Recollections and reconstructions: accounts of the departure of Charles Stewart Parnell from Cambridge University, 1869

Charles Stewart Parnell left Cambridge in 1869 after becoming involved in a street fight and losing a court case for assault. This essay examines various accounts of the episode, some based on hearsay, others in the form of narrative reconstruction. It seeks to illustrate the challenges involved in assessing these types of historical evidence. 

Historians depend upon recollections and reconstructions of the past. Memoirs and anecdotes provide outlines of events that may not have been recorded at the time. Unfortunately, there are pitfalls. The vivid cameo that brings alive some scene from the past may result from a happy accident of memory, but it may also represent exaggeration by a raconteur.  Details become blurred and identities confused, while an often-recounted story may gain in the telling.[1] This Note examines several narratives and interpretations of an episode in the life of Charles Stewart Parnell. The examples are given in order of writing or publication, although it is evident that some of them describe stories told years earlier.[2]

In May 1869, when he was an undergraduate at Magdalene College Cambridge, Charles Stewart Parnell became involved in a fight outside the town's railway station. His antagonist, a local resident called Edward Charles Hamilton, successfully sued him for assault. Believing themselves obliged to respond to his "gross misconduct", the Fellows of Magdalene rusticated Parnell, sending him away for the remaining two weeks of the Easter (summer) Term. The episode forms a dramatic landmark in Parnell's life, but that does not mean that it was a formative experience. Had he continued his studies, Parnell would have graduated the following year and returned to Ireland, where land issues and the campaign for Home Rule would probably have drawn him into politics anyway. Parnell certainly had a strong dislike for the English ruling elite, a loathing which his experience of Cambridge generally would no doubt have stimulated. However, it would seem exaggerated to attribute those feelings simply to his temporary exclusion from the University.[3]

Some information has recently emerged about Edward Charles Hamilton, his opponent both in the street and the courtroom. Hamilton was undoubtedly a self-important and combative person, qualities that Parnell no doubt found irritating although they hardly justified him in using his fists. Most damaging to Parnell's reputation is the revelation that Hamilton was considerably shorter than his attacker. The difference in height may have been as much as ten inches (25 cms), and was possibly even greater. Parnell had definitely not picked an opponent of his own size.[4] Some of the evasions and emendations of the accounts that follow may reflect an uneasy awareness among the narrators that he had behaved badly, and deserved the various penalties that befell him.

The examples included in this review are each arranged in three subsections. The first identifies the Source, the second (italicised) quotes the Text, and the third offers Comment

Cambridge Independent Press, 22 May 1869.

Source This report of the action taken by Hamilton against Parnell appeared in one of the two local newspapers published in Cambridge. It appeared the day after the court case, which explains why parts are in note form.

Text     Cambridge County Court. May 21. (Before John Collyer, Esq., Judge). Assault By An Undergraduate: Hamilton v. Parnell.

This was a jury case. Mr Poland Adcock appeared for the plaintiff, Mr Cockerell for the defendant. The action was brought to recover £26 5s[hillings] for an assault, and £6 I5s[hillings] for damage done to plaintiff's coat and trousers in consequence of such assault. The plaintiff is a merchant at Harston, and the defendant an undergraduate of Magdalene College. On Saturday, the 1st of May, the plaintiff was on his way towards the station, when he found the defendant lying upon the ground and a friend standing near him. He roused them, and for his attention the defendant rushed at him and committed the assault complained of. Several attempts [were made] at an amicable arrangement by giving something to the hospital and paying the costs, which proved unsuccessful.

Mr Edward Charles Hamilton, examined by Mr. Adcock, said he was a merchant at Harston, and on the evening of the 1st of May, between ten and half-past, was on the Station-road, in company with his servant. When opposite Newman's public-house saw a man lying full length in the gutter, and a gentleman bending over him. Plaintiff went up so them and said, what is the matter, and the gentleman said "Oh my friend is only very drunk, and we have sent for a cab to send him home." Plaintiff then offered his assistance, and the gentleman then said "No, we do not want any of you or your d—d help; go about your own business." Plaintiff replied "When one offers assistance they are not usually insulted," and was about to walk on, when all of a sudden the gentleman lying in the gutter jumped up and hit plaintiff a violent blow in the mouth, cutting his lip and nose. Defendant then struck plaintiff blow on the collar bone, which disabled his arm for three days, and after that kicked him severely on the right knee, which caused great pain. The clothes, which were stained with blood, and also the trousers (a new pair) were torn in the struggle. The value of the coat was £5 5 s[hillings], and the trousers £1 10 s[hillings]. After the assault a policeman was met and he was requested to take the defendant's address, which he did. Plaintiff then went to the police station.

Cross-examined: Dealt in manure. Was going to the station upon business. When walking down towards the police station the defendant's manner was that of a drunken man. Did not strike defendant before he hit me, or at any time. Mr Bentley, defendant's friend, did not strike any one, and my man Allen did not hit the defendant until I was on the ground.

Mr. Charles Stewart Parnell, the defendant, was called by Mr. Adcock, and said he resided in County Wicklow, Ireland, and between 9 and 10 in the evening went in company with Messrs Hoole, Forster, and Bentley, all undergraduates of Magdalene, in a fly to the station, and at the refreshment rooms had some champagne, sherry, and biscuits, left in about half an hour, and then went out of the station and sat on the side of the road while his friends went for a fly. While he was sitting on the side of the road he heard some one say, "Hullo, what is the matter with this 'ere cove ?" and Bentley replied that they did not want any of their interference; plaintiff then said he did not expect to meet with such b—y impertinence, and came opposite him, and witness asked what he meant by insulting his friend, and plaintiff then said, "Your friend has been impertinent and I will not have any from you," witness then struck at plaintiff and missed him, the plaintiff then struck witness a severe blow on the eye, and witness then retaliated by knocking plaintiff down.

[Questioned by the Judge]: I did not kick him.

Witness resumed. The plaintiff's man then knocked me down and struck me twice in the right eye. As soon as I got him down I picked him up again (laughter). After that a policeman met us, and I gave him my name; received a letter on the 5th, and went the next day to Ireland.

Chief Inspector Robinson was called, and proved that the plaintiff made a complaint at the police station relative to an assault committed upon him by an undergraduate, he described the nature of the injuries the plaintiff had sustained.

P.C. Carter proved taking the defendant's name, and stated he was offered money to settle the affair, the defendant was the worse for liquor. In cross examination he said the defendant was not in such a state as would have justified him (witness) taking him into custody.

Mr. Benson, a surgeon, proved examining the plaintiff, on the afternoon of the 6th, and described the injuries; he was of opinion that the injury to the knee was most probably the result of a kick. He first saw the plaintiff on the 6th of May.

Mr Cockerell for the defendant, dwelt strongly upon the fact that the plaintiff did not see the surgeon until after the letter, describing the assault as provoked, cruel, cowardly, and disgraceful, had been sent by Mr Adcock, and suggested that the interview with the surgeon was concocted at that gentleman's office. He must admit that an assault was committed, but they must guess of the nature from the conflicting statements. As to the damages to the clothes that must be left out of the question.

Mr Robert Bentley was called by Mr Cockerell, and stated in answer to the learned counsel that he could not swear whether the defendant was sitting or lying, or in a reclining sort of position. Saw the plaintiff and his man come up, and thought one of them said what is the matter with this man? Witness told them to mind their own business, and might have said your own d – d business. Parnell then said what do you mean by insulting my friend, and he and plaintiff then had a little shake-up, and the defendant got the best of it. I think the other man did his best (laughter.) Did not see the plaintiff strike the defendant, but saw him knocked down, but not kicked.

His Honour, in summing up the case to the jury, said that there was no doubt an assault had been committed, and the only question for their consideration was the amount of damages. It was a most unfortunate thing that those young gentlemen should hire a fly to go to the station for the sole purpose of taking wine; he did not say there was any moral turpitude in the act, but had they not committed this indiscretion then they would have escaped this unfortunate occurrence. If they believed the plaintiff in toto, then a most violent and disgraceful act was committed. The question for them was did the evidence of the defendant modify the plaintiff's statement, and he was bound to tell them that the weight of evidence was in the plaintiff's favour, in fact it would be no excuse had the plaintiff used the language attributed to him. He thought that it was a great pity the case had not been settled out of Court. They must dismiss from their minds however, all allusions which had been made as to giving the damages to the Hospital.

The Jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict for the plaintiff, with twenty guineas damages.[5]

Comment  The short interval between reporting and publication seems to have prevented any 'polishing' of the report. Its staccato quality and incomplete sentences add to the impression of immediacy and, hence, of accuracy. However, comparison with the report of the same date in the town's other newspaper, the Cambridge Chronicle, suggests some possible variations. Even though the Cambridge Chronicle is slightly sketchier, it does reveal that there was one other witness, Hamilton's manservant. He may have been omitted from the report in the Cambridge Independent Press because his testimony simply duplicated the evidence of his employer. However, it is also possible that the Press reporter was not sure of his name. His account noted Hamilton referring to "my man Allen", but the Chronicle named him as John Kent, "a young man in the service of Mr Hamilton". Robert Bentley's vivid phrase, "a little shake-up", became "a little rough-up" in the Chronicle. Where the Press limited its summary of Cockerell's defence to a statement that "an assault was committed, but they must guess of the nature from the conflicting statements", the Chronicle explicitly stated that Parnell's barrister conceded that his client was "somewhat in fault". The two newspapers also published slightly nuanced reports bearing on two key points: was Parnell drunk, and did he kick Hamilton? Police Constable Carter was reported by the Chronicle to have said that Parnell "was not drunk, but he had been drinking". Neither account indicates that Robert Bentley was invited by Cockerell to deny that he had told Hamilton that his companion was "very drunk", which suggests that the defence decided not to touch the issue. According to the Chronicle, Parnell was emphatic in insisting that he "certainly never kicked the plaintiff". However, Joseph Benson, the surgeon, had elaborated his opinion to the contrary by specifying that the cut suffered by Hamilton was "inside the knee", which made it more likely to have been caused by a kick than a fall.

Overall, the Cambridge Independent Press report remains the about as close as we can hope to get – in accuracy as well as time – to the events of May 1869. However, only one of the subsequent accounts (by Wilfrid Gill, told to R.B. O'Brien, discussed below) was based upon contemporary newspaper accounts.

R.M. McWade, 1891

Source: R.M. McWade, The Uncrowned King: the Life and Public Services of Hon. Charles Stewart Parnell... ([Philadelphia, 1891). McWade's account does not specifically refer either to the fight with Hamilton or to Parnell's rustication, although it may have been inspired by the episode. "Bulldogs" were constables, recruited from among college servants, who supported the Proctors, the University's own police officers, pursuing errant undergraduates on the streets of Cambridge.

Text  [A] characteristic anecdote is related of his career at the University: When he was an undergraduate at Magdalen[e] College he was caught in some peccadillo by one of the proctors and his "bulldog". He promptly knocked down the "bulldog" and ran for home. He thought he had been recognized, and feared that he would be suspended for a year, so he went to an old fellow who kept a chemist's store opposite the gate of Magdalen[e] College, and asked him if he could imitate a black eye.

"Well, Mr Parnell, I might, but I can't put it on in fast colors."

"But I must have a black eye."

"Well, sir," the old chemist replied, "the only way I knows of is the old-fashioned one."

