Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 30, 1899 --- Death of an Aeronaut

Percy Pilcher is fatally injured in a "flying" accident at Market Harborough.

The 32-year old Scot had been one Briton's leading aeronauts, experimenting with "flight" for five years using a glider - a bamboo frame covered with sailcloth. He wrote, "I ran to meet the wind with the front of the wings depressed somewhat... then raising the front edge a little, I am able to take a long soar down a slight incline." For greater height and distance, he had horses pull the glider and, further, had been experimenting with a small 4.5 horsepower motor to drive a screw propeller for the first true "free flight."

This day, Pilcher hopes to impress the eccentric MP, Henniker Heaton, who had expressed an interest. It could mean government support for Pilcher's work.  The day dawns wet and windy and Pilcher must wait until late afternoon for better conditions. Finally, Pilcher's horse-drawn glider, the Hawk, lifts off, quickly reaching a height of 60 feet. Suddenly, a cracking sound is heard and the Hawk "fell to earth with a terrible thud, Mr. Pilcher being underneath the wreckage." Badly injured, Pilcher never regained consciousness and died two days later.

The crash is blamed on "a knot coming loose on the rudder, which necessitated a sudden movement on the part of the occupant to re-establish the equilibrium of the machine, thus bringing an unwonted strain on a certain spar, which parted and occasioned the collapse."  Pilcher's death is not widely noted, although The Spectator conceded that the young man's experiments "have shown that human success in [flight] is a possibility of no very distant achievment."

Today, Pilcher is placed in the first rank, "the only man who by temperament, training and achievment could have anticipated the Wrights in powered flying." Less than a year before his death, Pilcher wrote, "In America, experiments are continually being made, and it would be heartrending not to try and keep one's place in the work, that is being done."

Photograph from

September 29, 1850 --- From the Flaminian Gate

On a Sunday in Rome, Pope Pius IX proclaims the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England, dividing the country into twelve bishoprics led by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (left), created Archbishop of Westminster. "Pio Nino" fully expects three million Britons will return to the mother Church.

Wiseman proclaims the good news in a pastoral letter entitled "Out of the Flaminian Gate of Rome." He declares "the restoration of Roman Catholic England to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament." Wiseman so over-stated his new powers that the Queen supposedly asked "Am I Queen of England or am I not?"

Needless to say, Protestant feelings were aroused. The Whig Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, led a rabid "No Popery" campaign, labeling English Catholics "enemies within the gate, indulging in their mummeries of superstition." It was "Papal aggression" rumbled The Times, "We can only regard it as one of the grossest acts of folly and impertinence which the Court of Rome has ventured to commit since the Crown and the people of England threw off its yoke."

Lord Shaftesbury, attacking the "monstrous audacity" of Rome, and headed a newly formed Protestant Defence Committee. Russell rushed through Parliament a hastily drawn Ecclesiastical Titles Act, which declared all religious titles outside the Church of England, illegal. Mr. Gladstone, no Romish sympathizer to be sure, argued vainly against the bill. "Do you think so ill of the capacity of your religion to bear the brunt of free competition, as to say you will now attempt to fence it about with legal enactments, instead of trusting to its own spiritual strength ... If the truth is on your side, God will give you the victory."

The bill, despite its attendant rhetoric, proved toothless and in 1871, Gladstone, then Prime Minister, saw its repeal.

September 28, 1858 --- A Marriage in High Life

In the British Garrison Chapel at Gibraltar, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who had led the gallant "Charge of the Light Brigade," marries his mistress, the beautiful Adeline Horsey de Horsey.

No stranger to scandal, the 60-year old Cardigan's relationship with the 34-year old Miss Horsey, daughter of an Admiral, was "peculiarly shameless." He installed her in a Mayfair flat where he visited her regularly. They rode together in Hyde Park almost daily. When Cardigan's long estranged wife died after a long illness that July, he raced to Adeline's side. In her delicious but unreliable memoirs, Adeline recalls Cardigan's frenzied cries, "My dearest, she's dead ... Let's get married at once!" Atypically, she insisted upon a suitable interval following the first Lady Cardigan's funeral.

It is not surprising that the marriage scandalises respectable society. The Governor of Gibraltar was challenged to a duel by the Earl; the governor had invited Cardigan to dine but pointedly made no reference to his new bride. The Governor ordered the honeymooners to leave the rock. The Earl and Countess, aboard his private yacht, sailed for Italy where they received a friendlier welcome from and even a private audience with the Pope.

Home in England, Cardigan rejected any invitation, including Royal summonses, that did not include his wife. The marriage survived society's prudery. Other than the disappointment of failing to produce an heir, m'Lord and Lady appeared quite happy, save for the odd domestic disagreement.  The servants spoke of much crockery tossing about the Cardigan estate at Deene.

After Cardigan's death in 1868, Adeline married a Polish nobleman, the Comte de Lancastre. Although they soon separated, Adeline kept the title of Comtesse de Lancastre which angered Queen Victoria who traveled for security and privacy reasons as the Countess of Lancaster. Before her re-marriage, Adeline had wooed the widowed Disraeli, who rejected her. In her aforementioned memoirs, My Recollections, however, Adeline reversed the story.  She claims that, on advice from the Prince of Wales, she spurned Disraeli's advances.  And just as well, as she added gratuitously that the aging statesman had very bad breath.

September 27, 1864 --- The Greatest Loser

Banting is alive. At the height of his eponymous diet mania, William Banting denies that he is seriously ill or, worse, dead.

A diminutive London undertaker in his mid-sixties, Banting had lost some fifty pounds (he had weighed over 200) by eliminating all sugar and carbohydrates (butter, milk, potatoes, beer, etc.) and eating only meat, fish and dry toast. For the first time in years he could tie his shoes and no longer "puffed and blowed in a way that was very unseemly and disagreeable."

