THE CARAGH ORPHANAGE — A SCANDAL WITHOUT PRECEDENT (Part II)

by mariocorrigan on June 20, 2008

The Caragh Orphanage — A Scandal without Precedent (Part II)
 
Andrew Rynne.
 
June 2008.
Looking back on it now also it would have been far better for Samuel Cotton had he just paid the fine, learned his lesson and henceforth treated the children in his care properly and with respect. But that alas was not within the man’s nature. Instead, he appealed against the fine and on October 12th 1883 appeared in Naas Quarter Sessions before Dr. Darley QC and the following bench of magistrates: Earl of Milltown, Baron de Robeck, Messrs Williams, Tyrell, Nicholson, Dr Joly, T. Cook Trench, Hugh Henry and W A Graig.
 
The problem with this appeal from Cotton’s point of view is that it drew a very large audience of people who were by now interested in this clergyman and his orphanage and the allegations of cruelty to children. It also drew much press attention and received a great deal of coverage on both sides of the Irish Sea. And while he did succeed in reducing his fine by a half this came at a considerable price in terms of further blackening his character and alerting interested parties to other possible cases of child abuse not then before the court.
 
The hearing was substantially a rehash of the earlier one. But in addition to the witness called in Kilmeague this time the children who had been logged were also given a hearing. Having heard all the evidence the magistrates were divided as to appropriate fine, some thinking that the earlier hearing in Kilmeague handed down the proper penalty, while others felt that it was perhaps excessive. However they were unanimous on one point and that was as to the illegality of Cotton’s actions in spancelling children for any reason. Mr Cooke Trench characterised Cotton’s offences as being “of a most revolting nature contrary to all the feelings of humanity” and so revealed himself as being one that would have let the original fine stand.
 
Perhaps the editorial of the Leinster Leader the following Saturday October 20th 1883 captures some aspect of the feelings of the times:
 
The Rev. Mr. Cotton has small reason to feel satisfied with the results of his appeal and friends of humanity have cause to rejoice that the barbarous ill-treatment inflected upon helpless children in the notorious institution which the Rev. Evangelizer manages has been further exposed and more decisively condemned. True, the penalty was reduced somewhat, but the moral effect of the whole proceeding is to emphasise the verdict of the Magistrates who sentenced Mr Cotton to a fine of £10.00. at Kilmeague Petty Sessions. Of the manner in which the reduction of the penalty was accomplished we can hardly trust ourselves to speak. It is not calculated to inspire people with a high sense of the judicial qualities of the “great unpaid” to witness Justices of the Peace whipped in from the most distance parts of the county to sit on a Bench, where they were never seen before, for the purpose of whitewashing an institution which has been proved in open court to have been managed on the principles that immortalised Do-the-Boys Hall, and with the further object of licensing this latter day Squeers to still pursue his humane methods of spancelling and logging We should have thought that even bigots would not mingle inhumanity with their bigotry; it might have been expected that a sense of shame would have deterred gentlemen from combining to bolster up the system of evangelising which consists of buying into utter slavery infants at so much a head, and of instilling into their souls a knowledge of Him who loves little children by a course of savage punishment.  
 
This was strong language. Other newspapers took a more moderate approach to Cotton’s antics but none could be said to be in any way apologist or at all approving or in any way supportive. Cotton had few friends in the newspapers of his day.
 
There now followed an eight year respite for the Cottons from summons and charges and court appearances. But it must have been a very uneasy respite, the calm before the storm. For dark clouds were gathering over their heads about which they could not have been unaware. These must have been deeply worrying times for the occupants of the Glebe House and proprietors of the Caragh Orphanage.

 
 
Several terrible events now occurred concurrently, each generating its own domino effect and all combining to produce a plethora of charges against the Cottons and an army of credible and professional witnesses to support these charges. These events were (1) The cases of the Burnett children, and (2) The manslaughter charges, the enquiry into the deaths of an eight year old William Brown at the orphanage a few years earlier in 1878 and a second contemporary manslaughter charge, that of Thomas Collins who we know about from McVeagh’s evidence.
 
Indeed so complex had things become that the authorities themselves were becoming confused. In their haste to bring all the charges of cruelty, neglect and manslaughter under one roof before a judge and jury at the Leinster Assize, they inadvertently omitted the manslaughter cases. When these were surreptitiously slipped into the retrial in Belfast some months later this was spotted by Carson with near catastrophic consequences.
 
