Mary Ann Donovan Defended

The press criticism of Lod Mayor Wire rumbled on throughout April, as people sided with Mary Ann Donovan.

Her solicitors Messrs Tucker and New began delving into the accusations made against her by the Lord Mayor, The Rev James Cohen, and the Police, and their inquiries revealed that several of them were provably untrue.


They, therefore, instructed barrister Mr McDonnell to approach the Lord Mayor in order to set the record straight, and he duly appeared before the Lord Mayor in the Justice Chamber at the Mansion House on Saturday the 23rd of April.

However, the Chief Magistrate of the City of London was in no mood to concede that he may have been wrong.

A photograph of David Williams Wire.
David Williams Wire.


As the barrister began addressing the court, the Lord Mayor interrupted him:-

The Lord Mayor: “What is the nature of your application?”

Mr McDonnell: “To ask your lordship to receive the evidence of several most respectable persons, amongst whom is a magistrate of the county and former sheriff of London, to show that the imputation made in this court upon the moral character of a person who was lately tried before your lordship ——”

The Lord Mayor: “I shall hear no application in public without first being applied to in private to see whether I shall approve of it.”

Mr. McDonnell: “The case I allude to is that of Mary Ann Donovan.”

The Lord Mayor: “I peremptorily refuse to receive any application in public until I have first heard it in private. Characters of absent persons might be impugned by ex parte statements.”

Mr. McDonnell: “I am here to satisfy your lordship that the character of this girl has been injured by the unsupported evidence of the policeman, and the imputation made against her in this court.”

The Lord Mayor (rising from his chair): “I distinctly refuse to hear it.”

According to The Tablet, reporting on the proceedings in its edition of Saturday, 30th April:-

“Mr. McDonnell, after several ineffectual efforts to convince the Lord Mayor that the application was one which ought to be heard in public, as the charge against her character had been made in public, asked his lordship when he would hear it in private.”

The Lord Mayor: “Any morning you like.

Mr. McDonnell: “Will your lordship hear me now?”

The Lord Mayor: “Yes.”


“Thereupon”, The Tablet reported, “Mr. McDonnell, accompanied by the solicitor, adjourned to the Lord Mayor’s private room, and made his application in private; but, as we understand it, his lordship refused to allow it to be made in public.

We are given to understand that Mr. McDonnell was prepared with the evidence of the mother of the girl, supported by that of a clergyman, and also of the landlord of the house where the mother and the girl herself have resided for the last eighteen months, which would have proved that the girl had never resided in Flower and Dean Street, as stated by the Lord Mayor, and that she was perfectly virtuous.”

The newspaper also reported that:-

“We understand that the institutions which the girl refused to go to were for the reformation of abandoned females, and the ground of her refusal was that she would thereby be admitting the charges against her.”


The fact that the Lord Mayor had been unwilling to back down and publicly clear Mary Ann Donovan’s name reignited the newspapers’ criticism of him.

As The Tablet opined:-

“The barrister, offered his lordship, by affidavit or orally, evidence which must have satisfied him that the imputations he had cast upon Mary Ann Donovan’s character were unfounded; and although, in point of form, it was not competent to Mr. McDonnell to re-open a case which had been adjudicated without the consent of the magistrate who had made the decision, we cannot understand how any man having it in his power to make reparation for an unjust judgment, could refuse a poor girl whom he had injured, an opportunity of showing him that the reflections he had cast upon her repute were slanderous and untrue.

We doubt if there is another magistrate upon the bench who would not gladly have accorded such an opportunity.

If he had had confidence in the justice of his decision he would not have objected to allow additional light to be thrown on it.

That he has done so shows that he has neither the courage to submit his decision to the test of evidence nor to do even that little which be might do to repair an injustice.”


Worse still, it had also transpired that the sums of money that the public had been sending in to the Lord Mayor for the benefit of the girl had not been put to their intended use.

Indeed, the Lord Mayor had forwarded the money to the Reverend James Cohen at Holloway Prison, but he had refused to use it for the benefit of the girl, on the grounds that she had refused to enter an institution for abandoned women.