The early 1830’s saw a period of great unrest in Ireland with high rents and the imposition of tithe payments causing much anger amongst the rural poor. Egged on by an increasingly confident Catholic Church the peasantry began to forcibly resist the payment of tithes through a combination of mass meetings, boycotts and outright violence. In Wexford these disturbances were especially pronounced, with the most notable incident occurring in Bunclody, where 14 people were shot dead and many more injured (by the yeomanry). This massacre in June of 1831 inflamed tensions and soon much of rural Wexford was in open insurrection. The peasantry quickly set about organising secret militias, known locally as Whiteboys, to take on the authorities. Through intimidation and force of arms the Whiteboys aimed to redress perceived local injustices, especially evictions.
Bree was not to escape these disturbances and on the 22nd November 1832 the parish was to witness a night of violence and murder. The origins of this dispute lay in an eviction carried out in Tomfarney townland, which saw the saw the Redmond family thrown off their farm for missed rent payments. The landlord then replaced them with a new tenant Edmund Maddock. This caused great resentment locally and the Redmonds in particular were incensed. The Maddock family became the focal point of this anger and they soon started receiving threatening letters, while an attempt was also made to burn down their new home. Such was the level of intimidation that the authorities decided to send two policemen to protect their house.
However, this did not deter the local Whiteboys and on the night of the 22nd of November they attacked the Maddock farm once more. A party of 50-60 men, some of whom were armed, encircled the property and then set the house ablaze. Inside the building pandemonium broke out as the Maddock family awoke to find their home filling with smoke. The two policemen who had been stationed inside opened the front door to be met by a volley of gun fire. One of them, Joseph White from Glynn, fell dead instantly, while the second man dashed for freedom. As the Maddock family tried to escape the burning building a second volley of shots rang out killing Mrs. Mary Maddock and her daughter Margaret. Edmund Maddock was also severely wounded, while one of his sons ‘received two (musket) balls to the chest’.
In the ensuing confusion the remainder of the Maddocks managed to escape, with the youngest son concealing himself in some bushes. From this vantage point he managed to see a number of the Whiteboys and his evidence was to prove crucial in the arrest of two of the perpetrators shortly afterwards. The bodies of the dead were subsequently inspected by a Dr. MacCartney who concluded that each had received ‘a gunshot wound to the breast, which must have caused almost simultaneous death’.
On Saturday the 2nd of March two of the alleged Whiteboys, John Redmond and Nicholas Jackman, were tried at Wexford Gaol. On the evidence of the young Maddock boy, who for his own safety had been kept at the police barracks since the attack, the two men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Redmond was the youngest of seven sons and it was his father who had been evicted for non-payment of rent prior to the Maddocks taking over the property. Similarly Jackman’s father had been evicted from a farm in Old Court, Adamstown and its new owner, John Roche, was subsequently murdered during a Whiteboy attack.
After the sentence was passed the two men were asked had they anything to say. Jackman declared: ”Whatever time I part this life, the Kingdom of Heaven, or the sight of God, may I never see, if I was out of my house for half an hour on the night of the attack on the house of the Maddocks and if the Jury, or any Lord on this earth, find me guilty, I will leave my innocent blood on them.’
This declaration of innocence caused a sensation amongst the assembled crowd and things were not quietened by Redmond when he stated: ”I am the murderer, not only of the Maddocks’ but of Roche, and he who stands by my side, as well as James Jackman, who was found guilty yesterday for the murder of Roche, are innocent, I am the murderer, and this man, pointing to Nicholas Jackman is innocent. I have committed five murders with my own hands. I was put up to it all by bad persons, bad agents did it all. My poor father was turned out of his farm by a bad agent, because he wanted five pounds to make up his rent, although he had lived on it for upwards of sixty years.”
Despite these protestations of Jackman’s innocence the judge was not swayed and the prisoners were removed, under a large armed escort, to the county gaol. Here they were kept under a strong military guard until the day of their execution (Monday). While they were imprisoned here Mr. Greene, the proprietor of the Wexford Independent, was permitted to interview the two men. Jackman dramatically protested his innocence, falling to his knees and ‘called on Him who knows the secrets of all hearts, to witness the truth of what he said’. Redmond was unrepentant. He told Greene that ‘he was not sorry for what he did, and if he had the power he would commit the same deeds over again. That he would as soon die then as a month hence, as life had no charms for him. He got the retribution he desired for the wrongs, as he alleged, inflicted on his father’
The following day, Monday the 4th of March 1833, both men were escorted to a specially constructed wooden gallows that had been erected on Gaol Green. As Jackman was led to the scaffold he once more declared his innocence and knelt down and prayed fervently. Indeed, he became so weak from emotion that he had to be carried up to the gallows. Redmond was calmer and again acknowledged his guilt and declared Jackman innocent. However, the hangman wasn’t to be deterred and both men were executed before the assembled crowd
On March 1st 1832 Nicholas Jackman’s brother James was convicted of killing John Roche, from Old Court, Adamstown. He was sentenced to be hanged on the same day as his brother but had his sentence commuted to transportation for life (probably to Australia).
The wife of the dead policeman Joseph Wright was rewarded an annual pension of 10 shillings after his death.
The Maddock’s continued to be harassed after the hangings with a corn-stack and some outbuildings at their farm being burnt on the 20th of April 1834, while a stone mason doing repair work on their house was also sent a threatening notice.
Griffiths, G. 1877. Chronicles of the County Wexford. Enniscorthy, p. 396-403
The Morning Chronicle, London, Saturday, 29th of December 1832, p.1
The Morning Post, London, Friday, 30th November, 1832, p. 4
The Morning Post, London, Tuesday, 4th December, 1832, p.4
The Morning Post, London, Monday, 28th April, 1834, p.2