Seventeen Interesting Georgians

Introducing my new book- Voices of the Georgian Age

I love to read historical diaries, especially eighteenth century ones. Did anybody else on the planet request the diaries of Parson Woodforde as their main Christmas present this year? I think not! So I decided to turn my obsession into a book for Pen and Sword, and you can see the result above. Seventeen cameos of Georgians who kept a diary, wrote an autobiography or committed their travel adventures to paper in the form of a travelogue. All the documents are available for free on the internet; that was a deal breaker; that’s why there was no Parson Woodforde.

So our diaries, travelogues and memoirs are problematic, but no more so than other historical sources; just because they are attached to a named, frail human being does not change anything. All survivals from the past need to be treated with caution, and the normal questions about provenance asked. Some were commercial endeavours, written to be bought and read, others were private and reflective. The difference is easy to spot, and relatively easy to take into account. One major advantage is that our witnesses are already well-known people; our sources are not scraps of letters or diaries that have survived with no context, but documents that can be interpreted with specific background knowledge.

Who are the seventeen? They are in approximate chronological order (they overlap, as you would expect) and the first is William Hutton– a bragging and boastful Birmingham businessman and polymath who struggled very hard to make something of himself, succeeded and made his success self righteously obvious. I n order to tell us how far he progressed, he gives us a harrowing account of his early life and work; perhaps exaggerated for effect, but it is still an excellent portrayal of Georgian family life

Our next voice (above) is our only foreigner, the Anglophile intellectual Karl Moritz, who came to England in 1782 and wrote about his travels. He arrived in Gravesend on June 1 determined to love everything about the country, but found his position increasingly untenable as he travelled through London, Windsor, Oxford and Birmingham. We leave him in Burton-on-Trent, where the whole population seemed to come out their houses, line the streets and jeer at him.

Our next voice is are only cabinet minister, William Windham. He was a member of the establishment by 1800, involved deeply in the struggle against Napoleon, but we follow him in his earlier years when he was racked with self doubt and introspection. This was an age of sensibility and sensitivity, but you get the feeling that Windham took it all much to far. He feels very modern with his relentless focus on his own feelings, and a bit less so when he does mathematics on his coach home to Norwich or searches the bookshops for Greek texts.

Our next witness was another traveller, John Byng. Byng had fifteen sightseeing holidays in England and Wales between 1781 and 1794, never earlier than May and never later than mid-September. He rode his horse from place to place, sending his servant ahead as an ‘avant courier’ to secure accommodation and stabling, and spent his days researching and sightseeing. There was little about the contemporary world that impressed him; he had loyal friends and family, and was married to William Windham’s sister. They didn’t impress him much either, at least not on the surface. He complains and comments a lot; so much that only a fraction of his journey could be covered. The key to Byng is that he is entertaining despite his apparent misanthropy. The folio society has published all his diaries in their normal beautiful book form; they have not done this for Windham.

Our next voice is Joseph Farington, a metropolitan artistic lovie type who step his days drinking tea, and gossiping. His machinations at the Royal Academy had no historic consequences so after his death he was soon forgotten; he is entertaining because he likes to tell stories and paint pen pictures; both of the rich and famous, and of the poor if they did something connected with death, money and sex. He loved it when people died in a strange and entertaining manner. He would have loved his own death. His reputation as a first rate Georgian artist has not survived; yet his work is still sold at auction houses for respectable amounts of money-expect to spend £10,000 at Christies for one of his more substantial works, but that is not why he is in the book.

At this point, you may be asking, where are the poor and powerless? The short answer is ‘not writing travelogues and diaries’. The exception is James Hardy Vaux, a plausible and highly literate criminal who is completely unrepresentative of his class, criminal or otherwise, but his description of Georgian underworld is accurate and fascinating. He is a lying, cheating, conniving thief, short on morals and long on excuses for his behaviour. I found him hard to dislike, because he was always interesting. This, to me, presents a dilemma for all human relationships- why often do people prefer interesting and dangerous to good and reliable?. Once again, we follow his adventures for only a small part of his journey, as his diary is dense and action-packed. For most of my readers, if they only follow up on one of my witnesses, this will be the one.

