Wednesday 8 December 2010

The Clergyman, The Maidservant and the Crinoline

Here's three articles from the press of April 1867. They describe an unusual case ... a servant accusing a clergyman of indecent assault. I find them fascinating in many ways: the stress on the respectability of the young woman (without which any complaint would be nigh impossible); the details of a third-class railway carriage in 1860s; and the problem occasioned by crinolines (whether you believe one side or the other). One might argue with the magistrate's final decision - but I find that very hard to judge.

Who do you believe here?


The Rev. George Keppel, of Carshalton, a gentleman well known for his benevolent acts and literary attainments, was placed at the bar, before Mr. Woolrych charged with indecently assaulting Mary Ann Fraser. a very respectable-looking young woman, while getting out of a railway carriage at the London-bridge Terminus.
    A clerk from the office of Mr. Freeland, solicitor to the South Eastern Railway Company, attended for the prosecution; Mr. Mackenzie. solicitor, of Gresham house appeared for the defendant; and Mr. Henry Alton, the prosecuting officer of the Associate Institute for Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women watched the case on behalf of that society.
    The prosecutrix, a well conducted and neatly-dressed young woman, said that she was single and a domestic servant, at present living with her parents at 14, Cecil-street, St. Martin's-lane, and until recently in the service of James Maitland, Esq., of Croydon. On Saturday evening last, at six o'clock, she got into a third-class carriage at Charing-cross, with her mother, to proceed to London Bridge. The defendant was in the same compartment, as well as a railway porter. The former was sitting near the door and next the platform, and as she was getting out at London Bridge he put his hand behind her and treated her in an indecent manner.
    Mr. Woolrych asked if he disarranged her clothing.
    Witness replied in the negative. He put his hand between her legs outside her clothes and grasped her slightly on the thigh. She turned round immediately and told him he was a nasty beast, when an inspector came up and she gave him into custody.
    Mr. Woolrych asked whether she had spoken to him before he insulted her in the manner described.
    Witness replied that she did not. He spoke to her mother shortly after they left Charing-cross, and he said something to a person in the next department about the Parliament. Witness never spoke to him until after he had treated her indecently, and she told him of it, when said "he was was sorry for it. He did not intend to insult her, and if he had done so it was by accident in helping her out of the carriage."
    In answer to Mr. Woolrych she said that before they arrived at London Bridge, the defendant sat nearly opposite to her with his face to the engine. Her mother sat next to him, and the porter next to the former. There were no other person in the compartment.
    In cross-examination by Mr. Mackenzie, witness said it was a third-class carriage open all the way through.
    On the journey the defendant had a book in one hand a newspaper in the other, and he spoke about the remarkable division in the House of Commons, but no one answered him. He neither spoke to her or touched her on the journey, but when she was alighting from the carriage, he endeavoured to get between her and her mother. She had a crinoline on, but it was very small, the same she had now on, and it was not large enough to incommode him while she was getting out.
    Mr. Mackenzie: Now, did he not put his hands up to arrange your crinoline as it was nearly in her face?
    Witness: No. He put his hands on my clothes roughly, and touched my person in an indecent manner. My crinoline could not have annoyed him.
    Mr. Mackenzie: You have seen females with large crinolines getting out of railway carriages and omnibuses?
    Witness: Yes, I have, sir, and some of them have been very large, and annoying to the other passengers. I have seen gentlemen put their hands out to keep them away.
    Mr. Woolyrch: Are you of opinion that he purposely assaulted you in the manner described?
    Witness: Yes, sir, I am. I was never so insulted before.
