Victorian-era murder rates 7 times higher than present

Murder rates in Victorian-era Ireland were seven times higher than present day, according to the analysis of colourful police records that have been made available by a family history website.
Victorian-era murder rates 7 times higher than present today publishes the Ireland Police Gazettes, 1861-1893, records which have been extracted from Hue and Cry, the official publication of the Royal Irish Constabulary which operated from 1814-1922.

Ancestry said its analysis of the collection has shown that assault was the most common crime over the 32-year period with 28,353 cases reported, followed by reports of breaking of licence conditions (28,092 cases) and of theft (23,345 incidences).

Some noteworthy entries include the story of William O’Brien, a member of the South Mayo Militia who was also known as William Black or Sheridan, who was charged with stealing two ferrets in Achrony in 1877.

The records show that “one ferret is described as a white buck, the other a dark-coloured doe. O’Brien was last seen near Castlebar.”

The records also detail notorious events such as the 1882 Phoenix Park murders, when the newly appointed chief secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and Thomas Henry, permanent undersecretary, the most senior Irish civil servant, were fatally stabbed. The assassination was carried out by members of the Irish National Invincibles, and the records show police hunted four men for the crime.

The records are also remarkable for the often colourful descriptions of the wanted persons, such as Timothy Conner, who was sought after in 1863 for stealing two cows from Michael Murphy in Duhallow, Co Cork.

Conner was described as having “long black hair, no whiskers, slight make, knock-kneed, and having a simple, countrylike appearance”, and apparently evaded police for some time, judging by the number of repeat appeals for his arrest that were made in subsequent editions of the police records.

Another interesting missive from February 1877 saw police in Templemore on the hunt for 80-year-old Richard Bourke of Rathcardan, Tipperary, who was wanted for inflicting “with a blunt weapon an injury on the head of John Bourke, at Rathcardan, from the effects of which he died”.

The bulletin does not disclose the relationship between the victim and his octogenarian assaulter, other than revealing that they share a surname.

“The Police Gazette records give us great insight into a particularly turbulent time in Irish society in the late 19th century,” said Rhona Murray, historian at Ancestry.

“At this time there was significant unrest due to the Land War which saw many political figures, landlords, agents and tenants murdered.

“It’s fascinating to see the variety of crimes and note how some of them differ from those committed today.”

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence

Home Delivery


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.