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Augustine E. Costello

The Cruise Of The Jacknell

4. Augustine E. Costello

After the verdict had been returned against Colonel Warren, Augustine E. Costello was put on his trial, charged with the same offence - that of having formed one of the invading party who landed from the 'Erins's Hope', in the neighborhood of Dungarvan. He, too, was an adopted citizen of the United States, and he declared that he was anxious to follow the course that had been taken by his friend, Colonel Warren, in reference to his trial; but, deferring to the strongly-expressed wish of his counsel, he would leave his case in their hands. An able defence was made for him by Messrs. Heron and Molloy, Q.C., instructed by Mr. Scallan, Solicitor; but it was all in vain. When he was called on to say why sentence should not be pronounced on him, he delivered the following address in a loud tone of voice, his fresh young face glowing with emotion as he spoke, and his manner showing deep excitement, but withal a fearless and noble spirit:-

In answer to the question put to me by the Clerk of the Court, I will speak a few words. I don't intend to say much, and I will trespass on forbidden ground but as little as possible. I am perfectly satisfied that there has not been one fact established or proved that would justify a conscientious and impartial jury in finding me guilty of treason-felony. There is an extreme paucity of evidence against me;- that everyone who has been here while this case has been proceeded with will admit frankly and candidly. We need no stronger proof of this fact than that the first jury that was empanelled to try me had, after a long and patient hearing of the case, to be discharged without having found me guilty of treason-felony. Ah! there were a few honest men on that jury. They knew that Augustine E. Costello was not guilty of the crime trumped up against him. They knew I was not guilty. Mr. Anderson, sitting there, knows that I am not a felon, but that I am an honest man; that as such I stand here in this dock, where Robert Emmett stood, where Robert Emmett spoke from; and the actions and the words of that Emmett have Immortalized him, and he now lies embalmed in the hearts of the world.
The Chief Baron - I cannot allow you to proceed in that strain.
Costello - I can say to those assembled here, and who 'are now listening to me, that I stand here, branded, as I am, a felon, but with a clear conscience. No one can point the finger of scorn against me, and say I have sold my brother and committed perjury. Can every man in this courthouse lay his hand on his heart and say the same? Answer me, Mr. Anderson. Answer me, Governor Price.
The Lord Chief Baron - You are again transgressing. You had better stop for a moment or two; you seem to be excited.
Costello - My lord, as you truly remark, I have allowed my feelings to run away with my discretion; but it is hard for a man to stand here, satisfied as I am of innocence, knowing full well that I have committed no wrong; it is hard for a man in the bloom of youth, when the world looks fair and prosperous to him - when all he loves is in that world - it is hard that a man should be torn from it, and incarcerated in a living tomb. My lords, I am humble individual; I claim no rights but the rights that emanated from a Godhead - the rights that were given to me at the hour of my birth. That right, is my inalienable liberty, and that no government, no people, has a right to take from me. I am perfectly satisfied to stand before a British tribunal to answer for acts or words of mine, if I break any of the laws of the country; but, my lords, you must admit that I have transgressed no law. His lordship, Judge Keogh - I must now candidly admit that I have heard a great deal about that gentleman that was not at all complimentary to him - but I say for myself that his lordship, Judge Keogh has dealt with me in the fairest manner he could have done.  I have nothing to say against the administration of the law, as laid down by you; but I say a people who boast of their freedom - who hold up their magnanimous doings to the world for approval and praise - I say those people are the veriest slaves in existence to allow laws to exist for a moment which deprive a man of liberty.
The Lord Chief Baron - It Is impossible for a Court administering the law, to allow you to speak in such terms against such law.
Costello - I speak under correction, my lord. You must, if you please, be assured that I do not attribute any wrong to your lord-ships - far be it from me; I acknowledge and again reiterate that so far as the law is concerned, I have had a dose that has almost killed me; but if there was a little - a very little -justice mixed in that law, I would not be now addressing your lordships. Of the law I have had sufficient, but I have come to the conclusion that justice is not to be found inside a British courthouse. My lords, I complain, and grievously, of what my friend Colonel Warren and friend General Halpin complained of - of being tried in this court as a British subject; and I think your lordships will not reprimand me much for that expression. I left the shores of my native land -Ireland is the land of my birth, and I am proud to own it. I am proud to say that I am an Irishman, but I am also proud and happy to state that I am an adopted citizen of the United States; and while true to the land of my birth, I can never be false to the land of my adoption. That is not an original phrase, but it expresses the idea which I mean to convey. Now, my lords, my learned and very able counsel, who have conducted my case with the greatest ability and zeal, and of whom I cannot speak in terms of sufficient praise, demanded for me a jury half alien. I was refused it. I was born in this country, and I was, while breath remained in my body, a British subject. In God's name - if I may mention his holy name without sufficient reasons - what affection should I have for England? You cannot stamp out the instincts that are in the breast of man - man will be man to the end of time - the very worm you tread upon will turn upon your feet. If I remained in this country till I descended to the grave, I would remain in obscurity and poverty. I left Ireland, not because I disliked the country - I love Ireland as I love myself - I left Ireland for the very good and cogent reason that I could not live in Ireland. But why could I not live here? I must not say; that would be trespassing. I must not mention why I was forced to leave Ireland - why I am now placed in this dock. Think you, my lords, that I would injure a living being - that I would, of my own free accord, willingly touch a hair upon the head of any man? No, my lords; far would it be from me but that government which has left our people in misery –
The Lord Chief Baron - I cannot allow you to trespass on political grievances.
Costello - I am afraid I am occupying the time of the court too much, but really a man placed in such a position as I now occupy, finds it necessary to make a few observations. I know it savours of a great deal that is bad and foul to be mixed up with Fenian rebels, assassins, and cutthroats. It is very bad; it is not a very good recommendation for a young man. Even were that fact proved home to me - that I were a Fenian - no act of mine has ever thrown dishonour on the name. I know not what Fenian means. I am an Irishman, and that is all-sufficient.

