IT has, no doubt, been observed by our readers, that no small part of ours Calendar has been occupied with details of atrocities, in which the natives of the sister island have been concerned. There are causes which tend to demoralize and deprave the lower orders of that unfortunate country,-- their local insurrections, and continual migrations. The first, in addition to its evil tendency, subjects them to the vengeance of penal laws; and the latter exposes them to all the temptations to which poverty is subject, when released from those wholesome restraints which keep poor men temporal and honest.
The nominally high wages in this country, when contrasted with the low price of labour in Ireland, induce many of that kingdoms to emigrate to England, where they find, too late, that the poor man may change his master, but not his condition; for he that has to live by labour must labour whilst he lives. By far the greater portion of them, however, like birds of passage, pay us only periodical visits; and these, whose strange manners and singular dress make them little less remarkable than the cuckoo, are mostly natives of the barren mountains of Connaught, which they desert, in summer, for the fertile plains of England.*[see note].
But there is another race of Hibernians, very different from these -- natives of the south of Ireland, who are either obliged to fly from the violated laws of their country, or desert it in the hopes of bettering their condition. Liverpool, Bristol, and London, are the scenes where they play their part, and where, it must be admitted, they exhibit the degrading vices of human nature in the utmost perfection. This does not arise from any innate depravity, or national propensity to vice: it proceeds directly from circumstances. Speaking a different dialect, frequently a different language, and professing a proscribed religion, they encounter everywhere prejudice and reproach; to fly from which they are compelled to associate with each other, and drown their misfortunes in gin and brandy: vice follows as a thing of course, and crime too often ensues. The poor man, thus, who in his native village, was sober and industrious, because he had a character to lose, is gradually initiated into vice, because he has no longer a character to sustain. Such a man has no sufficient inducement to he moral -- and soon learns that, where so many are otherwise, individual wickedness is likely to pass undiscovered. Add to this the influence of bad example, and it can be no longer surprising that the labouring Irish in London are brutal, drunken, and vicious.
These observations have been drawn from us in consequence of the case we are about to narrate, and in the hope that it may be read by some of the Irish themselves. From it they may learn to refrain from transmitting false intelligence to their countrymen at home, whom, instead of deluding to quit Ireland,*[see note 2] they should deter from visiting London, where they are sure to encounter misery; and that too often leads to those crimes, for which many, who, like them, were once innocent, have suffered an ignominious death.
James Leary, whose case is now before us, was a native of Ireland, and, in addition to the shrewdness and cunning of his countrymen, possessed that persevering and concealed wickedness which belongs to criminals of all nations. Of his guilt there does not remain a doubt; yet the deliberate and hardened cunning of the man has thrown such a mystery over the whole case, that no one can pronounce with certainty who actually perpetrated the murder. There is, however, a melancholy consolation in knowing that Leary deservedly suffered; for, if he did not strike the blow, he confessed he was a spectator, and might have prevented it.
Edward Clifford was a native of Cahir, in the county of Tipperary, Ireland. He there became acquainted with a woman, named Burke, whose husband had deserted her. She was the mother of four children, and, in 1813, was pregnant of another, of whom Clifford was the father. To avoid the disgrace which the publicity of their criminal intercourse would surely bring upon them, they resolved to quit Ireland, and remove to London, where Clifford promised to support Mrs. Burke and her children by his labour.
Clifford had saved, by his earnings, sixteen or seventeen pounds, and Mrs. Burke's effects produced thirty pounds. With this sum they set off for the British metropolis, where they arrived early in the July of 1813. Clifford could not speak a word of English; but Mrs. Burke, who now assumed the name of Clifford, could, as she had been in London when a child. When they alighted from the waggon, at Fleet Market, they sat down on the flags, and were addressed by one of their countrywomen, who turned oat to be the wife of Leary. She affected much kindness, and they were happy in meeting with one so cordial in a strange place. They inquired for lodgings, and Mrs. Leary invited them to her own room, in a lane that led into the market, to which they instantly removed, and where they passed for man and wife.
