Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 3, 1858 --- A Cuckold's Revenge

Motivated by jealousy and revenge, a Bristol schoolmaster sets a sinister trap.

The story began ten years previous when two teenagers, John Leech and Sarah Mills, fellow shop-clerks on London's Regent Street, fell in love. But Sarah soon turned her attentions to Samuel Smith, a young clergyman, and they married in 1849. A poorly paid tutor, unable to support a wife, Smith went off to a school in Bristol while Sarah lived with friends in Kent.

Soon, John Leech re-appeared on the scene and lonely Sarah gave in to his importunings and began to visit him regularly in London. By 1851, the cuckolded Rev. Smith had received a lucrative post and retrieved his wife.  They had a large family and a rise to headmaster followed. Yet, Sarah was prone to fits of melancholy, avowing her unworthiness and pleading for unspecified forgiveness. Finally, she broke down and admitted her adulterous past.

Smith is understandably distraught but forgiving; he asks only that Sarah lure her ex-lover to Somerset. She dutifully wrote Leech, bidding him to "come to dear old friend Sally." Wearing widow's weeds (!), she meets Leech at the station in Yate, and then leads him out on to the remote common where her wrathful husband emerges to crack the unsuspecting victim several times about the head and body with a heavy cane. The intervention of some nearby railway navvies may have saved Smith from a murder charge. Although they made their getaway, the Smiths were soon arrested in Bristol and charged with "feloniously maiming."

At his trial, Smith assured the jury that he "deeply laments" his conduct. He confessed that his wife's confession had driven him mad with doubt; were his children his own? He insisted that he only intended "a sound thrashing - no more - in order to solace my outraged mind." Repentance aside, he received five years in jail, a sentence he accepted with "great calmness." Sarah was freed under the principle that a wife, under the coercion of her husband, is not responsible for her actions.

(Illustration: Yate Common)

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