Banting claimed anyone willing to follow his lead could expect a weight loss of as much as 8 pounds in 48 hours. His published pamphlet, A Letter on Corpulence, had gone into several editions and the expression "I'm banting," came to mean "I'm dieting" and the verb "to bant" entered (and remains in) the Oxford English Dictionary.

But the diet had come under fire from the medical community and rumors about his health are rife. In a letter printed in today's Times, Banting declares: "Many reports have been circulated most painful and distressing
to me ... of my illness from adopting the system, and of my death in consequence; but all such reports are utterly false." He suggests that his many medical critics harbor "mercenary" motives. Admitting "I do not possess a grain of knowledge of the physiological reasons for the extraordinary results of the system," he challenges the scientific community to do more research, and less complaining, "to work out the problem hitherto rather slighted and overlooked."

As would be expected, Punch had much fun at Mr. Banting's expense.
Some glutton has stated that brave Mr. Banting
Himself has succumbed to the system he taught.
'Tis false, and he lives, neither puffing nor panting,
But down to a hundred and fifty pounds brought.

Banting survived another fourteen years. He passed away in 1878 at the age of 82.

September 26, 1886 --- A Broadway Scandal

Respectable New York is shocked at the arrival of the young Earl of Lonsdale and his mistress, the actress Violet Cameron.

The Earl is traveling with Miss Cameron's theatrical company in the very thinly disguised role as the financial advisor to a touring production of "The Commodore." He banters dockside with the Press, gayly dismissing questions about his relationship with Miss Cameron, who is described admiringly as "encased in dark blue serge of faultless fit." As to Lady Lonsdale's whereabouts, the Earl is less forthcoming.

To thicken the plot, "Miss" Cameron's husband, M. DeBensaude, arrives the same day aboard another ship. He and Lonsdale had brawled at a Newcastle hotel and now he'd come to America vowing to cut his wife's throat. The Hoffman Hotel, understandly fearing a scene, asked Miss Cameron to leave after one night. When DeBensaude was seen sharing breakfast with Lonsdale at Delmonico's, the sceptics soon smelled a publicity stunt but The New York Herald reported, DeBensaude used the occasion to challenge Lonsdale to a duel.

De Bensaude soon found himself in the infamous Tombs jail for making public threats. Despite the raffish amusement this provided some, the Press became increasingly censorious, e.g. The New York Star: "We have no patience with a theatrical combination of a noble patron, a wayward wife and a complaisant husband that has recently landed on our shores."

At last, amidst all this tabloid scandal, Miss Cameron trod the boards. The critics were almost gleeful in their disapproval. The New York Times, while conceding that the actress had a "pleasing presence," chortled that the play was such a failure that "twenty minutes before it ended, the audience commenced departing in platoons." The play's run was cut short and a possible tour abandoned. The New York Times condemned the whole venture: "Trying to make a widely advertised suspicion of private immorality take the place of professional competency, the failure of this imprudent attempt is wholesome and exemplary."

Back in London, the Earl and Miss Cameron lived as "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson" in Hampstead. They were soon expecting. Queen Victoria finally intervened on behalf of the abandoned Countess Lonsdale. The Earl was prevailed upon to leave Miss Cameron, in fact, he left for the North Pole. For a time, he was lost and feared dead but returned something of a hero. He also returned to his wife.

The photograph from the National Portrait Gallery

September 25, 1868 --- Beautiful For Ever

"Madame Rachel," the operator of a posh Mayfair beauty salon, is sent to jail for five years for fraud.

Sarah Rachel Levenson, a former East End fortune-teller, operated her salon at 47A New Bond Street on the theme, as espoused in her bestselling pamphlet of the same name, "Beautiful for Ever." Her annual income was estimated at £20,000, much of it from the purveyance of such "cosmetics" as "The Magnetic Rock Dew Water of the Sahara," and "Jordan River Waters." She also had a side income from well-to-do gents who'd pay handsomely to look through peep-holes at Madame's clients in their Arabian baths.

One of her customers was a wealthy Army widow named Mary Borrodaile. Madame somehow convinced  Mrs. Borrodaile that Lord Ranelagh, whom she met entirely by accident in the shop one day, had become infatuated with her. To snare the Viscount, Mary was advised to begin an extensive and, to be sure, expensive beauty regimen. To fan the flame, Madame passed along bogus notes from Lord Ranelagh (who was cleared of involvement) to Mrs. Borrodaile, who wrote back pathetic "My Dear William" letters. Thousands of pounds down the drain, friends of Mrs. Borrodaile intervened on the victim's behalf and charges were filed.

Heavily rouged, her hair dyed a bright yellow, poor Mary makes a very poor witness; a crueler newspaper described her as a "senescent Sappho," even the prosecution described her as a "foolish, misguided woman." Yet, her sad story wins a conviction.  The stiffness of the jail term is a surprise to all but none more so than Madame Rachel, who faints in a dead swoom and must be carried insensible from the Old Bailey. The Illustrated London News found Madame's plight rather pathetic: "Surely the court should have been full of perfume, and enamel, and chignons ... Have the plastered and dyed and painted over all forsaken their Jewess?"  But Serjeant Ballentine, who led the prosecution, called Madame Rachel, "one of the most filthy and dangerous moral pests that have existed in my time."

Her sentence served, the unrepentant Madame reestablished herself quietly near Portman Square. In 1878, she was arrested again and returned to prison where she died.

The photograph from the excellent

September 24, 1862 --- A Repentant Forger

William Roupell, ex-MP for Lambeth, is sentenced to life in prison for forgery. Just 31, his chicanery and profligacy had exhausted a fortune of some £300,000. 

The eldest son of a wealthy smelter, William trained as a lawyer and managed the family estate. Unbeknownst to his ailing father, William mortgaged several properties, counting on his "expectations." Well-funded, he began to move in higher circles. He won an expensive race for the House of Commons. Then disaster. His father, near death, revealed that of his four children only his youngest son was legitimate and would - by law - be his heir.