"All right," said Parnell, "let her go." Thereupon the embryo Irish statesman braced himself, and the old fellow let him have it straight and hard between the two eyes. The next morning young Parnell had not only one, but two beautiful eyes of the desired color. When he was hauled up before the Dean of the college for his encounter with and ill treatment of the "bulldog", Parnell claimed that it was he himself, on the contrary, who had been subjected to ill treatment and who had got the worst of it; and as he looked as if he had, the Dean let him off scott [sic] free, reprimanding the "bulldog" for being too free with his fists. His pluck and readiness of wit thus served him in good stead, as they likewise did at subsequent portions of his career.[6]

Comment  So far as it relates to Parnell's departure from Cambridge, it is likely that this tale is fabulous, although it may be based upon some other incident in his student career. It belongs to a genre of stories about his early life that were intended to reveal qualities of cunning that would, as McWade put it, emerge " at subsequent portions of his career". (One oft-quoted example is of Parnell in childhood playing toy soldiers with his sister Fanny, without revealing that he had glued his tin troops to the floor – a strategy which, of course, foreshadowed his ruthless tactics in commanding his Irish MPs in the House of Commons.[7]) When Carolan McQuaid delivered a lecture on Parnell's undergraduate days in Cambridge in 1914, he was able to call upon a ragbag of legends, most of them unreliable. Two of McQuaid's tales were attributed to a former Magdalene porter, Jack French, and to an unnamed ostler in the Pickerel, the principal Magdalene Street inn. A quarter of a century earlier, there would almost certainly have been other college servants and townspeople who would either have remembered Parnell, or found it expedient to recount colourful tales about him in the hope of receiving a tip from gullible enquirers.[8] The local detail – shops opposite the College in Magdalene Street – suggests a Cambridge origin, but this makes it all the more difficult to understand how it should have surfaced in a journalistic biography by an Irish-American who had been active in Philadelphia municipal politics.[9] McWade might have met Parnell during his visits to the United States in 1876 and 1879-80: the first took in the Philadelphia exhibition, but the second was a nightmare marathon that permitted little time for anecdote. McWade had worked with T.P. O'Connor on a joint biography of Gladstone and Parnell, but this appears to have been a long-distance collaboration.[10] Thus the means of transmission of the story remains mysterious.

Equally intriguing are the story's Swiftian overtones. Like Daniel O'Connell, Jonathan Swift had become an identifiable figure in Irish legend. The Dean (in popular parlance, "Dane") of St Patrick's cathedral in Dublin from 1713 to 1745, he was frequently outwitted by the cunning of his servant, usually called Jack but sometimes Roger.[11] In McWade's story, Parnell, the undergraduate, takes the place of the servant, but it may not be entirely coincidence that the official he bamboozled is the Dean. True, in most colleges, the Dean was the official responsible for student discipline. However, Magdalene, with very few Fellows in Parnell's time, had no such specific appointment: the Master, Latimer Neville, and his senior colleague, Mynors Bright, appear to have dealt with such matters.[12]

Parnell and Cambridge: the state of knowledge immediately after his death  It is noteworthy that biographies of Parnell during his lifetime and shortly after his death said little of his time at Cambridge. A sympathetic writer, Thomas Sherlock in 1881, simply noted that he "remained but two years at the university, and so did not graduate". A December 1890 feature from the Daily Sketch, less likely to be friendly, elaborated slightly. "He went up to Cambridge, like his father before him, but did not graduate, nor seriously attempt to take any University or other course of study."[13] No doubt his detractors had enough evidence, at least in their own opinion, to convict Parnell of innate wickedness in his political career without calling upon any formative influences. Any attempt to drag up misdemeanours from his undergraduate career would have been dwarfed by Lord Randolph Churchill's notoriously loutish conduct at Oxford.[14] Two brief extracts summarise what was known, or thought important, of Parnell's university experience by biographers in the years immediately after his death. The first comes from T.P. O'Connor's brief sketch which appeared in 1891, within days of the funeral at Glasnevin. This briefly listed the schools that Parnell had attended, concluding:

finally, he went to Cambridge University – the alma mater of his father. Very little is known of his undergraduate career at Cambridge, and he himself very seldom alluded to it. He said to me once that he thought a good deal more about cricket than about his studies while he was there. There certainly never was a man who gave a less impression of academic training or inclinations.[15]

The second comes from an essay on the life of Parnell which formed part of volume 43 of the Dictionary of National Biography [DNB], published in 1895:

On 1 July 1865 he matriculated, at the age of nineteen, as a pensioner from Magdalene College, Cambridge. While a lad he was distant and reserved, though warmly attached to the few whom he made his friends. One of his teachers writes that he was quick, "and interesting to teach," but "not a great favourite with his companions." His career at Cambridge, which lasted for nearly four years, was undistinguished. A diffident youth, giving no promise of a remarkable future, he left the university without a degree at the end of May 1869.[16]

O'Connor's book adopted the elegiac tone of a loyal ally who had reluctantly turned against his enigmatic leader in the final crisis of his career. Of the actual content, it may be said that Parnell did occasionally refer to his time at Cambridge, as subsequent extracts will demonstrate. The reported comment about cricket probably referred specifically to his return to Cambridge in the summer of 1869: academic endeavour was at a low ebb during the Easter Term. It was more likely innate and gentlemanly courtesy that inhibited Parnell from parading his academic training to colleagues who had fought their way in their life without the effete advantages conferred by class and denominational allegiance. We should not forget that it was the allegedly uncultured Parnell who assured the citizens of Cork that it was impossible "to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood".[17] What is important here is that T.P. O'Connor made no mention of Parnell's departure from Cambridge, either because he knew nothing of the circumstances or because he did not regard the episode as important.[18]

The entry for Parnell in volume 43 of the Dictionary of National Biography, an essay of around 20,000 words, was at once recognised as one of its major features.[19] It also embodied an intriguing mystery. Contributions to the DNB were usually signed with the contributor's initials, and each volume contained a key to their identification. However, the discussion of Parnell's career, despite its prominence, gave no clue to authorship. A rumour circulated that it was the work of R. Barry O'Brien, who was evidently known to be at work on what would prove to be the first and – for almost eight decades – the only authoritative Life of the dead leader. This was formally denied by Sidney Lee, the general editor of the DNB, who acknowledged that O'Brien had assisted in its preparation but was the source, in Lee's estimate, of no more than one-sixth of the content.[20] The tone of the DNB entry might be politely described as frigid and, at times, hostile. "At heart he was a rebel. Could he have settled the Irish question by equipping an army of forty thousand men, he would have done so."[21] This was a remarkable speculation for an ostensibly neutral work of record. Research assistants, too humble to merit immortality, could have assembled much of its detailed listing of Parnell's political activities from the index to Hansard and from Palmer's Index to The Times, but it is permissible to wonder whether Lee took a short-cut and made use of research already accumulated by some Unionist propaganda organisation.[22] If so, the source would have been left in the shadows.

The brief passage alluding to Parnell's time at Cambridge looks like a hybrid production, the information coming through R. Barry O'Brien but its misleading presentation the result of heavy-handed editorial intervention. In his 1898 biography, O'Brien quoted "a correspondent" who reported that Parnell had been admitted to Magdalene on 1 July 1865 "and came into residence the following October". His departure "at the end of May 1869" would have been deduced from Wilfrid Gill's report of Parnell's rustication, quoted below. However, the second and third sentences represented a drastic interpolation of the reminiscences of a schoolmistress who had taught Parnell when he was six years old.[23] The intention of his awkward conflation was to portray the young Parnell as "undistinguished" and "diffident". In the context of this study, its most notable feature is its omission of any mention of the circumstances of Parnell's departure from the university. Given the DNB's general lack of sympathy for its subject, much might have been made of an allegedly formative incident that combined Parnell's apparently casual resort to violence with an outcome that could be portrayed as provoking in him an unreasoning hatred of English authority.

Taking the two sources together, T.P. O'Connor's sad but sympathetic portrayal and the DNB's cold indictment, it seems striking that neither mentioned Parnell's departure from Cambridge. Wilfrid Gill's statement in 1898, discussed in the next extract, that the story had "often been misstated or exaggerated" must refer to legends that were in underground circulation.

Wilfrid A. Gill / R. Barry O'Brien, 1898

Source  In preparing his biography of Parnell, which appeared in 1898, R. Barry O'Brien sought information from Magdalene College about Parnell's time at university. The request was answered in helpful detail by the Reverend Wilfrid A. Gill, Fellow and Tutor.[24] O'Brien incorporated a number of extensive statements in his text (and even took aboard one entire guest chapter from Sir Charles Gavan Duffy). He made two small transcription errors with proper names,[25] but there is no reason to suspect that he might have distorted Gill's statement.

Text        [O'Brien]  He (Parnell] was, in fact, "sent down" under circumstances which have been related to me by Mr. Wilfrid A. Gill, Fellow and Tutor of Magdalene College, Cambridge:

[Gill] The story of Parnell's being sent down from college has never been authoritatively told, and has often been misstated or exaggerated. The case came (at first) before the Cambridge County Court on May 21, 1869, and the course which the college subsequently took was the usual one in such instances of misconduct. A Mr Hamilton, a merchant of Harestone, sought to recover £33 as compensation for alleged assault. To avoid the appearance of blackmailing, he undertook, if successful, to devote the proceeds of the suit to Addenbrooke's Hospital. He stated in court that on Saturday, May 1, about 10 p.m., he saw a man lying across the path in the station road drunk, another man (Mr Bentley) standing over him. Asking if he could be of any assistance, Bentley replied to him, "We want none of your d---d help." Parnell then, springing up, struck witness on the face and collarbone, and kicked him on the knee. Hamilton's man retaliated by striking Parnell.

This was the plaintiff's statement.

Parnell's statement in reply was as follows. He, with three friends, drove in a fly to the station between 9 and 10 p.m. to take some light refreshment, "sherry, champagne, and biscuit," at the restaurant. In half an hour they prepared to return home. Parnell, with one of them, sat down and waited in the station road, while the others went in search of a fly. Meanwhile two men passing by exclaimed: "Hullo, what's the matter with this 'ere cove," or words to that effect. Bentley replied that he wanted no interference. Hamilton answered in gross language. Then he (Parnell) first interposed, striking at Hamilton but missing him. Hamilton next struck Parnell, whereupon Parnell knocked him down. Hamilton's man then attacked Parnell, who knocked him down also, though he at once offered a hand to raise him. Parnell never kicked Hamilton. A police constable corroborated Parnell's statement that he (Parnell) was perfectly sober. After other evidence had been called, Parnell's counsel admitted to some fault on his client's part, and stated that he would not resist a verdict. He asked, however, for nominal damages, little harm really having been done; and there also seemed to be some attempt at extortion.

The judge held that, the assault being admitted, the damages should be substantial. The jury, after some consideration, found damages for twenty guineas.

On May 26 a college meeting was convened, at which it was resolved to send down Parnell for the remainder of the term in consequence of the misconduct proved against him. There being only two weeks before the end of the term, the actual punishment was not a severe one, and, had Parnell wished it, there was nothing to prevent his resuming residence in the following term. He did not, however, return to Cambridge.[26]

Comment  Wilfrid Gill had entered Magdalene as an undergraduate, six years after Parnell's rustication, and became a Fellow in 1882. There might have been some College tradition among its employees of the sending-down – the more turbulent spirits could perhaps have been warned that there were limits to donnish tolerance – but it is unlikely that Gill would have encountered any student who had overlapped with Parnell, still less known him well. As noted above, O'Brien had already supplied the DNB with information about the future Irish leader's undergraduate days that he had received from a "correspondent". This might have been Gill, but another possibility is Alfred Newton, the Professor of Zoology, who was in residence at the time. O'Brien's source quoted Francis Pattrick, who had taught Parnell mathematics and evidently liked him,[27] and Newton and Pattrick were close friends.[28] The only survivor among the four senior members of Magdalene who had taken part in Parnell's rustication was the Master, the Honourable and Reverend Latimer Neville, a rigid Conservative who disapproved of Parnell's politics.[29] Gill probably learned from Neville that the Fellows had no objection to Parnell's return to the College, but the Master may have been reluctant to discuss so notorious a member of the College. In any case, Gill – a busy academic, who also held a University office, as well as delivering lectures at King's College, London – may well have dealt with O'Brien's request during the vacation when he had no teaching duties. Outside Term, Latimer Neville decamped to his country rectory at Heydon, thirteen miles away on the Essex border, where he would have been relatively inaccessible.[30] Thus Wilfrid Gill left an awkward historical legacy, an apparently authoritative report compiled by somebody who, in fact, knew little of the context that framed the subject. In particular, an opportunity was missed to place on record the important information that Parnell had been absent from Cambridge for two years and, in May 1869, had only recently mustered the resources to return for the completion of his studies. The bare chronological evidence available to O'Brien – Parnell admitted to Magdalene in July 1865 and expelled May 1869 – understandably fostered the mistaken impression that he had spent four years at Cambridge without achieving anything.

