This house tells the intriguing story of eccentricity, art, drama, abduction, forceful marriage, death by hanging and transportation
I came upon this house when researching the well-known Cork Architect – Abraham Hargrave and got caught up in the urgency of this endangered and neglected house.
This house made me curios about the people who lived there…..and what a story!…….it starts with Attiwell Hayes
(nicknamed -Atty ) A prosperous Cork City Merchant involved in brewery, milling and glass works in the late eighteenth century. He owned the Glasswork’s Company in Hanover street. With the first Glass house in Cork, this business continued until 1818. He also owned the Lee Mills, water powered flour mills on the North Cannel of the Lee. On the 11’th October 1760 Attiwell , married Mary Catherina Browne.They had at least five children, his eldest son Henry Browne born in 1761, a younger son Attiwell, a daughter who married John Hanning of Kilcrone, Anne who married Daniel McCarthy of Lakeview and a third unmarried daughter.
Attiwell was a short, eccentric and colourful character. His best remembered exploits was when he arrived at a masquerade ball seated in a small state-chariot, drawn by his goat whose white beard swept the floor. He drove into the ballroom at a full tilt, butting the assembled company left and right with his magnificent curved horns.
Atty kept the goat as a pet and it reached such old age that the phrase “as old as Atty Hayes goat” became a local saying. (This saying was still used up to the 60’s) It was also said that he named his daughter Mary Smary Hayes.
Sir Henry Brown Hayes (1762- 1832) Eldest son of Attiwell
At 22 Henry became aLieutenant in the South Cork militia, also that year he was made a Freeman of Cork. And on 19 May 1783 he married Elizabeth Smyth from Ballinatrea near Youghal. Elizabeth was blind in one eye. No marriage settlement was registered but the newspaper announced the event, mentioning that the bride possessed “a considerable fortune”.
It is not clear when the estate of Vernon Mount near Douglas was acquired, some say that Henry had the house built-in 1780 and others that Attiwell build it for himself but with the death of his wife Mary decided to rather lease the property to his son. But in December 1785 Henry and his wife were residence in this lovely house (full details of house given later)
In 1790 he was both made a Sheriff of Cork City and Knighted after dinner with the Lord Lieutenant. The meal and entertainment were kindly paid for by local taxpayers. And according to a Council book entry of 14/10/1790, it cost the Corporation 250 pounds (10,000 pounds in today’s figures).
Things were going well for Henry. But in 1794 his wife died in Youghal, leaving him with 4 children: Attiwell born in 1786, and three daughters Mary, Penelope and Elizabeth. Sir Henry was fond of pleasure and liking to “cut a fine dash” and so he probably decided to take action and could have thought another wealthy wife might solve any financial problems. (Although the Registry of Deeds give no indication that his estate was heavily mortgaged or that he was in other financial straits)
Who better to chose than Mary Pike, a Cork heiress and only living child of Samuel Pike of Pike’s Bank owner of Bessborough House, Blackrock. Samuel Pike was born in 1726, an exceedingly prosperous businessman who with his brother Ebenezer founded the Pike’s Bank. In 1765 he married Catherine Hutchinson, by whom he had two children, a son Samuel Randall who died at the age of three, and, a daughter Mary born on 9 March 1776. Samuel Pike died at his house near the Mardyke in June 1796. His accumulated fortune was left to his daughter, Mary Pike then nine months under age. She left the Quakers faith and whether due to this cause or some other was on poor terms with her mother and therefore refused to reside with her after her father’s death. Her uncle, Richard Pike, had married Anne , daughter of John Penrose in 1762, and Anne’s brother, Cooper Penrose a very wealthy Cork merchant and art connoisseur , lived in Woodhill on the outskirts of Cork with whom Mary then chose to settles. (Woodhill as described at that time as built on the Northern Banks of the river Lee, Eastwards from the city of Cork, above house tops and treetops. The pleasant waters flow beneath, and old trees lend dignity to the property. The lawn is not large but shaded in the summer and sheltered and evergreen in the winter. The house itself is old-fashioned and attached to it is a quaint Gothic Chapel. Woodhill was recently demolished!) Cooper Penrose, sixty at the time, and also a lapsed Quaker had a big family. Young Mary begged to live with them, and Cooper whether moved by hospitality or the desire to secure an heiress for one of his sons, agreed to this arrangement.The widowed Mrs Samuel Pike remained in Cork and seldom travelled abroad after her husband’s death. She was allegedly in a precarious state of health and under the constant care of her physician Dr Robert Gibbings. She was mostly in ill-health and much of a valetudinarian ( a person who believes themself to be chronically sick; invalid) and since she survived another sixteen years her condition was evidently exaggerated.
