Friday, January 29, 2021

The son of the Coningbeg Lightkeeper


The Coningbeg Lightship in 1903

This is a little bit long, so I have abridged it as much as I could without detracting from the thrust of the case (so to speak) Personally, I think the cold case team should have another look at this one.

From the Wicklow News-Letter Saturday 18th January 1902

On Wednesday in the Nisi Prius Court No.2, Miss Margaret White, Kilmore Quay, county Wexford, sued John P. Wall, Inisheer, Arran Islands for breach of promise of marriage.
Mr James O'Connor appeared for the plaintiff and Mr. W. Gibson appeared for the defendant.
Mr. O’Connor, in opening the case, said the action was brought for breach of promise of marriage, aggravated by seduction. The defendant denied that he made the promise of marriage and said that a reasonable time had not elapsed before the action, and denied the seduction. The jury would have no doubt, when they heard the evidence, that the defendant promised to marry the plaintiff and that, last year, he seduced her, and he had now, in answer to a letter from her solicitor, refused to carry out his promise.
The plaintiff stated she was 26 and lived with her uncle in Kilmore Quay. She first met the defendant in October 1896. His father was the master of a lightship which was stationed off Coningbeg. The defendant was a sailor and used to go down and stop with her parents who were living close to Kilmore. When plaintiff met the defendant, he paid his attention by walking her out. He kissed her several times. He stopped a month with her father and during that time he promised to marry her as soon as he was in a position to do so. Plaintiff agreed to marry him. He said he would get plaintiff a ring as soon as he called to port. He went away and about two months later, plaintiff got a letter from him. His sister brought it to plaintiff from the post office. Defendant stated in the letter that he would get her a ring. He signed himself, 'Your affectionate sweetheart, John Patrick Wall.' He said he was very sad and lonely without plaintiff.
Plaintiff did not see him for five months after that when he came home and stopped about three weeks. Up to March 1900, he used to come home about every six months and during those periods he continued to pay plaintiff attention. He walked plaintiff out and courted her (laughter). In March 1900, he came home and remained there until December, when he got the position of lighthouse-keeper. During this time he saw her frequently. The first impropriety between them was in June 1900. He said he would marry her.
Justice Madden - Your case is he seduced you on promise of marriage?
Plaintiff - Yes, my Lord.
Mr. O'Connor - Did he seduce you more than once?
Plaintiff - Yes sir, frequently, and continued up until the time he went away. I first ascertained I was pregnant in February. I had a conversation with his father and wrote to the defendant as well around 27th February.
Counsel then read the letter in which the plaintiff asked if the defendant was going to settle the case against him before her Uncle Robert took proceedings. When the child was born, he would have to keep it.
The defendant wrote back, telling her to do her best and make her mind easy and take whatever proceedings that she wanted.
The plaintiff then wrote back, saying she was sorry for writing such an independent letter. "Dear John, you know I would be very sorry to do you any harm but, on account of the misfortune you brought on me, I could say nothing else. You know the disgrace it is on both our families..."
Cross-examined, she said that she did not live with her father. Her uncle kept a lodging-house; about eight lightship men stopped in it. Sailors also stopped there. She did correspond with a man named Duffy, who was on the lightship about three years previously.
Was it about marriage? asked the judge.
Plaintiff - Yes, my Lord.
So you had given up on Wall?
He was not at home at the time. (Good answer!)
You say you were engaged to be married to this man in '96 and now you say you were corresponding with a man named Duffy about marriage?
Duffy broke off with me about two years ago.
You were also fond of a man named John Redmond?
Yes sir. He is dead three years now. I was not engaged to be married to him. I knew a man called Flaherty who was a first cousin and used to come to our house. (I suspect she was volunteering too much information here!) I never had anything to do with Pearce. I did not walk with him. My child was born on 12th April. I did not tell the defendant I was about to have a baby because I did not think it was true until February. I did not tell him as he was aboard the Coningbeg ship and I only saw him once when he came off.
The defendant, examined, said that he had only been 'knocking about' with the plaintiff twice. He had been knocking up and down the road with her. He was not the father of the child. He never mentioned anything about a ring or getting into a position with her.
Judge - Did you ever promise to marry her?
Never in my life.
After this lengthy cross-examination, the judge declared that he was satisfied that there was no evidence that a promise of marriage had been breached and directed the jury to find for the defendant.