They continued four days with Leary, who was a bricklayer's labourer, and were charged two shillings and sixpence a night for their bed, which they were told was too much by one Slattery, whom they had known in Ireland, as he had only left it three months before. Slattery recommended them to a room in Church Lane, St. Giles's, to which they removed, and he went to lodge with them.
Here they continued for three weeks, without any hope of procuring employment, and Clifford seemed anxious to return to Ireland. On Saturday night, July the 24th, Leary, for the first time, paid them a visit, at eleven o'clock, and, being asked what brought him so late, answered he came to let Clifford know he had procured him work. Next morning Clifford went to Leary's lodgings about the work; and his wife, or rather she who assumed the title, followed him. They appeared to have been quarrelling, and, Leary saying Clifford was to dine with him, she insisted he should not. During the time they remained in the room Leary contrived to whisper in Mrs. Clifford's ear that her husband was determined to set off for Ireland, but charged her, for her life, not to mention who told her. She, notwithstanding, accused Clifford with intending to desert her; but he denied it, and inquired who told her, which she refused to answer.
Clifford and his wife, after this, returned to their own lodgings, where they remained until five o'clock, at which hour, just as they were sitting down to dinner, Leary and his wife, unexpected, and uninvited, came in. Mrs. Clifford was much displeased, as Mrs. Leary was very drunk, though her husband was quite sober. Some beer was sent for, and about eight o'clock they stood up to go home. Previous, however, to doing so, Leary had drawn from Mrs. Clifford the particulars of how they kept their money; for she had imprudently told Mrs. Leary, on her first coming to town, that they had a trifle. On this occasion she acted with similar incaution, and informed Leary that her husband kept his own money about him, and that she had also a small sum, about which he knew nothing.
On Leary's going down stairs he called Clifford, and took him off with him. The poor unfortunate woman, apprehensive, from what she heard in the morning, that herself and children would be deserted, went out in search of her husband. She found, at nine o'clock, that he was drunk in Leary's room, and insisted on his going home with her he complied, and in their way was overtaken by Leary, who took them into a public house, and made Clifford drink a glass of gin. After coming out of this one, he wheeled them into another, where they had some beer. Here he promised Mrs. Clifford that her husband should be in work on the morrow.
On their way up Holborn Hill, they walked too quick for Mrs. Clifford, who was far advanced in pregnancy. She requested they would wait for her; but Leary said they were going to his employer. She remonstrated against it, as it was too late to call on any gentleman, particularly as it was Sunday evening. 'Never fear, Mrs. Clifford,' said Leary; 'do you take your time, and we shall be home before you, and have half a gallon of beer on the table.' They then left her, it being near ten o'clock.
The unfortunate woman then made the best of her way home; and, seeing her .husband had not arrived, she sat up smoking the pipe -- no uncommon amusement with her countrywomen -- until the clock struck twelve. Slattery was in bed, and bore evidence to this fact. Being uneasy about Clifford, she arose about two, and between three mad four went to Leary's lodgings. The door was locked on the outside, and Mrs. Leary said her husband was not within; for he had concealed himself when he heard the knock at the door. She then returned home, with intention to follow Clifford, who, she supposed, had set off for Ireland, and requested of her brother, who lived in Parker Street, Drury Lane, to procure her a pass from the parish. Between seven and eight o'clock, however, she heard of the murder of Clifford; and being taken to a public house in Grey's Inn Lane, where the body was, she recognised it.
The remains of this unfortunate man were found in a pond at the bottom of Gray's Inn Lane, into which he had been thrown, after being murdered: his brains had been knocked out with, as was supposed, a hammer, and one of his pockets was turned inside out: in the other were found only three halfpence, although it appeared he had, the preceding evening, thirteen or fourteen pounds about him.
