Saturday, 17 May 2014

Convicted ~ John Donovan

John Donovan was my great-great-grandfather, Lena O’Neill’s grandfather. He was an upholsterer by trade. It was mildly surprising to find he had served, not one, but two prison sentences in Dublin’s Richmond Bridewell.  

When he was arrested on 22 April 1875, he gave his address as 121 Lower Gloucester Street, the same address given by his daughter, Mary Agnes, on her marriage to my great-grandfather, Charles O’Neill, in 1874

John was committed for trial on 1 May 1875, on a charge of stealing twenty-four yards of muslin and obtaining two chairs by false pretenses.  These were presumably materials for his trade.

He pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced to six months hard labour. However, this was not his first offence.  In September 1868, he had been convicted of stealing two yards of silk. He then served three months hard labour.

The prison registers are very informative. They even provided a physical description of John Donovan. In 1875, he was five foot, six and three-quarter inches tall, with grey hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion. Six years earlier, in 1868, his hair had been dark brown, but he had lost his wife of twenty-two years to tuberculosis in the intervening period.
Richmond Bridewell registry of male prisoners committed for trial, John Donovan, 1875 

More interestingly, the prison registers indicated that John’s place of birth was in Strand Street, between about 1823 and 1826. This places the Donovan family in Dublin city, even before the city's population surged during and after the Great Famine, thus opening up a new and definitive avenue for further research.

John did not serve even half of his 1875 prison sentence, but was released early by order of the Lord Lieutenant, on 17 July 1875. He too died of chronic phthisis, or tuberculosis, only one month later, on 20 August 1875. Hard labour may have consisted of working a treadmill or breaking stones, and John was perhaps just too sick to serve the full term.

Sources: Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924, FamilySearch index and findmypast; Death register, General Register Office. Note: click on images to enlarge.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

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