ARTHUR Wallace was born in County Mayo born. He was an educated man and, after a certain amount of travel, wound up in Carlow town. Small in stature, he married a Ms Byrne and settled down with his wife to rear a family.
He served his time to a Mr Reid, who was the Carlow apothecary (the historical name for what we now call a pharmacist or chemist). This profession dates back to 2006 BC, as ancient records show that apothecary was a trade in ancient Babylon. Mr Wallace would succeed his master, despite the fact that during his apprenticeship, Wallace had been accused by Reed of being dishonest in his dealings. Outraged, Wallace retaliated by suing Reed for defamation of his character. This charge failed but cost Wallace a considerable sum of money. Despite this, he emerged with his character intact and, if anything, enhanced his personnel prestige. Wallace never looked back, and with his industry, charm and attitude soon built up a large circle of influential friends as well as a thriving business.
Various opinions of Wallace put his popularity down to his wealth. Some would say it was because of his generosity, while others thought it was his charm and wit. According to his closest friend of that time, Jonah Barrington, Wallace was earning between £700 and £900 a year, which was a considerable sum in those days. It is known that he loaned £550 to Captain Loftus of the 9th Dragoons in January 1798. Barrington would also state that Wallace had married his first wife for love – in other words, his bride was not accompanied by a dowry. His second marriage would see his bride arriving with the handsome sum of £500.
Along with his charm and energy, Wallace was also a supremely astute businessman who was always eyeing out methods of making an extra few shillings. With this in mind, he made the acquaintance of Lydia Wall, then postmistress in Carlow. She was on the lookout for an assistant, and Wallace, well known for having a way with him, convinced Mrs Wall that he was the ideal man for the job.
Under arrangements entered into by both parties just prior to the 1798 Rebellion, Mrs Wall would keep the postmistress salary for herself, while allowing Wallace the incidental profits for his services. Within two years, Wallace was pocketing an annual sum of £60 from these profits, on top of the income from his own apothecary business. He was soon virtually running the post office, acquiring an expertise in dealing with large sums of money, while managing to amass a huge fortune in the process. It was this wealth that attracted so many of his well-wishers, who came from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant religious divide, which was unusual for that period.
There were many testimonies to the character of Arthur Wallace, some of which we may look at later. But in spite of this, he was charged with defrauding the mail, more specifically that on 1 March in the 40th year of the king, at Carlow, he feloniously did secrete and embezzle a packet directed to Henry Loftus Tottenham at Ross, this packet being sent by post. The indictments stretched to 13 further counts, each charging him with misappropriating promissory notes to the value of £1,000.
Once the charges were proven, the testimonials were treated as humbug, with the decisive words of a remarkable plod (policeman) called De Joncourt, who was initially taken in by Wallace as he described: “In my own dealings with him, I had as good an opinion of him as a man of honour and integrity as I had of any other man. These would have included many of those who testified to his good character. When Wallace pleaded not guilty to several charges, the onus fell on the crown to prove otherwise, which would have been impossible without the evidence of De Joncourt. But what sort of testimonials had been given in his favour?
Well, Edward Duggan stated in evidence that: “I have known Mr Wallace for over six years. I never knew a fairer or better character in the whole course of my life.”
A Dublin druggist stated: “I have known the prisoner nine or ten years. I have never known a more punctual man in his dealings.”
John Alexander swore: “I have known the prisoner eight or nine years. His general character has always been that of an upright, honest, sober and industrious man.”
There were many more of the same theme, but they had no effect on the outcome of the trial.
The charges against Arthur Wallace were serious enough to attract huge attention, proven by the fact that six counsel represented either side, with the attorney general leading the crown prosecution team, while John Philpot Curran (father of Sarah Curran, who was Robert Emmett’s girlfriend) led the defence team. The judge was Lord Kilwarden, who would be killed himself when dragged from his coach and piked to death by rebels in Dublin during Emmet’s rising three years later.
In 1800, Carlow was a far cry from what it is today. The focal point was the castle, and then there was the main street, which was split by another intersecting road. A few alleys and lanes made up the rest of the town. The post office and the banks became the principle method of transferring money and were the hub of most business carried out in the town. And while Carlow had a reliable post office, the roads to Tullow, Castledermot, Athy and other towns were vulnerable to attack by highwaymen.
As a deterrent to this type of crime, it was clear the authorities wanted a conviction to make an example of Wallace, but with capital punishment commonplace for many convictions, I doubt it would have made any difference. But it was still important to prove that the government was capable of tackling financial crime and clamping down on the high number of frauds and highway robberies which were then prevalent.
The Tullow Road was infested with highwaymen, as were the Kilkenny and Dublin roads out of Carlow, so mail security became as important as the king’s peace, and security of the mailman was of the utmost importance.
A sample of indictments against Wallace were as follows:
- A promissory note dated 29 January 1800 made by Crosbie Callan (the agent of Leighton & Co) and payable to James Gorman for ten pounds sterling
- Another note of like description to R Wall for ten guineas, dated 31 January 1800
- Another one of like description, payable to J Lynn for five guineas, dated 3 January 1800.
In the second count he was charged as a person employed in business relating to the post office without describing his office. The notes were stated to be made by Leighton & Company and signed by Crosbie Callan:
- To A Fulton for five guineas, dated 17 February 1800
- To R Walsh, 10 February, ten guineas.
- To R Fulton, 10 guineas, 3 January
- To C Whyte, £10 on 31 January.
The remaining indictments all concerned Tottenham. On 5 August 1800, Wallace pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Let’s take a look at take at some extracts of the evidence offered against Wallace, and coincidentally, my home village of Clonegal is mentioned more than once, as it was the mailbag centre for the surrounding areas during this period.
In evidence, Captain Smith of the Downshire regiment, which was quartered at Clonegal, had put into the local post office a letter. It corresponded in amount with what was taken out of Mr Tottenham’s letter. There, the prisoner took out and substituted an equal amount of Mr Tottenham’s notes, which he had, as I had mentioned, forged the endorsement of that gentleman. In his letter, Captain Smith had not given any particulars of the securities he had enclosed, and this letter in court was forwarded according to the direction of his brother, John Smith, in Dublin. Application was made by Mr Smith to the bank of Leighton & Co for payment, and as a result, the notes were stopped.
It came to a point where the guilt of the accused had to be confirmed, and this was enabled by a plan that was hatched by a Mr Waddy, the post office’s solicitor. Letters were written and put into the office in Carlow containing bills marked in such a way as to be easily identified.
A clerk, who worked for Mr Waddy, was directed to put them in. The clerk saw Wallace take the letters to his sorting office. Mr Joncourt had taken up a position in Castlecomer, the next stop from Carlow on this particular route. Next morning, on examination at Castlecomer, Joncourt discovered that a number of the letters had their financial contents removed.
This was the most damning evidence against Wallace. Joncourt, who was also deputy comptroller, stated that the New Ross mail, from where most of the Tottenham post was delivered, was sent through Clonegal, to be held overnight in Carlow. Likewise with the Munster bag.
In Joncourt’s evidence, he stated at a conference that it was decided to apprehend Wallace. It was also determined to set up a series of letters in an attempt to prove Wallace’s guilt. This was done and achieved the desired result.
There were many other pieces of evidence where mail was tampered with or disappeared altogether, especially from Newtownbarry, where people reported sending mail through Clonegal, which was our post town to addresses in Dublin and elsewhere.
It took the jury 25 minutes to return a guilty verdict and Wallace was executed on 16 August 1800.
I will return to another story from this era about Carlow highwaymen in the future.