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The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Non Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

‘Justice requires no victim; justice requires and prefers that ninety-nine guilty men should escape, than that a hair of the head of one innocent man should be sacrificed to mistake.’
– Chief Justice Judge Monaghan, 1857

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris is published with Harvill Secker and is described as ‘a thrilling and meticulously researched investigation into a real-life Victorian mystery…a fascinating, in-depth investigation that reads like a mystery novel.’ I don’t normally read true-crime books but I was intrigued with this particular one by the title alone. The Dublin Railway Murder is a tale that shocked Irish society and a perplexing case that confounded and horrified all involved.

On a winter’s morning, Thursday 13th November, 1856, George Little took his normal route to work from his home on Waterloo Road in Dublin to Broadstone Railway Station, which was owned by The Midland and Great Western Railway Company. As chief cashier it was Little’s responsibility to handle the ofttimes large quantities of money that crossed his path. He was a respected and trusted employee, meticulous with his work and extremely conscientious with his accurate recording of the accounts. On the day in question there had been a larger delivery of cash to his office than normal mainly due to monies collected at the very busy Mullingar Fair. George Little had recently been concerned for the security of his office space and had it upgraded to allow him work without being paranoid of criminal activity. That particular day he knew he would be working late, so his family had no expectation of him being home for dinner. It was common for George Little to work late so the cleaning staff at the station had learned to let him be.

But the following day, it was noted by his sister that he never came home. She checked in with his work colleagues but no one had recalled seeing him that morning. With his office completely secure and locked from the inside, they had to break in and were faced with a shocking sight. George Little was dead on the floor having been brutally murdered (although initial speculation was that he had cut his own throat!) With no obvious sign of entry by the murderer, the immediate investigation hit a brick wall. Why was so much money still left lying around the office? Did George Little have any enemies? Was greed a factor or was this brutal act of violence a personal act of revenge?

Thomas Morris was fascinated with this Victorian locked-room mystery and set about his research into its findings

‘It’s based entirely on first-hand accounts of the investigation and its aftermath. As well as newspaper reports and trial transcripts, these sources include an astonishing cache of documents from the original case files – comprising the transcripts of police interviews, letters between detectives and government officials, and even surveillance reports filed by the undercover agents who were given the task of discreetly tailing suspects around the city.’
– Thomas Morris

As he read through the documentation it was soon very clear to him that this was an investigation that was marred with flaws and inaccuracies. The DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) were unequipped to gather the necessary testimonies and, with a shambolic lead into the investigation, important evidence was carelessly destroyed by the huge numbers of onlookers at the scene. This was a sensational crime in Dublin at the time. The population were unused to hearing of such violent acts and were completely riveted to every single ounce of gossip.

As the police trawled through the offices of the Broadstone station they became more frustrated daily with their lack of progress. Every tip-off was followed up and a number of arrests were made but to no avail. The perpetrator was still at large and the public were afraid.

Thomas Morris’ research took him to the Irish National Archives, where he uncovered a wealth of ‘secret government documents and court transcripts that had lain undisturbed for years.’ He gathered up all this information and created this fascinating account of an investigation that was hampered in so many ways. One of the more outrageous laws of the time was that a woman could not give evidence against her husband in a trial as, once married, she was basically, in her own right, a persona-non-grata. This archaic law was an instrumental turning point in the investigation frustrating all involved and had serious implications on the outcome of a murder trial that drew gasps from both sides of the Atlantic and left a family devoid of a hoped for outcome.

The Dublin Railway Murder is a deep examination of a case that caused much consternation and scandal in the mid 1800s. As time passed it was lost in the archives until Thomas Morris dusted it off and brought it to life with this intense and quite compelling tale. Although a non-fiction book, The Dublin Railway Murder is written in such a manner that it feels like fiction.

‘The rail traffic was gradually wound down with the last train pulling into Broadstone at midnight on the 16th January 1937’ ( Irish History Podcast ) and the station no longer operated, its history long forgotten, until now. In addition to Thomas Morris resurrecting this infamous case, in March of this year it was reported that ‘a €15 million redevelopment of the historic Broadstone depot opposite the Kings Inns in Dublin 7 has been completed by Dublin Bus.’ ( The Irish Times )

The Dublin Railway Murder is more than just a report on a shocking crime, it provides the reader with an incredible insight into the social history and the economy of the time. It is an extraordinary story transporting the reader back in time when Ireland was in recovery from The Great Famine and under English rule. The court scenes come alive and the sense of the claustrophobic and almost circus-like atmosphere is depicted with a great level of authenticity. Definitely a book for all true-crime aficionados, The Dublin Railway Murder, is full of real-life drama, while also highlighting many of the appalling inadequacies of the judicial system at the time.

“The case behind the Dublin Railway Murder has everything – a truly puzzling crime, several suspects arrested and released, a dogged detective in Superintendent Augustus Guy, mysterious witnesses, newspapers fighting to cover every development, (and even a brief appearance from Mr Whicher). No-one loves and knows archives more than Thomas Morris, and for his first narrative non-fiction book Thomas has unearthed a staggeringly good story. It’s a joy.”
– Patrick Walsh at PEW Literary, The Bookseller

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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