Comparison with the previous entry suggests that Gill consulted a newspaper file, probably making notes which subsequently formed the basis of his letter to Barry O'Brien.[31] This would explain the slight distortions in his account, but it is also possible that he was subtly influenced by the need to project the College in a favourable light. Magdalene in the 'Nineties was considerably less naughty than it had been in the two previous decades. Gill and Peskett, appointed as joint Tutors after Pattrick's death in 1896, were serious-minded products of humble schools and may be assumed to wish to shake off the College's hedonistic and lightweight image. In addition, Magdalene – the poorest endowed of the traditional Cambridge colleges – was facing serious financial challenges by the mid-Nineties, and it certainly did not need the bad publicity of being portrayed as a haunt of violent young men who drank too much.[32] Hence Gill appeared to endorse the statement that "Parnell never kicked Hamilton", ignoring the medical evidence that the position of the injury to Hamilton's knee ruled out an accidental cut. Similarly, he claimed that the police evidence had "corroborated" Parnell's claim to be "perfectly sober". In reality, PC Carter explicitly said that Parnell had been drinking, and Robert Bentley was not invited to repudiate Hamilton's claim that he had described his companion as "very drunk". Parnell himself admitted that he had consumed sherry and champagne in a half-hour period, and did not venture to assert that he had been sober.

Gill also tweaked the record in stating that the judge had advised that "the assault being admitted, the damages should be substantial". Although his denial flew the face of the evidence, Parnell had denied committing any assault, and his barrister seems to have gone no further than offering an opaque concession of misbehaviour. Far from urging the jury to impose "substantial" damages, the judge invited them to consider the possibility that Hamilton had been partly responsible for his misfortune: the jurors' decision to scale down the amount claimed by the plaintiff seems to indicate that they took the point. Overall, there is a degree of subtle inconsistency in Gill's statement to O'Brien. On the one hand, Parnell was not drunk and he did not kick his opponent: Magdalene undergraduates did not behave in such an irresponsible and arrogant manner. On the other, the judge had strongly condemned his behaviour, thereby compelling the Fellows of Magdalene to add their own, relatively mild, censure. Wilfrid Gill's account, as published by R. Barry O'Brien, would remain the authoritative account of Parnell's downfall for three-quarters of a century.[33]    

'Cantab', 1904 

Source  The death of Latimer Neville in January 1904 triggered some public stocktaking of his fifty-one years in the Master's Lodge, not all of it favourable. 'Cantab' shared his memories of the University in the eighteen-sixties with the readers of a London newspaper, probably the Daily Chronicle. His comments were reprinted in the Cambridge Independent Press.

Text  Parnell was there in my time, but the story that he was sent down for knocking down his tutor is apocryphal; he was sent down because he wouldn't or couldn't pass his 'Little Go'. His greatest friend at Magdalene was the Marquess of Queensberry.[34]

Comment  Clearly, this gem does not call for extensive discussion. 'Cantab' does not seem to have been a student at Magdalene. The story, which he denied, that Parnell had attacked his Tutor has something of the antihero quality of McWade's tale of the black eyes, but it was obviously unfounded. Parnell was at least a competent student, and surmounted the University's first-year hurdle, the Previous Examination (known as the Little-Go), in December 1866, passing in the First Class.[35] The Marquess of Queensberry had entered Magdalene in 1864, a year ahead of Parnell. He was reported to have played cricket for the College at the end of May 1866 (when Parnell was absent from Cambridge) although it is not clear that he was still in residence.[36] Hence it is doubtful whether the two overlapped at Cambridge, and it is highly unlikely that they were friends. Two conclusions may be suggested: first, Parnell's memory attracted tall tales and, second, it is unlikely that the detailed and relatively accurate description of his rustication in O'Brien's biography had found a wide readership in England.

Michael Davitt, 1904

Source  In 1904, Michael Davitt published his account of the Land League, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland. It contained reflections on Parnell, including an account of his departure from Cambridge.

Text  One interesting incident only relating to his studentship at Cambridge is on record – namely, his being rusticated. The facts are, I believe, as follows: Coming home late from a social gathering one night, he was jostled off the footpath by a pair of drunken drovers. They had, however, not bargained for what followed. Parnell turned on his assailants and knocked both of them down. The row brought a policeman on the scene, and he demanded Parnell's name, on the complaint of the battered drovers. Following the example of students everywhere, the accused, with the fear of the college authorities before his mind, put his hand in his pocket and handed the guardian of the peace what he believed to be a sovereign. A glance at the coin at the nearest lamp-post revealed it to be a shilling, whereupon the offended representative of the majesty of the law took insult, rearrested Parnell, invited him to the police station, and obtained his name. It is within the bounds of possibility that the shilling in question determined the future fate and career of him who mistook it for a sovereign by securing his retirement from Cambridge University, and in thus sending him back to Ireland to fall in with a train of circumstances and events which ultimately led to his active entry into Irish public life.[37]

Comment  There must be a strong probability that Davitt heard some version of this story either directly from Parnell himself, or indirectly through one of his political associates. A convicted Fenian, Michael Davitt had been released from penal servitude in December 1877, and first met Parnell a month later. Although he disagreed with Davitt's strategy, Parnell respected the sacrifice he had made for the cause of Ireland, and the two worked together throughout the Land War. There was a notable episode of a discussion between the two on a train journey in May 1878, recalled by Davitt who claimed to quote from contemporary notes, when Parnell declined an invitation to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood and defined his role as a constitutional politician. Parnell might well have regaled Davitt with an account of his departure from Cambridge as a tactful way of bridging the social gap between them. However, their relationship fractured in August 1882, when Parnell flatly rejected Davitt's plans to revive the Land League in the form of an even broader coalition campaigning for comprehensive social reform. By 1884, Davitt's campaign for land nationalisation, which Parnell regarded as an impractical diversion, had widened the breach between them.[38] Hence, if Parnell was the source of Davitt's slant on his Cambridge days, the tale was probably related sometime between their first encounter in 1878 and Parnell's internment in Kilmainham in 1881.  

The most interesting part of Davitt's account is the detail that Parnell slipped a coin to the police officer but, in the gloom of that May evening, offended the guardian of the law by offering a shilling instead of a sovereign (a pound coin), presumably the going rate for bribing the local constabulary. In the contemporary report in the Cambridge Independent Press (above), P.C. Carter "stated he was offered money to settle the affair", and this sweetener could only have been tendered by Parnell or his student companions. Davitt's moral, that Parnell's failure to find the right coin caused his return to Ireland and his entry into politics is something of a Cleopatra's Nose argument. Writing in 1974, I found it faintly plausible, if in a light-hearted way, simply because at that time it was assumed that Parnell was a prosperous landlord whose support for the cause of the tenants could only be explained by some traumatic 'push' factor.  As Barry O'Brien put it, of "Parnell's English training … if it did not make him very Irish, it certainly made him very anti-English".[39] Unfortunately, once it was established – by Roy Foster's 1975 study Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and His Family – that Avondale was a financial liability that could only be supported through entrepreneurial activity, then Parnell's interest in having prosperous customers ceases to be a mystery, while his desire for a system of government that was responsive to the needs of the Irish people becomes anything but an enigma. In other words, Davitt's cameo is attractive, but his moral is not persuasive.

The other detail in Davitt's account that calls for comment is his portrayal of Parnell's antagonists as "drunken drovers". Given the vivid and plausible detail of the fumbled shilling, this detail might also seem to add a dimension to our understanding of the encounter in Station Road, the more so since Hamilton had defined his business as dealing in manure – information that Gill had decorously omitted from his summary for Barry O'Brien. Moreover, Michael Davitt, a product of the Lancashire working class and a champion of labour, was presumably immune from the snobbery that most contemporary writers would have mobilised against a pair of cattlemen.

However, it now appears that Hamilton was what he claimed to be – a tradesman working in the fertiliser business. No other account suggests or even implies that Hamilton's provocative behaviour was fuelled by alcohol: his lawyer called two police witnesses to testify about the events on the night of the assault, and Parnell's lawyer did not venture to question either about the plaintiff's sobriety. Indeed, overall, Davitt's account seems remarkably indulgent – "rich in sympathy" was Moody's phrase – towards the fallen Irish leader.[40] Davitt had surely read O'Brien's biography (he had contributed information to its author) and could hardly have failed to realise that Parnell had behaved badly on that May night in Cambridge.[41] Yet this determined enemy of landlord arrogance, who neither forgot nor forgave his own family's eviction in his childhood, produced an oddly generous – and highly misleading – account of the incident that terminated Parnell's student days.  

The "Daisy" diversion, 1905  A year after Davitt's account, Parnell's sister Emily Dickinson published an autobiography-cum-memoir called A Patriot's Mistake, in which she claimed that Parnell had been expelled from Cambridge University at the age of nineteen after debauching a local girl to suicide and driving her to suicide. The book may have been ghost-written, and was almost certainly the product of intensive editorial input. This makes it all the more curious that A Patriot's Mistake ignored the authoritative Wilfrid Gill / R. Barry O'Brien account of Parnell's rustication in 1869 after a street fight. The spurious tale of a heartless seduction which replaced  it was presented as the precursor and predictor of his subsequent illicit relationship with another man's wife. The tale of "Daisy" has to be noted at this point, since it resurfaced in later biographies, but it has no place in the discussion of traditions and reconstructions of Parnell's departure from Cambridge. In particular, St John Ervine ingeniously melded it with a highly-coloured version of the Station Road fight in his 1925 biography, and this perhaps explained the determination of A.S. Ramsey, a Fellow of Magdalene, to publish his own version of Parnell's downfall.[42] Both are discussed below.

A.J. Kettle, 1885 / c.1910

Source  Andrew Kettle was a tenant-right activist whose grasp of political strategy won Parnell's respect. He wrote his memoirs shortly before his death in 1916 – they refer to events as late as 1909 – but the text remained unpublished for over forty years. One episode that lodged in his memory was an encounter at Morrison's Hotel in Dublin one evening during the 1885 general election campaign. Parnell had just returned from a series of violent confrontations in County Louth, where he was determined to oust the sitting member, Philip Callan, whom he saw as a threat to the cohesion of the parliamentary party.[43] Parnell was furious at the attempts to silence him. Another prominent Home Ruler, Thomas Sexton, diverted Parnell's anger by drawing him into reminiscence of his Cambridge days.

Text  He [Parnell] says: "I never was so near losing my temper as l was to-day, first with a fellow who was shouting at me from a brake near the one I was speaking from. Only the people around stopped me, I would have rushed at him, and when I was coming to the train this evening, a fellow shouted just at my ear: 'To hell with Parnell!' I don't know how I refrained from striking him down." "If you did," said Sexton, "you might have left him like the way you left the Englishmen in your school days. Do, Parnell, tell us that story." After some pressing,

Parnell said: "When I was at Cambridge reading for my degree, I was set upon by two swell students, with one of whom I had a dispute in the dusk of the evening near the railway. I was hit and dragged about at first, and when I got clear, I made a drive at one of them. He ducked and my arm went across his shoulders, and he, in the encounter, hit me a peg in the eye. The blow stung me a bit, and I drew back and then sprung at him and caught him on the jaw, and he went down like a log. I then hit the other a blow or two and he also fell. I then went on to my train. The fellows were mean enough to summon me for assault before the magistrates, and although they were two to one, and were the attacking party, the magistrates fined me £20."  I expressed surprise at such a ruling on the case. "Oh, but," says Sexton (who evidently had heard the story before), "the two fellows were broken up in bits. Weren't they, Parnell?" "Well," he says, "one fellow had his jaw bone broken and the other, one of his arms, but I think they had plasters and bandages on where there were no great wounds. Then," he says, "I appealed to the college authorities against the decision of the magistrates and they confirmed the sentence. I was so exasperated at the animus against me because I was an Irishman that I packed up my traps at once and left the college, and never returned there again."[44]

Comment  Kettle's memoir is the only account known to me that was specifically attributed to Parnell himself. Its use, at two points, of the present tense is curious, but may suggest that it was based upon a note or letter written at the time. The description of the exchange of blows fits with the Cambridge Independent Press report discussed above, while the amount of £20 (in fact, guineas – £21) is roughly accurate. The court case was a civil action, but Kettle's transfer to a magistrates' court was an understandable confusion. Similarly, the assumption that Parnell was on his way to catch a train conveniently explained why he was near the station at the time. By contrast, Kettle departed from the facts in his description of Parnell's assailants as "two swell students". Perhaps he had also heard stories of Parnell's poor relationship with some of his contemporaries, mentioned by his brother John Howard Parnell in the extract below. Equally, it may be that he disliked the idea that so admired a politician and champion of the people could have become involved in a fist fight with his social inferiors. Kettle not only remained faithful to Parnell throughout the Split, but even agreed to become his candidate at the viciously contested Carlow by-election, where heavy defeat seemed to spell the end of both their political careers.

