Old Trinity: Murder and sprees in rooms

By Peter Henry

EDWARD FORD was shot dead at his window in No 25, in the Rubrics, by a rabble of students in 1734.

The shooting took place on the New Square side of the building, from what was then called the Playground or the Mall. The unfortunate don was at the window above the passage through the building – now covered up.

The incident has been mentioned several times here in Trinity News, and many of the college’s histories describe what occurred, and how the accused students were acquitted of his murder. A very good summary also appeared in TCD: A College Miscellany on March 17, 1906 – giving his name incorrectly as Forde, however.

A short article by Professor McDowell in Trinity: An Annual Record in Michaelmas 1950 gives further details on the killing which are not recorded in the other accounts. The information is from a verbatim report of the trial, which was acquired by the British Museum in 1932.

Ford was the son of the Archdeacon of Derry, and had been elected to Fellowship in 1730 at the age of 24. When the rooms of a colleague, Hugh Graffan, were wrecked, Ford tried to track down the perpetrators – and received some threatening letters for his trouble.
Just after midnight on the night of March 7, 1734, a porter at the front gate was attacked by a group of young men wearing white, and shortly afterward Ford’s windows were smashed by stone-throwers in the Mall. Ford took out his pistols and shot at the gang. He then ordered two undergraduates also living in Rubrics to summon a porter.

Roan, one of the undergrads, advised Ford to go downstairs and not confront the troublemakers. We have Roan’s testimony from the court. He says he got dressed, and ran up to Ford’s rooms.

“Mr Forde stood near the windows and, looking to the Mall, said to me: ‘There they are.’” I endeavoured to prevent Mr Forde being hurt himself or shooting at the persons in the Mall by importuning him again to retreat, but he would not, and taking up a pistol advanced again toward the window and pointed the pistol downward at the persons in the Mall through a broken pane of glass. I immediately heard the shot from the Mall and Mr Forde was wounded.”

Roan and the other student, Hansard, took Ford down to Hansard’s rooms, “where he lay some time speechless, and then spoke for a surgeon”.

Roan testified: “We asked Mr Forde if he knew who shot him, who answered, ‘I do not know, but God forgive them, I do’. He lay pretty easy about ten minutes. Mr Dobs came in and endeavoured to bleed him, but he was dead.”

A few hours later some Fellows met, and having heard that a student called Cotter had been drinking with his friends in his rooms all the previous day and night, decided to pay him a visit. Cotter’s rooms were at the library end of the Rubrics – probably No 22.
There they found Boyle, a bachelor of arts, with three undergrads: Cotter, Crosbie and Scholes. On the table was an empty punch bowl and some bottles and glasses. The Fellows also found powder, a recently fired gun, and white clothes.

The four were put on trial for murder in July 1734. The trial was a mess. A witness couldn’t be found. The porter admitted to having been “a little in liquor” when he was attacked. And Hansard, in whose rooms Ford had died, insisted he heard the voices of other students on the fateful night – not those of the prisoners. The Lord Chief Justice found in favour of the four.

But the college’s Board thought differently. Cotter and his pals were sent down.

It didn’t seem to hurt them too much. Cotter became an MP and a baronet. Crosbie succeeded his father’s title and was created a viscount and an earl. One master of arts who had attempted to influence the trial married an heiress and became Dean of Armagh. Boyle, the only graduate among them, never took his MA, probably knowing better than to present himself in college again.

IT SEEMS rather dull that parties in college are called, simply, parties. In Oxford, and other universities over there, they still have the bop – usually, I think, a bit of music in the college bar. Members of Germany’s studentenverbindungen (who have the enviable tradition of the Mensur – slashing each other’s faces) refer to a party as kneipe.

For many years, a party here was a hop. In Trinity News in December 1953, for example, it was noted that “the Swimming Club ‘hop’ in the Dixon was a much more sober affair than the last”. This word almost certainly succumbed to the iconoclasm of the 1960s.
Donnell Deeny, in his essay in Trinity Tales, gives some more names: “A party in the Hist was called ‘a blind’ but one in the Boat Club was ‘a thrash’”. This was around 1970.

I have never (yet) encountered a thrash, but the Boat Club called its Halloween party “The Massacre” in recent years. I think this may have lapsed.

Henry Hinkson, in his Student Life (1892), tells us that parties were then called sprees. “The spree is not conducted on total abstinence principles,” he writes, and gives a good description of a night of drinking in college at the time.

The JD was an occasional visitor: “It sometimes happens that the party is surprised by an unwelcome visitor, in the person of the Junior Dean … In this case the JD delivers the concluding oration, which is couched in language far from complimentary to the host.”

Hinkson also includes some verses about a spree given by a student called Grandison in his rooms high in 27. It’s unfortunate that those rooms weren’t reclaimed for students when the sport administrators moved out a couple of years ago – no more sprees up there.

TO READ the Trinity piece on the trial, the 1906 article in TCD, an April 2009 piece about Ford’s ghost and Hinkson’s description of the spree, visit trinitynews.ie/oldtrinity.

pehenry@tcd.ie