The radical priest is not a new phenomenon. Our unorthodox member of the establishment is Richard Warner. As well as opposing war- a brave position in the 1800s- he was also a fanatical pedestrian. Like Karl Moritz, he liked walking and writing down what happened to him. We follow his through a journey to Wales in the late 1790s. He walked through the Principality in August 1797 and August and September 1798, taking with him both his intellectual interests and his English prejudices about Wales, although to be fair, these prejudices were mild and not particularly directed at the Welsh, though he did prefer the Wales of the past. Like Byng, he looked backwards.

We have a fair number of genteel, educated ladies with time to kill. Our next witness, Jane, wrote one hundred and sixty letters (see her desk, right) to her her sister Cassandra, all full of gossip and family news, and I have concentrated on two aspects of her life- her dancing, and her moving about the country. The lady in question did lead the kind of sheltered life that was common amongst the unmarried, middle class woman, but she did meet ( and understand) people, and was able too use the material to write her novels.

Our next witness is Hannah Gurney. Hannah is a Quaker, deeply introspective and intelligent like Windham, but disconnected to the material world. We follow her journey to full membership of the Quaker faith, her marriage and family, but it is very hard going at times. Essentially, I read this so you don’t have to, and I can’t sat that about any pf the other witnesses. She would have seemed odd even at the time; the Georgians did not seem to be able to deal with the Quakers at all.

Our next witness is my favourite. She is Fanny Chapman, and unmarried middle class lady living in Bath in 1809 who is very dependent on men and knew it painfully. She is Jane Austen without the books. We follow her for one year in which her life is turned upside down. Her diaries are dealt with in more detail by Sarah Murden in this excellent blog, which was my inspiration for this chapter. Thank you, Sarah.

Our next witnesses is a hardened criminal who stole dead bodies from graveyards and sold them to doctors. He is generally agreed to be Joseph Naples. For about a year he committed to paper the crimes of the infamous Borough Gang, in neat handwriting and with spelling that was excellent unless written after drinking, which was often. Naples was the bookkeeper, keeping a tally of activities and revenues and distributing the money fairly to his colleagues, who were desperate men prone to mindless, drunken violence when holding a grievance. You may find yourself admiring his efficiency.

Our next witness is pathetic, in the correct sense of the word. He is Thomas Holden, sometimes Thomas Holding who was a convicted Luddite and was transported to Australia. His desperate, near illiterate letters to his wife and family have survived. It would take a heart of stone not to pity him, yet the reactionary government of the time had such a heart. His story does seem to have a happy ending, and I seem to be the first author to find it.

Is mindless, tick-box trophy tourism a new thing? Elisabeth Chivers proves this not to be the case. Elizabeth was 28 and unmarried when she set out with younger sister Sarah and an unnamed uncle for a twenty-day visit to London in March 1814. Her diary is mostly a list of every tourist site that she saw in London. Most of it is less informative than a normal tourist guide; the more interesting part is the glimpses of her life, family and experiences that appear in the gaps between the destinations.

Our next witness is the Scottish surgeon Thomas Lucas, who wrote about the goings on in Stirling in his published diaries (1808 to 1821) only ending with his own death in the year 1822, aged sixty-six. Like nearly all of the diaries, they are too long to do justice to in their entirety so a few years and a few themes have been selected. His interests include the weather, his garden, the war with Napoleon, the antics of the ruling class in his city, and the behaviour of the poor. He is cynical but not bigoted, and provides us with a excellent window on to provincial respectability.