William was frantic. Within hours of the old man's death, he purloined the will and forged a new one, this time the Roupell estate would go to his mother over whom he had unbounded influence. The secret of William's birth would not cross her lips. The bogus will was accepted at probate, William escaped ruin - for the moment.

Unable to control his spending, he continued mortgaging and selling what he could.  At last, bankrupt, he fled to Spain. It was the sensation of the summer when Richard Roupell, the youngest son and rightful. heir announced he would sue to recover his estates from unlawful purchasers and his brother William had returned to admit his forgeries. "With the most perfect coolness and self-possession," William stood in the witness box and confessed all. While Richard managed to recover much of the family lands, William cannot go unpunished. Conceding, "My life has been one continued mistake," he begs for mercy. He reminds the court that he returned voluntarily, asserting "There are many quarters of the world open to me where I could have spent the remainder of my days in perfect safety."

Mercy is "utterly impossible," declares Justice Byles who pronounces the maximum sentence. There is much moral reflection on Roupell's fall and delayed contrition. The Times blames the sins of the father: "It is at the option of a man to contract what he may consider a safer and easier form of intimacy than a lawful marriage, but we may appeal to universal experience...that the end of such a decision is invariably repentance."

Ironically, the novel of the season is Wilkie Collins' "No Name," a story of two daughters who, when orphaned, discover their illegitimacy and find themselves penniless. Yet, The Annual Register concluded, "Fiction may here look with envy on the superior strangeness of Truth?"

Sketch from The Penny Illustrated Paper

September 23, 1870 --- Baby-Farming

Margaret Waters is convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.

Police south of the Thames had reported an alarming number of babies found dead beneath viaducts or in alleyways. Detective Sgt. Relph, who headed the investigation, took notice of a series of newspaper advertisements offering homes for unwanted children. Responding to one in Lloyd's Newspaper, Relph heard from a "Mrs. Oliver" who promised that a child in her care "would be well brought up—and be to us in all respects as our own." Five pounds would cover all expenses.

Relph managed to locate a Londoner named Cowen who had dealt with this woman. Cowen's daughter had been raped and he had sought a home for his unwanted grandson, agreeing to house her with "Mrs. Oliver." But, operating under assumed names and meeting her clients away from her home, the woman was difficult to locate. Relph finally traced her to a Brixton house where they found 11 infants living in filth. Four soon died, including the baby Cowen. In three weeks, he had gone from a healthy baby to one described in court as "miserably wasted... in a profound stupor."

The "Brixton Baby-Farmer" was tried for murder.  Prosecutors say the infants were fed little but opium so that they might "starve noiselessly." In her defense, the 35-year old Waters said the Cowen baby was sickly from birth and his death had no doubt cost her money since a couple in "affluent circumstances" would have paid handsomely for a boy. Convicted, she appeals in vain for mercy, "I am as innocent as any one of those little children." The Daily Telegraph thought the crime was more manslaughter than murder and argued for a respite of the death sentence. The Times disagreed, calling the crime "an outrage on every human, not to say womanly, instinct," and parents who turn over their unwanted or illegitimate children to such women are "little better than accomplices." On 11 October, Margaret Waters was hanged at the Horsemonger Lane gaol.

The intrepid Sergeant Relph was rewarded with £20 for "conspicuous service." The Brixton case prompted Parliament to enact the Better Protection of Infant Life Act in 1872 but "baby-farming" did not disappear. As late as 1896, the "Ogress of Reading," Amelia Dyer was hanged for disposing of her "babies" in the Thames.

Sketch from The Illustrated Police News

September 22, 1892 --- The Duchess Blair

The death of George Granville Leveson-Gower, eccentric 3rd Duke of Sutherland, opens one of the nastiest estate squabbles in the quite frequently nasty Victorian peerage.

Dead at 64, the Duke leaves the largest landed domain in the realm. Known for chasing fire engines around London and amassing staggering gambling debts, the Duke's personal life was no less unusual; Queen Victoria had observed: "He does not live as a Duke ought." The Duke had long lived apart from his first Duchess, who died in 1888. The Duke had for many years carried on an open affair with Mary Blair, the daughter of an Englishman in the Indian Civil Service. Her complaisant husband had put up with this until he died in a shooting accident while out hunting with the Duke.  Imagine.

Mrs. Blair stayed with the Duke at both Stafford House in London and Trentham, the family's magnificent country seat. When the Duchess was dying, the Duke did not show a great deal of concern.  Upon her death, His Grace flaunted the "mourning period" and sailed immediately for Florida where he married Mrs. Blair.

Just four years later, the Duke's newest will leaves the dowager "Duchess Blair" in complete control of the 1.5 million pound estate with a codicil, settling upon her directly the sum of £150,000. His eldest son, Cromartie, now the 4th Duke, immediately challenges the will. While a team of family lawyers were going through the estate's papers at Stafford House, Duchess Blair calmly removed one document and threw it into a flaming grate, "It was a letter from me to my husband before I was married. I shall do as I please."

A special court panel rejected her apology, supported only by her claim that "the Duke would have wanted the letter destroyed," and she was found guilty of grave contempt. She spent five weeks in Holloway Prison, the only jailed Duchess in the Victorian era. Her fine was repaid by freinds who said she had only "unflinchingly carried out a dying request of her husband." Finally, in June of 1894, the two sides reached a settlement; the Duchess Blair renounced all claims to the estate in return for £750,000 . Refusing to take a check, she demanded and received cash.

September 21, 1885 --- A Marriage Delayed

With a wedding in the convent chapel at Baddesley-Clinton in Warwickshire, one of the most delightful (or oddest) love stories of Victorian England comes full circle.

In 1859, Edward Dering, a wealthy young Guardsman, fell in love with Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen. Going to Miss Orpen's guardian, the widowed Lady Georgiana Chatterton.  Dering apparently failed to make his intentions as clear as he might have wished. Lady Chatterton, who was old enough to be Dering's mother, thought he wanted to marry her. She unhesitatingly accepted and the gallant Dering, rather than disappoint her, married her ladyship at St. George's, Hanover Square.

