17 March 2015

Jewel History: Dublin Crown Jewel Case (1912)

"Dublin Crown Jewel Case"
(originally appeared in the New York Times on 24 Nov 1912)

London, Nov. 7 -- The Scotland Yard authorities, acting in conjunction with the police abroad, have caused the arrest of Francis Richard Shackleton, the brother of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous antarctic explorer. The warrant was issued some time ago at the instigation of Sir Charles Mathews, the public prosecutor, and, although it concerns the bankruptcy proceedings in the case of Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, and Mr. Shackleton's management of the latter's estate, it is said at Scotland Yard that his examination is likely to shed light on the mysterious disappearance of the Dublin Castle crown jewels [1], which created so much excitement five years ago. Ever since the spring of 1908, Mr. Shackleton has been on the continent under surveillance of Scotland Yard.

It will be recalled that in October 1907, when preparations were being made to invest Lord Castletown  as a Knight of St. Patrick [2], it was discovered that the regalia of the order was missing. The jewels have an intrinsic value of $250,000, but their sentimental value was incalculable.

Sir Arthur Vicars (source)

They were kept in the safe at the castle, in the office of Sir Arthur Vicars [3] as Master at Arms. This safe was at the right of the entrance to his private quarters, and the room was usually occupied in the daytime by two clerks and carefully locked at night. For no particular reason, except possibly due to the fact that it contained an antiquated safe locked with a complicated and large key, the apartment was known as the "strong room."

The jewels in question had been kept in this place for more than 200 years [4]. The discovery of the theft, which was kept secret for several months at the request of the police, caused a postponement of the ceremony, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland called for the resignation of Sir Arthur as Master at Arms on the grounds that he had not taken proper precautions for the safety of the valuables.

Police illustration of the stolen insignia (source)

Sir Arthur refused to resign, demanded a court of inquiry, and selected Timothy Healy, a Member of Parliament of the Nationalist Party, as his counsel, and has ever since been appealing for vindication. At the time, Francis Richard Shackleton was connected with Sir Arthur in certain business transactions, for the latter, besides being a collector of Irish curios, is the editor of "Lodge's Peerage," a work relating exclusively to the Irish nobility. Mr. Shackleton also did much research work at the Castle among the documents kept in the South Tower [5].

In re-examination during the hearing of this remarkable case, Mr. Shackleton declared that he was in no way connected with the disappearance of the Dublin crown jewels, and the Vice Regal Commission appointed to inquire into the matter reported that there was no evidence whatever before them that he was the person who stole the jewels.

Mr. Shackleton was examined at great length before the commission, which inquired in 1908 into the sensational disappearance of the crown jewels. He declared that he never had a key of the strong room in which the jewels were kept, but frequently went to the strong room, though never having access to the safe. During the period of his official connection with Dublin Castle, he had indulged in various financial transactions.

In the course of his evidence, he told a remarkable story about a clairvoyance seance he took part in at the Irish Exchange with Sir Arthur, when an attempt was made by a lady seer to "sense" the whereabouts of the lost jewels. Over and over again, Mr. Shackleton declared that he had not the slightest idea as to the theft of the jewels, though suspicion had been thrown upon him.

"Did you or did you not take the jewels?" asked the Solicitor General.

"I did not take them. I know nothing of the disappearance. I have no suspicion of anybody!" was the reply.

"Were you concerned directly or indirectly with their taking?"

"No, I know that I am suspected, because I traveled from Paris to Italy about the end of the year. I had gone out there on business." [6]

1. The "Irish crown jewels" were the badge and star of the sovereign's regalia of the Order of St. Patrick. The badge and the star were made in 1831, during the reign of William IV, and were set with diamonds that had belonged to George III and Queen Charlotte. The pieces were also set with emeralds and rubies.
2. King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were headed to Ireland to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, as a knight of the order. (More about the Order of St. Patrick here.) Four days before the royal visit, it was discovered that the diamond badge and star of the sovereign's regalia were missing from the safe. The king was furious, and the investiture ceremony had to be postponed.
3. Vicars was a genealogist and an expert in heraldry. He had been appointed to the position of Ulster King of Arms, Herald of All Ireland in 1893 and was knighted in 1896. As the keeper of the keys to the safe where the stolen regalia had been stored, he was naturally a primary suspect in their disappearance.
4. The BBC suggests that this is untrue; the jewels had been stored in a bank vault until 1903, when they were moved to a safe in Dublin Castle.
5. Shackleton was the Dublin Herald at the time of the disappearance, one of two deputies of the Ulster King of Arms. The other, the Cork Herald, was Pierce Gun Mahony; he was also Vicars's nephew.
6. The jewels have never been recovered. Vicars was forced to resign, having been found negligent in his responsibilities. He directly implicated Shackleton in the theft, but Shackleton was ultimately exonerated by the commission. Historians have posited numerous theories about their disappearance. Some have suggested that Vicars and Shackleton were both a part of a circle of prominent gay men who used the office at the castle for parties, leaving the jewels vulnerable. But this period of Irish history is also one of complicated and dangerous politics, and it's also been suggested that the theft may have been a part of a political conspiracy. All three of the most prominent men running the Office of Arms at the time of the theft met tragic fates. Vicars was killed by the IRA in 1921. Shackleton was arrested for fraud in a different case in 1913, and he was so humiliated by his conviction that he changed his surname after he was released from prison. Mahony drowned in 1914.