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Phoenix a Land Leaguer

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Phoenix a Land Leaguer

Post by Karen on Fri 20 May 2011 - 14:35

Elizabeth Phoenix was the woman who testified at the inquest of Mary Jane Kelly. During my recent research on the Parnell Commission inquiries, I discovered the surname Phoenix among the individuals who testified or were charged as Fenians/Land Leaguers. Could this Phoenix individual be a brother, cousin, uncle or husband of Elizabeth Phoenix?


The Parnell Commission has adjourned for a month's holiday, the President urging the counsel engaged to do their utmost to shorten the proceedings.

A buzz of excitement ran through the court on Wednesday, when the Attorney-General called a witness, who has become famous through his name having added a much-used word to the English language - Captain Boycott. In appearance the Captain is a pleasant-looking old gentleman with a slight stoop; his face is careworn, as well it might be, and he mumbles his words somewhat unintelligibly into his long, shaggy grey beard. He told how he was appointed in 1873 agent to Lord Erne over his Mayo estate, and became a tenant of a farm of his near Lough Mask. The rental of the property was 430 pounds, there were about thirty or forty tenants, and the Captain had in previous years been on good terms with them. In 1880 Lord Erne was offering a reduction of 10 per cent, but the tenants said they ought to get 25 per cent. The result was that processes were issued against eleven, but served only on three. The Captain was not at home when an attempt was made to serve these processes in September, 1880; but during the evening he found that the police and the process-servers had retreated to his house; and the next day it appeared that his servants had been turned off by a mob. The men said they were sorry to go and to lose their wages, but they dare not remain. In the evening, as the Captain returned from Ballinrobe, he received a communication from the police, and two mounted constables rode home with him behind his car. The Captain then began to describe thus his life subsequent to the 22nd September, 1880: -

"I had to get up at four o'clock in the morning and go to the stables, where I fed the horses. Then I would go to the cows, and thence to the fields, where I would pull turnips and throw them to the cattle. Then I would go home, have a bath and breakfast. (Laughter.)
Here his story was suddenly cut short by the President interposing and remarking, amid some laughter: -
"In short, you had to do on the land everything which you would not have done could you have got some one to do it for you?"
Captain Boycott - Yes. The people said they dared not work for me. On the 1st November I went to Ballinrobe, and I was going to call at the Infantry barracks. There I was hooted and hustled by a mob of about 500 people, and I had to get the police to protect me. The infantry were called out, and a police escort had to take me to Castlebar, where the next day I received the rents from Lord Erne's tenants with the reduction of 10 per cent. In consequence of all this I had to obtain men, who were afterwards called emergency men. These came voluntarily about the first week in November. Meanwhile my walls were thrown down, and cattle driven about. One sheep had its leg broken in being driven over the wall, and a mare had her eye knocked out. When I went into the public road I was hooted at, and people would spit as I passed. I had to carry provisions to my cart myself, and afterwards I could not get provisions at all. They had to be brought by steamer. In consequence of this treatment I left with my wife and niece at the end of November. I went to the Harman Hotel in Dublin, but the landlord showed me a threatening notice he had received, and told me he dared not let us remain. The next morning I came on to London, and for some time afterwards was in the United States. In the middle of September, 1881, I returned to Lough Mask. When I went to a stock auction at Westport I was hooted and mobbed, and my effigy was first hanged, and then burnt in the market-square. I had to be protected by the police."
The Captain says he knew no cause whatever for the treatment he received, beyond the matter of collecting the rents. No question whatever was put to him in cross-examination. Subsequently a Police Sergeant stated that on Captain Boycott attending the sessions at Ballinrobe on the 1st November, 1880, there was a riot, for which fourteen persons were prosecuted. At the trial, Mr. Moquihan, the president of the local League, sat in court during the day with the solicitor who defended them.
During the day the President remarked that the Commissioners regarded the future with alarm, for they had not yet got up to the end of any one branch of the subject. They had entered upon two, and there remained several others of not less importance. It was impossible for them to interfere, for they could not say that any evidence was irrelevant until they had heard the whole of the case. Therefore, all he could do was to express an earnest hope that the evidence would be compressed within limits, which he thought had in some cases been somewhat exceeded: -

"It must be remembered that rarely, if ever, any legal investigation can be exhaustive. Life is not long enough. We are, therefore, led to entertain the hope that years of our lives may not be consumed in this inquiry."

Counsel on both sides thereupon protested that they were doing their utmost to shorten the inquiry, Sir C. Russell asking the Judges to invite the Attorney-General to approach the connection between the charges and the persons charged. To this Mr. Justice Smith said, "Gentlemen on your side, Sir Charles, have not curtailed their cross-examination; and then the other side follow." But Sir Charles Russell suggested that it was he who followed the other side, and that the Commissioner had put the cart before the horse.