Mary Pike was rich beyond anyone’s dreams. At her death close relatives would receive 55,000 pounds (over 1.5m pounds today) from her will. When Mary came into her inheritance in March 1797, the “reputable and opulent citizen of Cork” (according to NS Lynravn in the Australian Dictionary of Biography) couldn’t get round fast enough.
Henry had not the acquaintance with Cooper Penrose or any mutual friends to effect an introduction. And therefore decided to take the Penrose household by storm. On 2nd July 1797 a particularly sunny summers Sunday, Cooper Penrose looked out the window and saw a man in his garden. Hayes explained his presence by saying he was planning improvements at Mount Vernon and wished to imitate the many features of Woodhill he admired. No mention of why he hadn’t knocked first. Penrose spent some hours touring the 50 acres with Hayes and a friend of Penrose, Lawton Trayer.
Dinner time approached but Hayes showed no sign of leaving. By half past four the servants were frustratingly ringing the dinner bell. Finally Penrose embarrassed by the presence of his friend Mr Trayer invited Henry to dine with them.A large party assembled for the meal among them Mrs Penrose, her two eldest daughters Anne and Elizabeth and Mary Pike. Poor Mary is said to have been “homely ” in appearance and frail looking. She was also educated beyond her time, strong-minded in her own way and had already thrown over many of the traditions of the faith her family belonged to. It seems that the two where not formally introduced to one another on that occasion. After the meal Henry mounted his horse and left. Instead of pursuing the acquaintance of the Penrose and paying suitable court to the heiress, he embarked on a remarkable course. After Sir Henry’s conduct became public there were rumours that stated that it was a bet made across the card table that made him adventure into his unusual behaviour.
He started of by ascertaining the name of Mary’s mothers physician. He wrote to the doctor on some trivial pretext and the doctor civilly sent him a reply thus equipping him with a sample of the doctors writing and signature. Sir Henry was now able to forge the following note: Dear sir, Mrs Pike is suddenly taken ill: she wishes to see Miss Pike; I would recommend Dispatch as I think she has not many hours to live. Yours Robt. Gibbings. This letter was folded and sealed and directed to Cooper Penrose at Woodhill now Sir Henry was just waiting for the right weather before he sent the letter. The evening of Friday, 21st July (almost three weeks after the dinner) the weather was just right for him to send the letter. It was a dark night with a down pour and thunder. After midnight a persistent knocking was heard at the gate. Someone came down with a lantern, opening the gate and receiving a letter from a night-rider. The letter caused a wild flurry in the house, most of the household was in bed and the horses out in the grass. Grooms were sent running for the horses and Mary was called from her bed. Anne Penrose and Coopers sister, Mrs Pikes, who was staying over offered to go with her. Cooper decided not to go; due to the weather and he was tired, as he explained later he also feared to be in the way at Mrs. Pikes deathbed. The three ladies were put in a chaise. The rain was so heavy the Cooper,dreading an accident told a second coachman to mount behind the chaise. Miss Pike later described the night as “raining heavy and dark”. Their carriage lumbering through the pre-dawn downpour along Glenmire Road towards Cork, the so-called Venice of 18th century Ireland. Along this “dirty and mirey” road the carriage was held up by six men with pistols.
