Scandal in the Isle of Man, 1817

Thursday 1 May 1817

May 10. – Atrocious Conspiracy. – The Isle of Man Gazette of the 24th ult. gives a shocking detail of a conspiracy in Douglas to murder a Mr Grierson, in which six persons are implicated, who have all been apprehended and lodged in Castle Rushen gaol, namely, Sir Francis Buller, Bart. of Devonshire, (only son of the late Judge Buller,) the Rev. Godfrey Gilbert Cooper, a native of Derbyshire, Anthony Simonds, brother-in-law of Mr Grierson, Henry Roberts, coffeehouse-keepere in Douglas, Alexander Robinson, his waiter; and Richard Rimmer, servant to the Rev. G. G. Cooper. Mr Grierson, it appears, had made several endeavours to draw his relative from the impure society of Buller and the others, and, in revenge, they had instigated Simonds to shoot him. Mr G. was severely, and it was feared, mortally wounded. (The Scots Magazine)

Saturday 10 May 1817

Douglas, April 24, 1817.
FROM a late nearly tragical transaction which took place in the precincts of this town on Saturday evening last, it is ascertained that a desperate conspiracy was entered into for the purpose of taking away the life of Mr. Robert Grierson, Surgeon and Druggist in this town, who on that evening was dangerously wounded by his brother-in-law, Anthony Simonds, who, on the high road, fired a case of pistols at him, which shattered his left hand, wounded him in the breast, and deeply lodged one ball in his back, from whence the surgeons attending have not yet been able to extract it.
          The cause of this fratricidial [sic] outrage is thus unfortunately accounted for: – about two months since [i.e., earlier] Simonds came to the Island on a visit to his brother-in-law, Grierson, who, in his professional line, has been in attendance on the family of a person residing here asbout three years, under the name and addition of Fras.[i.e. Francis] Butler, Esq. but who in fact is a British Baronet from Devonshire [Sir Francis Buller, Bart. of Churston Court, Devon], the only son of the late Judge Buller, and who has been for years separated (for causes best known to himself) from a most amiable wife and family. Soon after the arrival of Simonds this Mr. Butler invited Grierson and him to dinner, of which they partook; afterwards he invited Simonds (a handsome young man of two and twenty) to dine alone, and kept him out to an unusual late hour; Mrs. Grierson disapproving of the lad’s stopping late from home remonstrated on the subject; the lad mentioned it to Butler, who took him to his house, supplied him with money, clothes, &c. seduced him to stay, and in short had adopted this stranger as his own.
          Mr. Grierson discovering the close intimacy which took place, and public suspicion reflecting upon the association, he endeavoured to get his brother-in-law away, and remove him from the Island; this was resisted by Butler. Mr. G. became urgent, and even perhaps incautiously violent on the occasion – wrote to Butler, stating the impropriety of seducing the unfortunate young man from his friends, and made use of some threats against his brother-in-law should he not immediately withdraw from Butler’s association. Matters rested partly in this way for some days, Mr. G. however, continuing his endeavours to get Simonds away; when at length Henry Roberts, alias Hargraves, of the Liverpool Coffee-house in this town, and formerly waiter at the George Inn, Huddersfield, dining at Butler’s table, and the matter being talked over, declared that were he Simonds he would shoot Grierson should he attempt to use him so; Butler stated “he had no pistols for Simonds;” Roberts replied, “I have, and will lend them!” Butler sent Simonds for the pistols on the