Tuesday 21 January 2014

Miss Dickenson and Colonel Baker

Although business did not commence till 10.30, the doors were besieged for at least an hour and a half previously by a surging multitude, amongst whom were many well-dressed women, who stood the pressure with an endurance and a persistence which proves that they must have been not only strong-minded, but tolerably stout in heart and body. Two adventurous "ladies," taking advantage of the police being wholly occupied in protecting the doors, were lifted up to one of the windows, the sill of which is about seven feet from the ground, and were then pulled in by friends above, amidst the jeers and shouts of the mob. This irregular mode of ingress was then secured by the police, but many were afterwards admitted through the cells and the prisoner's dock. The scene outside, however, continued to present a most excited aspect, the street being so densely crowded as frequently to stop the traffic ...

Mr. Serjeant Parry, in opening the case for the prosecution, said -
Gentlemen of the jury, it would be idle for me to suppose that you have not heard of this case before ... [Colonel Baker] is a colonel in the Queen's Army, holds a staff appointment at Aldershot, is a married man, and is about 50 years of age. He stands before you now charged with a cowardly and unmanly attack upon a young lady in a railway train on the 17th June. There are three counts to the indictment, the first of which charges him with assaulting Miss Dickenson with intent to ravish, the second is a charge of indecent assault, and the third charges him with a common assault. Miss Rebecca Kate Dickenson is a young lady of 22 years of age, residing with her two unmarried sisters at Dumford, near Midhurst in Sussex .... she started from Petersfield station and took her seat in a first-class compartment alone. The next station was Liphook, and there the defendant Colonel Baker entered the carriage. Miss Dickenson sat with her face to the engine on the left-hand side of the carriage in the middle of the seat. He commenced a polite conversation with her by asking her whether she would like the window raised. She declined and said she rather liked it as it was. From Liphook, the train went on to Woking, and from Woking it would run on to Clapham or Vauxhall, a distance of twenty miles. Before the train arrived at Woking, Colonel Baker only entered into a general conversation on the most innocent topics, such as theatres, the Academy, the pictures and so on, in fact on such topics as a gentleman might address a lady about. Nothing of consequence took place until after the train left Woking, when it would have to run twenty miles. Just after that Colonel Baker's manner entirely changed, and he began asking her insinuating question. Miss Dickenson scarcely answered him, and repelled him in every possible way. After the train left Woking, Colonel Baker suddenly stood up, raised the window of the carriage and continued in fact his insulting conversation. He put his arm round her waist, and he kissed her forcibly and against her will. She begged and entreated him to leave her alone. She got up for a moment and went to the communicator, and it is very much to be regretted that there was no communicator. He said, "Don't ring," and then seized her forcibly around the wait and pressed her back into the seat with his whole weight. He kissed her repeatedly on the lips and tried to raise her clothes, and there could be no doubt what he was attempting to do at that moment. At this moment, by a supreme effort, the young lady disentangled herself from Colonel Baker and tried to break the window, but failed. She managed, however, to get it down and thrusting her body out as far as possible screamed loudly, and attracted the attention of several of the passengers. She also managed to open the door, and got one foot out upon the step and the other upon the foot-board, and in that position she continued from Waltham to Esher, in a state of the greatest alarm and peril, and it seems a providential thing that she did not lose her life. That was a distance of four or five miles, and the defendant no doubt by that time got alarmed. This young lady imperilled her life rather than submit to dishonour, and as she stated before the magistrates, had made up her mind that she would rather die than re-enter the carriage. The defendant then must have felt alarm, let one hope, for her as well as himself. He had hold of her right hand all this time, and entreated her to come back, but she said she would rather sacrifice her life. Just before they reached Esher, the driver saw her, stopped the train and took her down, and asked what was amiss. She replied, "He has insulted me; he will not leave me alone." These gentlemen are the material facts ...

[Miss Dickenson's testimony]
After leaving Woking he said - "I suppose you don't often travel alone?" and I said "No." He then asked if I could fix a time when I should be on the line again, and I said "No." He said, "You won't?" and I said "No, thank you." He then said, "Will you give me your name?"
'What did you say?' - "I shan't." He then said, "Will you give me your name that I may know when I hear it?" I said, "I shan't."  He said, "Why not?" I said, "Because I don't choose; I don't see any reason why I should." He then got up and drew the window. He asked me also if I would give him my Christian name and to that I made no reply. After drawing up the window he sat by my side. There was no arm dividing the seats. When he first sat by my side he took told of my hands, and I said, "Get away, I won't have you so near." He then said, "You are cross; don't be cross," and put his arm around my waist. It was his left arm. He then kissed me on the cheek and said, "You must kiss me, darling." I pushed him off. His right arm was round my waist. I got up and tried to ring the bell to call the guard, but the glass was broken and it would not act. He said, "Don't ring; don't call the guard." He then pushed me back into the same corner where I had been sitting, pressing me back against the seat, and pressed himself against me. He kissed me many times. I was quite powerless. I did nothing. As soon as I could speak I said- "If I tell you my name will you get off?" I don't think he replied. He then sank down close in front of me, and I felt his hands under my dress on my stocking above my boot. ... I got up and pushed the window with my elbow to see if I could break the glass. I could not break it, so I got it down and put my head out and screamed.
Did you scream at all before you put your head out? - No, I did not. I propped myself outside the window with my elbows. He pushed me back and I felt quite strangled. I screamed once more, thinking it was the last I should be able to do. I then twisted the handle of the door and got our backward. With my left hand I held the handle of the door which opened towards the engine. My arm was not through the window of the door. With my right hand, I held on to his arm. I think he caught hold of mine. He said, "Get in, dear, get in, dear; you get in and I'll get out at the other door." I said - "If you leave go, I shall fall." I had seen the other door locked previously. Nothing more was said then, and I travelled outside the carriage for some distance. I spoke to two gentlemen. I said How long is it before the train stops? They said something in reply but I could not hear what they said. We travelled on in this way until the train stopped at Esher Station. My hat blew off as soon as I got out. When the train stopped he spoke to me. He said - "Don't say anything; you don't know what trouble you will get me into; say you were frightened. I will give you my name, or anything." I said nothing in reply. I was at this time nearly exhausted. When the train stopped I was helped down, and the defendant got out of the carriage directly. I was asked, "What is the matter?" and replied, "That man will not leave me alone." The defendant made no answer.

