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Untold lives blog

68 posts categorized "Crime"

09 April 2019

From bad feet to blasphemy: the life of Charles William Twort

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We met Charles William Twort in an earlier blog post when he was discharged in 1823 from the Royal East India Volunteers because of bad feet and corns. His later life was full of interest, involving preaching and imprisonment for blasphemy.

According to the baptism register of St Peter and St Paul in Aylesford in the county of Kent, Charles William Twort was born on 10 July 1794, although later records state he was anything up to ten years older. Twort's age is given as nineteen when he joined the East India Company as a warehouse labourer in May 1812.  He was nominated for the post by director Richard Twining and his previous occupation was servant.

In October 1826 Twort married Elizabeth Boutevile at St Mary Newington.  They had two children: Eliza Mary Teressa born in 1824, and Jesse Jesus who died aged fourteen months in November 1828.

By 1830, Twort had quit his warehouse job and was a dissenting preacher.  Twort wrote and published religious tracts such as The Christian Corrector corrected. By a Protestant, and distributed the works of others from his home at Hope Street in Walworth.  In 1829 he was fined for not registering pamphlets for stamp duty.  He travelled the country with John (or Zion) Ward as a ‘Shiloite’ delegated by heaven to introduce 1000 years of perfect happiness and innocence as predicted by the late religious prophetess Joanna Southcott.

Twort 1C W Twort, The Christian Corrector corrected. By a Protestant (1829) Noc

There are many newspaper reports of Twort and Ward’s activities as they moved around, many hostile in tone. The Stockport Advertiser commented that ‘These two worthies are not altogether so heavenly-minded as to refrain from the indulgence of a glass or two of brandy before breakfast, or to debar themselves from the carnal enjoyment of tobacco and strong ale’.  According to the Birmingham Journal, Twort tried unsuccessfully to obtain the papers of Joanna Southcott from her friends. 

In April 1832, Twort and Ward were in Derby, displaying posters and circulating pamphlets denying the existence of Christ.  Mr Dean, a Church of England clergyman, tore some of their placards with his umbrella and was assaulted by Twort.  Magistrates sent Twort and Ward to the Assizes.  They were found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to eighteen months in Derby County Gaol. Petitions for their release were sent to Parliament and the Home Office in 1832 and 1833. However Home Secretary Viscount Melbourne saw no reason to grant any mitigation of the sentence. In 1834 Ward and Twort petitioned Parliament for abolition of the law which punished men for their religious beliefs, and published an open letter to the judge who had sentenced them.

Twort 3The Conduct of Judge Park, Counsellor Clarke, ... with others  (Birmingham, 1834) Noc

John Ward died in 1837 in Leeds.  In 1841 Twort was living with his wife and daughter in Walworth. Twort’s daughter Eliza married tailor Joseph Young in 1849.  The Youngs moved to Bristol and by 1861 her mother had joined them. Elizabeth died there in 1869.  Census records from 1851-1871 show Charles Twort as a visitor or lodger in the Newington area.  His occupation is given as house proprietor or house agent, and as a broker’s assistant.  Charles died in London in 1878, his days as a preacher seemingly long since over. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/30/5 Register of East India Company warehouse labourers 1801-1832 - information available via India Office Family History Search
IOR/L/MIL/5/485 List of men enlisted in Royal East India Volunteers 1820-1832
The Christian Corrector corrected. By a Protestant [C W Twort] (London, 1829)
The Vision of Judgment; or, the return of Joanna from her trance (London, 1829) 
The Conduct of Judge Park, Counsellor Clarke, ... with others, fairly exposed in the mock trial, and eighteen months cruel imprisonment of two poor men for publishing the truth of the Bible (Birmingham, 1834)
John Ward, Zion’s Works - New light on the Bible, the coming of Shiloh, the spirit of truth 1828-1837, 16 vols, (London, 1899-1904)
British Newspaper Archive - for example Birmingham Journal 20 April 1830; Chester Courant 12 April 1831 reprinting a piece from the Stockport Advertiser
The National Archives HO 17/60/4 and HO 13/63/230 Petition to the Home Office 1833
House of Commons proceedings 1832-1834

 

26 March 2019

A Melancholy Death on James Cook’s first Pacific expedition – Private William Greenslade

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After a voyage to the Pacific in HMB Endeavour lasting almost three years, James Cook arrived back in England in 1771.  By then more than 40 of the ship’s company had died, most from diseases caught on the way back in the Dutch colonial city of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia).  The voyage’s first death, however, was not from natural causes.

