“Sarah Moxham … saw her husband, her daughter and son-in-law … struggling with John Moxham and his son Henry, who were endeavouring to drown [her] husband by keeping his head under the water in the River Inny, on which [she] fainted … and when [she] recovered John Moxham was in the River looking for his pistols, and his son Henry had ran home to his father’s house for his father’s blunderbuss, which blunderbuss he brought out in order to shoot [her] husband, son-in-law and uncle … who ran home to their houses in dread and fear of their lives as said Henry Moxham threatened to shoot them.”
This handwritten testimony was among a treasure-trove of very, very old documents recently given to me by a cousin. It reveals a bitter feud between members of the Moxham family over a small tract of land in Ratharney, reaching a murderous climax in 1827. The origins of the dispute can be traced back through the documents to 1746, when Robert Moxham ‘the elder’ secured a lease of half of the townland of Ratharney – about 90 acres (Irish measure). In the 1750s Robert left the lease of this land to his son John for his “advancement in the world”. John Moxham, in turn, had at least two sons, Robert and Henry. In 1778 this Robert Moxham married Mary Moorecroft and was given approximately 45 acres of Ratharney, with a stipulation that on John’s death the remainder would also go to Robert, with the exception of 20 acres next to the River Inny to go to his younger brother Henry. Henry apparently built a house on this 20 acres and began to farm the land soon after this agreement was made, while Robert took up residence at Gurteenorna in the north of County Longford, where his Moorecroft in-laws had land.
At some point, relations within the family began to break down; in March 1789 John Moxham decided to disregard his earlier arrangement and disinherit his son Henry from his 20 acres of Ratharney. In response, in February 1790 Henry brought a law suit against his brother and father in the Irish Court of Chancery which resulted in the original agreement being reinstated. Henry married his first cousin, Mary Ann Moxham, and in 1792 he gave the use of his 20 acres in trust to his father-in-law James Moxham and his brother-in-law Isaiah Moxham, with whom “great friendship doth subsist”, with the land to pass to Isaiah’s descendants if Henry and Mary Ann had no heirs. This, then, was the background for confrontation between the family of Isaiah Moxham and Robert Moxham’s son John, who believed he was entitled to the disputed land.
Among the documents are correspondence written in 1818 from Henry Moxham seeking the legal advice of Thomas Dickson Esq. on bringing a prosecution against John Moxham. Henry sets out the “annoyance” given to him by his nephew: in about 1811 Henry – then working as a revenue officer stationed at Baldoyle, County Dublin – was renting out the 20 acres to tenants when John erected a fishing weir on the River Inny, even though he had no access to the weir other than to cross Henry’s land (additionally, the original 1746 lease of Ratharney expressly prohibited the erecting of weirs on the Inny). Henry asked John to remove the weir, which he refused to do, saying he had permission from Lord Rosse (then landlord of the Newcastle Estate). Henry authorised his brother-in-law Isaiah Moxham, who lived on part of the 20 acres, to remove the weir, whereupon John assaulted Isaiah. For this, John was prosecuted, fined, and confined to Longford Gaol. Despite all of this, John had kept the weir in place and, additionally, had dissuaded both Joseph Smith and W. Reilly from buying out Henry’s interest in the 20 acres, ‘telling everyone in the county that upon the death of his father Robert or his uncle Henry, whichever was first, the land would become his and he would evict the sitting tenants’. Henry adds that his wife Mary Ann is “an easy, quiet woman” and he fears for her security if he should die and John attempt to evict her. Henry asks how he “should proceed and act to punish John Moxham”. In a response from April 1818, Dickson advises that Henry has grounds to prosecute John for slander of title but it would be difficult to prove, instead recommending serving notice to John forbidding trespass across the 20 acres.
In another letter from around the same time, Isaiah Moxham seeks the legal advice of Louis [Perrin?] and John Moore of 93 Capel Street, Dublin. Isaiah states that his sister Mary Ann and Henry Moxham have been married for upwards of 30 years and have no children, and that under their 1792 agreement Isaiah is due to inherit the lease of the 20 acres, but that Henry’s nephew John claims to have a deed entitling him to the land after Henry’s death. Isaiah, Mary Ann and Henry wish to make their 1792 arrangement water-tight.
From September 1819 a series of legal correspondence concerns the marriage of two members of the next generation of the family. To further confuse matters, the couple in question were Henry Moxham ‘junior’ (the son of Robert and brother of John) and Marianne Moxham (the daughter of Isaiah). Despite being more closely related to Robert and John, Henry ‘junior’ took the side of his uncle Henry ‘senior’ and Mary Anne Moxham, who seem to have virtually adopted their namesakes as their heirs. Under the articles of marriage formulated by William Lewis Walker, Henry & Marianne Moxham junior were to have the use of about 4 of the 20 acres, Henry & Mary Anne Moxham senior were to have use of another 4 acres for the duration of their lives, and the remaining 11 ½ acres were to be used by Isaiah Moxham.
In February 1821 John Moxham is recorded as occupying a small farm in the neighbouring townland of Driminure, the lease of which mentions his sons Henry (aged 15) and John (aged 5). Later family trees add his children Jane, Maria and Robert, while the baptismal records of Tashinny Church list Margaret (1825), William (1828) and Teresa (1830) as children of a John and Mary Moxham.