same evening – procured powder and ball – occasionally practised Simonds in shooting – at all times made him carry them – told him that if he would shoot Grierson, he (Butler) had a letter that would save his life: and on Saturday last, Roberts hearing that Grierson had again threatened Simonds should he remain in Butler’s house, advised Simonds to shoot Grierson the first place he met him – to this latter advice Simonds unfortunately yielded – and meeting Mr. G. again in the evening of Saturday, so far accomplished the objects of the conspiracy as to wound him in the manner before stated.
          Immediately on these facts being known, John M’Hutchin, Esq. the High Bailiff of this town, attended by two Peace Officers, personally proceeded to the house of Butler, took Butler and Simonds into custody, instituted a strict scrutiny into the nature and origin of this conspiracy – and, dreadful to relate, such a disgusting series of atrocities were disclosed, as left no shadow of doubt, that such debased and detestable practices had been carried on at the house of Roberts and elsewhere, as, by a recital, would so shock the ears of delicacy that we must be forgiven for here confining our details to an admission that, proofs were unequivocal!!! Constables were consequently dispatched by the High Bailiff in the necessary directions, and from their assiduity we have every reason to hope, that a crime hitherto wholly unknown to the natives of this Isle, has at once been fully detected, and the abominable actors, or the principal of them, now in the body of Castle Rushen gaol. A more vigilant investigation could not take place, and the awful solemnity of the commitment of the offenders, was marked by such a solemn silence as strongly pourtrayed the sense of horror with which a disclosure of such facts was received by all ranks in the Isle of Man. The High Bailiff, during three whole days, and we may add nights, (for seldom did he get to bed till three in the morning of each,) was unceasing in the investigation. The Chief Constables of Castletown and Douglas, (Mr. John Fitzsimmons and Mr. Thomas Cleator,) aided by Mr. Wm. Dixon, supernumerary, rendered most essential service; and the extra Peace Officers, composed of the most respectable inhabitants of this town, assembled with such unsolicited readiness as was highly creditable to them on such an unique and unlooked-for occasion. The persons at present in custody are the before-named Francis Butler, Anthony Simonds, the Rev. Godfrey Gilbert Cooper, a native of Devonshire, Henry Roberts, alias Hargreaves, Alexander Robinson, his waiter, a lad of 17, and Richard Rimmer, an orphan of 13 years of age, servant to the Rev. G. G. Cooper, all natives of England.
          It was our intention to have suppressed, in toto, any report of a transaction, at the thoughts of which we shudder, and any thing similar to which has hitherto been unknown to the people of the Isle of Man; but fearing, lest through the medium of private communications, the circumstances might be incorrectly noticed in the papers of the neighbouring country, we have been induced, in compliance with the suggestion of our friends and the concurrence of some of the high authorities in the Island, to make the foregoing painful disclosure. We cannot dismiss this subject without adding that for the punishment of such like unnatural offences, there is AN ANCIENT, though never acted upon, STATUTE LAW in this Island, fully as penal, if not more more so, than those of the mother country, and which, from the absence of such like crimes, had almost been forgotten. – Isle of Man Gazette. (Carlisle Patriot; this report was repeated in the Exeter Flying Post for 22 May.)

