THIS gentleman, though of retired habits, has had the misfortune to be almost perpetually before the public, and sometimes in situations and under circumstances very inconsistent with his rank or fortune. Although Mr. O'Connor has been most honourably acquitted on more occasions than one, we shall make no apology for introducing his case here; for, as all men are liable to be accused of malpractices, it is satisfactory to know, that there is but one legal ordeal for the high and the low, through which they may expect to come off honourably, if not guilty.
Mr. O'Connor traces his ancestry to the last king of Ireland, and has uniformly evinced an extraordinary attachment to his native country. Whether the links of genealogy are unbroken or not is of little consequence; for the individual must be judged by his actions, and not by his name or pretensions. Mr. O'Connor, though not an Irish monarch, which some of his countrymen say he ought to be,*[see note 1] is certainly an independent Irishman. His education was that of a gentleman; his profession that of the law; and his fortune ample, being at least four thousand pounds a year.
The reader may recollect the case of Arthur O'Connor, which we have already given. That gentleman was brother to the subject of this sketch; and the principles for which Arthur was prosecuted were supposed to be those of his elder brother, Roger. Accordingly we find him apprehended, on the suspicion of treason, at his seat of Connor-ville in the county of Cork, in 1796, and from that year to 1803 he may be said to have been a state prisoner; for he was no sooner liberated than he was again arrested, and passed, a state shuttlecock, several times between the Irish and English ministers.
During these peregrinations he displayed great firmness, and, on the coast of Ireland, actually saved the lives of the officers in whose custody he was. Refusing the terms accepted by his brother, and the other state prisoners, in 1798 he was transmitted to Fort George, in Scotland, and, at length, was liberated from prison, on condition that he should reside in Middlesex, for the absurd timidity of the government apprehended his influence in Ireland too much to permit his return; and when they did comply with his earnest solicitations, it was on condition that he should not visit the south, where his name was supposed to be a tower of strength.
In consequence of this prohibition Mr. O'Connor had to dispose of his family mansion, and choose another place of residence. He became the purchaser of Dangan, in the county of Meath, the estate of the Marquis of Wellesley, where he continued to live engaged in agriculture and literary pursuits, never mixing in politics; and, although the intimate friend of Sir Francis Burdett, he has never appeared to give either the baronet or his friends any support, though possessed of large property in England.
O'Connor was what is called in Ireland a marked man; that is, he was one whose movements the minions of power watched closely, and, consequently, in a country where the gentry are all connected with the powers that be, he was not regarded with much respect. Almost every assizes exhibited a case in which O'Connor was either a witness, a plaintiff, or a defendant; and wherever his name appeared, angry discussion was sure to follow, though his fearless independence, and well-known courage, kept it within proper bounds.
For several years his name, except when introduced at the assizes, was almost forgotten, until the year 1817, when a most extraordinary charge was exhibited against him; nothing less than an accusation of having robbed the Galway mail five years before.
Two notorious characters, named Owen and Waring, were apprehended for a robbery in 1817, tried in Dublin, and found guilty. They received sentence of death, and the day of execution was appointed; but before the fatal hour arrived they charged Mr. O'Connor with being the captain of the banditti who had robbed the Galway mail. The circumstances which they detailed were so minute, that O'Connor was apprehended, and the two approvers received the royal pardon, to qualify them as witnesses against the persons accused, for O'Connor's steward, named M'Keon, was also included in the charge.
The robbery of the Galway mail had taken place in 1812, ten miles from O'Connor's residence at Dangan; but the mail-bags, and some of the fire-arms, were subsequently found in the demesne, a circumstance which, when combined with others,*[see note 2] served to give a probability to the charge of Owen and Waring.
The arrest of O'Connor upon such a base charge produced au extraordinary sensation, not only in Ireland, but in England, which was considerably heightened by an address from that gentleman, then in Newgate, entitled "Third Attempt upon the Life of O'Connor." In this pamphlet he attributes, perhaps justly, the prosecution to a conspiracy against his life; but when he insinuates that government, from political motives, brought all their power and influence to give effect to the charge, we can hardly suppose it possible, though we are ready to admit that the gentlemen of the post-office, as they were bound to do, supposing him guilty, did all in their power to convict him.
Mr. O'Connor's trial came on at Trim, August the 6th, 1817, the prisoner having been removed thither, by habeas corpus, from Newgate. The court was crowded to excess, and O'Connor, with his friend Sir Francis Burdett, were allowed to sit within the bar.
Several witnesses having proved the robbery of the mail on the 2d of October, 1812, and the conviction of Richard Waring for the said robbery, Michael Owen, the chief informer, was called.
He stated that he had been a labourer in the employ of Mr. O'Connor, at Dangan, and that previous to the robbery he was asked by his master if he would join in robbing the Galway mail; he said that he would; and that Mr. O'Conner procured him and others arms; that they repaired to the turnpike gate at Cappagh Hill, stopped the mail, shot the guards, and robbed the coach and passengers; that on their arrival at Dangan Mr. O'Connor met them -- hoped they had had 'good luck,' and then in a private part of the demesne proceeded to divide the booty, which amounted to three hundred and fifty pounds each -- that O'Connor took his portion, and obtained two hundred pounds more from two of the robbers, to whom he had afforded previous protection.
