On the night of February 17th, 1802, police were called to a lodging house at number 9 Peter's Row in Dublin. When they entered the building they discovered the bodies of two women, Catherine Davidson -- proprietor of the lodging house -- and her maid, Mary Mooney. Both had been bludgeoned to death.
Eight days later an apprentice solicitor named Thomas Radcliffe Crawley -- a lodger at the house -- was arrested in Newry in connection with the double murder and taken back to Dublin to face trial.
The trial, presided over by the infamous 'Hanging Judge' Lord Norbury, began on March 1st at Green Street courthouse where Crawley was accused of causing the deaths of the two women by hitting them repeatedly over the head with a hammer. Crawley, who had no previous convictions, was an apprentice attorney and had held a commission in the Roscommon Militia for a period.
At his trial, which created huge public interest, Crawley was defended by the well-known John Philpot Curran, father of the tragic Sarah Curran and the notorious informer Leonard McNally. McNally had been a member of the United Irishmen but it emerged after his death that he had been paid by the Government to betray them.
Curran tried to have the trial postponed on the grounds that there had been so much 'public excitement' in relation to the case that it would be impossible to bring witnesses for the defendant into court because their lives would be at risk.
However, Curran's objections were dismissed and the trial went ahead. The first witnesses were a physician and a surgeon. Both men had examined the bodies of the women on the night of the murders and agreed they had died from wounds inflicted with a heavy iron instrument.
Next to give evidence on behalf of the prosecution was John McCullough, a cobbler who lived at Bow Lane close to the scene of the murders. McCullough stated that, some time between six and seven on the night of February 17th, Crawley had come into his workshop and asked him for the loan of a hammer to fix some shelves. McCullough lent him a coal hammer.
Another witness, clergyman Joseph Elwood who also lived at the lodging house on Peter's Row, gave evidence that Crawley -- who had only moved into the house four weeks earlier -- had asked him if Mrs Davidson had kept any money on the premises and also questioned him as to his own financial state.
Elwood told the court that on the night of the crime he heard "violent shrieks and moans" coming from downstairs but he didn't do anything about it because he had often heard Mrs Davidson quarrelling with her maid. About an hour after the shouting had stopped Elwood said that he met the highly agitated Crawley, who asked him for a drink and a loan of some money. He found the bodies of Davidson and her maid soon afterwards.
An attorney, Michael Harris, gave evidence as to the previous good character of the defendant, describing him as "a young man of the greatest integrity". However, Lord Norbury thought otherwise and he said McCullough's evidence in relation to the hammer was "extraordinary".
The jury was sent out to consider its verdict and returned after only ten minutes to pronounce Crawley guilty. Norbury donned the black cap and sentenced Crawley to death. He was hanged in front of Newgate.