Saturday 20 April 2019

Abduction of the Shrigley Heiress ~ R v Edward Gibbon Wakefield and others 1827

Wakefield Trial 1827
Deceit and Abduction:

William Turner's family arrived in Blackburn at the beginning of the 19th century and they built a prosperous calico printing mill.  William was the youngest of four sons of the family and was destined to become High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1826 and Member of Parliament for Blackburn from 1832 to 1841.   He acquired the Shrigley Estate near Macclesfield and, in 1825, built the present Shrigley Hall - now a country hotel and spa.  Turner's two daughters were Ellen (born 1811) and Mary Jennett (born 1812 - died in 1817).  Ellen was therefore heiress to Turner's considerable wealth.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the son of a farmer and land agent, was born in 1796 in London.  In 1814, aged 18, he entered the diplomatic service and travelled extensively in Europe.   Within two years, he had fallen in love and eloped with Eliza Pattle, a 16-year old heiress and ward of chancery -(see here for wardship today).

Edward Gibbon Wakefield
Following their marriage, Edward’s charm was displayed when he persuaded the Lord Chancellor to consent to the union and achieved an exceptionally generous chancery settlement amounting to £70,000 with the prospect of more when Eliza turned twenty-nine.   Edward and Eliza had two children – Susan Priscilla born in 1817 and Edward Jerningham born in 1820.  Eliza died just after the birth of Jerningham. 

Although now foot-loose, fancy-free and wealthy, Edward longed to buy an estate and to enter Parliament, but he needed more capital. Plans to marry another wealthy heiress apparently came to nought but, undeterred, Edward, assisted by his brother William and step-mother Frances, hatched an elaborate plot to abduct Ellen Turner, who he had never met.

Ellen Turner - later Legh
By 1826, Ellen was at a school (described as a Ladies Seminary) in Liverpool.  On the morning of 7 March, Edward and William arranged for a carriage to be driven to the school and for a doctor’s letter to be presented to the headmistress, Miss Daulby.  The letter stated that Ellen's mother was ill, her father (William Turner) was away from home, and that Ellen's return home to Shrigley was requested.  On the basis of the letter, Daulby permitted Ellen to go with Edward.  Another man, Edward Thevenot, also assisted this enterprise.

Ellen was taken to a hotel in Manchester where Edward told her that the real reason for her removal from school was because her father was in serious financial difficulty and desired to see her immediately.   Further subterfuge was used and they journeyed first to west Yorkshire and then northwards eventually reaching Gretna Green in Scotland where a marriage ceremony was performed.  The further subterfuge included Edward saying that he was the only one who could save the Turner family from financial ruin. The proposal was that her father’s property be transferred to her and she would marry Edward so that the estate would then belong to her husband and be ‘saved’ for the family.

In England, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 sought to prevent clandestine marriages.  The Act declared that no marriage of a person under the age of 21 was valid without the consent of parents or guardians and, further, all marriage ceremonies had to be conducted by a minister in a parish church or chapel of the Church of England.  This Act did not apply in Scotland where 14 year old males and 12 year old females could marry.  It therefore became an attractive proposition for some young couples who were ineligible to marry in England to cross the border and avail themselves of a "runaway marriage."

In this way, the obviously somewhat naive Ellen became the wife of the undoubtedly charming but exceptionally deceitful Edward Gibbon Wakefield.  After the marriage at Gretna, the couple travelled to London and then on to Calais. 

The law catches up:

Back in Cheshire, the Turner family remained unaware of the abduction for several days until alerted by Ellen's head teacher (Miss Daulby).  William Turner requested the assistance of the authorities and she was found in France by Ellen's uncle, the family solicitor and a police officer ( then a Bow Street Runner).
Edward eventually acted properly and handed Ellen over to her uncle stating - " .... you receive her at my hands as a pure and spotless virgin” – which he also immediately confirmed in writing.  Ellen and her uncle returned to England, but Edward went to Paris.

Edward's brother William was arrested in Dover and committed for trial at Lancaster Assizes.

Ram's Head, Disley
Later, Edward decided that he should return to England and stand trial with his brother and he was also committed for trial at the Assizes.  The committals of both William and Edward took place, on separate occasions, before magistrates who sat at the Ram's Head, Disley (pictured) located on the A6.

