A bigamist is finally cornered

   “Now come, you gentleman soldier, and won’t you marry me?”
“Oh no, my dearest Polly, such things can never be,
For married I am already and children I have three;
Two wives are allowed in the army but one’s too many for me.”

The Gentleman Soldier, Traditional

William Henry Brinsden Hinder had quite a handle* and seemingly quite  a number of wives.  It was (and is) an offence in law to marry multiple people in England and when he was brought before the magistrate at Thames Police Court William denied the charge. The evidence however, suggested he had married at least two, if not three women in his lifetime and had try to fake his own death to get out of at least one relationship.

Mr Henry Gwilliam, a newsagent and pork butcher from Cirencester deposed that he had been present when Hinder had married Fanny Sterry at the Baptist Chapel in Cirencester on 3 September 1887 (two years previously). A marriage certificate proved the veracity of his statement and the court was told the couple now had two children.

However the next witness was Jane Burns, a resident of Canning Town, who claimed to have lived with the accused in April 1880. She knew him as Henry William Brisden and he told her he was unmarried. Jane and Henry were married at Henley-on-Thames on 16 July 1881 in the local parish church. Jane said they had split up and he had gone to live with another woman, but he had then returned to her; she added that they had three children from the union.

The police constable that had arrested him told the court that when he had presented Hinder with Jane he declared ‘she is not my wife’. The prisoner had failed to provide sureties for his appearance in court and so was currently residing in Holloway Prison (which later became a women’s prison in 1903  and is now set to close).

It emerged in court that Hinder had appeared at Thames before, some three months earlier, charged on that occasion with threatening behaviour towards a women who claimed the pair were engaged to be married. He had told her he had been to a seance at which her dead father’s spirit had blessed their intended  marriage. At the time it was ‘stated that Hinder had three wives, and had been in the army’. While he was stationed at Aldershot he had paid for a newspaper advertisement to announce his death by drowning, and posed as a detective to write to his grieving wife adding ‘some hints as to obtaining a livelihood for herself and children’.

It seems he was a serial liar and bigamist and it had taken some time to bring him in as he had been traveling on the Continent. Now he had him the magistrate fully committed Hinder for trial. Life finally caught up with Hinder and on 24 June 1889 the judge at Old Bailey sent him to prison for five years penal servitude.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, June 16, 1889]

  • English slang for ‘name’

One thought on “A bigamist is finally cornered

  1. Quite a story! Five years penal servitude seems a tad heavy-handed, especially if one judged it against today’s norms. I had a good friend whose father was sent to prison as a bigamist. Sadly, it robbed my friend of his father thereafter, and meant his mother had to bring up two children single-handed. How times have changed.


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