Background to the card cheating libel case 1894
Chairman of the Cork Steamship Company
Summary April 1893
Pike sues Beamish 8th of May 1894
Verdict 18th of May 1894
The action was for 'libel, slander, and conspiracy to defame'.
Both men were well known in the City of Dublin, and both were committee members of the Cork County Club.
The two men had been neighbours, until the incidents which began this action occurred. They had been close friends and dined quite frequently in each others homes.
Pike claimed that Richard Piggott Beamish had wrongly and maliciously written and published certain things implying that he was a cheat and gambler. Beamish stated that Pike was guilty of trying to win money by cheating on several occasions in April, May, June and July 1893, while playing 'nap' or 'poker' in the County Club.
Joseph Pike's mother, Lydia Clibborn Pike, was a Quaker and was strictly religious. She resented card playing and gambling. Although her son was also a Quaker, it appears that he did not share his mother's strict principles.
He resided at Dunsland, Glanmire, and it is said that he was not a popular local figure. His friends described him as a very shy and reserved man, but those who were not on friendly terms with him, described him as stiff-necked and arrogant. He felt comfortable with those whom he felt were equal or above him in social standing, but those whom he felt were below him he regarded with little respect.
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Pike was at that time, Chairman of the Cork Steamship Company, and he was also an honorary member of the Cork Corporation and the Cork Harbour Board. His only other income (other than money he won playing cards) was £1,000, which he received from his mother every year.
Pike played cards constantly. He played every day in the County Club and was even known to play while travelling home to Dunsland on the train every evening. He was also quite fond of racing. His mother knew nothing of her sons fondness for cards and gambling and he preferred not to tell her for fear that she would cut off his annual allowance.
Beamish was not a card-player himself, and despite bringing the case against Pike, he had never actually witnessed him cheat.
He had been a member of the Cork County Club for forty years and was a member of the committee for ten years. He was Managing Director of the famous Cork brewery Beamish & Crawford and was a one-time Captain in the West Cork Artillery Militia.
Beamish was no more a popular figure than Pike, and was described as humourless and opinionated.
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Here is a summary of the events which led to the scandal that had all of Cork, and indeed the rest of the country, by the ears in 1893-1894.
It all began in April 1893, when Richard Wordsworth Cooper, who lived in County Cork, and was a member of the younger set of players in the County Club, stood in the card room of the club where he observed the play.
While watching a game in which Joseph Pike was a player, he was very much surprised and shocked to witness Joseph Pike, as he thought, arrange the cards to his own advantage, using a method of 'pinning' certain cards, which he felt would be of advantage to him, away from the pack as he dealt them, so that he could deal them to himself without rousing suspicion.
Cooper was positive that he had witnessed the cheating, but he did not know what he should do about it.
He was advised by his brother-in-law to observe Pike's play again, carefully, with the assistance of two of his most trusted friends, to confirm what he had seen.
The first person he approached was a Captain Burnett (a member of the Cork garrison) who was under sailing orders for Jamaica and was only a temporary member of the County Club. He was staying in Glanmire at the time with a Colonel Spottiswode, and he was on friendly terms with both Pike and Beamish.
Burnett did not wish to become involved in what he felt could result in a scandal and he protested to Cooper that most members of the Club would not be familiar with him, as it was only seldom he visited there. However, Cooper insisted, and Burnett finally agreed.
He went to the club with Cooper and there, they both examined Pike's play, and both were of the opinion that he was cheating.
Cooper's next witness was to be Patrick Sarsfield, Baronial High Constable for Cork, a high-sounding title, but he was actually only a rate collector. He had been secretary to the Cork Park races for a few years and had also been secretary to the County Club for six months. He was the person responsible for introducing poker to the club and he also taught Pike how to play.
At first he thought Cooper was mistaken that Pike was a cheat, but Cooper persuaded him to watch Pike's play carefully and he then formed the same opinion as both Cooper and Burnett. Cooper's next worry was what to do about what he had seen. He knew that if word got out about Pike's cheating, it would start a scandal, so he resolved to get the affair settled quickly and quietly.
William Stopford Hunt, was Pike's closest friend, and knowing this Cooper spoke to Hunt in the coffee-room of the club one day, and urged him to warn Pike to stop playing cards. Hunt was just about to begin his journey to the north, to the Maze race course to meet Pike and his wife for two days racing, and he agreed to warn him. He waited until the end of the last day while they were both out walking and he said to Pike that he wished he would stop playing cards as both he and his wife felt that he was losing too much money.
This was all he said; he told his friend nothing of the accusations against him.
