In the Dock

Galway Courthouse

Galway Courthouse, where Rev. W J Burke was on trial in 1844

When William john Burke was summoned to court he learned that some of his former friends and neighbors were chief witness against him. It came as no surprise as there was a huge hate campaign against the Reverend and his wife since he changed religion. They used anything they possibly could to defame his character;

“The group of “witnesses swore that on Saturday, the 11th day of May last, the Rev. William John Burke. The midwife, apothecary [chemist], and the local doctor were called as witnesses. The midwife was called first as she delivered the baby, was asked to keep the birth of the baby, who sadly did not survive a secret. Which she did. She was not required to take an oath by Rev Burke. The local doctor was the next to give evidence:

” I recollect that on the 8th of May he [Rev Burke] called on me to attended to his wife; I did so and bled her; nothing more occurred on that day, but on the following morning I found her unwell with inflammation of the stomach; she was pregnant; before I went into her room Mr Burke brought me into an adjoining room, and said that as an old acquaintance he would rely on anything I would promise, but that Mrs. Burke would not be satisfied unless I swore to conceal that situation she was in. I told her as a medical man I would of course, keep professional secrets without taking an oath.”

The doctor and midwife’s evidence favored Revered Burke’s case, however, the Apothecary’s was a bit more incriminating, as he admitted that he had no feeling of vengeance towards the Reverend, but considered his [Rev Burke’s] “conduct improper”, that was in reference to his changing religion. All the Apothecary could say against him was that he produced a ‘book’ not necessarily a Bible and said “now take your oath”. That was all.

In effect Rev William John Burke did not commit the felony he was accused of as no oath was sworn. The case was a farce to begin with, as his defense Baron Lefroy put to the judge;

“As the prisoner did not actually tender the oath after producing the book, the offense, in law cannot be sustained and I must direct a verdict of acquittal.”

Freeman’s Journal 03 August 1844. p3
Image reproduced by kind permission of James Hardiman Library