Young Tommy Jackson and the Murder of Mauleverer
Chapter Two: The Murder of Mauleverer.
Version: September 25, 2012
One spring day, young Tommy was a walking with Mr. Malever... down a lane, maybe it was back of the church. They chanced upon a Gypsy. She stopped them on the path. “Would you be after having your fortune told?” Malever laughed. He reached into his pocket and crossed her palm with a coin. She pocketed the coin and then took the palm of young Tommy into her hand. She studied it carefully. Then she took the hand of Malever and as she held it palm upwards the look on her face darkened. She shook her head and said, “one of you will be known all over the world and one of you will meet a dastardly end”.
In my family, facts are often regarded as an impediment to a good story. As I scribbled down what my elderly third cousin in Bangor, Co. Down was telling me, I noted that it was a nice touch that the name Malever in his story sounded so close to the word malevolent, and it was also a neat bit to include the part about the known all over the world. After all, young Tommy would become so well known in the Far East that one of my third cousins in Kensington has a postcard addressed to: “TJ China”. Nothing more. It was posted from Germany in 1900 by the Prussian Crown Prince Henry on a bet that it would arrive as speedily as a fully addressed letter. Henry won.
The very next day after hearing this story, I chanced upon an article in the archives at Armagh about agrarian unrest around Crossmaglen in the years 1835-1855. This was the same timeframe and neighbourhood where young Tommy had lived in the years after the Famine. He was only six years old when it started, and the worst of it played out in the years that followed. People died at the side of the road near his home, their faces black from the ravages of cholera; some friends of his family who were better circumstanced than many, died from contracting the dread disease as they volunteered at the soup kitchens set up to feed the one third of the local population who had nothing left to eat. This article was essential to my understanding the context of Tommy’s early years, but I could never have guessed what I was about to read. It turned out that its focus was the murder of none other than Robert Lindsay Mauleverer. Even though my Canadian ears had heard my Irish cousin say a name that sounded something like Malever, this was clearly the same man. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.
The newspaper and court records of the day described the riveting tale of how Robert Lindsay Mauleverer, a land agent for the Hamilton, Tipping and Jones Estate in the Crossmaglen area, had been murdered on May 23, 1850 as he was being driven to the Cullaville Train Station. The accounts varied wildly and depended greatly upon who was doing the telling. The Armagh Guardian, which was often accused of being the voice of landlordism, predictably defended the reputation of the victim. The Dundalk Democrat just as predictably stood on the side of the tenant farmers.
Mauleverer was the youngest son of Rev William Mauleverer, of Derryloren, Co. Tyrone, born in 1811 at Maghera, Londonderry, where he had continued to live. To the inhabitants of Crossmaglen, this made him an outsider. Not only was he a land agent, but the fact that he was also a magistrate made him doubly suspect. Even so, it seems only fair to cut the man some slack. His family were substantial landowners, but it was his older brother Bellingham who inherited it all. That was how it usually was. The eldest son inherited the lands, and younger sons ended up in the service of others, and consequently in the crosshairs when things went sour. This Mauleverer wasn’t necessarily the beast that many made him out to be. One of the coroners described him as a man of enlightened and cultivated mind, retiring and amiable disposition.
There is no way we can know why young Tommy would be out walking with him. It may have been that Mauleverer was there to collect the Jackson’s rent, which was often in arrears. It may also have been because one of Tommy’s uncles, the Rev. Joseph Barkley was visiting. The two men were the same age, and had both been born in Maghera, so there were likely both social and business links between them. On the other hand, young Tommy may have simply chanced upon Mauleverer, and, being the kind of nine-year-old boy that he was, had struck up a conversation.
At the time of his death, Mauleverer had been staying for about a week at an inn at Crossmaglen, not far from Urker, as he collected rents and served writs. This was what he was paid to do. He had set out that day in reportedly good cheer, less than an hour before he was killed. His driver, Patrick McNally, testified that the horses - startled by gunshot – had galloped some thirty perches down the road before he could turn his jaunting car around. By the time McNally could get the horses under control, retrace his steps to Crossmaglen – a mile away –roust the local constabulary and then return to the scene of the crime, Mauleverer was already lying close to death in the ditch.
McNally’s version of this story quickly unravelled. The post-mortem did not support his mention of gunshot wounds. As a coroner reported:
There were nine wounds on the right, the left and the back of his head. Some were contused and some were incised wounds. One of them was five inches long, another two inches, two of them were two-and-a-half inches and the others were smaller. The skull under some of the wounds was a mass of fractures, so much so that when the skin was removed, the bones fell asunder.
It was clear that this murder was the result of a particularly violent, hands-on assault:
his head was beaten with stones to pieces, his blood and brains strewn on the road. The coroner searched for a bullet wound, but found none in the brain. One of the wounds might have been produced by a gunshot, but on the opposite side of the skull there was no corresponding wound to show that a ball had passed through.
Another element that undermined McNally’s version was that men who were close to the scene at the time and hard at work drawing the turf did not hear the report of the shot.
In Urker at this time, the kitchen was the one place that would be reliably warm and where young Tommy would have absorbed the gossip of the day. He would have known that Mauleverer had recently ordered the bailiff to seize seven cows, four heifers and a bull belonging to Mrs. Jackson. Fortunately for Tommy’s grandmother, the Mrs. Jackson being referred to, the seized animals were subsequently rescued by a number of persons who drove them to Urker House. As was typical, the neighbours then hid the cattle on their fields until the whole thing blew over. At least the Jacksons were better off than many of their neighbours, those who had nothing left for the bailiffs to seize.
