIEW: How Ulster emigrants had a lasting impact on New Zealand

NORTH Island and South Island, New Zealand’s two main islands, may soon be officially renamed as Te Ika-a-Maui (‘The Fish of Maui’) and Te Waipounamu (‘the waters of Greenstone).Ulster & NZ Cover blog
The name ‘the Fish of Maui’ is inspired by the Maori legend that the North Island was fished out of the sea by an early explorer named Maui. The Maori name for South Island is a reference to the widespread presence of jade there.
Between 1841 and 1846 all of New Zealand’s North Island north of the Patea River was referred to as New Ulster. South Island was known as New Munster. Furthermore, Stewart Island, the small island just south of South Island, was briefly called New Leinster.
Over 80% of all Irish migrants to New Zealand either originated from Ulster or Munster. From the early 1850s Ulster accounted for over 40% of annual Irish migration to New Zealand but by the 1890s Ulster accounted for over 50% of migrants from Ireland.
Ulster emigration to New Zealand is the subject of a new publication, entitled Ulster And New Zealand: Migration, Interaction and Legacy, produced by the Ulster-Scots Community Network. Among the figures featured are John Ballance (from Glenavy) and William Ferguson Massey (from Limavady), the fourteenth and nineteenth Prime Ministers of New Zealand respectively. James Dilworth (from Donaghmore) and George Vesey Stewart (from Ballygawley) also feature prominently.
Dilworth, a shrewd investor in land and property, bequeathed the bulk of his vast wealth to a trust to establish a school which would take in and educate boys who were living in “straitened circumstances” and “sons of persons of good character”: the Dilworth School. Within a century Dilworth School became one of one of New Zealand’s largest boarding schools. Dilworth School and the Royal School, Dungannon, enjoy a warm and friendly relationship and operate an exchange scheme by which gap-year students travel to their sister school to act as tutors and to experience life and education on the other side of the world.

English: The Dilworth School in Epsom, Aucklan...

The Dilworth School in Epsom, Auckland City, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1875 George Vesey Stewart founded the remarkable Ulster/Orange settlement of Katikati (which the historian D H Akenson has described as “the purest Irish Protestant community ever to exist in New Zealand”). Between 1877 and 1885 Stewart published eight pamphlets advertising his special settlements. He is credited with bringing about 4,000 emigrants to New Zealand.
Stewart was an exceptionally able man with imagination, drive and determination and possessed great organizational flair. He aspired to prominence politically but while success eluded him at national level, his achievements at local level were genuinely impressive. For example, he managed to secure more money for the Bay of Plenty from central government than all the area’s parliamentary representatives put together. On a national level, his personal contribution to the settlement of New Zealand was in a league all of its own.
Today Katikati is famous for its many murals. Beginning with three murals in 1991, there are now 44 murals. Most offer interpretations of the town’s history but some look to the future. Originally a tourist project to attract more visitors to the town and the surrounding area, the murals assisted Katikati secure the distinction of being New Zealand’s ‘Most Beautiful Small Town’ in 2005.
David Gallaher (from Ramelton) was one of the most interesting people to settle in Katikati. Gallaher was the captain of the Original All Blacks (often simply referred to as ‘The Originals’), New Zealand’s first national rugby union team to tour outside Australasia. He captained the team from 1903 to 1906. The legendary All Blacks tour of Britain in 1905 probably constitutes the highlight of his career. The All Blacks scored 976 points and conceded only 59, setting a high standard for all subsequent All Black sides.
Close examination reveals that Ulster men and women played a significant part in the making of New Zealand and their role is by no means confined to Katikati. The figures highlighed in Ulster And New Zealand convey a flavour of Ulster’s contribution to many aspects of New Zealand life, including politics, industry and commerce, education, journalism, trade unionism and sport.
Through the efforts of John Ballance New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote in parliamentary elections. Women enjoyed a prominence in New Zealand society much earlier than they did elsewhere in the world. Names to look out for are Aileen Anna Maria Garmson (from Coy Cavan), Mary Jane Milne (from Coalisland), Harriet Morison (from Magherafelt), Frances Jane Ross (whose mother came from Co Cavan), Margaret Jane Scott (also from Co Cavan) and, Marianne Smith (from Portaferry).