Endeavour at seaSydney Parkinson, 'The Endeavour at sea' from Sketches made in Captain Cook’s First Voyage 1768-1771. © British Library. Add.Ms.9345f.16v Images Online

Private William Greenslade was one of twelve marines serving under Sergeant John Edgcumb.  Barely 21 years of age, quiet and industrious, Greenslade disappeared overboard on 26 March 1769, as the Endeavour was within days of its destination – Tahiti.  Both Cook and the young botanist Joseph Banks describe the events retrospectively and second hand.  As Cook noted, 'I was niether made acquainted with the Theft or the circumstances attending it untill the Man was gone'.

According to the accounts of Cook and Banks, Greenslade had shame heaped upon him by his fellow marines and Sergeant Edgcumb for having stolen a piece of sealskin in his care.  The sealskin acquired in Tierra del Fuego was prized for making waterproof bags to protect tobacco.  Banks appears to have concluded it was suicide, sure that Greenslade 'was drove to the rash resolution by an accident so trifling that it must appear incredible to every body who is not well accquainted with the powerfull effects that shame can work upon young minds'.  Cook was not quite so so sure, writing that his disappearance overboard might have been 'either by Accident or design', although he too agreed that 'circumstances makes it appear as tho it was done designedly'.

However Banks's description opens up opportunities to speculate about the role of the other marines, especially Sergeant Edgcumb, opportunities that Martin Dugard explores fully in Farther Than Any Man.  We learn from Banks that the sealskin was in the charge of one of Cook’s servants, possibly Thomas Mathews, who had promised to make tobacco pouches for several of the men.  Greenslade’s requests for one had been refused several times.  While Greenslade was on duty outside the Great Cabin around noon, Cook’s servant had been called away hurriedly, leaving the sealskin with the young marine.  The temptation apparently proved too much to resist, and he cut a piece from it to make his own tobacco pouch.  When the servant immediately discovered the theft on his return, he decided not to raise it with the officers “for so trifling a cause”.  The marines, however, had other ideas.

Sergeant Edgcumb “declard that if the person acgreivd would not complain, he would”,  and resolved to take the matter to the captain, for the honour of the marines.  Between the noonday theft and around seven in the evening, the marines “drove the young fellow almost mad by representing his crime in the blackest coulours as a breach of trust of the worst consequence”.  When Edgcumb ordered the young marine to follow him up on deck, Greenslade slipped away and was seen no more.  It was half an hour before Edgcumb reported him missing, by which time there was no chance of a rescue.

For Dugard, there is enough in these accounts to speculate whether Greenslade had been deliberately set up with the temptation to steal and driven to suicide.  Whatever the truth, young William Greenslade holds a melancholy place in the records of Cook’s first Pacific voyage.

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Banks’s Journal Entry  
Cook’s Journal Entry
Cook, James, Beaglehole, J. C., Davidson, James Wightman, Skelton, R. A., Williamson, James Alexander, and Hakluyt Society. The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery. Edited from the Original Manuscripts by J.C. Beaglehole with the Assistance of J.A. Williamson, J.W. Davidson and R.A. Skelton, Etc. Extra Series (Hakluyt Society); No. 34-37. (Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1955.) British Library Shelfmark: Open Access Manuscripts Reading Room MSL 912.09
Dugard, Martin. Farther than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook. (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2001.) British Library Shelfmark General Reference Collection YA.2002.a.15416

 

29 January 2019

The shooting of the British Consul General at Isfahan and Sowar Chowdri Khan

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Persia (Iran) declared its neutrality in the First World War on 1 November 1914.  Nevertheless, owing to its oil deposits and proximity to British-ruled India, Persia became a battleground for the Great Powers during the War.  In January 1915, the Germans launched a major infiltration campaign in British occupied southern Persia.  German agents sought to instigate popular rebellion amongst the local population against Allied forces, and to sabotage and destroy British installations and interests.

IOR L PS 10 332 f77Map of ‘Persia & Afghanistan’, April 1908 (IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77) Open Government Licence

On 2 September 1915, Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, and Chowdri Khan, one of the Indian sowars (cavalry soldiers) composing his escort, were attacked in a lane after riding out on horseback from the Consulate.  This attack resulted in the wounding of Grahame and the death of Khan.  The incident was viewed by Charles Murray Marling, HM Minister to Tehran, as being part of a German campaign of assassinations.
 

