‘Did you accidentally throw you arms around their waists?’ Sexual assault in early Victorian London

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The law is supposed to deal with everyone equally, regardless of race, gender, or class. The law supposedly protects the poorest in the land and the richest, without favour. However, that was (and is) not always the case.

The courts (and gallows and prison cells) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were overwhelming stocked with members of the laboring poor (however we define them).

Wealthy defendants were occasionally prosecuted and convicted but they often received more lenient sentences or escaped justice altogether. They certainly weren’t the targets of a justice system that was keen to make examples of some the deter others.

When it came to the lower courts, like the metropolitan police courts of Victorian London, a person with money and ‘respectability’ could hope to pay their way out of trouble, a situation that was generally unavailable to most working class defendants. Take the example of these two ‘gentlemen’, brought before Mr Grove at the Worship Police court in October 1839.

William Cooper and Henry Gordon were described as ‘fashionably dressed young men’. We might find other epithets for them today.

They were charged by Emmanuel De Palva (a ‘foreign gentleman’) with insulting and assaulting his wife and daughter in the street. M. De Palva was on his way he to Stoke Newington with his family after an evening out. As the women  walked along a few yards ahead of M. De Palva two men came up in the other direction and accosted them.

At first they ‘stared rudely under the ladies’ bonnets’, which was intimidating, but then they grasped the women around the waists and hugged them. It might seem like high jinx and far from serious but this was the beginning of the Victorian era and social norms were not what they are today. This was an act of unwanted intimacy, a sexual assault in all but name, and the ladies were outraged by it.

The women screamed for help and De Palva came running up. He grabbed hold of the men, and then handed them over to a policeman who had also rushed up having been alerted by the cries for help.

All of this evidence was confirmed by Madame De Palva, who said the men seemed quite sober.

In court Cooper took upon himself the role of spokesperson. He tried to say that it had been a foggy night and they hadn’t been aware of the women. Perhaps they had accidentally jostled them as they passed, for which they were sorry.

The magistrate asked him: ‘Did you accidentally throw you arms around their waists?’

Having now heard ‘two respectable ladies’ swear to what happened he was ‘perfectly staggered’ by the suggestion. M. De Palva now added that he had been visited by Cooper’s father that morning, who had offered an apology on behalf of his son. De Palva refused on the grounds that he would only accept a public apology, one that cleared his wife and daughter of any taint on their reputations.

Mr Grove said that an apology could now be made and would then be ‘conveyed into the required channel’, in other words be printed so everyone would know whom was at fault. It was a disgrace, but the disgrace was to be owned by Cooper and Gordon and not be allowed to damage the reputations of Madame De Palva or her daughter.

He was also instant that some form of financial penalty be extracted from the young men so he suggested they make an contribution to the local poor. Both defendants issued their unreserved apologies and donated 10each to the poor box.

Had the young men been working class I doubt they would have got away with an apology and such a small fine. Had the women been working class and unaccompanied I doubt the case would ever have reached the courts.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 15, 1839]

‘So after getting all you could out of him, you walked off with someone else?’: Love, music and discord in Lambeth

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The path of true love does not always run smoothly, and when things go wrong love can quickly turn to animosity. James Gray had been courting Georgina Hastings for three years, bringing her gifts and acting as a security for some of her purchases.

One of these was a pianoforte that she needed for her music lessons. Officially Georgina’s music tutor was guarantor for the piano but in reality it was understood that it was Gray that had undertaken to keep up repayments should Georgina miss any. She worked as a concert singer and she was a very attractive young woman, both of which meant that she was not short of admirers.

At some point her love for James cooled and someone else replaced him in her affections. When he found out James took his rejection badly.

After an evening’s work at the theatre Georgina came home around midnight to her rooms at 22 Lambeth Square to find the piano and several items of her clothing missing. She spoke to her landlady (Ellen Hare) and discovered that James had been round and cleared them out. Hare had given him the key after he convinced her that the property was his to take away. Georgina went to the police to get warrant for Gray’s arrest and on 1 August 1854 the couple were reunited in Lambeth Police court.

Gray was represented in court by a lawyer, Mr Wontner, who was to go on to serve as a police court magistrate later in the century. He established that Miss Hastings did not own the piano and that Gray was her de facto guarantor. He also prompted her to agree that the couple were to be married before she had ‘kicked him off for another lover’.

