Untold lives blog

10 October 2023

A case of bigamy

On 17 February 1816 Captain George Harrower, a free mariner with the East India Company, stood trial at the Old Bailey, accused of bigamy.

Newspaper report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

Extract from report of Harrower's bigamy trial Madras Courier 13 August 1816

It was claimed that on 5 February 1794 Captain Harrower had married Miss Mary Usher in Bombay, and that he had been married for a second time on 12 October 1812 in London to Miss Susannah Ann Giblet, despite knowing that his first wife was alive and well in India.

Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary UsherIOR/N 3/3 f.389 Marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harraway [Harrower] and Miss Mary Usher

The Reverend Arnold Burrowes, the East India Company’s Chaplain in Bombay in 1794 who was acquainted with both Captain Harrower and Miss Usher. was deposed to give testimony on the validity of the marriage.  The entry in the copy marriage register sent to London at the end of 1794 was produced as evidence.

Burrowes' testimony also included that he had visited Mrs Harrower in Bombay in November 1813 prior to his return to England, and had been given three letters for a Mr Giblet, a butcher in London.  He delivered these letters in June 1814 along with news of his visit to Mrs Harrower for both the Captain and Mr Giblet’s information, which is how Mr Giblet learned of his son-in-law’s bigamy.

Mr Giblet then visited Bow Street Police Station and requested that his son-in-law be arrested, but he could not be found, as Captain Harrower had fled to France in the company of a Mr Thompson as he ‘feared for his life because of false accusations of Bigamy against him’.

Mr Thompson gave testimony and during cross-examination admitted he had asked Captain Harrower outright whether his first wife was still alive, and that the Captain had admitted it.  He had then told several people what he had learned on his return to England.

Captain Harrower’s own testimony made no mention at all of his first his wife.  He spoke solely of his relationship with Mr Giblet, who was insolvent, and claimed had been extorting him for money having handed over £30,000 since 1812.  He also accused Mr Giblet of having stolen £10,000 that had been settled on his daughter as part of the marriage agreement in 1812.

The judge in summing up the trial observed that only two questions actually mattered. Was the accused legally married to Miss Mary Usher in 1794, and was his second marriage to Miss Giblet in 1812 therefore an act of bigamy?

The jury found Captain Harrower guilty of bigamy, and he was sentenced on 22 February 1816 to six months in Newgate Gaol.

According to the trial reports following the judge’s verdict Susannah Harrower/Giblet was ‘bathed in tears’ and had to be conveyed out of the courtroom.  Her father and Mr Thompson were subjected to much ‘hooting and hissing’ and Mr Thompson was even pelted with mud and dirt.

Captain Harrower lived with Susannah for the rest of his life, and in 1818 the couple petitioned unsuccessfully for his conviction to be pardoned.  They applied again in 1828 for the conviction to be overturned but were still unsuccessful.  It is likely the application was made knowing that Mrs Mary Harrower had died in Bombay in January 1826 and that Captain Harrower was now legally a widower.

Bombay burial register entry for Mary Harrower January 1826Burial entry for  Mary Harrower in Bombay January 1826 IOR/N/3/7 p.429

 George Harrower died in Edinburgh on 9 August 1829.  Susannah Ann Harrower was remarried In 1833 to John Hutchinson.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Madras Courier, 13 August 1816 accessed via British Newspaper Archive 21 September 2023.
IOR/N/3/3 f.389 – marriage entry, Bombay, 5 February 1794, of Mr George Harrower & Miss Mary Usher in Bombay (Captain Harrower is mistakenly recorded as Harraway in the entry).
IOR/N/3/7 p.429 – burial entry, Bombay, 9 January 1826, for Mrs Mary Harrower.

 

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