Rumours in the Village of Dunham, 1826

SUMMARY: It was rumoured that Mr Balfour, an unmarried farmer, "did not like women". He was seen dancing with, or at least in company with, the wealthy doctor and apothecary Dr Eyre, who had fled the country after being sought by police investigating the activities of a gang of gay men in the village of Dunham, on the river Trent in Nottinghamshire. It was even claimed that "gross indecencies" had taken place between the two men. The man who spread these rumours was sued for libel by Mr Balfour. Balfour won the case, but was awarded derisory damages of only 20 pounds, rather than the 1,000 pounds he had claimed.

21 July 1826

NOTTINGHAM, July 13. – A very great sensation has been produced in the vicinity of Newark, by the discovery that a gang of wretches, whose practices cannot be adverted to without revolting every feeling that should actuate man, have for a long time infested a little village, called Dunham, on the banks of the Trent. Taunton, and one or two other police officers, were down here in February last, for a fortnight or three weeks, and were unremitting in their endeavours to bring the abominable offenders to justice, but the principal of them, a surgeon and apothecary, who had resided in the village for upwards of forty years, has fled the country, and it is feared his escape will afford protection to his infamous associates, as without him no certain proof of guilt can be adduced against them. An action for libel, connected with this horrible scene, is expected to be tried to-morrow, and some most respectable gentlemen are ready to appear as witnesses on the part of the defendant. – English Chron. (Stamford Mercury)