Owen further stated he had been twice tried for the robbery -- once on the capital charge, and at another time for passing some of the stolen notes; that he had been recently found guilty of a robbery in the county of Dublin, and sentenced to death, and that he obtained his pardon for having given information against Mr. O'Connor. On his cross-examination he admitted that he could not tell the number of robberies he had committed, they were so many.
After the examination of other witnesses, Sir Francis Burdett deposed to his knowledge of the prisoner, to whom he gave a high character for honour, principle, and integrity. The jury, without retiring, gave a verdict of -- Not Guilty, and the court rang with approbation.
'I have suffered mach.' said O'Connor, 'What what would I not suffer for a day like this?'
Mr. O'Connor, being thus triumphantly acquitted, commenced a prosecution of Waring for perjury. Waring's trial came on at Greets Street, Dublin, October the 30th 1817; and the post-office, as if still believing in his statement, employed the most eminent counsel to defend him. From Mr. O'Connor's evidence it appeared that he had more than once given Owen and Waring good characters, when on their trial for robberies; and it was proved that he had evinced great solicitude fur them at one of the Trim assizes. This suspicious attachment of Mr. O'Connor for such abandoned ruffians as murderers and mail-coach robbers produced its effect upon the jury; but what helped to throw complete discredit on Mr. O'Connor's evidence was the fact, elicited on his cross-examination, that he did not believe in the Jewish dispensation, or the Christian atonement. This acknowledgment of his infidel opinions created a buzz of disapprobation; and, when the acquittal of the prisoner was announced, it seemed to give great satisfaction: so fickle is the opinion of the multitude, that a word will convert their applause into condemnation!
In this case there appears something very strange and unsatisfactory; but, as we are unable to penetrate the mystery which must for ever environ it, we leave our readers to draw their own conclusions. One word, however, is necessary. Mr. O'Connor was acquitted by a jury, and is therefore to be considered innocent; while it is very possible that his apparent solicitude for such wretches as Owen and Waring might have arisen from the purest humanity, and active friendship for the unfortunate portion of his countrymen, with whose destiny he boasts to have connected himself. At all events, let it not be supposed that we 'set down aught in malice,' either in respect to Mr. O'Connor or his prosecutors.
Since 1817 Mr. O'Connor has published the 'Chronicles of Eri,' and, if we believe himself, he was, at the time of his trial, engaged on a work on the Bible. It has not yet appeared, and, it is to be hoped, never will.
*Note 1: In a humorous little work, lately published by Mr. Moore, entitled, 'Memoirs of Captain Rock,' the etymology of the name is thus accounted for: R for Roger, O C for O'Connor, and K for King. e. Roger O'Connor King. This is a double-edged satire, for it ridicules at once the supposed pretensions of the individual, and the folly of etymologists.
*Note 2: An extraordinary robbery took place at Dangan in 1813. We extract the particulars from the Irish papers, and can vouch for their authenticity; for they were afterwards fully proved in evidence when an action was brought to recover the sum lost from the county:--
'Mr. Roger O'Connor, of Dangan, in the county of Meath, for which place he pays an annual rent of one thousand five hundred pounds to Colonel Burrowes, who resides in London, has been in the habit of refusing to pay his rent at any place but on the premises. A Mr. Francis Gregory, agent to Colonel Burrowes, after some preliminary discussion with Mr. O'Connor, employed Mr. Doyle, postmaster of Trim, to receive the latter half-year's rent. On the 28th ult. Mr. Doyle went to Dangan for this purpose: at the gate he was accosted by a person, who said he was stationed there to give Mr. O'Connor immediate notice of his approach; and Mr. Doyle followed him into the house, where he found Mr. O'Connor and his Son Roderick; when Mr. Doyle entered, O'Connor desired his son to withdraw. He then proceeded to pay Mr. Doyle the rent, amounting to seven hundred and fifty pounds, and which was chiefly in one-pound notes. Mr. Doyle observed upon the inconvenience of that mode of payment, and requested the use of pen and ink to mark the notes. This was refused: Mr. Doyle, after counting the notes, left the house -- and within thirty yards of it, and before he had got to the stable, he was attacked from behind by two persons in disguise, whose faces were masked; they knocked him down, tied a handkerchief over his face, robbed him of the money he had just received, and some silver of his own; having bound his legs with a cord, and forced a sack over his head, they left him. During the whole transaction, the robbers never uttered a word. No person whatever having come to his assistance, Mr. Doyle remained for some time before he was able to extricate himself. On his return to the house he saw a lady, to whom he mentioned how he had been treated. Shortly after Mr. O'Connor arrived. who expressed great surprise at the robbery. Mr. Doyle then took his departure. The robbery been committed at eleven o'clock in the day, the necessary steps are in progress to levy the money upon the county of Meath. We have every reliance that the gentlemen of that vicinity will use their best exertions to discover the persons engaged in this most mysterious transaction.'