The Master and His Manservant, 1845

Thursday 27 March 1845

CROWN COURT. (Before Mr. Baron Alderson)
Thomas William Barnett, aged 26, coachman, was indicted for feloniously sending a threatening letter to John Hurst, with a view to extort money from him by accusing him of an unnatural crime.
          Mr. Clarkson and Mr. Bodkin conducted the prosecution, and Mr. Charnock defended the prisoner.
          Mr. Clarkson having stated the case for the prosecution, called the following witnesses:–
          Catherine Bourne deposed that she was cook to the prosecutor, who resides at Clapham Rise. On the 7th of March she received a letter from a boy which was addressed to her master, and which she shortly afterwards gave him.
          Cross-examined: The prosecutor keeps two other servants, a parlour maid and a man servant. The man servant before the prisoner, who had been in the prosecutor's service as coachman, left from his own notice in December.
          Mr. John Hurst, the prosecutor, an elderly gentleman, deposed that he was a bachelor, and his sister resided with him. The last man servant he had lived with him for five years, and on his leaving, the prisoner was engaged as coachman, but finding he was a bad driver, he gave him notice to quit. He asked to be allowed to stop in the place a little longer, and he was to have remained until the 22d of February, but in consequence of his disobeying orders he was discharged on the 12th. Witness received the letter in question on the 7th of March. He believed it was in the prisoner's hand-writing.
          Cross-examined: Witness consulted a friend upon the subject, and showed him the letter, but did not tell him any thing about having made use of an indecent expression to the prisoner while he was bathing him. The prisoner did once bathe him with a spunge in his bed-room. He was discharged for disobeying orders.
          The witness was cross-examined at some length, and it was admitted that some indecent expression had been made use of by him to the prisoner while he was bathing him.
          Police Constable 25 P deposed that he took the prisoner into custody, and told him that it was for writing a letter to Mr. Hurst; to which he replied, I did writ it; and Mr. Hurst had better be quiet." Something was afterwards said about the letter being anonymous, when the prisoner said that it could not be considered anonymous, for he had put his initials to it. The prisoner at the same time said that all he wanted was compensation for his character, or something to that effect.
          The letter was then put in and read. Its contents were as follows:
          "Sir – I write to inform you that you have been very unkind, trying to your extreme energies to reflect disparagement on my reputation. In retaliation, I shall make known those liberties and diabolical actions you took with me when I was bathing you in your room, what I term —. Some compensation I wish to receive from your hands, in one way or other. I am waiting for an answer at the bottom of Stockwell-lane. Obedient servant, T. W. B."
          This was the case for the prosecution.
          Mr. Charnock addressed the jury for the prisoner, and contended that all the compensation sought for by him, when he wrote the letter, was the restoration of his character, and he submitted that there was nothing like a demand of money from the beginning to the end of the letter. He concluded by expressing an opinion that it was a great misfortune the prisoner ever had to have entered into the service of such a master.
          Mr. Baron Alderton, in summing up, said the simple facts for the jury to consider were, without any regard to the guilt or innocence of the prosecutor, whether the prisoner intended to accuse him of an unnatural crime; and secondly, whether, if he did, he intended by means of such accusation to extort money from him.
          The jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict of not guilty. (Morning Chronicle)

SOURCE: Newspaper, as cited.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Master and His Manservant, 1845", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 18 November 2016 <>.

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