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‘A Family’s Survival Through Troubled Times’ by Anne Kearney Farrelly

Emily Sherlock

The evening of Sunday January14th, 1923 was like any other for the Sherlock family who lived in Roundhill House just outside Bandon, in County Cork, except that the servants were out for the evening. When suddenly a large number of armed men broke through the front door.  Robert Webb Sherlock, 58 and a Sessional Crown Solicitor, was taken away at gun point, his step mother Julia (Hewitt) Sherlock, 66 and his sister Emily Sherlock, 55, were given five minutes to get out and ordered to take nothing with them.

Emily hid all night, terrified, in an outhouse. We do not know where Julia spent the night. Robert was held captive for twenty-two days. The house was looted and set on fire. All the greenhouses including two with twenty-three mature peach trees and vines were destroyed. The gardens were dug up and the plants taken away, the iron gates removed and garden walls dismantled , including a 200 foot redbrick wall.

People came prepared with shovels, wheelbarrows, hand carts and donkey and carts.

It was the evening before the Bandon Quarter Sessions and Robert Webb Sherlock had entered some seven hundred and fifty civil bills on behalf of the Land Commission against defaulting tenants. The men who kidnapped him threatened to shoot him if he tried to escape. In his account of that night he states:

The night I was taken, I had to travel on foot till six o’clock in the morning and I suffered greatly. During the rest of the times I was forced to travel long distances at night time, sometimes nearly all night. During the whole period I suffered considerably and my health was greatly impaired owing to the hardships and uncertainties I was exposed to. After my release, I was unable to attend business for a considerable time and was under the care of Dr. Whelpy.”

The family lost all of their silver, furniture, library, paintings, including a portrait of all the family, plus all their personal belongings including the deeds of the house. They were in fact left with only the clothes they were wearing.  Luckily the older family silver and portraits had been given some years earlier to Robert and Emily’s eldest sister, Georgina who was married to Thomas Dawson Thomas of Castletownroche.

Julia and Emily went to live in Clancool House, Bandon (once owned by Julia’s GrandUncle Col. Thomas Wall Hewitt) as paying guests, at ten shillings each per week. There was not a room available for Robert, so he lodged in a local hotel in Bandon at two pounds ten shillings per week.

Roundhill House as it stands today.

It took several years for the house to be rebuilt. Due, in part, to the difficulty of obtaining any compensation from the state.

On August 20th, 1923 the claim was heard by Irish Compensation Committee at Cork. However, the committee would not allow Robert to speak, and the claim was dismissed. He had a very considerable business on hand for the Land Commission which he had to abandon entirely fearing that he would be shot.

A great deal of correspondence was exchanged between Robert, on his behalf and that of his step mother and sister, and the Irish Grants Committee in London, This committee was set up to assist people like the Sherlock family who had difficulty getting their claims heard by the Irish Compensation Committee, and was  headed by Major Alan Reid Jamieson of The Irish Guards . On October 26th, 1926, Sir Henry Wynne, the last Chief Crown Solicitor in Ireland, wrote on Robert’s behalf:

‘I have known Mr  R. W. Sherlock for many years and can vouch for his loyalty. I also know that he and his father had a very extensive legal practice and that, on his father’s death, he succeeded to the practice; and am quite certain that the fact he was suddenly kidnapped and forcibly detained from his practice for the time he mentions must have caused him considerable pecuniary loss. In such a practice as his, the absence of the practitioner, without any prior arrangement for the conduct of business in his absence, is a very serious matter, and in selecting the day before the opening of the Quarter Sessions for this outrage the criminals committed their offence at a time when they were able to do the most damage. From my knowledge of Mr. Sherlock I can quite understand the shock to him, his anxiety for his personal safety, and his concern for the affairs of his clients unattended to in his absence. As regards the point as to whether such kidnapping is within the Criminal Injury Code, or not, I have already expressed my opinion that persons who unlawfully assault and imprison one of His Majesty’s subjects and cause him bodily and mental suffering are within the terms of the Statutes “maliciously injuring him in his person”’

In October of that year Dr. Whelpy also wrote to the committee outlining the poor health of his client “due to the hardship and long marches he was subjected to while held prisoner by the Republicans”

Reports of Robert’s kidnapping and release were reported in several newspapers both in Ireland and the UK, including the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, the General Advertiser for Dublin and All Ireland, the Derry Journal, the Freeman’s Journal and the Northern Whig. He was released on February 5th, 1923 and all the newspaper reports state that he was kindly treated!

During the time he was kept in captivity the Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, reported that Robert’s brother, Captain Thomas Henry Sherlock MRCVS, had received a letter from him which stated that he was safe and being treated well.