Suspicion immediately fell upon Leary. Two officers went to his lodgings, at which his wife appeared greatly alarmed. and refused to tell where her husband worked. They, however, discovered; and, on going there, they saw him descending a ladder, with a hod on his shoulder. Unwilling to surprise him, they inquired for his master, when he replied, 'It is not my master you want; it is me.' They said it was, and apprehended him. On their way to the office, Leary said, 'I have hard of this poor man who has been killed.' On being asked how he heard, he said, 'Never mind how; I have heard.' On his person was found only one shilling and sixpence; nor was any money found in his room, though it was searched. A hammer, which seemed to correspond with the cuts in the hat of the deceased, was found buried in some coals.
After Leary was put in the strong room, he wished to see a person named Macarthy, a shoemaker, to whom he said, 'What do you think of this job of mine?' Macarthy replied, 'I think it a very bad case, and that the evidence brought against you will hang you;' and pressed him to acknowledge his guilt. Leary then hinted that, if he could get a person to prove that he was at home at ten o'clock, it would set all right. Macarthy said, 'Suppose you could do that, where were you between the time you left Mrs. Clifford and ten o'clock?' Leary said, 'There is where I shall fail.' Macarthy said he thought there was nothing would get him through it. 'Nothing,' said Leary, 'but one thing; and that is, to fix it upon somebody else.' Macarthy replied, 'If that is what you wanted me for, I will leave you to your fate, and you will be hung like a dog, and not one of your countrymen shall come forward to give one shilling.' On parting, Leary said, 'I know I shall be hanged: may I go to hell if I have any more to do with the murder than you.'
The coroner's inquest having sat on the body of the unfortunate Edward Clifford, it was removed, on Monday evening, to a public house in St. Giles's, there to be waked after the manner of his country. Several hundred persons went to see the remains of the unfortunate man, and on Thursday Leary was brought from the House of Correction, Coldbath Fields, in a hackney coach, heavily ironed, and well guarded, in order that he might see the body he was charged with so cruelly mangling. On entering the room, the lid of the coffin was removed, and his motions were watched. He took the hand of the deceased, declared his innocence of his blood, and said he should not know the man. He was certainly much altered. Leary trembled exceedingly; but, on going down stairs, he resumed his fortitude, and drank a pint of porter in the parlour: after which he was removed to Hatton Garden for further examination. On Friday evening the remains of poor Clifford were buried in St. George's burying-ground, attended by multitudes of his country-people.
From the time Leary beheld the mangled remains of Clifford he laboured under great agitation of mind, and was troubled with frightful dreams -- the midnight testimonies of a guilty conscience. He appeared horror-struck; and parted, at night, with reluctance from the turnkey. On Sunday he wished to see the gaoler; and, after confessing that he knew of the murder, signed a long statement, in which he attempted to throw the charge upon the miserable widow -- we call her widow, as we have called her wife, to prevent confusion in our narrative.
In consequence of this pretended confession, Mrs. Clifford. or rather Mrs. Burke, was committed to Coldbath Fields' Prison, and her children were sent to St. Pancras Poor-house, although a benevolent lady, Dear Fitzroy Square, had undertaken to provide for them. So great was the interest excited in her behalf, that some gentlemen had subscribed fifty pounds; but, at the request of the magistrates, they held it over, until some light was thrown upon the mysterious affair.
Leary's statement displayed a mind of great acuteness and circumspection; but, as it was not founded on truth, his allegations were easily confuted. In minor points he strictly adhered to facts; but, in the most material, he evidently departed from truth: for it was proved, by more than one witness, that Slattery, whom he accused of throwing the body into the pond, stopped at home the whole evening, and that Mrs. Clifford purchased a candle, and lit it in the street where she lived, at eleven o'clock.
