Eugene Doyle describes how Edward Carson, QC, ensured justice was done in a famous courtroom victory.
It was a legal case which captured British newspaper headlines in the early years of the 20th century. It would involve two prominent Irishmen on opposite sides. Ironically, as Orangemen in Ireland were holding their traditional marches on 12 July, 1910, the man who would be their future champion, Sir Edward Carson, QC, was rising in the London High Court to defend the reputation of a Catholic boy of thirteen.
It was a case in which Carson’s brilliant advocacy would enhance his already notable courtroom reputation.
His client was pitted against the might of the British Admiralty, at the time led by another Irishman, Mr. Reginald McKenna, MP, the First Sea Lord.
George Archer-Shee, from a devout Catholic family, was in his third term at Osborne College in the Isle of Wight, then a preparatory school for cadets intending to enter Dartmouth Naval College. On 17 October, 1908, the Secretary to the Admiralty wrote to George’s father, a bank agent in Bristol, requesting him to remove his son, who ten days before had stolen and cashed a five shilling Postal Order belonging to a fellow cadet.
The stunned and outraged father arrived at the College on 19 October to collect his son. He found out from George, who then and always strenuously protested his innocence, that on the seventh of the month he had, with his superior’s permission, withdrawn sufficient money from his College savings account, to pay for a mail-order model steam engine costing fifteen shillings and sixpence.
He had gone to the Osborne Post Office and bought a Postal Order from the Clerk-in-Charge, Miss Clara Tucker. Next morning, he was told by the College second-in-command, Commander Stapleton, that the Postal Clerk was emphatic that the cadet who had bought the Postal Order had also cashed a five shilling one, stolen from the locker of Cadet Terence Back. Ten days later, George was informed by the Head of the College that the Admiralty had ordered his expulsion for theft.
Faced by a wall of silence from the College, the Archer-Shee family contacted the Dublin-born Sir Edward Carson, a leading light in the anti-Home Rule campaign, to persuade the eminent Irish barrister to represent George in a legal action against the Admiralty.
Initially reluctant to do so, Carson finally agreed only after an exhaustive interview with the boy himself. He was so impressed by the boy’s character and answers that at the end of the interview he announced “I will defend the boy. He is innocent.”
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own