Things Get Worse For The Lord Mayor

If Lord Mayor Wire thought that his and James Cohen’s character assassination of Mary Ann Donovan was going to end the press opprobrium towards him, he was vey much mistaken.


“The statement made by the Lord Mayor on Wednesday,” opined Reynolds’s Newspaper on Sunday the 27th of March 1859, “aggravates, rather than extenuates, his previous conduct.

He alleged that Mary Donovan “is not so pure as she wished to appear to be”, but Mr Wire, as a magistrate and as a lawyer, must know that such an imputation on the chastity of a female, unsupported by corroborative evidence, constitutes a wicked and malicious libel.

Such evidence he did not, and, therefore, we may fairly presume, could not, produce, although a whole army of policemen and detectives is at his back to ferret out the antecedents of the poor Irish girl.

A photograph of David Williams Wire.
David Williams Wire.


The Lord Mayor has no more right to defame the character, by questioning the chastity, of the poorly-clad comb-seller, than to sully the reputation of the first duchess in the land.

The chief magistrate of London apparently imagines that the privileges of his office extend to the utterance of cowardly and malignant libels; but we suspect that public opinion will convince him to the contrary.”


On Monday the 28th of March The Examiner joined in with the above tongue-in-cheek headlined.

The article read:-

“For a man to set his wits against a child is proverbially a mean, dastardly thing, but what is to be thought of a child’s setting its wits against a lord mayor?

Such a disparity of powers is quite shocking, and the question that runs against the child in every mind is, why do not you tackle one of your own size?

We have no great, love for mayors in general, nor for lord mayors in particular, but we do not like to see any creatures ill-used, and we must confess that the Lord Mayor has been most shockingly handled by a girl at the Mansion House. He was indiscreet, certainly, in entering the lists with such an adversary.


But, once committed to the combat, the girl made the most merciless uses of her superiority.

She not only chopped logic very cleverly, but she chopped the Lord Mayor to minced meat.

Never was alderman made so small. The poor man was so mauled as to move the compassion of all beholders.

It was well that he had power enough to send his pitiless adversary to gaol, and as he could not answer her he committed her, as he had done himself, so that there is no room for any charge of partiality.


Justice is sometimes a very bad moralist.

The poor girl is punished for endeavoring to earn her bread honestly by selling combs in the streets of the City, but she would be quite free to offer her person to sale in the same streets without let or hindrance.

The egregious Lord Mayor objects that the hawking of the combs may be “only a cover for an immodest purpose,” but the immodest purpose without the cover is lawful, and not interfered with.


We are sorry to see that the Lord Mayor has not taken his beating generously.

The girl was too much for him in argument, and he was too much for her in law. She confuted him, and he imprisoned her.

But he is not satisfied with this.

He accuses her when she is not present to defend herself, and the magistrate turns unsworn witness against the prisoner he has committed.

He charges Mary Donovan with being disorderly, says she was dismissed from a school of industry, alleges that she is not so pure as she would wish to appear, and that she inhabits a quarter in which thieves and prostitutes abound.

These assertions may or may not be true, but they do not affect the question of whether it is not better to let the girl earn her bread than to put her in prison, to be supported at the expense of the public, or to drive her to the open prostitution not only tolerated by law, but favoured, as it is the only traffic which is carried on without interference in the most thronged thoroughfares of the City.


As for the truth of the Lord Mayor’s charges against the girl’s character, he doubtless believes what he avers, but all lovers of justice will decline crediting accusations preferred in the absence of the party accused, and where there is no opportunity of defence.

Injurious statements, ex parte, should not proceed from the seat of justice, even though the object be only a poor hawker.”


Mind you, it is also worth noting that the Lord Mayor was not without his supporters.

On Friday, 25th March, a correspondent, who signed himself, “Another Working Man”, wrote to The Daily News:-

“If your correspondent, ‘A Working Man,’ will take a leisure walk during his Monday’s holiday through Lombard-street and round the Royal Exchange, he will probably see enough of the class represented at the Mansion-house by Miss Donovan to make him regret his hasty sympathy and unseasonable indignation.

Not yielding to the ‘Working Man’ in due sympathy with the distressed, I have yet to learn that it is properly bestowed in encouraging the bands of sturdy vagrants which now infest our streets and loiter about our public buildings.

A very hasty inspection will suffice to discover that they thrive well enough, physically, upon their lazy calling.”


Another correspondent opined that:-

“If in Cornhill at the very busiest hour of the day there is a demand for combs, which Mary Ann Donovan was endeavouring to meet when she was interfered with by the police, then we should feel bound to renew in her favour the demand which we have often made on behalf of the orange girls and street costermongers, that like them she shall be allowed to pursue her calling, and get an honest living.

But it seemed to us that a girl who, when an attempt was made to apprehend her, threw herself upon her back in the street and kicked out, at the same time making use of abusive language, might very well have been guilty of the persistent annoyances to passengers with which she was charged.”