April 28th, 1909 : Theft of crown jewels from Dublin Castle

BACK PAGES: THE THEFT of the Irish crown jewels from Dublin Castle in 1907 gave rise to many conspiracy theories

BACK PAGES:THE THEFT of the Irish crown jewels from Dublin Castle in 1907 gave rise to many conspiracy theories. The jewels (actually the insignia of the Order of St Patrick) disappeared from a safe in the office of Sir Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms (ie chief herald). Vicars was later fired for not exercising proper care of them, writes JOE JOYCE

The nationalist MP for Westmeath North, Laurence Ginnell, tried to pursue one of those conspiracy theories in the House of Commons in 1909 in an exchange full of innuendos about gay activities in Dublin Castle. The innuendos were clearly known to his fellow MPs but probably not to general readers of the report in today’s paper in 1909 who may have been bemused by the audience reaction to his apparently direct parliamentary question to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, about an earlier theft at the castle whose perpetrator had, he claimed, been allowed to leave the country.

Mr Ginnell and the Crown jewels extraordinary question silenced by the speaker

Mr Birrell – The badges referred to were Maj Lambart’s personal property. They were stolen in 1905 by a servant, not from the room from which the Crown jewels were subsequently stolen, but from the private house in Dublin Castle occupied by Maj Lambart as Chamberlain to the Lord Lieut of the day. The badges were pawned for £2. The theft was not discovered until 1907, when the pawnbroker, who was arranging for a sale of forfeited pledges, having ascertained the name of the owner, communicated with the police, and through them restored the badges to Maj Lambart, who refunded the amount lent on them. The stealing of the badges was an ordinary case of larceny, and had no connection with the theft of the Crown jewels. No information with regard to it has been withheld, and there is no need for any inquiry . . .


Mr Ginnell asked the Chief Secretary whether he has read all the reports made by the police appointed to investigate the thefts of valuable property in Dublin Castle in 1907; whether they disclose, in addition to the thefts of the Crown jewels, other thefts and other indictable offences, and connect named persons with those offences; and whether he will allow crimes committed at the centre of Irish government to escape criminal investigation.

Mr Birrell – The police reports referred to do not disclose any thefts or indictable offences in addition to the theft of the Crown jewels.

Mr Ginnell asked, arising out of both the questions if the right hon. gentleman was not aware of the existence of reports implicating as principals and accomplices in theft, and also as principles in other crimes (here the hon. member gave two names, and was proceeding to give another amid loud cries of “Order.”)

The Speaker – Order, order. The hon. member has really no right to bring in names of that sort. (Cheers) Let him submit the question to me, and I will see whether it is a proper one to ask.

Mr Ginnell – On a point of order I am not allowed to put them on the paper, and I am not allowed to challenge inquiry in the Press. Am I allowed to inquire in this House?

The Speaker – No. (Cheers.)

The two names excised from the report, according to the House of Commons record, were those of Francis Shackleton, the gay brother of the more famous explorer, and his friend Captain Richard Gorges: Quinnell also described both in his supplementary question as “principals in sodomy and other beastly crimes” before being stopped by the Speaker. Vicars, who was shot dead at his Listowel home by the IRA during the War of Independence, always blamed Shackleton for the theft. The jewels have never been found.