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Further examples of Curran's speeches

Because Curran is such a top class legal orator it is well worth studying his speeches, as he is very good at both structuring his arguments, meeting the objectives of each stage of a trial, and also painting moving pictures with words. There is a lot that can be learned by studying an orator of that calibre, and therefore I have listed below links to as many of his speeches as I can find, grouped together by subject matter.

Ways you can use these speeches

Depending on what you are looking to do or learn you could:

  • Analyse each speech, identify the objectives and main points in each speech, and then have a go writing out your own speech in that case.
  • Analyse each speech and identify several linguistic and rhetorical techniques that Curran uses and which you think work well and help him emphasize the points he is making, and then have a go writing out the speech or at least part of it, and try and incorporate those techniques in your writing.
  • If you want to develop your knowledge of individual rhetorical techniques, pick a speech and then go on a rhetoric hunt to identify the different rhetorical techniques being used in the text. You should be able to find details of these under the "How you say it" section of the website. Or get together via Teams, or as a group and work through a text together.
  • Most of Curran's speeches are powerful but not too long, so they are really good for practising giving speeches. If you haven't tried giving a speech before take a short one, like Currans speech on universal emancipation which is only three pages, and use your phone to record you giving the speech. Then play it back and/or show it to a friend, and try to identify what you did right and which bits you did less well. Or meet up via Teams as a group, and let each person have a go presenting a speech, and then give eachother constructive feedback on what worked and what didn't and then keep practising until you are comfortable with your final performance. Bear in mind that when it comes to delivering speeches you are drawing on both memory and your skills in delivery, so practising memorising speeches and then giving them will be good practice for developing both of those skills.

Crim Con and seduction cases

Criminal conversation, which was usually shortened to crim con, is not an offence we get nowadays. Basically, it was a damages claim that a husband made against his wife's lover, for loss of enjoyment. The level of damages were set by the jury and as a result they are absolutely chock full of rhetorical devices and appeals to the emotion (pathos).

The  level of damages could be £10,000 or more, equivalent to probably £1 million in todays money. So if you are looking to study appeals to the emotions as a specific rhetorical technique, then these are worth reading. Not only are they accessible from a legal point of view (there is usually little law in them) but they are also accessible from the point of view that people have been having a giggle about other people's affairs of the heart since the first cave man snuck out of the cave he shouldn't have been in. Curran was involved in several of these trials and you can read some of his speeches below:

Trial of Reverend Massey v the Maquis of Headfort for criminal conversation with his wife.

pdfEgan v Kindillan for seduction3.83 MB

pdfCreighton v Townsend for seduction2.71 MB

Erskine's crim con trials

pdfClosing speech in the case of Lord Lucan for crim con with the Duke of Norfolks wife7.50 MB

pdfPlea in mitigation by Erskine in a crim con case5.47 MB

Treason trials

pdfThe Trial of James Weldon for High Treason 4.15 MB- in this speech Curran criticises the Attorney General for leading and acting unfairly whilst examining witnesses

pdfThe Trial of Reverend William Jackson for High Treason 3.44 MB- closing speech by Curran

pdfThe Trial of Henry Sheares for High Treason Part 14.76 MB and Part 2

pdfThe Trial of Oliver Bond for High Treason4.25 MB

pdfTrial of Owen Kirwan for High Treason3.79 MB

Trial of Patrick Finney

In this case, Finney, a Dublin tobacconist, was charged with treason, largely on the word of one James O'Brien. He was defended by John Philpot Curran, who in one of his most famous speeches destroyed O'Brien's credibility. pdfYou can read Curran's speech in this case here.5.41 MB

pdfThe Trial of Napper Tandy 5.47 MBfor not surrendering on a charge of High Treason - Curran opening

Curran's speech in the case of Pamela Fitzgerald

Stéphanie Caroline Anne Syms, Lady Edward FitzGerald (c. 1773 – 9 November 1831) was the wife of Lord Edward FitzGerald, the radical revolutionary and leading United Irishman, and was herself an enthusiastic supporter of Irish independence, scarcely less celebrated at the time than Lord Edward himself.

As the country seethed with rebellion, FitzGerald was hunted by the government and forced into hiding. He was betrayed a few days before the date set for the planned rising he was to lead and was wounded resisting arrest on 19 May 1798. Although his wound was to the shoulder and relatively minor it was left untreated and he died of his wounds on 5 June. Following his death, an act of attainder was proposed which would strip Lady Pamela and her children of all that she owned. This was common where someone was deemed to be a traitor to the Crown, and pdfyou can read Curran's speech against the act of attainder here6.12 MB.

Abuse of power cases

At that time in Ireland, political opposition was put down unfairly and violently, and officials frequently abused their power and broke the law in pursuit of political opponents. Major Sirr was a good example of this. He was the Town Major of Dublin and was responsible for the arrest of Irish revolutionaries Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In 1802 he was fined £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case referred to his "very great exertions and laudable efforts" to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, told a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Mr Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who had happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey had recognised the witness for the prosecution, described him in court "a man of infamous character", and convinced the jury that no credit was due to the witness. The treason case collapsed. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implied that these techniques were typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion. pdfYou can read Curran's speech in this case here.3.28 MB

Seditious libel cases

R v Hamilton Rowan

You can read some background on Hamilton Rowan here

Curran opening in R v Hamilton Rowan

Curran opening start of the statement of facts in R v Hamilton Rowan

Next part of the statements of facts

Speech continued

pdfCurran on universal emancipation 889.56 KB- this is an amazing speech, described by Richard du Cann as "eloquence of the highest order and of another age."

