A Colourful Sussex Lawyer

St Helen’s Church in Hangleton, to the north-west of Brighton, has a remarkable grave. It is covered in brightly coloured stones set into the grave-slab in the form of a mosaic cross.

The grave is that of an Irishman, Edward Kenealy. He was a lawyer who was as colourful as his grave.

Edward Vaughan Hyde Kenealy was born in Cork in 1819. He studied law in Dublin and later at the Greys Inn in London and was ‘Called to the Bar’ on 1st May 1847.  His first notable trial was when he unsuccessfully defended two fellow Irishmen, Francis Looney and William Dowling, who had been accused of treason.  During the case, he had sharp exchanges with the Attorney General and the men were found guilty.

Despite being single he adopted a six-year-old boy in 1850.  He did not get on with the boy and was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment for abusing him.  The following year he married Elizabeth Nicklin and they went on to have no less than eleven children.

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Edward Kenealy

His next case was equally unsuccessful. He defended Doctor William Palmer, a poisoner from Rugeley in Staffordshire who Charles Dickens described as ‘The greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey”. Palmer had used strychnine to kill his brother and mother-in-law in order to collect their life insurance. He even killed his four children who he had taken out life-insurance policies for.

Palmer, one of the most notorious Victorian murderers was executed in June 1856 – apparently as he stepped onto the gallows at Stafford Prison he said to the hangman “Are you sure they are safe?!”

His most famous case, and the one that prompted his downfall was that of the ‘Tichborne Claimant.’   When Sir James Tichbourne died 1862, his son Sir Roger would have inherited a fortune and large estates.  Sir Roger however had gone missing many years before when his ship called The Bella sank somewhere between Jamaica and Rio de Janerio.   In 1865 a man appeared in London and claimed to be the missing Sir Roger Tichborne.

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Although the missing man was slightly built and English, the claimant was 27 stone and seemed to have acquired an Australian accent. The missing man had once lived in Paris and spoke fluent French however the claimant brushed this off by saying that he had forgotten how to speak the language!  Despite the hopelessness of the case it was taken on by Edward Kenealy who had by now moved down to Portslade in Sussex.  (He had a house at 4, Tavistock Square in London but commuted down to Hove to spend the weekends with his family.)

Above: The real Sir Roger Tichborne and the Claimant.

250 people, who had known the missing Sir Roger Tichborne, attended Court to testify against the imposter.  Kenealy’s behaviour in court was remarkable. He shouted at witnesses making offensive and absurd claims against them. He lectured the court in religion and made scurrilous attacks on the Roman Catholic Church. When the judges tried to bring order to the court he swore at them.

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Kenealy (right) cross-examines witnesses in the ‘Tichborne Claimant’ Case.

The case was obviously lost.  One of Sir, Roger’s friends from college said they had both had a tattoo done as a dare and several witnesses recalled seeing it.  The claimant was actually a butcher called Arthur Orton and was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for fraud.  Remarkably, when giving their verdict the Jury also recommended that the defence lawyer never be allowed to practice again!   The Lord Chancellor agreed and Kenealy was ‘dispatented, disbarred and disbenched.

The case is remembered by the ‘Tichborne Pub’ in Alford to the north-west of Billingshurst, West Sussex.  The pub-sign shows the real and the fake Sir Roger!

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Furious of losing his job and his qualifications, you may not be surprised to hear that he turned to politics!  He set up a newspaper called ‘The Englishman’ and formed a group called the ‘Magna Charter Association’.  Surprisingly, the Magna Charter Association attracted quite a following. It demanded that Westminster governments should re-elected every three years, votes for women and the abolition of Income Tax.

In 1875, Kenealy was elected as the MP for Stoke-on-Trent but used his time in parliament to pursue his own grievances.  He introduced a bill for a Royal Commission to be appointed to reinstate him as a lawyer. He only attracted one vote – and 433 against.

By this time, he was getting rather eccentric and he lost his seat five years later.  He began to claim that he was a messenger of God and was related to Adam, Jesus Christ and Ghengis Khan. He wrote numerous, rather odd, religious tracts.

Edward Kenealy died in London in 1880.  He was buried at St Helen’s Church, Hangleton in a remarkable grave.  It is decorated in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ style with a beautiful coloured glass cross on the top and a border of red and gold. After his name, the letters LLD are shown meaning Doctor of Law – in death he stubbornly refused to relinquish his former qualification.


By the way his daughter Arabella is buried nearby. She is almost as interesting as her father. She was educated at home in Portslade and at the London School of Medicine for Women. She was unmarried and gave her interests as walking, occultism, gyroscopes and the rather dodgy sounding ‘improvement of human evolution by racial improvement’.  You may think that, as an educated woman doctor, she would be a feminist  – but no. She thought that women doctors should only treat women and that women should concentrate on being mothers. She said that ‘professional or business women will bear feeble rickety children’ and that ‘feminism is degrading to women!’

Father and daughter were certainly an interesting, if unconventional, pair!

If you are in the Hangleton area of Brighton & Hove, do take time to visit the 11th Century Church of St Helen which claims to be the oldest building in the city. Although the church is usually locked you will be able to see the remarkable colourful grave of Edward Kenealy which is one of the finest I have ever seen in a Sussex Churchyard.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Vivienne says:

    Thank you for such an unusual and interesting account, Kevin.


  2. Fantastic story Kevin! Not sure who was worse – Edward, or the men he defended in court.


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