John Joseph White was born 12th April 1901 at Kilmore Quay, mother Margaret White, no father listed.
The 1911 Census for House 30, Kilmore Quay shows Robert White, 67, Retired Lightship Pensioner and his wife, Catherine, 71; Margaret White, 36, niece, single; and Joseph White, 10, nephew. Robert was the Mate of the Barrels Lightship in 1901
Margaret White died single in Kilmore Quay aged 71 in 1945 of a brain haemorrhage.
John Patrick Wall, 74, lightkeeper, died single in Wicklow in 1954 after fracturing a femur. John's father was Alfred Benny Wall. The family may well be connected to Catherine Wall, wife of Wicklow-born James Kavanagh, who built the Fastnet lighthouse.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Beacon Lighthouse No.1

I have been sitting on this lighthouse for a number of months now (not literally, of course, for it has long ceased to be) waiting for some long-promised information to be sent to me. However, though I have not given up hope, the chances of me dying before the information arrives are rising with each passing month, so I think it best to put pen to paper with what I have. (I hasten to add that a) I am really grateful to the person concerned for his offer of help and b) to my knowledge, my death is not imminent)
The watercolour above is of a beautiful wooden lighthouse. To me, it looks slightly north European, Belgian or North Germany, maybe. Of course, it must be remembered that I am an idiot. The painting is by a famous maritime artist known as Alexander Williams and it hangs in the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. It was painted from somewhere along the South Wall of the River Liffey between the old Pigeon House Fort and Poolbeg Lighthouse, looking north west across the river. The lighthouse stands at the spot where the North Bank lighthouse currently stands.
At this point I must mention that the source of the information in this post comes from Cormac Lowth, Dublin's leading maritime historian and author who very generously gave me both his time and knowledge in patiently leading me through the history of Dublin Port.

The sketch above is a preparatory drawing by Williams for the painting at the top of the page. He decided evidently to unclutter the maritime craft in the vicinity of the lighthouse when doing the watercolour. The lads in the front are 'drop-net fry fishing' which I think involved dropping a weighted net into the river and then hauling it up again.
But back to the wooden lighthouse. In the mid 1800s, the River Liffey had but two lighthouses - one at the entrance (Poolbeg) and one at the approaches of the city (North Wall Quay) In between the two were a series of perches on either side of the river, marking the channel for boats. An example of one of these perches can be seen on the right hand side of the Hayes sketch and painting below, done from roughly the same spot as the Williams' aspect. In fact, this may have been the very perch that preceded the Beacon lighthouse. It appears to be sitting on rough rock, as does the lighthouse in the Williams painting at the top of the page. The Beacon lighthouse was built in between perches nos. 3 and 5, on the site of perch no. 4.

The 1880s saw a sudden bout of lighthouse building in the Liffey. The Alexandra Breakwater light was erected, the lighthouse at the end of the North Bull Wall also went up and, on 28th June 1882, the light of the disappointingly-named Beacon Light No.1 was established. It was an occulting white light exhibited 40 feet above the high - water mark, flashing once every three seconds. This was changed in 1885 to once every four seconds. It had actually been finished by March 1881 but it took a while for the optical apparatus by J. Edmundson & Co. to be installed.

Of the lighthouse itself, I have found very little. According to the Williams painting, it was a wooden structure built on stilts. Presumably the keeper's dwellings sat above the high-water mark and it appears some sort of internal ladder or staircase led from there up to the lantern. There was a gallery and what seems to be a second external light next to the turret. The red flag was the starboard side indicator when entering a port (black for the left hand side) This has since been changed to green for starboard and red for port. On the top of the turret was a weather vane. In 1886, a fog bell was added, striking three times every thirty seconds.
It was designed and built under the supervision of Sir John Purser Griffith, chief engineer to the Dublin Port and Docks Board, who had served under Bindon Stoney.

Dublin Port map showing the five lighthouses at the end of the nineteenth century

All went well apparently until Monday 3rd February 1908 when the Marquis of Glasgow (the ship, not the lighthouse-hating member of the Scottish aristocracy) clattered into the lighthouse while leaving port. The building was completely shattered and a temporary lightship was towed to the site and left in place until a new lighthouse was put in place later that year. The new light and fog bell had the same characteristics as the old one and was also designed by Sir John Purser Griffith. 
Once again, I have struggled for information on the new lighthouse, now officially called The North Bank lighthouse. Again, it was a stilted structure with a square brickwork tower, painted with red and white horizontal bands. Its occulting white light was exhibited from a height 50 feet above the high tide mark.
This second lighthouse lasted until 1940 when it was replaced by the current North Bank lighthouse. The foundations had been severely compromised and the whole structure was in danger of falling into the water. The new lighthouse, which was automatic, in contrast to its two predecessors, was built and then divers with explosives finished the job on the old lighthouse that nature had started.
Incredibly, despite it lasting until 1940, I have yet to come across a picture of this intermediate lighthouse.

The current North Bank lighthouse