The Case of Archibald Mann, 1859



NOTE: The following case illustrates the difficulty of interpreting records of legal proceedings. The lawyer for the defendant says that it is the duty of the jury to take the most lenient view of the case, and to place the best possible interpretation upon an incriminating letter, and to find the defendant not guilty if there is the least possibility of doubt. This they accordingly do. But the historian is not a member of a jury. The historian looks at the data and assesses the most likely interpretation of them. For the historian, unlike for the jury, the defendant in the following case is obviously guilty of the charge laid against him. The lawyer for the defendant has patently distorted the meaning of the letter read in court, trying his best to twist the obvious common-sense meaning of it.

Archibald Mann was indicted on two counts – one charging him with assaulting Charles John Browne, with intent to commit an unatural offence, and the other charging him with a common assault. The prisoner, who appeared in dock in a braided overcoat buttoned up to the neck, with his spectacles on, and his long hair combed back as usual, gazed round the court and scrutinised those around him with apparent unconcern; and in a firm voice he pleaded not guilty.
          Mr. Aspinall prosecuted, and the prisoner was defended by Mr. Littler.
          Mr. Aspinall said the prisoner was charged with an assault on Charles John Browne, with intent to commit the crime of sodomy; and in a case of such a nature one would desire to make one's statement as short as possible, and to leave the details to be entered into chiefly by the witnesses. Therefore he would only say that Charles John Browne was a boy ten years of age, a son of Daniel Charles Browne, of the musical profession, in this town. Some time ago, at Norwich, the prisoner became acquainted with Mr. Browne, in consequence of something connected with the profession, the prisoner being also one of the musical profession; and he went to live with Mr. Browne. He would call the boy to tell the details of the offence with which the prisoner was charged; it was not necessary for him to go into them, except to say, if they believed them, they would undoubtedly prove the crime with which the prisoner was charged. There was a circumstance corroborative of the boy's testimony. The father, upon a commuication being made with him, had a conference with the prisoner, the nature of which they would imagine, but the particulars of which they would hear from him in the box. The effect of it was that he charged the prisoner with the crime in such terms as they might expect he would, and the prisoner left the house. In the course of the same day Mr. Browne received a letter, which it was for them to consider, and which, in connection with the evidence of the boy, he thought would leave no doubt that an attempt to commit the crime must have been made. The letter was in these terms:–

          My dear Friend, – I am now in your power, and do not know what to do. If you will take my p[enitence], I do now ask you to forgive me, and you shall find that whenever you see or hear of me that I shall be an altered man. Do forgive me. I know you ought never to look on me again; but what can I do! I have now nothing. Will you see me tomorrow, and advise me for the last time, and let me have my things and music? I will not call at your house, but if you will see me at the Landing-stage about twelve o'clock I will then take your advice, or if you will send me a note, and direct it to the Victoria Hotel, I will call there for it. What shall I do? Do forgive me, for you know I shall be ruined. I will always think of you, and never forget you, but do see me if you can, and I will then send up for my things, so that I can go on with my engagements. I know you can stop them, but hope you will have pity on me now, as I do verily ask you for it. – Yours faithfully,
                              (Signed)           ARCHIBALD.