Ulster And New Zealand: Migration, Integration and Legacy. Published by the Ulster-Scots Community Network. Free to download from

Rioters convicted of ‘unprovoked’ attack on Sunday School procession

“Rowdies who make a pastime out of interrupting Sunday school processions have been taught an important lesson at Armagh Assizes,” declared the News Letter in an editorial published in March 1881.
The paper told how the rioters had “savagely” attacked the Rev Abraham L Forde and his Sunday school children from Bessbrook during their annual outing to “the Primatial City of Armagh” the previous August.
In the view of the News Letter, justice had been served up to the rioters, the editorial remarked: “The law is a schoolmaster and a better preceptor could not well be found than Mr Justice Lawson, who heard the case of the wanton and savage attack on the Rev Abraham L Forde and his Sunday school children.”
The News Letter told how the party from Bessbrook had journeyed to Armagh by train with two bands and a number of banners “on which were the usual inscriptions” the paper declared: “But neither in the inscriptions nor in the music was there anything calculated to offend any sections of the community”.
Shortly before 11 o’clock the party had reached Armagh and proceeded to the cathedral before then going on to the Primate’s demesne. All went well enough, noted the paper, but when the children were on their return to the railway station but when they reached the Shambles they found “a number of fellows” in line standing across the street and blocking their path. Immediately a volley of stones had been thrown at the band at the front of the procession.