‘I don’t know what you mean by kicking him off’, Georgina replied, ‘but I suppose I had a right to change my mind if I thought proper’.

‘Yes, undoubtedly’, responded the lawyer, ‘but my client is a mason, and would have made you a good husband; and after three year’s courtship, I think it was quite time your loves were cemented’.

By now there was widespread chuckling in the court, though at who’s expense it is hard to judge. Georgina was unmoved, ‘that may be your opinion’ she said (it clearly wasn’t hers).

Mr Wonter continued, outlining the sums of money (amounting to around £100) that James had given his lover either in cash or presents over the three years of their relationship. Georgian challenged this admitting only that Gray had provided her with ‘five, ten, and sometimes fifteen shillings a week’. Even taking the mid point of these figures (76d) that still works out at close to £100 over three years so Wontner was not that much far of the mark.

And then, he told her, ‘after getting all you could out of him, you walked off with someone else?’

Georgina ‘did not condescend to answer this question’.

In summing up his client’s defense Mr Wontner told the magistrate (Mr Norton) that his client had removed ‘the property on finding he had been jilted and cut by Miss Hastings, and under the perfect conviction that it belonged to him’. Mr Norton, while he might have sympathized with Gray could not see any justification for taking the lady’s clothing. The lawyer conceded this and said his client was prepared to return the clothes and the piano, so long as he was no longer expected to act as security for it.

The magistrate agreed, and having removed the felonious elements of the charge this became a simple dispute over property. That being settled he was happy to discharge James Gray, who walked away to lick his wounds and find a new lover. Miss Hastings was free to return to her singing and her piano lessons but her reputation had undoubtedly suffered for having her love life publicized in the newspapers.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 02, 1854]

When it is the victim’s character that is really on trial, and that is what really matters in a male dominated courtroom

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Sometimes what might seem to be a fairly straightforward prosecution can reveal all sorts of other things, including contemporary prejudices and assumptions. Take this case as an example: in March 1895 George Brown was charged with stealing ‘a metal bracelet and brooch’ from Mollie Dashwood. The location of the theft and the behaviour of the victim both gave the accused (and the newspapers writing up the story) the opportunity to attack the woman’s character rather than treat her as someone who had been robbed.

Mollie (or Mrs Dashwood as she presented herself) told the sitting magistrate at Westminster Police court that on the previous Saturday evening (23 March) she had suddenly felt faint so had dropped in to the Black Horse pub for ‘a drop of brandy’. It was there she met George Brown who was known to the landlord and described as his friend.

George was there with some chums and they invited Mollie to join them in a few drinks. George showed an interest in her bracelet and began to play with it on her arm; flirting with her is how we might see it. After a while he managed to persuade her to go into the billiard room with him, perhaps because it was quieter, and there he helped her off with her boa (her feather scarf that she would have worn as a sort of collar accessory). According to the barmaid at some point Mollie removed the bracelet and her brooch and asked her to look after them, but she refused.

Things were getting a little intimate and the landlord had noticed.  This was what was concentrated on in court as Mollie was cross-examined by the magistrate and the prisoner’s counsel. She was married and gave a (false) address in Catherine Street where she said she lived with her husband. Dashwood was her stage name: she was a former ‘serio-dancer’ who had ‘roved’ (i.e. travelled) a lot. This may have meant that Mollie performed on the stage at the music hall, dancing to popular songs like ‘Tar ra ra boon de ay!’ and showing rather more of herself than was always considered to be ‘respectable’. She had married in May 1883 at a Kensington registry office but she refused to share her husband’s name with the court (or indeed her real address) for ‘strong family reasons’. Maybe he didn’t really exist, the pair were estranged, or, more probably, he didn’t approve of her going out drinking.

It was all very mysterious and was made more salacious when William Temple, the landlord of the Black Horse, said he remembered Mollie calling at his house and borrowing sixpence. She had been a little the worse for drink and had told him ‘he was the only man in the world she loved’. This brought the courtroom out in shared laughter and might have undermined Mollie’s case had not the bracelet and brooch seemingly really been stolen. Where were they and who had them?

