Breach of Promise

Breach of Promise

A Cork Breach of Promise case. At the Cork Assizes on Thursday, the following breach of promise case was commenced before Mr. Justice Barry and a special jury. McEvers v W.L. O’Neill. The action was for breach of promise of marriage, the damages being laid at £10,000.

Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 August 1879

Julia McEvers

Julia McEvers was the youngest child of Mary Frances Bourke and John Francis McEvers, a Doctor of Medicine of Camden Place in the City of Cork. Julia was baptised on 19 October 1856 at St Mary’s Church in Cork. Her mother passed away not long after she was born and she was raised by her father, her siblings and extended family.

Julia had four older brothers including Daniel and John who were following in their father’s footsteps and training to become doctors and Ivor who was in the Royal Navy and Walter, who was expected to go into business. Her sisters were Catherine, Mary and Nora. Catherine, or Katie as she was generally called, was the oldest of the girls and had married James Seymour Lambkin on 10 June 1873 at St. Mary’s in Cork City.

On 2 November 1874, John Francis McEvers died at Rushbrooke in the County of Cork, leaving a sizable inheritance to be divided amongst his children.

And I appoint the residue of said Trust moneys to my other three daughters Mary Nora and Julia McEvers

When Julia was old enough, she was sent to school in England to complete her education at a convent school in Abingdon in the Berkshires but at the age of sixteen, her education was judged to be complete and her brother Walter came to London to collect her, bringing Nora with him in July of 1876.

During their time in London, the siblings stayed on Craven street in Westminster near the Strand and they were entertained by a family friend, William Lane O’Neill. W Lane O’Neill had been a bookkeeper and clerk for Julia’s uncle, John Walter Bourke who was a solicitor in Cork City but now worked as a solicitor in his own right in London.

The Romance

Julia would later testify that she saw Mr. O’Neill in London several times on Craven street in London where he showed her considerable attention. She explained that O’Neill asked them to accompany him to the theatre and he entertained them at a hotel one evening. At dinner, he offered her a ring with two diamonds in it but she had declined, saying she did not know him sufficiently.


He took her gloves as a souvenir to remember her by.

The next time Julia saw O’Neill was in January 1878 when she met him at Patrick’s place where she was staying with her brother and sister Nora. He dined with them in Cork on several occasions and one evening, asked to speak privately with her in the parlour. He told her that he was attached to her and asked of her feelings and she told him she liked him very much.

O’Neill used to visit her aunt Miss Bourke and her sister Mrs. Lambkin in Cork and she dined with him there. Julia later testified that on one such occasion, he had kissed her and she said ‘please don’t’. He gave here three gold rings, a gold watch and a locket along with several books and photographs. O’Neill was in Cork again in August 1878 and she saw him then. O’Neill spoke to his former employer, John Walter Bourke, of his intentions to marry Julia, but said there were some business obstacles to his marriage. He went to Killarney with a friend named O’Keeffe from where he sent Julia a telegram and on his return, he stopped in Cork for about a week to spend more time with her.

Julia recounted that he had spoken to Nora and asked Julia if Nora would live with them in London when they were married and whether she would like that and Julia had answered that she would not. Julia’s uncle, John Walter Bourke was abroad at that time and O’Neill asked her if she would marry while he was away and she said it must wait for her uncle’s return. He asked her if she would be married in the pink dress she had on and she said that she would not and would marry in white. He asked how many bridesmaids she wanted and she replied three, and named them.

From Cork, O’Neill went on to Dublin and he wrote to Julia.

Monday, 5am. My dear Julia, As I arranged, I have great pleasure in writing direct to you instead of to Walter. The past few days were spent very pleasantly with you. Three happy days! I should like to have them over again. Ah, me! how quickly they passed away! I write with deep emotion. I have not yet got over the pain of parting. Believe me, my dear Julia,

yours sincerely, William Lane O’Neill

A frequent correspondence ensued, with flowery letters coming from O’Neill frequently, speaking of his feelings for Julia.