In 1867, Miss Orpen married Marmion Ferrers, Dering's close friend, who lived - albeit poorly - at Baddesley-Clinton, a moated mansion in some disrepair.  The two couples, four friends, decided to live together at Baddesley-Clinton.  The old house would be thoroughly refurbished through Dering's considerable wealth, now supplemented by a career of writing some remarkably turgid novels. Devout Catholics all, Dering converted, the four oversee construction of a new church and convent school in the town.

In 1876, Lady Chatterton died. Marmion Ferrers passed away in August, 1884. Having waited 26 years, Dering does the proper thing and waits the required 13 months, to - at last - on this day marry Rebecca Orpen Ferrers.

Dering died in 1892, she lived on alone at Baddesley-Clinton until her death in 1923. The four are buried together in the churchyard.

The convent chapel from

September 20, 1860 --- A Royal Tour

Crossing the river from Windsor, Ontario, the Prince of Wales arrives in Detroit; the 19-year-old great-grandson of George III is the highest ranking member of the Royal Family to ever visit the United States.

When it was announced that the Prince would tour Canada during his Oxford vacation, President Buchanan - the former American Minister to the Court of St. James in London - invited him to Washington. For diplomatic reasons, the Prince travels as a student, "Baron Renfrew,"' but the ruse fools few. Fireworks and 30,000 people greet the "gorgeously decorated" ferryboat. The Prince and entourage spend just the night in the former frontier outpost; come morning, an open barouche, pulled by four white horses, carried the Prince through crowded, muddied streets to the railway station.

Via Chicago, Cincinnati and Baltimore, the Prince reached the capital two weeks later. "He won all hearts," Buchanan wrote the Queen; a visit to George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon was especially popular. Some newspapers were more unkind, "flunkey" and "dwarf" were common epithets, but the tour passed without incident. Expected protests from Irish-Americans never materialized.

The visit comes during the final weeks of the divisive 1860 Presidential campaign, resulting in the election of Mr. Lincoln. Crossing briefly into "Dixie," the Prince went to Richmond, Virginia, where, he recorded, "Every fourth person one meets is black." The Prince went on to Philadelphia (the "most beautiful" city) and New York, where the crush of admirers collapsed a hotel dance floor. The New York Times marvelled at how a young prince whose "maiden sword has never been fleshed in battle" could take so triumphantly a country which "all the veteran trooped and war worn commanders of the British Kingdom proved powerless to constrain into an unjust obedience, long years ago."

After a storm-tossed return voyage by battleship, Bertie returned to his "studies" at Oxford.

The Prince, while in Washington, photographed by Matthew Brady.

September 19, 1877 --- The Great Penge Murder

Trial opens in London for four people accused of perhaps the most heinous murder during Victoria's long reign. 34-year old Harriet Richardson - a woman of limited intellect but with an estate of some £2000 - had married a fast-talking 24-year old auctioneer's clerk named Louis Staunton. Harriet's suspicious mother had first tried and failed to have her daughter committed before the wedding.

Staunton took his new bride to his brother's farmhouse in Penge, a Kentish village just outside London. There, prosecutors say, Harriet - by then pregnant - was locked away on a diet of bread and water. Louis, meanwhile had his way with the local servant girl, while his savage brother, a failed artist, and his wife, took turns beating the defenseless Harriet. A son born amid such brutal squalor lived for only days. When Harriet died in April, the naive rural coroner certified "death by cerebral disease."

When Harriet's family forced a second inquest, a new panel of doctors ruled "death by starvation and neglect." The Stauntons and their consorts face charges of murder.

The trial is horrific in detail; Harriet, testified one doctor, had been found in "the filthiest state possible," the dirt on her body had to be scraped off like "the bark on a tree." The defense team - headed by the rising barrister Edward Clarke - presents expert rebuttal witnesses who argue that the woman's death, while undeniably horrible, may have been the result of natural causes, a form of tubercular meningitis. Clarke thought so well of his closing speech, he had it printed (42 pages).

The jury took little more than an hour to convict all four, setting off raucous cheering in the crowded streets outside the Old Bailey. The judge ordered the gallows for the perpetrators of "a crime so black and hideous." The verdicts were immediately challenged. The Lancet, the leading medical journal, declared the verdict was "entirely unsupported by the evidence," in fact, it was impossible to say which of "several morbid conditions" sent Harriet to her early rest.

The daily papers were filled with painfully detailed letters arguing both sides. The Home Secretary caved in; Louis Staunton's mistress farm-girl was set free and Louis, his brother and sister-in-law had their sentences commuted to life.

Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper.

September 18, 1867 --- The Manchester Martyrs

In Manchester, some 30 Fenians ambush an unescorted police van carrying the prisoners "Colonel Kelly" and "Captain Deasy", leaders of an abortive rising in Ireland that March. The unarmed police driver surrenders but, an officer riding with the prisoner in the van is killed by a bullet fired through the padlocked door. The bullet goes clean through his head.

The prisoners and most of the gang escape (the American-born Kelly and his comrade were never recaptured) but an angry crowd captures three members of the rear guard. The three - Allen, Larkin and O'Brien - are charged with the murder of Sgt. Brett. Allen is said to have fired the fatal shot.

The three were made to parade in a police lineup while in leg-irons, and identified by paid witnesses, it is no surprise that the jury quickly found them guilty. While there is no dispute that the men took part in the "breakout," there is no legitimate evidence that any of them actually killed the policeman. Expecting at worst lengthy prison terms, the three were instead sentenced to die.

Larkin told the judge, "I have nothing to regret ... I can only say, God save Ireland." They hung outside Manchester jail on 23 November. The Queen wrote her daughter, "We shall have to hang some & it should have been done before," although she did pray for them the night before the hangings. In Dublin, 50,000 people attended a mock funeral for the men, forever known as the "Manchester Martyrs." The poet T.D. Sullivan's ballad was sung across Ireland, with Larkin's words featured in the refrain sung to the tune of "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.":
"'God Save Ireland," said they proudly;
"God save Ireland," said they all,
Whether on the scaffold high, or the battle-field we die,
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall!"

