Monday 19 March 2018

Records of Victorian villainy from 'Pulse system of the 19th century' go online

Police barracks in Roscommon. The 1800s had a high crime rate
Police barracks in Roscommon. The 1800s had a high crime rate

Jane O'Faherty

Stories of Ireland's Victorian villains are getting a 21st-century update as part of a new database of criminal activity in the 1800s.

The project, described as a "Garda Pulse system for the 19th century", features thousands of cases from pre-Rising Ireland and goes live online today on genealogy and history website Ancestry.

The records come from the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police gazette, called the 'Hue and Cry', which was used by law enforcers to share information.

The gazette also advertised numerous rewards for readers who assisted police, which could prove very lucrative.

A member of the public could earn £1 (worth around €50 today) for turning in a convict. And a grand total of £10,000 (almost €500,000) was promised to anyone who provided crucial information in relation to a murder.

The records depict a turbulent time in Ireland, where the murder rate was seven times higher than it is today. Assault was the most common crime during those years, with 28,353 cases reported from 1861 to 1893.

Other offences ranged from the activities of the burgeoning Fenian movement to the theft of ferrets or foals.

William O'Brien was one such man, who was charged with stealing two ferrets in Achonry, Co Sligo, in 1877.

An 1883 issue led with a call to find four men in relation to the fatal stabbings of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in the Phoenix Park. Lord Cavendish had just been appointed as the Chief Secretary for Ireland, while Mr Burke was Permanent Undersecretary. It later emerged that men from the 'Irish National Invincibles' were thought to be the culprits. The gazette gave a detailed description of the suspects, who were described as having "whiskers and moustache recently clipped to give a bristling appearance… natural hollow or dinge on bridge of nose".

"The men had the appearance of sailors or well-to-do artisans," it continued.

Another tragic case was the Maamtrasna Murders in Mayo in 1882, when almost every member of the Joyce family was massacred in their mountain cabin.

Ancestry's Rhona Murray said the project helps to bring criminal history to life.

"It's the detail this can provide readers with - the physical description of this individual and what their role was in the crime."

See for details.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News