IOR R 15 1 710 f10Map of British consular jurisdictions in Persia, 1907 (IOR/R/15/1/710, f 10) Open Government Licence

Grahame sent an account of the incident to Marling.  He recounted that he saw a man walking in front of him in the lane, who suddenly turned around and stepped to the side of the path.  Grahame ‘saw his arm raised, heard a shot and felt a twinge under [his] left arm’.  He saw the man moving in the direction of Chowdri Khan, as Grahame’s frightened horse broke into a canter.  He then saw another man, who ‘raised both arms as if to give a signal to some one unseen’ as Grahame passed him.  As Grahame galloped away he ‘heard three shots fired – presumably on Chowdri Khan’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f249

IOR L PS 10 490 f250 Copy of statement by Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, 2 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 249-250) Open Government Licence

Grahame wrote that he sought help for Chowdri Khan from two policemen and another Indian Sowar he passed on his way back to the Consulate, from where orders were given to find and assist Chowdri Khan.

Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, of the 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, Native Officer in charge of the Isfahan Consulate General Guard, stated that Sowar Khan Mohamed Khan was the first to be ready to search for Chowdri Khan.  He left the Consulate alone, ‘regardless of dangers’, and found Chowdri Khan, ‘wounded, but still alive’.

Khan Mohamed Khan tried to carry Chowdri Khan to the nearby Church Missionary Society Hospital, but after going 200 yards his strength failed him.  Some Persians came to his assistance and Chowdri Khan was carried to the Hospital, but after a few minutes, he died.

The Resaidar stated that he hoped that Khan Mohamed Khan’s ‘promptitude and bravery’ would be ‘recognised in a fitting manner’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f252

IOR L PS 10 490 f253 Copy of statement by Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, 6 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 252-253) Open Government Licence

Grahame learnt that seven shots in total had been heard from the CMS Hospital.  The first was the one fired at Grahame, but the rest appeared to have been fired by two other men ‘lurking about in the lane’.  According to one informant, ‘two of these three men were wearing German badges’. 

This incident was soon followed by the British Vice-Consul at Shiraz being shot and killed in the street on 7 September.  By the end of 1915, the situation in southern Persia had deteriorated so badly for the British that they decided they needed to raise ‘a force for the restoration of law and order’, the South Persia Rifles.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation' IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 9 'German War: Persia' IOR/L/PS/10/486
Touraj Atabaki, ‘Persia/Iran’, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson (Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2016).
Touraj Atabaki (ed.), Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006).
Donald M. McKale, War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I (Kent, Ohio; London: Kent State University Press, 1998).
Denis Wright, The English Amongst the Persians During the Qajar period, 1787-1921 (London: Heinemann, 1977).

 

20 November 2018

A case for the Society for the Protection of Women and Children

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On 29 August 1864 Henry Wilkinson was brought before the magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court charged with the wilful murder of his wife Eliza who had died the previous night.  Henry was a stonemason’s labourer aged 29 and he lodged with 28-year-old Eliza and their three children at 9 Cross Street in the Hatton Garden area of London.  Relations between the married couple were not always happy because of Henry’s jealousy and heavy drinking.

  Quarrel - temperanceFrom T. S. Arthur Temperance Tales vol. 1 (1848)

The Wilkinsons had visitors on Sunday 28 August, going to the station in the evening to see them off on a train.  One of the friends kissed Eliza.  Henry flew into a rage, and he cursed and threatened his wife before striking her very hard.  At 10pm Eliza arrived at home and spoke to Sarah Collier who lodged in the same house.  Eliza was afraid her husband would beat her, so she was sent to sleep in the same bed as Mrs Collier’s aunt.   At midnight Henry came home drunk.  He went looking for Eliza, pulled her out of bed, and punched and kicked her as she lay on the floor.  She began to vomit blood, saying ‘Oh mistress, he has given me my death blow!’  Henry immediately began to help his wife, carrying her to her own bed, giving her brandy, and going to fetch a doctor.  But poor Eliza died about an hour later.

Sarah Collier testified that she had seen Henry ill-treating his wife before this, adding that he was very kind to Eliza when sober and also treated his children well.  The case was then remanded to allow a post mortem to take place.  Bail was refused.