Ten years later, in the House of Commons, reference was made to the Manchester murderers. A then unknown Irish MP rose amid jeers to declare, "I do not believe, and never shall believe, that any murder was committed at Manchester." He was Charles Stewart Parnell.

September 17, 1862 --- A Glasgow Mystery

September 17 --- (1862) --- In Glasgow, a young woman stands trial for the baffling "Sandyford Place Murder."

In July, a Glaswegian businessman went on holiday, leaving his maid Jessie Macpherson alone with his aged father. Upon return, John Fleming was told by the old man that Jessie had "gone away." But the younger Fleming found the woman hacked to death in her bedroom. James cried out, "She's been lying there all this time and me in the house!" Suspicion naturally affixed to the elder Fleming, a oft-drunken, servant-fondling rogue, who was briefly held by police.

Things changed quickly however when Jessie M'Lachlan - who had formerly worked for the Flemings, was caught pawning items missing from the home. More damning still, she was arrested wearing the dead woman's smock. Later, M'Lachlan's bloodied dress was found in a field. The old man went from prime suspect to lead witness.

The case so divided Scotland that no one could avoid proclaiming an allegiance to either the "M'Lachlanite" or "Flemingite" camps. Class prejudices were inflamed; newspaper circulation increased five-fold. As the trial opens, the defense declares that it will argue that the murder was indeed committed by James Fleming. Well-scrubbed, in a new suit, the "old innocent" - as his defenders called him - proved to be a tough witness. He testifies that on the night of 5 July he was awakened "wi'a lood squeal" and then "a' was quate." His word plus the evidence of the dress and a well-preserved bloody footprint of Jessie's at the murder scene are key to the Crown's case. The jury took less than a half-hour to convict.

Unable to testify, once convicted Jessie was permitted a statement. She claimed she went to Sandyford Place to meet Mcpherson who complained the old man, while drunk, tried to rape her. James came in and sent her out for whisky and she returned to a ghastly scene. Her friend had been badly cut. James said it had been a fall and refused to send for a doctor. When Jessie stepped into the kitchen to make tea, the old man - she claimed - fell upon Mcpherson with a cleaver. He said she had threatened to tell his son about him. For helping to clean up, James gave her a few pounds and some plate to make it appear a robbery.

The judge, Lord Teas, denounced it all as a "tissue of wicked falsehoods" and sentenced her to hang. Under pressure, the Home Secretary commuted the sentence to life. Dissatisfied M'Lachlanites turned, without success, to Parliament and leading journals. After an impartial review, The Law Magazine concluded, "The proof of his guilt is as strong as the proof of her guilt."

Jessie M'lachlan was freed in 1877, long after James Fleming's death.

Sandyford Place today at

September 16, 1859 --- A Harrow Scandal

September 16 --- (1859) --- Dr. Charles Vaughan, the 43-year old respected headmaster at Harrow, suddenly resigns.

In his 15 years on the hill, Vaughan had been credited with saving the school. Enrollment in 1844 had fallen to below 70, and those of such bad a character the local vicar suggested he dismiss the lot and start anew. Harrow now boasts an enrollment of 450. Hence, the shock which almost every "Old Harrovian" felt when he heard the news. In his resignation letter, Vaughan cites "the long pressure of those heavy duties and anxious responsibilities which are inseparable from such an office, even under the most favorable circumstances."  No amount of importuning could make him reconsider.

The mystery would not be explained until after Vaughan's death. He was being threatened by the father of a former student, John Addington Symonds. Symonds, a future poet, had been miserable at Harrow. He was both disgusted by and fascinated with the rampant carnality of the boys public school. One of his few friends was Alfred Pretor who made the mistake of sharing with Symonds "love" letters he'd received from Dr. Vaughan himself. In a jealous rage, his own homosexuality repressed (at the time), Symonds gave the letters to his father. The elder Symonds, a Bristol physician, wrote Vaughan to demand his immediate resignation or the letters would be sent to The Times.

Dr. Vaughan met with the elder Symonds; Mrs. Vaughan plead on her knees, acknowledging her husband's "weakness," but the doctor was implacable. Dr. Vaughan must go and go he did. Vaughan was soon offered the post of Bishop of Worcester by Prime Minister Palmerston, a old Harrow man himself. Vaughan refused. Public word of the offer had prompted another letter from Bristol from Symonds pere threatening exposure. Later offers of the sees of Rochester and Ely were also spurned and Vaughan instead retreated to a rustic church near Doncaster.

He returned to Harrow in 1861 for the dedication of a new library built in his honor. Not until Symonds' father died was Vaughan able to accept the appointment to be the Dean of Llandaff Cathedral in Wales.

The Rev. Dr. Vaughan's caricature from Vanity Fair

September 15, 1864 --- The Nile Debate

The Nile explorer John Hanning Speke is killed in a shooting accident.  He was 37.  The tragedy comes on the eve of the much anticipated debate between former colleagues now bitter rivals in the search for the source of the mighty Nile.

Speke was to debate Richard Burton before a group of geographers meeting at Bath. Speke believed Lake Victoria was the font of the Nile, Burton believed it was Lake Tanganyika, and their former friendship, forged through incredible hardships shared in their joint travels, had ended in bitterness. Speke had been quoted as vowing that if Burton showed up in Bath, he would kick him. Both men appear for the morning's preliminary session, refusing to acknowledge the other's presence. Speke blurts out as the meeting drones on, "I can't stand this any longer," and bolts the hall only increasing the anticipation for the morrow's debate.