The Burnett case first came to trial on October 29th 1891 before magistrates at Robertstown Petty Assize. The charges were that they, the Cottons, on the 14th and 15th of October 1891, and on other days within six months passed, at the Caragh Orphanage, did wilfully mistreat, neglect or expose the following children: Thomas Whitney, Thomas Warren, Benjamin Wallace, Thomas Collins, Henry Norton, Charles Quillett, Ellen Carson, Patience Walker, Alex Burnett, Samuel Burnett, Mary Shirley, Eliza Winter and Eliza Burnett.
 
The chief witness on the opening day of this trial was the Rev. John Watson rector of Charlemount in County Tyrone. About December 29th of last year (1890) he had arranged for the admission to the Caragh Orphanage of seven children of the Burnett family age between two months and thirteen years who were born out of wedlock and whose mother had recently died. Following this Watson sent Cotton various small sums of money towards the children’s upkeep and in return received glowing reports from Cotton as to the children’s good health and happiness.
 
In his reassuring communications with Watson, Cotton made one small omission in that he failed to alert Watson to the fact that one of the Burnett children — Elizabeth or Lizzie, then aged three years and three months had been admitted to the Adelaide Hospital suffering from gangrene of all her toes. The Rev Mr Cotton brought her in himself. The gangrene of course was caused by frost bite and woeful neglect.  The hospital matron, Miss Gertrude Knight, give evidence about Lizzie’s condition when she was brought to the hospital on April 29th 1891:
 
The child was reeking with filth and dirt, so much so that the cloths which were taken off of her had to be burned. The child was swarming with vermin, and it was found necessary to shave her head to get rid of the abominable state of things. Her body was filthy and her feet were draped in dirty rags. She was suffering from gangrene of her feet; three or four of her toes on each foot were completely black and diseased. The doctor would prove that the child had been grossly neglected. She must have been a week at the very least in the same condition. She was also ravenous for food. The child presented all the appearances of having been half starved and devoured any food given to her.
 
Lizzie, who was still under hospital care at the time, was brought into Court that day in Robertstown. The prosecution wanted the bench to examine her feet and see for themselves that all her toes missing. But the magistrates declined the offer. A reporter in court describes the scene like this:
 
The child, a chubby little girl, well, warmly and nicely dressed, was lifted up to the view of the bench, who, however, declined to inspect its feet.
 
And this was only some six months after her original ordeal. She made a great recovery.
 
The same reporter from the Kildare Observer paints this sad picture:
 
 
Around the fire in the courtroom were grouped a number of children from the Caragh Orphanage, all nicely dressed; but one part of the display rather failed of the objective for which it was designed; three little girls, all apparently under the age of twelve years sat, each having in her arms an infant of a few months old fed from a feeding bottle. Those poor little nurses sat in the courtroom from 12 o’clock until close upon 6 0’ clock, when long after the shades of night had fallen,
the court was adjourned. The sight was not an edifying one though at intervals Mr and Mrs Cotton devoted themselves to the babies.  
 
 
 
When the Rev. Watson became aware that Elizabeth had been hospitalised in such an appalling condition he immediately became alarmed for the safety of the other Burnett children. He contacted the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and in the company of two their officers, a Mr Dowsett and Inspector Francis Murphy, on 19th of October 1891 they made a surprise call on the Caragh Orphanage.
 
 
What follows makes for unpleasant reading but in does take us right inside the Caragh Orphanage during an unscheduled inspection. This is the evidence of the Rev Watson as reported in The Kildare Observer October 31st 1891:
 
