Groom Blackmails Member of Parliament, 1846

Thursday 29 October 1846

Before the Lord Chief Baron and Mr. Justice Erle.)
ATROCIOUS THREATENING LETTER. – James Newbery, 24, groom, was indicted for sending a letter to Mr. Edward Davis Protheroe, M.P. for Halifax, and with menaces demanding money under a threat of charging him with an abominable offence.
          Mr. Bodkin and Mr. Doane appeared for the prosecution.
          Mr. Bodkin said, the prisoner was charged with an offence of a most serious description, and one which struck at the very root of society. He was accused of charging a gentleman, in whose service he had been, of a most atrocious offence, and the only answer he could make to such a charge was to come before a Jury and satisfy them by evidence that there was no foundation for it. The Learned Counsel then proceeded to state the circumstances under which the charges were brought forward, which will be better understood by the evidence.
          Mr. Edward Davis Protheroe deposed that he represented the borough of Halifax in Parliament. In 1815 he had an estate in Dorsetshire, and when he was in London, in the performance of his Parliamentary duties, he resided in a furnished house or apartments. In November, 1845, he engaged the prisoner as a temporary valet, and he accompanied him into the country on a visit to his relatives, and was discharged at the expiration of a month, when he paid him his wages, and heard nothing more of him for three months. At the expiration of that period he received three or four notes, addressed to him at the Travellers' Club, in which the prisoner requested him to lend him money; but he took no notice of them and destroyed them. The prisoner afterwards applied to him at his house for money, but he declined to give him any. In August, when he was on his way to the House of Commons, he met the prisoner, who asked him at that time to give him a written character, but he refused to do so, saying that he did not like written characters, although he would not object to have any gentleman referred to him personally for his character. On the 4th September, when he was about to leave town, he gave the prisoner a written character, in which he spoke favourably of him during the time he was in his service. The prisoner complained that he had not got a situation for him in the establishment of Sir G. Hamilton, and did not appear at all satisfied when he told him that he had no influence, and as he went away he muttered something about "calling at the Travellers' Club." The next day he received the letter produced, of which the following is a copy. It was addressed "F.D. Protheroe, Esq., Travellers' Club, Pall-mall."
"Sir – I feel very much disappointed in not having the place with Sir George Hamilton, after having promised me. I should have thought, after what has passed between me and you, you would have got me the place. I shall go to the club or clubs which you belong to, and tell them what you are, which I can prove. I shall likewise let your father and mother know what you are, and likewise the public, and if you do not do something for me, I shall acquaint a lawyer of it. You know very well what you wanted me to do to you, and it is right the public should know who are those persons. You said that if I left my mistress you would do something for me. You have driven me to do what I have done, as you have acted very unhandsome to me. I can return to you, and if you do not answer by return of post, I shall tell the committees of the clubs you belong to, and if you like to vindicate yourself, I am to be found Mason's-yard, Duke-street, St. James's. Certainly I shall disgrace you."

Examination continued – Witness sent an answer to the address mentioned by the prisoner, and told him that the letter he had sent him was a threatening letter, and that he had handed it over to his solicitor to institute prosecutions if he thought fit; and the next day the prisoner called again at his house, and he read him a copy of the letter he had sent, and which the prisoner said he had not received. The prisoner muttered something about no one being willing to help a man when he was in adversity, and witness told him that he had always acted like a good master to him, and he had no cause of complaint. The prisoner told him he had acted in ungentlemanly manner, after which he ordered him out of the house, and he went away. Another letter (produced) was afterwards placed in his hands. The following is a copy of the letter referred to:–
"To the Gentlemen of the Travellers' Club. – I wish to inform you E. D. Protheroe is guilty of that crime which is forbidden by God and man. I also consider it my duty to let the members know what sort of a man he is. For the short time I was with him, I have convincing proofs of E. D. Protheroe. It is well known that the steward of the other club which he belonged to lost his place through accusing him of an unnatural offence, which I can prove he is guilty of. I sent him a letter on Thursday of what I intend doing, and what I have now stated in this letter. I hope the gentlemen of the club will take into consideration what sort of company they are keeping. If E. D. Protheroe likes me to be taken up, I am to be found at Mason's-yard, Duke-street, St. James's."

Mr. Bodkin (to Mr. Protheroe) – Now, Sir, I ask you – and I have to apologise that my duty compels me to do so – is there any foundation for this charge made against you by the prisoner?
          Mr. Protheroe – I swear, most solemnly, that is not.
          The Lord Chief Baron told the prisoner that now was his time if he thought proper to do so, to put any questions to the prosecutor.
          The prisoner then proceeded, partly by statement and partly by interrogatory, to insinuate the most atrocious conduct on the part of the prosecutor, but to every allegation Mr. Protheroe gave a most solemn and positive denial.
          Mr. T. P. Courtnay, one of the members of the Travellers' Club, proved the receipt of the second letter, and also that he took measures immediately to have it handed over to the prosecutor. He likewise proved that the prisoner, on being sent for to the club, admitted that he had written the letter.
          Mr. Bodkin said this was the case for the prosecution.
          The Lord Chief Baron told the prisoner that now was the time for him to address the Jury, or to call Witnesses, if he thought proper to do so.
          The prisoner said he had no witnesses, as he did not think they were required. He then reiterated the charges he had made against the prosecutor, and said this was all the defence he had to offer.
          The Lord Chief Baron, in summing up, said, that in his opinion the Legislature had most wisely enacted that in the consideration of charges of this question, the question as to the guilt or innocence of the persons complaining of the attempt at extortion made no difference whatever; for it would be too much to allow a person who had been a consenting party, according to his own showing, in such atrocious proceedings, to attempt, under cover of the law, to extort money from his equally guilty associate. They had, therefore, nothing whatever to do with the attempted defence set up by the prisoner; but he must remark, that if there was the slightest truth in his statement, it was most extraordinary that for nine months he had not mentioned one syllable of the matter, and then only when his repeated demands for money had been refused.
          The Jury immediately returned a verdict of Guilty.
          The prisoner was put back for a short time, when he was brought up for judgment, and the Lord Chief Baron, after stating that he had been convicted of a most heinous offence, and that he entirely concurred in the verdict of the Jury, sentenced him to be transported for twenty years.
          The prisoner, as he left the bar, said, "Thank you, my Lord." (Morning Post)

(The Gloucester Journal for 31 October reported the matter slightly more fully: "The prisoner [i.e. Newbury] cross-examined the witness [i.e. Mr. Protheroe] at great length, with respect to places and times at which he said Mr. Protheroe had behaved with indelicacy and impropriety. – Mr. Protheroe, in the most unqualified manner, denied having acted in any indelicate, or even familiar, manner with the prisoner at any time. . . . The prisoner then, in a rambling but firm manner, addressed the jury, and told a long and extraordinary story, which was very inconsistent and contradictory, and so extravagant as to be beyond all belief.")

NOTE: Technically Newberry was guilty of extortion insofar as he wrote a letter threatening to expose Protheroe. But the fact that he then carried out his threat, and exposed Protheroe after failing to receive financial help from him, casts a different light upon the matter. At this stage Newberry had nothing to gain – except revenge. It suggests to me that Newberry's charges were substantially correct, that Protheroe had made advances to him. This may be why the prosecuting attorney took pains to explain to the jury that the guilt of the victim was irrelevant to the guilt of his blackmailer.

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given. (Some reports were repeated verbatim across several newspapers, but I have not included them all.)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Groom Blackmails Member of Parliament, 1846", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 6 January 2019 <>.

Return to Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England