The most noteworthy feature of Kettle's account comes in the tailpiece, where Parnell claimed that there was an "animus against me because I was an Irishman".  On the face of it, a relaxed and privileged immersion in an English university was an experience that might have driven a wedge between the Irish leader and his school-of-hard-knocks lieutenants. But by recounting the episode of his ignominious departure from Cambridge as a tale of victimisation on grounds of nationality, he turned it into an episode that emphasised the Irish values and the driving anger against English arrogance that they held in common. If Sexton had indeed heard the story before and relished its content, the tactic seemed to be successful.   

Carolan McQuaid 1914

Source  In May 1914, a colourful Irish resident of Cambridge gave a lecture on Parnell's time at the University. He included an account of the fight in Station Road.

Text   One evening Parnell and two Magdalene friends went up to the Great Eastern Refreshment Rooms [i.e. the railway station] after hall. The two remained at the station, but Parnell walked back alone towards college and on the way sat down on the pathway in Station-road, where there were then no houses – in front of a farmstead, occupied by Mr Robert Sayle [of Sayle and Co., the town's department store until the early 21st century]…. A farmer and his man drove up in an old high gig. The farmer, pointing towards Parnell, in a scornful way, said to his man, "Oh, he's drunk". Up jumped Parnell (who overheard the remark), "I’ll show you who’s drunk", and promptly knocked out the farmer and five of his teeth! He then quietly continued his walk, and was soon joined by his two friends. The farmer, streaming with blood, and his man raised the hue and cry, ran after Parnell, and overtook him on Hills-road. They handed him over to a police constable, who escorted him to the police station, where he was charged with assault.[45]

Comment  In addition to appealing through the press for information from Parnell's contemporaries, McQuaid evidently sought out traditions from veteran residents of Cambridge, and it seems that the market principles of supply and demand applied. Some of the stories that he uncovered were totally fabulous, others attributed to Parnell a role in well-known episodes in which he could not have been involved: for instance, he was described as the leader of a student riot in 1876, seven years after he had left the University. At best, McQuaid preserved (in other tales) some inconsequential but unproven details. Thus it is possible that Parnell may have been one of the first students to attempt to ride a bicycle in Cambridge. (He fell off.) Given that the more fanciful tales were probably woven in the hope of receiving a tip, it is of interest to note that Parnell was generally portrayed in benign terms, always assuming that leading a pugnacious posse of vengeful students was regarded as a beneficial activity. There would surely have been a market for allegations of adolescent villainy and scoundreldom predictive of a nihilistic political career. Perhaps such stories were on offer to English tourists. McQuaid proclaimed his adherence to the principles of an Irish Ireland by wearing a kilt, an unusual garb for a resident of the Mill Road area of the town. This may have ensured that he was regaled with affectionate tales about his hero.

McQuaid's account of the fight bears some traces of the Wilfrid Gill / R. Barry O'Brien account, probably indirectly, since the 1898 biography was not mentioned in the lecture. He had secured a transcript from the Magdalene College Order Book recording Parnell's rustication, and this he did quote in full. Three years earlier, he had announced that he was engaged in a biography of Parnell, and had appealed through the English and Irish press in 1911 for information about the Cambridge years. It seems likely that he was contacted by unnamed veterans of those distant days.[46] Perhaps it was the wayward memories of these ageing contemporaries that explain why McQuaid's account, although short, was mostly implausible. The role of the "old high gig" is not explained: Parnell could hardly have attacked the occupants of such a vehicle, although he might have done so if its passenger had insulted him as they disembarked. The anecdote is hardly logical: punching a stranger in the mouth for making an offensive remark is hardly the most obvious way to prove one's sobriety. Nor is the detail persuasive: had Edward Charles Hamilton lost five teeth, he would certainly have claimed for them in his court action. The one shred that might carry conviction is the statement that the police constable caught up with Parnell and his companion in Hills Road. Thanks to his concentrated intake of sherry and champagne, they may well have been moving relatively slowly, and Hills Road was much closer to the police station in the town centre, whither PC Carter escorted the combatants so that Hamilton could make a formal complaint.[47]

John Howard Parnell 1916

Source  Charles Stewart Parnell's older brother published a book about him in 1916. It said little about Parnell's time at university.

Text  He was at Cambridge from 1865 to 1869, but spent little time there, and left owing to his getting into serious trouble. I understood afterwards that an action for assault was successfully brought against him in the Cambridge County Court by a merchant named Hamilton, twenty guineas damages being awarded. The evidence in court was of a conflicting nature, and Charley never told me his version of the affair. His references to his undergraduate days were very brief and reserved, though he appeared to have got on badly with the other fellows [i.e. "chaps"], and to have had many quarrels, which often resulted in blows. On one occasion, he told me afterwards, five students came to his bedroom for what would now be called a "rag", and after a desperate struggle he succeeded in throwing them all out.[48]

Comment John Howard Parnell's post-secondary education consisted of two certificate courses at the School of Mining on St Stephen's Green.[49] He was loyal to his brother but very obviously not part of his Cambridge experience. Nonetheless, it is curious that he recalled nothing of the Station Road fight, and his brief allusion suggests reliance upon the published Wilfrid Gill / R. Barry O'Brien account. Thanks to his habitual vagueness about dates, John's movements are not always clear in early adulthood, but he probably spent some part of his brother's Cambridge years in Alabama. However, the two brothers spent time together, either at Avondale or in America, during several periods between about 1870 and 1874, but Charles seems to have been reticent to talk about his university experience. (Their younger brother, Henry, who followed Charles to Cambridge in 1869 – he was at Trinity – recalled hearing him relate "the story of the assault" to Arthur Dickinson, husband of their sister Emily. Yet Henry's understanding of what had happened was also based on R. Barry O'Brien's account.[50]) The available evidence, which is admittedly sparse, suggests that Parnell regaled his Irish party colleagues with the story of his departure of Cambridge to present himself as a victim of English prejudice, but chose to say little about an embarrassing episode to his own family. Of course, it is equally possible that John Howard Parnell had heard the story but, since he knew nothing of the locale, the people or the institutions, he had forgotten it over forty years later.

St John Ervine, 1925

Source  St John Ervine was an Ulsterman whose contributed plays to Dublin's Abbey Theatre. In the years following 1916, his early support for Home Rule was replaced by a fervent commitment to Unionism. His Parnell – a first venture into biography, published in 1925 – was in some sense an attempt to reconcile those two strands of his own life. He boldly melded the story of the drowning of Daisy with that of the fight in Station Road, eliminating the inconsistency by lopping off Emily Dickinson's claim that her brother had been expelled from the University for driving his victim to suicide. Unlike the other extracts quoted in this Note, his account of Parnell's rustication made no claim to originality, but was obviously based upon the Wilfrid Gill / R. Barry O'Brien account of 1898. Nonetheless, his reconstruction distorted the received account of Parnell's departure from Cambridge.

Text  Parnell and three friends were returning about half-past ten at night from the station restaurant, where they had been lightly refreshing themselves. Parnell and one of his friends sat down to wait while the other two went off in search of a fly. The statements as to what happened next conflict, but apparently two men were intoxicated and unable to walk home. An offer of assistance was offensively declined, and in a few moments a fight was taking place. Parnell interposed, and was struck for his pains. He promptly knocked his assailant, one Hamilton, down, and then knocked Hamilton's friend after him. A policeman swore that Parnell was sober when the assault took place, but was not believed by the magistrates. Hamilton took an action against Parnell, and was awarded damages amounting to twenty guineas. On May 26, 1869, a college meeting was convened, at which it was resolved to send down Parnell for the remainder of the term in consequence of the misconduct proved against him. There being only two weeks before the end of the term, the actual punishment was not a severe one, and, had Parnell wished it, there was nothing to prevent his resuming residence in the following term. He did not, however, return to Cambridge.[51]

Comment  Between 1914 and 1920, St John Ervine published four novels. This was an impressive output for someone who was also writing plays and who served briefly as manager of Dublin's Abbey Theatre. Most traumatic of all, he lost a leg serving as an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, an experience that compounded his antipathy towards the new wave of Irish nationalism.  Unfortunately, his enthusiastic commitment to the production of fiction was not matched by his skill in the shaping of characters – it did not help that some of the most prominent conducted their dialogues in Ulster brogue – while even a friendly critic described one of his plots as "slight".[52] In his 1920 offering, The Foolish Lovers, Ervine told the story of John Macdermott, a young Ulsterman who comes to London to seek his fortune (which suggests that he was Ervine's alter ego). Soon after his arrival, while taking a meal at a City coffee house, he falls passionately in love with an unknown young woman with whom he has briefly shared a table, no doubt a common enough male experience at an impressionable age. How is the author to craft a romantic courtship out of this anonymous, indeed silent, encounter? St John Ervine's solution is both appalling and unbelievable: Macdermott simply stalks his victim, persistently, intrusively, insensitively – until the gorgeous but two-dimensional female prey implausibly agrees to become his wife. On the strength of The Foolish Lovers, it seems fair to conclude that, if Ervine was going to continue to produce novels, he needed to be supplied with personalities and a story-line.

That is precisely what happened when he wrote about Parnell, and especially the part his subject played in the triangular interplay with the O'Sheas. Published in 1925, the biography gave him the novelist's scope without having to do the novelist's spadework.[53] Indeed, when the Parnell-O'Shea trio intersected in 1880, he triumphantly announced that "the Sardonic Dramatist had brought his characters together".[54] However outrageous his characters, they could be defended as literary avatars of real people, while his plot was based on events that had indeed transpired, more or less. Ervine based his account upon existing published work, but the filter through which his sources were passed became more relaxed as the project advanced. "I began to write this book with a feeling of prejudice," he admitted in his preface; "I ended it with a feeling of deep affection for him." As Patrick Maume has put it, the biography "began as a debunking but became a eulogy".[55]   Naturally, Parnell does not come well out of Ervine's invocation of Daisy, but the Station Road episode, even though it occurs early in the book, is anything but prejudiced against him.

