Slander against a Clergyman, 1842

NOTE: The following report of a trial for slander is interesting for illustrating the Victorian social attitude towards homosexuality. Although it may exaggerate the effect the imputation of sodomy may have upon a man: it is called “the blackest calumny that hell had invented”. Homosexuality itself is portrayed as a kind of disposition, “some perverted sense, which led a man to commit” homosexual acts. Sexual desire is not seen as being necessarily linked to a man’s overall character: The defendant’s counsel called the jury to recognise the truth of history, that there were many instances of otherwise honourable and educated men being suddenly exposed as having this propensity, which had hitherto gone unnoticed by even their intimate friends. Hence the widely recognised respectability of the plaintiff was really irrelevant as to whether he was susceptible to unnatural passions. The offence was called “a species of madness”. The defendant’s plea of justification was rejected by the court, who also disbelieved the testimony of many other witnesses who said the clergyman was a sodomite. The defendent was accordingly found guilty of slander, but the jury gave the clergyman damages of only fifty pounds, far lower than the unlimited damages his counsel had demanded, so they probably believed there was some truth in the allegations made against him, even though the level of proof was not high enough to hold up in court. (Remember, this was a trial for slander, not a trial for alleged sodomy.)

Lancashire Spring Assizes


(Before Mr. Baron Rolfe and a special jury.)

PALEY, CLERK, v. FARRIMOND – The plaintiff in this case was the Rev. Joshua Paley, of Pemberton, near Wigan, and the defendant, Wm. Farrimond, lives in the same neighbourhood. . . . Mr DUNDAS, Mr. COWLING, and Mr. RAMSHAY were counsel for the plaintiff; Mr. WORTLEY and Mr. WATSON were for the defendant.
          Mr. RAMSHAY opened the pleadings. The declaration stated that the defendant had uttered certain slanderous imputations against the plaintiff, and the defendant pleaded, first, that he was not guilty, and then that the imputations were true.
          Mr. DUNDAS stated the case to the jury. They had heard from his Leaned Friend behind him, the nature of the inquiry they were about to be engaged in, one of the most solemn and the most anxious ever introduced into a court of justice, one calling as much as any he had ever known for a faithful and deliberate discharge of the duties of all who had to do with the trial, in order that the truth might be made to appear, and in order, if his client were the wronged man, as he was there to assert for him, that justice might be done to his innocency, and that he might leave that court with a stain on his character. Before he (the Learned Counsel) proceeded to detail to the jury the circumstances of the case, he must confess that often as he had been engaged in courts of justice for a client, whether it had been to defend life, to maintain liberty, or to assert the right of property for his fellow-countrymen, never, never, in the course of all his life did he feel the responsibility which then resteed upon him to do his duity to his client, for there was something dearer than liberty, there was something which he valued higher than property, nay, there was something in issue that day, which, to Mr. Paley, the defendant, ought to be, and was, dearer to him that life itself, for there was a charge made upon him of a nature as revolting, that every feeling which God had planted in their bosoms as men, so hateful to every thing that was decent, and honest, and of good report, and in the Christian society in which they moved, they, unless he (Mr. P) came clear by their judgment that day from whose false and malicious slanders, a wanderer on the face of thei earth he must go from that day forth; – there was no peace of heart for him, he must leave the station in society in which God had placed him – his family, his friends, and the sacred calling in which he had hitherto exerted himself, he must fling to the wind, and begone from the eyes of all people on the earth. There it was, God knew it was, that he felt, as he before had, the responsibility which lay on every man who was in the administration of the law that day, in order that the truth might be made to appear, and that his innocent client, who had laid to his door the blackest calumny that he hell had invented, might, by a jury of his country, be clear from it, and restored to that station which, as a gentleman, a man, and a Christian, he had hitherto filled. They knew what dreadful evis frequently flowed from the slander that circulated in society. No question of it, a malicious tongue could break the heart of the most innocent, and poison the springs of the best ordered family in the land. No doubt of it there was not so base a creature on the face of the earth but had power to wound the peace of the noblest and best amongst them; and he firmluy believed that the charge of sodomy – of unnatural, perverse, poisonous, indecent practices or passion, was, from the very nature of it, calculated to subdue almost the most firm, – the firmest amongst them could scarcely stand up against it, such was the nature of it, because such was the wound it was calculated to inflict. If it were so, surely when his client came into a court of justice to redeem himself – to restore himself again to that honourable place in life in which he had hitherto moved – surely the very gravest attention must be paid to his case; and surely, if he satisfied the jury that he was entirely innocent of any such imputation, and that it was made upon him by a false and slanderous tongue, there could be no damages which he was not entitled to receive – there could scarcely be any amount of damages too great for a jury to give. Put the cae to one’s self, or to one’s friend, and what would they give them in case of such an imputation? – and if they found that the person whom he represented that day had been slandered where he lives, and where he had lived for many a day and years as a minister of that Gospel which he loved – if by one of his own parishioners the charge was imputed to him, could they doubt that it was his (Mr. Paley’s) duty to come before a jury of his country, and in the face of God and man, to challenge inquiry and bring the slanderer before them, and to tell him, “You have said these things of me – prove the truth of them if you can. Let us appeal to the country we both live in. Let us see whether innocence comes out triumphant, and if I am innocent, let me see what kind of reparationn I receive from the hands of a jury who do me justice.” He (the Learned Counsel) made these observations before he came to the facts of the case, rather led away by his feelings than by any deliberate view o the case, for when he first rose to address them he intended to confine himself to the facts of the case, and the nature of the inquiry about to be entered on.