An old postcard depicting English Street in Armagh City

An old postcard depicting English Street in Armagh City

The Rev Forde approached the crowd an appealed for common sense, but it was then that the mob that stood behind the line of men “took up the manly work” and sent a further shower of stones at the procession.
The News Letter told how the assizes had heard evidence that a Joseph Murtagh, who it was believed was the ringleader of “the rowdies” and whose character the judge referred to as “decidedly bad”, struck the clergyman twice. Several other members of the procession were also struck, “some of them receiving dangerous wounds”. As the procession moved forward another mob swept down upon it from Bawnbrook Hill and the stone-throwing continued until the Sunday school outing finally reached the railway station.
The evidence of the Rev Forde was corroborated by Sub-Constable John Faughlin who identified several of the stone-throwers. One of the worst features of the attack, noted the News Letter, was the presence of “a fellow wearing the Queen’s livery” who belonged to a regiment “whose colours testify to its services and its valour”.
After hearing the evidence the jury found all the accused guilty except for two persons, and “Mr Justice Lawson meted out the punishment they deserved”, the paper declared: “They degraded themselves and they disgraced the ancient city; but they have been the means of teaching an important lesson to blackguards, who take fiendish delight in wantonly assaulting Sunday school processions.”
In making his opening remarks at the sentencing of the rioters Mr Justice Lawson said: “Joseph Murtagh and Daniel Watson, and all the rest of you traversers, have been found guilty by the jury of this riot in the streets in Armagh, which I am bound to say was an entirely unprovoked attack on a number of children who had come into town to enjoy themselves in the Primate’s demesne and walk back to the railway station without offending anyone, or without receiving any molestation. As far as I am concerned I am determined to make such an example on the present occasion as will, I hope, deter persons in the future from making an attack on innocent people of this kind.”
During the sentencing Mr Justice Lawson was scathing of the involvement of Daniel Watson, a soldier of the 89th Regiment, for his role in the disturbance.
The judge said: “As to you Daniel Watson – a soldier – I have to consider you a disgrace to the uniform which you wear. Now, there is nothing more dangerous than a soldier wearing her Majesty’s uniform should engage in a transaction of this kind. In the first place, from your uniform you would be expected to keep the peace, and then there is also the danger of a soldier engaging in a row of this kind, drawing the assistance of his comrades to attack. Like Murtagh, you have been found guilty of assault, as also of riot, and I will pass upon you the same sentence as I have passed upon him – two years’ imprisonment with hard labour.”
Mr Justice Lawson then turned his attention to sentencing James McQuade, he said: “James McQuade, in this riot in Armagh you have not been tried with the other rioters because you pleaded guilty to a much serious offence than that they were charged.
“They were only charged with riot and various assaults, but you have been obliged to acknowledge yourself guilty of feloniously, unlawfully and maliciously wounding William James Blevins, with intent to maim and disable, and, indeed, you carried out that intent most effectually.
“You appear to have gone out amongst these peaceable people armed with a sharp hammer with which you struck this man on the head. You fractured his skull. . . his life was in danger, and probably he may never recover from the effects of your attack.
“This was a most wanton and unprovoked attack on your part, and I would not be doing my duty if I did not pass a heavy sentence. You will have to go to penal servitude for seven years.”
Sentencing of the rioters was not to be the end of the matter. T G Peel wrote to the News Letter from Armagh several days later the conclusion of the trial at the Armagh Assizes refuting claims which had appeared in the Ulster Examiner which alleged that as the prisoners, as they were being removed to the county jail, had come under attack from a rowdy crowd of Protestants.
The following had been published in the Examiner: “On yesterday evening, as the prisoners who were found guilty of riot at Armagh in the month of August last were being brought to the county jail from the courthouse they were followed by an Orange mob, who hooted and booed them and cheered vociferously at their conviction. There were loud cries of ‘No Pope’, ‘To hell with the Pope’, ‘No holy water’, ‘No Home Rule’, and etc. The prisoners were accompanied by a large force of police, but notwithstanding the Orange mob were permitted to act in the manner already stated.”
These allegations, wrote Peel, were nothing more than a fabrication by “a clerk in a solicitor’s office, who is the correspondent for the Examiner”.
Mr Peel wrote: “I beg to state that there is not one word of truth in this statement. There were not ‘loud cries of ‘No Pope’ or a word said about ‘holy water’ or ‘To hell with the Pope’. The whole thing is a pure invention by a juvenile clerk in a solicitor’s office, who is the correspondent for the Examiner. I have been requested to send the correction to you and not to a newspaper which would defile its columns by publishing gross slanders upon the Protestants of Armagh.”
Mr Peel went further to point the finger of blame at Home Rulers and how they had acted back in August 1880 when the mob had been detained.
He wrote: “The facts are that some 16 Roman Catholics were justly convicted of the wanton and unprovoked attack made upon the Bessbrook children, though at the time the Examiner represented the innocence of these men; and when they were being conveyed to jail a lot of their companions followed the police up the Mall, pressing them as if to effect a rescue, and two of the prisoners did break the handcuffs which bound them together.
“The crowd cheered for ‘Home Rule’ and shouted other party expressions. They then went up from the jail to town by Scotch Street, cheering and shouting in like manner, stoning every Protestant who came in view, till the police chased them off.”
Mr Peel concluded his letter to the News Letter defending the good character of the Protestants of Armagh, he wrote: “Out of this juvenile lawyer’s clerk manufactured the above, in which, I have again state, there is no word of truth. So much for the way of leading Roman Catholic organ in Ulster misrepresents facts and maligns Protestants.”

Death sentence for would-be assasin of the Duke of Edinburgh

Details of a shocking attempt on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and the second son of Queen Victoria had reached the News Letter office in May 1868.
The attempt on the life of the duke had been made by a deranged Irish émigré named Henry James O’Farrell during a picnic for the Sydney Sailors’ Home in Sydney on March 12.
In the shooting incident the Duke of Edinburgh had been hit by a shot from O’Farrell’s revolver, to the right of his spine.
The News Letter reported: “Melbourne and Adelaide papers have been received, which contain telegrams from Sydney of a later date than the news published in our impression of yesterday. On Sunday, the 29th March, thanksgivings for the speedy recovery of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh were offered up in all the churches of Sydney. On the same day His Royal Highness attended Divine service on board the Galatea. His Excellency the Earl of Belmore was also present.”