The prisoner then proceeded to criticise the evidence against him at considerable length. He declared emphatically that one of the documents sworn to be in his handwriting was not written by him. He thus continued:-

Your lordships are well aware that there are many contradictions in the informers testimony, and now here is a matter which I am going to mention for the first time. Corydon in his first information at Kilmainham, swears that he never knew me until he saw me at a Fenian picnic, and this he modifies afterwards by the remark, that any man would be allowed into these picnics on the payment of a certain sum. I did not pay much attention to what the fellow was saying about me, as I thought it did not affect me in the least; but this I can distinctly remember, that Mr. Anderson jun. - and he is there to say if I am saying anything false - said that the evidence of Corydon did not affect any one of the six prisoners put in this dock but another and myself. It is very strange if that was said by Mr. Anderson. He knew that there was nothing more to be got out of Corydon, the informer - that he had told everything he knew in his information, but on pressure there was found to be a little left in the sponge. They refreshed his memory a little, and he comes to think that he saw Costello at a meeting in 814 Broadway I think he gives it. And here is a singular occurrence - that Devany, who never swore an information against me, comes on the table and swears that he also saw me at 814 Broadway. Here is one informer striving to corroborate the other. It is a well-known fact that these informers speak to each other, go over the evidence, and what is more likely than that they should make their evidence to agree - say 'I will corroborate your story, you corroborate mine. By this means was it that the overt acts of the 6th of March, which took place at Stepaside, Glencullen, and Tallaght, were brought home to Costello - a man who was 4,000 miles away, and living - and I say it on the word of a man, a Christian man - peaceably, not belonging to that confederation. I did not belong to the Fenian Brotherhood for twelve months before I left America, if I did belong to it at any other time, so help me God! God witnesses what I say, and he records my words above. It is a painful position to be placed in. I know I am a little excited. Were I to speak of this matter under other circumstances I would be more cool and collected. Were I conscious of guilt - did I know that I merited this punishment, I would not speak a word, but say that I deserved and well merited the punishment about to be inflicted upon me. But, my lords, there never was a man convicted in this court more innocent of the charges made against him than Costello. The overt acts committed in the county of Dublin, admitting that the law of England is as it was laid down by your lordship, that a man, a member of this confederacy, if he lived in China, was responsible for the acts of his confederates - admitting that to be law, I am still an innocent man.

