The Comedian And The Magistrate

Reading through the records of the various court case that came before magistrates in the Victorian metropolis, it is intriguing how, from time to time, you will find a case that has you thinking to yourself, “oh, I wish I could have been there.”

In previous blogs, I have featured the cases of several courtroom characters from the 19th century, such as Tottie Fay and William “Spring” Onions, the East End Poet.

In addition, I’ve also featured the story of Mary Ann Donovan in a YouTube video.

But the pages of the Victorian newspapers often featured other “characters” whose antics, when you read about them are sufficient to raise a smile.

It has to be noted that, in the majority of these cases, drunken behavior had been the reason why they had found themselves in court.

But it was their reactions to their predicaments that endeared them to the magistrates of the day, and, when we stumble across them today, endear them equally to us.


The West Sussex County Times, in its edition of Saturday the 17th of December 1888, featured the following story about yet another character who appeared in court, and whose retorts, quips, and pleadings, done as they were in a comical fashion, managed to persuade the magistrate, Mr. Saunders, whose name we often come across in the court records of the age, to reduce his original sentence.


The full article read:-

Robert O’Connor, described as a “comedian,” was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Denmark Hill on Wednesday night.

Mr. Saunders:- “What have you to say prisoner about getting drunk?”

Prisoner:-  “Well, I don’t know, but I did get a drop, I suppose.”

Mr. Saunders:- “You should not go about in such a costume, and get drunk and annoy people.”

Prisoner:- “The costume, your worship, is a recognised institution of the country.” (Loud laughter).


Mr. Saunders:- “Well, even if that is so, I must fine you.”

Prisoner:- “My dear sir, you had better not.” (Renewed laughter).

Mr. Saunders:- “Well I am afraid that I must.”

Prisoner:- “Well, make it small.”

Mr. Saunders:- “You must pay a fine of five shillings.”

Prisoner:- “Now, really, my dear sir, I must ask that you must make it less than that; say half-a-crown.”

Mr. Saunders:- “No, the fine is five shillings.”

Prisoner:- Really, I am sure that you can alter it. Make it half-a-crown.”


Mr. Saunders, who was evidently, amused at the style of the prisoner, at length said, “Well, I will make it half-a-crown,” upon which, in most flowery terms, and amidst great laughter, the prisoner expressed his thanks, and retired from the dock.