]..The perfume of your last kiss still lingers on my lips. With those large blue eyes gazing on me, and your fair arms twining round my neck…

Yours sincerely, W Lane O’Neill.

Later, Julia would recount that she used to sing for him, including a song called ‘The Gypsey’s warning’.

The words were ‘do not trust him, gentle lady, though his voice be low and sweet’. 

At the time, Julia had no way of knowing how prophetic those words would turn out to be.

The Other Woman

Even as William Lane O’Neill had been pursuing Julia McEvers, he was hedging his bets by also courting a young woman named Charlotte Caroline Gilbert.

Caroline was the daughter of James Gilbert and Sophia Lucy Ann Carbery. She had been born in Calcutta, India where her father was an Engineer for Jessop & Co and property owner of some standing. On 9 February 1872, while homeward bound on board the P & O steamer Deccan, James Gilbert had died at age 46, leaving Sophia the widow to raise young Caroline and her siblings.

Sophia continued on to England, settling in Chiswick, at 11 Linden Gardens in a modest two storey house with her three daughters, Alice, Florence and Charlotte and her son James who was studying to become a medical doctor.

James had left two thirds of his estate to Sophia which was in excess of 10,000 rupees (about £22,000), with instructions that she should look after their children and

Will Capture Gilbert
…the remaining one third of such stocks funds and securities and the interest dividends and income thereof in trust for all my children or any child who being son or a son shall have attained or shall attain the age of Twenty one years or being daughters or a daughter shall have attained or shall attain that age or shall have married or shall marry under that age and if more than one in equal shares…

As a young heiress, Charlotte Gilbert was apparently an attractive alternative to become O’Neill’s future wife.

Decision Made

Several letters written by O’Neill did not reach Julia and were returned through the post. Thinking he had forgotten her, Julia reproved him for not writing and she received a last letter dated 22 January 1879 written from 110 Cannon Street, London. The letter was very cool.

Dear Madam – Your letter received this morning. I wrote you several letters before you left Cork. You overlooked most of them altogether, and when you wrote I found you had totally changed to me. You dwelt upon your admirers, but I tried for sometime to be silent, merely remarking that it was very odd. I did not then, and I do not now, reproach you as there was no engagement. I had, of course, no right to blame your silence and oldness, continued and increased in Dublin. The occasional line I received was very cold, and at last my letters were returned through the post-office unopened, which completes the history. You know these naked facts. In this dilemma, I would have written to Walter, or your aunt Kate or uncle John, for some sort of explanation, but I felt great difficulty in adopting that idea and reluctantly abandoned it. Under these circumstances, I adopted a course over a week ago which as for ever placed further correspondence between us out of the question except as ordinary friendship or acquaintance worth continuing. I have not at any time written or said an unkind or inconsiderate word to you, and I shall not do so now in parting finally, for I retain the deepest respect for yourself and every member of your family. I do not which to write to anyone on this unpleasant subject unnecessarily, but your will see that I am really under an obligation to send, and shall, therefore send this explanation to your uncle John, who as I informed you verbally and by letter, could not possibly act more generously or more kindly than he did in the whole matter now terminated.

Yours truly, W Lane O’Neill


By the time Julia McEvers received the last letter from O’Neill breaking off their relationship, he was already married to Charlotte, having wed the young heiress quietly in the first months of 1879 in St. Giles, London after she became pregnant with his child. Gilbert Joseph Lane O’Neill was born either just before or just after the marriage took place at O’Neill’s residence at 45 Guildford street, Russell square in London.

By 1881, mother and child were living at 11 Linden Gardens with Sophia Gilbert.

1881 Census Gilbert
Class: RG11; Piece: 1350; Folio: 138; Page: 4; GSU roll: 1341328

The Trial

In August 1879, the case of McEvers vs W.L. O’Neill was tried in Cork, Ireland with Julia McEvers as the plaintiff, charging that William Lane O’Neill, solicitor was guilty of breach of promise to marry her and she was asking for damages in the amount of £10,000. After hearing testimony from the McEvers family and from O’Neill himself, including the reading of many of the love letters written over the course of the romance, Julia was granted damages in the amount of £1000.

