Murder in Dechomet

Sometimes in the course of researching a particular family one uncovers interesting information on neighbours. Of course local history and genealogy are linked - as I have mentioned before one of my key research strategies is to search by place to focus on townland/parish and seek out the sources pertaining to the area that reveals the surnames.

Such was the case when researching the family of Maxwell in the parishes of Garvaghy and Drumgooland in County Down. Matthew Maxwell (c1776-1859) of Ballooly also held farms in Cloughskelt and Dechomet. The latter farms were held by lease under Lord Dungannon. A search of Lord Dungannon's estate records in PRONI uncovered an early lease dated 5 June 1803 for a small farm in Decomed containing 8 acres plantation measure. This was a perpetuity lease (or a three-lives lease) a valuable lease that would later pass from Matthew Maxwell to Robert Maxwell. 

What caught my attention were the different lives given in the lease as follows - 

Natural lives of John McAllister nephew of the lessee aged about five years (giving him an estimated year of birth of 1797); Thomas Heron grandson to the Rev Thomas Mayne aged about 8 years (born c1796) and of James Paxton son to James of Decomed aged about 7 years (born c1794/95).

The Rev Thomas Mayne was the minister of Drumgooland Presbyterian Church from 1749 until his death in 1806. He was succeeded by his grandson the Rev Thomas Mayne Reid. Thomas Heron born c1796 was another grandson of the first minister adding an interesting branch to the Mayne family tree.

I had come across the Paxton family of Dechomet before as they were near neighbours of Robert Maxwell of Dechomet mentioned in a registered deed of 1813 (ROD: volume 730 page 365 memorial number 498200). Following up on the James Paxton of Dechomed, the life in the deed, I uncovered a rather grizzly tale of betrayal and murder in a local newspaper. It seems most likley that the James Paxton given as the life in the deed 1802 was the same James Paxton murdered seemingly by his brother John Paxton in 1847.

Newry Telegraph 
Dechemet, murder 15 May 1847,
Murder in the County of Down. 
Murder of Mr. James Paxton - suspicion has fallen upon the son and brother of the deceased, who are both held to bail untill the proceedings. The deceased who was a batchelor and a wealthy farmer, aged about 54, resided in his own house, in the parish of Drumgooland, about 5 miles from Rathfriland. The other inmates were an aged housekeeper, a female servant and a boy, who slept in an outhouse, in the yard. Early on the evening of the 11th. the deceased and his household retired to rest, in the morning it was discovered that the former had left his bed room and the house, but this was not considered extraordinary, as he was habitually an early riser, it was not till about nine o clock that the servant boy, proceeding down the avenue, accidentally discovered the body of his late master lying in a pool of water within 60 yards of the hall door frightfully disfigured.

The boy then ran to the house of John Paxton the brother of the deceased, and announced his appalling discovery. His son James Paxton returned immediately with the servant boy to the scene of the murder and told the boy not to make any alarm but to go for the police and say that his master was found dead, adding that he himself would write to the coroner, the boy proceeded as directed. Meantime the neighbours had assembled, and it was soon evident from appearances that a violent and mortal struggle had taken place, the ground for up to about 30 yards being torn and trampled up. stones here and there as well as the walls of the avenue were speckled with blood. On the 13th. the coroner arrived and a jury was sworn in. Evidence was given and also the fact that robbery was not the object of the murder as the sum of £8 in notes and silver was found on his person. The inquest was adjourned till the 15th. On the following day the local magistrate Mr. F. C. Beers who had been in Dublin returned to the neighbourhood and in consequence of information given him, he accompanied by Mr. J. P. Hill  Sub-Inspector and a party of police proceeded at night to the house of Mr. John Paxton which they searched. In the upper room they discovered a coat the left sleeve of which was deeply stained in blood.

The family attempted to account for it by stating the old man John Paxton had been bleeding cattle, but this statement did not satisfy the magistrate, also because of further circumstances of the footmarks indented in the soil  where the deadly struggle had taken place, appearing to correspond with the peculiar shoes worn by the young man James Paxton, the eldest son of John Paxton. The eldest son of John Paxton was taken into custody and held to bail, in conjunction with two persons named Kelso father and son, On the 13th, the coroners jury again assembled, and some witnesses were examined whose evidence however added nothing material to the facts already mentioned. The Inquest was then adjourned to the 20th.



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