Monday 12 May 1817

The Dublin Evening Post of Tuesdayi gives a shocking detail of an alleged conspiracy at Douglas, in the Isle of May, to murder a Mr. Grierson, and even gives the name of a Clergyman, a Baronet, and four other persons, as the parties implicated. – One of them, it is stated, shot Grierson, who “was dangerously, and, it is apprehended, mortally wounded.” The conspirators were seized, and committed to Castle Ruchon gaol; and, says the writer, “were all proved to be a knot of miscreants, for whose guilt, as Mr. Peel has truly observed, the Irish language has no name – all natives of England!” (Morning Chronicle; this identical report appeared in several newspapers.)

Friday 15 January 1819

BOW-STREET. – On Tuesday the Earl and Countess of Morton attended before RICHARD BIRNIE, Esq. the sitting Magistrate, to exhibit a complaint against a man of the name of Robert Grierson, from whom the Countess had received two threatening letters, to extort a sum of money from her Ladyship, the last of which was expressed in strong and violent language, threatening, if his demands were not complied with, that assassination was implied, after the manner of Bellingham. [John Bellingham assassinated Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812.] From the short space of time which had elapsed after sending the former letter, a considerable degree of alarm took place in the mind of the Noble Countess, lest the viollain should be induced to put his threat into execution; she therefore lost no time, aftter the receipt of the second letter, in repairing to the office, accompanied by the Noble Earl, to avert the threatened danger. Mr. BIRNIE, on hearing the complaint, and reading the threatening letters, rendered the Countess the most prompt assistance, and immediately issued his warrant to apprehend Robert Grierson, and Vickery, the officer, was despatched with it to trace out and apprehend him. The officer tried in vain during Tuesay to find him, and on Wednesday morning with no better success, but in the afternoon he apprehended him and broughthim to the Office, when a communicatin being sent to the Earl and Countess of Morton that Grierson was in custody at the Office, the Noble Earl and Countess repaired thither without delay, when Mr. BIRNIE being in attendance, an examinatyion of the prisoner shorty after commenced.
            The Countess of Morton, on being sworn, stated, that last Saturday evening, between six and seven o’clock, she received a letter by the Twopenny Post, addressed to her by the title of Lady Morton, dated 9th Jan. 1819, and signed Robert Grierson; and on Monday evening the Noble Countess received another letter by the Twopenny Post, directed to her house, No. 39, Wimpole-street, where the first letter was directed to. This letter was dated the 11th Jan. 1819, and signed Robert Grierson. The Countess stated, taht from the threatening and other language used in both the letters, but particularly in that of the last, dated the 11th January, and which she had no doubt were written by the Prisoner, and from all the circumstances she considered herself to be in extreme great danger from the Prisoner, and she had great reason to apprehend, and did apprehend, that she was in danger of her life, or of receiving some great bodily harm or injury from Grierson.
            The Magistrate called upon him to know what he had to say in answer to sending such letters. To which he replied he could not give any answer to them, except he saw and examined them, to enable him to say whether he wrote them or not; however the Magistrate was on his guard, and did not allow him to have the lettes in his hands, and thereby gave him an opportunity of destroying the evidence; but Mr. BIRNIE read them aloud to him. The first was dated from the Turk’s Head, Ratcliffe Cross, Ratcliffe highway. It was a communication to the Countess of Morton, stating that he was about to publish a Heroic Poem, in which he should introduce some unpleasant circumstances relative to her late father, Sir Francis Buller, while on a visit at the Isle of Man; but if one hundred pounds was sent to him, he would suppress the publication.
            The second and last letter was also dated from the Turk’s Head, Ratcliffe Cross, Ratcliff Highway, in which was inclosed a specimen of the Poem, relative to the character of the late Sir F. Buller, and again urging for a draft of 100l. to be sent him, using violent threatening language if his demand were not complied with, and concluding by advising the Countess to recollect and keep in mind that there had been a Bellingham, and that there now was a Grierson.
            The Prisoner, after hearing the letters read, coolly admitted them to be his writing, and avowed the sentiments contained in them. He was then ordered to be committed to New Prison, Clerkenwell, and previous to any bail being received for him, was ordered to give forty-eight hours’ notice to Mr. BIRNIE, as the committing Magistrate, to find sureties to keep the peace to the Countess of Morton, and all his Majesty’s subjects.
            The Prisoner was understood to have acted some years since as a surgeon in the Isle of Man. (Morning Post)

Sunday 17 January 1819

On Tuesday the Earl and Countess of Morton attended to exhibit a complaint against Robert Grierson, from whom the Countess had received two threatening letters, to extort money. – The Countess of Morton stated, that last Saturday she received a letter by the twopenny post, signed “Robert Grierson;” and on Monday evening she received another signed “Robert Grierson.” From the threatening language used she considered herself to be in great danger from the prisoner. – The MAGISTRATE called upon Grierson to know what he had to say in answer to sending such letters; to which he replied, he could not give any answer to them, except he saw and examined them to enable him to say whether he wrote them or not. The Magistrate, however did not allow him to have the letters in his hands, and threby give him an opportunity of destroying the written evidence against hi, but read them aloud. The first was dated from the Turk’s Head, Ratcliffe-cross. It stated that he was about to publish n Heroic Poem, in which he should introduce some unpleasant circumstance in which her late father, Sir Francis Buller, was engaged, at the Isle of Man, which would be injurious to his character; but if 100l. was sent to him, he would suppress the publication. The second and last letter was also dated from the Turk’s Head, Ratcliffe-cross, Ratcliffe-highway; in which he enclosed a specimen of the poem relative to the character of the late Sir Francis Buller, and again urging for a draft for 100l. to be sent him, using violent threatening language if his demand was not complied with; and concluded by advising the Countess “to recollect and keep in mind, that there had been a Bellingham, and that there now was a Grierson.” After the Magistrate had finished reading the lettes the Prisoner was again asked what he had to say for himself; when he coolly admitted them to be his writing, and avowed the sentiments contained in them. – He was then ordered to be committed to the New Prison, Clerkenwell. The prisoner was understood to have acted some years since as a surgeon in the Isle of Man, but is now reduced. (From The Examiner, for the Year 1819, ed. Leigh Hunt, London, 1819, p. 47)