          Charles John Browne, being so small a boy, was directed by the judge to stand between his lordship and the jury. He said he was ten years old and the son of Daniel Charles Browne, of 45, Falkner-street, and first saw the prisoner at Norwich in 1856. Soon afterwards the prisoner came to live with his father, which he did until the 17th January. He had a bedroom of his own, and he lived and took his meals with the family. On one occasion he asked the witness to sleep with him, and when he came to bed he used to wake him up by slapping him. The prisoner played with him and committed the acts which constituted the charge. He did this in Islington; he did it occasionaly when he asked the witness to sleep with him. He told the witness not to tell his parents. The witness told them on Monday night, January 17. It had happened very often before he told his parents. He had given the witness money – a penny, a half-penny, and once or twice twopence. the witness told his little brothers of which when they lived in Islington. – Cross-examined by Mr. Littler: My father received Mr. Mann's earnings, clothed and boarded him, and gave him money – 2s. 6d. for a pair of gloves when he had to go to a concert. If he wanted sixpence or a shilling he had to go to my mother for it. Sometimes he went to three or four concerts a week. I sometimes slept with Mr. Mann regularly. When Mann used to give me money it was for helping him to dress for the concerts – never not to tell. It was about fifteen months before January the first happened. I did not like to tell when he told me not. He did not leave our house until the middle of the Tuesday after I told. I don't know that when he came in he was drunk. He was drunk at nights several times when he came in. I have heard him say he had to borrow money. I have heard him ask my father for money. I have heard my father tell him it was not right of him not to bring home all he earned. I have been to school a long time. I have been to the Collegiate about a year and a half. I never said anything to my school fellows about it. I did not know it was wrong until I was told so; that was when my father asked me what he did. My father asked me because my mother said she suspected something, because we came down with such pale faces. It was some time when my mother was confined. Both father and mother told me it was wrong. I don't know how long before the 17th it was. My father did not know until he asked me on the 17th. On the Sunday, I think, my father told me if such things had happened it was wrong; and on the Monday he asked me more about it. On the Tuesday my father sent some things to Mr. Mann at the Victoria Hotel; and he sent a watch up. Until my father told me it was wrong, I did not thik it was. Dr. Lawson examined me before I went to the police court.

Daniel Charles Browne. – I am a professor of music, residing at 47, Falkner-street, the father of the last witness, and formerly lived in Islington. The prisoner was in my house upwards of twelve months. He came to me with the intention of giving me the whole of his earnings for anything I could do for him. He said he would not return to Norwich, because he should be arrested. On the 17th of January I heard revelations from my son. On the following day I charged Mann with corrupting my children, and ordered him to quit the house instanter. As he was going Mrs. Browne said, "You had better let him have his things." He said, "No, I have got a razor; that's all I want." The letter produced I received on the following day. I did not see him against before I appeared before Mr. Mansfield [the Jusatice].
          The letter was then read.
          Cross-examined. – Mr. Mann had been at my house ever since he came to Liverpool He sang at some concerts and made some money. It may be presumed I received the money; but it did not come into moy hands. It came into my wife's. It was at his own request he had to go to my wife for money. I don't know he had difficulty in getting money. I did make the greater part of his engagements. I did not make them with Mr. Home. He required training for expression before he sang. About a week before the 17th he suffered from delirium tremens, after being out late at night. He suffered for two or three days. Before the 17th I had no idea anything of the kind had been going on. I don't know what time Mr. Mann came down on the Monday. I don't recollect addressing the word "beast" to him. I don't recollect having told many persons about this before I saw Mr. Mann. I told the cabman who came for his things that he (the prisoner) would be pursued. I don't recollect his detaining some money he had earned shortly before this; but he frequently detained money he earned. My son had a bed to sleep in, but I knew he sometimes slept with Mr. Mann. As he was a married man I did not think there was need to fear anything wrong.
