Adolphus Cooke (1792–1876)

by Patrick Geogheghan

COOKE, Adolphus (1792–1876), was born in Cookesborough near Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, the illegitimate son of Robert Cooke, landowner, and an unnamed servant. Adolphus’s mother was sent away, and he was raised by a nurse, Mary Kelly, in a two-roomed thatched cottage, forbidden to visit his father’s house. Educated in England, he joined the army, serving in Spain, Portugal and South Africa. Robert Cooke died in 1835; as his two legitimate sons had predeceased him, the estate was left to Adolphus.

As a landlord, he was a military disciplinarian. He drilled his labourers as if they were soldiers and dismissed them if they lost any of the tools he had given them. He hired unusual staff, including a large, slow-witted man called Tom Cruise. Disgusted by children, he once gave a beggar £5 because he was childless; on another occasion he berated a man for being naughty because he had twelve children. He had a greater regard for animals, and the crows at Cookesborough were given special attention. When a bullock was drowning, however, he insisted on having the other bullocks look on as a warning to them. Challenged once by a bull, Cooke insisted on fighting it with a red coat and sword; but he was no match for it, and his life was in danger until a maidservant intervened and rescued him. Cooke promptly dismissed her, with the rebuke that only the strong should be allowed to survive.

Part of his attitude towards animals stemmed from his belief in reincarnation. Cooke believed that a turkey-cock on his farm contained the soul of his late father or grandfather, and it was treated with special care. His favourite was a large red setter called Gusty, who was prone to roaming. After several punishments Cooke warned the dog, in front of witnesses, that any further transgressions would result in his being hanged like a common criminal. Gusty, however, ignored the warning, and, furious, Cooke ordered a trial after his recapture. The jury heard how Gusty had resisted arrest, and he was found guilty. None of the staff, however, were willing to perform the execution until a man by the name of ‘The Bug Mee’ volunteered, and led the dog away. After a short time he returned with the dog still alive, and explained that the turkey-cock had intervened to prevent the hanging. Convinced of the veracity of this tale, Cooke gave him the sole job of minding the turkey and dog.

Fearful about his demise, Cooke constructed a large marble vault on his estate, forty square feet in area. A great fireplace was constructed, with orders that this was to be kept perpetually lit. A marble chair, table and books were also provided for his comfort. He was an avid collector of books, owning over 9,000, although not one Bible. He died at home in 1876, and the rector of Killucan refused to bury him in his vault. Instead he was buried in the large cement beehive where his father and his nurse were interred, at Reynella cemetery near Delvin, Co. Westmeath. He had made three wills at different times. The second was made out in favour of a local cousin, Dr Wellington Purdon, but he was disinherited after he killed a fox while hunting: Cooke sometimes believed that he might return as a fox or a bird. Indeed, a popular local story, shortly after Cooke’s death, concerned a fox that was killed inside the manor kitchen. Locals joked that a kitchen was the right place to find a cook. Purdon contested the will, claiming that Cooke was of unsound mind, but the court maintained that he was not insane. The protracted legal battles bankrupted the estate.

Taken from History Ireland Magazine

Adolphus Cooke (1792–1876)