    Mary Fraser, the mother of the complainant, said her husband was a pensioner in the Scots Fusilier Guards, and she carried on the business of a laundress of 14 Cecil-street, St. Martin's-lane. On Saturday evening she was with her daughter in the same carriage as the defendant. The latter sat near the door by the platform, witness next to him, her daughter opposite, and the railway porter in the farther corner. When the train stopped at London Bridge her daughter was getting out first when the defendant put his hand behind her and indecently assaulted her. She turned round upon him and called him a beast and vagabond for doing so, when he said he was sorry - he was helping her out when his hand slipped.  An inspector came up and he was taken into custody.
    Charles Martin, a porter, in the employment of the South Eastern Railway Company. On Saturday evening at six o'clock he got into a third-class compartment of the Greenwich line to got to the Spa-road. The defendant was next the door, last witness next him and the complainant sitting opposite. When the train stopped at London Bridge the complainant was in the act of leaving the carriage, when the defendant put his hand behind her, forcing it between her legs in a very indecent manner. She turned round and asked him what he meant by it, when he said "I am very sorry for it. I beg your pardon; if I have done anything I am not aware of." The mother got out immediately, and witness remained in the carriage. Witness was on the same side as the defendant.
    Mr. Woolyrch: Did he take hold of her hand to help her out?
    Witness: No, sir. He deliberately forced his hand between her legs.
    Mr. Woolyrch: Did her clothes extend much while getting out of the train?
    Witness: No, sir, not all. He had seen ladies getting in and out of their carriages with such extensive crinolines that gentlemen have been compelled to put their hands out to keep them off, but that was not the case in the present instance.
    Mr. James Bell, an inspector in the employ of the South Eastern Railway Company, said that on Saturday evening he was on duty on the London Bridge platform when the Greenwich train arrived from Charing-cross and Cannon-street. As soon as the train stopped he saw the young woman get out, and heard her calling the defendant an old beast. He went up and asked what was the matter, when she said she had been grossly insulted by him, at the same time describing the nature of the assault. Witness asked her whether any one else witnessed it. She replied, "Yes, her mother and one of the railway porters who was then in the carriage." Witness took her back and she pointed out the witness Martin, who he called out, and Martin having corroborated the statement, he took the defendant into custody. Witness knew nothing further of the matter.
    Mr. Mackenzie here addressed the magistrate for the defendant, who was a personal friend, and a gentleman of great piety, benevolence, and literary attainments, and could not be guilty of such an act as that imputed to him. He did not wish to cast any slur against the complainant or the witnesses for the prosecution, who had given their evidence with apparent truthfulness, as far as they really believed; but he contended that they must be mistaken; that the defendant did not purposely put his hand behind the young woman as stated. The reverend defendant was well known as a kind and benevolent man, and in his zeal to assist the young woman out of the carriage his hand got somewhat entangled in her crinoline, and he emphatically denied any intention of acting in anywise indecently towards the young woman. His worship would see by the plans he had in his hands that the compartment was only five feet wide, and she could not have passed him without his being compelled to put his hand out to avoid her crinoline, and if his hand had touched her in doing so he regretted it very much that she had been annoyed by it. It could hardly be likely that he, a clergyman, should, in broad daylight, wilfully commit such an act as that described by the witness; it was not feasible. Therefore, without casting any imputation on the witnesses, he called on his worship to dismiss the complaint.
    Mr. Woolyrch observed that he had carefully investigated the case, and sifted all the evidence, but he could see nothing to throw the slightest doubt on the testimony of the complainant, corroborated as she was by her mother and the railway porter. He had very anxiously inquired into the case, as it not only bore upon the character of individuals, but as females had frequently committed errors in making such charges - many of which had been ascertained to be false and trumped up. In the present case, however, there did not appear to be anything of the kind. The witnesses were respectable, and it was not sought to impeach their conduct. Under all the circumstances, he must send the case before a jury, but the defendant would be remanded until a future day for the completion of depositions. Bail, of course, would be accepted.