Whilst Mollie Dashwood’s reputation was being dragged through the mud in open court and all sorts of conclusions were being leapt to, it was also revealed that Brown had a previous conviction for theft and so the justice decided to send the case before a jury. Brown is hardly an unusual name and nor is George so perhaps it is no surprise that I have so far been unable to see if this case ever came to trial. Given the lack of any concrete evidence against Brown and the level of doubt created by Mollie Dashwood’s ‘unladylike’ behaviour (in entering a pub on her own and drinking with a group of men at the bar) I suspect a jury would have thrown it out anyway.

[from The Standard, Thursday, March 28, 1895]

‘Why, that is the old, old game, they all deny they are the father!’ Paternity and the working classes

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In the eighteenth century provincial magistrates spent a lot of their time adjudicating on cases of illegitimacy. While it wasn’t exactly a crime to have a child out of wedlock it was still considered a disgrace to be avoided. More pressing for the parish authorities was the  fear that if the father of a newborn was not identified, and then held responsible for the mother and child, a financial burden might fall upon the ratepayers.

This seems to have continued well into the Victorian period but bastardy cases (to use the terminology of the law) are not as frequently reported as I thought they might be. This may mean they didn’t occur that often or, that they were so mundane and everyday as not to be worth reporting.

In late July 1878 one case did make it into the pages of the weekly Illustrated Police News, perhaps because it seemed to shine a light into working-class lives and allow readers to chuckle at the loose morals of the labouring classes.

Edward Bellett was summoned before the magistrate at Clerkenwell to ‘show cause why he should not contribute towards the support of an illegitimate child’. Bellett didn’t bother turn up, hardly surprising perhaps since his given address was the Monarch Public House, on Hornsey Road.

Instead it was left to the complainant, Alice Martin (of Canonbury Park) and her sister-in-law (Ellen Martin), to present the case against him. They told Mr Hosack, the justice, how Alice and Edward had met while they both worked as servants more than a year ago.

The pair got on famously from the moment they met and it was felt by everyone that saw them that they ‘are going to make a match of it’. I suspect that while this may have been how Alice saw it she may also have been laying the foundations of her suit against him, and also preserving her reputation by initiating that she fully believed their courtship would lead to marriage.

It didn’t however, but ‘improper indecency’ certainly did and, on July 15 1877 she gave birth to a little boy. Before then she’d already had to leave service; few servants could continue to work once the household had discovered they were ‘enciente’ (as the reporter put it). She didn’t see Edward at all once she left and he refused to acknowledge his paternity when they did meet, declaring that she would have to go to law if she expected him to support her.

Ellen Martin had accompanied her sister-in-law to meet with the reluctant father and she took centre stage in the hearing at Clerkenwell to describe how such things were conducted. The couple had met in a private bar of a public house (perhaps the one that was cited in the summons), with Ellen standing nearby, earwigging their conversation.

She merely went to see fair play‘, she insisted, and ‘at first stood on one side, but, woman-like, wanting to to see a little of what was going on, she went nearer and nearer and heard all that passed.’ She explained that Edward ‘did the usual thing on such auspicious occasions‘.

What was ‘the usual thing’ Mr Hosack enquired.

Why, to go to the private bar of some public-house to talk the matter over quietly and for the father to stand some refreshment, which he did, and it was a drop of gin. After a long “conflab” [Edward] told [Alice] to meet him on the following Sunday fortnight’ (as he only got every other Sunday off.

Edward told Alice to come alone, insisting that ‘two’s company but three’s a crowd’. He clearly didn’t want Ellen along to back her sister up and stiffen her resolve. He said he would pay something towards the child’s upkeep if he was forced to but no money ever materialised, hence the official summons.

Mr Hosack was dubious. He wasn’t convinced that Edward was the father of Alice’s child (which in itself suggested he wasn’t too impressed by her character, or that of her sister-in-law) but nor was he sure it could be proved that he was.

Well ‘they all say they are not the father’, Ellen quipped, ‘that is the old, old game’ and he shouldn’t fall for it. After all, she added, the baby looked ‘just like him’ and so she was sure, having met the man, that he must be the father. The magistrate played for time, saying that while he doubted much could be done he would at least insist that Edward was brought to court to speak for himself.