That afternoon, while shooting on his uncle's estate at nearby Neston Park, Speke is killed by a shotgun blast. His death was announced in the morning as the crowd gathered for the debate. Amid general cries of disbelief, Burton shouted, "By God, he's killed himself," and broke down, sobbing the name "Jack." The inquest found that Speke, an experienced gunman, was standing atop a stone wall and pulling up his loaded shotgun by the muzzle when it discharged; shot in the chest, Speke is dead in minutes. The Illustrated London News observed the irony of his death, a man who had hunted in the wilds of Africa "had fallen victim to his own heedlessness whilst engaged in the chase of a partridge." Burton wrote a friend, "The charitable will say he shot himself, the uncharitable will say I shot him."

Speke remains the forgotten man in the pantheon of Victorian explorers; his name pales beside Livingstone, Burton or Stanley. At Ripon Falls, where on 28 July 1862, Speke found the waters of Lake Victoria spilling into the great river, the plaque bearing his name has long been submerged in deep waters, held back for a hydro-electric project.

Speke sketch from History Today.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 14, 1865 --- A Romance in Real Life

A police escort is needed to lead the bride and groom through happy, cheering crowds outside All Saints, Wandsworth. The bride is 20-year old Alice Crosse, only child of a wealthy, widowed, rector from Ockham. The groom is just that, the family groom, 18-year old George Smith.

Their romantic elopement, with Alice's midnight clamber down the ivied wall of her father's rectory and their pursuit by hired detectives, had been closely followed across England. Rev. Crosse had forbidden Alice's fancy for George without success and so the groom was sacked in August. Two nights later, they ran off to London. Turned away at the Registry Office as Alice was under age to marry without parental consent, they went to Wandsworth where George had family. The trail was not hard to follow.

George was charged with abduction and robbery. Rev. Crosse claimed the young man "systematically worked upon [Alice's] feelings to dislike her home." He accused him of lusting more for Alice's inheritance, £2600, hers at age 21. The crowded Police Court fell silent when Alice took the stand. Without nervousness, she declared her love for George. Asked who made the first advance, she answered, "We were about equal"; about the elopement, "I proposed it"; about the flight to London, "I arranged it." Reversing the robbery charge, she boasted of taking George's money to pay for the train. As for her father at home, Alice insisted, "Whether George was there or not, I should have gone."

The case was remanded for a week and George given bail, the young lovers managed to convince Rev. Crosse to drop the charges. Nor would he stand in the way of their marriage, once satisfied that - in his words - "Alice returned home as intact as on the day she left." The father of the bride opts not to attend the wedding, however. At their modest reception, George and Alice appear at the window to acknowledge the crowd outside.  In the words of The Times:  "A public scandal, which has greatly shocked well-regulated minds in the genteel classes of society, but which, after brilliant sequel, will doubtless be the theme of admiring and envious comment in many a Servant's Hall."

Their married life was short as Alice died in 1871.

September 13, 1845 --- Famine

The Gardiner's Chronicle and Horticultural Gazette, the leading weekly on agriculture, holds the presses for troubling news from Ireland: "With very great regret [we] announce that the potato Murrain has spread to Ireland. The crop about Dublin are suddenly perishing."

The blight - officially defined as phytophthora infestans - had already been reported on the Isle of Wight and in Kent, but in Ireland, with so much of the population dependent on the potato almost exclusively, the crisis is more desperate. Prime Minister Peel's initial reaction is scepticism, reminding his Cabinet that reports out of Ireland have "a tendency to exaggeration and inaccuracy." However, Dr. John Lindley of the University of London, editor of Gardiner's, returned from Ireland in mid-November to report to Whitehall that half the crop was either destroyed or unfit for human consumption, adding "we fear this to be a low estimate." Cruelly, in many areas, potatoes are dug out of the ground in seemingly perfect condition; yet, within days, they rot into a black, putrid mass, "having each the appearance of a running sore or cancer."

What had gone wrong? The smoke from the new railroads is blamed by some, others suggest it might be the recently fashionable guano manure used as fertilizer. In the House of Commons, the Irish leader, Mr. O'Connell, plead for food and financial aid: "Famine is coming, fever is coming and this House should place in the hands of the Government power to stay the evil." Mr. Peel, now convinced the crisis is real, responded: "The remedy is the removal of all impediments to the import of all kinds of human food."

The ancient Corn Laws, which set high tariffs on all food imports to keep crop prices and land values artificially high at home, were the sacred cow of Tory politics. Peel's decision to seek their repeal rent his party. He got his way but was turned out of office never to serve Her Majesty again.  In the words of Wellington: "Rotten potatoes have done it all; they have put Peel in his damned fright."

September 12, 1846 --- Elopement from Wimpole Street

Accompanied only by Wilson, her maid, Elizabeth Barrett quietly leaves her family home at 50 Wimpole Street, London. It is her wedding day; Robert Browning is waiting at St. Marylebone Parish Church.

Stopping first at the chemists for some sal volatile, Elizabeth arrives at the church, in Robert's words, looking "more dead than alive." He is 33; she is nearly 40 and a semi-invalid from childhood. Her first book of poems, Prometheus Bound, had attracted Robert's attention and a correspondence and led to their fabled romance. In May, 1845, Robert paid the first of his many visits to Wimpole Street. Ostensibly on grounds of his daughter's poor health, Edward Barrett had grimly opposed Elizabeth's growing relationship with "that man." To remove her from Robert's society, Barrett had announced that the family was moving into the country, hastening the lovers delayed decision to elope.

After the service, the Brownings part at the church door; Robert to make plans for their escape to Italy and Elizabeth to return home, but before a bracing carriage ride across Hampstead Heath to compose herself. "How I suffered that day," she recalled. In a letter smuggled out to her new husband, she writes, "If either of us two is to suffer injury and sorrow for what happened there to-day - I pray that it may all fall upon me."