An inquest into Eliza's death opened on 2 September 1864 at the Three Tuns Tavern in Cross Street.  Henry was brought up in custody under a warrant from the Home Secretary.  Large crowds, mostly women, gathered in the street, and the windows of neighbouring houses were thronged with spectators.   The Marquis of Townshend, chairman of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, sat at the coroner’s side.  Several witnesses were questioned and Dr Thomas Clark who had conducted the post mortem examination gave the cause of death as a ruptured diseased spleen.  Clark said that the condition of Eliza’s spleen might have been aggravated by ill-treatment by Henry, but the slightest blow would have caused death.

  Clerkenwell News - Society for Protection of WomenClerkenwell News 3 September 1864 British Newspaper Archive

In summing up, the coroner said the case showed the importance of the work of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.  Whenever a man ill-used his family, the women and children should apply to the Society and steps would be taken to prevent such calamities.

The inquest jury decided that Henry did not intend to kill his wife and therefore their verdict was manslaughter.  However, after hearing the evidence, the magistrate at Clerkenwell decided Henry should be tried for wilful murder rather than manslaughter.  At Henry’s trial at the Old Bailey on 19 September 1864, he 'received a most excellent character, amongst others, from the father, brother, and sister of the deceased'.  He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Clerkenwell News 3 & 5 September 1864; Holborn Journal 10 September 1864.

 

13 November 2018

The fate of two forgers

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On Sunday 6 February 1785 a mass hanging took place at Newgate Prison of individuals who had been found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to death.  The hangings were intentionally held publicly at the debtors' gate of the prison to serve as a warning to society that such crimes would not be tolerated.

  NewgateNewgate from G W Thornbury, Old and New London (London, 1887)

Two of the individuals hanged that day were James Dunn and William Abbott, two unrelated individuals and cases, who were both convicted of forgery and who had both attempted to defraud individuals connected to the East India Company.

James Dunn was found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged the last will and testament of one James Potter, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, who had died at St Helena on 14 March 1784.  Dunn had attempted to defraud not only James Potter’s widow Jenny but also the East India Company, several ship’s captains and other seamen.  The case was drawn out over several months as Dunn had successfully proved the forged will at the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it therefore had to be declared null and void by them before he could be tried and convicted of his crime.

William Abbott was also found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged a bill of sale owed by Daniel Mcarthy to John How, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Warren Hastings.  John How had died on board ship on 28 April 1783.  It was believed that Abbott had learned of this and of the money owed to How in July 1783 when the Warren Hastings was at Bombay alongside the Talbot, in which Abbot was a passenger.  On Abbot’s return to England in October 1784 he had forged the bill of sale to the value of £23 14s 10d and had posed as John How to claim the money from Mcarthy.

On finding William Abbott guilty, the jury had given the verdict ‘Guilty with recommendation'.  Although guilty, they believed he deserved some clemency.  The judge however appears to have disagreed and sentenced him to death.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury, 9 Dec 1784, reported on the conviction of William Abbott for forgery.
Reading Mercury, Monday 7 February 1785, reported on the hangings at Newgate Prison and gave details of the individuals and their crimes.

 

10 July 2018

Spence Broughton: A Ghostly Highwayman

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Spence Broughton was a highwayman executed for robbing the Sheffield and Rotherham mail in 1792.  His body was gibbeted on Attercliffe Common and, notoriously, it hung there for 36 years.  Thousands flocked to see this gory spectacle and it has remained somewhat of a local legend.  Only four contemporary publications about Broughton are recorded, all provincially printed (probably in York) and extremely rare.  We are delighted to add to this with the discovery of a hitherto unknown broadside: 'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton, which appeared to Miss S---- H----, on Sunday morning, April 15, 1792'. 

Highwayman1'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Broughton’s fate was of his own making; he deserted his family, gambled and committed many highway robberies after all.  However, in this broadside, the highwayman is instead a victim of a seductress, absolving him of responsibility for his crimes and condemning his unfortunate mistress to a life of' 'never-ending tortures'.

The night before his execution, the highwayman appeared as an apparition in his mistress’s bedroom.  Upon waking she saw Broughton’s coffin, flanked by his widow and three orphans.  The widow reportedly cried:
'Most worthless of thy sex, behold the misery thou hast occasioned!  Behold the widow and the orphans thy infamy has plunged into woe! … The blood of a whole family calls aloud for vengeance upon thee!'