He visited the Caragh Orphanage on October the 14th with two inspectors of the society, Mr. Dowsett and Mr. Murphy. He fancied he arrived there about 12 o’clock. They came up to an entrance door which was in a wall, and pulled the bell several times. He then went to a cottage close by and made some enquiries. They then went past the wall and got onto a ditch and saw the matron and some of the children and beckoned to them through the window. But they would not come out. The witness went to an opening in the hedge and got in that way. The first room that they got into was the kitchen which was in a most filthy state. There were several children there. The children that he had sent there meet him at the door and appealed to him (to take them home). They presented the most filthy and neglected appearance; in fact he did not know them at first – they were Mary and James and Samuel Burnett. A little girl with a baby had charge of the children. They next went to the schoolroom which was in a wretched condition, dirt everywhere, no fire and seven or eight children in it; they were miserably dressed and some were crying with the cold. Most of the windows contained only broken glass. The matron Ms Hannen was there. They visited the girls and boys bedrooms and found the beds in a most filthy and dreadful state. There was one iron bed without any coverings and another wooden bench; some beds seemed to have sacks stuffed with hay on them. When looking at the beds they heard a cry and going over to some dirty hay in the corner, they found a child of six months old; it presented a most sickly appearance, the hay was wet around it, and the Inspector, lifting it up in his arms carried it down to the kitchen. Witness was standing at a bed and near him was a bundle of rags. Looking down he saw a movement; he lifted up an old coat and there found a baby six weeks old, and the bundle beneath it was soaked with filth. There was a dreadful sickening smell, and witness was unwell for two hours afterwards.
 
Dr. McVeagh, who visited the orphanage the following day, had, as we saw a similar story to tell. All in all it was to be a bad day in court for the Cottons.
 
   
The William Brown manslaughter case against Cotton was heard a week later. It was initially held at the Curragh Petty Sessions Court before Colonel Forbes, RM with Mr William Grove White Crown Solicitor, prosecuting, and Dr. J B Falconer defending. But this case only barely got off the ground when, two days later, on November 18th 1891, we find the Cottons summons to a coroner’s inquest in Dublin inquiring into another death at the orphanage, this time a contemporary one. Thomas Collins, the baby they had discovered in the kitchen, as expected, died.
 
Things rapidly went from bad to worse. While the authorities were investigating the death of baby Collins at the Caragh Orphanage they did not fail to notice the revolting state of the place and the obvious distress of its helpless little inmates. Less than a week later, on November 24th 1891, the Cottons yet again find themselves before Colonel Forbes RM at the Robertstown Petty Sessions. At this stage the Rev Cotton is a remand prisoner in Kilkenny Jail and has to be taken in chains to make his appearance at Robertstown. The summons charged the defendants, in the first instance, with ill-treating, neglecting and exposing Adelaide Parker, Kathleen Lynch, Anne King and Mary Wills or Willet in a manner likely to be injurious to their health and wellbeing. And in the second instance the summons charged the defendants with ill-treating, neglecting and exposing Bernard Savage, Thomas Brown, Charles Headly and Robert Steel in a manner likely to be injurious to their health and wellbeing.
 
Some evidence was taken at this short hearing but in the end Colonel Forbes said that this case against the Cottons should be taken as part and parcel of the former cases and all to be returned for trial before a judge and jury at the next Leinster Assizes. It was at his stage that the manslaughter charges appear to have been mislaid.
 
Dr Falconer applied for bail for his reverent client and his wife so as they could prepare for their defence. This was granted and fixed at £50.00. each plus surety for the same amount. The case was moved to the Carlow Assize to be heard some weeks later commencing on Dec 10th 1891.
 
The Kildare Observer of November 28th 1891, for reasons best known to itself, seems to think it necessary to caution its readers against jumping to any hasty conclusions. In doing this it also misleads them by presenting the case as if charges were only being preferred against the Reverend, airbrushing Eliza Cotton out of the picture altogether. However, the piece does serve to indicate just how much interest there was in Kildare and far beyond in the Cotton scandal at the time. Tongues were waggling:
 
The Rev. S. G. Cotton is now committed for trial on two distinct charges of manslaughter, and four of cruelty to children. He will be tried at the Winter Assizes and his guilt or innocence of these grave charges determined. In the meantime it would be decent if people who ought to know better would restrain their expressions of opinion on the matter, and let the prisoner have some semblance of fair play. We have as much repulsion for manslaughter as anybody and we look with horror upon the crime of extracting money from the flesh and blood of innocent children, but we think that no man should be adjudged guilty of these frightful charges until adequate investigation has been made into them by the proper tribunal. We make these remarks because everywhere Mr. Cotton’s guilt is assumed, and people are only divided in opinion as to the amount of punishment he should receive, and we consider the expression of such views highly improper. When he is found guilty, if such be the termination of the trial, will be quite time enough for the bursts of execration that are now a little prematurely indulged in.
 
 
The second part of an investigation into the Caragh Orphanage Case by Andrew Rynne

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