I dont know the outcome of this case but suspect Alice was not able to persuade Edward to undertake his responsibilities towards her baby. Curiously in early August an Alice Martin was brought before the magistrates at the Shire Hall in Nottingham and charged with leaving her employment in May of the previous year. This Alice was a maid of all work to a Nottinghamshire publican. He sued her for breach of contract and wanted to recover damages against her. Alice claimed she left because she’d been mistreated. The bench dismissed the case and let her go.

If she’d had a baby in mid July then she would have been fairly ‘big with child’ in May or at least showing, so perhaps this is our Alice Martin after all. Having left her paid employment and with a child on the way perhaps she headed for London to seek out her brother and his wife, perhaps knowing that her lover lived in the capital as well. Otherwise this is quite the coincidence.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, July 27, 1878; Nottinghamshire Guardian , Friday, August 02, 1878]

This policeman’s lot is particularly unhappy at home.

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Yesterday we heard about a domestic abuse case from Holloway involving a bricklayer who set about his drunken wife with an iron poker. Today the roles are reversed as it is the woman who is in the dock accused of using violence against her husband. To add spice to this story of marital strife the victim was a policeman and his wife ended up in prison, which must have made life very uncomfortable for the remainder of their married life.

PC Arthur Moss, stationed at Forest Gate station in K Division, was at home at 7 o’clock in the evening of the 11 February 1891. His wife Elizabeth came home much the worse for drink and Arthur probably upbraided her for it. The couple had a number of small children and they witnessed and got involved in the fight that followed.

Presumably annoyed that her husband, the symbolic head of the house and ‘arm of the law’, had criticised her drinking (again) Elizabeth reacted violently. According to the report in the newspaper:

‘She picked up a full cup of tea and threw it over him, then hurled a saucer at his head. Going to the dresser, she hurled a dozen plates, one at a time, at him. One of them hit him on the side of his face, cutting his nose;  others struck him about the body’.

As she picked up a lamp to strike him with Arthur managed to grab her and wrestled her to the ground, and one of the children removed the weapon from her hands before she could do any more damage with it. Enraged by this Elizabeth contented herself with biting her spouse’s hand.

PC Moss reported the incident at Forest Gate to Inspector Death and Elizabeth was arrested and brought before the magistrate at Stratford Police Court. The bench were told that the inspector had visited and found that the children ‘were terrified’ by the experience. PC Moss testified that his wife was often drunk and had threatened to set light to his bed and to ‘kill you before the night is out’.

The policeman had sustained cuts and bruises as a result of the attack and Elizabeth had apparently threatened to harm the children if they did not come and speak up for her in court; Moss would ‘find them weltering in their blood’ she had warned him.

Elizabeth had little to say in her defence only stating that she ‘had had a lot of trouble recently’ as ‘her children were ill and the place in uproar’. Perhaps what she was intimating was that her husband wasn’t around much and she wasn’t coping very well. Policemen worked long hours and marriages were often strained. Not that this was an excuse for her drinking or for her violence and the bench was not inclined to be lenient.

Elizabeth was sent to prison at hard labour for a month, how this helped PC Moss is not very clear. Hopefully he had a sister or mother that could help out, otherwise he’d need a very considerate station sergeant. Going forward this not only affected the relationship between Arthur and Elizabeth, and their children; by challenging his authority and it being dragged through open court Arthur’s public reputation had been affected adversely. A man that could not control his wife was a lesser man in many people’s eyes in the Victorian period, for a policeman this must have been particularly hard to take.

[from The Standard , Monday, February 16, 1891]

‘I think you are a fool, nothing more’; playground insults in Hyde Park

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The reports of the Victorian police courts reveal much about society in the 1800s. Some of this is very familiar to us and we can imagine ourselves in their world. In other instances it seems a world apart, almost ‘another country’ entirely.

Take this case, from the Marlborough Street Police Court in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. This suggests a society that is riven with deep concerns regarding status and reputation. The two men involved are prepared to use the law to challenge assaults not on their person, but on their public image. Personal slights and insult is treated so seriously that it requires redress before a magistrate. I’m not sure that would be the case today.

Mr Dunn and Mr Smyth were well-to-do members of London’s middle class. Richard Dunn was a barrister while Smyth was a surgeon. Both were Irish and (in Victorian popular culture at least) the Irish had a reputation for being hot headed.

