One wedding, a broken jaw, and a prison sentence


On Saturday 30 November William Mellish appeared at the Greenwich Police court accused of assaulting his a sister Caroline at their cousin’s wedding. Caroline, married to man named Hannen, was present in court with her swathed in bandages.

Mr Marsham was told that the wedding party had retired to Mellish’s home in Deptford where the drinking had continued. A sing song had resulted in arguments as Caroline’s sister apparently omitted some words from a popular ditty and the celebration descended into a full-blown fistfight.

Caroline poked her sister in the eye, the sisters went at each other no holds barred and William reached across the table and punched out at the pair of them. His blow landed on Caroline, breaking her jaw.

He tried to claim that Caroline had hurt herself by banging her head against the table but the magistrate wasn’t convinced. Everyone had been ‘the worse for drink’ and I suspect he wanted to make an example of such working-class excess.

Mellish was sent to prison for three months, meaning he would miss the family Christmas that year. In retrospect that was probably no bad thing.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 1, 1889]

A mother’s grief as her son’s rejection condemns her to the workhouse


Having just formally committed William Herbert to the Old Bailey to face trial for murder the Clerkenwell magistrate then had to deal with a string of applications from impoverished petitioners who needed help.

One of these was an elderly widow who said that her son had abandoned her. She wanted to know if Mr Barstow (the magistrate) could compel her son to support her?

The justice asked her to explain the situation, which she did. Her son had recently married, and that had been the start of ‘her troubles’ because at almost the same time her husband had died. Except that he wasn’t actually her husband. In common with many working-class couple in the 1800s they hadn’t officially married.

But no one knew this, not even her children, so it must have come as something of a shock to the young man when his new wife (‘through her inquisitiveness’) found out and told him. Up until then the widow had been allowing her son ‘to have what part of the house he pleased’ and he had agreed to pay her 26a week in maintenance.

However, as soon as he discovered the family secret he changed; he called her a ‘fallen woman, a woman of sin’ and refused to have anything more to do with her. She didn’t complain or censure him but simply reminded her son that he ‘had been brought up respectably’ and she hoped he would at least continue to pay her the weekly allowance.

He refused outright and (and here was the clue to his change of heart) told her that ‘his wife ashamed of her past conduct, and would not allow him to do anything for her’.

‘In fact’, he continued, ‘he had got orders from his wife not to speak to her’.

She had come to terms with his rejection of her but she needed that money which was why she had come to see the magistrate for his help. Unfortunately Mr Barstow told her that there was nothing he could do for her; ‘an illegitimate son was not bound to keep his mother’. With that the ‘poor woman, who seemed much affected’ left the court probably knowing that her next port of call must be the parish workhouse.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, November 15, 1880]

Two ungrateful sons take out their anger on their mother’s effects


Mercer Street, Seven Dials c.1890

When Mrs Lang lost her husband she also lost the main breadwinner and the driving force for the family business. The Langs had run a coppersmith business in Mercer Street, close to  Covent Garden. Fortunately for Mrs Lang she had two grown up sons and they undertook to help out in the running of the workshop.

However, the brothers, William and George, were not keen to take on the business for ever and soon began to resent working for their mother. They hit on the idea to emigrate and decided to seek their fortunes in Australia. Australia, which had once been deemed only fit as a dumping ground for Britain’s unwanted criminals, was now flourishing. It had enjoyed its own gold rush and the transportation of felons had come to a halt in the 1860s. Now, in May 1890, it looked like an attractive destination for the Lang brothers, but they needed to the funds to get there and establish themselves.

They began by asking their mother for money, above and beyond what they earned from working in the shop. The requests soon turned to demands, and eventually to demands with menaces. So concerned was Mrs Lang that she told her solicitor who wrote to the men warning them to desist.

This did nothing to deter them however and after their mother rejected demand for a sum of £500 they threatened to ‘do for her’ and then went to her home and smashed it up. The damage they did was considerable. While the elderly lady sheltered in her bedroom the pair set to work on her effects. When she felt it was safe to emerge she found a trail of devastation:

All ‘her pictures and ornaments had been smashed, and were lying about in atoms. The damage would amount to quite £30’ [£1,800 today]. A week later William went further, assaulting his mother by striking her ‘several blows’.

After appearing in court at Marlborough Street William was formally committed for trial while George, although acquitted of causing the damage, was ordered to find sureties (to the tune of £50) to keep the peace towards his mother for six months.

[from The Standard, Friday, May 16, 1890]

Sibling rivalry gets out of hand at Westminster

Anyone with brothers or sisters is familiar with the petty arguments and jealousies that we grow up with, and I’m sure most parents are aware that these exist as well. Most of the time these are manageable and parents intervene to restore order and occasionally to ‘bang heads together’ if necessary. It is certainly unusual for them to end up in court, but this is just what happened to the Howell family in 1860.

17 year-old Jane Howell had been a domestic servant but had ‘left a position’ (either sacked, or had ran away we don’t know) at the end of December 1859. She returned to the family home where her mother and her brother Robert lived.

Almost immediately there were problems. Jane and her mother argued, and Mrs Howell accused her daughter of being ‘too fond of late hours’ (the Victorian equivalent of being a ‘dirty stop out’). When Jane and her mother fought it seems that Robert intervened on behalf of his mother.

On New Year’s day Robert struck his sister, blacking her eye. She put up with this but a few days later he entered her mother’s room where Jane was. Robert was looking for a comb on the mantle shelf but couldn’t find it. He and Jane exchanged harsh words and then he hit her again, ‘blackening her other eye’.

This was quite enough for Jane who went to get a warrant to bring an allegation of assault against her brother. He had managed to evade the police sent to pick him up however, and in the meantime had continued to abuse his sister. Finally Mrs Howell had thrown her daughter out of the house and the case eventually found its way to Westminster Police Court.

In court Mrs Howell presented a very different story, backing her son’s account. Jane was out late too often and when chastised for this my her mother she had rounded on her, abusing her. Jane’s accusations that Robert had hit her and used ‘filthy language’ were dismissed and instead Jane was painted as the villain.

The magistrate asked how she could have received the two black eyes but Mrs Howell told him that the girl had collided with the door of the house as she ran out. Robert claimed he had tried to mediate between the warring females, and tried to ‘coax’ his sister ‘as much as he could’ to behave better.

‘By pushing her out of the house, and blackening her eyes I suppose’ asked the magistrate, clearly frustrated with the whole sorry affair.

Jane declared that she could provide witnesses to the abuse she’d suffered and PC Page (147 B) reported that when he had arrested Robert the neighbours attested to the bruises the girl had suffered.

Mum had sided with her son over her daughter, there seems to have been no father at home (he may have died or abandoned them). Perhaps she felt she closer to Robert, perhaps she was scared of him and his violence. Perhaps Jane was a very difficult young woman. Whatever the truth it didn’t end very satisfactorily for the former servant girl.

Robert was bound over to keep the peace towards his sister but I can’t imagine they all lived happily every after.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 18, 1860]