A flurry of documents from the first half of 1827 further clarify the arrangement between Isaiah Moxham, Henry and Mary Ann Moxham senior and Henry and Marianne Moxham junior concerning the 20 acres. Many of the documents are scraps of paper sent from the office of William Lewis Walker at 31 Stafford Street, Dublin, including rough calculations on the reverse of an invitation to the ‘Annual Report from the Directors of Dublin Glass Company, 28th April 1827’. Robert Moxham was by now deceased, but his son John was no less determined to take control of the 20 acres, and his anger may have been triggered by these further legal agreements finalised in June 1827. In August of that year, Walker wrote to Isaiah: “I received your letter of 17th instant & lost not a moment in answering it. I am extremely sorry to hear that you have suffered so much from the brutal attack of John Moxham and his son, which could have arose from nothing but revenge for what you lawfully did in saving your property from him.” Walker assured Isaiah that he would win a lawsuit against John and his son, and asks that “You will inform me a soon as you can the hour of the day that they were upon the lands, and particularly what each of them said during the transaction.”
In response, the ‘Draft deposition of Sarah Moxham’ for the case of Isaiah Moxham & Henry Moxham against John Moxham and his son Henry Moxham was sent to Walker: “Sarah Moxham, the wife of Isaiah Moxham of Ratharney in the Barony of Abbeyshrule in the County of Longford, saith that about the hour of 12 and one o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday the 14th day of August 1827, Henry Moxham [‘junior’], who is son-in-law to this dept., came running by dept.’s house to where her husband, the said Isaiah Moxham, was in the act of making hay, who cried out to him for to come down immediately and prevent John Moxham from taking forceable possession of his ground, on which dept.’s said husband, the said Isaiah Moxham, threw away the fork he had making said hay and ran down to where said John Moxham and his son Henry Moxham, who were then on her husband’s ground, in order to prevent them from taking such possession, and at same time dept. got alarmed and ran after husband and son-in-law and by the time that this dept. came up to where they all met she saw her husband, her daughter and son-in-law, the said Henry Moxham, struggling with John Moxham and his son Henry, who were endeavouring to drown dept.’s husband by keeping his head under the water in the River Inny, on which dept. fainted and remained quite senseless a considerable time, and when dept. recovered John Moxham was in the River looking for his pistols, and his son Henry had ran home to his father’s house for his father’s blunderbuss, which blunderbuss he brought out in order to shoot dept.’s husband, son-in-law and uncle Henry Moxham, who ran home to their houses in dread and fear of their lives as said Henry Moxham threatened to shoot them.”
I haven’t found a record of this incident being brought to trial. Another document from March 1836 appears to show John Moxham attempting to evict his brother Henry (‘junior’) from property in Ratharney formerly in the possession of Robert Moxham, deceased. John Moxham is last heard of in March 1838, subletting 22 acres of adjoining land in Ratharney, and he is probably the 60 year old John Moxham who was buried at Tashinny in December of the same year. In April 1844 John’s son Henry made the headlines of the Longford Journal when he was prosecuted by the Newcastle Estate on a charge of ‘waste and dilapidation’. Having decided to emigrate to America, Henry wished to sell his lease but, owing money to the landlord, was denied permission by the King-Harman family, after which he set about systematically destroying his house in Driminure. Convicted at the Longford Quarter Sessions, he was sentenced to six months’ confinement and hard labour. A week later the same newspaper added further details: “joists were sawed across, floors broken and burnt, doors and windows carried away” and, only for the intercession of Lawrence Harman King-Harman, Henry would have been sentenced to transportation (to Australia) for seven years. At the Ballymahon Petty Sessions Henry’s brother, Robert Henry Moxham, was sentenced to two month’s imprisonment and hard labour for the same crime. King-Harman forgave two years’ unpaid rent, totalling about £40, in exchange for the Moxhams giving up their lease in Driminure; by February 1846 that property was in the hands of Henry Butler, and was already “improved much”. John’s mother, Mary Moxham, died at age 90 and was buried with her Moorecroft relatives in Longford town in September 1846.
I don’t know for sure what happened to the sons of John Moxham; Henry disappears after his conviction. He may be the Henry Moxam who fathered a son (Henry) with Mary Farrell of Ratharney in 1836, and who turns up in the Petty Sessions records of Moate and Glasson between 1838 and 1843. John’s daughter Jane Moxham married a near neighbour in Driminure named Robert Cody in 1839 and her descendants lived there until recent years, while Maria Moxham married her distant cousin John Moxham of Rathsallagh in 1842, later moving to Killenboy (my great-great-grandparents). The other children are unconfirmed: a Robert or Robert H. Moxham – a cooper and mill-wright from Longford – enlisted with the US army in Newark in August 1847, deserting three months later, enlisted again in Hamilton in March 1855, deserting two years later, and enlisted again in Ohio in August 1862 (research by Howard L. Moxham suggests he settled in Ohio and raised a family); a William Moxham – a shoe-maker from Longford – enlisted in July 1847 and deserted four months later on the very same day as Robert; a John Moxham – a stonemason from Ireland – is recorded living in Connecticut and Rhode Island with his family and his mother Mary between 1850 and 1880.
With the death and departure of John’s family from Ratharney, the feud ended. As for the 20 acres, the documents suggest that Henry and Marianne Moxham junior held onto their share of the land and parcelled out small portions to sub-tenants like Owen Hurley and John Wynne during the 1840s. The documents also show that in October 1849 Henry and Marianne, owing a debt of £88 (about €10,000 today) to Timothy Dermody, decided to settle up by selling him their lease of approximately 10 acres of Ratharney (including sub-leases to Bryan Donnelly, Catherine Hurley and John Wynne). They used the remaining funds to take their large family to a new life in Penrith, Australia, where they were the ancestors of a considerable chunk of that country’s population. The families of both Timothy Dermody/McDermott and Isaiah Moxham continued to farm in the townland of Ratharney for many decades thereafter, with the documents detailing the family feud being sold along with Isaiah’s former house in 1959.
With deep gratitude to Desmond Cody.