21 July 1826

BALFOUR v. TWYFORD. – This was an action to recover compensation in damages for slanderous words alleged to have been uttered by the defendant, and affecting the character of the plaintiff. The damages were laid at 1000l.Mr. Serj. Vaughan, in stating the case, said he would have been most happy to have been spared the painful duty which now devolved upon him, but, however distressing to his feelings, he must still discharge it. [The parties had been for some years on visiting terms, and lived in the same neighbourhood; but some time since, it so happened that the defendant forbade the plaintiff his house, Mr. Twyford alleging that he had heard the plaintiff was addicted to certain vicious propensities, which it was lamentable even to be obliged to hint at, much less openly to state in a Court of Justice. (British Press, 17 July 1826)] The learned counsel then called the attention of the Jury to the particulars of the case: from which it appeared that the plaintiff, who is an extensive farmer, residing in the vicinity of Dunham, a village on the banks of the Trent, had lived in the habits of social intimacy with the defendant, who was his neighbour, and an officer retired on the half-pay of the Marines. The cause of the present action originated in the defendant's having asserted that he was obliged to forbid the plaintiff his house, in consequence of his having heard that he was addicted to unnatural propensities. No justification was put upon the record, and from this the learned counsel took it for granted that the accusation could not be sustained, and he therefore thought the conduct of the defendant highly reprehensible. If he felt convinced that what he had asserted was true, it was a duty which he owned, not only to himself, but to society at large, not tos uffer a wretch who could be capable of such abomination to escape with impunity.
          Ann Wilson, examined by Mr. Balguy – Lives at Dunham, and knows the plaintiff and defendant. Saw Mr. Twyford at Dunham about the 21st of February last. Saw Hannah Beauman there also. She is a poor woman who gets her living by nursing. Heard the defendant say to Hannay Beauman, "I have been to discharge Mr. Balfour off of my ground, for his company is scandalous, and I won't have it." Saw defendant in the village a few days ago. He was at Hannah Beauman's door. Told witness he came to measure the ground, and to know the distance between an honest woman and a liar. He said to a woman named Hannah Bellamy, that he wished her to go to Nottingham, to say two or three words against witness, and that if she would not go, it would be 1500l. out of his pocket. Hannah Bellamy was to say that defendant did not say it was scandalous to keep the plaintiff's company. – Cross-examined by Mr. Clarke – Does not recollect when this happened. Told the plaintiff of it, but not at first. She told it first to Mr. Mason, of Dunham. Witness could not swear though a brick wall. (A laugh.) It was yesterday she told about the 1500l. She told it to Mr. Beevor, the plaintiff's attorney.
          David Laing sworn. – Lived as a ferryman at Dunham. Rents the ferry of the plaintiff. Saw the defendant on the day in qustion. Defendant took him on one side, and said, "This is a very extraordinary thing about your master, I am very sorry for it." (The witness here particularised the character of the imputation, and said that he heard the defendant say the plaintiff would be obliged to leave the country, and wished him to let his brother know in order that he might get out of the way. Heard defendant say the plaintiff did not like women. The parties were in the habit of visiting each other before this occurred. – Cross-examined by Mr. Reader – The convesation took place near the Ferry. Told the defendant that Balfour had been at Thorney, and dancing with Mr. Eyre. He meant dancing in company. There were reports at that time that one of the police-officers from London was down at Dunham. Witness saw the police-officer. Heard he was there in pursuit of persons who were suspected of this offence. There was a report that Mr. Eyre was suspected of it. He was suspected to be addicted to bad practices. (The witness here admitted his having told the defendant that gross indecencies had taken place between Eyre and the plaintiff.) Balfour is an unmarried man. The defendant is married, and has a family. Witness had requested Mr. Twyford to let the plaintiff know the rumours that were in circulation about him, and to put him upon his guard. The defendant told witness that he and Mr. Balfour were to go to Newark market together, but that he could not go, as Balfour would be turned out of the room (the room where the farmers dined.) – Re-examined – Mr. Eyre was visited in the neighbourhood before he went away. He was a surgeon in good practice. The dance at Thorney was given by Squire Neville. Mr. Twyford was not there. Witness never witnessed any impropriety or indecency on the part of Mr. Balfour at any time. Heard that the old doctor used to sing a merry song, and salute people when he sung it.
          John Rose examined. – Is a gardener, and was at Mr. Balfour's in the month of February last. Saw the defendant,who said he was going on a sad piece of business, and witness said, "Yes, Sir, if it be the truth, but I hope it is not," and defendant said there was no doubt of it; and if he (meaning Balfour) did not get out of the way, he would be hanged. Saw Mr. Twyford on Saturday last, at Mr. Raynes's, at Newton. The defendant sent for him into the house to ask him some questions about this affair. Witness then repeated what had been now stated, upon which defendant remarked, "If I said those words, and if you prove it, you will fling me a thousand pounds away." – Cross-examined – It was last Saturday he made use of the words. Mr. Raynes and Wm. Mee were present at the time. Can't recollect whether he had seen Balfour before that day. Saw him afterwards, and he told witness that they wanted to hang him. Remembers that the Bowstreet officers came to the place. Dr. Eyre ran away. The witness here persisted in his denial of having made use of an expression reflecting in the greatest degree on the character of the plaintiff.
          A person named Quibell deposed to having heard the defendant say that he was obliged to forbid the plaintiff from coming near his house.
          Mr. Clarke addressed the Jury for the defendant, and said that, so far from being actuated by malice, he had evinced the most friendly motives in wishing the plaintiff to vindicate his character. Both parties had lived as neighbours, on terms of intimacy together, and it was very natural that Mr. Twyford should wish that so horrible an imputation should not rest on the character of an individual with whom he was in the habit of associating. But the question now with the Jury to consider was, what injury the character of the plaintiff could sustain, even admitting the allegation of calumny to be proved. What! was a person to come into that court, and ask for damages, with such reports in circulation against him as those which had been stated, even by his own principal witness? Did not that witness prove that the plaintiff was dancing, and othewise admitting the indecent familiarities of a notorious character, who had since fled the country? It was no wonder that the police-officers should come down to so polluted a place as Dunham, where this runaway doctor had too long indulged in his abominations. He called upon the Jury to vindicate themselves as men, and mark their abhorrence of such turpitude, by giving to the plaintiff, in the shape of damages, the lowest coin of the realm. He should decline calling any witnesses.
          The Lord Chief Baron recapitulated the evidence; and the Jury, after a few minutes' deliberation, brought in a verdict for the Plaintiff, damages 20l.
          BALFOUR v. NICHOLSON. – In this case, which was brought by the plaintiff in the preceding trial, against a person named Nicholson, on similar grounds to the last cause, Mr. Serjeant Vaughan intimated that the plaintiff had consented to withdraw a Juror. (Stamford Mercury)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Rumours in the Village of Dunham, 1826", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 15 June 2021 <>.

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