Illustrated Police News, 20 April, 1867


The Rev. George Keppel of Carshalton, appeared before Mr. Woolyrch, at the Southwark Police-court, for further examination.
    Mr. Mackenzie, of Gresham House, who appeared for the defendant, informed his worship, that owing to the publicity given to the case in the newspapers, great advantages had resulted to his client, and he thought that he should be able to produce a mass of evidence to contradict testimony of the complainant, and show that it was a charge trumped up to extort money from his client. At the last examination he had every wish to deal with her as an innocent and respectable young woman, but owing to the publicity given in the newspapers letters had reached him which entirely upset that opinion. Besides letters he had witnesses in court who would be able to identify her as having made similar complaints against them. The attention of one of the gentlemen was attracted to the case by the observation "nasty beast," which she made to him at Charing-cross three weeks ago. He had also witnesses in court who were in the next compartment, and saw all that occurred, and could prove that the defendant never committed any indecent act in assisting her out of the carriage. If his worship should be satisfied with that evidence, he trusted that he would discharge the defendant, and then proceed against the complainant for perjury.
    The complainant was here recalled, and, in answer to the learned gentleman, said she never made a similar charge against any man before in her life. On the 1st of March she left Mr. Maitland's service, at West Croydon, and came up to London-bridge. She then shifted to the South Eastern line, and proceeded to Charing-cross, where she left her box for her father to fetch. She travelled by third class; but she did not know who was in the compartment with her. On the Monday morning following, she went to Chislehurst, and returned on the Monday following, arriving at Charing-cross at twenty minutes to ten. She had been to see Mr. Farley and his wife. He was a carpenter and joiner, at Chislehurst She did not speak to any man that time. She never threw her crinoline over any man, and afterwards called him a nasty beast.
    Mr. William Richards, an elderly man, was here called by Mr. Mackenzie, and on being sworn he said that he was a dealer in essential oils, and resided at 23, Ash-grove, Cambridge-heath. About three weeks and three days ago he travelled from Cannon-street to Charing cross by the South-Eastern Railway, in a third-class compartment. The complainant sat at the further end of the carriage, and he was near the door. On the arrival of the carriages at Charing-Cross he remained in the last, as he was tired. When the complainant was getting out she threw her crinoline over his knees, square-like, and he pushed it off. She turned round and exclaimed, "What are you doing, you nasty beast? I have a great mind to give you in charge.'' He said to her, "Of the two I think you are the nasty beast, and the greatest beast." She then went away grumbling, and suspecting that she was one of those women who trumped up charges against gentlemen, be followed her and saw her enter 15, Cecil-court, St. Martin's-lane.
    Mr. Woolrych : Will you undertake that this is the same young woman?
    Witness: I would not undertake to swear that. The young woman had light hair, and looked very pale. She very much resembled the complainant. One of her gloves was off, and her hand looked very red.
    Mr. Mackenzie: You swear that that was the same woman you traced into 15, Cecil-court, St. Martin's lane?
    Witness: Yes, sir. I, however, had some disadvantage owing to the bad light; but I am certain she called me a "nasty old beast."
    Mr. Mackenzie: How came you to attend this court today?
    Witness: Because I read the case against the defendant in the newspapers yesterday, and from the description of her, and using the epithet, "nasty beast," to the gentleman, I thought it was the same woman, and that she was an impostor. I therefore thought it my duty to the public to attend the police-court.
    Stephen Seymour was next called by Mr. Mackenzie, and on being sworn said that he had recently been discharged from the Royal Artillery. He produced his certificate of good conduct as a corporal of the 6th battery, Colonel Green, commanding. He was stationed at Woolwich in 1861 and 1863. In the latter year be became acquainted with Mary Ann Fraser, while servant to Captain French, at Woolwich. He had to attend his house every four or five days with orders, and had opportunities of seeing her and conversing with her—in fact, he kept company with her up to January, 1864. The complainant was the same young woman. He would swear to it.
    Mr. Woolrych : Did any one ask you to come here today?
    Witness: No, sir I read it in the newspapers yesterday, and in consequence of that I came here of my own accord.
    Complainant here interposed, and said that he came to her house on Tuesday, and tried to frighten her. She never saw him before in her life. It was all false what he had stated.
    Witness : I did call on her, to satisfy me that she was the same woman, but I made no proposition to her. I called her by her name.
    Mr. Mackenzie : Did she seem to know you then?
    Witness: No, sir. She treated me as a perfect stranger.
    Harman Garrett was the next witness called, and, on being sworn, he said he was a joiner, working for Mr. Slipper, at Rotherhithe. On the previous Saturday evening he got into the train at Cannon-street, and sat in the adjoining compartment to where the complainant, her mother, the porter, and defendant were sitting. He was seated sideways, with his legs up, and noticed them all. When the train stopped at Loudon-bridge the complainant got up to leave, when her crinoline extended and defendant put his hand up to assist her out. He noticed all that occurred, and was certain that defendant did not commit any indecent act towards the young woman. After the complainant got out she called the defendant a nasty beast, and then she called to the porter to get out. He said, "No, I shan't, because I am tired." An inspector came then, and having called him out, the train went on and I got out at the Spa-road Station. I am certain that the action of the defendant was not an indecent assault, and I have thought it right to come forward to prove that. When the complainant was getting out he put out one hand to help her out, and the other he put down her crinoline with. He made no indentation in her dress. He was standing up to allow her to pass him. Witness added, that he called out that the gentleman was innocent, but as soon as the porter got out the train went on.
    James Ramsay, au elderly man, said he was an iron finisher, and resided at 189, Salisbury-lane, Bermondsey-wall. He was in the same compartment with last witness, travelling from Charing-cross to London bridge. When the train stopped at the latter station he saw the complainant get out, assisted by the defendant, who put his hand to her crinoline. He was sure that all he did was to remove it from him, and that he did not act indecently. After she got out she turned round and said, "You are a nasty beast." The railway inspector then came up, and witness said he was no such thing, and then the train went on.
    Mr. Mackenzie : What caused you to come forward?
    Witness : I read the account in the newspapers yesterday, and seeing what I did I thought it my duty to attend the police-court.
    Mr. Woolrych here observed that the imputations of perjury against the young woman rendered some further inquiries into the matter necessary.
    Complainant: I wish to say a few words here, sir, about the witness Seymour. He came to our house yesterday, and asked to see me. I went up to him and said, "Who do you want?" He said, "Mr. Champion, or Chaplin—I don't know which—wants you at St. Pancras Church." I told him I should not go, as other persons wanted me not to press the charge against the defendant. I declare I never saw Seymour before in my life, and I never was in the service of Colonel French, at Woolwich."
    Mr. Woolrych observed that the case had assumed that importance that a thorough investigation into all the circumstances must take place, both for the sake of the young woman as well as the defendant and the public at large. He therefore further remanded him, accepting the bail of Mr. Edward Easton and Dr. Helsham, for his attendance on a future day.
Reynolds's Newspaper, April 21, 1867