It only remains to admire St John Ervine's sleight of hand in summarising what appeared to be, through implicit quotation, the Wilfrid Gill / R. Barry O'Brien account while successfully obfuscating Parnell's role in what now became an accidental melee. Parnell was one of four students who had taken a meal at the railway station. Since "apparently two men were intoxicated and unable to walk home", the two others went off in search of a fly, while "Parnell and one of his friends sat down to wait".  Somehow, a fight broke out with a passer-by, in which "Parnell interposed, and was struck for his pains".   Careful readers will note that an arithmetical miracle: in a handful of short sentences, four undergraduates had somehow metamorphosed into five, two seeking transport, two of them "intoxicated and unable to walk home", plus Parnell who – so Ervine asserted – was sober. In addition to doubling the number of inebriates on the Station Road scene, Ervine also assumed that the case came before a magistrates' court, a relatively minor detail, although he should have known that police courts did not award damages. Since his description of the formal sentence of rustication came almost word-for-word from Wilfrid Gill's account, it would seem that he had intentionally varied the details of the fight in order to portray Parnell in a favourable light.[56]

Ervine's convolutions merit analysis because of the "unexpected popularity" of his book, despite fears that, by the mid-nineteen twenties, British readers would regard the Irish question as a closed book. The first writer to tackle the subject since R. Barry O'Brien a quarter of a century earlier, he had the considerable advantage that the three central characters were dead, allowing him to interweave the love story with the political drama, a challenge that O'Brien had declined out of Victorian distaste and (presumably) fear of actions for defamation. Three years after its initial publication in 1925, Ervine's Parnell was reissued in a cheaper popular edition.[57] Its wide circulation probably explains the final extract from the series, a 1935 attempt to counter "garbled and wholly untrue" biographical narratives. 

A.S. Ramsey ( / Alfred Newton), 1935

Source  In 1935, a senior Fellow of Magdalene, A.S. Ramsey, published an account of Parnell's escapade in the Magdalene College Magazine, which he attributed to one of the College's Victorian personalities, Professor Alfred Newton. The interest of this example lies less in its content, which is neither particularly revealing nor impressively detailed, but in the process of transmission, which can be examined through four distinct stages. How did Newton acquire his information about Parnell's departure from Cambridge? How faithful was his account to Ramsey? How accurate was Ramsey's recollection? Was his reconstruction influenced by factors contemporary to the nineteen-thirties?

Text  A reference on another page to Parnell's membership of the College,[58] and the fact that some of his biographers have given a garbled and wholly untrue account of the termination of his membership, prompts me to place upon record the story of the incident as it was told to me many years ago by the late Professor Alfred Newton, who was in residence at the time and knew the circumstances at first hand. In the 'sixties what is now known as Station Road was a country lane with a ditch, a bank and a hedge. The story was that one day Parnell was sitting on the bank, apparently lost in meditation, when he was accosted by a stranger, who annoyed him by gibing at him and passed on. Sometime later Parnell was still there when the stranger returned and repeated his gibe. But this time Parnell sprang to his feet and knocked the man down. There were two results to this action: firstly, he was convicted in the police-court of assaulting a townsman, and secondly the Governing Body of the College sent him down for the remainder of the term. He was quite free to return into residence in the following term had he chosen to do so but he never came back. Little else is remembered of his College days, but there is a tradition that he once persuaded the College Cricket XI to visit Dublin and that difficulties arose between Parnell and an umpire whose decision he did not approve.[59]

Comment   Arthur Stanley Ramsey had become a Fellow of Magdalene, responsible for the teaching of mathematics, in 1897.[60] He proved an outstanding servant to the College, first in turning around its finances as Bursar from 1904 to 1913, and then in taking charge during the  prolonged mental breakdown of the Master, A.C. Benson, after 1917, steering the institution through its rapid post-war expansion. On first meeting him in 1904, Benson described Ramsey as "quiet, sad, pleasant, donnish"—a mishmash of adjectives, but a combination that offered no hint of a vivid imagination. (Benson later discovered that these calm outer layers hid a volcanic personality.)[61] Alfred Newton, who had entered Magdalene as an undergraduate in 1848, was a pioneering ornithologist who had been elected Professor of Zoology in 1866, at the end of Parnell's second term. A bachelor, he held a nominal Fellowship in Parnell's time, and was not then eligible to take part in the College Meeting, the inner group of Fellows responsible for the administration of Magdalene, but he lived on the premises, in apartments of his own creation in the Old Lodge. He died in 1907, which indicates that he described the Parnell fight to Ramsey in the last decade of his life, probably – as discussed below – between 1897 and 1902. A.C. Benson, a Fellow for the last three years of Newton's life, wrote about him with feline cruelty, but acknowledged that "the Professor", as he was always known "was a perfect mine of information about the history and traditions of the College".[62]

It may seem puzzling that A.S. Ramsey should have placed on record such an unpersuasive version of Parnell's rustication. While Cambridge University is an institution dedicated to profound intellectual activity, it is difficult to understand why any of its members should have engaged in deep thought while sitting on a hedge bank outside the railway station. Parnell's reported "meditation" may not have been of the transcendental variety, but somehow there is a logical gap in the narrative, since it is not explained why he so abruptly shifted from reflection to violence. Since the sneering passer-by was presumably both a total stranger and a transient nuisance, there was hardly any necessity to punch him. As with other accounts, the Newton / Ramsey version transferred a civil action for assault into a police court prosecution. Somehow an encounter in which two men encountered Parnell and one scoffed at him has become an episode in which a single sneering individual passed him twice. For a mathematician, this represented a curious confusion.

The concluding detail, that "difficulties arose between Parnell and an umpire" when he captained a Magdalene cricket team on a visit to Dublin, is of a piece with the implausible account of his rustication. The story is a transfer of a tale, itself probably a canard, which had been put into circulation by Standish O'Grady, and elaborated by R. Barry O'Brien who quoted an unidentified source. In the original, Parnell was captain of a County Wicklow team in a match arranged against Dublin's prestigious Phoenix Club. However, Parnell was said to have clashed with the rival captain, presumably over the eligibility of one of the players, and the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled, to the frustration of Parnell's team-mates. As Roy Foster pointed out in his discussion of the story, the moral – and, very likely, the inspiration – lay in the conclusion: "in later years Mr Parnell used to use the Irish party much as he used the Wicklow Eleven."[63] Parnell certainly played cricket in Wicklow, but I know of no evidence that he played for Wicklow, and in that era any teams claiming to represent the county would have been ad hoc collections of players, not the representatives of an established club.[64] He was reported as playing twice for Magdalene and was evidently not a first choice for the College team, let alone a plausible captain. Matches were sometimes played against local villages, but a visit to Dublin was highly unlikely during the vacation, and would not have been permitted in term time.[65]

It is therefore remarkable that the concatenation of these two donnish personalities, Newton and Ramsey, each noted for rigid precision and neither given to flights of fancy, should have somehow concocted this strange tale of Parnell's downfall. On the face of it, the line of transmission appears to have been straightforward: from Newton to Ramsey. In fact, there were two additional stages in the process, the first involving Newton's acquisition of the information, and the last examining its journey from Ramsey's memory to the readers of the Magdalene College Magazine. These four phases merit closer examination. In 1906, Newton had roundly denied the nonsensical tale published by Parnell's sister Emily Dickinson that Parnell had been expelled from Cambridge for seducing a girl and driving her to suicide. "I was then in residence, and can positively declare that no story or report to his discredit, such as is alleged, ever reached my ears; while had there been such a rumour I must have heard of it."[66] But to have "heard of" a sex scandal does not imply that Newton knew much about the details of a minor assault case, nor that he would have troubled to remember them. In May 1869, his attention must have been focused on issues that would have seemed far more important. Parliament was considering the first-ever legislation for the protection of sea-birds against what he condemned as "barbarous and disgusting slaughter". Although welcoming the initiative – partly inspired by an address he had delivered to the British Association the previous year – Newton thought the bill was inadequate. It had passed through the Commons in March 1869, but the attrition rate for private members' bills was high, and its fate was uncertain after the Lords imposed changes on 4 May. The Commons eventually accepted the Lords' amendments on 1 June, and the royal assent was granted three weeks later.[67] Thus, throughout the month of May 1869, when Parnell's academic fate was in the balance, Newton would have been centrally concerned with events and manoeuvres at Westminster.  A rigid Conservative, he was also angry at Gladstone's plans to disestablish the Church of Ireland, and the reluctance of some Cambridge dons to support an official University protest.[68] No doubt he heard at High Table that an undergraduate had got himself into a scrape but, as he was not part of the disciplinary process and he had major concerns of his own, there is no reason to assume that he would have retained the details in his memory. It is therefore more likely that Newton heard the story of Parnell's rustication through donnish gossip some years later, probably after 1877 when the former student had become a notorious obstructionist in the House of Commons. Newton's informant was probably his friend, G.F. Pattrick, who had taught Parnell mathematics and – as discussed above – liked the young Irishman. It was Pattrick's death in 1896 that had brought Ramsey back to Magdalene as his replacement. Hence what Ramsey would have heard from Newton was the account that the elderly Professor's recollected from Pattrick.

Of the next stage in the transmission process, we can be reasonably sure that Newton, an acknowledged fount of College tradition, accurately related what he had heard – and this on evidence from an unsympathetic source. "He remembered everything, and remembered it exactly," Benson wrote. "I have heard him re-tell a story I once told him, and I think he preserved my exact phrases."[69] He could discourse of events sixty years earlier "as of an affair of yesterday".[70] When Newton was asked in 1906 to comment on Parnell's departure from the College, he was firm about the Magdalene response to the Station Road fight but provided no detail about the incident itself: "the Master and Fellows were not only willing that he should return to it at the expiration of the time for which he was sent down, but expected that he would do so, as, saving the offence of which he was convicted (an unprovoked assault), there was nothing against his character".[71]

The transmission from Newton and Ramsey may be taken as reliable, but it is reasonable to question the latter's receptivity. In the late eighteen-nineties, Magdalene was in the doldrums. Its basic problem, as so often in its history, was financial. The agricultural depression had cut deeply into an endowment income that was already the smallest of the seventeen traditional Cambridge colleges.[72] The College could only support four Fellows, and then with difficulty. Hence its High Table was a minuscule academic society. By custom, the Master dined only on Sundays. A.G. Peskett, who taught Classics, was married and only appeared in Hall twice a week. Notoriously taciturn, his presence would have made little impact upon conversation anyway. Wilfrid Gill's health broke down in 1897, and doctors ordered him abroad for the winter months: he died in Switzerland in December 1899. (The absence of Gill was unfortunate in regard to transmission of College traditions regarding Parnell, since – as discussed above – he had consulted a newspaper file of the court case sometime in the mid-eighteen nineties as part of his briefing note for R. Barry O'Brien.) Hence Ramsey recalled that, between his return to Cambridge in 1897 and the election of a successor to Gill in 1900, he "used frequently to dine alone with Newton" and came to know him well. The Professor's dictum was that "the walls of the Combination Room have no ears", and "he talked with great freedom about men and affairs.… He had an excellent memory and knew much of the past history of the College and University". Ramsey certainly claimed to have "learnt much from him that I should otherwise never have known", but he also admitted that "alas most of what he told me I have long since forgotten.… I do not now remember much of Newton's conversation."[73] Historians need to ask how likely was it that he would have recalled the details of the story of Parnell's removal from Magdalene. By the late eighteen-nineties, Home Rule had ceased to be a central issue in British politics. Even in Ireland, Parnell's memory was fading, with the Dublin crowds commemorating the anniversary of his death becoming smaller and less demonstrative. We can be confident that Newton conveyed an exact account of the information he had received, but we may feel much less certain of the retentiveness of Ramsey's memory.