The Fenian who gave evidence on Thursday exhibited the utmost sang-froid. Throughout his cross-examination as to his confessed attempts to commit outrage he spoke with complete self-possession, answering questions with much politeness and with considerable acuteness. His name is James Buckley, and he is a labourer, twenty-seven years old, living at Causeway, about two miles from Tralee. He said that in November, 1880, he was sworn in as a Fenian. Before this he had known of such outrages in the district as houghing and maiming of cattle, but they were not very many. Shortly before this time a branch of the Land League was established in Causeway. Subsequently he attended a meeting of about twenty of the Fenian Association in the Land League rooms in Thomas Casey's house. At this meeting four sergeants were appointed, two of them being members of the Land League. The secretary of the League was also a Fenian Head Centre. In May, 1881, Phoenix, a member of the League Committee, spoke to the witness about Thomas Sheehy's occupying the land of his brother-in-law Donnelly, who had been dispossessed on account of money which Donnelly owed him. One day in that month Phoenix told the witness that there was to be an attack made on Sheehy's house that night, and that Buckley was to meet Fitzgerald and some more of "the boys" of the village at Ballinglanna Fort, about three or four hundred yards from Sheehy's house. The house was attacked, but no one entered, for one of the party saw a man escape through a window at the back and make his way towards the police barracks, and he thought it was Sheehy. For this attack on Sheehy's house no one was ever arrested. Another outrage described by this Fenian was an attack made by him on one Michael Roche, his neighbour at Causeway. Roche had been expelled from the Land League in 1881 because (the witness said) he had given information to the authorities about the working of the League, and had been the means of getting Phoenix and other men arrested. At the end of 1881 Roche made a claim for malicious injury to his cow and to his house; and subscriptions were asked for to oppose this claim. In June, 1882, a meeting was held in Patrick Dee's house, and it was arranged that Fitzgerald, Phoenix, and the witness should shoot Roche, but they did not meet him alone that time. A few days afterwards a meeting was held at Dee's house, and Buckley was asked if he would shoot Roche, and was told he would get "costs to America" from the funds of the Land League. Two revolvers and twenty-four cartridges were given to him; but the pistol repeatedly missed fire, which was accounted for by the witness by his having hid them in a ditch; and he at once made for the village, it having been arranged that his confederates would swear that he was in the village at the time the murder occurred. Buckley was arrested the same day, but was let out on his own recognisances. During the two days before the second hearing he went to Phoenix for the money which had been promised for his going to America, and he received from him and Fitzgerald 50s. as being all that was in the hands of Thomas Diggin, the treasurer of the local Land League. Buckley expressed his dissatisfaction at this, and they seemed to be displeased because he had not killed Roche. Patrick Dee thereupon wrote a letter for him to take to Thomas Pierce, the president of the Land League. After receiving it Pierce went round with him to various persons to collect money for him to aid his escape to America, and in this way two sums of 2s. each were obtained. Buckley was also sent by Dee with a letter to the secretary of the Lixnaw Land League, and he obtained 5s. from him and 2s. 6d. and 1s. from two members of that League. At the second hearing the magistrates bound over Buckley in two sureties of 10 pounds and himself in 20 pounds to keep the peace for twelve months. As he did not go to America, Phoenix and Dee applied to him to return the money; but he refused to do so. The witness also spoke of another Land League meeting, held about the beginning of 1882, at which a resolution was passed condemning the action of one Boyle, who had taken some land belonging to one Sullivan. Subsequently Boyle's house was fired into and some of his cattle maimed. But in this the witness took no part.

In cross-examination Sir Charles Russell asked the witness whether, after he had lived nearly the whole of his life in Kerry, there was a single respectable person in the whole county who would believe him on his oath, unless he were corroborated. The witness admitted that he could not say there was. Some time afterwards, however, he mentioned the name of Michael Heelan, for whom he had worked for nine years, as likely to do so, but for the evidence now given. In reply to further questions the witness stated that he had made previous communications to the police. All who took part with him in outrages were, like himself, members of secret organisations. He himself had never been a member of the Land League. In 1878 he had joined the Kerry Militia, from which he was transferred to a Middlesex regiment. After serving for two years he left with a certificate of character, which he tore up two years ago. Sir Charles then put questions which suggested that the attack on Roche was a bogus affair got up between the witness and Roche. There had been a quarrel between Roche and his brother-in-law, Ryle, and Roche had asked the witness to remove a gate belonging to Ryle. The witness had then gone to Ryle and told him where it was, and had received from him half-a-crown; but this money was, he said, previously due. Sir Charles asked why, if the attack were not treated as a bogus affair, he had not been committed for trial. The witness replied that he thought it was because Roche swore at first untruly that he heard the bullett whizz past his ear. Sir Charles also asked if, after learning that some 40 pounds had been left to his mother, the witness had broken open her box, and failing to find it had beaten her severely. The witness denied the truth of the statement. The money was stolen from her, but not by him, and she went mad in consequence. In 1882 there were three or four convictions against him for assaulting the police, &c., certainly not as many as seventeen. In August last he was fined 2s. 6d. for assaulting a man, but he had only just pushed him for persuading a man not to pay him a debt. In reply to Mr. Reid, Q.C., the witness stated that when he came to London in 1885 he was regarded as an Irish detective, and he was told by some Irish people in Marylebone that his life would be taken. Accordingly he went and assaulted a policeman in order to convince people that he was not a detective. With regard to the Land League, nearly all the people in his village of Causeway were members of it. Although the witness was not a Land Leaguer, he had attended League meetings and had even proposed resolutions, which had been seconded by Phoenix and passed.

Source: The Guardian, December 19, 1888, Page 1939

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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