A deeper look at the Will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870) part 4, Burke v. O’Bryen

A little over a year ago, I came across this in the national Archives catalogue,  ” Cause number: 1872 B246. Short title: Burke v Keith.”  Basil and Harriet O’Bryen were somehow involved in the case. I registered for a reader’s ticket, given the required notice because the records were stored off site, and was booked in for a visit to the National Archives in Kew.

National Archives, Kew

My original plan was to see if anything about Burke v. Keith could shed any light on Burke v. O’Bryen. It was a rather odd experience. Very close, in fact only a few stops on the Overground. Almost airport-style searches for entry into the reading rooms, and then a collection of the materials ordered via a rather strange two-way locker system.  Everyone else seemed to be either collecting books, or A4 box files, or even large heavy-duty brown envelopes. What I seemed to be collecting was larger. “Ah, the large order” was what the lady at the desk said ” I’ll bring the trolley round to your locker. It’ll probably be best if you take the boxes out one at a time, and return each one before you collect the next.”

What turned up was three cardboard archive boxes, each tied with rather elderly bits of string, and after a lot of looking through irrelevant, unrelated cases. I found this

1872-B-No 246 Filed 28th November 1872 pursuant to order dated 1st November 1872

In Chancery

between

William Henry Burke – plaintiff

and

Wilson Keith

Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriet Matilda, his wife

Mary Ann Burke, the wife of William Henry Burke.

and

William Donald Henry Burke

Edmund John Burke

Kate Alice Burke (spinster)

Sarah Elizabeth Burke (spinster)

Walter Keith Burke

all infants

Defendants

So Burke v. Keith and others is a case where Henry Burke is in a legal dispute with his sister, and two brothers-in-law, [Wilson Keith is Mary Ann Burke’s brother] and his wife, and children are also defendants in the case. What follows is fairly full and verbatim:

The joint and several answer of Wilson Keith, Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriett Matilda, his wife, three of the above-named defendants to the amended bill of complaint of the above named Plaintiff.

In answer to the amended said bill we, Wilson Keith, Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriett Matilda O’Bryen, say as follows-

  1. We believe the statements contained in the first eight paragraphs of the Plaintiff’s Bill of Complaint are correct.
  2. The said William Henry Burke the testator in the Bill named made his will dated the 6th day of May 1870 and thereby after making certain bequests and devises he gave all the residue of his real and personal estate to his daughter the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen then Harriett Matilda Burke absolutely and he appointed the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen and George William Wood and the defendant Basil William O’Bryen, executrix and executors of his said will.
  3. The said testator died on the 17th July 1870 without having revoked or altered his said will except so far as the same was revoked or altered by a codicil thereto which did not affect the disposition of residue or the appointment of executors in the will contained.
  4. Upon the testator’s death a caveat was entered by the Plaintiff William Henry Burke  against the proof of the said will and codicil. The said caveat was however withdrawn and the said will and codicil admitted to probate upon an arrangement being come to between the Plaintiff and the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen then Harriett Matilda Burke. The said arrangement was embodied in the following agreement which was duly signed by the solicitors of the parties on 19th November 1870.

“Miss Burke to assign Green’s mortgage debt and the West Drayton mortgage and the securities for the same”

“Miss Burke to take upon herself payment of Mr and Mrs Shea’s annuity”

“Mr Burke to provide for the child Rhoda and to pay Messrs Jenkinsons’ and Mr Lovejoy’s charges and expenses in respect of Green’s mortgage.”

“Miss Burke to pay all debts and charges out of residue, The household furniture, plate, linen, brougham, and horse and things in and about the house and premises not to be considered residue but to be the property of Miss Burke.

“Miss Burke to be entitled to retain out of residue £200 and £500 to dispose of as she sees fit.”

“The balance of the residue (if any)to be handed to Mr Burke.”

“Miss Burke to execute deeds in accordance with drafts marked, A,B, and C. Mr Burke to execute deed in accordance with draft marked D.

“If residue insufficient to pay the debts and charges including the £200 and £500 Mr Burke is to make up deficiency to the extent of £1000 to be paid in equal instalments in one and two years. If the deficiency should not exceed £500 to be paid within one year and if not exceeding £250 to be paid on demand.

It’s not Burke v. O’Bryen, in fact it seems to be rather the reverse. An out-of-court settlement between Henry Burke and his younger sister, which seems to be very much in his favour. Harriet does get most, if not all, of the house contents, but by and large, Henry Burke seems to have got his way regarding the residue.

It still leaves the question about what exactly Burke v. O’Bryen in 1871 was about. It must have happened between the 1st February, when Harriet and Basil were married, and 8th August 1871 when the notice was published in the London Gazette. 

There are two other major questions raised by Harriet and Henry’s settlement. First,  why does Henry agree for “Mr Burke to provide for the child Rhoda.” Who is she, and why does she need to be provided for? Secondly, who are Mr and Mrs Shea, and why does Harriet ” take upon herself payment of Mr and Mrs Shea’s annuity” ?

The other person who doesn’t really seem to appear much is Elizabeth Sarah Burke. In 1870, she was forty years old , and had been married to Alfred Edwardes for fourteen years, all five of their children had been born, and their eldest son was about eleven years old. Both Elizabeth and Alfred seem to have avoided the dispute.

But the next step is to look in greater detail about what Burke v. Keith can tell us.

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