In Lunacy of Potterton

U 10.625-7: An elderly female, no more young, left the building of the courts of chancery, king's bench, exchequer and common pleas, having heard in the lord chancellor's court the case in lunacy of Potterton...

Joyce used as his source for this paragraph1 the Freeman’s Journal for 16 June 1904 where it was reported under ‘Law Intelligence...Law Notices This Day’ that the Lord Chancellor, sitting in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division “Before the Registrar - 11.30 o’clock’ would hear ‘In Lunacy' the case of one Potterton 'of unsound mind, [...] summons; [...] vouch account'.

Before turning to the identity of the Potterton 'of unsound mind’, the ‘Law Intelligence’, as reported in the Freeman’s Journal, needs to be explained. In the first instance ‘the elderly female no more young’ who had witnessed the case is likely to have attended the formal summons of the party or parties to the case, and to have heard or even contributed to vouching [i.e. assuring the court of the accuracy of] the account. The proceedings are likely to have been routine and very dull. As to the wording of the listing, it would indicate that Potterton’s status as a lunatic had already been established at some earlier date.

At this time (and for centuries earlier) the care, commitment and custody of those who had been confirmed as lunatic (sometimes referred to as ‘Chancery lunatics’) was entrusted to the Lord Chancellor. Persons ‘found idiot, lunatic or of unsound mind’ were brought to the Lord Chancellor’s attention, generally by relatives, with a view to securing the proper administration of the lunatic’s property. Having satisfied himself that the person was not of sound mind, the Lord Chancellor would commit the custody of the lunatic and his estate to a suitable person or persons (called ‘Committees’); and the Committee was supposed to submit accounts annually to the Chancery Master.

As is well known, the Irish court records, together with many other historic documents, were lost with the burning of the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922. And so the record of the sitting in the Lord Chancellor’s Court on 16 June 1904 no longer exists and the identity of the lunatic Potterton, or the circumstances of the case, are as a result elusive. But, by extraordinary good fortune, some records of the Chancery Court, notably ‘Commissions and Inquisitions of Lunacy’, do survive in the National Archives in London and among them is the ‘exemplification of a declaration of lunacy’ dated ‘Dublin 19 April 1890’, signed by the Registrar in Lunacy (J. M. Colles), and pertaining to one Robert Potterton.2

The declaration states that, on the basis of a report by one of the ‘Medical Visitors’ and affidavits filed by Harford Kelly, Spencer Kelly and James Nolan, and in the absence of Robert Potterton demanding ‘an Inquiry before a Jury, His Lordship is pleased to declare the said Robert Potterton to be of unsound mind and incapable of managing his person or property’. By the same document the Chancellor ordered Harford Kelly – a solicitor – to ‘file in the Office of the Registrar in Lunacy a Statement of Facts...and proposals for the management of the person and property of the Lunatic.’3 These ‘facts’ and ‘proposals’ included, inter alia, the estimated value of Robert Potterton’s fortune and the amount of his income; the manner and expense of his maintenance; and the nature of the costs to be paid out of his estate. Harford Kelly was also ordered to state ‘who is the most fit person to be appointed the Committee of (Potterton’s) person and of his estate’. A paragraph appended to this document, also signed by the Registrar in Lunacy, is dated 13 February 1891 and declares that William James Roe of 29 Kildare Street Dublin had been appointed ‘Committee’ of Potterton’s affairs.4

Who was Robert Potterton? What was the extent of his estate and why did it need to be protected by having him declared a lunatic? Who were these Kellys who moved to have him so declared? And why, when the matter was settled in 1890, did the case come before the Court again on Bloomsday in 1904?