The claims for compensation took some years and were finally settled in 1928. It is interesting to look at claims and private incomes and their value in 1923 and in 2021.

Personal Items and Clothing:

  • Robert: £657  (£40,628)
  • Julia: £464  (£28,693)
  • Emily: £550 (£34,073

 

Private incomes per annum:

  • Robert:  £375 (£23,190)
  • Julia:     £200 (12,368)
  • Emily:    £85 (£5226)

 

The joint claim from Robert and Julia, who were joint owners, for the house and contents: £5109. (£316.000)

The rebuilding of the house.  Plus the restoration of the Conservatories, Green House, Peach House and some ancillary buildings.  The loss of 23 peach trees and vines, garden implements and hot water pipes, dairy and hen house, glass pantry, and all effects therein.  House bells and 200 feet long red brick wall which was dismantled and taken away, ornamental shrubs, fruit trees and the demesne gates. Also the living accommodation needed for two years and seven months.

According to Kieran Doyle in his book, Behind the Wall. The Rise and Fall of Protestant Families in Bandon Robert and Julia received £3575 (£229,647). However, Arian Collins states in his book, The Sherlocks of Ireland and Wales, that the amount was £8,000 (£321,222)

Robert required two people to give, if needed, references, namely Archdeacon E.R. Emerson, The Green, Bandon and James J. Clifton, Manager of the Munster and Leinster Bank, Bandon.

John St. Leger GIllman

Other members of the family affected during this time were Robert and Emily’s Uncle (by marriage) John St. Leger Gillman J.P. The Retreat, Clonakilty who was also kidnapped in June 1921 which was reported in several newspapers here and in the UK.

Their cousin John Digby Townshend Hussey de Burgh, of Dromkeen House, County Limerick, was shot at and threatened. The IRA came looking for his brother, Ulick, he was however away in Sandhurst Military Academy.  Digby had to flee the country to Canada, he owned Prevost Island off the coast of Vancouver, where his descendants still live.  This is well documented in Robin Bury’s excellent book, ‘Buried Lives’. 

Another cousin Captain Robin Webb Thomas who was a JP for Co. Cork, as was his father-in-law George Golborne Tarry. Both lived in Castletownroche, the former at ‘Riverview’ and the latter at ‘Rocksavage’. Both had also served during the Great War. The IRA expected ‘contributions’ to support their campaign and if these were not forthcoming, they would simply raid the property of whoever had refused to ‘contribute’ and take whatever goods they could up to the value of the contribution.  Robin and George were also threatened that they would be shot.  Robin and his father-in-law and their families left Ireland and never returned. Though Robin’s mother and sister continued to live in the family home in Castletownroche.

My Grandaunt , Emily Sherlock died in Roundhill House on December 24th, 1933 and is buried in Brinny Churchyard. My step Great-grandmother Julia Hewitt Sherlock died on February 9th, 1941.

Robert Webb Sherlock spent some time in Adelaide, Australia, visiting his Strickland Kingston cousins, Records show him arriving in London on May 9th, 1935, aboard the S.S. Orsova from Australia. He died at Miss Beamish’s Home for invalids in Bandon on May 10th, 1937, and is buried at Brinny Churchyard. Roundhill House was sold to the Jeffers family. In 1967 it was sold to Bandon Grammar School and is now part of the school buildings.

Some 53 years ago I was in Bandon trying to find out more about my Sherlock family. I went into a newsagent on the main street and asked the owner some questions. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he was one of the men who had kidnapped my granduncle Robert!  He introduced me to a man who owned a large garage near his shop who had also taken part in the onslaught on Roundhill House. This kindly man drove me to Brinny and showed me the Sherlock family graves.  During my conversation with the newsagent, I asked him why they had targeted the family.

His reply: Protestant, Big House, Crown Solicitor and coming over here with Cromwell and taking our lands.

My reply to him: Of course, you are correct about the first three but we did not arrive with Cromwell, we came here with the Norman Invasion in the late 1100s and in fact suffered under the hands of Cromwell, which is documented.  

His reply: Glory be to God now sure we never knew that!

 

Acknowledgements

 

  • Billy Good, without whose generosity in giving me Sherlock family files, this article could not have been written.
  • Robin Webb Thomas, grandson of Captain Robin Webb Thomas, JP.
  • Kieran Doyle.  Behind The Wall. The Rise and Fall of Protestant Families in Bandon.
  • Robin Bury:  Buried Lives. The Protestants of Southern Ireland.
  • Arian Collins. The Sherlocks of Ireland and Wales.

 

Written by Anne Kearney Farrelly