Saturday 23 January 1819

On Saturday, at the Middlesex Sessions, the Countess Morton appeared, attended by her solicitor, and exhibited articles of the peace against Mr. Robert Grierson, surgeon. This gentleman appeared at the table, accompanied by Vickery, the Bow-street officer.
            Mr. Stirling, the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Middlesex, then read the articles exhibited by the Countess Morton against Mr. Grierson. They were of considerale length, and imputed to that gentleman the commission of various incoherent and inconsiderate acts and threats to her Ladyship, unless she complied with his demand for a small gift of money. The sums were variously named, but the general average claim appeared to be a cheque from her Landyship’s man of busines for 100. It was difficult, from the desultory manner in which it appeared the demands were made by Mr. Grierson upon the Countess of Morton, to ascertain wtih precision the sort of claim which this gentleman set up. But from what we could collect from the noble exhibitant’s statement, it appeared that Mr. Grieson had sent, through the two-penny post, to her Ladyship, a number of letters, in which he threatened, unless he received an adequate pecuniary recompance, to publish and expose the whole particulars of an attempt which he alledged had been made upon his life by Sir Francis Buller,*
[A footnote is given, which reproduced the full text of the report in the Carlisle Patriot of 10 May 1817, to “elucidate the subject”.] her Ladyship’s father. These written applications were signed by Mr. Grierson, in his own name, and directed from the Turk’s Head Coffee’house, Ratcliffe-highway, to the Countess of Morton, &c. &c, 39, Wimpole-street, Cavendish-square. The exhibitant stated, that she returned no answer to these repeated applications,and that on the 11th instant she received another letter through the post from Mr. Grierson, in which he peremptorily demanded 100 as the condition of his suppressing a work, of which he inclosed her the announcing posting-bill, which he said should be stuck up in every corner of the metropolis. In the letter containing this inclosure were these extraordinary words – “I don’t wish to hold out threatening language, but be in known to your Ladyship that there was a Bellingham, and that there is a Grierson. I am known as a man of education and respectability, and can refer to your opposite neighbour, the son of General Loftus, for my character and rank in life, and I desire your answer by ten o’clock to-morrow morning.”
            The leading points of the inclosed posting-bill were as follows:–
            “CONSPIRACY, BY Y.Z. – Just ready for the press, and will be published early on February next, 2000 copies (275 of which are already bespoke), of a remarkable conspiracy, in which great personages figure. It is in heroic couplets. The History of Sir Francis Buller’s Life and Flight from the Isle of Man, from the time of his being eompelled to take up his residence there in1813, to her final expulsion from the Island in the year 1817. The latter part of the history must be yet fresh, as it only occurred 19 months ago. The whole written by Robert Grierson, late surgeon on the Island, and victim of the conspiracy.”
            Then followed some quotations from Shakespeare, intermixed with some doggrel verses, viz.

“This recital will harrow up your soul, freeze your heart, and make each particular hair upon your head stand like quills upon the fretful porcupine.”
“For what he has done, would make e’en angels weep,
And all that’s meek in nature creep.”

* * * * *
“Arise black Angels from your horrid cell,
And make the villain tremble at your knell.”

            Then came a postscript, which set forth, that notwithstanding the appalling subject of this tale, the poem would be so preciously framed, as not to offend the ears of any, even the most delicate, except the guilty person.
            The quotations were not even bounded by the postscript, for the poetical taste of the writer again burst forth in its full splendour, as follows:–

“A plain unvarnished tale I will unfold,
Such as has never yet by man been told;
The son of Nisi Prius Buller is the name,
And ’ere I am done I’ll make my story plain.
His crime is monstrous, as shall soon appear,
And that truth is no libel I’ll make clear.”

