James Wallace was described in court as a 37 year-old astrologer. When he appeared before Mr Bridge at Bow Street he was charged with a violent assault on his wife. The case was fairly straightforward, although some things about Wallace clearly disturbed the magistrate and led him to hand the man a hefty sentence.
Mr and Mrs Wallace lived at Edward Street on the Hampstead Road. The newspaper report gives us no indication whether their marriage was a happy one or whether, instead, Wallace’s abuse of his wife was a regular occurrence. I expect it was the latter because the historical research that has analysed domestic violence in the 1800s reveals that many women put up with a considerable amount of abuse before they felt impelled to take the matter to court.
At Thames court, in the East End, spousal abuse was a weekly if not daily part of the business of the court and Messrs. Lushington and Saunders regularly sent violent men to prison or fined them, for beating this partners. Thomas Holmes, who wrote several article sand books on the Police Courts in the late Victorian and Edwardian period had this to say about domestic abuse before the Police Court magistrates:
‘These wives will put up with a lot before they complain to the magistrates, and it is only when the wounds are fresh, and pain and resentment have not yet subsided, that they will give evidence against their husbands. Smarting under their wrongs, they rush to our courts and beg for protection, but when the summons has been granted and a week has elapsed before it is heard, their resentment cools, and very little evidence can be obtained from them; in fact, many wives do not appear, and a great number of those that do appear lie unblushingly to the magistrate in order to save their husbands from prison‘.
Thomas Holmes, Pictures and Problems from the London Police Courts (Edward Arnold, London, 1900). p.64
Holmes was a Police Court Missionary, a forerunner of the Probation Officers that were to be created in 1907. PCMs attached themselves to the London courts and offered help and advice to defendants, whilst at the same time seeking to them to append their name to the pledge to refrain from drinking alcohol. These champions of temperance identified the ‘demon drink’ as the ‘curse of the working classes’ and became familiar and largely, it seems, welcome faces at the courts.
Anyway, let us return to James Wallace. He did not fit the usual profile of a ‘wife beater; in late Victorian London. Rather than being a rough manual worker who, on returning from work or the pub late in the evening, took out his frustrations on his life partner. Instead Wallace was an educated man, or so he wanted the magistrate to think. Whilst he was on remand for the attack on his wife he wrote to the magistrate. In his letter he explained that he was a former clerk, but now earned a living as an astrologer. He spoke of his wife in ‘a very derogatory manner’, trying to excuse his own behaviour in chastising her.
However, Wallace hadn’t simply beaten his wife for her bad behaviour – as was commonly the case with men in the period, or at least was the justification they presented in court. Wallace had dragged his wife through the streets and punched her in the head. This stepped way beyond contemporary views of acceptable ‘chastisement’.
Moreover, James Wallace was, to the magistrate at least, a charlatan and a trickster. As an astrologer he claimed to be able to read peoples’ fortunes and Mr Bridge described him as someone who ‘obtained money by cheating unwily persons’.
It is quite easy to get the impression that Mr Bridge was disgusted by the man he saw before him in the dock. He was squandered an education to peddle false dreams and he undermined any pretence of being a ‘gentleman’ by his cruel treatment of his wife.
In his letter Wallace had apparently asked the magistrate to allow himself and his wife to separate. That at least Bridge was happy to agree to. But he added that the astrologer would have to pay his wife maintenance of 10s a week for the duration of that separation; neither were free to remarry unless they obtained an expensive divorce.
On top of that the justice ordered that Wallace be sent to prison for six months at hard labour, a serious penalty that reflected his poor opinion of him, his chosen ‘career’ and his behaviour towards his spouse.
I guess James didn’t see that coming…
[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, April 14, 1889]