When he returned to Cork, he contacted Cooper and told him that Pike had agreed to stop playing cards, which of course was not true. Pike resumed play, and to add to the state of affairs, he had an argument with Thomas Kennings of the Mineral Water Firm, about cards. Hunt, on Cooper's request, contacted Pike again and told him that there was a suspected irregularity in his dealing. As a result of this, Pike stopped playing cards, temporarily.
Before Burnett sailed off to Jamaica, he told Colonel Spottiswode, a noted gossip, the news of Pike's cheating, which he had promised to keep to himself. The word did not take long to spread around.
Spottiswode later told the son of Richard Beamish while at dinner in the Colonels house one night, and the young Beamish promised not to say a word to anyone. But however, as would be expected, he told his father immediately who, being a member of the County Club Committee, was determined to investigate the matter.
He spoke to Cooper in the hope of getting all the details about what he had seen, but Cooper stated that he intended to keep the matter hushed up as long as Pike abstained from card playing.
Beamish, not in the least put out by this, was driven by his sense of honour and duty, and would not let the matter rest there. He felt obligated to bring it before the committee and so he contacted R.M. Longfield (trustee of the club along with Pike and Beamish) and suggested that a meeting be held to discuss the matter.
Pike's aid in this case was Sir George Colthurst, who was a long-time friend of the Pike family. He was convinced of Pike's innocence and was well prepared to defend him. He was to prove his loyalty to his friend in this case. He went to see Beamish who told him all he knew about the accusations against Pike, to prepare him for his defence in the committee meeting.
The committee meeting was held on the 16th of December, in the County Club, and it was indeed a stormy one.
Sir George Colthurst spoke in support of Pike and accused Beamish of trying to invent a case which would ensure the destruction of Pike's reputation, and almost certainly ruin his relationship with his mother, who was the main source of his income.
Cooper and Sarsfield were asked to attend the meeting, but being bound by their word not to speak of the cheating, they refused.
The committee was then dismissed.
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Colthurst decided that Pike should sue Beamish and he stated this to Pike's wife in a letter. He also suggested that Pike's mother be told of the accusations against her son. Pike decided to follow Colthurst's advice and so he told his mother all that had happened.
Mrs. Pike, as would be expected, was deeply shocked and surprised to hear that her son was involved in such a thing, but despite her disapproval, she stood by her son, and she contacted her solicitors the Messrs. Thomas Exham & Sons and demanded that her son's name be cleared, no matter what cost.
When Henry Exham interviewed Pike, it seems that he was not very optimistic. He issued two writs, one against Beamish and the other against Cooper, but Pike decided to proceed only with the writ against Beamish. This writ claimed £5,000 damages for libel and slander.
Leading on behalf of Pike was John Atkinson Q.C. and assisting him were Wright Q.C., Seymour Bushe Q.C. and H.D. Connor. Against them, on behalf of Beamish, were The Attorney General (leading), MacDermot Q.C. (the Hereditary Prince of Coolavin), William McLaughlin Q.C. and Redmond Barry.
The case lasted two days and admission was governed by ticket.
On each of the two days, the court was packed to suffocation by the men and women of society. The judge also ensured that some seats near the bench were kept for friends of his son.
Atkinson opened the case for Pike, his introductions taking up most of the first day. He began by telling the jury of Pike's great wealth and speaking very highly of his family, and mentioning their high social ranking.
His language was extraordinary and he was extremely rude when referring to the witnesses, calling Thomas Jennings a 'manufacturer of indifferent table waters', referring to Colonel Spottiswode as 'this gabbling Colonel Spottiswode', and calling Patrick Sarsfield a 'variegated liar'.
He ended with an appeal to the jury on Pike's behalf and sat down to a remarkable applause, giving an atmosphere more suited to a theatre than a court of law. This, the judge put an end to.
Both Pike and Beamish were cross examined by the court and those who gave evidence were Hunt, Sarsfield, Cooper, Jennings, Woodroffe (another member of the County Club and one of Pike's accusers), Colthurst and Payne (also a member of the County Club).
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On the tenth day, after the last witness had been examined, the jury retired to reach a verdict.
It was almost two hours later when the jury returned.
Pike was found innocent of cheating and Beamish was found innocent of malice.
There was rapturous applause at this verdict, which again, as throughout the case, the judge made no attempt to check.
It has been said that there was some form of bond between the Pike family and Judge William O'Brien's family, as O'Brien's father supposedly once held the position of tutor to one of the Pike's.
Indeed as a result of the case, the judge was said to have received the gift of a beautiful house, which we believe to be Bloomfield House in Rochestown, from the very proud and very happy mother of Joseph Pike.
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