Pauline Roche Case – Dublin evening post June1855

Dublin evening post June1855



In re Paulina Roche

This was a minor matter, the question at present before the court being whether the guardian of the minor should pay the costs of proceedings consequent upon an alleged system of cruelty practised towards her. The facts of the case will be found fully set forth in the judgement of the court, which, under the circumstance, is the best source from whence to take them. An outline at present will therefore suffice. The minor, Paulina Roche, is the daughter of the sister of Dr John Roche O’Bryen, and Mr Robert H. O’Bryen of Queenstown, Cork. She (Mrs Roche) died in the year 1836, at which period the minor was only eleven months old. She was left by the mother to the care of Dr O’Bryen, of Clifton, Bristol, and a maintenance was allowed him for her support, which was to increase from time to time, till it amounted to £ 139 per annum. She was entitled to a fortune of £ 10,000, the greater proportion of which (£ 7,000 or £ 6,000) had been realised. Miss Roche was a young lady whose constitution was delicate, and therefore it was contended she required great care, and attention, instead of which she was provided with bad food, bad clothes, and was deprived of such necessaries as sugar and butter; she was likewise deprived of horse exercises which was indispensable to her health. A pony, the bequest of a dying friend, was given to her; and when she was deprived of this, a carriage horse was procured, which kicked her off his back, and she refused ever again to mount him. She complained that upon two occasions he (the guardian) beat her severely – that he made her a housekeeper and governess to the younger children – that he led her to believe she was a dependent upon his benevolence – and further, that she was not permitted to dine with him and his wife, but was sent down to the kitchen with the children and the servants. Having endured this treatment for a long period, she fled from his house in the manner hereafter described. To these charges Dr O’Bryen replied that he had treated his niece with kindness – that her preservation from consumption was solely ascribable to his judicious and skilful treatment – that he caused her to be well educated, had given her many accomplishments and a horse to ride, which was not a carriage horse but an excellent lady’s horse – that she upon two occasions told him untruths which required correction, and that he would have punished his own children much more severely. He also relied upon the affidavits of friends (Mrs and Miss Morgan, Mrs Parsons, and the affidavit of his own wife), which represented that his conduct to the young lady was uniformly kind, and that from their knowledge of him and the course pursued towards her, they could vouch that no hardship or cruelty had been practised towards her. It was likewise contended that she would have better consulted her own respectability and displayed better taste if she had abstained from taking such proceedings against her uncle and guardian with whom she had been for so many years.

Mr Hughes Q.C. and Mr E. Litten appeared as counsel for Mr. Thomas Keane, the next friend of the minor. Mr. Deasy, Q.C., and Mr Lawless, for the respondent, Dr O’Bryen.

