Defamatory Words between Clergymen, 1809

Friday 17 March 1809

SANDERS v. CARR. – The plaintiff, Charles Sanders, and the defendant, Robert Lascelles Carr, are both Clergymen of the Established Church, and both resident at Stamford. The action was for defamatory words used by the defendant, attributing to the plaintiff that he had been guilty of sodomitical practices, and that he had been obliged to leave Manchester, where he formerly lived, on account of being known to have such a propensity. (A fuller report of this cause we are also obliged to defer till the next.) The defendant pleaded the general issue; and his counsel cross-examined the plaintiff's witnesses (defendant called none himself) with a view to make apparent a probable ground for the imputation. – Verdict for plaintiff – damages Two Hundred Pounds. – The plaintiff is Curate of All Saint's, Stamford, and Confrater of Brown's hospital: the defendant is Curate of Saint George's and of Saint Mary's, in Stamford, but has no other preferment.) It was a special jury. (Stamford Mercury)

Friday 24 March 1809

SANDERS v. CARR. – Agreeably to our promise, we proceed to give a fuller report of this remarkable trial than time and space in our columns would allow us to give last week.
          Mr. Torkington opened the case to the jury (a special one), by stating that the action was for a libel spoke of the plaintiff by the defendant, charging the former with sodomitical practices, and alleging that he had been obliged to leave Manchester in consequence of his abominable propensity being known.
          Mr. Serjeant Vaughan, leading counsel for the plaintiff, observed that if the words spoken could borrow any aggravation, that aggravation was found in the situation of the parties; both being Clergymen of the Established Church, and pursuing the work of their ministry in the same town (Stamford). Actions for slander, he said, were often trifling and ridiculous in their groundwork: but in the present instance the jury had to decide in a cause wherein was a very grave and important issue, the fair or infamous character of an individual, and his advancement or his ruin in the pursuits of life, were dependent upon their verdict. With respect to damages, they were laid in the declaration at 2000l.; but the aggression complained of was hardly to be wiped away by a price: the very nature of the imputation must make a man miserable – he had almost said for life: and no damages could be viewed as a consideration in such a case, otherwise than as a medium through which the injured party was to acquire a balm and renovater to his wounded reputation.

— In the year 1801 the plaintiff went to reside at Stamford; before that time he had been for two years resident at Manchesteer, as a preceptor at the classical college there; and he left the place to the expressed regret of those with whom he was associated there. He became assistant to the Rev. Mr. Atlay, in the free grammar school at Stamford, and afterwards to the Rev. Mr. Kalt, on a similar foundation at Uppingham; and in both situations maintained a respectable character. He left Uppingham with the prospect of preferment to the Confratership of Brown's hospital at Stamford; the Dean of Stamford, his friend and the joint patron of the donative, having suggested that he would be proper for the office, which was likely to become vacant by the death of an old incumbent on the foundation, and the advancement of the then Confrater in the situation of Warden. To this point of the plaintiff's life, the learned counsel said, he should be able to refer the motive for the malicious slander of the defendant. The expected vacancy occurred; and both the plaintiff and the defendant were candidates for the situation! both had applied to the Rev. Mr. Lucas (the Dean) for it; and it was to undermine the stronger interest of the plaintiff, and effectually to put him out of the way as a competitor, that this diabolical slander was propagated by the defendant. The appointment ought to have taken place on the 28th of October, 1808; but was deferred on account of this heavy imputation; and it was communicated to the plaintiff by the Rev. Mr. Cookson (the Warden) that he could not be appointed till the rumour respecting him was satisfactorily explained. The defendant asked the name of the author of the charge, and was told that it was Mr. Carr; whereupon, whilst Mr. Cookson, who had come to make the communication, remained with him, he wrote a letter to a gentleman at Manchester, which Mr. Cookson put into the post-office; and without delay an answer was returned, properly and fully refuting the slander that the plaintiff had ever been suspected at Manchester of the shocking practices alluded to. Other letters were sent, and similar answers returned. Upon this, a number of clergymen (in number 18) of Stamford and the neighbourhood assembled, and, after requesting Mr. Carr to meet them, which he declined, came to a resolution that, after proper enquiry into the report affecting Mr. Sanders, they were fully satisfied that it was altogether unfounded, a copy of which resolution, signed by them all, they sent to Mr. Sanders, who was thereupon (on the 2d of December) appointed to the situation of Confrater.
          Mr. Saunders, by letter, had requested of Mr. Carr that he would disclose who had been his informant to the prejudice of his (Sanders') character. In reply Mr. Carr wrote – "In answer to your letter, I have positively to assure you, that a respectable friend did make a communication to me respecting your character at Manchester, which induced me to decline your acquaintance: and I have not the smallest inclination to renew an intimacy with you." Mr. Sanders then wrote twice to Mr. Carr for a statement of the name and residence of the respectable friend who had made the communication; and intimated that he must resort to legal measures in order to substantiate his innocence. To these he received an answer on a card, put openly into the post-office; one side of which bore the post-mark and the address, and the other side the following words: "What further measures may be thought proper by Mr. Sanders to be taken, Mr. Carr neither knows nor cares: but Mr. Sanders may rest assured, that Mr. Carr will in future return no answer to any letter of Mr. Sanders." – The learned Serjeant also stated some other circumstances, which will be better seen in the subjoined evidence, and concluded a very able speech with some general observations. An opportunity, he observed, had by this action been given to the defendant of pleading a justification, and proving the truth of his assertions respecting the plaintiff; but this he had not embraced. It had been said that Sanders was the curate of a man whom it was painful to believe there was too much reason to attribute abominable practices to, and that they had been intimate together at Manchester: but this latter statement was not true; the one and the other did not even live in Manchester at the same time; and as to the curacy, why somebody must be the curate when the incumbent was not resident, and it would be very hard to visit the sins of the rector upon the unoffending curate. Had Sanders been introduced to Stamford under the auspices of Wilkinson, it would have been a different thing; there might then have been ground for suspecting a previous and perhaps improper intimacy between them: but no such thing was the case. The defendant, he maintained, from the impulse of a disappointed and malicious spirit, and abandoning the warm influence of those principles he was in the habit of commending from the pulpit, had pursued a cold systematic attempt, from day to day, to traduce and destroy the character of the plaintiff: it was of vital importance to that plaintiff to have his character upheld by the verdict of the jury, and he felt confident that he should meet with the justice and protection which he sought of them by this to him momentous appeal.

