The Keevil Libel Case, 1879

NOTE: The following extraordinary libel case between two clergymen shows how a man who is widely rumoured to have had indecent relations with both young men and young women, nevertheless wins his case against the bearer of these rumours for having libelled him. The judge's summing-up strongly suggests that the plaintiff was probably guilty of the acts alleged against him, but that the defendant had no authority to meddle in his affairs, since the police and the bishop had decided not to intervene. The Jury follows the Judge's prejudicial views, and decides to punish the accuser for being an interfering busybody. The Attorney-General determines that the case must be re-tried, and it drags on for two years.

Thursday, 20 February 1879

(Before the Lord Chief Justice and a Special Jury.)
This was a libel case of a most sensational character from Keevil and Melksham, in Wiltshire. Two other cases depend upon the issue. The plaintiff is the Rev. Wm. Henry Chamberlaine, vicar of Keevil since 1840, and he is 68 years of age; and the defendant is also a clergyman, but not attached to a cure of souls, residing at Melksham. Mr. Chamberlaine is married, and has seven children. The libel which forms the basis of the action was contained in two letters written by defendant to Admiral Chads, of Plymouth, a nephew of plaintiff, in which charges were made against plaintiff of the greatest acts of depravity committed with girls in the parish, and before or with young men. The object of writing the letters was to induce the nephew to use his influence in prevailing upon plaintiff to resign his vicarage, conformable to a promise that defendant says plaintiff made to him. . . .
          On the 4th October, 1877, defendant wrote to Admiral Chads that the police had been watching plaintiff's movements. "The Chief-constable, happening to be an intimate friend of mine, consulted me how a public exposure could be avoided." On visiting him plaintiff got into a rage, and talked of gross calumnies. The defendant read documents to plaintiff when he collapsed, and asked advice, offering to throw up his living at once. Defendant suggested that he should obtain leave of non-residence for one year and then resign. At plaintiff's wish he saw his son Henry, and communicated what had passed. Then the defendant communicated the result to the Chief Constable and the Bishop – that Mr. Chamberlaine would resign. Plaintiff subsequently wrote to express gratitude for defendant's kindness. Defendant then says he has heard the arrangement will not be kept by plaintiff, and he asks the admiral to use his influence, and intimates that he has forwarded to plaintiff an ultimatum. He wishes to avoid publication of revolting details. The ultimatum referred to in the letter above summarised was dated 18th of September, 1877, and was as follows:– "Quem Deus rult perdere prius demcutat. You having agreed at my interview with you to resign your living at the end of the year, and the Bishop having granted the license on that understanding, you cannot now alter the arrangement. That you can wish or intend to return at the end of the year is to me astonishing, knowing, as you do, that your unnatural and horrible proceedings, continued for some years, are the common scandal, not only of your parish, but of the whole neighbourhood. As I hear you are still deluding yourself as to the possibility of your return, I think it right to give you this final and solemn warning, that, unless you sign and return to me within seven days from the date of this enclosed paper, without any modification, the whole business will be put in the hands of the police, as I only undertook to act for them on the supposition that you ceased to be Vicar of Keevil. The misery and disgrace of your family, and the gross public scandal of the Church are matters for your sole determination. – E. J. BARNWELL." To be detached and sent by post – "September 15th, 1877. – I hereby solemnly pledge myself to tend my resignation of the vicarage of Keevil to the Bishop and the patrons three months before the termination of my licence of non-residence. – To the Rev. E. L. Barnwell." On the 8th of October the defendant wrote a second letter to Admiral Chad, enclosing copies of statements. In this he says the police have been watching for months, and that "it seems, on good authority, that the young females of the district were much afraid of these attacks." "A woman named Orchard, living near Burgess's house, is known as his mistress." It is added that nothing but a written pledge will answer the purpose. The damages claimed are 10,000.
          The writing of the letters is admitted by defendant, and he admits that he showed them to Mr. E. D. B. Locke. Any other publication he denies. The statement of particulars sets forth acts of the plaintiff, relied on as "acts of unnatural and horrible depravity, going on for some years," with a young girl, Elizabeth Orchard, and notwitstanding he presented her for confirmation; waylaying Agnes Griffin; indecency towards James Orchard, Worthy Scratchley, James Wilkins, Mary Jane Jordan, Sarah Puckeridge, and Henry Jordan.
