Thursday 2 September 2010

A Most Indecent and Disgusting Manner

A report from the Times of 1839, which gives an idea of how the Victorians dealt with sex offences. The accused (appearing 'above the middle rank of life') tries to impugn the character of the two witnesses (who are 'respectable' but not middle-class, being the wife of a bricklayer and a former servant) but, impressively, he doesn't get very far. Of course, if the ladies did not seem 'respectable', then it's unlikely the case would ever have been brought. What's particularly interesting here is the (relative) frankness of the verbatim reportage. Normally the actual nature of the offence is glossed over in the Times, and this may reflect the early Victorians being a little more relaxed about these things.

MARYLEBONE OFFICE. - On Thursday afternoon, shortly before the close of the office, a tall, sedate-looking man, about 45 years of age, attired in a suit of black, and whose appearance altogether denoted him to be a person above the middle rank of life, was brought up in custody of a constable of the S division of police, and placed at the bar before the sitting magistrate, Mr. HOSKINS, on the charge of having in a most indecent and disgusting manner exposed himself to two females of respectability in the Regent's-park.
     The prisoner, who seemed to feel acutely the degrading situation in which he was placed, was asked his name and address, but he objected to give either, as he also did at the station-house; the required information was, however, elicited in the course of the examination by Fryer, one of the officers, who, on looking into his (prisoner's) hat, discovered written upon the lining the words - "The Rev. Robert Thorburn, No.14, Upper Montagu-street, Montagu-square," which, upon a subsequent inquiry being made, proved correct.
     The prisoner was unattended by any legal adviser, having been brought up instanter by the constable.
     Mary Davies, residing at No.82, Mary-street, Hampstead-road, was then examined, and deposed as follows:- This afternoon, about half-past 3 y'clock, as I was passing along the broad gravel walk, I saw the prisoner by the shrubbery near the top of the Regent's-park, when he turned himself round, and exposed to me his person. I was then in the act of hastily moving away in another direction, and was again insulted by him in a similar manner.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Were you at this time alone?
     Mrs. Davies - No, Sir; I had some children with me, and after what had taken place, I gave information to one of the parkkeepers, who caused the prisoner to be apprehended.
     James Harrod, 179 S, said - As I was on duty near the park, I was called in by one of the keepers, who pointed out to me the prisoner, and begged of me to keep an eye on him, while he (the keeper) went in search of the lady, by whom he had been spoken to. I kept behind a fence, and on the lady coming up, I took the prisoner in charge, at the same time telling him that it was for exposing his person.
     Mr. HOSKINS - What answer did he make to this?
     Witness. He said, if he had done so, he was not aware of it; and on the the way to the station-house he exclaimed several times, "Oh, I don't know what I shall do." He had also, as I understood, insulted another female just before.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Is she here?
     Witness - She is not, Sir; she objected to come forward.
     Mr. HOSKINS - You must desire her attendance here tomorrow. See her this evening, and if she still objects to come, I'll issue a summons. Who is she?
     Witness - She is a respectable married woman, Sir, named King.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to the prisoner) - I shall be under the necessity of remanding you until to-morrow, in order that more evidence may be procured. Do you wish to say anything?
     Prisoner contented himself by saying, that he was merely obeying a call of nature, and had no intention of offending any one.
     He was accordingly remanded, and instead of being conveyed to prison for the night, was taken back to the police-station.
     Yesterday morning, after the disposal of several charges of no particular interest, the prisoner was again placed at the bar; he was unaccompanied by any friends, and during the period of his incarceration on the previous night wept incessantly. Mrs. Davies and Mrs. King were, on this occasion, both in attendance; the latter of whom, a young and delicate-looking woman, being brought to the office by her father.
     Mr. Fell, the chief clerk, then read over the former depositions as above given.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to Mrs. Davies) - How do you get your living?
     Mrs. Davies - I have been in a situation, and am now living upon money left me by my last master.
     Mr. HOSKINS - When the prisoner exposed himself you, as you have stated, was he making water?
     Mrs. Davies - He was not; and before he acted towards me in the infamous way he did he was creeping and crawling about the spot for nearly a quarter of an hour.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Something has been said about another female having complained in a way similar to yourself. Do you know anything of it?
     Mrs. Davies - Yes, Sir. While I was talking to the policeman who entered the park, a young woman came up, and addressing me, said, "I suppose, Ma'am, you've seen the man in the same state as I did?"
     Mr. HOSKINS - Where was the prisoner then?
     Mrs. Davies - He was sitting on one of the seats; but the instant he saw the constable he got up and walked off.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Did she recognise the prisoner as the person she had been talking about?
     Mrs. Davies - She did; and her object in coming up to the place was to convince herself of the fact.
     Mrs. Eliza King, who, by order of the magistrate, had been excluded during the period of Mrs. Davies giving her evidence, was here called in. She deposed that she was the wife of Mr. Robert King, a master bricklayer, residing at No. 78, High-street, Camden-town, and that on the previous afternoon, between 2 and 3 o'clock, she  was in the Regent's-park, when she there saw the prisoner, who exposed to her his person.
     Mr. HOSKINS - In what part of the park was this?
     Mrs. King - It happened as I was coming up the broad walk opposite the gate leading to the Zoological Gardens.