The Rev. Samuel Barker called and sworn. – He is curate of St. Michael's in Stamford. He was in company with Mr. Carr the defendant, at his house, when Mr. Carr in conversation told him "I have been credibly informed that Mr. Sanders had been suspected of sodomitical practices (or sodomy) during his residence in Manchester, and was compelled to quit the town in consequence of that suspicion." From Mr. Carr's repeated observations to him, he was so much impressed with a notion of Sanders' guilt, that upon one occasion he said in reply that "he believed really, from what he had seen, that he (Sanders) was that character." He most assuredly had not seen any thing in Mr. Sanders which would have induced that opinion, if he had not before heard the suggestions of Mr. Carr. – On cross-examination by Mr. Clarke, he said, he had seen some unpleasantness in Sanders' manner – his poking his face against other people's when he addressed them. Should have thought the counsel, if he had done so, very impudent or very shortsighted. Upon his oath, he had never said that Sanders was poking his posteriors against one, nor words to that effect. Never told Carr so, nor any other person. In August 1807 first knew him. There had been reports about Sanders' character. He considered Carr as very respectable, and was very intimate with him. He (Carr) has the reputation of a very zealous churchman. He (Barker) mentioned the report about Sanders to his rector as a reason for decliing his acquaintance. Does not know that Sanders was acquainted with Waterson, or Gaunt, or Myers. The reports in Stamford were generally understood to originate with Mr. Carr. So far from Mr. Carr wishing him to keep secret what he said to him about Sanders, he wished the contrary.

Robert Barfoot proved the delivery of a letter from Mr. Sanders to Mr. Carr: to which Mr. Carr replied verbally that he would not have any communication with any person of Sanders' infamous description.

Mr. Horatio Gilchrist called on Carr, to ask whether he had said the things of Sanders which were reported: he said that he had, and that he had a letter from a respectable friend which warranted him. On his (Gilchrist's) asking the friend's name, or the name of the author of the report, or that Carr would retract the aspersions, he (Carr) replied, "Horace, I am firm in my purpose: I feel fully justified in what I have said, and I could say a great deal more if it were necessary." Mr. Sanders, he added, might take what steps he thought proper. He (Gilchrist) had ceased from that day to be Carr's friend. – Cross-examined by Mr. Reader: Never said that – Sanders was a dirty fellow, but he (Gilchrist) had other motives for taking the part he did in this prosecution. He had not been quite so fond of Sanders' company since the reports. He was formerly the common friend of both parties.

Mr. Richard Clay. – Is an attorney at Stamford. Remembers being in the shop of Brumhead the silversmith, on the 2d of December last: saw Carr there: Carr said "Pretty business this! fine proceeding! just like a man of 40 not being able to act without consulting his papa: I understand this junto of jesuitical priests have signed a testimonial of Sanders' character; and I am very much astonished that Barker is one of them, who has been in habits of friendship with me for some time, and once at my house declared that Sanders had frequently been at his lodgings, and, from circumstances he observed, he was a sodomite, by God." He added, that he had written comments, which he shewed to witness, on the meeting, and had intended to publish them; but having received a letter from a friend dissuading him, he should not publish them: and further, Why did not Sanders bring his action without consulting them: he was ready to meet him. – Cross-examined: Mr. Carr, witness believes, is an exemplary clergyman, zealous in the cause of religion; but he is a man of violent temper. What he said was spoken on a market-day, in an open shop.

The Rev. Richard Lucas was called to speak as to the appointment to the Confratership; but the Judge thought such evidence extraneous: – and the Rev. Christopher Coulman was also asked a few questions about the meeting of clergymen; and he proved that the plaintiff was very near-sighted. – These were all the witnesses called.