[Cross-examined by Mr. Hawkins]
Was anything said about mesmerism? - Yes.
What was that? He said to me, "Have you seen Maskelyne and Cooke." I said "Yes." He said, "You believe in Mesmerism?" I said. No, but I suppose there is something in it." He said he had had a friend who mesmerised and who could make young ladies who had never seen him before follow him about. I said I did not think it was very easy to believe that. He said, "I think you could be mesmerised." I said "Why?" and he said something I did not hear. I asked him to repeat it. He said, "I don't know, but you have a look about you."

[Henry Bailey, examined ... guard of the train] I asked the lady what was the matter and she said "the gentleman had insulted her and would not leave her alone." I asked the defendant what he had been doing to the lady. He said "Nothing". I asked him again and he said he knew the lady's brother at Aldershot. I placed him in the next compartment along with two other gentlemen. His dress was all unbuttoned. I first noticed that fact when he was standing on the gravel at Esher.

[Thomas Pike, merchant of Park Place, St. James's Street, passenger in adjoining carriage]
Colonel Baker had an overcoat over his arm. He sat down in a place on the opposite side of the carriage to where I sat. Colonel Baker remarked that it was most unfortunate that a lady and gentleman travelled in the same compartment, and that the lady was very much frightened and alarmed. Then I remarked (looking towards my fellow-passenger with a view of drawing his attention to it) "No wonder the lady was frightened, considering the state of your dress." (Sensation)
What was the state of his dress? - It was disarranged and partially unfastened.
Are you quite sure of that? -  Certainly; you could see a portion of white apparel through the aperture.
What did Colonel Baker do? - Re-adjusted his dress. We pursued the rest of our journey in silence. He made no remark.

[Mr Serjeant Parry, addressing the jury]
As far as he could judge from the cross-examination, Mr. Hawkins would endeavour to induce them to say that the defendant was not guilty upon the first count, which charged him with committing an assault upon Miss Dickenson with intent to violate her person against her will. His learned friend had, in cross-examination, elicited the whole of the conversation that took place up to the time of the arrival of the train at Woking, and he presumed that the purpose was this, that although this young lady was perfectly innocent and artless in observation, yet that the artlessness and innocence of her answers induced a man of the world and an old officer of the army to believe that he might, in the journey from Woking to Vauxhall, debauch with safety the person of his young lady, and induce her to consent to his advances. If he did not mean to commit a rape, did he intend seduction? Did he kiss her with the idea of forcing from her a kind of consent? The defence of Colonel Baker would be that he did not, at all hazards, intend to violate the person of the young lady, but that he did intend, by a little coaxing and a little forcing, to complete his purpose; and there was not one person who now heard him but did believe the young lady would have been debauched had it not been for her bravery and her preference to suffer death rather than be debauched. (Applause, which was instantly suppressed). His learned friend might say the defendant determined only to seduce her, but that he had determined to stop short of ravishing at the same period of time; and if she resisted, he would not further press his advances. There was little doubt that if the defendant had continued riding with this young lady he would have, somehow or other completed the purpose on his mind. Looking at the facts - a railway carriage, with the train at a high speed, with the windows and door closed in fact, with the young lady a prisoner - he would ask the jury whether the intention of the defendant was seduction or rape. (Applause)

[Mr. Hawkins, addressing the jury]
He said that he knew no case in which to take part had given him greater pain, on the one side being the young lady, against whom he would not make the slightest reflection, on the other an officer, who had served his country gallantly and faithfully, and who was a credit to the army to which he belonged. He complained of the accusations which had been made against the defendant, and that they had raised a prejudice when it was no easy matter to overcome. An unfortunate circumstance for Colonel Baker was that he had no witness who was a witness to the alleged assault. He contented that with the evidence as it stood, it would be useless for him to say that an indecent assault had not been committed. No doubt there had been a gossiping conversation. There was no stoppage after leaving Woking, and there was no doubt that Colonel Baker took unwarrantable liberties with Miss Dickenson, but the question was did he make up his mind to obtain possession of the young lady at all hazards and against all resistance? The case of an attempt to ravish had not been made out, and as in all cases the benefit of a doubt was given to the accused, so in this case he asked for the benefit of the doubt to be given to the defendant. It was evident that until the young lady put her head out of the window, she had no idea that Colonel Baker had any intention to ravish her, for no screams were uttered. Then again, would not a young lady like the prosecutrix, be powerless in the hands of a powerful man like the defendant, and if his intention was, as suggested, would he rest contented with simply placing his hand on her stocking just above the boot? The dress of the young lady was in no way disturbed, with the exception of the loss of her hat ... Such reparation as Colonel Baker can make he makes with the deepest and most contrite heart. He expressed his deepest regret at this occurrence, and awaits with terrible anxiety your verdict upon the more serious charge, and he awaits it with a pain which I pray God it may never be the lot of any one of you to suffer. (Applause)

Colonel Baker was found only guilty of indecent assault; had character witnesses attest to his bravery and military record. He was fined £500 plus costs, and imprisoned for a year - albeit without the 'physical degradation' of hard labour.

(press report from Glasgow Herald, 3 August 1875)

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