A week later, the Brownings, accompanied again by Wilson and Elizabeth's dog, the famous Flush, fled to the continent. On 21 September, a small notice appeared in The Times announcing the marriage of "Robert Browning, jun. Esq., of New-Cross, Hatcham, to Elizabeth Barrett, eldest daughter of Edward Moulton Barrett, Esq., of Wimpole Street." She left a letter for her brother, "Oh, love me George ... that I may find pardon in your heart for me after it is read." Her father declared that Elizabeth was as if dead; her letters to him were returned unopened.

The Brownings did visit England several times and Elizabeth was reconciled with some members of her family, but her father died unforgiving. After Elizabeth's death in 1861 in Florence, Robert returned to London, where he regularly visited the church on the Marylebone Road to kiss the altar.

September 11, 1853 --- To Mecca

Captain Richard Burton arrives in forbidden Mecca, holiest city of Islam, the birthplace of Mohammed. Sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, Burton spent months in preparation; he stained his skin with walnut juice and even underwent a painful adult circumcision.

In August, traveling as "Abdullah, originally of Kabul," Burton arrived in Medina, where The Prophet is buried. He joined a caravan of several thousand pilgrims. The two week trek across the scalding desert featured attacks by marauding tribesman and fighting among the pilgrims themselves. (After one such melee, a wounded man was buried alive, a fate which horrified even the hardened Burton.)

Finally, they reach Mecca. The city is home to the Great Mosque, site of the Ka'aba, the very center of Islam, the "navel of the world." Burton, in his Narrative of a Pilgrimage wrote: "I may truly say that, of all the worshippers... none felt for the moment a deeper emotion than did the Haji from the farNorth ... But, to confess humbling truth, theirs was the high feeling of religious enthusiasm, mine was the ecstasy of gratified pride."

Burton defended the mysterious rituals of Islam, asking, "What nation, either in the West or the East, has been able to cast out from its ceremonies every suspicion of its old idolatry?" In the high point of any Muslim's haj, the chance to appraoch and kiss the sacred rock - the Ka'aba - Burton used a hidden tape to measure the stone, sketching details on his holy garments. He remained in the city for six days, knowing that "nothing could preserve him from the ready knives of enraged fanatics if detected."

Finally, via Jeddah, he returned to Cairo. Still in disguise, he brushed against a British officer, drawing the rebuke, "Damn that n****r's impudence." Burton quickly identified himself, greeted by the now startled officer, "By God, it's Ruffian Dick!"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 10, 1890 --- The Great Baccarat Scandal

The Prince of Wales and his party are stopping at Tranby Croft, the Humberside country seat of Arthur Wilson, a millionaire shipowner. The races are being held at nearby Doncaster; in the evening the Prince, as is his wont, brings out the cards for a game of baccarat.

On the first night, some of the younger members of the house party believe they see Sir William Gordon-Cumming of the Scots Guards cheating. Sir William is a close friend of the Prince and is a regular at the royal card table.  However, under cover of his cards, Sir William was apparently adjusting his stake, based on his hand. The "observers" set out to watch him more closely on the second night. He again won quite a bit of money, including the Prince's. That evening, the Prince was presented with the "evidence."  Confronted by the Prince and others, Sir William protests his innocence.  However, to avoid a great scandal, he will agree to sign a pledge never to play cards again. All parties agree that the unpleasantness shall remain their secret.

The story inevitably leaked - one of the Prince's lovers, Daisy Warwick, Lady "Babbling" Brooke, was blamed. Sir William sued his accusers for libel. The Prince was once again forced to spend uncomfortable minutes in a witness box, mumbling his answers so that few could hear him. The evidence against Gordon-Cumming was weak; the editor of Truth declared, "On evidence such as that of these five witnesses I would not hang a dog, much less consign a distinguished officer to a living death." Nonetheless, Sir William lost his libel action; the signed pledge being the most damning evidence. He was a ruined man, expelled from his clubs and the Guards. The Prince declared, "Thank God! the Army and Society are now well rid of such a damned blackguard."

The Queen called it a "terrible humiliation" for the Prince, "it must do his reputation great harm." The Times suggested that the Prince might well sign the same pledge forced upon Sir William, i.e. not to play cards again. Overseas papers - less restrained - enjoy a field day. A German cartoon of the Prince carries the caption: "Ich Deal!"

September 9, 1842 --- Mesmerism

James Wombell, a laborer suffering from excruciating pain in his left knee, is brought to a London mesmerist, W. Topham, a Middle Temple barrister by profession. Dr. John Elliotson (left), who had been sacked from London Hospital for his belief in Mesmerism, is consulting.

Wombell literally cannot sleep for the pain but Topham speedily puts him in a painless trance for 35 minutes. Working with Wombell daily, "making passes longitudinally over the diseased knee," Topham soon has the man sleeping seven hours a night. Surgeons conclude however that Wombell's leg must be amputated. The man must be mesmerised both to quiet his fears (prompted no doubt by the screams of the patient before him) and to ease the pain enough for him to be moved.

During the operation, Topham "gently" held Wombell's eyelids closed. Dr. Elliotson reports "the stillness was something awful ... the placid look on [Wombell's] countenance never changed." He awoke to say, "I bless the Lord to find it's all over." He complained only of slight discomfort and remembered nothing but "a slight crunching sound."

Dr. Elliotson and Topham bring their amazing story to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. They are greeted with cries of "Sham," affidavits are demanded, and the city's foremost surgeon Dr. Marshall Hall dismissed it as "trumpery." Another doctor insisted "Pain is a wise provision of nature, and patients ... are all the better for it." The RMCS soon adopted a resolution to expunging Elliotson's report from the official minutes. Elliotson responded by publishing Numerous Cases of Surgical Operations without Pain in the Mesmeric State. The established professional journals closed to his writings, Elliotson's articles appeared in such short-lived journals as The Phreno-Magnet which he contributed "Jumping Fits Cured by Mesmerism."

Elliotson's disciples included Dickens and Thackeray. Dickens believed he had mesmerising powers of his own, using them to cure his wife's headaches; a problem he may very well have caused as well as cured. Thackeray dedicated his novel Pendennis to Elliotson believing the doctor had saved his life.