Admitting and conceding that England has a right to try me as a British subject, I still am an innocent man. Why do I make these assertions? I know full well they cannot have any effect in lessening the term of my sentence. Can I speak for the sake of having an audience here to listen to me? Do I speak for the satisfaction of hearing my own feeble voice? I am not actuated by such motives. I speak because I wish to let you know that I believe myself innocent; and he would be a hardhearted man, indeed, who would grudge me those few sentences. Now, my lord, I have observed I did not belong to the Fenian confederacy in March of this present year. I did not belong to the Fenian confederacy anterior to the period that Corydon and Devany allege that they saw me act as centre and secretary to Fenian meetings; that, anterior to that period, I never took act or part in the Fenian conspiracy up to the period of my leaving America. Does it do me any good to make these statements? I ask favours, as Halpin said, from no man. I ask nothing but justice - stern justice - even-handed justice. If I am guilty - if I have striven to overthrow the government of this country, if I have striven to revolutionize this country, I consider myself enough of a soldier to bare my breast to the consequences, no matter whether that consequence may reach me on the battle-field or in the cells of Pentonville. I am not afraid of punishment. I have moral courage to bear all that can be heaped upon me in Pentonville, Portland, or Kilmainham, designated by one of us as the modern Bastille. I cannot be worse treated, no matter where you send me to. There never was a more infernal dungeon on God's earth than Kilmainham. It is not much to the point, my lord. I will not say another word about it. I believe I saw in some of the weekly papers that it would be well to appoint a commission to inquire –
The Lord Chief Baron - I cannot allow you to proceed with that subject.
Costello - I will not say another word. I will conclude now. There is much I could say, yet a man in my position cannot help speaking. There are a thousand and one points affecting me here, affecting my character as a man, affecting my life and well-being, and he would be a hard-hearted man who could blame me for speaking in strong terms. I feel that I have within me the seeds of a disease that will soon put me into an early grave, and I have within my breast the seeds of a disease which will never allow me to see the expiration of my imprisonment. It is, my lord, a disease, and I hope you will allow me to speak on this subject, which has resulted from the treatment I have been subjected to. I will pass over it as rapidly as I can, because it is a nasty subject - Kilmainham. But the treatment that I have received at Kilmainham - I will not particularize any man, or the conduct of any man - has been most severe, most harsh, not fit for a beast, much less a human being. I was brought to Kilmainham, so far as I know, without any warrant from the Lord Lieutenant. I was brought on a charge the most visionary and airy. No man knew what I was. No one could tell me or specify to me the charge on which I was detained. I asked the magistrates at Dungarvan to advise me of these charges. They would not tell me. At last I drove them into such a corner I might call it, that one of them rose up and said, with much force, 'You are a Fenian.' Now, my lords, that is a very accommodating word. If a man only breaks a window now he is a Fenian. If I could bring, or if I had only the means of bringing, witnesses from America, I would have established my innocence here without a probability of doubt. I would have brought a host of witnesses to prove that Costello was not the centre of a circle in 1866. I could have brought a host of witnesses to prove that he was not the secretary of a circle - never in all his life. My lords, I speak calmly, and weigh well, and understand every word that I say. If I speak wrong, time will bring the truth so the surface, and would sooner have fifteen years added to my sentence than that any man might say I spoke from this dock, which I regard as a holy place, where stood those whom I revere as much as I do any of our saints -
The Lord Chief Baron - I cannot suffer you to proceed thus.
Costello - l would not speak one word from this dock which I knew to be other than truth. I admit there is a great deal of suspicion, but beyond that there are no facts proved to bring home the charge against me. What I have stated are facts, every one of them. Now, my lords, is it any wonder that I should speak at random and appear a little bit excited. I am not excited in the least. I would be excited in a degree were I expressing myself on any ordinary topic to any ordinary audience. It is my manner, your lordships will admit, and you have instructed the jury not to find me guilty, but to discharge me from the dock if they were not positive that I was a Fenian on the 5th March. I believe these are the instructions that his lordship, Justice Keogh, gave to the jury - If I were not a Fenian on the 5th March; I was entitled to an acquittal. Well I was not a Fenian at that time. I say so as I have to answer to God. Now, to conclude, I have not said much about being an American citizen. For why? I am not permitted to speak on that subject. Now as Colonel Warren remarked, if I am not an American citizen, I am not to be held responsible but to the American Government. I did not press myself on that government. They extended to me those rights and those privileges; they said to me, 'Come forward, young man; enrol yourself under our banner, under our flag; we extend to you our rights and privileges - we admit you to the franchise.' I came not before I was asked. The invitation was extended to me, I had no love then, and never will have, towards England, and I accepted the invitation. I did forswear allegiance to all foreign potentates, and more particularly I forswore all allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain. Your lordships say that the law of the land rules that I had no right to do anything of the kind. That is a question for the governments to settle. America Is guilty of a great fraud if I am in the wrong.
The Lord Chief Baron - I cannot allow you to proceed In that line of argument.
Costello - I will take up no more of your time. If I am still a British subject, America is guilty.
The Lord Chief Baron - I cannot allow you to refer either to the American people or to the American government.
Costello - Would you allow me to state they enticed me from my allegiance to England; therefore she (America) is guilty of high treason. ?
The Lord Chief Baron - We cannot allow you to speak on that subject.
Costello - I will conclude, then. I have nothing to say further than thank your lordship for the latitude you have given me in these few remarks and also to thank your lordships for your kindness during my trial. I know you have done me every justice; you did not strain the law against me; you did everything that was consistent with your duty to do, and I have nothing to complain of there, I must again thank my learned and able counsel for the able zealous, and eloquent manner in which they defended me. I am at a loss for words to express the gratitude I owe to each and every one of those gentlemen who have so ably conducted my case. Now, my lords, I will receive that sentence which is impending. I am prepared for the worst. I am prepared td be torn from my friends, from my relations, from my home. I am prepared to spend the bloom of my youth in a tomb more dark and horrible than, the tomb wherein the dead rest. But there is one consolation that I will bring into exile, if I may so call that house of misery - a clear conscience, a heart whose still small voice tells me that I have done no wrong to upbraid myself with. This is the consolation that I have - that my conscience is clear. I know it appears somewhat egotistical for me to speak thus, but it is a source of consolation for me that I have nothing to upbraid myself with, and I will now say in conclusion, that If my sufferings can ameliorate the wrongs or the sufferings of Ireland I am willing be offered up as a sacrifice for the good of old Erin.

Author: A. M. Sullivan

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