The plaintiff in the action was the Rev. Joshua Paley, of Pemberton, in the neighbourhood of Wigan. That gentleman was about thirty-six years of age, a man of education, who, after he left Cambridge, went into holy horders, and soon after, in the year 1832, he was appointed to the charge of the cure of Pemberton, and he (Mr. Dundas) firmly believed, if his instructions were right, that he was one of the most pains-taking, one of the most worthy ministers of the church in whose service he was engaged. In that year he resided there, and he (the Learned Counsel) dared say some of the jury knew the people and the nature of the duties he would have to perform. It was a district about three miles long and about as many miles wide. The population was between five and six thousands, consisting principally of weavers, or colliers, and without casting the least imputation on those who preceded him, for they might not have had the same abilities to do good – they were not an enlightened population; but Mr. Paley, from his earliest appointment to the cure, had devoted himself to the utmost of his ability to improve the people; and he had – by means of day schools and sabbath schools, by lectures on the week days, and regular services in the church – been most successful in doing so, and he lived there in great harmony with his people. Some time ago, from over exertion in his duty as a pastor, he fell into bad health, was obliged to call in a curate, and was absent from Pemberton in the year 1831. The defendant, Mr. Farrimond, was a small proprietor in that part of the country, and he (Mr. D.) was not aware whether it would transpire why he should seek this rooted revenge against his client. He could tellwhy the defendant, from time to time, seemed to have felt it a sort of duty to hang on his client’s skirts, and to stab him in his reputation in the manner he had done.