At SOUTHWARK the Rev, George Capel, and not Keppel, of Carshalton, as hitherto reported, appeared before Mr. Woolrych for final examination, charged with indecently assaulting Mary Ann Fraser, the daughter of a pensioner of the Scots Fusileer Guards, while getting out of a third-class carriage of the South-Eastern Railway at London-bridge on Saturday evening, the 13th inst. ... Mr. Smyth appeared to prosecute, being instructed by friends of the young woman ; Mr, Foster watched the case on behalf of the South Eastern Railway Company; and Mr. Metcalfe appeared for the defendant. Mr. H. Allen, the prosecuting officer of the Associate Institute for Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women, was present on behalf of that society. Mr. Metcalfe observed that before any further evidence was brought forward he had a few remarks to make, which no doubt would save the time of the Court. On the last occasion a young man was examined, who gave the name of Seymour and swore he was honourably discharged from the Royal Artillery, at the same time producing a certificate and giving a detailed account of the complainant being in the service of Captain French in 1863 and 1864, during which time he kept company with her. Inquiries had been since then made about him, and it had been discovered that the whole of his statement was a tissue of falsehoods ; that he was a deserter from the Royal Artillery, and that the certificates of discharge were forgeries. In justice to the complainant he made these observations, also to justice to Mr. Mackenzie, the defendant's solicitor, who had been imposed upon by him. He voluntarily called on Mr. Mackenzie and told him the young woman had jilted him. Not much faith was put in that statement, as Mr.Mackcnzie did not like his story, and he told him at the time if he attended at the police court to give evidence he must not expect a sixpence from him. Since he had given that evidence Mr. Mackenzie had discovered that he had not only committed perjury, but had forged the certificate he produced.  There was also a man named Richards who gave evidence on the last occasion, and he had no doubt mistaken the complainant for another young woman. He was satisfied of that, as the complainant was a young woman of excellent character, having for some time been in the service of Colonel Hepburn, and since then with Mr. Maitland, of Croydon, who up to the present time kept her situation open for her until she recovered from her illness. Therefore, he had to state publicly that the complainant had not the slightest stigma attached to her character and all previous imputations were unhesitatingly withdrawn. Mr Woolrych said that as far as the discharged artilleryman's evidence went on the last occasion he looked upon it in an unfavourable light, and had he attended that day he intended to have interrogated him at some length. As for the young woman she gave her testimony with great clearness, detailing a history of her life for some years, swearing positively she never saw the artilleryman before, or was ever in the service of Captain French as be asserted. He had a strong impression against that man's evidence at the time. Mr. Smyth was quite prepared to contradict the statement of the artilleryman, but after what had been stated it would be idle to do that. He understood that his evidence and that of Mr. Richards was withdrawn from the case. Mr. Metcalfe replied in the affirmative. Mr. Richards was here called forward, and, in answer to Mr. Woolrych, he said the newspapers had made a mistake about his address. He intended to have said that he lived at 23 row, at the bottom of Ash-grove, and not 23, Ash-grove. In reply to Mr. Woolrych, the witness said he came forward to offer his evidence from what he had read in the newspapers, and quite voluntarily. He first called on Mr. Mackenzie, seeing his name in the newspapers, and told him what he he had stated in the court. He said on the last occasion that he got into the railway carriage at Cannon-street, but he did not say he then saw the complainant in the carriage, Mr. Woolrych.—It's in the notes that you did swear that you said also that you followed her and lost sight of her in a court of St. Martin's-lane. Witness.—Yes, Sir, so I did, and I saw a light in the front kitchen window of the house I believed she entered. I went up the court the next day and satisfied myself. Mr. Woolrych —Have you any doubt about this being the young woman on that occasion? Witness.—I have not any doubt, but her hair was arranged in a very different manner. Sir. Woolrych.—What was your object in following her? Witness—To satisfy myself about her, as some friends of mine had money extorted from them in a similar way 13 or 14 years ago. In reply to Mr. Smyth, the witness said he did not keep s shop;  he merely' resided at the address he had given. He would not undertake to say when he last dealt in essential oils, but he bad dealt in them for the last 14 or 15 years. He dealt with captains of ships in the docks, and last with Captain Maitland in the Landon Docks ; he gave him 15s. or 16s. for some, which he sold to a soap boiler. He did not keep the house in which he lived. He had only one room, for which he paid 2s. 6d. a week rent. Mr. Metcalfe here said he had two other independent witnesses to call on defendant's behalf to support his innocence. He called Mary Ann Bean, who said,-- I am a married woman and my husband works at Sanderson's in Cannon-street. On Saturday evening, the 13th last, about 6 