Friday 29 April 2011

Gross Improprieties

An astonishing report showing how the mid-Victorians viewed what we now call domestic abuse; and the relationship between husband and wife. Utterly terrifying. The husband receives a heavy fine (£50 would have been a year's income for a manual labourer in this period; and still a large sum for a shop-keeper, one might think) but read the language of the judge - who did he think was really at fault here? The answer is depressingly obvious.
THAMES POLICE.—Yesterday Thomas Elliott, a stationer and newspaper-agent, who keeps a shop in the Back-road, Shadwell, was brought before Mr. BALLANTINE, charged with assaulting William Barnes, a painter in the same neighbourhood.
    The complainant is an elderly stout man with a grave countenance, and appeared to have been terribly beaten. Both eyes were swollen and blackened, and his face and head disfigured with braises and cuts. His arm, which had been wounded, was secured in a splinter, and he was apparently in a very weak state from the severe punishment inflicted upon him. He stated, that on Friday evening last he met the wife of the defendant, who accosted him, and they held some conversation together. He walked with her a short distance down Johnson-street, and was about to part with her, when he was suddenly attacked by the defendant, who came behind him and felled him to the ground, and then beat him as hard as he was able with his fists, the blows falling on his head and face in rapid succession. The defendant stood over him as a butcher over a sheep, and when he was tired of using his fists kicked him on the face and head and about the body till be was quite insensible. He received a kick on the fore-arm, and it was then so much swollen that he could not use it. After the defendant had beaten him, he attacked his own wife, and beat her in the same manner, and left her bleeding on the ground. The defendant, on the same night, came to his house and said he would have his life, and his manner was so ferocious that he would certainly have killed him if he had not concealed himself.
    The defendant, in reply to the charge, said, that Mr. Barnes had been the destruction of . his family and of his happiness. The complainant had been in the habit of meeting his wife repeatedly in the streets, and walking about with her, and she had grossly neglected her borne and her family, On Friday evening, when he came home, he found his wife had been absent for two hours, and when she came home she appeared to have been drinking, and was in a con- fused state. She went out again, and suspecting that it was to meet the complainant, he watched her and saw her meet Barnes, and walk down a secluded street towards the arches of the railway. He went through a dustyard and came upon them suddenly in a by-place. They were standing close together, between two carts, in earnest conversation, and he was so maddened with jealousy and rage, that he attacked them both, and certainly did not spare ether. After leaving them, be went home, and expected his wife to follow, but she did not come home, and he went in search of her, and actually found her with the complainant again near the same place. He had repeatedly complained of Barnes's attention to his wife, and had forbidden him to speak to her.
    Mr. BALLANTINE questioned the complainant, who admitted that Mrs Elliott met him a second time, merely for the purpose of asking him what to do, and he was advising her to go home , when her husband again made his appearance.
    Mr. BALLANTINE.— Have you ever been out with her in the evening alone?
    Barnes.—No, I have not, Sir.
    Mr. BALLLNTINE — Have you ever heard Mr. Elliott complain of your attentions to his wife?
    Barnes.—I have not. I know that he ill-uses his wife very much, and he beat her that evening, and she was complaining to me of it.
    Mrs. Elizabeth Sampson, a very respectable woman, said she was married to the brother of Mrs. Elliott, and that she had often seen Mr. Barnes and her sister-in-law drinking together, and had seen them frequently in the streets in conversation after sunset. She mentioned the circumstances to her husband, thinking it was very improper.
    Mr. BALLANTINE.— He beats her, I understand?
    Mrs. Sampson.—Yes, Sir, he does.
    Mr. BALLANTINE.—If a man beats his wife, it is one way to withdraw her affections from him.
    Mrs. Sampson.—My husband would beat me, Sir, if I was guilty of such gross improprieties as my sister-in-law.
    Mrs. Elliott was then called in. She had two black eyes, and her face was bruised as much as the complainant's. She complained that her husband had frequently beaten her, and on the last occasion nearly killed her. She begged of the magistrate to consider whether it was proper for a woman to be beaten and disfigured as she was.
    Mr. BALLANTINE.—You have been beaten very dreadfully, and I think your husband has acted very savagely; but don't you know he has objected, to your walking with the complainant? It is not at all reputable for a married woman to be wandering about the streets in that way.
    The wife laboured hard to excuse herself. She said she only met Mr. Barnes at the corner of Johnson-street, and walked side by side with him. Was it at all likely that she, who was the mother of font children, should carry on an improper intercourse with such an old man as Mr. Barnes?
    Mr. BALLANTINE— I don't know. Such things do happen; young women will seek old men sometimes. If you meet him, you ought to pass him. Your husband objects to your walking with him, and it is your duty to consult his wishes.
    Mrs. Elliott—I am sure we were never seen in any house together. I assist my husband in delivering the newspapers every morning, and I can't help meeting Mr. Barnes.
    Mr. Barnes—My business brings me to the same places, but I am innocent of anything wrong.
    Mr. BALLANTINE — I believe you have been waylaying that woman, and walking about with her at unseasonable hours, and have made her husband unhappy and his home uncomfortable: Yon have received a dreadful punishment that you will remember it as long as you live.
    Mrs. Sampson here stated that her sister-in-law had informed her that it was all the fault of Mr. Barnes, who was always following her. The defendant, who appeared excessively agitated, here burst into tears; and exclaimed, "I am a most wretched man!"
    Mr. BALLANTINE said; the defendant had not, behaved properly. He had beaten his wife in a cowardly and disgraceful manner. He might have left her as a worthless thing, but to beat  a woman in such a way was very dreadful and very unmanly. He could not help thinking that the wife had, by her own misconduct, frittered away the affections of her husband; but she was not to be beaten. He thought the justice of the case would be satisfied by ordering the defendant to enter into his own recognizances in the sum of 50l. to keep the peace towards his wife; and to Barnes for the next 12 months, and if he had any substantial reason to believe the complainant was following his wife, and his relatives were satisfied, he would make the complainant find bail, and put him to all the inconvenience in his power.

Times, October 14, 1842

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