Subscribe for Unlimited Access to Turtle’s History Quarter.

Includes content from Vanishing Ireland, Easter Dawn, Dublin Docklands, The Irish Pub, Maxol and many more, as well as Waterways Ireland, the Past Tracks project and hundreds of historical articles on Irish families, houses, companies and events.

Lord Norbury – The Hanging Judge

John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland.

John Toler (1745-1831), 1st Earl of Norbury, was the most feared Irish judge of the Georgian period. Among the numerous men and women he sentenced to hang were Robert Emmet and the 1798 leaders Henry and John Sheares. He rose to become Chief Justice.




John Toler descended from Nicholas Toler, a quarter-master in Cromwell’s New Model Army, who acquired lands in County Tipperary at Garryglass, Ballintotty, Knockalton, Kilkeary and Ballycrenode before his death in 1681. His son Nicholas Toler II (c. 1663-1732) married Eleanor Wilkes of Crohan and acquired land at Graigue in 1722.

In the next generation, Nicholas II’s third son Daniel Toler (born before 1705, d. 1756) was married twice. His first bride was Helena Maria Purdon of Tinerana, County Clare, with whom he had a son Nicholas, who died young, and two daughters, one of whom was Helena, wife of Richard Maunsell of Limerick. In 1732, the year of his father’s death, Daniel was married secondly to Lettice Otway of Lissenhall with whom he had a further nine children, five sons and four daughters. Daniel built Beechwood House, Nenagh, in 1740.

In 1760, Daniel’s son Daniel Toler II (1739-1796) married Rebecca Minchin of Bogh (Bough) near Rathvilly, County Carlow. One wonders was there a Bunbury link given the Bunbury link to both Rathvilly and Minchin. (See Minchin here) Daniel II was High Sherriff of Tipperary in 1766 and an MP in Grattan’s Parliament from 1773 until his death in 1796. Rebecca bore him a son and three daughters. The son Daniel Minchin Toler was High Sherriff of Tipperary  in 1794 but died the following year aged 27.

John Toler, later Earl of Norbury, was Daniel II’s younger brother. Born at Beechwood, Nenagh, in the year of the Jacobite Rebellion, he was educated at Kilkenny College and Trinity College Dublin, graduating from the latter with a BA in 1761 and an MA in 1766. Called to the Irish Bar in 1770, he served as MP for Tralee (1773-1780), Philipstown (1783-1790) and Gorey (1790-1800) during Grattan’s Parliament. He was appointed Solicitor General on 16 July 1789, two days after the Storming of the Bastille in Paris. On 26 June 1798, with the Rising in full flow, he was appointed Attorney General.  In 1800, he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Norbury of Ballycrenode and appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas.

Between 1780 and 1795, 242 felons were hung after being pronounced guilty at either the Dublin City or County Quarter Sessions, or by the Commission of Oyer and Terminer (equivalent to a criminal assize). Norbury was Chairman of the County Dublin Quarter Sessions at Kilmainham from 1781-89, during which time at least 49 people were hanged. In the Dublin City Quarter Sessions for the same period, only 26 persons were hung, even though the city which had one and a half times the population of the country sessions.

In musing why the County Sessions were more severe, John Kelly suggests that the Commission of Oyer and Terminer (equivalent to a criminal assize), which sat in Dublin, may have taken some of the city’s more egregious cases. John also observes that Dublin City had a Night Watch and, later, a police force in this period, which could have suppressed crime.

Toler was castigated on an angry handbill distributed by the United Irishmen on the eve of the 1798 Rebellion, the relevant part following below. This was published in a ‘Report from the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons, as reported by the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Castlereagh, August 21, 1798’ (J. Debrett, 1798), Appendix XXV, p. 207.

‘At this awful and important crisis, when the tyrants of Ireland violate every tie that binds man to society; when “rigour beyond the law” is avowed and practiced by the governors, and adopted as a defensive duty by the governed ; when the judicial bench is made the feat of assassination; where Yelverton weeps over the victim in the refinement of cruelty, or Toler, with lees equivocation, mingles the coarse wit of an horse-jockey with the solemnity of a sentence that dooms an Irishman to death; when the ART OF PRINTING, that invaluable bulwark of liberty, that inestimable source of happiness, that powerful opponent of despotism, is openly and contemptuously annihilated by the servants and slaves of a foreign government assuming the mockery of legislators…’

At 8am in the morning of 13 July 1798, a trial that lasted all night concluded when a jury declared John and Henry Sheares guilty of treason in the rebellion. Toler then sentenced the brothers to death.