          Sir Henry James opened the case, briefly describing the libel as one imputing conduct of a most revolting character, which conduct, however, was utterly repudiated by the plaintiff. He refrained, however, from going into the particulars. The plaintiff was 68 years of age, and since 1840 he had been vicar of Keevil; and defendant, also a clergyman, resides at Melksham. Plaintiff was in weak health, and when the accusations preferred were first made to him by Mr. Barwell, plaintiff was inclined to accede to the terms of defendant in order to avoid the pain of the scandal, although it was untrue, but after the writing of the letters he had commenced proceedings.
          Dr. King and Dr. Andrew Clarke gave testimony that plaintiff's condition of health is such that it would be perilous to bring him into court. Plaintiff's testimony, as taken by commission, was then read, occupying two hours in reading. Many other names occur in the examination besides those mentioned in connexion with the alleged acts of plaintiff in statement of defence. In his evidence plaintiff again and again denies the charges in toto and seriatim. He also says he did not offer to resign his living, and that he never made any admission that the charges were true.
          Mr. C. D. B. Locke testified that defendfant called upon him at Melksham,. and showed him the ultimatum. Mr. Barnwell called upon witness a second time, and said there was fresh evidence against plaintiff in the hands of the police. Mr. Barnwell did not consult him as a lawyer but as a friend. On the second occasion he met the defendant casually. A third person was present, the Rev. Mr. Finn. Witness has a brother in holy orders, who had it in contemplation to engage himself as curate with plaintiff. Did not have any recollection of consulting defendant as to that.
          Cross-examined – Had heard there were charges of indecency against Mr. Chamberlaine. There were a great many disagreeable rumours.
          Lieutenant Chamberlaine, R.N., son of the plaintiff, testified that he was on board the Serapis from September, 1876, to May, 1877. Was at home on the occasion when Mr. Barnwell called upon his father. Prior to that never had heard of any rumours affecting his father's moral character. After the interview, defendant came to witness and took out some papers, and told him they were copies of police reports with respect to plaintiff. Asked him to allow an inspection of them, and defendant declined. Witness suggested that his father should consult a lawyer, and defendant advised him against it very strongly, and that the matter should be hushed up and kept quiet.
          The Lord Chief Justice – Did he tell you why he had come to your father at all, or did he say what his purpose was?
          Witness. – He did not give many reasons for his coming, and I could not ascertain from him the authorities. He said my father had requested him to write to the bishop for the leave of non-residence.
          Examination resumed – He said my father had collapsed, and that he intended to write to the bishop. My father did not join me in the conversation till afterwards. He was not unwell at the time.
          Cross-examined – Defendant said my father had sent him to me about the scandal. Defendant told me what it was he had been guilty of. Then he pulled out the police reports, but declined to show them. He told me generally that it was a case of sodomy. My father told me that the charges were gross calumnies, and that in consequence of what had passed he would go into non-residence. It was very unpleasant to continue in the parish with these rumours afloat. I advised him to go. Told mother that my father was leaving on account of the charge of intimacy with a girl. We had some intention of going to Bruges. Before my father signed an averment that he was not guilty of the criminal charge, I had not heard that an opinion had been expressed that there was no evidence to support the charge.
          Re-examined – I had not noticed any falling off in the congregation, and I am quite sure that before Mr. Barnwell called, I had heard no rumours. What defendant said was that Mary Bodkin had looked into the library to announce some commnicant, and had seen my father and James Wilkins in some immoral position.
          The Attorney-General then proceeded to open the defence. The defence, he said, would be that the letters he wrote to Admiral Chads were privileged. That would be a question for the jury under the direction of his lordship. If not privileged, then defendant would maintain that the charges were true. Mr. Barnwell had obtained a promise from the plaintiff that he would retire from the vicarage by resignation. He found that Mr. Chamberline would not resign, and so he wrote the letters to a relative of the plaintiff in order to induce him to act and avoid scandal.
          The Lord Chief Justice was clearly of opinion that there was no privilege. The defendant could merely be regarded as one of the public.
          The Attorney-General then proceeded with his opening on the facts, detailing the evidence he would introduce to sustain the charges as founded in fact. He said that the defendant had not intruded in the affair wantonly, for he had long been a friend of the Chamberlaine family and had officiated in Mr. Chamberlaine's church.
          The Court adjourned until Friday. (Bristol Mercury and Daily Post)