It therefore seems appropriate to scrutinise the last stage in the process, the shaping of Ramsey's own account of Parnell's downfall. The son of a Congregational minister, Arthur Stanley Ramsey was part of the Nonconformist wave that formed a new element in the late-Victorian University, although it amounted to little more than a ripple at Magdalene.[74]  Just as the Cambridge experience could help to gentrify new money, so immersion in its ecclesiastical culture tended to ease Dissenters into membership of the Church of England: Ramsey's own son would rise to become Archbishop of Canterbury. But A.S. Ramsey remained doggedly loyal to his roots, attending the town's Emmanuel Congregational Church as an undergraduate and holding office there when he returned as a don.[75] His Nonconformity shaped his politics. "He was a Liberal, and had voted consistently for the Liberals at past elections", he proclaimed, speaking on behalf of a Votes-for-Women delegation in 1913. In July 1914, he was one of the organisers of a statement by Cambridge dons calling on Britain to remain neutral in the developing European crisis. With his wife Mary, he operated on the left wing of the Liberal party: disgusted with Lloyd George, they voted Labour at the general election of 1918, and she became an active member of the party, a highly unusual activity for a don's wife.  The Ramseys admired Asquith, despite his backsliding on women's suffrage.[76] In 1912-14, he led a government locked in a fight to carry Home Rule for Ireland. Home Rule was still vigorously resisted, not least by the House of Lords, but – outside Ulster – it no longer aroused the same passionate horror that it had generated in 1886. Land purchase legislation had quietened the Irish countryside, elected local councils could be portrayed as setting the foundations for a devolved legislature, and John Redmond's Nationalist MPs hardly seemed threatening.[77] As Parnell's memory retreated even further into a tragic past, so his image became more benign: he even received a statue in Dublin's O'Connell Street in 1911.[78]

It is highly possible that Ramsey allowed what The Times called his "combative liberalism" subtly to modify his portrayal of Parnell the undergraduate, turning him into a thoughtful personality, who struck out – whether in Station Road or the House of Commons – only in response to overwhelming provocation. Benson would later caustically write that Ramsey "indulges his moral indignation, as a drunkard indulges in whisky".[79] In that angry sense of his own rectitude, Ramsey may well have reshaped the transmitted memory of Parnell at Magdalene, attributing his own modification to Newton's table-talk. When Ramsey committed his recollections to print, a new and unfriendly chapter in British-Irish relations had effaced the Parnell era altogether. George V had lamented the creation of the Irish Free State. "What fools we were not to have accepted Gladstone's Home Rule Bill", he remarked in 1930.[80] Worse was to come when Eamon de Valera came to office in 1932 and engaged in economic confrontation with Britain. 

By 1935, Newton had been dead for nearly thirty years. There is no suggestion that Ramsey deliberately falsified College traditions, but his "moral indignation" probably led him to sanitise the story of Parnell's folly two-thirds of a century before. Ramsey's decision to place his account on record was probably a belated riposte to St John Ervine, whose 1925 biography had been reissued in a popular edition in 1928, allowing the tale of Daisy to permeate the public and perhaps even the College's undergraduate community, not all of whom were serious students.

The "garbled and wholly untrue account" of the events of 1869 that he sought to eradicate was not to be found in Ervine's version of the fight in Station Road, but rather in his exuberantly fictional resurrection of the seduction of Daisy. Interwar Cambridge was deeply prudish in its attitude to sex, and Magdalene was certainly no exception. One of its most notable intellectual products, the literary critic William Empson, was evicted from his bye-fellowship in 1929 after condoms were discovered among his possessions: even the victim accepted that he had been guilty of "criminal carelessness".[81] Undergraduate sex lives, of course, were subject to even greater repression, and it was here that we should seek Ramsey's motive for – as he saw it – setting the record straight on the downfall of Parnell. To add colour to his invocation of Daisy, St John Ervine had appealed to legends of upper class mores: not only had Parnell assumed that "a gentleman is entitled to take his pleasure among the women of the lower class" but "[t]he tone of Magdalene at that time probably encouraged him to hold this belief". Published in 1925 and reissued in a cheap edition three years later, Ervine's reckless slander had fostered a widespread impression of a louche institution. For A.S. Ramsey, a Nonconformist and a loyal College man, it was preferable to memorialise Parnell pugnacious rather than Parnell promiscuous. Better still was Parnell pensive and Parnell provoked. It was a third of a century since he had huddled over the Combination Room port listening to Newton's reminiscences. It is hardly surprising, nor even particularly heinous, that his memory unconsciously processed those vague recollections through the imperative of safeguarding the integrity and defending the reputation of the College that he had served so well.

Reflections  Perhaps the most basic reflection on the shifting versions of the saga of Parnell's departure from Cambridge is that most of the narrators had some ulterior motive for relating the tale, perspectives that subtly influenced their presentation of details and even of the order of events. This claim includes Parnell himself, who seems to have used the episode to bridge the gap between his privileged youth and the struggle for survival in a tough world that had characterised the lives of his middle-class and Catholic lieutenants. Indeed, the glimpse of the Irish leader narrating the circumstances of his rustication to Kettle and Sexton, and the assumption that he had shared the story with the ticket-of-leave felon Michael Davitt, combine to present a very different Parnell from the frigid and aloof chieftain of legend. It is also noteworthy that the Irish leader appears, on occasion at least, to have confided in his political associates, but he does not seem to have explained his academic downfall to either of his brothers. Perhaps equally striking is the relatively benign image of Parnell himself that pervades the interpretations, in which he appears almost as a folk hero behaving flamboyantly according to a code of his own. This is remarkable for at least two reasons. The first is that the act itself, a violent assault on a passer-by, was hardly creditable even in the light of Edward Charles Hamilton's petty verbal provocation. The second is that, in his lifetime, Parnell was a deeply controversial political figure. In Britain, he was so widely hated that The Times was able to pass off clumsy forgeries of letters purporting to implicate him in terrorist activities: tens of thousands of his detractors swallowed the deception because they wanted to believe that the charges were true. Yet the versions of the Station Road fight researched by Gill, transmitted by unknown testimony to McQuaid, invented by Ervine and finally memorialised by Ramsey were all remarkably indulgent in their factual recitation of Parnell's use of his fists. Even in his own country, the divorce case and the Split drenched his memory with hatred and contempt in the predominant anti-Parnellite camp. It was understandable that Kettle, a loyal follower, should portray the fight as some sort of a student romp, but curious that the same indulgence should have come from Davitt, an opponent in those terrible final months and a bitter foe of landlord arrogance.

Above all, of course, the various accounts compel us to reflect upon the nature of historical evidence, especially when transmitted through recollection and tradition. It is important to stress that only one of the versions reviewed here can be convicted of deliberate distortion, the fey invention of St John Ervine in his fictive biography – and his motive was one of indulgence towards Parnell. Nor is it necessary to suspect some interested motive to explain all the variations and inconsistencies in the narrative re-creations. Within twenty-four hours of the court case, the two Cambridge newspapers published slightly different reports of the evidence given. The details are minor – a name here, a quoted word there – and, with careful merging, the historian can convey a reasonably accurate impression of the balance of arguments and the atmosphere of the court room. Nonetheless, these slight differences are a reminder that there is probably no such thing as a perfect record of any historical episode.  

The problem with newspaper reports is that they rapidly evolve from the ephemeral to the inaccessible. For a few days, they are perused by a wide readership, with varying degrees of intensity and engagement, before most copies are discarded and a tiny few entombed in the bound volumes of some library. In producing, sometime in the mid-eighteen nineties, a digest from one of those archived copies, Wilfrid A. Gill of Magdalene College performed an impressive scholarly service for R. Barry O'Brien. Even so, as noted above, he slightly tweaked the facts, almost certainly with the aim of presenting his institution as a place of sobriety which tempered the enforcement of high standards of conduct with humanity and mercy. Nonetheless, Gill had provided O'Brien with a factual narrative that deserved to stand as the authoritative account of Parnell's departure from Cambridge, and one that was certainly accessible in a widely available biography – although perhaps a more familiar presence on Irish shelves than those consulted by subsequent Fellows of Magdalene. Yet the evident reliability of the Gill / O'Brien evidence made little impact upon the tradition of transmitted tales. The one writer who claimed explicitly to have followed the standard biography, St John Ervine, in fact reordered the details to suit his own scenario. Neither Carolan McQuaid nor A.S. Ramsey showed any awareness that O'Brien's book even existed, understandable no doubt in the case of a Cambridge don, but incomprehensible in a soi-disant Irish nationalist who claimed to be writing his own Life of Parnell.

As for the original newspaper accounts, now half-fogotten in libraries, there is evidence that Carolan McQuaid consulted the Cambridge local press to establish that Parnell had been sued in a civil action, not prosecuted in a police court. Nonetheless, in his 1914 lecture he preferred to recount a dramatised and inaccurate version of the Station Road fight, probably culled from local legend and the responses to his appeal for information from Parnell's contemporaries three years earlier. In short, he preferred a folkloric account from unknown sources 42 years after the court case to journalists' reports published the following day. Not until 1969 was the Cambridge Chronicle consulted in an attempt to reconstruct the punches thrown on that May evening, while in 1975 the report in the Cambridge Independent Press was reprinted to provide the first documentary source that might allow readers to reach their own conclusions. 

The extracts quoted suggest that one of the strengths of the human memory is its ability to retain vivid detail although, over many decades, the cameos may sometimes become inaccurate or even entirely imaginary.  One quality that seems to be absent from all these accounts is the absence of self-criticism, of any attempt to interrogate the story, to ask whether events could really have unfolded in such an implausible way. The temptation of a good tale, the glamour of offering a unique slant upon a legendary episode, were incentives too tempting to put at risk through an injection of scepticism.[82] Michael Davitt and A.J. Kettle must surely have studied R. Barry O'Brien's biography in detail. Both were intensely serious personalities, but neither allowed his text to override with a good story. A related weakness of patchy recollection is that the narration of an episode will practically compel the invention of explanatory context. Thus Parnell was near the railway station when he became involved in the fight: therefore, he was on his way to catch a train. The case came to court: therefore, he was prosecuted before the local magistrates. The process becomes dangerously circular, with the persuasive but concocted detail adding to a vivid but utterly false impression of accuracy of evidence. It is clear, too, that some parts of this particular story were adjusted, maybe unconsciously, to suit the overall perceptions of the narrator. It seems that neither Davitt nor Kettle felt comfortable with the fact that Parnell had struck out at a sneering passer-by, still less at any implication that he might have aimed a punch at a pair of respectable citizens. Hence Davitt, the champion of the dignity of labour, converted them into "drunken drovers", while in Kettle's recollection they became "two swell students". Wilfrid Gill's definitive account may have faded into the background overall, but in one respect he too laundered the episode to the benefit of Parnell's memory: only one of the subsequent versions quoted, that of McQuaid, gave any hint that Parnell might have been drinking, and in that tale the young Wicklow squire testified to his sobriety by knocking out five of his traducer's teeth.  Of course, this assumption of sobriety made it all the more difficult to explain why Parnell should have decided to respond to a passing jeer by suddenly throwing a punch: there was a particularly abrupt transition in A.S. Ramsey's narration, in which the Magdalene undergraduate emerged from a reverie and violently assaulted an irritating stranger. The most obvious route around the difficulty was to depict Parnell as the victim of an attack. According to Davitt, he was "jostled off the footpath", while Kettle was sure that he had been "set upon". As ever, Ervine was the most unscrupulously imaginative of all: Parnell had "interposed" in a fracas that had already broken out, by implication a decent and a disinterested gesture since readers were given no clue to his responsibility for its origin.

No doubt, the conclusion is obvious enough: recollections and reconstructions pose notable challenges of interpretation for historians. It is important to guard against the temptation to select convenient details while rejecting the rest: incidents may be judged to possess the ring of truth for the subjective reason that they coincide with an overall personal interpretation. It may be that the shreds that are the most persuasive are also the scraps that add the least to the overall story. A.S. Ramsey probably did convey a genuine tradition that there were hedgerows in Cambridge's Station Road in 1869, but the detail tells us nothing about the encounter between Hamilton and Parnell. Carolan McQuaid may well have stumbled upon a minor revision of the events of that May evening when he stated that PC Carter caught up with the Magdalene revellers on Hills Road, but the point hardly modifies the overall narrative. Michael Davitt's account of Parnell reaching in his pocket to bribe the policeman but chancing upon the wrong coin is an attractive cameo that adds a vivid detail to a murky evening. However, precisely because the incident is so appealing, it may be no more than ben trovato – and it most certainly cannot support the moral which Davitt drew from it as a determinant of Parnell's future career. Moreover, if the content of multiple reminiscences compels sceptical analysis, it is all the more hazardous to construct large hypotheses upon a single unsupported testimony, especially one recorded long after the alleged event.[83] Overall, even if the tales of Parnell's departure from Cambridge may sometimes contain some transmitted grain of fact, collectively they probably tell us more about the imaginative process by which Parnell travelled from contemporary political threat to half-recollected folk hero. 