Robert Potterton (1823-1901) was one of the twelve children – eight sons and four daughters – of Thomas and Eleanor (née Hinds) Potterton of Balatalion, Kildalkey, County Meath.5 The evidence is that the family were all very clever and in this Robert was no exception. He was born on 10 July 1823, baptised in Athboy, and educated at Bannow Grammar School in Wexford. He matriculated to Trinity, Dublin at the age of nineteen in May 1842 but did not graduate BA until Spring 1853.6 Like his brother Frederic, he probably worked his way through Trinity by teaching at Bannow and this would account for his long period as an undergraduate. Immediately upon graduation, he became a school inspector and, as such, was ‘in temporary charge’ at Trim, County Meath in 1854 and, later the same year, appointed (briefly) District Inspector in Dunmanway, County Cork.7 Subsequently he was District Inspector in Loughrea, Sligo, Tipperary, Ennis, Limerick8 and finally (1873-80) Armagh.9

On 20 February 1855, Robert’s eldest brother William (1816-96) married, in St Mary’s, Dublin, Sarah Mainwaring Waldron of Ashfort, County Roscommon.10 Sarah’s parents were both dead by this date (her father was murdered in 184811) and Sarah’s dowry was a sizeable farm at Carrowkeele, Roscommon.12 That same year, on 22 August, Robert Potterton married – also in St Mary’s – Sarah’s older sister, Mary Kelly Waldron.13 Mary’s dowry was also a farm, two hundred and sixty eight English acres at Annaduff in neighbouring County Leitrim.14

Although Robert’s older brother, William, and his wife, Sarah Waldron, were to have nine children, Robert and Mary would have none. Robert was studious by nature. Subsequent to his marriage, and in company with his brother, Rev. Frederic Potterton (1826-1912),15 he studied law at Trinity and graduated with a doctorate in 1864. He was also of a literary bent: he wrote what were called rhymes and would boast that ‘given a dictionary and a grammar, he could write a letter in any language’.16 His Inspector’s Reports are sometimes florid: ‘I may just observe that in no instance did the intimation of official displeasure exceed a mere reprimand for the past and admonition for the future’.

The first hint that Robert may have been ‘too clever’ comes in 1871 when he was only forty-eight. That year, he was absent through illness for seven months from his post as District Inspector in Limerick. Then, from 1874 until 1876 (when he became District Inspector in Armagh) he was absent altogether. Further evidence that he may have had problems is provided by a deed of 1877.17 It records that his brother, William, acting as a trustee of Robert and Mary’s marriage settlement, took over the lease of the farm at Annaduff.

Although listed in a deed of April 1880 as "of Armagh", Robert was by this time actually in Dublin. On 7 March 1880, his wife Mary had him committed to the private mental hospital that was Hampstead, Drumcondra while she herself took up residence nearby at Alpine Lodge, Glasnevin.18 Robert, aged fifty-seven at the time, was to remain in Hampstead until his death twenty-one years later.

Hampstead, Drumcondra was a private mental hospital established by the Quaker John Eustace in 1825. In Robert’s time it was presided over by his descendant, Dr Henry Eustace, and, coincidentally, it was known to Joyce: Bloom had "recently escaped from Dr Eustace’s private asylum for demented gentlemen" (U 15.1776-7). The asylum is still in existence, still in the hands of the Eustace family, and its records, including Robert’s admission and death records, still survive.19 Robert died aged seventy-eight, of acute bronchitis, at Hampstead on 13 March 1901 and was attended at death by Dr Henry M Eustace.20 He is buried in St James’s Churchyard, Athboy.

Potterton, as one of eight sons, was not wealthy although he had some property of his own: a farm of one hundred and twenty acres at Clonevoran, Clonmellon; seventeen acres at Rathbrack, Fore County Westmeath; a plot of land at Emmett Place, Limerick.21 His main fortune, however, was the farm of Annaduff and Backwood on the Leitrim-Roscommon border which had been the dowry of his wife. Held on a long lease from the Bishopric of Armagh, it was that property, his wife’s inheritance, which in all probability caused Robert to be formally declared a lunatic incapable of managing his own affairs; and that must also have been the reason why Robert’s case was brought to the Lord Chancellor’s Court by his wife’s relatives, the Kellys,22 rather than by Robert’s own brothers.