o'clock, I was at the London-bridge terminus, waiting to go to the Spa-road. My husband's brother was with me, and as soon as the train is question came up he opened the door, in which were the complainant, the defendant, an elderly woman, and a porter. The defendant was sitting near the door as the complainant was getting out, and he did not act indecently to her. He had a book in his right band, and appeared to be pushing her crinoline away with his other hand. I did not see him commit any act of indecency. There was nothing of the kind. I was standing with my face towards them waiting to get into the carriage, and there were also several persons behind me. I saw the railway porter sitting at the end of the carriage. When I got into the latter an inspector came and twice called him out. I do not think the young woman spoke to the porter. In reply to Mr.Smyth, the witness said that as soon as the young woman partially got out the defendant raised himself and followed her. She did not see his right hand then, but if any indecency had taken place she must have seen it. He, however, had a book in his right band. She heard the young woman turn round on the defendant and say, "You nasty beast, how dare you put your band on me like that?" She saw several persons in the other compartments at that time. Mr. George Frederick Blackstone said.-- I am a clerk in the Customs' Office, in Her Majesty's Dockyard at Woolwich. I was in the next compartment further from the engine, and noticed the defendant sitting near the door. I did not notice whether he was reading. I saw the young woman, getting out at the same time as I got out. I did not see anything improper being committed towards her by the defendant. There was nothing of the sort. I should have remained only I was in a hurry to catch a North Kent train, I wrote to Mr. Mackenzie, as I was satisfied there was no indecency committed by the defendant. Mr. Metcalfe here said that was all the evidence he had to offer. He trusted there would be enough to justify the magistrate in dismissing the charge against the defendant. Mr. Smyth would like to make some observations before that was done. He was instructed by the friends of the complainant to protect her and her character, which had been much maligned on the other occasion. Her evidence was supported by her mother and a railway porter, who saw all that occurred; and if those three persons spoke the truth the case was made out against the defendant. He did not wish to impute perjury against any of the other witnesses except the artilleryman, who had thought it wise to keep away, but he considered that the magistrate ought to send the case to another tribunal, so that a jury might say on which side the truth lay. If his worship did not do that, a reflection would be cast on the young woman's character which might injure her reputation for the remainder of her life. Mr. Woolrych said be had carefully investigated the whole of the circumstances, and could come to no other decision than to dismiss the charge. Had he thought that there was any reflection upon the young woman's reputation, or that her character would receive any injury from this examination be should have acted otherwise ; but such had not been the case, as he was of opinion she had not spoken anything but the truth. There had been a total absence of prevarication all the way through. Mr. Mackenzie on the first occasion acted very wisely towards the young woman, imputing no improper motives to her; but then at the next examination the discharged artilleryman came forward and gave most startling and strange evidence against her. That there had been some corrupt agency at work in this case he very much suspected, but not with the defendant's knowledge. There had been nothing to show that the defendant or his solicitor had suborned any of the witnesses. Mr. Metcalfe here produced a bundle of letters from persons anxious to come forward but they were not required under the circumstances. Mr. Woolrych took no notice of those letters, but he went by the evidence he had heard and carefully investigated. The discharged artilleryman had most decidedly committed perjury, and he trusted a severe punishment would overtake him. All the charges against the young woman had been now withdrawn, excepting the statement of Richards, who still adhered to his opinion that she was the same person who accosted him a mouth ago. Now, he (the magistrate) had no doubt he was mistaken, and, as his evidence was so unsatisfactory he should dismiss that from the case altogether. He was satisfied that if he sent the defendant to the sessions for trial no jury would convict. The statement of the young woman, her mother, and the railway porter were contradictory in many points. One said the defendant opened the carriage door, another said the young woman did it, and the other said it was opened by some one outside. Now, that had been confirmed by Mr. Garrett, who sat sideways in the next compartment, and saw all that had occurred, and by Mrs. Bean, a witness examined that day. Putting the whole of the evidence together, was there any reasonable probability of a conviction? He thought not; therefore, he dismissed the charge against the defendant. In doing so he said that he had no doubt that the complainant had been a respectable young woman all her life, and that her character had not been is the slightest degree affected by this examination. At the request of Mr. Smyth, a warrant was granted against the ex-artillery man for perjury.