The leader wore a long coat and a handkerchief muffled his face he opened the chaise door and demanded of each lady her name. Mary answered last and he at once seized her and dragged her out in the rain. Anne and Mrs Pike bravely followed, but the other men held them at bay. They saw Mary tossed in a coach and drive away at high-speed with the gunman galloping behind. The ladies then turned to their own vehicle with the thought of giving chase, only to learn from the servants that one of the villains had cut the traces and frightened the horses, thus the horses disappeared into the darkness. The women were left abandoned in the rain. At the court case it also appeared that Sir Henry had the horses shoe’s reversed to make tracking difficult.
They clutched their cloaks and set of back to Woodhill in the rain. When Mary was swung into the coach she was surprised to find it occupied by another female, alleged to be Miss Hayes. The journey took some time due to he weather and the fact that they had to pass right through Cork city. Over New-Bridge the party travelled until it arrived at a steep decent.They turned of the road between two gate pillars. Vernon Mount avenue was both long and steep and under the night down pour had become a muddy morass.The horses slithered and stuck, There the horses baulked, up their heads and refusing to go further. The coach door opened and her captor seized Mary, and carried her struggling and kicking up the length of the avenue and into the hilltop Manor house. Mary later recalled it as a , “a very desperate night”.
He set her down in the parlour, dark save for a candle. Inside, the highwayman removed his disguise and revealed to Miss Pike an “exceedingly haughty” man, about 40 years of age, very “straight-made” with pock-marked skin and the most “remarkable set of whiskers”.
From the shadows a priest emerged and performed a hasty marriage ceremony. A ring was placed on Miss Pike’s finger but she wrenched this off and flung it away. Despite her protestations, the couple were then pronounced married and she was now Lady Hayes. Spirited she replayed that she was not, and demanded pen and paper to write to her relations. Her request was granted, but she was told to write to tell them of her recent marriage. Instead she wrote to her uncle recounting her abduction and signing, Mary Pike. The letter was taken away. She was forced upstairs by Sir Henry and his sister, and locked in a small room where a tray of tea was brought to her. Later she was taken to an adjoining room were Sir Henry tried to push her toward the bed and “behave- in the rudest manner” . By this time he may not have been very sober. “Do you know who I am?” the abductors asked when Miss Pike refused his advances. “Yes”, she said, “you are Sir Henry Browne Hayes”
Before six o’clock the next morning Cooper Penrose went to the house of Mary’s uncle Richard Pike and delivered the news that Mary had been abducted. Richard arose and summoned his nephew, young Richard Wily and accompanied by Thomas Gibbings, then Sherrif and Mr. Johnson, the High Constable set of seeking his niece. By that time rumours had spread that she was held at Vernon Mount they arrived there between seven and eight. The house was full of people, even Atty Hayes and several other individuals though no sign of Sir Henry or his sister. From somewhere beyond the hall, Mary came running begging to be taken home.
Mondays ‘Hibernian Chronicle’ paper carried a long advertisement announcing the 500 guinea reward for Sir Henry for “forcibly, violently and feloniously seizing an heiress and compelling her to marry . . .” against her wishes. Sir Henry is described as being…”straight made,rather fresh coloured, a little pock-marked with brown hair and remarkable whiskers, about five feet seven inches high and about 40 years. This item was reprinted in every issue of the Cork Hiberian Chronical up to 22 January 1798. It must have cost the Pike family a fortune. Although Sir Henry absconded from Cork for several weeks, he soon returned and resumed his usual social activities, which were conducted, it was said, with characteristic extravagance. He was often seen in the coffee houses in Castle street reading the very paper in with this advertisement had been placed. No one claimed the reward and Sir Henry evaded justice.
Miss Pike left for England despite her ailing mother and remained in Bath. Whether she was actually raped was never made clear in court, which could have explained her living in England and the wrath of her uncle.Although it was later bluntly stated by Lord Chancellor Clare that “the cock caught not fight”. Atty Hayse died the following April and lies buried at Christchurch; his daughter also died. Two years went by, during which Mary kept up the ‘Chronicle’ notice. After three years Sir Henry had grown weary, and wrongly believed that he would not be convicted after such a lapse of time.