The hearing on 16 June 1904, three years after Robert’s death, was most likely held in order to satisfy the Court as to debts discharged and changed circumstances occasioned by Robert’s demise: no more than that. Five years later, on 5 July 1909, following the death of Robert’s widow the case came before the Court again, and probably for the same reason.23

Mary lived on, at various Dublin addresses, for another seven years after the death of Robert and she died on 5 May 1908. She also is buried in Athboy. At the time of the 1901 Census, described as a seventy-seven year old widow, she was living at Cambridge Place, Kingstown. For her ‘occupation’ she declared ‘Dividends’. So it would seem that, apart from the farm at Annaduff which was the subject of her marriage settlement, Mary had additional wealth in the form of securities. All the more reason, therefore, that she would want to be ‘protected’ by having her husband declared a lunatic. She made her will on 19 February 1902 and bequeathed everything to her nephew William Potterton, the son of her sister Sarah and brother-in-law William. Her estate came to £11,690, a figure equivalent maybe to several million today.24

If fact is mingled with fiction, Robert Potterton and Leopold Bloom, both "demented", could have known each other in

Hampstead and, as to Mary, she might have been "the elderly female, no more young" whom Bloom spied leaving the Chancery Court on 16 June 1904.

Homan Potterton


1 Don Gifford & Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated (1988), p. 272.

2 National Archives, Kew, C211/57. Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Commissions and inquisitions. The case of ʻR Potterton, an alleged lunaticʼ is listed under ʻLaw Noticesʼ published in the Freemanʼs Journal on 19 April 1890.

3 Unfortunately the ‘Statement of Facts and Proposal’ is not filed with the Exemplification and has not been traced, but, as reported in the Freeman’s Journal on 14 June 1890, the case came before the Lord Chancellor again two months later when it was listed as ‘R Potterton, a lunatic, ex parte Kelly, on notice’.

4 By coincidence, later in the same episode Joyce mentions a lawyer, Dudley White, whose practice was at 29 Kildare Street in 1904. Brian McMahon, James Joyce’s Legal Dublin (2005).

5 H. Potterton, Potterton People and Places: three centuries of an Irish family (2006), pp. 48, 99, 121.

6 G. D. Burtchaell & T. U. Sadleir, Alumni Dublinensis (1935), p. 676. His (school)teacher is listed as ‘Mr James’. William James was headmaster at Bannow.

7 Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, 21st Report (1854).

8 In Limerick (1866-c.1875) he lived at Craig Cottage, now called Cragfield Villa on the N. Circular Road.

9 His moves are documented by the Annual Reports of Commissioners of National Education in Ireland.

10 Freeman’s Journal, 23 February 1855. See Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland under ‘Waldron-Hamilton of Ashfort House’.

11 Freeman’s Journal, 28 January 1848.

12 Marriage Settlement, dated 19 February 1855, between William Potterton and Sarah Waldron. Registry of Deeds, Dublin, ref. 1855/7/55.

13 Freeman’s Journal, 24 August 1855.

14 Marriage Settlement, dated 21 August 1855, between Robert Potterton and Mary Kelly Waldron. Registry of Deeds, Dublin, ref. 1855/23/76.

15 Ordained in 1856, LL.D in 1864, he was subsequently Rector of Longford and Dean of Ardagh, see H. Potterton, ‘Tutor to the Edgeworths: Rev Frederic Potterton’, Teathbha, Journal of the Longford Historical Society, vol 3, no. 4 (2011).

16 Information from his great-niece, the late Mona Potterton.

17 Dated 27 March and referred to in a later deed, Registry of Deeds, Dublin, ref. 1880/2/44.

18 The deed, Registry of Deeds, Dublin, ref. 1880/27/12, refers to Robert’s sale of a plot of land in Limerick. Mary described herself in her will (see note 24) as ‘formerly of Alpine Lodge, Glasnevin’.

19 I am indebted to Dr Denis Eustace for providing me with a copy of Robert’s admission and death record. For a history of the hospital see

20 Death record, General Register Office, District of Finglas & Glasnevin, North Dublin.

21 All these properties are documented by deeds in the Registry of Deeds, Dublin, refs. 1889/13/161, 1888/49/149, 1880/27/12.

22 Harford and Spencer Kelly, like Mary Kelly Potterton, belonged to branches of the Kelly of Glencara family. See Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland.

23 Irish Independent, 5 July 1909.

24 Her will and probate is in the National Archives, Dublin, ref. T17330 A & B.

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