The Times, April 25, 1867


  1. But did he do it?

    The nearest witnesses, and the lady herself, say yes ... the rest say no ...

    Ok, I have no idea either!

  2. I am impressed by the amount of care taken to investigate the claims of the complainant and all of those called to give witness. I think Mr Woolrych did a conscientious job and reached the only possible decision, namely that there was no possibility of a conviction and that the case should therefore end there.

    Did he suspect that the complainant was deliberately offering a false accusation? Even if he did, he could not say so, given that the case was ended. She must be allowed to leave the court "without a stain on her character".

    I must say that from what I know of people, particularly when their thoughts are on getting home at the end of the day, I find it highly suspicious that so many should have such precise memories of the event, almost as though they had been called in to watch it. I suspect that witnesses came forward precisely out of anxiety to exonerate a man of the cloth and made statements appropriate to that end, whether they had seen anything or not. The bundle of letters suggests a certain anxiety on the part of the public to do this.

    Why would the porter go along with the story when he could easily say he had seen nothing? Was he bribed? If so this would have had to be done before the journey commenced and therefore seems unlikely.

    It is not uncommon for people to acquire false memories after an event and to believe them true. This could affect testimony on both sides of what was a prominent and notorious case.

    Even if this is what happened, however, it does not prove the defendant guilty. It could be that the complainant was over-sensitive to being touched or that the defendant was a little too "helpful" for his own good and got called out for it.

    We shall never know.

  3. The porter does seem the key witness - he seems quite certain and was in a good position to see what happened. The carriage was 'open all the way through' but I'm 99% certain that wouldn't include any kind of central corridor in this period. This would mean that seated passengers would not have a great view; and the rest would be occupied with leaving/getting on the train. The porter was nearest ... and yet ... I don't know ...!