Trial at Lancaster:

The Assizes were the forerunner of the modern Crown Court of England and Wales only coming to an end following the Courts Act 1971.  

Shire Hall, Lancaster Castle
The trial of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, William Wakefield, Frances Wakefield and Edward Thevenot opened at Lancaster Castle's Shire Hall on 23 March 1827 before Baron Hullock and a jury.  The prosecution was led by Henry Brougham (later 1st Lord Brougham and Vaux, Lord Chancellor).

The trial was a cause célèbre of its day and the cumbersomely worded indictment is set out in a contemporaneous book published by Edward Duncombe of Fleet Street.  The indictment stated that Ellen had been in the care of the Daulbys at the Liverpool school and set out the charges against the defendants - (1) Edward Gibbon Wakefield, William Wakefield, Edward Thevenot, and Frances "did take away and convey the said Ellen Turner out of the possession, and against the will of the said Misses Daulby" - (2) "for the sake of lucre and gain, did conspire" unlawfully to take and carry Ellen from the possession of the Daulbeys - (3) that they had conspired to cause Ellen to contract matrimony with Edward Gibbon Wakefield without her father's knowledge.

The trial included evidence for the prosecution given by Ellen.  The defence argued that she ought not to give evidence because she was married to Edward Gibbon even though the validity of the marriage was under challenge.  The judge decided to allow the evidence to be given because the question as to the legality of the marriage could not affect the verdict in the case, although it might at a future time affect the punishment.

The trial ended with guilty verdicts.

Sentencing and aftermath:

Sentencing took place on 14 May 1827 before the Court of King's Bench at Westminster.  In his plea of mitigation, Edward pointed out that the legal proceedings had already placed a heavy financial burden on him and any further fine would be equivalent to a sentence of life imprisonment as he would never be able to pay. In those days, the law was such that people remained in prison until all fines were paid.

Mr Justice Bayley imprisoned each of the Wakefield brothers for a term of three years.  Edward Gibbon Wakefield was directed to serve his term in Newgate and William in Lancaster Castle.  Even though a guilty verdict had been returned against Frances Wakefield, the Turner family extended mercy to her and, consequently, no sentence was imposed.

Subsequently, Parliament enacted a Bill to annul the unconsummated marriage between Ellen Turner and Edward Gibbon Wakefield.  As shown by the 1st reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, lengthy proceedings could perhaps have been taken in the ecclesiastical courts but those courts would not allow Ellen to give the evidence necessary for the establishment of her suit.  On the trial of Wakefield her evidence was admissible because that trial was a criminal proceeding on the part of the Crown.  In an Ecclesiastical court, Miss Turner would be considered as a witness who had an important interest in the result of the trial and the court would not receive her evidence.  The Bill enabled the matter to be settled more speedily.  It gave "the young lady redress, rather than let the villainy of Wakefield triumph."

Two years later, Ellen married Thomas Legh of Lyme Park in Cheshire but she was to die in childbirth, aged only 19 years.  She is buried at in St Oswald's Church, Winnick
Lyme Hall, Disley

Edward Gibbon Wakefield went on to become the driving force behind much of the early colonisation of parts of Canada, South Australia and New Zealand.  He died in 1862 at Wellington, New Zealand.

Modern Law:

Offences Against the Person Act 1861 originally contained abduction-type offences in section 53 to 56..

s.53 - Abduction of a woman against her will, from motives of lucre

s.54  - Forcible abduction of any woman with intent to marry her

s.55 -  Abduction of girl under 16

Section 53 to 55 were repealed and replaced by the Sexual Offences Act 1956.  In turn, the Sexual Offices Act 2003 repealed much of the 1956 Act.

s.56 - Child-stealing

s.56 was repealed by the Child Abduction Act 1984.  The 1984 Act remains in force.  See also Law Commission - Simplification of the criminal law: Kidnapping and related offences (Law Comm 355 - 2014).

Child Law - Abduction

See also CPS - Human trafficking, Smuggling and Slavery


Lancaster Castle website

Lancaster Castle - Edward Gibbon Wakefield - Statesman or Scoundrel?

Encyclopedia Britannica  - Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Big Issue North - Ellen Turner


The Shrigley Abduction - A Tale of Anguish, Deceit and Violation of the Domestic Hearth - Abby Ashby anjd Audrey Jones - Sutton Publishing 2003

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