          Mr. Littler, for the defence, said the charge was one most serious in its consequences to the prisoner, and, indeed, most serious in all points of view, from the horrible nature of the evidence which had been laid before them, from the position of the prisoner, from the utter ruin it would bring upon his character and himself, and from the very serious question they would have to consider with regard to the truthfulness of the witnesses. From every point of view, they would agree with him, it was one of the most serious charges that could possibly be brought before the notice of a jury. He believed they would examine every word and syllable of the evidence with the greatest care, and, he hoped, with distrust, for a charge of this kind was easy indeed to make, was not difficult of proof, but was very difficult of disproof. The only person who could tell them what took place in that bed on those nights on which the lad and the prisoner slept together, besides the witness, was the prisoner himself. He stood in this difficulty: if he defended himself, they knew what his position must be, in a crowded court, indicted on so horrible a charge: how was he to collect his senses and to propare himself for saying anything? From the state of his mind and feelings he would be utterly incapable of laying his defence before a jury. If he chose the other alternative of being defended by counsel, his own mouth was closed, and they could not hear anything whatever from him. He could not be examined, on his oath or without it; and they could not hear a word of his statement of the case. They were obliged to listen to the story of the prosecution. Therefore it was their bounded duty, where no witnesses could be called to disprove the case, to examine narrowly the whole evidence. when they examined it, if they saw the slightest reason to suppose that there was any other way or accounting for what had been alleged, and if they could see any reasonable doubt as to the nature of the evidence on which the charge was proved, it would be their duty, and an exceedingly pleasant duty, to acquit the prisoner. Where a person was so utterly in the hands of those pursuing him, the evidence ought to agree in everything, it ought to be a probable and believable story. If it differed in details – for it was only in details it could differ – if it was in itself improbable, he felt sure that rather than destroy a man's character for life they would say there was a doubt, and acquit him. The evidence was that of a lad of ten years of age, brought up in the town of Liverpool, where perhaps he might more easily than in any other town learn the ways, and, unfortunately, the vices of men; and he said that for 15 months this sort of thing had been going on and he did not know it was wrong. This statement, he thought, would startle them. Did they not think that the mere instinct of mankind, of the smallest child, would utterly revolt from and abhor such things? Did they not think that a boy so pure and innocent as he would make them believe would long before then have been so disgusted that he would have resisted every attempt of the kind with indignation? This was the first startling fact in the case; and he would show them another thing in which the father was not to be credited. They saw the shameful way in which he answered questions: a man standing in that position, even supposing the charge proved, his feelings as a father being injured, as they must be, would not answer questions in that way. Although he did not way to saw anything against the witnesses, he must say there was some degree of malignity; he (Mr. Browne) did not answer questions with that straightforward candour a witness ought to have displayed. He differed from his son in saying that the first time he heard of it was on the Monday; and yet the boy swore positively that the father asked him about it on Sunday, and renewed the conversation on Monday. It was the father who put it into the child's head, and not the child into the father's. He had elicited something of the history of the case. Mr. Mann came from Norwich, was taken in, boarded, clothed, and fed, and he got a half-crown when he wanted a pair of gloves for a concert; and Mr. Browne admitted that the prisoner had to ask for every sixpence or shilling. It was a very sad thing to impute motives; but he must ask them to consider what had been taking place here. There was a manifest cause of quarrel. Mr. Browne had been getting the young man's earnings, and at last he would not stand it any longer. Mr. Mann had been making a "good thing." Every man in this town, and indeed throughout the country, knew that Mr. Mann had been engaged at concert after concert, that he had a voice which secured large pay; and according to Mr. Browne himself, nearly the whole of those earnings was swept into his pocket. Mr. Mann said "This state of things won't do any longer," and then Mr. Browne kicks him out of the house and makes this charge against him. Suppose he even suspected a man living in the house, would the lateness of the hour have prevented his sitting up and turning him instantly into the street? Would any of the jury have waited until next morning? Would they have allowed the house in which a wife was residing to be polluted by a man who had so infamous injured the family? But it was not until the middle of the next day that Mr. Browne took any steps to get rid of the man who was corrupting and debauching his children. Was that a probable or likely sort of thing? Afterwards Mr. Browne held further communication with the prisoner, sending to him about a watch; and his whole conduct seemed to be to a great extent inconsistent with that of a straightforward man who had been placed in this position. As to the letter, they must consider the state