On the 25th May last year, when Mr. Paley was not at home, there was a town’s meeting at Pemberton. It was attended by a considerable number of persons, the defendant amongst the rest. There was then a gentleman of the name of Stephens, one of the churchwardens, and when the people were all there, Mr. Farrimond said to Mr. Stephens, “Mr. Paley ought to be brought up, for there is no keeping him * * * * *, an insinuation perfectly intelligible, implying to every man’s mind who heard it, that Mr. Paley was addicted to some unnatural propensity or indecent or disgusting passion. Mr. Stephens, when he heard it, said, “Mr. Farrimond, if you have any thing to say about Mr. Paley, speak it up;” but defendant said no more. Mr. Farrimond, having uttered this poison, left it to circulate. He applied no cure at that time, and they would see how he had treated when he said when the proceedings run further down. In the month of July this same defendant was at Wigan, and at a public house called the Dog and Partridge. A Mr. Marsden, who was one of the sidesmen at Mr. Paley’s church, happened to be there. Some one asked who Mr. Marsden was, and it was replied that he was one of Mr. Paley’s churchwardens. Upon that Mr. Farrimond did not miss his opportunity again to smite the clergyman. He said, addressing Mr. Marsden, “Thou art no great things, or else thou would not be churchwarden for such a devil as him. He ********. It told Mr. Stephens of it at a public meeting, and he promised to bring him up for it, but he has not done it.” The effects of such a charge are well known. He (Mr. Dundas) was not going to enlarge on it. He would lay the facts before the jury, and leave the jury to judge, when those circumstances were communicated to Paley, what his feelings must have been. He would leave theem to judge, if it were proved that such words had been uttered by Farrimond, what a calumny it was, and he would leave them to say what measure of damages he ought to pay, and whether they, as a jury, ought not to inflict, with a ready hand, such measure as, in their judgment and conscience, Farrimond ought to pay. But what sort of a man was Mr. Farrimond? what a strange man he must be. If he really believed that this was true, what did they think of this gentleman, – a man with a famly, having grown-up children, permitted some of them still to attend Mr. Paley’s lectures, as if he were still so good a man that he was able to instruct his children? Mr. Paley felt himself called to try this question. He said, “I will bring my action against you, and let you justify your words.” He brought his action, and Mr. Farrimond justified his words, yet his (Mr. Dundas’s) client, strong in the integrity of his innocence, cared not for this justification. Mr. Farrimond said there were eight persons who could prove him guilty. His client said, “Do so if you can.” Every man in England might be subject to this charge; the best and most innocent man among them might be subject to such a charge, and God help him unless he were innocent. The defendant not only put on the record that he could by eight witnesses prove the charge, but that there were others by whom he could do so. In order to get the nams of the “others,” the plaintiff went before Lord Deanman, that learned and honourable person, to see if he could not compel defendant to give the other names, but Lord Denman felt that he had no power, and therefore up to that day they did not know what defendant meant to do with the other persons. If this justification were proved by creditable witnesses; if they found that such a justification as they had put on the record was made out to their satisaction, by reasonable, by plain, by honest and virtuous witnesses, of whom they had no suspicion, his client was in their hands, and if they believed their testimony he must suffer. But, and he spoke for his client, let him see these men, let him know what they were and whence they be who were to deprive him of his character. He had hitherto lived in innocence; he had lived in integrity; he had labour in his church; he had served his God, and had lived in honour with all his friends, and had always been received by his friends with respect, and there was not a neighbour who would not bear testimony to his honour and respect. After a few other observations, the Learned Counsel said that in the issue of the case, on the verdict they gave that day hung all that Mr. Paley cared ofr on this earth. If they found, constrained by the force of the evidence, that the justification was made out, he knew they would do their duty to their consciences; but if it were not made out, beyond the question of a shadow of a doubt, he asked them to do their duty by the countryman who appealed to them on behalf of his character, to give him that mreasure of compensation which would not only stop the mouth of Mr. Farrimond, but restore, so far as their verdict could do so, his character, – restore him to that place amongst his friends and famly, and his sacred calling which he held, and give him peace of mind, and respectability amongst his people.

