The case that revolved around the age of a goat

120px-Goat_PortraitIn 1839, a rather ludicrous case was heard at the Drumcondra Petty Sessions in Dublin regarding a goat stolen from a former policeman – where the case hinged on the age of the said animal.

The former policeman, Samuel Stephens, who was now working as a labourer, accused Conliffe Mill proprietor Mr Dollard of having a goat that Stephens swore had been stolen from him some three years earlier.

Magistrate Captain Cottingham noted that the case had been held over from a previous day in order for someone to be called to prove the age of the goat.

Stephens stated that his goat was around seven years old, whereas Dollard argued that HIS goat was only four.

In evidence, Stephens told the magistrate that in mid 1836, three goats had been stolen from him, and that he had received information that they had been stolen by a man and woman who lived in Spring Gardens.

When he had tracked down the couple, the woman said the goat was hers; but when asked where she had got it from, she burst into tears, and said she had bought it from a man in Dalkey about five weeks earlier.

Stephens said he was sure it was his goat; it had a white face, black neck and white sides.

The case got somewhat derailed by the defendant’s counsel’s curiosity about why Stephens had left the police.

“Did you like the service?”

“I did.”

“Did the service like you?”

“Certainly it did.”

“Then if you liked the service, and the service was equally fond of you, what was the cause of your leaving it and becoming a labourer?”

“I left it to go to a gentleman.”

“Will you swear you were not dismissed?”

“I left the police to go to a gentleman, I tell you.”

“Come, Sir, by virtue of your oath, were you not dismissed from the police?”

Stephens appealed to Captain Cottingham,

“Am I bound to answer the question?”

“You are.”

The defendant’s counsel, Mr Cantwell, then asked,

“Now, again, I ask you, and you must answer the question, were you not dismissed from the police?”

“Yes, I was.”

Further examination revealed that Stephens had been dismissed from the police for assaulted a man on the Naas Road.

His reputation for honesty somewhat damaged, he then detailed how he had bought the goats some three years before their theft.

One of the goats had been a kid then, and Stephens had paid half a crown for him. That was the goat he swore that Dollard had taken.

Mr Cantwell asked,

“Did you know the goat by any other marks than those you have described?”

An exasperated Stephens responded,

“Oh, it’s all a humbug! The goat is mine!”

“I quite agree with you that it is a humbug,” Cantwell replied.

A witness was then called, Laurence Brangan, who had given a kid to a Miss Connolly – and he thought this was the same goat that Dollard now had.

Then a Mr McLoghen was called, who said he was the man who had given a kid to Laurence Brangan, who had then given it to Miss Connolly… But he could not say that this goat was the same as that kid.

“Why, this gentleman’s evidence is of no value to anyone!” spluttered the magistrate. “He is not able to prove the identity!”

McLoghen was recalled. “Is it four or three years since you gave the kid to Mr Brangan?” asked the magistrate.

McLoghen was vague. “It is either three or four years since I gave it, but I cannot say which.”

Mr Cantwell complained that McLoghen was being given harder questions than Stephens had. McLoghen suddenly got his memory back, and said that the goat had been given three years earlier, not four.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Then Thomas Connelly of Dalkey was called, to state that Miss Connolly, his sister, had given him a goat the previous winter to keep on his land until the summer.

But in June 1838, McLoghen’s sister had asked Connolly to give the goat to Dollard’s wife as a present, and the goat was duly sent there.

Mr Cantwell believed that this convoluted evidence of multiple ownership made the case clear; but Cottingham, the magistrate, understandably remained confused. Again, he commented that he would like someone to tell him how old the goat was.

Now, for some reason, Stephens called a witness, called Larkin, ostensibly to prove that three years ago, Stephens had owned three goats.

Unfortunately for Stephens, though, Larkin, on being examined, couldn’t describe any of the goats to the magistrate.

And then, “a great deal of time” was spent “endeavouring to get somebody who could judge the age of a goat” – but nobody could be found.

Captain Cottingham, by now at the end of his – ahem – tether, announced his intention to dismiss the case. “I believe that Stephens is under the conscientious impression that the goat is his property, but it must be a mistake on his part.”

Stephens was not prepared to let this lie. “Oh! It is no mistake!” he exclaimed. “The goat is mine!”

The case looked like it would now have no speedy resolution, with both sides continuing to lock horns (sorry) over the age of a goat.

Source: Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, 19 September 1839

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