For a full list of material relating to Charles Stewart Parnell on martinalia, see

For a full list of material relating to the history of Magdalene College on martinalia, see

[1] The problem of interpretation is a particular problem in regard to memoirs, where historians have to take account of the personality of the author, the accuracy of memory and the possibility of editorial interference. Roy Foster has provided thoughtful discussions of three sources written by, or attributed to, witnesses close to Parnell. His brother John (Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memoir, 1914) was modest, faithful but not always accurate with dates. His sister Emily exaggerated her descriptions of the social scene, and was utterly fantastic in some of her stories, e.g. that Parnell was expelled from Cambridge for seducing a girl ("Daisy") and driving her to suicide. E. Dickinson, A Patriot's Mistake (Dublin, 1905), 50-9; R.F. Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and His Family (Hassocks, Sussex, 1979 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1975), 64-5, 119-20, 124-5 and passim. In using both sources, the challenge for historians is to avoid selecting convenient material and rejecting evidence that does not 'fit'. Of course, interpretations may be subjective: most students of Parnell regard his brother's memoirs as affectionate if occasionally bewildered, but Jane McL. Côté (Fanny and Anna Parnell… (Basingstoke, 1991), 47-8) thought them "streaked with malice". The most complex source is Charles Stewart Parnell: his Love Story and Political (2 vols, London, 1914) by his widow, Katharine Parnell, publishing as Katharine O'Shea. Through detailed analysis, Foster has demonstrated that the text operates at two levels: Katharine's wish to reveal the story of their private life was heavily overlain by the intervention of Gerard O'Shea, Captain O'Shea's unsavoury son, who sought to defend his father's memory. One bizarre result of this palimpsest is that there is no mention of the two daughters fathered by Parnell in 1883 and 1884. R.F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch … (London, 1995 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1993), ch. 7.

[2] Thus the memoirs of Andrew Kettle were published forty years after his death, while A.S. Ramsey in 1935 recounted a version of a story that he probably heard between 1897 and 1902.

[3] I have recently reviewed the episode in "The departure of Charles Stewart Parnell from Cambridge, 1869":

[4] "Edward Charles Hamilton: the person Parnell punched":

[5] Cambridge Independent Press, 22 May 1869. Also reprinted by Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and His Family, 320-2. The hospital referred to was Addenbrooke's. I have made some small presentational changes (e.g. in the use of capital letters) to the text, and added some clarifications to the compacted reporting in square brackets.

[6] R.M. McWade, The Uncrowned King: the Life and Public Services of Hon. Charles Stewart Parnell… [Philadelphia, 1891], 19-20.

[7] E.g. R. Barry O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (2 vols, London, 1898), i, 36.

[8] "Parnell at Cambridge: the shreds and patches of a 1914 lecture":

[9] For McWade, see:

[10] T.P. O'Connor and R.M. McWade, Gladstone, Parnell, and the Great Irish Struggle ... (Philadelphia, 1886).

[11] M.L. Jarrell, "'Jack and the Dane': Swift Traditions in Ireland", Journal of American Folklore, lxxvii (1964).

[12] Cambridge University Calendar, 1870, 412. Swift was alleged to have adapted the Church of Ireland service to begin "Dearly beloved Roger" when his servant was the sole member of his Sunday congregation. The Duke of Wellington quoted those words as he set foot in Magdalene in 1842.  "Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: the visit of the Duke of Wellington, 1842":

[13] T. Sherlock, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell… (Providence, RI, 1881), 66.

[14] The student careers of Lord Randolph Churchill and Henry Labouchere are discussed in "The departure of Charles Stewart Parnell from Cambridge, 1869": .

[15] T.P. O'Connor, Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memory (London, 1891), 21.

[16] Dictionary of National Biography, xliii (1895), 322-42, esp. 323.

[17] In urban Cork, Parnell's Latin tag might have been understood. More remarkable is that he had used an almost identical phrase at Castebar in Mayo eight years earlier. He also greeted William O'Brien on his internment in Kilmainham with a jocular Latin phrase.  F.S.L. Lyons, "The Political Ideas of Parnell", Historical Journal, xvi (1973), 759; W. O'Brien, The Parnell of Real Life (London, 1926), 32-3. When Justin McCarthy informed him of his plans to visit Greece, Parnell asked "with a kindly show of interest, whether Athens was considered a pleasant place in which to pass a holiday". McCarthy interpreted this as evidence that his leader knew nothing of the ancient world. In reality, Parnell had studied Greek literature as part of the Cambridge Pass degree curriculum (whatever that was worth) and was almost certainly making a politely ironic allusion to the fact that Greece was a very dangerous country. J. McCarthy, Reminiscences (2 vols, London, 1899), ii, 100.

[18] Paradoxically, for O'Connor, Parnell's allegedly poor performance at Cambridge became not something to be explained away, but rather a cornerstone of his interpretation of the Irish leader. "The strength of Parnell was character rather than intellect. But the more you say in depreciation of the intellectual side, the more you at the same time raise the estimate of his strength of character." O'Connor, Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memory, 221. As discussed below, Parnell's examination performance was mildly creditable. T.P. O'Connor himself was a distinguished graduate of Queen's College, Galway, where the student experience was very far from privileged.

[19] The Times, 28 June 1895. The Times, which had its own issues with the reporting of his life, thought it possible that "the author of a candid survey of Parnell's career might not wish to expose himself to possible hostility".

[20] The Times, 9 November 1895. There was, of course, no reason why O'Brien should anticipate the publication of his own biography and undermine his sales.

[21] Dictionary of National Biography, xliii, 341.

[22] One major anti-Home Rule propaganda organisation, the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, had merged into the wider Unionist body in 1891, but its archive was presumably still accessible.

[23] O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, i, 37-43. His schoolmistress described him "as quick, interesting to teach, very affectionate to those he loved (a few), reserved to others; therefore not a great favourite with his companions". The italicisation is added to indicate that the evidence suggests that Parnell's unpopularity was not his fault. In any case, he was the only boy at a school for girls, and his fellow pupils resented the intrusion.

[24] Wilfrid Austin Gill entered Magdalene in 1875 from Blackheath Proprietary School, an independent day school in the Kent suburbs of London with a strong for both academic and sporting success. (Gill referred without enthusiasm to Blackheath in his sole published work, a tribute to a schoolfriend.) His father was a clergyman who had taken an Oxford degree in his thirties. Gill rowed in the May Races of 1879, but managed to take First Class Honours in Classics that year, ranking 8th in the Tripos. He became a Fellow of Magdalene on graduation and was appointed Tutor in 1896. In 1893, he was elected to the ceremonial University office of Esquire Bedell. He also delivered lectures on ethics in London for the King's College Lectures for Ladies programme.  He corresponded with John Addington Symonds about Cracroft's poetry. A clergyman and a bachelor, he died at Lugano in Switzerland in December 1899. An obituary referred to "a large circle of friends" and the 1904 history of Magdalene regretted his early death, noting that he "seemed to have a brilliant career before him". It is likely that he died of tuberculosis. His first name was sometimes spelt "Wilfred", but he seems to have been "Wilfrid". W.A. Gill, Edward Cracroft Lefroy, his Life and Poems (London, 1897), 5; Cambridge Independent Press, 15 December 1899; E.K. Purnell, Magdalene College (London, 1904), 197.

[25] He rendered G.F. Pattrick, who taught Parnell mathematics, as "Patrick" (a pardonable unconscious error in an Irish writer), and Harston as "Harestone".

[26] O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, i, 42-3.

[27] Pattrick "used often to describe how Parnell, when he had been given the ordinary solution of a problem, would generally set about to find whether it could not be solved equally well by some other method. On one occasion, after the college gates were closed, there being some town and gown commotion in the street outside, Parnell ran up to Mr Patrick as he was going to ascertain the cause, exclaiming : 'Sir, do let me go out to protect you.'" O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, i, 41. The cameo suggests that Parnell may have been involved in other fights with locals.

[28] O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, i, 40-1; A.F.J. Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton (London, 1911), 251. Pattrick had died in 1896: the Cambridge alumni database Venn ACAD states that ""he was taken ill while dining with the Master of Trinity Hall, and expired in a few minutes".

[29] There was an unfounded rumour in Cambridge that Neville had cut Parnell's name from the list of members of Magdalene. Magdalene College Archives, E/A/2/4, J.W. Clark to S.A. Donaldson, 8 March 1906.

[30] Latimer Neville insisted on formality in his dealings with Fellows. He required them to wear academical dress (mortar board and gown) when calling upon him. Although his predecessor had moved out of First Court into a separate Master's Lodge in 1837, it remained the custom to close the College gates when he was absent, limiting access through the smaller wicket gate cut into the timbers. Magdalene College Archives, A.S. Ramsey, "Bygone Days at Magdalene", (undated typescript), 24; Magdalene College Magazine, March 1910, 67. 

[31] It is possible that a press cutting reporting the case had been preserved in Magdalene. If so, it did not emerge in 1906 when Henry Parnell wrote to the College requesting a contradiction of the Daisy story. In that era, Magdalene did not keep individual student files.

[32] P. Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994), 214-19 (by R. Hyam).

[33] Until the republication of the Cambridge Independent Press report in 1975 by Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and His Family, 320-2. The tale of Parnell's rustication, accurately reported for the first time by Gill and O'Brien, made little impact on overall assessments of his career. The Pall Mall Gazette, Liberal and pro-Home Rule, simply commented: "He went to Cambridge, but he was sent down on account of a trivial street brawl, in which he does not appear to have been to blame, and he took no degree." The Freeman's Journal, which had broken with Parnell during the Split, also played down the episode: "That sending down has, it would appear, been grossly exaggerated. It really involved only a fortnight's rustication had Parnell wished to return to Cambridge." Even the arch-Conservative Standard passed on the opportunity to demonise its old enemy: "After a brief and not very pleasant experience of Cambridge, he was rusticated for taking part in a street row." All three comments were published on 10 November 1898.

[34] 'Cantab' in a London newspaper, probably the Daily Chronicle, quoted Cambridge Independent Press, 15 January 1904.

[35] "The Cambridge Academic Record of Charles Stewart Parnell": Of 503 candidates, 362 passed in the First Class. Parnell did not attempt the optional Additional Subjects, intended for those planning to proceed to Honours. He may therefore be regarded as an above-average but not an exceptional student. He went on to pass the second-year Ordinary Examination in June 1867.

[36] Cambridge Chronicle, 2 June 1866. Queensberry had married in February 1866. Their names might have been linked because Queensberry's mother, Caroline, the dowager Marchioness, was a Fenian sympathiser. However, like Parnell, Queensberry seems to have had little contact with his mother. He sat in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer from 1872 to 1880, but took little part in politics. F. Clarke, "Douglas, Caroline Margaret", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[37] M. Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland: or The Story of the Land League Revolution (London 1904), 107.

[38] F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1978 ed., cf 1st ed. 1977), 73-4, 105; T.W. Moody, Davitt and the Irish Revolution 1846-82 (Oxford, 1982), 206-8; L. Marley, Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur (Dublin, 2010), 67-74. For a general view of the relationship between the two, P. Bew, "Parnell and Davitt", in D.G. Boyce and A. O'Day, eds, Parnell in Perspective (London, 1991), 38-51.

[39] "Parnell at Cambridge: the Education of an Irish Nationalist", Irish Historical Studies, xix (1974), 81-2; O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, i, 41.

[40] Moody, Davitt and the Irish Revolution 1846-82, 550.

[41] Marley, Michael Davitt: Freelance Radical and Frondeur, 288.

[42] I have reviewed this strange saga in "Charles Stewart Parnell, Cambridge University and the fable of Daisy":

[43] Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 306-7. Callan was MP first for Dundalk and then for County Louth, 1874-1885, and was contesting the new constituency of North Louth. Parnell regarded him with implacable hostility, alleging that he was disloyal and unreliable, although Callan's real offence may have been an outspoken interest in Parnell's relationship with the O'Sheas.

