Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland

By W. E. Vaughan | Go to book overview

6
Agrarian Outrages

i. 'A Bould Intrepid Gentry'

In 1852. William Wann complained that an insurance company had refused to insure his life because he was an agent.1 The fact that Lord Gosford's tenants had just complimented him in a public address and that it was his 'natural disposition to be civil and courteous with the people' seems to have counted for little against the contemporary belief that Irish landlords and agents were often the victims of murderous attacks by their tenants. If rural societies defined themselves by the crimes they committed, the English shot pheasants and gamekeepers, and the Irish shot landlords and agents. (English tenants occasionally shot their landlords. In 1849 James Bloomfield Rush was tried at Norwich assizes for shooting his landlord, Isaac Jeremy of Stanfield Hall. Rush, who was alleged to have said that 'it would not be long before he served Jeremy with an ejectment for the other world', shot Jeremy at his door, went into the house, shot Jeremy's son, and wounded his daughter-in-law and a servant.2)

There was much to support the idea that the Irish countryside was a violent place. The tithe war of the 1830s and the land war of 1879-82 were sensational upheavals, but they were not the only disturbances. During the famine there was a wave of crime: between 1846 and 1849 62,000 outrages, including 756 homicides, were reported by the constabulary.3 just as this was subsiding, a small but alarming wave of agrarian crime began in 1849 and persisted until 1852, being particularly troublesome in parts of south Armagh, south Down, Monaghan, and Louth. In February 1852. Revd Robert Henry of Jonesborough, convinced that a seismic change in the ratio of rogues to honest men had taken place around him, claimed that 'the whole country seems now to be convulsed and organized through the length and breadth of the land--threatening letters, murders, and attempts at murder seem to be the order of the day'.4 (These incidents led to the appointment of a select committee of the House of Commons to

____________________
1
Wann's letter-book, 18 June 1852. (PRONI, D1606/5/3, p. 147); for the belief that agrarian outrages were endemic in Ireland, see Punch, 29 July 1878 and Stones of Venice, ed. E. T. Cooke and Alexander Wedderburn ( London, 1904), ii. 195 (I am indebted to Dr Edward McParland for this reference).
2
Annual Register, 1849, 378-416.
3
National Archives, ICR, returns of outrages, 1846-9.

-138-

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