Have you encountered a committed, intelligent radical reformer who despite the good intentions, is perhaps a little too self-regarding? This is another type of human who existed two hundred years ago. Our example is Samuel Bamford, self- taught poet and weaver who was hounded by the authorities because he wanted political reform. We follow him for four years; he is on the run, captured, put in prison and finally present at the massacre of the working people at Peterloo. For most people, he is easier to respect than to like

Our next Georgian voice is the polymath Ellis Knight. She was born in Westminster in 1757, but lived in Italy from 1776 to 1800, with spells in France and Vienna. She was highly educated; she painted (her work can still be bought today) and wrote poetry, knew modern and classical languages, and was the author of two novels. She was by no means the only educated and erudite woman in Georgian Britain, but Knight kept a diary and became a courtier, so providing a unique insight into late Georgian Society. She reminds us that a highly dysfunctional Royal family is not a new thing.

Finally, Rees Gronow is our loose-tongued witness to Georgian eccentric high society, as seen above. As with Farington, our task is to turn his gossip into historical evidence, but even if that fails, there are still the interesting stories of the Regency. Gronow is a member of the top 10,000 like Knight, Byng and Windham, but he alone was also a member of the often capitalized ‘Fashionable World’ as well; he knew Beau Brummell. He knew lots of other famous people, or just knew people who knew them, and he enjoyed collecting stories about them. He was a gossip without a judgmental bone in his body, so the stories are rarely about him, but there is enough confessional material to convince us that he was an adventurous, devil-may-care individual similar to the people he wrote about.

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Thank you for reading to the end. To enter a draw for a free copy ( closes 7.02.23) please like the blog or drop me a note at @jamesdhobson_uk@yahoo.co.uk

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Turtle soup for the rich, and flavoured hot water for the plebs. Soup in the Regency

All of the classes, both the prosperous and the starving, ate their soup in the Regency. For the rich, as wealthy man- about- town Rees Gronow noted, the big evening meal started with soup, and then everybody developed a huge appetite and an even bigger thirst.

What was the most prestigious soup for the high-living nobility and gentry? That came from Barbados, in the shape of the turtle, or more precisely from its precious meat.  Fresh Turtles, when available, were advertised in the newspaper with a time and date when they were available. Turtles could be dressed and sent to the houses of the rich and enjoyed en familie. It was the number one soup. 

Royalty enjoyed turtle soup; it was the only hot item on the menu in 1813 when 900 people led by the Duke of York and all of his brothers bar the Prince Regent celebrated Wellington’s victory at Vitoria in June 1813; then, as if to justify Gronow’s words, there was Port, Madeira and Claret for all; often, the soup was accompanied by a cold alcoholic punch. 

Turtle soup was available in the street; perhaps the best was in New Bond Street, at the Albion   or the confectionary and cook shop of Charles Waud. Perhaps Charles Waud would be a slightly better bet. He was, after all, purveyor of turtles to the King, and that’s what turtle soup was made from. There was, of course, mock turtle soup, which contained a sheep’s head instead of turtle meat, and mocked the poor as much as it mocked the posh version of the soup- sheep’s head was offal.  That sounds obvious, but, as you went down the social scale, it was less and less true. 

He also provided confectionary and sweetmeats to the Prince Regent and his royal bothers and sold theatre tickets to the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. He was top drawer.

Waud   was a great food sourcing entrepreneur.  He provided the food for the Grand Masquerade at Vauxhall Gardens (below) in 1813.  The weather had been awful all day, despite being July, and the 2500 guests were rained on until about 11pm. This did not stop the dancing, drinking and morally dubious behaviour. The Tripod magazine reported that; 

the night becoming more favourable over head than could have been expected about eleven o clock a crowd of the thoughtless dissipated and debauched assembled together under various disguises and dripping trees.

Pleasure Garden Masquerade, Museum of London

They ate at one in the morning. The main dishes were   150 dozen of fowls; 150 dishes of lamb; 200 tongues and hams; 300 lobsters raised pies; 200 Savoy cakes, 250 dishes of pastry; 300 jellies quarts of ice creams; 500 pottles of strawberries and 300 hundredweight of cherries ….

And of course, more alcohol than anybody was counting. All provided by the great Charles Waud.

