The trial of John Prendergast in Dublin

Studying the Diploma of Family History at Utas, I learned an exciting way to discover more about our ancestors. This technique helps bring them historically to life.

I had read the court report of what transpired the night John Prendergast was arrested in Dublin. Click for court report

Although I have visited Dublin on 5 separate occasions, the location where John Prendergast was caught, after quite a chase, were mere words to me.

Because I wanted to visualize the scene, based on the details in John’s court hearing and knowing that there were three Prendergast families, all related living in Dublin in the 1700’s, I decided to plot John’s route as he tried to escape on the night of his capture on an historical 1798 map of Dublin. 


Transcribed Newspaper Article of the Trial of John Prendergast

Freeman’s Journal 1763-1924, Saturday April 28, 1798

Quarter Sessions, Tuesday April 24

The Recorder and Bench of Aldermen sat to try Criminals pursuant to adjournment

John Harrington, Francis McDowell, Edward Dunn, John Prendergast, Con Moloney and James Kelly, were next put to the bar on a charge laid capitally for having on the 15th instant stolen out of the ware house of Henry Warren White, two hogsheads of tobacco, a quantity of dark sugar ? with a box of Godbold’s Vegetable Balsam, value / (Scol).

Robert Terling deposed that he knew of the felony having been committed, but could not charge the prisoners with it. Ryder, a constable of the Watch of St. Mary’s Parish, identified the prisoners whom he took in consequence of having received information that stolen goods, were lodged in the stables of Alderman Lyndon, at the ?(L ).

He went thither, accompanied by other watchmen and on using threats to the Prisoner Harrington who replied to him from within the Stable, the door was at length opened. On interrogating him as to the stolen good, he acknowledged to the witnesses to have smuggled tobacco in his care, and told him that the persons who lodged it were there on the premises on which the witnesses had been apprehended. The prisoner Dunn acknowledged that the tobacco was held at the opposite stores – a box of Godbold’s Vegetable Balsam, and an handkerchief containing five pounds of sugar were found with the Prisoner Harrington. Mr White proved his property, in the quantity of tobacco who told him it exactly corresponded to quantity with thw samples produced to him and the quantity ? agreed in weight with the quantity missing to a pound.

The Inspector of Tobacco who happened to be foreman of the Jury corroborated that part of Mr. White’s testimony which referred to him.

Mr. Green, as councel for Harrington and Kelly, two servants belonging to Alderman Lynam, made a very ingenious defence, on the ground of a practice though, he said, extremely culpable, yet did not by any construction of law amount to a felony, that of harbouring smuggled goods. The story which Harrington told the Constable of the Watch carried a conviction of its truth on the face of it by his promptness in mentioning the names of the men who left the tobacco in his charge, which, which he would not do without fruggle? And hesitation had they been his confederates in a capitol felony. The box of Balsam and the sugar Harrington acknowledged to have received from them as part of gratuity for his care. The prisoner Kelly he looked upon to have been deluded on the same principle and if any regard could be had to character to ? a fact of this nature, wrapped up in mystery and doubt, his ? were regularly happy in that point.

Alderman Lynan and another gentleman deposed in very strong terms the uncommon fidelity of Harrington and Kelly. The Recorder in his charge tole the Jury, that under very strong circumstances of guilt in the Prisoners, particularly three of them, against McDowall no evidence appeared, having been apprehended elsewhere barely on suspicion. Still if they entertained a doubt, they might by their verdict render punishment transportation, by stating the value of the articles stolen at 4s 9d each. The Jury after retiring acquitted McDowell and found the five remaining prisoners guilt to the value of 4s9d each, who are accordingly to be transported for seven years.

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