The casebooks of a nineteenth century coroner
: Death, murder and politics in county Monaghan (1846-78)

  • Michelle McCann

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The objective of this study is to offer an historical and social analysis of the coroner in nineteenth-century Ireland using as a case study the life and work of William Charles Waddell, Esq. (1798–1878) who served as coroner in north County Monaghan over three decades from 1846 to 1878. This thesis offers an analysis of the role of the Irish coroner that is currently absent from scholarship and uniquely places the coroner, and specifically Waddell, within the framework of local government. While inquest reports from newspapers or official reports have been used to bolster other academic works, this study uses original inquest reports written in a coroner’s casebook. This study offers, for the first time, a social history of County Monaghan during the Great Famine drawing on the records of inquests and examining the alignment of imposed legislation, local mismanagement of the crisis and Waddell’s inquests to reveal all factors that contributed towards those deaths.

This study offers a new administrative history of the coroners’ office in Ireland in the nineteenth century. It examines the extent to which the coroner operated within a colonial context, as well as the purpose of the office and the inquest in determining a cause of death and liability in cases of murder. It considers property qualifications and social status as requirements to gain entry to the office and the conditions under which such men were elected. Compensation and the working relationship between coroners and other agents involved in the inquest and judicial process are considered as to their potential impact on the verdicts. It also offers some consideration of the humanitarian aspect of the coroners’ work and the social benefit of investigating sudden or suspicious deaths, particularly inquests held on the poor, sick or mentally ill. The patterns that emerge emphasize a modernisation of society within the county, representative of the country at large.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2025.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPeter Gray (Supervisor) & Olwen Purdue (Supervisor)

Cite this