It was a masquerade, and everybody was in disguise; and lots thought it was hilarious to dress as the poor, and as grotesque characterisations of the poor;

Dustmen, chimney sweepers, waggoners, clowns, harlequins, watchmen, scavengers, jackass men, chambermaids and courtesans were very numerous and excellently supported. Among the best noticed one groups we chimney sweepers who threw soot in the eyes of the company another of coal heavers who d—–d and bl—-d with all the volubility of St Giles’s

Meanwhile, the real poor of St Giles and elsewhere were starving. The worst year of the Regency for hunger was 1814; bread prices were high, the winter was as severe as anybody could remember (the snow did not clear in the south of England until March), and casual work outside for the poor was in short supply.

Soup was needed for the poor. The grateful, obedient poor deserved soup, but not of course, the turtle soup slurped by the rich as a preface to gargantuan eating and drinking. The soup of the poor was prefaced by deference and followed by nothing, or potatoes.

The newspapers overflowed with soup recipes. In January 1814, the Morning Post’s correspondent HUMANITAS (as they often styled themselves) offered this recipe;

In the view of the rich, charity like this carried the danger of moral hazard- the moderately poor could not afford beef, so the abject poor had to be denied it.  With the inclusion of a small amount of beef and some bones, this would have done the job adequately.  It was never a permanent solution to the problems of starvation, but then it was believed that such a thing was neither possible nor very desirable. The poor were given the scrapings at the bottom of the culinary barrel and the rich were entitled to feel good about it.

Two days later, the same newspaper was pleased to announce a local resident-possibly HUMANITAS himself- had been feeding twenty families a day on soup for one penny a quart. It was given a meaty flavour by the   pot liquor from Mr Austen’s Beef Shop in St Martin’s Court, who provided the liquid from the bottom of a soup pot that had had meat in it. It was not made clear whether the same twenty families were to live on this soup forever or twenty families live on it for one day only.

The man who fed the poor and maintained social order with this cost-efficient way of avoiding starvation, was, of course, Charles Waud of New Bond Street.

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Abortion becomes a criminal offence- 24 June 1803

Laws that criminalize abortion are of relatively recent origin in British history and this is the story of the first one, the Malicious Stabbings or Shooting Act, 1803 (‘Lord Ellenborough’s Act’)

The original purpose of the law was to protect people who had already been born from the rising tide of intra-personal violence in the late Georgian period. The 1803 Law was a rambling piece of legislation in two large paragraphs which was mainly designed to protect people from being attacked and assaulted with weapons, even if death did not result, or even if there was no intention to kill. The unborn child was added to the list of those protected. So, although not specifically an act against abortion, it had major consequences.

An examination of the law after 1803 shows that it was not often used on women trying to control their fertility, which were by definition private event. It was mostly used when men fell out and wounded each other with knives and cutlasses, or when drunken individuals waved their guns or knives in the streets. Those who wished to intimidate people with violence before robbing them would have to think twice, although in reality the death sentence was hardly ever applied. In a society where murder, attempted murder and writing an anonymous letter threatening murder all carried the same death penalty, there had to be a degree of leniency.

On average one person (out of c100 executions a year) was executed for cutting and maiming in the late Georgian period. In 1804, the establishments token victim was Hugh Evans, aged 19, who was found guilty of maiming Elizabeth Parker and slashing her face until she was unrecognisable. He was one of a gang of three who had intimidated Palmer and her boyfriend with a “What are you nosing at?’.

The new act construed this particular cruel act as attempted murder, and he was hanged outside Horsemonger Road goal on 2nd March. Hanging next to him was David Rose, convicted of bestiality and the like Evans, the only person that year hanged for the capital crime. Examples had to be made.

The unborn were also protected from attempted murder as well, and the spirit of the new Act remained part of British Law until 1967.Before 1803 there were no laws criminalising a deliberate termination before the ‘quickening’ of the child in the womb, and procuring an abortion afterwards was a relatively minor civil misdemeanour. The case below came before Lord Justice Kenyon in 1801. It was an allegation that somebody had procured an abortion. The Judge pointed out that this was a civil matter and asked why he was being asked to comment on it in a criminal tribunal.

