THE happiness of the greater portion of mankind may be said to be domestic; and, as this depends entirely upon the female part of the community, any thing which tends to destroy their character, and consequently their peace of mind, should be guarded against as a direct attack upon the happiness of society in general. Woman, deprived of her maiden innocence in civilized countries, may be said to be an outcast from society -- deserted by her own sex, and insulted by that of her destroyer; abandoned to despair, or plunged into prostitution, where the excess of crime may cause a momentary forgetfulness of her miserable condition. The man who prevails upon her to make the first fatal step toward such a vicious course deserves the universal execration of his species; but the villain who steals her virtue under the sanction of apparent matrimony, and, when she fondly imagines she is an honoured wife, finds herself a forlorn object for the finger of Scorn to point at, deserves what befell Michael M'Ilvena -- the gallows.
This villain was an impostor, who aspired to no greater notoriety than that which he acquired by cheating the credulous and simple inhabitant of a village. He was a native of Ireland; and, in his migration. through the, northern part of that kingdom, personated, successively, the characters of a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and a lawyer. The last place we find him in was the village of Ballinahinch, where he went under the appellation of The Counsellor.
While here he became acquainted with a man of the name of Christopher Jennings, with whom he conspired to debauch a young girl, named Mary Hair.
This unsuspecting creature was only seventeen years of age; and had been servant, a year and a half, with Mr. Knox, of Drumanockan, near Dromore. Having spent the Christmas of 1812 with her father and mother, she was returning to her master's house, when she met Jennings on the road, with whom she had been acquainted. He took her into a public house, and made, as he had often done before, proposals of marriage to her. The artless girl consented; and both proceeded to Ballinahinch, with the intention of procuring a clergyman.
Jennings took her into a public house, where M'Ilvena was sitting, and to whom she was introduced by her intended husband; who said,
There is the minister who will marry us.' It must be observed that Mary Hair was a Protestant and Jennings a Catholic; consequently it was necessary the ceremony should be performed by a Protestant clergyman; for a Catholic is prohibited marrying a Protestant subject under any circumstance; and Jennings might have suspected that Mary, simple as she was, would have declined the union, had M'Ilvena professed himself any thing but a Protestant clergyman.
M'Ilvena, with assumed sanctity, pulled out his book, and went through, what Mary thought, a ceremony; joining their hands, and interrogating the parties in the usual form. After the ceremony the poor girl asked for a certificate. This at first was refused; but, as she insisted on it, he took pen and ink, and wrote the following:--
'These are to certify that Mary Hair is this day joined in marriage to Christopher Jennings, of Drumara. As given under my hand, this 26th December, 1812.
This scrawl contented the deluded girl; and the mock parson intimated that he was always paid for such duties. Mary then gave him ten tenpennies, which he threw on the table in an indignant manner; saying, 'Am I to be college-bred, and learned, and not. receive my just dues?' To carry on the farce, Jennings said, 'And please your reverence, Mr. Gawdy, whatever is your demand I'll pay.' The parson then took up the tenpennies, and put them in his pocket; after which he went out to procure the new-married couple a lodging.
In a short time he returned, saying he had engaged lodgings for them; and, after partaking of another jug of punch, he conducted them to the house of a poor woman, named M'Kee who, hesitating to admit them, M'Ilvena declared they were man and wife, lawfully married; which the old woman still seeming to doubt, he said, 'Blud and ounze, won't you believe my word of honour?' This succeeded; and the unfortunate girl admitted the villain; Jennings, to the rights of a husband.
Next morning Jennings directed her to give notice to her master; and he undertook to break the business to her father and mother. The poor girl was parting from him with reluctance, when he told her unblushingly that she was not his wife, and that she was deceived.
The unhappy girl was awakened to all the misery of her situation; and ran, in a state of distraction, to her parents, to whom she related all that had occurred. The necessary proceedings were immediately taken, and the counsellor and Jennings were committed to prison. At the summer assizes for Downpatrick, August the 17th, 1813, they were brought up for trial. M'llvena was first indicted; and, Mary Hair having deposed to the foregoing facts, she was cross examined, with a view to affect her testimony, by endeavouring to make her acknowledge a former connexion with Jennings. This she indignantly denied; and, when asked if she had had any objections to be treated by Jennings, she replied to the counsel, 'I suppose you have treated a girl before now yourself.'
M'Ilvena, in his defence, produced Jennings, who swore to palpable falsehoods. First, that he had an intimate knowledge of the prosecutrix long before the time mentioned in the indictment; next, that she never represented herself as his wife; and that M'Ilvena never pretended to join their hands together, or otherwise unite them in marriage.
Jennings, having given his evidence, was ordered back into the dock from whence he had come, and M'Ilvena was found guilty: after which he was called on, in the usual form, why sentence of death should not he passed on him. He appeared quite unmoved; and said he was not guilty of the crime imputed to him. The judge then proceeded to pass sentence on him; which he did in a very impressive manner, though frequently interrupted by exclamations of innocence from the prisoner. The offence being made by a particular act of parliament a capital felony, he was sentenced to be hanged. He asked for a long day, which was humanely granted, and his execution was deferred to the 18th of September, on which day it took place, in the midst of a vast concourse of spectators.
The day after M'Ilvena's trial, Jennings was placed at the bar, on an indictment for conspiring to debauch Mary Hair. He was almost instantly found Guilty; when the judge told him his crime was much enhanced by the attempt he made to screen his accomplice from punishment, in which he committed wilful and corrupt perjury. The sentence of the Court was, that he should stand for an hour on the pillory, be imprisoned for one year, and pay a fine of fifty pounds.