From the Anglo-Celt, December 4th, 1851:-
“The Court of Exchequer, too, has furnished its quota to the general fund in the case of MATHEWS v. HARTY, which was an action brought by Mr. Mathews, a Sizar and Scholar of T.C.D., against Doctor Harty, the keeper of a mad house in Dublin, for having had him illegally put up as a dangerous lunatic in Swift’s. It came out upon the defence, that the young man was the illegitimate son of the Doctor by a female who had been attacked with temporary insanity but had recovered. As the case is still at hearing we refrain from observations.”
Intriguing! It would be very disappointing not to know what this was all about, particularly as Doctor Harty’s Asylum in Finglas (photo above from Finglas Historical Society) was most fashionable in well-heeled Dublin circles and the good doctor himself an eminent medical practitioner often called upon to give evidence in court on lunatic matters.
Fortunately a full report of the subsequent trial can be found in the London Illustrated News of December 20th:-
“EXTRAORDINARY TRIAL AT LAW
A trial of a very extraordinary character has engaged, during the last fortnight, the Lord Chief Baron of Ireland and a special jury at Dublin. It was an action for false imprisonment, brought by a young gentleman named Matthew against Dr. Harty, the proprietor of a private lunatic asylum near this city, and a Mr. Stokes. The plaintiff, who had been unacquainted with his parentage, was taken under the guardianship of Dr. Harty at an early age, and placed at school near London.
Subsequently he had been at first class schools ¡n this country, the expenses of his éducation having been defrayed by the defendant. Some years since he entered the University of Dublin, and read for a sizarship, which he succeeded in obtaining on the second attempt. Afterwards he read for a scholarship ; failed at three examinations, but obtained this distinction on the fourth trial. Hard study for both left him in a nervous and debilitated state; and occasionally, during such close reading, he appears to have suffered from pecuniary difficulties.
The plaintiff accepted an engagement as tutor in the family of a gentleman near Londonderry, and subsequently went to reside in that city. Whilst there he was present with some friends at a theatre, and allowed himself to be persuaded to go upon the stage and sing ” I’m afloat ” ‘The second defendant, Stokes, arrived in Londonderry; and by direction of Dr. Harty, induced the plaintiff to return to Dublin, where he was placed in Swift’s Lunatic Asylum. From this insitiution he contrived to communicate with his friends in college, and soon afterwards he was allowed by Dr. Harty to return to college, in which he has since continued as a scholar.
The plaintiff, during his lengthened examination, gave his evidence in the most collected manner ; and his tutor, the Rev. Dr. Sadleir (son of the late Provost), and other gentlemen, who had the best opportunities of observation, gave it as their opinion that he never had exhibited any symptom of mental derangement. The ground of defence was, that Dr. Harty had treated him with kindness, and that he had been placed in Swift’s asylum on account of mental derangement.
A sensation was produced by the declaration of Mr. Mareley, counsel for the defendant, in his address to the jury), thal Dr. Harty is the father of the plaintiff ; and that gentleman, in his examination subsequently, stated the fact, with the addition that the Mother of his illegitimate child was a Monmouthshire lady, who died in 1833. After occupying the court for seven days, the case was brought to a close yesterday, when the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff for £ 1000 damages.”
Very interesting. I wonder if Mr Mathew’s mother (described in the first report as having been under a mental derangement but subsequently recovered, and in other reports as ‘a true lady, but unmarried’) might perhaps have been one of Dr Harty’s patients? And whether or not his treatment of his son (described elsewhere as susceptible to a highly dangerous but unmentionable bad habit liable to addle his wits) was due to a desire to control an unruly and possibly dangerously garrulous offspring or a genuine concern that this son might have inherited his mother’s mental instability? In any event, the case was the end of Dr Harty; the house in which his patients were kept was taken over by another asylum-keeper and is now St Helena’s Community Resource Centre.
Full text of the Mathews v Harty and Stokes trial (surely Ireland’s most famous forgotten false imprisonment case) here, along with this fascinating report from 1842 (scroll down to the headline ‘Extraordinary Case’) of someone else allegedly entrapped by the same doctor at the behest of wicked relatives. Very Dickensian – it all reminds me of this wonderful book by Charles Palliser, ‘The Quincunx‘. One of my most favourite reads ever.
History does not record what happened to Mr Mathews of the dangerously bad habit. Or indeed his mother. But I am sure that they weren’t the first and won’t be the last people to be put where the real lunatics are running the asylum.