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What did it mean to be ‘quick with child’ in the eighteenth century? Part of the definition was practical there was a quickening if the baby could be physically felt by the mother. There is a wide range of ages for this, but in the Regency period, doctors put the period at around 16 to 20 weeks. Blackstone’s Law Commentaries made the point ‘life begins in condition of law as soon as the infant stirs in the mother’s womb’.

This most common Georgian view was that ensoulment, and the creation of the human, happened at quickening and not conception. This was an ancient belief that predated Christianity, and the church tended not to contradict it. It had the unintended consequence of allowing women to control their fertility in the first months after a suspected pregnancy. Although details can never be explicit, it seems that women had always controlled their fertility in the period before quickening, both at home and in the commercial market using herbs and the wisdom of other women to reinstate their period.  It was not a crime at all before 1803. This was a practical application of the law- if there was no proof of a foetus in the womb, and then there could be no victim of a crime.

The new law moved the point of human status from quickening to conception, and a new felony was created from something that was not formally illegal.

Anybody who(the bold parts are mine)

wilfully and maliciously administer to, or cause to be administered to, or taken by any woman, any medicines, drug, or other substance or thing whatsoever, or shall use or employ or cause or procure to be used or employed any instrument or other means whatsoever, with intent thereby to cause the miscarriage of any woman not being, or not being proved to be, quick with child at the time of administering such things…shall be and are hereby declared to be guilty of felony, and shall be liable to be fined, imprisoned, set in and upon the pillory, publicly or privately whipped, or to suffer one or more of the said punishments, or to be transported beyond the seas for any term not exceeding fourteen years…

The Roman Catholic Church did not formally declare that life began at conception until 1869- but English statute law did this more than sixty years earlier.

In the inexorable logic of the bloody code, the new (ultimate, if rarely used) penalty for organising or abetting an abortion post ‘quickening’ had to be death. A more severe tariff was needed to differentiate it from the newly created offence of procuring an abortion when pregnancy was merely suspected.

The 1803 Act raised the bar of proof against a woman who was thought to have killed her child at birth. The prosecution now had to prove that it was born alive rather than the women prove it was born dead. Any slight doubt would acquit the defendant of infanticide, so a new crime of concealment of birth was introduced with a tariff of two years imprisonment. The case below is from 1808;

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There were other cases. In 1809 Thomas Newton was found guilty of poisoning Elizabeth Turner in order to prompt a miscarriage and was given three years in prison and a fine of £100. The judge made it plain that it would have been the death penalty if she had been quick with child. Oddly, he was spared transportation because Elizabeth had cooperated with him and survived the attack.

Ellenborough’s Law almost was particularly difficult for powerless females, such as domestic servants, who did not have the support network to do something about their pregnancy at an earlier time. I have written about another example, that of Mary Fordham, here.

Please consider my three books on the Georgian and Victorian Era

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a political and social history of the Regency. More details here

Passengers – a social history of Britain 1780-1840 told through travel, transport, roads and hospitality. More details here

Radical Victorians– nineteen radical Victorian men and women who dared to think differently. More details here 

The cost of adultery in Regency Britain

Your wife, Mary, has been unfaithful. If you are not prepared to ignore it, either from principle or because the affair was so blatant, then your main recourse is to sue the perpetrator in court for criminal conversation (crim con).

The defendant is the man, not your wife. She has no official standing in the process; the Georgian marriage contract means that husband and wife are legally one person, and that person is you. She will not speak in the trial; she will not even be present, perhaps a good thing considering what she has been saying about you.  

You, let’s call you John Smith, will be suing the rascal, James Johnson, It will be Smith v Johnson, as you will be suing him in a civil case for damages. The state is not interested. It will cost you a lot of money.  You would only risk it if you could prove adultery, and you can.

‘Get out of my house you Hussey! I hired you to do your own business, not mine’

How much compensation will you ask for? Well, like the answer to any other question in the Regency; it depends on who you are.  You are a Liverpool merchant, suing another Liverpool merchant who last year inherited £10,000 a year and a lovely house in Shropshire. The money came from the West Indian slave trade, but that is not a big issue; it will not be mentioned in court by either side, because neither side considers it a moral problem. You will ask for £30,000!