The pair were not formally acquainted with each other but met often, as they walked through Hyde Park. For some unknown (or undeclared) reason they didn’t like each other and a sort of feud had been established.

On January 9 January 1846 Dunn was strolling across the park when he saw the surgeon walking towards him. As the men crossed each other’s path Smyth blew a raspberry or made some similar noise with his mouth.

It was a pathetic thing for a grown man of quite high social status to do to another. In fact it was the sort of behaviour we’d associate with the school playground. But the barrister was determined that this insult should not pass unchallenged. Instead of ignoring it he went to his local police court, at Marlborough Street, and obtained a summons against Mr Smyth to bring him in to answer a charge.

On the 13 January the pair were up before Mr Maltby and Smyth was accused of behaviour that was intended to cause a breach of the peace. Dunn’s allegation was then, that by continually making rude noises or gestures towards him the medical man was actually attempting to make his lose his temper and provoke a fight between them.

Smyth didn’t deny making the rude noise but counter-claimed that Dunn had started it by ‘thrusting his tongue out at him as he passed’. ‘I had no wish to insult the complainant’, Smyth told the magistrate; ‘I only meant to say to him, by what I did, I think you are a fool, nothing more’.

‘Such conduct does appear likely to cause a breach of the peace’, the magistrate declared and fined Smyth 40s. This enraged the surgeon who refused to pay. He then threatened to sue Mr Maltby ‘for daring to fine him’ but he calmed down  and paid up when the justice had him locked up in the cells for a while. We might imagine the frustration of the sitting justice, to have his time wasted by such a pair of self-important middle-class men.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, January 14, 1846]

A captain deploys desperate measures to keep the cheesemongers from his door.

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On the morning of Thursday 29 November 1877 the Wandsworth Police Court was full of shopkeepers and traders keen to witness the outcome of a case brought by one of their number, a cheesemonger on the High Street. Henry Lickfield had brought a charge of assault against one of his customers while another businessman, Mr Barrantz (another cheese monger) charged the same individual with fraud.

The defendant was Captain Edward Miller who lived at Spencer Road in Putney. The court heard that Captain Miller had ordered a leg of pork and 3lbs of sausages to be delivered to his residence. The goods were duly supplied but when the bill wasn’t paid Lickfield called on the captain in person to demand his money.

However when he knocked on the door no one answered. He tried again and this time a servant answered but refused to open the door. Finally he tried shouting through the letter box. As he attempted to get the attention of the household a lighted firebrand was thrust through the letter box towards him, striking him in the face!

Captain Miller was represented in court by a lawyer who offered a different version of events. He suggested that when Mr Lickfield’s assistant had called earlier he had been told that Mrs Miller would settle the bill on the following day and he had gone away. He denied any violence towards the cheese monger and said that he had no need to come in person, and that he should have waited for the money to be paid as promised.

The household was ‘alarmed’ by the repeated knocking on the door and no tradesman had the ‘right to recover their debts by a system of tyranny’, he insisted. Mrs Miller was ill and ‘the prisoner did nothing but protect himself’.

The magistrate, Mr Bridge, accepted the charge of assault and bailed the captain to appear at the next sessions of the peace.

The case then turned on the next accusation, of fraud. It was claimed by Mr Barrantz, that the Millers had ordered ‘one of the best hares to be sent to his house, to be paid for on delivery’. Again the goods were supplied but not paid for. Clearly Mr Barranz had done business with the Millers before and said he would not have sent the hares if there hadn’t been a promise to be paid on receipt.  He therefore charged Captain Miller with a fraudulent intent. Mr Bridge didn’t see it that way however. This was simply an unpaid bill not a deliberate attempt to defraud and he dismissed the charge.

Nevertheless I suspect the mere appearance of the captain in court was enough to ruin his reputation in his local community. The court was packed with local businessmen, all come to see ‘justice’ for a fellow tradesman. They would surely be reluctant to offer credit to the Millers in future and given the associations with credit and reputation this was social suicide for the captain and his wife. Unless they settled their bills quickly, or moved away they could hardly hope to hold their heads up in the streets around Wandsworth in future. As for the assault charge, while it was likely to end in a financial settlement (some compensation to Mr Lickfield) it was another example of the desperation of the family and further evidence to anyway dealing with them that they were best avoided.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, November 30, 1877]