The Petty Sessions that addressed the Jackson’s case came up on the Saturday before Mauleverer’s death, and was dismissed on the grounds that the summons had not been properly served. Mauleverer wasn’t ready to let it go so easily. He said, he would make a new distress on Jacksons when the cattle would be found on the land, and if he could get nothing to distrain, he would mark a writ against him [meaning David Jackson, Tommy’s father]. Witnesses did not see any cattle on the land since.
Many of the locals celebrated Mauleverer’s murder. He had, after all, recently ordered up to 300 evictions. It would have been hard for them to see that he too was between a rock and a hard place. He had recently been appointed by the Court of Chancery to collect the rents, but had no power to reduce them. That was the landlord’s prerogative. There is some evidence that Mauleverer had actually prevailed upon some of the landlords to lower their rents, and in some cases had succeeded. It was also true that some of the eviction notices that he served were not actually evictions, but rather a legal formality needed so that a new contract could be put in place. Ironically, the law was so arcane, that most tenants would have missed the fact that some of these writs might have served their long term interests. Fair enough. The past behaviours of these particular landlords had rarely considered or shown any understanding of the needs of their tenants.
What is somewhat surprising is that Joshua Michael Magee, the coroner, went so far in his summation as to state that the particular social conditions of the time had to be considered in this case, and that it could be argued that the death of one man was preferable to the deaths of hundreds exposed to slow but certain death by starvation. In this, he was echoing the sentiments of Land League activists such as TJ’s uncle and mentor, Rev. Daniel Gunn Brown. Although many more lives would still be lost in the ongoing agrarian unrest over the ensuing decades, the tide was beginning to turn against the abuses of landlordism. Ironically, even Edward Tipping II, the son of the landlord that Mauleverer had worked under, washed his hands of him, “He was a very hard man, and I heard him say the best plan was "to break the tenants" to get rid of them and get better.”
Tutored as he was by his uncle Daniel Gunn Brown, Thomas would have absorbed more of the political and economic aspects of these events than most nine year olds. He would have absorbed the fact that when tenants like his parents improved their fencing, drainage or buildings, their rent was “racked” up to reflect the increased value of the land. Hence the term rack-rented. His grandmother, who was widowed and left with four young children in her late 20s, had nearly lost Urker for good as a result of such reappraisals. Since this grandmother lived with his parents at Urker until her death in 1880, the young Thomas would have grown up hearing all the details, but also would have walked past some of the other farm lands that had once slipped from her grasp.
Urker was an excellent place to be schooled in the particulars of how the decisions of owners, banks and governments impacted on tenants’ daily lives. In the parish of Creggan, where the returns per Irish acre had always been low, prospects dimmed even further when Free Trade legislation favouring the British was introduced. Local exports of butter, linen, hides and such were suddenly at an increased disadvantage. Then the Famine had hit, and the most vulnerable of the farmers of the parish simply couldn’t produce enough on their farms to both feed their families and then pay the rents.
A further legal wrinkle meant that Jacksons and several other Creggan families had additional legal and collection costs. The Hamilton, Tipping and Jones estate was run by not one, but three absentee landlords. As a result, fines for late payment could be, and often were, levied by all three. Of course, lowering the rents would have made both economic and compassionate sense, but since these landlords lived elsewhere they found it easy to ignore such options. Instead they employed police backup for their bailiffs, who then showed up with men armed with pickaxes, crowbars and such. Frequently, these enforcers, fueled by a mix of whiskey and entitlement, took to levelling houses.
A story about Mauleverer’s last unjust act is worth mentioning since it was the kind of hot gossip that would have been heard, and seared into young Tommy’s memory. About twenty minutes before the murder, a poor widow with naught but four pence to her name was said to have come into Crossmaglen in order to buy a bog ticket. These tickets were a kind of licence that Mauleverer sold authorizing the bearer to cut turf. On this day, the widow was tuppence short of the usual six pence price. Without access to the turf she would have no fuel for heat or cooking. Apparently, Maulever:
... peremptorily refused, and dismissed the woman with a malediction. She returned without the ticket, and probably communicated to her neighbours the result of her application, while he, in a few minutes after returning to Mr. McDonnell’s [the innkeeper’s] handed him the tickets, saying: “Give these to whom you like. If you get money from them, so much the better. If not, it is no matter.”
Some said that this action was in some way connected to his murder some twenty minutes later. One key point raised at the trial doesn’t support this particular narrative. Apparently, £250 – a considerable sum - was raised beforehand in order to bankroll the murder. This indicates serious preplanning, not an impetuous act of revenge over injustice. Still, it is a story worth keeping in mind. When TJ visited Urker in his later years, he would often ride his horse over to Crossmaglen Square, and toss sovereigns into the air for youngsters who quickly squirreled them away. It is hard to imagine that these two kinds of acts of his were not related in some way, even if only unconsciously.
Just as there was never a conviction for Mauleverer’s murder, so too there were no convictions for most of the threats, assaults and murders connected to the agrarian unrest in the region. Even so, after Mauleverer’s murder, circumstances did improve somewhat for the tenants. The new agent was directed by the landlords to offer:
all arrears to be forgiven, byegones to be byegones, the landlord to appoint a valuator and the tenants another for the purpose of fixing a fair rent on the land.
Still, peace was a long way off. Threats continued against many of the agents and “strong farmers” in the region, many of whom were relations of Tommy’s, or else long time friends of the family. No jury dared to convict the perpetrators. Had they done so, they would have risked being the next targets. In such circumstances, it is hard to know what the face of true justice might have looked like. After the murder, the Dundalk Democrat, reporting from the perspective of the tenant farmer, said: ... that the murder has produced much good in the neighbourhood of Crossmaglen.
In this context, Mauleverer’s murder is less surprising than the fact that the second part of the gypsy’s prophecy would indeed come to pass: that this nine year old boy, whose parents’ livestock had so recently been seized by this same man, would come to be known all over the world.
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