He sent Mary a letter mentioning that his conduct had been “honourable and delicate” towards her. He also wrote, he would “abide” a trial at the Cork assizes, but thanking God that he stood as high as any man in the eyes of the rich or poor, thought it unlikely that she would secure a conviction. There was, he asserted, “honourable sympathy” in his favour. Indeed, had he not strolled the streets of Cork for several years without being arrested? This assured him that “any form of trial was perfectly safe”.The supporters of Miss Pike suspected the same. They were outraged that Sir Henry continued to enjoy “festivals and entertainments”, while his victim was separated from her sick mother.
Sir Henry walked into a saloon of a barber, one Coghlan ,who carried on business as a peruke maker (man’s wig, especially the type popular from the 17th to the early 19th century. It was made of long hair, often with curls on the sides, and drawn back on the nape of the neck ) were Lawson’s shop is now in Grand Parade, Cork. He told the Barber it was his immediate intension to surrender, and induced him forthwith to seek the reward! The trial was sufficiently salacious to inspire street ballads indulging Sir Henry’s “mere boyish capers”, and admonishing Miss Pike’s unfeminine resistance of this roguish Irish gentleman.One such was the song, sang in the city:
“Sir Henry kissed behind the bush, Sir Henry kissed the Quaker, For all he kissed he much more missed, for sure he did not mate her”
The trail was held at Cork Assizes on Monday, 13th April 1801. The prosecution was led by John Curran. Sir Henry’s leading counsel was Thomas Quin. Sir Henry came into court with a troop of admirers. His counsel contended that the whole charge was an error and that his client had not abducted Mary but had merely housed her capture bu some other person (unknown) Nonetheless, there was evidence against Sir Henry, including the forged doctor’s letter, which he had concocted to lure Miss Pike out into that miserable morning. Anticipating the worst, Sir Henry adorned the walls of his cell with black crepe and organised to have the Dead March in Saul performed on a barrel organ while he ate his dinner.The jury found the prisoner guilty, but recommended him to mercy and after 10pm, April 13, 1801, Sir Henry stood to receive his death sentence with a legitimate son on his right side and an illegitimate son on his left. In response to his fatal verdict, he requested an immediate execution.According to statute law of that time, sentence to death by public execution at Gallows Green, where St Patrick’s Orphanage now stands in Cork. The recommendation to mercy was acceded to and the death sentence commuted to transportation for life to Australia (Botany Bay) instead.
On the day of his departure for Botany Bay, a journalist observed the convicted Knight standing on the deck of the convict ship. “Until the moment that they were about to sail and the pilot-boat was taking leave”,the paper noted, Sir Henry “bore the misfortune he had brought upon himself with tolerable resignation”.As the pilot boat’s whistle blew, however, Sir Henry could stand no more. He promptly “burst into tears”, and “to ease the pangs of adversity”, ran below the deck.
Henry immediately started by bribed Captain Brooks of the convict ship, Atlas, 200 pounds for a cabin and other privileges. The Irish authorities allowed him to take his valet (Samuel Breakwell, a freeman), a huge amount of luggage, and casks full of merchandise to sell on the way. It meant the other convicts, 151 men and 28 women, now had to spend the voyage in chains.At least three died before the ship embarked. When it did, it was so low in the water they had to keep the vents closed; so the convicts had no fresh air. 15 died on the way to Rio, and 70 more became sick.
The surgeon on board, Thomas Jamison, complained about the favouritism being shown to Hayes. After fierce arguing, Jamison transferred to the ship that accompanied them, Hercules, leaving Captain Brooks to extort 3 or 400 guineas from Hayes to share the good food and an even better cabin. The other convicts were defrauded of rations and were now getting scurvy.