The MASTER of the ROLLS said that a petition was presented by Mr Orpin, the solicitor for the minor, for the purpose of removing the late guardian for misconduct. His lordship made an order on that occasion to the effect that the minor should reside within the jurisdiction of the court, which was indirectly removing her from the protection of the late guardian. The matter then went into the Master’s Office, and the late guardian very prudently withdrew from his guardianship, but although he had done so, he placed on the files of the court an affidavit, which he (the Master of the Rolls) had no hesitation in saying was a most improper affidavit to have filed, and which rendered it impossible that inquiry should cease as long as it remained unanswered. The general nature of the charge against the late guardian appeared to be this – that although he was allowed from 1850 a maintenance of      £139 per annum, this young lady was not properly clothed – that she had not been properly fed – had been most cruelly treated and subjected to personal violence. Six or seven years ago she was actually driven to run away, which of course she had since been obliged to repent, and even if she did get education it was the education of a poor relation of the family. The governess who was employed to educate her cousins swore, as he (the Master of the Rolls) understood, that if the minor did get education it was at the expense of the guardian, and that she gave her instructions as a matter of charity. This young lady was obliged to run away, and conceal herself in a neighbouring village, and no person who looked at the subsequent transactions could entertain a doubt but that she had been treated with cruelty. It was sworn by Mr Sweeny, a solicitor of the court, that he was ashamed to walk with her she was so badly dressed. The Master, in his report, found that if the minor, who was in her nineteenth year, at the period he was making his enquiries, dined with the servants, or if she kept their company, it was not under compulsions, but he (the Master of the Rolls) would be glad to know was that the mode to deal with a minor of the court. He believed the truth of her statement that although the governess, the younger branches of the family, and she dined in a room off the kitchen in summer, in winter, a fire not been lighted in it, they dined in the kitchen. It was perfectly clear to his mind that this young lady had been kept ignorant, up to a late period, of the state of her circumstances. The Master found, and it was actually admitted by the respondent, that he told her on one occasion her father had left her nothing; that she would be in the poorhouse but for his generosity. He (the Master of the Rolls) adverted to this circumstance  for the purpose of asking this gentleman who struck this young lady, in delicate health, with a horsewhip for having told him, as he represented an untruth – what punishment he deserved for having told her the falsehood that her father had left her nothing? She had been absolutely kept in a state of servitude – admittedly not dining with her uncle and aunt, and admittedly dining in the room off the kitchen. She got half a pound of butter for a week, but no sugar or any of those matters which were considered by mere menials to be the necessaries of life. Having got dissatisfied with this state of things, she was anxious to know whether the statement was true that her father had left her nothing – whether she was entirely dependent upon her uncle, with whom she lived. On the morning of the 4th of May 1854, the transaction took place which led her to write the first letter to her uncle who was now her guardian. It appeared that one of her cousins brought her a piece of leather which the child had got in the study of the late guardian, but not telling her anything about it she asked her to cover a ball, and she did so. He interrogated her on the subject, and having denied she took the leather, he took his horsewhip and struck this delicate young lady a blow which left a severe mark on her back to the present day. His lordship then read the letter of the minor to her uncle in Cork inquiring about her father’s circumstances, and complaining bitterly of the treatment she had received, and stating that, though she was then nineteen years of age, she had no pocket money except a little which had been supplied by friends. His lordship continued to say that the facts contained in that letter were corroborated by the statements of the guardian himself. On another occasion, the minor being in the room with her uncle, his powder-flask was mislaid, and being naturally anxious about it, as there were younger children living in the house, he asked this young lady respecting it, but she laughed at his anxiety, and he struck her a blow, according to his own version, with his open hand, but after the blow of the horsewhip, he (the Master of the Rolls) was inclined to think it was with his fist as she represented. Another letter was written by the minor, in September, 1854, to her uncle John (sic) in Cork, which he enclosed to Mr Orpin, who adopted the course that he wished every solicitor would adopt who did not consider himself the solicitor for the guardian, but the solicitor for the minor, whose interest was committed to his charge. On the 9th of October a letter was written, by the dictation of this young lady, giving the most exaggerated account of her happiness, and this was alleged to be her voluntary act, though by the same post Mr Orpin received a letter from her stating that she was under the influence of her aunt when she wrote it. Ultimately, in the absence of her uncle, and late guardian, and apprehending his anger when he returned, she left the house and went to reside with her uncle John (sic) in Cork, her present guardian. A circumstance occurred when Mr Robert O’Bryen (sic) went to recover possession of his ward, which corroborated strongly the minor’s statement. When he was passing through Cork, she was looking out of the window and fainted upon seeing him – so much frightened was she at his very appearance. The conduct of this gentleman appeared to him (the Master of the Rolls) to be most unjustifiable – not to use a stronger expression – and Mr Orpin, the solicitor, was entitled to his costs, the payment of which he might have no apprehension, as this young lady, who was represented as having nothing, was the heiress to £ 10,000, left to her by her father. With reference to Mr Robert O’Brien (sic), he was clearly of opinion at present that he should bear all his own costs; but whether he would make him pay the costs the minor’s estate had been put to in investigating these transactions, he would reserve for future consideration.

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