Depiction of Henry James O'Farrell being detained after trying to kill the Duke of Edinburgh

Depiction of Henry James O’Farrell being detained after trying to kill the Duke of Edinburgh

On the assassination attempt one Australian observer wrote at the time: “The one diabolical act of O’Farrell will not be allowed for a moment to blast the great loyalty of the colonists of Australia and to blot out the recollection of their enthusiastic welcome to the Prince and their lavish expenditure in showing it. Prince Alfred will, I am sure, not hear a word said, except in language of praise, of the people of Australia
An address of condolence was sent to the duke’s mother, Queen Victoria. By March 30 the address had been signed by more than 45,000 and had measured 700 yards in length.
It was noted of the signatories: “Amongst those who have signed are all our leading men and their wives.”
On that same day the trial of O’Farrell was held at Sydney. It was noted that at the trial that the prosecution had “merely recapitulated the evidence” which had been heard at the preliminary inquiry.
But it was also noted that a number of defence witnesses had been called. The evidence detailed how O’Farrell had left Ireland “when quite a youth” and that he had studied for some time for the bar but that he had afterwards “turned his attention to theological subjects”.
This, however, O’Farrell had also abandoned and on his return to the colonies from a visit to England he had opened a store at Ballarat in the state of Victoria.
The Australian newspapers noted that after living there for some time he had become “irascible and incoherent in discourse, apparently through pecuniary losses and delirium tremens”.
O’Farrell’s attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh was attributed to his involvement and sympathy for Fenianism.
The Australian newspapers had reported: ““He had not, except on one occasion, ever been heard to speak of Fenianism. After this evidence the Crown called numerous witnesses who deposed to frequent conversations had by them with O’Farrell, in which he expressed himself in a perfectly rational manner.”
The newspapers added: “They stated further, that he defended the Clerkenwell outrage and Fenianism generally.”
At this stage the hearing was adjourned until the following day. It was also noted that during the first day of his trial that O’Farrell had remained “perfectly self-possessed throughout”.
The following day at eleven o’clock Mr Butler Cole Aspinall spoke on behalf of O’Farrell and urged that the prisoner was insane. To this argument Mr Martin had replied that the Crown had proved that there was no case for insanity existed.
Summing up the judge urged the jury to dismiss extraneous matters, such as the prince’s rank, from their minds.
The judge told the jury: “The three considerations for you are – first, the wounding; of that no doubt whatever exists; second, whose hand inflicted the wound.”
His Honour at this stage in his summing up read over the notes of the evidence which he added had clearly proven that it had been committed by the hand of O’Farrell.
The judge continued: “Third, the intent, which is the gravamen of the case.” He also made reference to the arguments in respect to O’Farrell’s insanity and stated that it had been shown that O’Farrell.
His Honour said: “He knew the difference between right and wrong when the offence was committed and also knew the consequence, he is responsible.”
His Honour then read over the evidence for the defence and advised the jury to consider the difficulty the prisoner’s counsel had felt in the medical witnesses from Ballarat not coming to the trial to give evidence with regards to O’Farrell’s mental state.
He also called the jury’s attention to the rebutting evidence showing O’Farrell’s state during his residence in Sydney.
The judge also advised the jury to pay particular attention to the law on the subject, which he read. He stated “If you believe the accused insane, you should acquit him; if not, the Crown expects a verdict.”
In conclusion His Honour complimented Mr Aspinal’’s ability in defending O’Farrell.
The jury retired before returning into the court after an hour of deliberation and gave a verdict of guilty.
His Honour turned to O’Farrell and asked him if he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced.
Replying “in a firm tone” O’Farrell had said: “No, sir; nothing,”
His Honour then passed sentence of death and the prisoner was removed.
The Duke of Edinburgh tried his utmost to intercede to save the life of his would-be assassin but O’Farrell was hung on April 21, 1868, less than two months after the shooting.