“In our obituary of last month we recorded the death of Thomas Phillips Vokes, for upwards of thirty years the chief magistrate of police in Limerick, a post conferred on him for his daring courage and extraordinary exertions in putting down the rebellious attempts which threatened the south of Ireland in 1820 to 1822. Mr. Yokes, at that period a country magistrate residing on his paternal estate, single-handed and unarmed, seized the notorious Captain Rock the terror of the whole district. During three days and nights he pursued him through the mountain fastnesses of Limerick, and at length having captured him, brought him in and lodged him in the county jail. He was soon after tried, convicted and executed When Munster was paralysed by the murder of Major Going and others — when magistrates shrunk in natural terror, well knowing the fatal consequences of activity — when harassed authorities, worn-out troops, and ill-organised police held back from a task of no ordinary danger and toil, Thomas Phillips Vokes boldly stepped forward to put down crime, and bring the violators of the law to instant and summary punishment. He claimed descent from the Vauxes, Lords of Gilsland, and in his belief he was borne out by the fact of his grandfather, Sir Richard Vokes, having originally spelt his name Vaux. Three times were the thanks of Government tendered to this officer, accompanied (on two occasions) by substantial pecuniary marks of approvaL He was the last surviving magistrate under Peel’s Irish Police Act. By his death a pension of £950 a year reverts to the Government”.
The Petty Sessions were presided over by a Magistrate and were the lowest courts in 19th century Ireland. They covered civil matters as well as criminal. Anyone could end up before the magistrate in the Petty Sessions. On a typical day the court might hear dozens of cases and the courtroom would be hot, crowded and loud. Even the legal professions complained about the conditions in the courtrooms.
If you sat in on one of these sessions you could find yourself next to the beer-breathed man arrested for public drunkenness the night before, leaning against the wall might be a local landholder determined to have something done about the goat that keeps wandering onto his land and eating anything that comes into its path.