It is true, the unfortunate woman, Mrs. Clifford, or Mrs. Burke, as we shall call her in future, did not exactly communicate her situation to the magistrates at the first and second examination; but delicacy might, and no doubt restrain her from acknowledging that she was not married to the deceased, or that her husband, who had culpably deserted her, was still living. But, while we make this extenuation of her conduct, let as not be accounted advocates for its impropriety; on the contrary, we condemn her, not only for concealing these facts on so solemn an occasion, but also for alleging that she had no money, when she had placed six pounds in the hands of a chandler to keep for her, end which six pounds she hail without Clifford's knowledge.
On the other hand, it must be admitted that Leary's statement evinced much cunning and wickedness; he took care to hint that Mrs. Burke had meditated the crime, as he said he felt a stick under her clothes, insinuating the hammer with which the deed was perpetrated; and, that the act might appear to have had a motive, he alleged that Slattery aided her, from which it might he implied that herself and Slattery made away with Clifford, that they might cohabit together. This was a deep-laid scheme to implicate them both; and, to qualify himself for a king's evidence, he stated that he was looking on while the bloody deed was doing. Luckily for the ends of justice, this statement was satisfactorily contradicted in evidence, by which it appeared he pursued his diabolical ends with the most cruel patience, inebriating his victim, and then, under pretence of taking him to his employer, way-laying him. Still it must be admitted that he could have no enmity to the man, and that, if plunder was his object, he could have robbed him, as he was drunk, without murdering him to prevent detection. These are considerations which superadd to his own declaration of not having actually perpetrated the deed, and which must for ever involve the case in mystery.
Mrs. Burke was delivered in prison of her fifth child, and, at the next examination, which, for her convenience, took place at the House of Correction, Coldbath Fields, her other four children, three girls and a boy, were also present, and the two eldest gave their testimony a very correct and respectful manner, which interested all present, among whom were some of the royal family, and numbers of the nobility; so great an interest did the case excite.
After this examination Leary was committed to Newgate; and on Friday, September the 17th, he was arraigned at the Old Bailey. Mrs. Burke appeared as principal evidence against him, and her testimony was corroborated by that of several others.
Leary, in his defence, complained of misstatements in the newspaper, and charged several of the witnesses for the prosecution with perjury. He said he was the son of a schoolmaster -- to show he was not ignorant; and that, unlike others in his station of life, he was not addicted to petty theft.
He received an excellent character from several persons; but the jury found him Guilty, and he was sentenced to be hanged the ensuing Monday. He now became visibly affected, burst into tears, and seemed lost in affliction. He shook his head with bitterness at Macarthy; but, before his removal from the dock, he extended it to him with apparent forgiveness; but Macarthy refused to take, what he called, his blood-stained hand.
On Monday morning the platform was erected as early as five o'clock, with the railing round it. At six the circle was formed by the constables, and the crowd began to assemble from all quarters of the town. The day was remarkably fine, and every window, and all the tops of the houses that had any view of the gallows, were covered with spectators. The Rev. Mr. Devereux arrived about six o'clock, and was admitted to the unfortunate prisoner, whom he found walking about his cell with hurried steps, clenched hands, and his eyes turned about seven minutes, Denton's cap being pulled over his face all the time. Leary appeared very penitent and attentive to Mr. Devereux. At seven minutes before eight his cap was pulled over his face, and they were both launched into eternity. After the bodies were cut down they were put into a cart, and conveyed to the dissecting room, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, escorted by the city marshals, and a large posse of constables, where they were delivered up to the surgeons. Leary was observed to be a full quarter of an hour in convulsive agony, but Denton was dead almost as soon as he was let drop.
We have used no common diligence in collecting the particulars of this mysterious case, and shall not protract it by any comments of our own. One thing, however, may not be unnecessary to state, as it holds out a forcible lesson to our readers. Drunkenness appears to have been the means by which the murder was perpetrated. Had the unfortunate Clifford continued sober, he had escaped assassination; and, though his former conduct in cohabiting with a married woman, and then bringing her from her own country, deserves loud condemnation, yet it produced less mischievous consequence than that of getting inebriated. May others learn, from this case, that the man who, under the mask of good fellowship, prevails on his friend to drink till he is intoxicated, is a concealed enemy, and should be studiously avoided.