Only once in recent history was this amount awarded, and they were aristocrats. Their marriage is worth more than yours; you do not mind because your marriage is worth more than a Wolverhampton grocer. Claims by superior provincial shopkeepers or skilled London artisans is the lower end of the Crim Con game. They would demand £1000 and get £100; you will not get £30,000; you know this, as does Johnson’s defence. Half of that would be a great result, and a third would be a good one. You have to ask for this sum because you are claiming that your marriage was wonderful, so the compensation must reflect this; however, you know in your heart that it was not wonderful, that there is evidence for this, and the defence will use it. In your corner is William Garrow, and in the defendant’s Vicary Gibbs. They will cost you both a fortune; lawyers always win, even when you lose.

Ellenborough- Law first, your feelings nowhere

Your day in court at the King’s Bench division at the Guildhall, presided over by the grumpy, reactionary and traditional Lord Ellenborough. You are happy with this; he hates adultery slightly more than the average judge, and he has the habit of telling the jury what he thinks. However, Ellenborough is interested in law as much as morality, and has put on his wig and endured his gout to defend the marriage contract first of all. At this point your mind goes back to the Crim Com case of Flower v Lewes.  In that case Charlie Flowers sued Mr Lewes for criminal conversation with his wife while he was imprisoned on a hulk at Greenwich. Lewes claimed, the wife confirmed, that he did not even know she was married. Ellenborough still asked the jury to award £1!   in damages for the violation of the marriage.

Everybody else’s reputation will be trashed, if necessary, to defend the status quo, and that includes yours, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Or have you?  What you fear most is that your case will become a popular pamphlet, and the amount of your compensation will also have an exclamation mark in front of it.

At this point you remembered that you family begged you not to do this. Johnson pleads not guilty, despite everybody knowing that he is; if he pleads guilty it would cost him £30,000. A trial like this lasts no more than seven hours, including a lunch so liquid that a modern judge would be drunk, incapable and sacked on the spot.

Two initial points; there is no adultery without a marriage, so you have to prove you have been married. So you call as your first witness the vicar that married you; he confirms the fact. Then, adultery needs to be proved. This does not always happen at the beginning of the trial. The bar for evidence is reasonable.  Some trials fail because the only evidence is that the couple were seen together on the public street – ‘this is England, not Turkey’, sniffed Ellenborough in another trial where this type of evidence was offered.

There does not even need to be witnesses to an act in flagrante, but there often is. Servants will be believed, especially if there is other evidence. Your wife’s servants will report back to you, as you pay them. Your evidence is sound; the evening in your house when Johnson’s   hand moved upwards from her knee at the dining table; the night they shared the same room in the White Lion, Shrewsbury, and one of the beds was not occupied. Servants were expert at spotting whether a bed was slept in, how many people slept there and could spot the tell-tail signs of sexual activity by describing the state of the sheets. No wonder the court was crammed.

In any case, they moved in together as man and wife in 1807. So you have won already. So why all the other evidence as well? You have to prove that Johnson destroyed your marriage will malice aforethought, and that it his totally his fault. It is not in your interest to destroy your wife’s reputation, as this would prove that the union was never worth anything

So, your personal life is under discussion.  You married in 1798, your wife Mary was twenty and you were thirty-nine.   That works well for you; if she had been 15, then Lord Ellenborough would have said that she was too young to know their mind, and that marriage that age was a form of seduction. Johnson was about your age; that works well for you too. If the defendant had been young, as in the case of Pitt v Hunt, where Hunt was a 15-year-old boy who had sex with his bosses’ wife, Ellenborough would assume that the woman was the seductress- ‘he had been seduced by the entangling snares of an experienced woman’. Pitt’s compensation was £2!

