The poor servant girl ‘undone’ by the master (or another male of the house) is a well-worn trope of Victorian fiction. That said it is fairly rare for stories like this to reach the newspapers, at least in the reports that I have been looking through for the last three years.
In mid October 1879 an unnamed domestic servant applied for a summons at Westminster Police court to bring Edward Salmon to court. She alleged that he was the father of her unborn child and that he had run away from his responsibilities and left her ‘ruined’.
Salmon was not in court, nor was his mother – Mrs Hermina J. Salmon – for whom the girl had worked. She had employed as a maid in the salmon’s house at 55 Oxford Road, Ealing and the girl told the magistrate that Salmon had ‘accomplished her ruin in the early part of last year’. When it became obvious that she was pregnant she was sacked and turned out of the house.
This was the usual consequence of intimate relationships between female servants and male members of the household, regardless of whether the sexual relationship was consensual or not. In this case Mrs Salmon clearly held her maid responsible. She told her in a letter that she could not have been ‘a “correct” girl when she entered service, for had she been so she would not have allowed [her son] to take liberties with her’.
Edward had also written to the girl (who had been asking for money) telling her that she should not ‘get cut up about it’. Instead she should:
‘keep up her spirits, and although he was sorry, it was “no use crying over spilt milk”.
He also advised her not to threaten him for he would be happy to ‘let the law take its course’.
He warned her to stay away until ‘any unpleasantry passed over’ (until she’d had the baby) and that she was not tell his mother either.
He wasn’t afraid, he said, of his character being dragged through the mud because ‘it was so bad at present it could hardly be made worse’.
What a charmer.
Edward Salmon had sent the girl £2, as had his mother, but they promised no more saying that was all they could afford. As a result the servant, showing considerable courage and determination, had gone to law.
Mr. D’Eyncourt was told that Edward Salmon was not available and nor was his mother. Both were represented by a lawyer. There was a certificate from Mrs Salmon explaining her absence (the reasons were not given by the paper however) but a witness appeared to depose that he’d seen Edward boarding a ship at the docks. Edward Salmon had taken a ship bound for India and was currently in Paris, although his lawyer said that he would return in a ‘few weeks’.
D’Eyncourt declared that the summons had been duly served and so the law required Salmon to appear. That explained why he ‘had bolted’. He issued a maintenance order for the upkeep of the child – 5sa week until it reached 15 years of age. Salmon would also have to pay cost of 25s, and he backdated the order to January, which was when the maid had first made her application.
I do think this case is unusual but perhaps because of the determination of this woman to hold the father of her unborn child to account. To take on a social ‘superior’ in this way was a really brave thing to do. The court also supported her, naming Salmon publically (making it harder for him to shirk his responsibility) and handing down a maintenance order, while keeping her name out of the news.
Her reputation may have been ruined by the careless action of a young man who took advantage but she had won back some self respect at least. Whether he ever returned or made and kept up his payments to her and his child is a question I can’t answer. I would doubt it but at least this young woman had tried.
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, October 19, 1879]