Gorey v Donovan

The demise of Patrick Donovan

James Gorey sued Patrick Donovan in 1865 for getting his daughter Mary pregnant, claiming one thousand pounds in damages.

The lawsuit was part of an ongoing feud between the two men, which stretched over several years and finished only when Donovan died in mysterious circumstances.

The Supreme Court action never proceeded to trial, suggesting James primarily wanted to shame and irritate Donovan. As mentioned in the previous post, Mary Gorey sued Donovan in the local court for maintenance of her illegitimate child. This action failed because paternity couldn’t be proved.

The Supreme Court writ states that Mary was a servant of Donovan when he “debauched and carnally knew her”.

In his response, Donovan denied being the father of Mary’s child and said she was not his servant. The second part appears to be true. It’s likely that James claimed otherwise because that was the only basis to seek damages. I imagine it wasn’t an offence in 1865 to get a woman pregnant outside of marriage, but there may have been legal recourse if the girl were a servant.

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Donovan seems to have been a vexatious character and frequently litigious, not just against James Gorey, but many others.

Scrolling through the Kyneton Observer from the early 1860s there are numerous court reports involving Donovan, who owned the Farmers Arms Hotel and land opposite the Gorey property.

In August 1862, Donovan charged William Hill with “making use of insulting and abusive language to him” at the hotel. Hill was back in court a few weeks later, seeking damages against Donovan’s wife Mary Ann for beating him about the head.

In August 1865, a man named Hudson sued Donovan for assault. The claim was that Donovan forcibly ejected Hudson from the hotel, and when he fell to the ground, kicked him and threw stones, breaking his ribs. There were no witnesses and the case was not proved.

Donovan’s luck soured in April 1867 when a fire destroyed his crops. The newspaper reported that some stubble ignited in a neighbour’s paddock and the fire quickly spread. All efforts to subdue the flames were useless and everything was consumed: farm offices, implements, grain and hay. There were about 400 bushels of wheat and oats and 70 tons of hay.

The damage was estimated to cost 700 pounds and Donovan was not insured.

“There is nothing to show by what means the firing did occur,” the Kyneton Observer reported.

The end came for Donovan two months later when he died suddenly in June 1867, aged 35. The Kyneton Observer reported he appeared to be in perfect health the day before, “but being seized with sudden illness it was thought advisable to send for medical assistance”.

The doctor attended and Donovan said he would like to rest on a sofa.

“He had only been there a few minutes when he complained of pains in the region of the heart and asked Dr O’Reilly to help him sit up. The doctor held him up and the unfortunate patient immediately expired in his arms.”

An inquest found he died of pericardial effusion, which can be caused by infection, trauma, kidney failure, cancer, autoimmune disorders or drugs/poison.

There was no suggestion at the inquest that Donovan died in suspicious circumstances; in fact the doctor who conducted an autopsy had “not the slightest doubt it arose from natural causes”.

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The final paragraph of the newspaper report states: “He leaves a widow and we believe several children to lament his sudden death.”

That was a clever understatement. Patrick Donovan married Mary Ann O’Leary in 1856 but they never had children. Donovan had a son with Mary Gorey, and according to the Kyneton Observer, there were other illegitimate offspring.

A juror at the inquest was John Olive, who married Mary Gorey in 1867. Mary’s illegitimate son was renamed from Patrick to Thomas.

Donovan’s wife Mary Ann inherited his estate, which was much diminished by the fire.

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