‘The London Chronicle’ quoted a letter Captain Brooks sent his wife, saying there’d been “a dreadful gale” and that “no less than 80″ convicts now had fever. He praised Hayes ” by saying he attended the sick and administered their medicines.” But an inquiry later found that Brooks had also needlessly called at the Cape of Good Hope for Hayes to trade a few more goods; the death toll by then was up to 25.
By the time they arrived in Sydney, 69 of the convicts had died. Unknown to Hayes and Brooks, the ‘Hercules’ had arrived well before them, and Jamison was already established as Acting Surgeon-General of New South Wales, and a magistrate. They were now in trouble. Sir Henry was goaled for six months, and Governor King refused Brooks permission to sell the bulk spirits and wine on board.
Sir Henry ignored Governor’s Kings edict and hosted Sydney’s first Freemasons meeting, which saw him transported to Van Diemen’s Land. However, the ship was wrecked and he was returned to the colony on the proviso that he kept out of Sydney.
In 1803 he purchased 130 acre property, 3 km outside Sydney for 100 pounds which was withheld because the deeds were unobtainable. There he built a house – Vaucluse- so named after the well-known poet Petrarch’s Fontaine de Vaucluse. He was exiled a few times because Governor King saw him as a plotter and a troublesome character.
According to legend Sir Henry’s paradise was troubled by snakes. Knowing that Irish soil had been sanctified by St Patrick, Sir Henry sent for 500 tonnes of the best bog of Ireland and hired a party of 75 Irish convicts to empty this sacred soil into a trench-like moat around the perimeter of his property. He invited his friend to partake in the celebration on St Patrick’s Day (No evidence of turf or ships from Ireland bringing turf remains and it is speculated the Sir Henry held a Freemasonry meeting under the disguise of a turf laying ceremony)
He then continued with his contentious ways, penning such scurrilous letters to the colonial office in London that Governor King assumed Sir Henry was part of a secret spy system aimed at destroying his administration. Suspicions of his alleged involvement in the failed Irish uprising at Castle Hill in March 1804 resulted in Sir Henry being condemned as “an irrepressible disturber of the peace” and he was sent to Norfolk Island. But somehow, he once more avoided exile and was again restored to Vaucluse House. Another parcel of Sir Henry’s mischievous missives was seized and the act of conversing to him was made punishable with 200 lashes.
Under the next Governor William Bligh , of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, Sir Henry fared better and although this alliance with the Governor led to his arrest and eviction to the coal mines in New Castle by John MacArthur’s forces during the Rum Rebellion. This alliance eventually secured his pardon and the freedom to leave Australia in 1812 .
The story also goes that it was his pretty daughter Mary Hayes that obtained his pardon. She was married to Henry Jude and had the good fortune to attract the attention of the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion Ball. Another account is that she danced with the Duke of Rutland on St John’s Eve and then asked him” to break her fathers chains” .Nevertheless in 1812 Hayes, now 50, left for Ireland on an overloaded ship, Isabella, with 52 passengers, crew and livestock. In Feb. 1813 Henry, and four other passengers(General Holt being one of these passengers), got into a dinghy with the only oars on board and rowed to land, when the ship ran aground on rocks at the Falkland Islands due to the Captains drunken condition.
Upon his return to Ireland in 1814, Cork society refused to re-admit Sir Henry into its ranks. In the ‘Irish Packet’ in 1904 an old woman remembered as a young girl seeing Sir Henry sitting on a fine day outside his quarters in Tomas street he was then a feeble old man and blind. He wore a rush hat and a blue military coat with white facing. He would hail the casual passers-by and ask them to lift his chair into the sun, “it is so much colder nowadays to what it was when I was Sherrif “. He died in Vernon Mount in April of 1832 at 70 year of age.
Miss Pike died the same year, 20 years younger than Sir Henry. Soon after the trial, Mary succumbed to madness and surrendering to the “dark and heavy” mood that prevailed on that morning when she had been so deceptively woken from her sleep. She died in a mental asylum.