Saturday, April 13, 2013

Donnybrooks & Tipperary Boys

North and South Brisbane by Conrad Martens 1852
(National Library of Australia)


From the early days of free settlement, South Brisbane developed a reputation as the tough end of town where the residents kept the constables busy. Often the constables themselves ended up being drawn into the frequent melees.

ASSAULTING THE CONSTABLES. - At the Police-office, on Tuesday, Patrick O'Sullivan and John Penn, holding tickets-of-leave, were brought before the Magistrates charged with having violently assaulted Constable McBride in the execution of his duty, in South Brisbane, on Monday evening last.

One of the defendants, Mr. Sullivan, with the big O', which he insists on being placed before his patronymick, had been breaking windows at the Brisbane Hotel, and had conducted himself in a very disorderly manner when the landlady of that establishment gave him into custody.

Constable McBride, in obedience to his orders, was conveying him to the lock-up, when the other defendant Penn, alias Payne, gave him, in a   half-whisper, a little gratuitous advice, and told him not to go with the "traps[1], or he would be confined to the watch-house."

The advice was too palatable not to be followed, and the word "traps" seemed to have a magical effect on the "Tipperary Boy", who instantly wrested the constable's staff from its legal owner, and began to lay about him in the true Donnybrook[2] style.  

Caricature of a "Donnybrook" 
(A ‘Fair Fight.’ Samuel Lover, from “The Neighbourhood of Dublin,” by John Joyce.
Both friends and foes came in for their share of the blows, which he dealt about to all and sundry who either did or did not interfere with him. Two other constables having come to the assistance of McBride, the defendants were, after considerable difficulty, and some little coaxing, apprehended and taken to the lock-up.[3]

Remarkably, given the harsh sentences usually meted out at the time, the Magistrate chose only to impose a fine on the pair of miscreants. He also declined to cancels their tickets-of-leave which would have been the usual result of a convict falling foul of the law.

Give the severe labour shortage in the colony, this may have been understandable. There was also, as The Moreton Bay Courier observed, the distasteful connection with the Brisbane’s origins as a penal colony.

The Bench considering that this was an aggravated case, fined both defendants the sum of £4.10s each, and the Police Magistrate intimated that their tickets-of-leave would be recommended to be cancelled.

We understand, however, that he has since altered his determination. This is right and proper, for if the Magistrates think proper to punish men then holding tickets-of-leave in the same manner as free persons, we think that is all they should do; for it is high time, now that this is not a convict colony, that many of the odious regulations affecting this class should no longer be put in force.[4]

South Brisbane from North Quay in Brisbane, ca. 1869
(State Library of Queensland)
A second all-in-brawl took place in South Brisbane later that year. This time the constables were not part of the action.

Despite the detailed description of the melee given to the court, no reason for the initial attack was given. It may have been a territorial dispute, given that the victim was working on the construction of a fence at the time.

Perhaps it was considered just part of the rough and tumble lifestyles prevalent at the time, and not worth pursuing motives.

Colonial Police Constable ca. 1868
National Library of Australia
Assault.-William A. Biggs charged Bernard Sloan, Charles Sloan, and William Weston with assaulting him, on Wednesday the 26th ultimo.

The parties all reside in South Brisbane. It appeared from the evidence of Michael Slavin, that, in the morning of the day in question, he went to nail up some palings which separates his ground from that of Thomas Boyland, and while in the act of doing so the defendant, Bernard Sloan, jumped across the fence, knocked him down, and kicked him; the defendant Weston, to whom Slavin appealed for assistance, urging Barnard Sloan to continue kicking him.

Subsequently, the complainant Biggs arrived, and commenced dragging Sloan off Slavin, which induced the active hostility of Weston, who struck Biggs, and a tussle ensued between them in the course of which Weston came to the ground. Shortly after this, when Weston had again got upon his legs, Mrs. Slavin came to the rescue, and assisted Biggs in dragging Bernard Sloan off her husband.

While a boy went after the constable, Barney Sloan struck Biggs two or three times Weston then called Charles Sloan, who caught Biggs by the hair, and knocked him down. Afterwards Weston held Biggs by the hair while the two Sloans kicked him, and a general melee seems to have taken place, until the rumour that the constables were approaching induced the defendants to desist.

 Such is the substance of Slavin's statement. The defendants severally denied its truth, so far as the aggression was said to be on their side, which they attempted to shift to that of the complainant and Slavin. They were sentenced, to pay a fine of twenty shillings each, and to find sureties to keep the peace for six months.[5]

Cottages in South Brisbane ca.1868
(State Library of Queensland)
And so the group of combatants returned to their cottages in South Brisbane, sure to fight another day.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013


[1] One whose business is to ‘trap’ or catch offenders; a thief-taker; a detective or policeman; a sheriff's officer. Now only Australian slang. (OED)
[2] A scene of uproar and disorder; a riotous or uproarious meeting; a heated argument. After Donnybrook, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, once famous for its annual fair. (OED)
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 March 1848
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 March 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 5 August 1848

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