The exhibitant further stated, that the repetition of these letters, and the tone and tenor of their contents, many of which charged Sir F. Buller with having conspired to assassinate Mr. Grierson, who said he had balls in his body to shew the effect and perseverance of those who conspired against him, induced her Ladyship to apply for the protection of the law against this individual. She swore that she was in great bodily fear from him, and therefore prayed the Court that he should be bound over in sufficient sureties to keep the peace towards her. The articles were signed by the exhibitant, Susan Rivers Morton.
            The Chairman then addressed the defendant – “Mr. Grierson, you must give the Court sufficient sureties to keep the peace against the Countess Morton, in consequence of the articles of the peace exhibited by her Ladyship against you.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen on theBench, will you hear me patiently while I state the reasons which induced me to send these letters to Lady Morton? I admit I sent them – I deny nothing of the charge.”
            The Chairman. – “Sir, we can only call upon you for securities. We cannot enter into irrelevant matter.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “Allow me to go into the justificatory reasons of my sending those letters. Surely a court of justice won’t deny me this.”
            The Chairman. – “No, Sir, we cannot now hear those reasons. Allow me to tell you that no threat to obtain money can be tolerated in a court of justice. You must comply with the terms the Court imposes, and give sureties to keep the peace. The lady must be protected.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “I was grossly and malignantly injured by Sir Francis Buller, and I followed him in the country. I came to town, and ascertained that the Countess Morton was the nearest heir to Sir Francis, who did me such irreparable injury, and I felt it my candid duty to apprise her of my intentions.”
            The Chairm. – “You seem to be a sensible man, and it is surely unnecessary for me to tell you, that Lady Morton cannot be made answerable for the acts of any of her family predecessors, whatever those acts may be. If they are, or have been against law, the law will afford you redress. But with them Lady Morton has nothing to do, even according to your own shewing.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “If you only knew the casue, Sir, you would shudder at the unheard-of injuries I have endured by the hands of Sir F. Buller.”
            The Chairman. – “We cannot enter upon such a topic as the cause of these imputed grievances. All we have to do is, to order you to keep the peace towards Lady Morton, yourself in the sum of 200 and two sureties in the sum of 100 each. If you do keep the peace, you sustain no inconvenience; if you do not, you only suffer for your own deliberate act.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “It is very hard that you will not hear what I have to say in defence of the line of conduct I have pursued.”
            The Chairman. – “Were we here trying the cause, we should willingly and patiently hear every thing you might wish to urge in your defence; at present our course is restricted to the simple necessity of taking sureties for you to keep the peace towards Lady Morton: your giving these sureties (which must be done) does not at all touch upon or compromise your claims or grievances, be they great or small, on any body else.”
            Mr. Grierson. – “I am well aware, as Mr. Birnie told me at Bow-street, that the sins of the father are not to be visited upon the children; but I mean no harm to the Lady. I merely wished to apprise her of the course I meant to pursue, for my grievances call aloud for redress and justice.”
            The Chairman. – “Are you now prepared with proper sureties?”
            Mr. Grierson. – “Not at this instant; I must go back to the place from whence I came, where I am incarcerated for the first time in my life.”
            Mr. Walford, on the part of Lady morton, moved the Court that the exhibitant should receive 24 hours’ notice of bail, as the complaint was of so serious a nature.
            The Court granted this motion, and Mr. Grierson was removed from Court, after declaring that he would get bail in the manner required.
            The Countess Morton withdrew from Court the moment she exhibited her articles of the peace. (Carlisle Patriot)

Saturday 4 May 1833

Lately, Sir Francis Buller Yarde Buller, Bart. of Lupton, in the county of Devon, and only son of the late Mr. Justice Buller. Sir Francis had lived in obscurity for a great number of years in consequence of a horrid imputation which attached to his character, in which the present Earl of Devon (late Lord Courtenay) now residing at Paris, participates. (Newcastle Journal;
The allusion is to William Courtenay, involved in a scandal with William Beckford in 1784, and who fled to France in 1811 to avoid prosecution for sodomy.)

GENEALOGICAL NOTES: Sir Francis-Buller Yarde-Bullet, Bart., was born 28 September 1767 and succeeded his father as the 2nd Baron in 1800; he married Eliza-Lydia Holliday on 2 June 1791 and had five children; his first daughter Susan-Elizabeth married George Douglas, Earl of Morton in 1814. Sir Francis assumed the name of Yarde pursuant to the will of his maternal uncle, and added to it his original surname of Buller. His country seat was Lupton House, Devon. He died abroad, on 17 April 1833 at age 65.

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Scandal in the Isle of Man, 1817", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 18 November 2014 <>.

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