Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 5, 1851 --- Sensational Disclosures in the Middle Temple

In one of the most shameful cases ever heard at the Old Bailey, a prominent attorney and his wife stand in the dock charged with having committed unspeakable cruelties upon a servant girl.

The accused are George Sloane of the prestigious Middle Temple and director of the Church of England Assurance Institution, and his wife Theresa.  The victim is 17-year old Jane Wilbred, a girl hired from a local poorhouse. Alerted by rumors among the other servants in the Temple, a colleague of Sloane's found the girl living in vile squalor. Fed almost nothing, she weighed but 59 pounds at the time she was freed from her employers.

After weeks of a doctor's care, Jane was strong enough to detail her ordeal to a magistrate's court. Her life with the Sloane's had been a good one until she was accused of somehow frightening their bird to death. She was beaten and, in her words, "From the waist upwards, I was obliged to go about the house exposed." Her food was reduced to bread & mustard. Even worse, in a faint voice, Jane claimed that Mr. Sloane had forced her to eat her own excrement. The official record noted simply, "a great sensation of horror" filled the courtroom.

The shocking details of the case - in the understated prose of The Illustrated London News - had "given rise to a burst of popular vengeance." While Mr. Sloane was freed pending his trial, the London mob awaited no verdict. He was attacked in a cab, "both the windows of the vehicle were smashed to atoms, and mud, spittle, and all kinds of filth (?) were showered upon him through both windows." Mrs. Sloane, who had first fled to France only to be expelled, appears in court shrouded in a black veil appearing "a good deal affected." The Sloanes plead guilty to simple assault but the more serious charge of attempting to "starve a child of tender years" is dismissed on the grounds - at least theoretically - that, at age 17, Jane is not a child and free to leave at any time. The Sloanes are sentenced to a mere two years each in prison.

The Times was outraged at the lenient punishment and branded them both as pariahs: "His name has become synonymous with brutality and infamy. He could not venture to walk the public streets without danger to his life ... In England, they can dwell no more."

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