Mary, your wife, was from a good merchant family; the father approved the marriage, and the dowry was large enough to be respectable but small enough not to be seen as treasure hunting. It was a harmonious union. The consequence of such harmony was children; four in five years. This was conjugal bliss, and you had done your duty. Sex within marriage was seen as a decent, indeed necessary thing. Women were entitled to love, protection and married sexual relations. If you had failed to love her, and she had turned to others in distress, then it would have been partly your fault.

If you were 79 marrying a twenty-year old, this would be a defacto less valuable marriage.

Your counsel has also described your wife as beautiful and engaging; ‘she was a divinity under whose feet roses bloomed’. She provided solace and society for you and moral instruction for children. James Johnson was a brute who damaged your peace of mind, your fortune and your future.

You have to prove that you were a good husband. Your counsel goes on the attack, proving you were a good father to five lovely children, now robbed of their mother by the callous Johnson. Mr Carrass, a local merchant opined that you appeared uncommonly kind towards his children. However, it turned out that he did not know your extended family at all, merely exchanged cards at the doorstep, aping their aristocratic betters. Equally unhelpfully, he added that he had attended Parr’s evening parties and seen nothing between Johnson and Mrs Smith. The next witness said the same, and had the advantage of being an attorney, but the greater disadvantage of being Parr’s brother.

Compensation would increase if the offence was aggravated.  Johnson was a regular visitor to your house, and often spent drunken evenings there with your wife. He was your friend; you trusted him; and then he betrayed you. Your counsel proves this, after a hard day’s counting of money made from the trade in people and materials; you invited many friends over to get excessively drunk.

Then the problems started. At this drunken parties, why didn’t you notice that Johnson always sat by your wife?, says the defendant’s council. Why when the ladies retired, why did Johnson disappear as well? And what about the witness who’s wore that when he asked you were Mary was, you said, ‘she’s only with Jesse’.

AND WHEN THEY STAYED IN SHREWSBURY IN THE SAME BED, WHERE YOU NOT SLEEPING IN THE SAME HOTEL? Yes, you were!

Good god man! Some people’s wives go bit mad when taking the air at Ramsgate or Brighton, but this was happening under your own nose. Either you saw it and didn’t care, or failed to see it because you were not keeping control of your wife. You were instrumental in your own dishonour. You did not value your jewel, so why should the jury?

The next stage was the blame game. The defence would try to blame your wife, and your people would try to blame Johnson. You have the advantage; it will be assumed that the man was devious, clever and determined and the woman, the weaker vessel , ‘the frail fair one‘  ( said Ellenborough) who would easily be seduced. If seduction was easy, the marriage was not worth much.

Seduction happens once; after that the woman is fallen.  In the case of Gregson v Theaker, Jesse Gregson tried to obtain £10,000 from Thomas Theaker for criminal conversation with his wife. Theaker was his coachman, so the shame was seen to be greater because of the class disparity. The case was proven conclusively by a servant who knew when a bed had been hastily covered over, how many people had slept in it and what activities it suggested. It was looking good for much of the £10,000, when the defence produced evidence on earlier adultery. In Ellenborough’s eyes, this made Mr Theaker not very responsible for the end of the marriage- the responsibility lay with the first seducer. ‘Her actions did prove that she had no affection for her husband, as her wanton lusts meant that her embraces were available to all’. There had been no first seducer in his case, but the danger was still there; if his wife could be proved immoral or flighty, then compensation would fall.

Your wife had not always been discrete; indeed the defending counsel called her ‘ the interesting Mrs Smith’ , this is by no means a compliment, nor the main prong of the attack.

At the end of the day, Ellenborough describes Johnson as a beast and your wife clearly susceptible to him because of your culpable negligence. You are laughed at in the street at home in Liverpool ( crim con reports are syndicated) , you are still married, your wife is gone and you have the five children.  

Your compensation, after a jury discussion of five minutes during which they did not even leave the room, was £1000!

I have written three books on this period. If you liked this blog, you can find more of the same in The Dark Days of Georgian Britain. The are more details here. Now available in paperback.

 Passengers– is a social history of transport and hospitality. More details here.

Voices of the Georgian Age is out in January 2023. Amazon link here

All of my books on Radical Britain here