     Mr. HOSKINS - When the prisoner did this, how near was he to you?
     Mrs. King - He was about 10 or 11 yards off.
     Mr. HOSKINS - You must describe more particularly what he did?
     Mrs. King - He opened his trousers in front, and in that way exposed himself, Sir. I sat done with my back towards him, thinking that he would go away, when I turned round, some minutes afterwards, he was in the same shameful situation.
     Mr. HOSKINS - How many minutes elapsed, do you imagine, between the period of the first and second exposure?
     Mrs. King - I should think, about five.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Did he say anything to you?
     Mrs. King - Nothing, your worship.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Were there any other females walking near the place at this time?
     Mrs. King - There were several about, but not precisely at the spot.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Have you anything more to say?
     Mrs. King - Nothing more than that when I saw the policeman running, I said to him, "I suppose you are after that gentleman?" (meaning the prisoner.) He answered, "Yes," and added, "I want one of you ladies to give him in charge." This was about half an hour after I got up from the seat and walked away.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Look well at the prisoner, now. Is he the man who exposed himself?
     Mrs. King (after viewing him) - He is, Sir.
     Mr. HOSKINS - Have you any doubt of it?
     Mrs. King - None whatever.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to the constable) - Have you ascertained since last night whether the prisoner lives at No. 14 Upper Montagu-street?
     Constable - I have, Sir; he does reside there.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to the prisoner). - You have heard the evidence adduced against you, and if you have anything new to offer, I'm ready to hear you.
     Prisoner (with a considerable degree of emotion) - You Worship, I feel that I am placed in a most distressing situation, and am completely covered with shame while standing here before you. I am well convinced that in cases of this kind a defendant has but little chance, as a prejudice is generally excited against him; but I do hope that you will well look into the character of the witnesses, and not judge too hastily in the present instance. I have but very recently arrived in London from Jamaica, and yesterday for the first time went out to take a walk in the park, and not being as a matter of course acquainted with any part thereof, I might, perhaps, have obeyed a call of nature in a spot not set apart for that purpose; but at all events, I had no intention whatever of insulting or offending any female. I am connected with families of the first respectability, and in some of my packages, which are still at the West India Docks, will be found papers corroborative of my assertion, particularly one from a congregation, expressive of their approbation in every respect of my character. I trust, therefore, that these points will weigh in my favour, as I conceive they ought to do, and that you will acquit me of any ill intention; but (after a short pause) if you are satisfied with the witnesses testimony, what am I to do?
     Mr. HOSKINS - Have you any witnesses to call?
     Prisoner - I have not, Sir; there was no one with me.
     Mrs. Davies was here recalled.
     Mr. HOSKINS - When he first exposed himself, where was he standing?
     Mrs. Davies - Near the fence, but the second time he was within two yards of me.
     Mr. Fell (the chief clerk) - Was his face turned towards you on one or both occasions?
     Mrs. Davies - On both, Sir.
     Prisoner - Did I either speak to or look at you indecently, or undo my clothes more than was necessary for obeying a call of nature?
     Mrs. Davies - Your worship (addressing the magistrate), when he exposed his person he laughed each time.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to the prisoner) - Have you any other questions to put?
     Prisoner - No, SIr.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to Mrs. King) - When he exposed himself to you, how far was he from the fence?
     Mrs. King - At least 10 or a dozen yards.
     Prisoner (hastily) - I trust, Sir, you will do me the justice to make a full inquiry as to the character of these witnesses, so as to enable you to come to a correct opinion as to the value which should be attached to their testimony.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to Inspector Dawkins) - You know, of course, something about these females; have you any reason to doubt their testimony?
     Inspector - None whatever, Sir; they are most respectable persons.
     Mr. HOSKINS (to the prisoner) - The whole of the evidence has now been gone into, and it is my duty to commit you to the House of Correction for three months. You have the power of appealing against my decision if you should think proper to do so.
     The prisoner, who made no further observation, was then removed by Bradshaw, the gaoler, to the lock-up room; soon after which he had an interview with Mr. Robinson, his solicitor, who was informed that his client might be liberated on producing bail in 200l., and two sureties in 100l each.
     The required recognizances not having been forthcoming, prior to the closing of the office, the prisoner (who seemed in a dreadfully distressed state of mind) was removed, not by the usual conveyance, the Government van, but in a coach, to Clerkenwell prison.

1 comment:

  1. A most interesting report, both for the human drama involved and for the lively impression it gives of real people of the time.

    I have to feel a little sorry for the Rev Thorburn (if indeed the hat tells the truth about hist identity) as I imagine his career in the church is now at an end. His exclamations and weeping testify to his very real chagrin. Did he return home in disgrace or find another career?

    I very much like the down-to-earth and no-nonsense attitude of the two lady witnesses. No giggling innocents are they but adults experienced in the ways of the world and not ready to be put upon by the likes of Thorburn. Their confident demeanour before the court is commendable.

    This is one of those little spotlighted episodes of life where one aches to know the subsequent history of those involved...