Five years later, he also sentenced Robert Emmet to hang in the following manner:



In 1817, the Exile of New York reported: ‘The tyger, Norbury, left 13 unfortunate beings for execution after the assizes at Carlow, which commenced on the 21st of July.’ The following year, 316 persons were sentenced to death in Ireland, of whom 104 were executed. In 1822, ‘with tears in his eyes’, he sentenced ten members of the Finnegan gang to hand including a 12-year-old boy.

The Hanging Judge.

His courtroom was always overflowing with punters eager to catch his witty and erudite performance, and his lethal  pronouncements. The latter was invariably published as a column beneath the heading, “Lord Norbury’s Latest Pronouncements”.

Not surprisingly he became known as the Hanging Judge although there were numerous instances clemency was exercised.  Between 1822 and 1828, 1,896 death sentences were handed down in Ireland but only 332 were actually executed. The Lord Lieutenant had the power of clemency or change of sentence.

A story is told that he had a recently married Blanchardstown man hanged for stealing a sheep. The man’s widow died soon afterwards and, on her deathbed, vowed to never let him have a peaceful night’s sleep. His lordship is said to have suffered chronic insomnia ever after.

In 1822, Daniel O’Connell persuaded the Edinburgh-born liberal advocate Henry Brougham (later Baron Brougham) to present parliament with a letter addressed to Toler some years previously by William Saurin, the then attorney-general, urging him to use his influence to ensure the grand juries came down against Catholics. Norbury was irate: ‘I’ll resign to demand satisfaction; that Scottish broom wants to be acquainted with an Irish stick.” It has been noted that this was, at least, an admission by Norbury that he now identified as Irish.

In 1827, he was edged out of his judicial role and, by way of a reward, elevated as Viscount Glandine and Earl of Norbury. It is often said that he hung hundreds of people but this may have been an exaggeration, not least by himself. He assuredly handed down hundreds of capital sentences but the number of actual executions would have been far less. Nonetheless, his persona was clearly a factor and Brian Henry, author of the highly regarded  ‘Dublin Hanged’ says he ‘took a severe approach towards crime’.

Moreover, as McMahon observes:

‘Whereas over 70 per cent of death sentences in murder cases were carried out before 1825, after this point the authorities seem to have become a good deal more receptive to pleas for mitigation. Indeed, in the early 1840s, less than 40 per cent of death sentences in murder cases led to an execution … Whereas, only 45.45 per cent of those sentenced to death for capital offences earned a reprieve between 1806 and 1810, a total of 65.19 per cent did so between 1816 and 1820 while this rose further to 87.23 per cent of cases between 1826 and 1830 and just over 90 per cent between 1836 and 1840’ [i]

So there was a sharp decrease in actual executions after Norbury left office. Prison or transportation were rapidly becoming the preferred punishments. (Over 37,000 men and women were transported from Ireland between 1790 and 1853.

Sentences of death and executions ni Ireland, 1806-1850, extracted from Richard McMahon, ‘Let the law take its course’.





John had a reputation as a fearless dueller, claiming to have left Tipperary with £50 and a brace of silver mounted duelling pistols. Among the many he reputedly fought in duels were the Fighting FitzGerald and Napper Tandy (although the later failed to show). He became an implacable enemy of Daniel O’Connell, not least when he nodded off during a trial O’Connell was involved with in 1825.

In 1778, he married Grace Graham, daughter of Hector Graham, who became Baroness Norwood of Knockalton in 1797. They had two sons, Daniel and Hector, known in Dublin as Bogwood and Bogberry, a play on their parents titles. There were also two daughters, Isabella and Letitia.

Norbury’s country residence was Cabragh House, Dublin. The house previously belonged to the Segreve family who had lived in Cabra since before 1619. The Civil survey (1654-6) mentions a stone house in good repair, with out-buildings, at Little Cabra. The Hearth Money Rolls 1664 refers to a house at Little Cabra with nine chimneys, also associated with the Seagrave family. In the early 18th-century a John Seagrave rebuilt a house on the site, which was probably the Cabragh House, marked on the 1837 OS 6-inch map, a three-storey house of early 18th-century appearance.[ii] Cabragh House was demolished in 1939 to make way for the Canon Burke Flats at the south end of Broombridge Road. [iii]

Shortly before his death, he acquired Durrow Abbey near Tullamore, County Offaly. He died on 27 July 1831 and was buried at St Mary’s Chucrhyard in Mary Street, Dublin. At his funeral, the ropes to lower the coffin were apparently too short. ‘give him rope galore, boys’, yelled one wag. ‘He was never sparing of it to others.’