Rest of case and verdict

Appeal by Curran against the verdict

Trial of Dr Drennan for seditious libel

Hamilton Rowan and Dr Drennan were friends, and as a result got into similar scrapes. Curran defended both men. You can read more about William Drennan here.

pdfCurran's speech during his trial may be found here. 6.78 MB

The Trial of Judge Johnson

Robert Johnson (1745-1833) was an Irish barrister, politician and judge. He sat in the Irish House of Commons and was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Ireland).

In 1803 he published a number of venomous attacks on various members of the Irish Government in the form of a series of letters written under the pseudonym "Juverna". After some delay he was identified as the author of the letters. He was prosecuted after further delay and convicted of seditious libel. He was spared a prison sentence but forced to resign from the Bench, and retired into private life.

An Act of Parliament was passed specifically by those Robert Johnson had libelled so that Johnson could be prosecuted for libel and ruined. In this trial, Curran is aiming to get a highly restrictive interpretation of this Act, to minimise the potential abuse that that act could wreak. You can read the pdffirst part of Curran's speech here 6.11 MBand the pdfsecond part here.5.42 MB

Trial of Peter Finnerty of "the Press" for libel

Finnerty was born in Loughrea, the son of a town trader. He moved to Dublin where he became a printer, later publishing The Press, a nationalist paper begun in September 1797 by Arthur O'Connor. Finnerty was closely associated with James MacHugo and Francis Dillon, fellow natives of Loughrea who built the local branch of the United Irishmen. A prosecution by the government against The Press in 1797 resulted in Finnerty being tried for seditious libel: the charge arose from his paper's strong criticism of the judges who sentenced William Orr to death and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Camden, who refused to reprieve him. Despite being defended by Curran, he was found guilty in the spring of 1798 and sentenced to two years in prison and a session in the pillory. Despite this, he remained in correspondence with MacHugo.

pdfYou can read Curran's speech in this case here.6.62 MB

Trial of the Northern Star

The Northern Star was a Chartist paper. The paper led a campaign in support of the working class who suffered economically due to the introduction of new technology and falling wages (notably the handloom weavers). By September 1838 it had a circulation of 10,000, and by summer 1839 this had increased to 50,000, allowing its owner, O'Connor, to make a personal profit of £13,000 by the end of the year. By the end of 1839, it had the second largest circulation in the United Kingdom.

O'Connor used the paper to help propagate the essence of the movement, to achieve reform and to push the ideas of The People's Charter. In 1837, six Members of Parliament and six working men, including William Lovett formed a committee, which in 1838 published the People's Charter. This set out the movement's six main aims, which were:

  1. To give working men a say in lawmaking
  2. Working men would be able to vote,
  3. The vote of working men would be protected by a secret ballot
  4. They would be able to stand for election to the House of Commons as a result of the removal of property qualifications and
  5. Payment for MPs would be introduced.
  6. None of these demands were new, but the People's Charter became one of the most famous political manifestos of 19th-century Britain.

The movement organised a National Convention in London in early 1839 to facilitate the presentation of the first petition. Delegates used the term MC, Member of Convention, to identify themselves; the convention undoubtedly saw itself as an alternative parliament. In June 1839, the petition, signed by 1.3 million working people, was presented to the House of Commons, but MPs voted, by a large majority, not to hear the petitioners.

In early 1840 O'Connor was charged with seditious libels in the trial of the Northern Star. pdfCurran defended O'Connor and you can read his speech here.2.91 MB However, the government's real aim was to try and imprison one of the main leaders of the Chartist movement, and despite Curran's defence, O'Connor was sent to prison for 18 months in March 1840.

In early May 1842, a second petition, of over three million signatures, was submitted, and was yet again rejected by Parliament. The Northern Star commented on the rejection:

Three and a half million have quietly, orderly, soberly, peaceably but firmly asked of their rulers to do justice; and their rulers have turned a deaf ear to that protest. Three and a half millions of people have asked permission to detail their wrongs, and enforce their claims for RIGHT, and the 'House' has resolved they should not be heard! Three and a half millions of the slave-class have holden out the olive branch of peace to the enfranchised and privileged classes and sought for a firm and compact union, on the principle of EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW; and the enfranchised and privileged have refused to enter into a treaty! The same class is to be a slave class still. The mark and brand of inferiority are not to be removed. The assumption of inferiority is still to be maintained. The people are not to be free.

The population of Britain in 1801 was approximately 9 million so if 3m working men signed this, then that would have represented most adult males of that time. The sad thing about this is that two hundred years later we still do not have a diverse MP population that fairly reflects the population of the UK.

The Trial of Sir Henry Hayes for the abduction of Miss Pike

Hayes was born in Ireland, the son of Attiwell Hayes (d.1799) a wealthy brewer and miller. Henry Browne Hayes was admitted a freeman of the city of Cork in November 1782, was one of the sheriffs in 1790, and in that year was knighted. Following the death of his wife, he became acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20,000. On 22 July 1797, he abducted her and took her to his house at Vernon Mount near Douglas. In spite of Miss Pike's protestations, a man dressed as a priest was brought in who went through a form of a marriage ceremony. Miss Pike refused to consider it a marriage, and was eventually rescued by some of her relatives. Hayes fled, and a reward of £1000 was offered for his apprehension.

Hayes was not found until two years later, when he walked into the shop of an old friend of the family, and suggested that he might as well get the reward. The trial - which did not begin until April 1801 - created much interest. Hayes was found guilty and recommended to mercy. At first condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

In this case, unusually, Curran is prosecuting, and pdfthis is a copy of his speech from the trial.4.81 MB

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