Note 1: We take the following description of Irish cottiers from the 'Dublin and London Magazine,' for 1825:--
'The word cottier, in Ireland, is synonymous with labourer in all other countries; and those who come under the denomination are composed of that class of society who are doomed, by a wise Providence, literally to earn their bread by the "sweat of their brow." We have no right, therefore, to expect in these any thing not found in the major part of the population of all kingdoms -- any thing but a perpetual necessity to toil and economise -- any thing but what are the associates of a poor man -- want, worldly want, and a long train of what many will consider privations. Nine-tenths of mankind are necessarily reduced to this condition; and, whatever theorists may say, in this condition they must continue while the economy of this world prevails.
'An Irish cottier is to be looked upon as the poorest man in the kingdom; one who, if he was not entitled to the appellation he bears, would be called a labourer, depending on his daily toil for support. At present he enjoys a portion of independence, which he would then lose; and cannot be under the apprehensions of him who has to provide for the day that is passing over him, because he can, if the fault is not his own, always possess an annual supply of provisions which habit has reconciled him to, that places him beyond the reach of absolute want, pauperism, and hunger.
'A cottier in Ireland is a poor man, who possesses from one to ten acres of land, upon which stands his habitation -- mean, to be sure; but in what country do the poor possess splendid dwellings? For this holding he is generally obliged to work for his landlord -- sometimes all, and sometimes half his time, according to the quantity of ground he occupies; but he frequently pays a certain rent, and employs his time in whatever way he thinks fit. Those who pay in labour are small cottiers, who have not more than two or three acres, which supply them with oats and potatoes; their employers, in almost every instance, being bound to give them feeding for a cow, and one or more sheep.
'The nominal price of labourers -- six or eight pence a day -- sounds low; but it should be recollected that, in Ireland, the farm-servants are all boarded; and that those who are thus paid are constantly employed -- in their own words -- wet and dry. The cottier has his work always provided for him, and for this, if he has common industry, his family are put in possession of absolute abundance; for a single acre of land, properly cultivated, will produce him at least sixty pounds of potatoes for every day in the year, while his cow supplies him with milk; and, as he can keep a pig, a goat, sheep, poultry, &c. he can have meat, drink, and clothes.'
*Note 2: As late as 1824, near two hundred Irish peasants were literally kidnapped by an unprincipled Master of a steam packet, which sailed between Cork and Bristol. He sent his agents through the country, to the distance of twenty miles, to inform the peasantry that thousands of hands were needed in London, where men received six and women four shillings a days, and that there was a certainty of constant employ for five years. The credulous people, who were only paid sixpence a day. and board, at home, immediately began to prepare for their journey, and, to provide for the expenses, sold their pig, pot, and every thing else they wore possessed of. They paid sixteen shillings for their passage; yet the unfeeling wretch who commanded the packet, and whose conduct deserves execration more than half the depredators recorded in this work, refused to let them either boil a kettle, or have boiling water, without sixpence for every time they wanted it, so that, on their arrival in London, they had not a farthing in their pockets. Finding that they had been cruelly deceived, they wandered through the streets, not knowing what to do. Information being given at Marylebone Street Police-office, they were brought up, when an old woman, named Eleanor Walsh, with much feeling detailed the above particulars. She implored, above all things, that they might be sent home; for, though their cabins and everything else were gone, still they would be able to make out something to eat in their own country, which they could not hope to do in this. The magistrate expressed his indignation at the supineness of the authorities in Cork in permitting mach an imposition, and wrote concern-rag it to the Home department, in consequence of which instructions were given to provide against a repetition of such a transaction. The poor people were sent home.