He had acquired a fortune along the way and died leaving a fortune of £138,000, equivalent to over £11 million today. Curiously it emerged that many of his tenants had not paid their rent but the 2nd earl wiped out these debts

His eldest son Daniel became the 2nd earl but went mad and died the following year. Norbury’s second son Hector became the 3rd Earl and married a Brabazon, but was murdered at in Durrow in  1839, seemingly by his own butler. The 3rd Earl’s daughter was married in 1884 to James Alexander, 4th Earl of Caledon, who died of blood poisoning and pneumonia in 1898 while staying in Mayfair.


With thanks to John Kelly.



Image of Norbury –


Further Reading


  • Brian Henry, ‘Dublin Hanged: Crime, Law Enforcement and Punishment in Late 18th-century Dublin’ (Irish Academic Press Ltd., 1993)
  • Richard Mc Mahon, ‘Homicide, the Courts and Popular Culture in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland’ (PhD thesis, University College Dublin, 2006).
  • Richard McMahon, ‘Let the law take its course’: Punishment and the Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland’, from Michael Brown and Sean Pa trick Donlan (eds), The Laws and Other Legalities of Ireland, 1689-1850 (New York, 2011)
  • Summary Statement of Number of Persons charged with Criminal Offences committed for Trial in Ireland, 1822-23 (University of Southampton, 01-01-1829).

See ‘Judgements, Duels and Hangings: John Toler’ by John Flannery, courtesy of Trasna na Tire, at


Address by Lord Norbury – Thursday 25 July 1822

Transcribed by Shirley Fleming, thanks to Michael Purcell


Our Assizes ended yesterday, and contrary to all expectation, there was more business of a real and serious nature, than we recollect for many years. Nor could we have imagined, that where the Calendar, as we said in our last, was so very light as to contain the names of only eighteen prisoners— Ten of the number should have been capitally convicted, and sentenced to an ignominious death!
The trials of these unfortunate persons, have been taken down in detail, by our Reporter; we have commenced their publication this day, and shall continue them in our next; for we deem it a duty which we owe our country, to hold out to society, the moral lesson which these trials must afford; and we should hope, that the awful example which the fate of so many of our wretched and guilty countrymen holds forth, may operate as an antidote to thousands, and call them from their evil pursuits, to seek the paths of rectitude and peace.
It is, indeed, happy for our country that this knot of robbers has been discovered, and brought to justice; besides the injury which has been done, from time to time, to individuals, the character of the entire neighbourhood has suffered; and many of the crimes committed by such men as these, have been attributed to others, and represented as arising from far different motives. Yet while we rejoice in the detection of the midnight robber, and incendiary, we deplore that necessity which consigns them to an untimely grave; — and if there were any other medium, by which the ends of justice might be attained, we should feel more liberty, at this moment, in commenting upon the turpitude of those crimes which have induced the present observations: but we must, at all events, and however unpleasant to our feelings, continue the melancholy subject, til we bring it to its proper conclusion; and it is our ardent wish, that we may never again, in our native country — nor in any other — have to record such “a tale of woe!”
Five of the unfortunate persons, whom we have been writing of, were tried, and found guilty on Monday; the other five on Tuesday; at the conclusion of the second day’s trial, the Chief Barron while charging the jury – in which he recapitulated the entire of the evidence — took occasion to pay a high, and well deserved compliment, to the Rev.Mr.Doyle, Parish Priest of Clonegal, for the admirable line of conduct which he had observed, in bringing about the means by which the offenders, through his advice, had been delivered into the hands of justice. Such a character is an honor, and a blessing, to the country in which he holds and exercises his sacred function; and we present him as a pattern, worthy of imitation! — Were the Clergy, of every class and denomination to perform their duty, as this GENTLEMAN does, we should have less occasion to deplore that state of moral and physical degradation, to which this ill fated island is now a prey; and from which it can never be rescued, except through the instrumentality of faithful Pastors, who will feed their flocks, and not make merchandize of men’s souls and bodies!— We did not intend to dilate thus; but the state of our unhappy fellow creatures, our brethren and countrymen, has drawn us a little beyond our regular limits: — to return, however: when the jury gave in their dreadful verdict Guilty! The Chief Baron ordered five unhappy beings (from the youth of some of them, we cannot call them men) who were convicted on Monday, viz. —
Andrew and Armstrong Anderson, Nicholas and Thomas Troy, and Christopher Dooley, to be put to the bar, together with Michael, Timothy, and Hue Finegan, William Nowlan, and William Walsh.—
The appearance of such a group, in this hitherto peaceable County, and under such circumstances, made an impression that will not be readily effaced from the recollection of the greatest number of persons we ever saw at any one time in our County Court-House.
His Lordship said, when he first entered the peaceable County of Carlow, he did not expect to encounter such an awful scene, as now presented to his view. There were only eighteen prisoners for trial on the calendar — and yet the awful duty devolved upon him of passing the dreadful sentence of death upon ten! It was melancholy to reflect, that neither youth nor age could protect them.—
Some he thought too old to have been found in so degrading and distressing a situation, while if the parents of the others had done their duty, and paid proper attention to their children, some of them ought now be under chastisement in school, instead of standing forward to await the penalty of the law. Year after year, examples have been made that ought to strike terror to the hearts of such offenders, and prevent the commission of such crimes. It was a mistaken view, if they supposed that the law would not sooner or later catch those offending against it, and bring down upon them its just vengeance.
The prisoners, Nicholas and Thomas Troy, and Christopher Dooley, were convicted of attacking and firing into a dwelling-house, and for threatening to sacrifice the life of Timothy Byrne, the proprietor, if he did not quit a farm recently taken. This was a dreadful denunciation, to come from three young persons—instigated to the commission of the crime, (his Lordship had no doubt), by other agents. Instead of being violators of the public peace, it should have been their first and paramount duty to protect those laws from which they derived so much benefit, and not pollute them as they have done.
Andrew and Armstrong Anderson, were convicted of a robbery on the highway. The man whom they robbed was, on his way to market, disarmed, and the means of his existence taken from him. If the honest and industrious were obliged to give up their property to such as were determined not to earn a livelihood for themselves— if such practices, said his Lordship, were allowed to escape with impunity, there would be no security in the County.
Michael Finegan, continued his Lordship, is, according to his own account, the aged father of nine children — and has led such a life, as to put it out of his power to produce a single man to give him an honest character — he has acknowledged that he has promoted the destruction of his own children — and yet implores mercy for them! — but that mercy, now sought for his son, ought to have come from the father — he ought to have inculcated in him moral truths, and taught him to discharge that duty in society, which would not only insure a respect for the laws — but impress him with a love and fear of his God: — but having neglected his own offspring, he cannot now expect mercy from others. His Lordship earnestly entreated the prisoners to turn to the Almighty God — to attend their Clergyman — to implore God to open their hearts, and to lay their sins before him. It was his duty to instruct them, that they had no hope here — that they should look only to the future — as this world would shortly close upon them for ever! His Lordship then (greatly affected — and with tears in his eyes), pronounced in the most feeling manner, the awful sentence of the law. He told the prisoners, when they severally implored a long day, that sufficient time for preparation would be afforded them, provided they made a good use of it. — Here closed the first scene of this awful tragedy!