          John Stephens, one of the churchwardens of plaintiff’s church, was the first witness called, and he spoke to the words used by defendant at the public meeting. He spoke also of the improved state of the population in consequence of plaintiff’s exertions. In his cross-examination, he acknowledged that in consequence of certain rumour, he had forbidden Mr. Paley his house, but on making inquiries he convinced himself that the rumours were not true.
          James Marsden spoke to the expressions made use of by defendant at the Dog and Partridge.
          The Rev. Henry Gunning, Rector of Wigan, spoke to the general conduct of plaintiff, whom he described as a man of uncommon industry in his calling.
          A number of other witnesses were called, all of whom stated that plaintiff moved in the most respectable circle in society. Several of the pupils in Mr. Paley’s schools were also called, all of whom stated that they had never seen plaintiff behave otherwise than in the most becoming manner.
          Mr. WORTLEY submitted that there was no case made out, because the word used did not subject the party necessarily to ecclesiastical authority.
          Mr. Baron ROLFE thought there was plenty of evidence for the jury.
          Mr. WORTLEY then addressed the jury for the defendant. He said there now fell to him the most painful duty, not only that ever fell on himself, but perhaps that had ever fallen on any advocate in that court since the assizes had been held within its walls. He assured them most unfeignedly that he felt oppressed with the weight of the duty which fell upon him. He could not, he must not, and he would not shrink from it, but whilst he performed it, he must beg of them to bear in mind that it was only in the strict performance of a duty that he was now compelled to go into that from which his feelings and the feelings of all around them revolted. He was only because the plaintiff, by bringing this case theer, had given the defendant no option but to meet him in the way in which he was bound to meet him that day, that he (Mr. W.) rose to address them at all on that disgusting topic. Under the weight of this responsibility and burden his only consolation was tht men like the jury shared it with him – the deep responsibility also fell upon them. They were all of them assisting merely in the administration of justice, and it was equally revolting to all. It was equally painful to all, but each must bear his part. He had nothing to complain of, as he seldom had, in the manner in which this case had been introduced by his Learned Friend. He could not wonder at the excitement under which he spoke, and if he endeavoured, as best became his position in this case, to address them with greater calmness and with more reserve, he appreciated the difference in their position sufficiently to do him (Mr. Dundas) the justice, when he remembered that his extreme warmth, to say that it was not more than natural and honourable warmth with which he had addressed him on the part of the plaintiff, but allow him to caution them, – for, from the very nature of the case, they must hear his Learned Friend again; – against his eloquence,but what he wished to caution them against was this – that natural sympathy which might spring up in their own breasts, not only with the warmth of his Learned Friend, but with the defndant himself, and which, if they were not very active, might mislead, might blind, or, at least, might weaken for a time their better judgment. They must arm themselves, therefore, as they were bound to do, forget all their wishes for a moment, for who that heard him would not wish that Mr. Paley should be released from the slightest stain; but their wishes were not sufficient. He entreated them, not ony in justice to this case, but for the sake of justice herself – for the sake of the full administration of justice and the law – he entreated them to keep their judgment firm in its seat, and not let it be disturbed by the waker feelings of humanity. He did not address this language to them in a light and trifling cause. He addressed it to them where there was every topic to excite, to engage, and to enlist their feelings and sympathy, when, upon one hand they saw the comparatively unimportant alternative ot fixing upon the defendant, a man of small property, an amount of burden which must be injurious, or even more than that to him; he said, upon that comparatively light consideration, with the other alternative, that their verdict, if for the defendant, must necessarily, as his Learned Friend had said, send the plaintiff out of this court so far disgraced as to make life itself a burden. He could not disguise that. He could not, and he hoped he should not if he could, misrepresent what the consequences must be. He thought, therefore, he was justified in brining before their minds, at the outset, what the alternative was, what the danger was to which they were exposed, if they did not most strictly guard themselves against the attack from within, the attack from their own feelings. It was in evidence that Mr. Paley, a gentleman int he middle term of life, had, until within the last three or four years, borne, apparently, an irreproachable character; that, as a minster of the Church of England, he had been most active, apparently most benevolent, performing all his duties with the utmost propriety and industry. They had it upon the statement of his Learned Friend, that he was a gentleman of education, and he (Mr. Wortley) had no dispositon to deny it; on the contrary, he believed it. They had it further, that Mr. Paley was a gentleman of most respectable connexions, and every way enjoying all the benefit of a high station in society. Unfortunately, we had had too many occasions to knwo that none of these things were a security against that which he did not hesitate to call the curse of some perverted sense, which led a man to commit precisely that sort of offence which had been described. We knew that men high in rank and high instation, in various ranks and various classes, high in the church, high in the senate, high in all the most honourable branches of