Sketch of Elliotson from the Royal Society of Medicine

September 8, 1848 --- Balmoral

Victoria and Albert make their first visit to Balmoral. Seeking Highland air and privacy, they took a lease on the property sight unseen from Lord Aberdeen.

While the existing home was, in the Queen's words, a "pretty little castle in the old scotch style," it is simply too small for their family and royal retinue. An early visitor, the courtier, Sir Charles Greville reported that the Royal family "live not merely as private gentle---folks, but like very small gentle-folks, small house, small rooms, small establishment." Albert soon designed a new turreted Schloss which was ready by 1855. (Pictured in a modern photograph, left) In her journal, Victoria wrote. "Every year my heart becomes more fixed in this dear Paradise, and so much more so now, that all has become my dearest Albert's own creation."

Much of the expense was covered by the unexpected bequest of £250,000 from the Chelsea miser James Nield (see 30 August). The Queen, obsessed with her privacy, eventually acquired some 24,000 acres of surrounding Deeside.

Government ministers dreaded the summons to make the 600 mile trek to Balmoral; a cold, drafty and quite monotonous exile, where the formal lifestyle was dubbed "Balmorality." Disraeli went but twice; on his first stay, it rained throughout, on his second, he caught a miserable cold. Gladstone was so unnerved on his first visit, he put his foot through his pants while dressing in haste to be punctual for dinner, as the Queen demanded. Rosebery thought the drawing room was the ugliest he'd ever seen. Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who would become Prime Minister in 1906, made his first visit as a junior minister, comparing it to a convent, "We meet at meals and when we are finished each is off to his cell."

The family had its reservations as well; the children of the Prince of Wales threw annual tantrums at the prospect of visiting grandmama. As King, Edward VII gutted and modernized the place. For the Queen however, Balmoral remained a favored retreat, with sacred memories of Albert, captured in her book, Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands.

September 7, 1838 --- The Legend of Grace Darling

A North Sea storm slams a steam-packet into the rocks of the Farne Islands, off Northumberland. The saga of "The wreck of The Forfarshire" creates an unlikely heroine in Grace Darling, daughter of the keeper of the remote Longstone Light.

The Forfarshire, her boilers failed, is thrown into the rocks just after midnight. The ship is soon battered to pieces by the relentless sea and wind. Almost all aboard are swept away including the Captain and his wife, who'd pleaded with him to save her; his reply, "Would to God that I could, my darling."

Amid the storm's roar, Grace hears the "most awful shrieks" of the survivors and awakens her father. With but one small rowboat available, the elder Darling's advice is, in effect, "Go back to bed, child." At first light, the shattered ship can be seen some half-mile out across the still roiling waters. Against both her father and mother's wishes, Grace pleads, "Indeed, we must go!" Father and daughter put out and - to quote one of the innumerable accounts - "navigated their frail skiff over the foaming billows." Nine drenched and desperate people are plucked from the sea-swept rocks including a mother whose two children had been snatched from her arms during the night.

As word of the wreck and rescue in such a remote area spread, a correspondent wrote, "Surely such unexampled heroism will not go unrewarded." Even in these days before the telegraph, Grace Darling's name was soon known across England, a beloved heroine for a sea-faring nation. Arriving from everywhere, contributions to a testimonial fund reached £700. So many people requested a lock of her hair that a local paper worried, "There seems a probability if the demand should continue, that she will, ere long, have to seek an artificial covering for her head."

The Poet Laureate, Mr. Wordsworth, penned a lengthy ode, the sense of which can be summed up with "Shout, ye waves ... GRACE DARLING'S name." Thanked by a personal letter from the Queen, Grace was invited to dine with the Duke of Northumberland.  Yet she remained unaffected. The Scotsman asked, "What mortal girl could bear up against such rewards, such flatteries?"

Grace remained an unmarried lighthouse keeper's daughter until her early death from consumption in 1842. She was just 27. Her elaborate tomb in Bamburgh still stands not far from a small museum with the little lifeboat that brought her fame.

The "great" McGonagall, no Wordsworth he, wrote a lengthy tribute upon her death, concluding
Before she died, scores of suitors in marriage sought her hand;
But no, she'd rather live in Longstone light-house on Farne island,
And there she lived and died with her father and mother,
And for her equal in true heroism we cannot find another.
The painting from

September 6, 1876 --- The Bulgarian Horrors

Disgusted by Prime Minister Disraeli's inaction and, even worse, indifference, after reports that the Turks had massacred as many as 12,000 Bulgarian Christians, Mr. Gladstone publishes a pamphlet entitled "The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East." In a month, 200,000 copies are sold as the country splits into bitterly partisan pro- and anti- Turk camps.

Gladstone is now 65 and had been in semi-retirement, happily reading his Aquinas and Scott when The Daily News began reporting on tales of the fiendish butchery in the Balkans. Disraeli, who dismissed reports of widespread torture as "mere coffee house babble," glibly told the Commons that the Turks "generally terminate their connection with culprits in a more expeditious manner."

Calling such comments immoral, Gladstone attacks the traditional British policy of using "the evil Turk" to keep Russia, Britain's rival for India, at bay. With rising anger, he condemned the infidel in a memorable peroration: "Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible way, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbachis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage shall, I hope, clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned."

The pamphlet clearly signals Gladstone's return to active political life; he soon reclaimed command of the Liberal Party. Even the Queen, who dreaded the return of "that half-madman" was moved. She urged Disraeli to offer "a word of sympathy if the occasion offered." The Government is forced to abandon the pro-Turk cause for the role of mediator, leading to the Congress of Berlin the following year which achieved "peace with honor" in the troubled Balkans.

Gladstone took credit for igniting a nation in "virtuous passion." Disraeli dismissed his rival's literary attack as "Vindictive and ill-written ... of all the Bulgarian horrors, perhaps the greatest."