Michael, Timothy, and Hue Finegan, William Nowlan, and William Walsh, to be hanged on Tuesday, 6th August.
Andrew and Armstrong Anderson, Nicholas and Thomas Troy, and Christopher Dooley, to be hanged on Saturday, the 10th.
Michael Molloy to be imprisoned six months and publicly whipped at Rathvilly


INTERESTING TRIALS. — We shall give a full report of the trial of the Finegans, Nowlan, and Walsh, in our publications of Thursday: and a full report of the very interesting trials — “lessee of Murphy vs Paine,” and “lessee of Bernard vs Dillon” — together with Counseller Wallace’s admirable speeches, will be published in the two ensuing numbers of The Carlow Morning Post.




[i] Richard McMahon, ‘Let the law take its course’: Punishment and the Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy in pre-Famine and Famine Ireland’ (The Laws and Other Legalities of Ireland, 1689-1850), p. 150.

[ii] Bence-Jones 1897, 53.

[iii] ‘His house was compulsorily acquired by the Dublin Corporation for housing purposes few years- ago. On the surrounding lands, once part of the Norbury estate, preparations are being made to build 2,300 houses. Contracts have already been given for 500. On adjacent lands the Corporation has already built 1.500 houses.’ Belfast News-Letter, 16 September 1940, p. 7.

‘Arms Find in Lord Norbury’s House. A musket and a sporting piece, both of antique pattern, have been found in the roof of what used to be the notorious Lord Norbury’s town house at Cabra, Dublin. The discovery was made by men engaged at demolition work on part of the Dublin Corporation’s Cabra West housing scheme.’ Irish Independent, 16 September 1940, p. 5.

I think the gate lodge stood on the corner of the present day Fassaugh Avenue and Rathoath Road, near the Canon Burke Flats [check].