Mr. Clarke, for the defendant, made an able speech to the jury. – Except, he said, as far as regarded the circumstance they were at present investigating, the defendant was a man of exemplary character, and extremely zealous in the cause of religion: he should be able, indeed, to shew that it was that zeal which had drawn him into his present difficulty. Such a prejudice in a cause in a Court of Justice as that excited by the paper which had been produced, signed by a body of clergymen, he had never before been witness of. He acquitted the gentlemen who signed it; but certainly it was a very improper document, and one which would seem to have been obtained for the express purpose of giving an unfair prejudice in this action: particularly as it had been produced without any notice to the defendant so that he might obtain a similar testimony to his character. – The plaintiff himself writes to persons to speak of his character, – and it is not to be supposed that he would write to those whom he was not sure would give him a favorable word, – and yet, simply upon the answers received to those letters, the paper signed by the clergyman is framed. If any of the jury knew the town of Stamford, they would also know by common fame that there were, or had been, many persons besides those whose names had been mentioned in the course of this trial, against whom the imputation of an odious offence lay. Scandalized by such transactions, and in his zeal for the service of his God, it was, that the defendant made the exposure he did. "There is no justification upon the record: but no such conclusion follows as that all this is false because on the spur of occasion legal evidence may not be had to produce in a Court of Justice. I think you will be of opinion that the defendant had good cause for his suspicions. Near-sightedness is not an excuse for a man poking his face into the face of another man. I know many near-sighted people myself; there are some at this table (the table of the court) who are exceedingly near-sighted, and whom I have known a great many years; but they do not poke their faces into mine, and I would know them no longer if they did. This is an attempt to ruin the defendant by excessive damages, for doing that which, as a conscientious churchman and a good man he was bound to do. From principles of regard to his friend, he does not give him up, but prefers himself to bear the pelting of this persecution. Mr. Carr is a poor curate: he has no private fortune, no preferment: but he is a zealot in the cause of the church, and his God, and he must for that be sent to prison for his life! And to whom are you to give the damages? To a man who, from the evidence of his own witness, did so conduct himself as to incur the imputation from that very witness, which, in the mouth of my client, is to be visited with ruin. And might he not at Manchester, or elsewhere, by the same conduct give rise to the same conclusion? I am sure, gentlemen, you will feel that the plaintiff has to thank himself for the charge which he complains of. All the imputation against the defendant is, that he is hasty: that is, that he has not the cold prudence of some persons; but having observed and heard what disgusted and shocked him, he expressed his abhorrence with a manly openness: and I must say that it seems to me a most flimsy veil indeed that a man should be poking his face into the face of a friend at his lodgings, in order to know whether he is in the room or not: if he will behave so indecently, he must take the consequences of the inference which his conduct encourages."

The learned Judge said this was a case of almost as much importance as any that ever occupied the consideration of a jury. The plaintiff, the defendant, and the witnesses, must all have a lively interest in its issue. The defendant was not in affluent circumstances: a clergyman; a man, according to general character, zealous in the cause of religion; but also of some violence of temper. The re-establishment of character by a verdict must be of great importance to the plaintiff, as he had an imputation against him, which, if untrue, was of the basest and most grievous kind. If the jury should think that there was the slightest ground to fix the charge upon him, they ought not to send him out of Court with any degree of triumph: if, on the contrary, they thought him traduced and injured, they should give such sufficient but temperate damages as might establish his character fairly and fully in the world again. Had Mr. Carr been merely communicating what was in every body's mouth, that would materially have diminished the quantum of damages: but in this case the reports were proved to originate with himself; and questions were put by his counsel as if Mr. Carr had instructed them not to do away the imputation, but to interrogate the witnesses with a view of fixing upon the plaintiff the odious charge: one of the witnesses was asked as to Sanders' intimacy with Myers, Wilkinson, Waterhouse, and some other bad characters. Nobody could think that Sanders had not ground of great offence, when, having written to Mr. Carr that his preferment was deferred in consequence of a report resting with him, and begging the name of his informant, the letter gave no clue by which Sanders might get redress, but told him he would stick to the imputation, and would not give him the means of further tracing the slander. – The learned Judge commented upon each head of evidence; the paper signed by the clergymen, he said, should be accepted only as introductory of Clay's evidence, and not suffered to weigh with the jury. If Carr, he observed, believed what he had said to be true, or wished to screen his respectable friend from trouble, he ought to have applied to the source from which that friend had his information, and not have interposed himself as a barrier between the person making a weighty charge and the victim of his imputation. And, as far as regarded the conduct of this action, he should either have pleaded a justification and proved his words, or by a contrary issue have come forward and pleaded his misinformation. – None of the witnesses, his Lordship thought, had divulged any confidential communication, as had been insinuated. If the jury were satisfied that the plaintiff ought to have a verdict, they should not give such damages as might interfere with all the future prospects of the defendant: but yet let them be such as would be sufficient to reinstate the plaintiff in his place in society.

The jury asked whether the defendant was a married man, or had any fmaily. They were answered in the negative, but that he had an attachment which was about to lead to an union. – In 5 minutes they returned a verdict for the plaintiff – damages 200l.
                    (Stamford Mercury)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Defamatory Words between Clergymen, 1809", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 17 April 2016 <>.

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