O’Neill wasn’t about to accept the verdict, however and took the case to the Exchequer Division of the High Court of Justice in early November where a conditional order for a new trial was granted on the grounds of misdirection by the learned judge.

On 18 February 1880, the matter came before the Exchequer Division befor Barons Fitzgerald and Dowse. O’Neill’s defence was that he had never promised to marry Julia. He stated that her family sought to entrap him into a marriage. At the conclusion, Barons Fitzgerald and Dowse upheld the original verdict in the case, ruling that a promise could be inferred from the whole tenor of the correspondence between O’Neill and Julia.

Whether O’Neill eventually paid the awarded sum is unknown.

Running for Office

Just days before the motion to overturn the verdict in the breach of promise case was heard, O’Neill announced his intention to stand for Mallow, Ireland in the general election to be held from March to April in 1880.

MALLOW – Mr. William Lane O’Neill, a London solicitor, has been invited to stand for Mallow, on Home Rule principles.

Hull Packet – Monday 15 March 1880

Soon after it was announced that Barons Fitzgerald and Dowse upheld the original verdict in the breach of promise case however, O’Neill withdrew his candidacy.

Mr. Lane O’Neill, whose breach of promise of marriage case seems to have damaged his electioneering chances, has retired from Portarlington, where the contest now lies between Dr. Webb and the Hon. Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Belfast Telegraph – Friday 02 April 1880

Outrage Against a Servant

The following year, O’Neill was arrested for having assaulted a servant by the name of Attrill and committed for trial. He was given bail but when the case came to  trial, he did not appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

SERIOUS CHARGE AGAINST A SOLICITOR. A solicitor named Wm. Lane O’Neil, of 45 Guildford street, Russell Square, was committed for trial at Bow-street on the charge of having committed an outrage on a domestic servant named Attrill. The defendant was arrested by Detectives Rowan and Jones, of the E division, and evidence having been given in support of the charge, he was admitted to bail in two sureties of £200 each.

Reynolds’s Newspaper – Sunday 30 January 1881

Mr. William Lane O’Neill, a London solicitor, who was the defendant in a remarkable breach of promise case tried at the Cork Assizes some months ago, has got into a serious difficulty, which I sincerely regret. He was accused a week or two of a criminal assault on a servant and was committed for trial to the Central Criminal Court, but admitted to bail. When the case came on yesterday, Mr. O’Neill did not respond, and a bench warrant has been issued for his arrest. Mr. O’Neill has been a Parliamentary candidate for more than one Irish borough within the last couple of years.

Freeman’s Journal – Saturday 05 February 1881

Fled the Country

With his London life in ruins, William Lane O’Neill set sail for America, abandoning his heiress wife Charlotte and their son. He arrived in New York City on 23 February 1881.

Upon his arrival, O’Neill renounced his Irish roots and declared his intention to become an American Citizen. 1National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; ARC Title: Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York City, 1792-1906; NAI Number: 5700802

National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; ARC Title: Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York City, 1792-1906; NAI Number: 5700802

Back home in England, he was adjudged for bankruptcy.

William Lane O’Neill solicitor, 110 Cannon Street, London

Bankrupt Lloyd’s List – Saturday 18 March 1882

On 16 September 1886, his petition for naturalization in the United States was granted. He went on to practice law in New York, leaving his family to their own fate back home. New York, Index to Petitions for Naturalization filed in New York City, 1792-1989

Charlotte Caroline O’Neill

Charlotte Caroline O’Neill died on 22 January 1937 leaving £9019 to her son Gilbert Joseph Lane O’Neill so presumably O’Neill never gained access to her inheritance. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995


1 National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, DC; ARC Title: Index to Petitions for Naturalizations Filed in Federal, State, and Local Courts in New York City, 1792-1906; NAI Number: 5700802