society, rolling in wealth and luxury, who could command the gratification of all their natural passions, having every luxury about them, with all the benefits of the very best education, with all the refinement of classical and of modern learning, with all the delicacy of the most refined taste, yet suddenly disturbed, as it were, to the astonished eyes of all their most intimate friends, and exhibited with that one spot upon them, which, till then, had escaped the notice of all. The history of humanity furnished many examples of this. They could not have lived members of society, as he perceived most of them had, for nearly half a century, without being well aware that many such cases had occurred. If that were so, it was no part of his case to deny, in words, the general eulogium which they had heard upon the plaintiff; but he should be obliged to call upon them, when they had heard all the case and all the evidence which could be produced upon the part of the defendant, to say whether they did not believe that this crime was one of which the plaintiff had been guilty. The Learned Counsel then proceeded to comment upon the evidence for the plaintiff, in the course of which he concluded, that if the plaintiff had been so strong in his innocence as his counsel had represented, he would have demanded an investigation the moment a charge of this nature was alleged against him, instead of going abroad and emaining there some months, till it became absolutely necessary for him to take some notice of it. Before he described the nature of the evidence, it would be his duty to produce on the part of the defendant, he could not help making one or two remarks upon something which had transpired in the course of the evidence. He thought the friends of Mr. Paley would have exercised a more correct judgment, if they had not interefered wth the witnesses whom they knew were to appear. it had been proved, that the inhabitants of Pemberton were persons in general in a very humble station of life. They were principally colliers and weavers, and, with the exception of the Sunday school alluded to, they had, in all probability, but little means of education. The witnesses, therefore, would be found ill educated and illiterate: they were poor and humble. but, if they gave their evidence in a manner to entitle them to bleief, that would make no difference in their judgment. They were allof them persons who had been taught in the schools of Mr. Paley; and they were none of them, as far as he knew, actuated by the smallest particle of malice agianst Mr. Paley. There were two of them one one family, several of them were of the same name, but wholly unacquainted; and they were all persons who had had but slight acquaintance with each other. The Learned Counsel then proceeded to detail the principal points in their testimony,and, in doing so, he desdribed the offence which formed the subject of this inquiry as a species of madness. If the jury, however, should not be able to believe the testimony which he adduced, they would have the agreeable duty of returning a verdict for the plaintiff; but, in that event, he contended, that this was not a case which called for heavy damages. In conclusion, he called upon them to hold the scale even, and, let it poise as it might, hold it firmly and hold it truly.
          A great number of witnesses, and among them two females, were then examined, but their evidence is totally unfit for publication. Their general testimony went to the effect, that the defendant had taken most gross and beastly liberties with them. The dates of the alleged crimes ranged between four and six years. One witness, named Bagster, it appeared, had been at Mr. Stevenson’s office, where he signed a paper, apologizing to the plaintiff for having, in Mr. Leigh’s office, charged him with this offence.
          Two witnesses were called by Mr. Dundas to contradict this witness, in consequence of which
          Mr. WORTLEY obtained the right to reply on the eivdnce. In doing so, he protested energetically against the tampering which had taken place with the witnesses by the plaintiff’s friends, and said, if this instance were permitted to pass by without reprehension, it would furnish a precedent most dangerous to the administration of justice.
          Mr. DUNDAS rose to reply, which he did at great length and with uncommon animation. He had read and felt, upon many an occasion, that the darket hour was next to the dawn; and he had been looking forward from time to time, as those witnesses of darkness assailed his client, for tht hour which now, he thanked God, had arrived, when again, for his client, he might address his countrymen the jury. If this case had been taken on the other wise of the court, no Jury in the world could convict the plaintiff on the testimony brought forward to day. It was impossible to bleieve, that the several offences had been committed, seeing that some were stated to have taken place five, six, seven, and eight years ago. The charges, too, were made by parties who were unknown, against one who was perfectly well known, and who had borne an irreproachable character, as a minsiter of the Gospel; and there was a manifest want of corroboration in all of them.
          The Learned JUDGE then summed up. He confessed it appeared most extraordinary to him, that this felonious offence should have gone on for four, five, six, or even seven years, as a system, without a single witness being called on whom it had been perpetrated without his knocking the offender down. The only question for the jury, however, was, whether the defendant had established his plea of justification to their satisfaction.
          The jury retired at a quarter-past eight o’clock to consider their verdict. They returned a few minutes before nine, and found for the plaintiff. Damages, 50.
          The Court adjourned at nine o’clock.

SOURCE: Liverpool Mercury, Friday, 15 April 1842.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Slander Against a Clergyman, 1842", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 17 April 2017 <>.

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