The “47th Sheep Stealers” of Thomas Street, Midleton

During the era of the Famine detachments of British units were to be found throughout the country providing aid to the civil power. In 1847, a Company of the 47th (The Lancashire) Regiment were quartered at Thomas Street, the first reference we have come across to troops being stationed on the street at this time. Apparently the sight of a prize ram in a nearby field was too much for some of the soldier’s to resist– but their deeds were exposed thanks to the testimony of one of the town butchers. The irony that the troops were based in Midleton in order to protect property was not lost on the local correspondent who related the story:

MILITARY SHEEP STEALERS

In the course of the last week a gentleman residing in the vicinity of Midleton, near Killea, (Mr. Welland) engaged a prize ram for breeding purposes for £20 which, with two sheep, was left our at night to pasture in a field about a mile distant from Middleton. On missing them one morning, information was conveyed to the police, who made every effort to discover their whereabouts, but with no success. The secret, however, soon transpired. A knife, lost by the depredators, was found, and on its being shown by the police to a butcher resident in Middleton he instantly identified it as his property which on the previous evening he lent to a few of the soldiers of the 47th Regt., a company of which is at present stationed in Middleton, with a view to the protection of property, as well as the preservation of the peace of the country. The constabulary instantly proceeded to Thomas Street, Middleton, where the military are quartered, and on examination discovered portions of the carcasses of the slaughtered animals safely deposited in a coal hole. Suspicion strongly attaching to three of the gallant corps, they were arrested and taken before the sitting magistrates, who decided on receiving informations against them; and they now await their trial at the ensuing sessions in durance.

It is to be regretted that the conduct of a few scoundrels should have the effect of bringing into disrepute a gallant body of men, such as unquestionably is the 47th Regt., who, since the unhappy occurrence, are denominated by the people here– “the 47th sheep stealers.”– Middleton Correspondent. (1)

A Prize Ram (The Mark Lane Express, Wikimedia)

A Prize Ram (The Mark Lane Express, Wikimedia)

A postscript to the incident was reported in the Cork Examiner of 8th January:

THE MILITARY SHEEP-STEALERS

It is said that Capt. Armstrong, lately commanding the party of soldiers stationed at Midleton, has left the regiment in consequence of the disgrace incurred by the recent conviction of three privates of the party at the Fermoy Sessions. At the same time, the gallant detachment have got the route, “for the protection of life and property.” (2)

It would be interested to discover what became of both the soldiers and Captain Armstrong, and also to discover if the coal-hole used to conceal their misdeeds on Thomas Street still exists.

(1) Cork Examiner 1st January 1847; (2) Cork Examiner 8th January 1847;

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Categories: Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The “47th Sheep Stealers” of Thomas Street, Midleton

  1. Sadly, the pavements around Thomas Street have been remade over the years so the infamous coal hole is no longer extant. However, it is possible that the building housing the soldiers was at the upper end of Thomas Street, near Main Street. It seems unlikely that the buildings at the further end had any coal cellars since they would be liable to flood.

    Also, it is interesting to see the name Welland in the report. William Welland of Killeagh (a townland just outside Midleton on the Dungourney Road, was agent to George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton. His son was Joseph Welland, architect to the Church Commissioners, and the man who supervised the refurbishment of Midleton College in 1828-1829. The Welland tomb is in St John the Baptist’s graveyard, Midleton.

  2. Just a quick note on the use of the word ‘informations’ in the report quoted above. Byrne’s Dictionary of Irish Local History (2004) says that the word ‘Information’ means ‘A formal accusation of a crime made by a prosecuting officers as distinct from an indictment presented by a grand jury.’ So when the term information is used in reference to a legal process it refers to a part of the formal legal process rather than just evidence or information offered by a witness. The poor, bloody infantry were in trouble!

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