Mr. Mann was in; and one answer he gave to Mr. Browne showed the state of mind in which he left the house, and the horrible state to which he had been reduced. Would he take his things? "No; I have a razor, that is all I want." What did that mean but that he was going to put an end to a miserable existence? Mr. Mann himself said "You can stop my engagements;" and he goes away penniless and utterly ruined, but out of all his engagements, without a home to go to, without a penny in his pocket, and he writes in the agony and despair of the moment, with his feelings excited, not only by the drink he had taken on the preceding night, but also from the attack of delirium tremens he had suffered in the prevous week. On examining a document written under such circumstances by a man, as they would see, not of any great eduction, could they put the worst construcction upon it when it was capable of a better one? What was it that letter said? There were points in it very strong against the prisoner. He said "I now ask you to forgive me, and you will find whenever you see or hear of me that I shall be an altered man." What could that allude to? Mighty it not allude to the pecuniary transactions between them? He took the letter as being one which a man half out of his senses had written, and therefore every clause must not be made to bear as heavily as possible against the prisoner, but it was their bounden duty to take the most lenient view of it. The prisoner asked to be allowed to see Mr. Browne and advise with him for the last time. Did the jury think that a man would ask another man, towards whose son he had been guity of such beastly conduct, to "come and advise" him? It was quite contrary to common sense. The defence was simply this – however unfortunate it might be for the prisoner to have to make a charge against a person like Mr. Browne – that the charge was trumped up, and that it was utterly without foundation; and he submitted that the best proofs that this was the case were the inconsistencies between the statements of the lad and his father. They had seen the terms on which the prisoner was living with Mr. Browne, the latter drawing the whole of his earnings and making a large profit out of him. Latterly quarrels took place between them in consequence of the prisoner refusing to give all the money he received, and then, curiously enough, it was discovered that this with which the prisoner was charged had been going on for 15 months. But, perefectly apart from the character of either Mr. Browne or the prisoner, he hoped that the jury would consider carefully the facts which had been laid before them and saw whether upon such evidence they would convict any man, even the meanest man that ever stood in the dock, of a crime so horrible, so infamous, so utterly against nature. He asked them to consider every link of the evidence, every sentence, every atom of it, and if they found it consonant with their duty to say that the prisoner was not guilty it would indeed be a happy day for the prisoner.
          His Lordship, in summing up, said the prisoner was charged with committing an assault upon Charles John Browne with the intention of committing an abominable crime, and the question for the jury to consider and decide was whether the evidence satisfied them perfectly that the prisoner was guilty of the offence. If he attempted to commit the greater offence, although he failed, he was guilty of the offence with which he was charged. The learned counsel for the prisoner had made a very proper and forcible address to them in his behalf, and had urged upon them various topics which were worthy of their consideration, and to which he hoped they would give all the weight that they deserved in connection with the evidence to which they applied. That evidence consisted of the statement of the boy himself, the statement of hs father, and the letter addressed by the prisoner to the father upon Tuesday, the 18th January, the day on which the prisoner left the house. He was quite sure that none of the excitement which naturally must be created by the bare suggestion of an offence of this kind having been committed would be allowed by them to find its way into the jury box when they came to decide upon the evidence which had been brought forward. They must look to the evidence, and the evidence only, divesting themselves so far as they could of any prejudice against the prisoner; and if the evidence satisfied them that he was guilty they were bound to say so boldly, without considering what the consequence of their verdict might be; but if the evidence did not satisfy them of his guilt, they were bound to say so with equal boldness. Having read over the evidence of the boy and his father, his Lordship said, with reference to the suggestion made by the learned counsel for the defence, that the charge had been trumped up by the father, they could not exclude from consideration the letter which had been read. The prisoner was sent out of or left Mr. Browne's house on Tuesday, January 18, something having passed between him and Mr. Browne, and upon the same day he wrote the letter. It was for the jury to say whether the letter was capable of the construction put upon it by the learned counsel for the defence, or whether in their judgment it tended to confirm the statement of the boy; and if they were satisfied – not by prejudice, but by the evidence that he been adduced before them – that the prisoner was guilty, they must say so by their verdict; but if they were not satisfied by the evidence that he was guilty they must acquit him.
          The jury, after five minutes' consultation, returned a verdict of not guilty.
          Mr. Aspinal. – There is another charge, my lord, but my friend does not wish it to be proceeded with at present.