The widow then disappeared, leaving Broughton in spirit-form to condemn his mistress:
'If the sufferings of an innocent and virtuous woman cannot avail, I charge thee to mark my words, for surely they must strike thee with unspeakable remorse.  Have thy not delusive tongue occasioned me to relinquish the chastest love for the lewdest dalliance? Canst thou exist on earth without a foretaste of never-ending tortures? … Surely thou canst not behold my mangled limbs without shedding the most heart-rending tears!'

Broughton then disappeared in a ball of fire, leaving poor Miss S---- H---- terrified and the curtains mysteriously soaked in blood.  The landlady admonished and urged her to 'forsake the highway of destruction, and seek the happy path of reformation and amendment'.  The other surviving printed sources about Spence Broughton strike a similarly sympathetic note about his fate; he apparently repented for his crimes prior to execution and that earned him a measure of public compassion.

Highwayman2'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'


This grubby but unique survival adds to the small corpus of provincial printing about Spence Broughton, and to the corpus of highwaymen broadsides more generally.  Popular print in the eighteenth century was saturated by sensationalist tales, infamous criminals and the odd, squeezed-in, moral lesson.  This was perhaps printed just hours before the execution and its extraordinary but decidedly misogynist tale would’ve been avidly consumed by locals.  It was printed cheaply on waste paper – on the back of a Register of Freeholders form - and it cost only a penny.  It could also provide a valuable clue about the identity of Broughton’s much-maligned mistress, whose name has long since been lost.  The initials “S H” may be the printer’s invention but, then again, they may not.  Either way, this is an intriguing piece of printing.
 
Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

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On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

Related articles

Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning

14 February 2018

A much married man

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Following our stories about cases of bigamy and trigamy, colleagues suggested that I find a man with four wives for an ‘alternative’ Valentine’s Day blog post.  The British Newspaper Archive provided plenty of examples of four wives, and five, six, seven, and more.  I stopped looking when I found a man with twenty wives!

Lot of Fun B20130-10From Lot-of-Fun vol.2, no.28, p. 8 Images Online

One ‘most sensational’ case stood out from the rest.  Reuben Henry Chandler was born in Bristol in 1849, the son of a cabinet maker.  After leaving school he was apprenticed to an organ builder, then became a joiner before enlisting in the British Army, ‘being of fine physique’.  His father bought him out when he tired of military duties.

In 1870 Reuben married Mary Elizabeth Day in Bristol.  Soon afterwards he went to America and joined the US Navy.  On his return to England he did not rejoin his wife.  Instead he was wed in Bath in 1874 to Harriet Ellen Hales, a married woman who had been deserted by her husband Edwin.  At the time of the 1881 census, Reuben was working as a carpenter in Bath and living with Harriet Ellen and one of her two daughters, a servant, and three lodgers.  Reuben used to leave home for days, and then he disappeared altogether.

Reuben’s next wedding was in July 1885 to Flora Jenkins at St Mary Bitton in Gloucestershire.  The couple settled in Newport Monmouthshire.  In September 1887 Reuben filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of Flora’s adultery with a Richard Hermann, demanding £1000 in damages.

However Reuben and Flora stayed together and in January 1888 were both convicted of letting their coffee house in Newport be used as a brothel.  They then moved to Cardiff where they had a lodger, a master mariner called John Collins.  Reuben helped Flora to pass herself off to Collins as his daughter rather than his wife.  Flora married Collins in 1892 and Reuben attended to give the bride away.

Wedding number four was to Ada Maria Stutt at Bristol June 1898.  Reuben and Ada ran the Lord Chancellor pub on Easton Road until Ada’s death in the summer of 1902 at the age of 29.  Reuben’s stepmother Ann had a dream that her husband’s grave had been disturbed.  She was very upset to discover that Reuben had buried Ada there without her permission and went to the police with Ada’s father to report the multiple marriages. William Stutt wished to claim his dead daughter’s property as her rightful next of kin.

Chandler bigamySheffield Evening Telegraph  1 October 1902 British Newspaper Archive

Reuben’s trial took place in November 1902 at Bristol Assizes.  He was charged on three counts for marrying Ada Maria Stutt, Flora Jenkins, and Harriet Ellen Hales whilst his wife was still alive in Bristol.  The judge Mr Justice Wright commented that it was over 30 years since the first marriage, and said he considered the prosecution to be oppressive and ridiculous.  Reuben was found not guilty.

Reuben then moved to London and set up house with Frances Maria Wheeler.  I can find no evidence that the couple married.  They had twelve children, the last born five months after Reuben died in July 1922 at the age of 73 after a most eventful life.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive