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criminal past

'Garda Pulse system' from the 1800s reveal details of Ireland's most famous Victorian crimes

The digital archive details crimes such as murder, assaults, theft, and bestiality around the country in the 1800s.

DETAILS OF CRIMES committed in 19th century Ireland have been revealed with the digital archiving of historic police records.

The records come from the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police gazette, called the Hue and Cry, has been described as the “Garda Pulse system” for the 19th century.

It details crimes such as murder, assaults, theft, and bestiality around the country in the 1800s.

Police at the time used the publication to share information about criminal cases around the country.

Police Barracks Roscommon Police barracks in Roscommon, which the records show had a high crime rate. Ancestry Ancestry

It was a means to communicate secretly between members of the police divisions and contained information on wanted criminals, types of crimes committed, rewards offered, criminals who had been apprehended, missing persons and army deserters.

The genealogy website, Ancestry, has made thousands of the cases from the 1800s available online, with details relating to some of the high-profile cases such the Phoenix Park murders now available.

Phoenix Park murders, May 1882

One of the most high-profile murders in 19th century Dublin was the Phoenix Park murders.

Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke were fatally stabbed in the park on 6 May 1882.

Cavendish,_Lord_Frederick_Charles_(1836-1882),_by_John_D._Miller,_pubd_1883_(after_Sir_William_Blake_Richmond,_exh._RA_1874) Lord Frederick Cavendish WikiCommons WikiCommons

Thomas_Henry_Burke Thoman Henry Burke WikiCommons WikiCommons

Cavendish was the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Burke was the permanent undersecretary, the most senior Irish civil servant.

It’s reported that when the two men were near the Phoenix Monument, they were surrounded by five or six men, armed with knives, who attacked them.


The assassination was carried out by members of the Irish National Invincibles, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Four men wanted for the murder were described in the records as having “whiskers and moustache recently clipped to give a bristling appearance…natural hollow or dinge on bridge of nose…brown faded coat as if much exposed to sun…the men had the appearance of sailors or well-to-do artisans”.

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The records show there was a massive reward of £10,000 sterling to a person who came forward with information in relation to the murders.

‘Well-to-do artisans’

The police investigation was headed up by Superintendent John Mallon of the Dublin Metropolitan Police who said “the men had the appearance of sailors or well-to-do artisans”.

Maamtrasna Murders

The archive also has details in relation to the Maamtrasna Murders.

On 17 August, 1882, almost the entire Joyce family were tragically massacred in their small cabin in the Mayo mountains.

John Joyce, his wife Bridget, son Michael and daughter Peggy as well as the mother-in-law Margaret were all killed with only their twelve year-old son Patsy alive when their neighbours found them.

The Times newspaper in England wrote about the case, stating:

No ingenuity can exaggerate the brutal ferocity of a crime which spared neither the grey hairs of an aged woman nor the innocent child of 12 years who slept beside her. It is an outburst of unredeemed and inexplicable savagery before which one stands appalled, and oppressed with a painful sense of the failure of our vaunted civilisation.

Ten men were convicted and three were hanged for this crime.

The Munster Embezzlement 1885

Robert Farquharson, the assistant manager of the Dublin branch of Munster Bank, is mentioned in police records for having absconded from his office, “leaving his accounts in an unsatisfactory state”.

The records describe him as having “good dark sparkling eyes, prominent teeth, walks with a stoop, dressed in gentlemanly style, generally wears a silk hat”.

Farquharson was last spotted on the platform of the railway station on Amiens Street. He had embezzled over £70,000 and then vanished without a trace.

While the documents give an insight into some of the era’s most prominent crimes, it also has details relating to the more regular crimes that occurred every day.

Murder of Lord Leitrim

One document relates to the murder of Earl of Leitrim William Sydney and John W Macken and Charles Buchanan.

police  1

One account of the murder states that at the time Lord Leitrim was described as “evil at its worst” and had earned quite the reputation due to his eviction policy and general treatment of tenants which had earned him many enemies.

It’s understood that a week after a series of evictions, three men decided to take matters into their own hands. On 2 April 1878, Michael Heraghty, Michael McElwee and Neil Sheils ambushed and killed Lord Leitrim at Cratlagh Wood, near Milford.


Other cases relate to other crimes, such as that of Mary Egan who stole three coats.


Murder in Galway 

Another one mentions a murder in Galway in 1882, which had an award for information of £2,000.


While the following case relates to the whereabouts of a man who was convicted in Britain for bestiality.

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Ancestry’s Rhona Murray said the records give us great insight into a particularly turbulent time in Irish society in the late 19th century where there was significant unrest due to the Land War which resulted in many political figures, landlords, agents and tenants murdered.

It’s fascinating to see the variety of crimes and note how some of them differ from those committed today. Stealing livestock was rife and the level of assaults and murders was much higher than the present day. It all makes for fascinating reading for anybody looking to find out more about either a historic offender or a victim of crime in their family tree.

To search the Irish Police Gazettes 1861-1893 log onto 

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