          His Lordship. – You must proceed with it forthwith or not at all.
          Mr. Aspinall. – Then I will proceed with it at once.
          Mr. Littler said he was afraid the minds of the jury would be prejudiced by the case which had just been tried.
          His Lordship. – Oh, no.
          The prisoner was then charged on a second indictment with committing an assault upon Robert Sebastian, a younger son of Mr. Browne.
          The boy stated that he was seven years of age, and had known the prisoner for some time. He slept with the prisoner when he first came to live with his father, in Islington. He had a bed of his own, but the prisoner used to take him to sleep with him. He used to wake witness up at night to undress him. The boy then described the circumstances of the assault, which was repeated on many occasions, stating that the prisoner sometimes gave him halfpence and pennies. – In cross-examination by Mr. Littler, the witness said that he knew what the prisoner did was wrong, but he did not tell either his father or his mother, as he did not like to do so. When the prisoner gave him the halfpennies and pennies it was always for dressing and undressing him when he had been to concerts. He recollected the prisoner being ill, having delirium tremens. – In reply to his lordship, the boy said he had often slept with the prisoner when they lived in Islington, but he never did then anything of the kind which he was now charged.
          Mr. D. C. Browne was called. His evidence was the same as in the last case.
          Mr. Littler then addressed the jury for the defence, remarking that the case was unfortunately so very similar to the last that it would be unnecessary for him to address them at any length upon it. He was quite sure that they would not allow the fact of the prisoner being tried and acquitted in the former case to weigh upon their minds, that they would feel that it was their bounden duty to completely ignore that fact, and that they would also feel that it was their duty either to acquit or convict the prisoner at the bar upon the evidence adduced in this case alone, without any reference whatever to that adduced in the previous one. If the evidence in that case was weak, it was still more so in the present. The principal witness in this case stated that he slept frequently with the prisoner while his parents lived in Islinlgton, and that nothing of the kind for which the prisoner was now indicted took place until they went to Falkner-street. Then, as to what was stated to have occurred there, the age of the boy prevented his giving any distinct account of what took place; and, whether it arose from the stupidity of the witness, from his extreme youth, or from any other cause, if the circumstances of the case and the facts connected with it were not placed before the jury in a clear and intelligible manner, they were without doubt bound to acquit the prisoner. Again, as to the money stated to have been given to the witness, and the prisoner's motive for giving it to him, the boy distinctly said that the only money iven to him by the prisoner was for dressing and undressing him when going to or returning from a concert. As to the letter sent to Mr. Browne by the prisoner, that was no conclusive evidence of his guilt; nothing was more likely that that a man charged with this horrible crie would send such a letter whether he was guilty or not, and especially a man who, as they had heard, had recently been suffering from delirium tremens, and who felt at the time that if he was acquitted of the serious charge brought against him a certain degree of odium would attach to him, and which would perhaps stick to him as long as he lived. The learned counsel concluded by entreating the merciful consideration of the jury for the man for whom he appeared – a man now almost without a friend or a penny in the world, asking them to let him go forth again, and not convict him of the horrible crime of which he had been accused.
          His Lordship, in summing up, observed that the question was nothing whether the prisoner committed the horrible crime spoken of, but whether he committed those acts of indecency which the boy had detailed. They must look at the evidence, and at nothing else; and if they believed the boy, if they thought the evidence showed that the assaults had been committed, they must find the prisoner guilty.
          The jury, after a very short consultation, found a verdict of not guilty.
          There was a third indictment against the prisoner, for committing an assault upon Robert Burton, but the learned counsel for the prosecution stated that he would not offer any evidence upon it.
          His Lordship then ordered the prisoner to be discharged, and Mann left the dock with as much nonchalance as though he had been stepping from the platform of a concert room.

SOURCE: Liverpool Mercury, Tuesday, 29 March 1859; Issue 3468.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Case of Archibald Mann, 1859", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 16 April 2017 <>.

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