[44] A.J. Kettle (ed.  L.J. Kettle), The Material for Victory: the Memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle (Dublin, 1958), 68-9. Desmond McCabe warns that Kettle's memoirs are "somewhat egocentric": D. McCabe, "Kettle, Andrew Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography:

[45] Cambridge Independent Press, 22 May 1914, discussed in "Parnell at Cambridge: the shreds and patches of a 1914 lecture":

[46] E.g. Manchester Guardian, 9 July: Irish Times, 1, 9 September 1914.

[47] McQuaid delivered his lecture shortly before the publication of Charles Stewart Parnell: his Life and Loves by the former Katharine O'Shea. Her book made no mention of his time at Cambridge.

[48] J.H. Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memoir, 54.

[49] P.M. Geoghegan, "Parnell, John Howard", Dictionary of Irish Biography: John Parnell mentioned his studies at the School of Mining in Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memoir, 45, but it not clear when he was there.

[50] Cambridge Independent Press, 9 March 1906, quoting H.T. Parnell to editor Daily News (5 March 1906); Magdalene College Archives, E/A/2/4, H.T. Parnell to Donaldson, 22 February 1906.

[51] Ervine, Parnell, 73.

[52] A. Lothian, "Plays and Novels of St John Ervine", North American Review, ccxv (1922), 644-58. When not irritating the reader with stage brogue, Ervine's characters were "primarily instruments in the orchestra of clever talk".

[53]  An admiring reviewer in Australia gushed that "few novelists would be able to conceive so daring and dramatic a plot, and fewer still would have the boldness to express it". As a contribution to Parnell biography, that was precisely the problem. Sydney Mail, 19 August 1925, via the National Library of Australia's Trove online newspaper archive.

[54] St J. Ervine, Parnell (London, 1928 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1925), 160.

[55] Ervine, Parnell, unpaginated preface; P. Maume, "Ervine, St John Greer", Dictionary of Irish Biography: In one sense, Ervine was unlucky to publish in 1925, since a number of important works by contemporaries (Henry Harrison, Tim Healy, William O'Brien, Alfred Robbins, Swift MacNeill) would appear within the next few years. His chief personal informants were John Howard Parnell's widow and Alfred Tudor MacDermott, Parnell's nephew, whose sole contribution to the saga had been to horsewhip Healy for calling Katharine "a proved British prostitute". Neither could have said much about Parnell's early life.

[56] In Joan Haslip's 1936 biography, Parnell, 30-1, there were also "two drunken men sitting on the roadside", although one of them, allegedly, was Parnell himself.

[57] Barry O'Brien's book had been reissued in a pocket-sized popular edition, with an Introduction by John Redmond that implicitly drew a line under the Split two decades earlier. Ervine's biography had a further existence when it was reissued as a Penguin paperback in 1944.

[58] Ironically, Parnell was mentioned in the obituary of a contemporary, Robert Neville-Grenville, the last member of the Class of 1865, who had attempted to extort a Boat Club subscription by attacking him in Second Court .

[59] A.S. Ramsey, Magdalene College Magazine, 1935, 253.

[60] Ramsey was an example of a new type of Cambridge don, married (in 1902) and with a family to support. To supplement his income (his Fellowship dividend was not lavish), he wrote mathematics textbooks for schools, which sold well. His son, Michael Ramsey, who became Archbishop of Canterbury, met Eamon de Valera while visiting Dublin in 1967. Like Parnell, de Valera had studied mathematics at college. The Primate "was excited to find that De Valera was educated on his father’s mathematical textbooks". O. Chadwick, Michael Ramsey: a Life (Oxford, 1991), 199.

[61] Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988, 217-18, 228-9; D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise. A.C. Benson: the Diarist (London, 1908), 154. The Times (3 January 1955) headed its obituary of Ramsey, "The Resurgence of Magdalene College, Cambridge", and stressed the importance of the offices that he held. While noting the importance of the Donaldson-Benson partnership in reviving the institution, the obituary emphasised that "it was the inflexible austerity of the bursar and the tutor's discipline that enabled the resurgence to take place". As Magdalene historian Ronald Hyam commented: "The College owes him a lot." A Congregationalist and a product of Batley Grammar School, he was passed over for the Mastership by the Visitor, Lord Braybrooke, in 1925 in favour of an Eton schoolmaster, A.B. Ramsay, a disastrous choice.  When news of the appointment of his near-namesake spread by word of mouth, he received letters of congratulation on what most Cambridge people assumed the obvious outcome.

[62] A.F.J. Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton (London, 1921), 133-5 for Newton's election to the Chair. In 1874, Newton described himself as "one of the worst of lecturers" (150). I have criticised the unfairness of Benson's portrayal of Newton in "A.C. Benson and Cambridge: II, 1885-1925":

[63] S. O'Grady, The Story of Ireland (London, 1894), 207-8; O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell 1846-1891, i, 52-3; Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the Man and His Family, 114-16.

[64] In August 1868, Parnell played for "Lord Fitzwilliam's Twenty-Two" against the gentlemanly English touring club, I Zingari, scoring 0 and 17. In July 1870, he opened the batting for South Wicklow, scoring 24 against North Wicklow in a drawn match. He did not play for the Wicklow XI that took on a team representing Coollattin in the summer of 1871. I have not traced any subsequent report, but there is a gap in the files of the Wicklow News-Letter between May 1873 and June 1874. Unfortunately, this covers Parnell's first two election campaigns as well as most of two cricket seasons. The website of the Wicklow County Cricket Club ( indicates that the name is of recent origin. The website mentions a match played by a team from Bray sometime in the 1860s at Avondale, against a team captained by Parnell. This was probably the match described by Robert Kee in The Laurel and the Ivy ... (London, 1993), 24, in which Parnell scored 14 for South Wicklow: as he was only 18, it is unlikely that he was the team captain. His sister, Emily Dickinson, spun a tale of a three-day cricket match at Avondale, apparently soon after Parnell came of age in 1867, between a Wicklow XI and a team of officers from the Dublin garrison. In this account, Parnell – presumably captaining Wicklow – came down heavily on players from both teams who were allegedly leaving the field to engage in courtship rituals in nearby woodlands. Much of this is (as usual from the source) fantasy – a three-day match was in itself unlikely – but it may contain echoes of cricket festivals on the estate. Wicklow News-Letter, 29 August 1868; 30 July 1870; 2 September 1871; Dickinson, A Patriot's Mistake, 65-78; Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy, 23-5 reports Parnell playing in other matches in the 1860s, but there is some confusion with Parnell's namesake, Captain William Parnell (a second cousin), who played for I Zingari.

[65] "Parnell at Cambridge: the Education of an Irish Nationalist", 76n. Parnell was picked as part of the team against Peterhouse on 7 June 1867. The College XI had played at Bottisham the previous day, and 5 members of the team that day dropped out. Two weeks earlier, Magdalene had taken to the field one man short. Parnell seems to have been neither an obvious nor a popular choice. Ramsey had played cricket for Magdalene as an undergraduate in 1890. To mark the team's success, he received an invitation to breakfast by the Master "but I was unable to accept it as the breakfast clashed with a Tripos examination". Latimer Neville showed a strange lack of awareness of the academic timetable. Perhaps Ramsey heard the legend of the team's Parnell-led visit to Dublin during his own undergraduate cricketing career, but it is curious that he should have given it any credence.  A.S. Ramsey, "Bygone Days at Magdalene, 8. In the 1920s, Ramsey clashed with Benson when the latter allowed an undergraduate leave of absence during the Easter Term to play county cricket. D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise… (London, 19080), 371.

[66] Magdalene College Archives, E/A/2/4, Newton to Donaldson, 25 February, commenting on H.T. Parnell to Donaldson, 22 February 1906.

[67] The Times, 26 March (letter from Newton, dated 25 March); parliamentary reports passim, esp. 5, 11 May, 2 June 1869.

[68] Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton, 245 (letter of 6 June 1869).  Newton was critical of the leadership of the Cambridge campaign against disestablishment, notably E.H. Perowne of Corpus. He relished a verse circulated by opponents: Teddy Perowne is gone to his own / He is gone to his own in a chariot / On a fizzing hot plate he is sitting in state / With Pilate and Judas Iscariot." The historian G.C. Coulton, who was at St Catharine's in the 1870s, recalled the verse as an undergraduate riposte to Perowne's enthusiastic enforcement of regulations while a Proctor. Seventy years later, A.S. Gow of Trinity related that a student who was unable to tackle any of the questions in an examination submitted the ditty in lieu of answers. Gow subsequently admitted that "this story, like many another had been polished up before it reached me". G.C. Coulton, Fourscore Years: an Autobiography (Cambridge, 1943), 95; A.S.F. Gow, Letters from Cambridge, 1939-1944 (London, 1945), 195-221.

[69] A.C. Benson, The Leaves of the Tree... (London, 1910), 200-1.

[70] Wollaston, Life of Alfred Newton, 262. Dining on Magdalene High Table c. 1900 with Newton and Latimer Neville, Wollaston "began to have doubts about his own sobriety" as the two veterans "talked of the Bedchamber Plot as of an affair of yesterday". Wollaston, who was a surgeon and an explorer and not a historian, was probably referring to the Bedchamber Crisis of 1839, when Queen Victoria blocked Sir Robert Peel from taking office by refusing to allow him to make Court appointments.

[71] Magdalene College Archives, E/A/2/4, Newton to Donaldson, 25 February 1906. A.G. Peskett, Magdalene's Classics don, confirmed the tradition: "I came up in October 1870, and have been in constant residence since…. I always understood that Mr Parnell's conduct at this college was perfectly correct, except for this assault committed under some real or imagined provocation". Peskett to Donaldson, 24 February 1906.

[72] Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988, 215-18 (Ronald Hyam).

[73] Ramsey, "Bygone Days at Magdalene", 25, 26, 32, 41. Ramsey's memoirs are undated, but clearly written many years after the events described.

[74] The ripple gained momentum a decade later: Talbot Peel, elected a Fellow in 1909, was an active Methodist, F.R. Salter, recruited from Trinity in 1910, remained faithful to the Congregational Church.

[75] Emmanuel Congregational Church was a prominent building in Trumpington Street. It became Emmanuel Reformed Church in 1972, and the building was sold to Pembroke College in 2018. It had no connection with Emmanuel College.

[76] Cambridge Independent Press, 19 December 1913; O. Chadwick, Michael Ramsey: a Life (Oxford, 1991), 4-17. On Votes for Women and neutrality, he collaborated with a young Trinity don, Bertrand Russell.

[77] I have traced the decline of opposition to Irish Home Rule in the debates of the Cambridge Union after 1900: "Ireland in the New Century":

[78] The statue had been completed in 1906, but (Irish) public apathy delayed its erection until the eve of the Third Home Rule bill. The work of an American sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who had never seen Parnell, it depicts him orating with a dramatically raised arm, as if attempting to hail an O'Connell Street taxi. In fact, Parnell internalised the tensions he experienced speaking in public by keeping his arms rigidly to his sides. The statue was Parnell as symbol, not Parnell as person:

[79] The Times, 3 January 1955; Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988, 288 (quoted by Ronald Hyam).

[80] K. Rose, King George V (London, 1984 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1983), 242.

[81] Cunich, et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988, 245-6, entertainingly described by Richard Luckett and Ronald Hyam in "Empson and the Engines of Love", Magdalene College Magazine and Record, xxxv (1990-1), 33-40, and see the Note by Jane Hughes: Four decades later, Magdalene elected Empson to an Honorary Fellowship.

[82] But the process can, occasionally, be taken too far in the other direction. A third of a century after the purported episode, A.S.F. Gow, a Fellow of Trinity, came to doubt that he had once seen the carcase of a wallaby displayed in the window of a Cambridge butcher's shop, on its way to the Magdalene kitchens. The irony is that he probably did witness this unusual item, for it was indeed served at Magdalene High Table in May 1910. "Magdalene College Cambridge Notes: was jugged wallaby served at High Table?":

[83] On this point, see "Did Parnell swear the IRB oath?: a sceptical review":