21 February 1879


In the Queen's Bench division of the High Court of Justice, on Wednesday, the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was heard by the Lord Chief Justice and a special jury. The plaintiff is the Rev. William Henry Chamberlaine, and the defendant, who is nephew of the plaintiff, is the Rev. E. L. Barnwell. The action is brought to recover damagers, laid at 10,000, for libel. Defendant admitted the writing of the lbel, but denied the malicious purpose imputed, and stated the according to his belief, after full investigation, the statements he made were true in substance and fact.
          The statement of claim set forth that the plaintiff was a clerk in holy orders, and vicar, since the year 1840, of the parish of Keevil, in the county of Wilts. The defendant, who is also a clerk in holy orders, resides at Melksham, and has no cure of souls. It adds that in October, 1877, the defendant falsely and maliciously wrote to plaintiff's nephew, Admiral Chads, and to other persons, letters containing documents, making charges of immoral conduct against the plaintiff, consisting of acts of gross indecency committed towards various young women and young men, his parishioners; also stating that the police were watching the movements of the plaintiff, and that the chief constable had in his possession reports as to his proceedings; . . .
          . . . One of the allegations made by the defendant was that a woman named Orchard was the plaintiff's mistress. . . . Particulars were called for by the plaintiff after the action was commenced, and were furnished by the defendant. They stated that the police had been watching the plaintiff, and that the defendant had had interviews with the chief-constable of police, and with the bishop on the subject of the charges against the plaintiff in October, 1877; that various acts would be relied on as acts of horrible depravity, going on for some years. The first charge was an act of gross indecency towards a girl of 15 or 16 years of age, in June, 1876, and another in the summer of the same year; a similar act as occurring in June and July, 1877, the plaintiff having made signals to Elizabeth Orchard before proceeding to the place where they occurred; that notwithstanding these proceedings the plaintiff presented Elizabeth Orchard for confirmation in June, 1877; that he was guilty of indiscreet conduct by going and staying with Mrs Orchard for a long time upstairs in her husband's house; that on one occasion, in the summer of 1877, the plaintiff improperly tried to detain a young girl named Agnes Griffin in a shrubbery, after she had been to the vicarage on business, standing in front of her and barring her road. Plaintiff was further charged with acts of repeated and gross indecency towards young men, who were named, and also towards two young women mentioned, some occurring "seven or eight years ago," "four years ago," "six years ago," and "four ro six years ago," and on "various occasions from 1870 to 1875," sometimes at the vicarage, sometimes in the grounds of the vicarage, and at other places, principally in the homes of the parties named.
          . . . Sir Henry James said the plaintiff was 68 years of age, and since the year 1840 had been vicar of his parish of Keevil, in the county of Wilts. He had long been married, and his family consisted of his wife and seven children. The defendant seemed to have come to the determination that the plaintiff should resign his living or should be deprived of it. With this view he set persons to watch the proceedings of the plaintiff, his object being, if possible, to detect him in something which he could allege against him, and the result was that on insufficient and false evidence the charges now made, and for which there was no foundation, were brought forward. . . .
          (South Wales Daily News)

22 February 1879

The libel case of Chamberlain v. Barnwell was resumed yesterday, in the Queen's Bench Division. It will be remembered that the action is brought by the incumbent of Keevil against the Rev. E. L. Barnwell, of Melksham, and is founded onc ertian letters writtenby the latter. Evidence was heard yesterday on behalf of the defence.
         Mary Bodmin, examined by Mr. Collins, Q.C., said – I am the wife of George Bodmin, a labourer, living at Keevil. Before marriage I lived at plaintiff's house as chambermaid. Was with the family four years. Some months after I was there I went to the library, and saw there Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. James Wilkins. They were close to the fire and close to each other, face to face. Noticed that their trousers were disarranged. I said to Mr. Chamberlain that some one was waiting to see him. I came out of the room as quickly as I could, and shut the door.
         By the Lord Chief Justice – I continued in the service of Mr. Chamberlain some years after that.
         Cross-examined by Sir Henry James – I left the service to be married. Had no quarrel with my master or mistress. Wilkins was a clerk at Keevil. He came to the house in the evenings to be prepared for confirmation. Two other young men were waiting to be confirmed that evening. Mr. Chamberlain knew that I always went in without knocking.
         By a Juror – I told my fellow-servants what I saw.
         Mary Jane Jordan – Am 25 years of age. Some years ago my father held a piece of allotment ground at Keevil. Have met Mr. Chamberlaine when going home. Remember whatn 16 years of age going with my father's dinner. Met complainant in a lane. He said he was going to Steeple Ashton, and walked with me. He kept pinching my arm, and also put his hand upon my person. It was a habit of his, he said, to do so. I pushed him away, and walked on fast. He called at my father's one day when I was alone. I was very ill. Witness went on to depose to a number of immodest actions which followed.
         In cross-examination, witness stated that she continued to go to church, and that she was afterwards prepared for confirmation by the plaintiff. She told her mother of the circumstances she had described. Was not in Colonel Wallingford's service.
         By the Lord Chief Justice – Told Colonel Wallingford's father about these things last year. Plaintiff and he were not bad friends then. Knew the Colonel is defendant in another action by plaintiff.
         Cross-examined – My mother never complained to plaintiff of his conduct to me.
         Job Chapel – I have been a police-constable at Keevil since 1870. Remember in the summer of 1876 two old cottages of plaintiff's being pulled down. Elizabeth Orchard was employed to clear away the rubbish. Have seen the plaintiff there most days when it was fine. A cottage close by also belonging to plaintiff was fitted up as a schoolmistress's house. It was empty from Lady-day, 1876, until about New Year's-day, 1877. Elizabeth Orchard was occasionally employed there to light fires. She went there almost every day. Have seen plaintiff go there when Elizabeth Orchard was in the hosue. In October I made a report to my superior, and also to Colonel Wallingford, and therefore I was instrudted to watch Mr. Chamberlaine's house. Saw him make signals to Elizabeth Orcharge in 1877 from the drive of his own house, and she went round into her father's carpenter shop, and then plaintiff went round to the place, and was there several minutes. Have seen him go to her father's house when she was alone. Have seen him go three or four times a-day. Have also seen him go to Mrs. Gilbert's when Elizabeth Orchard was there. Watched from 1876 until 1877.
         In cross-examination witness admitted that he had been desirous of getting some allotment ground, but he only spoke to the postman about it, and not to the plaintiff. Never said of plaintiff that he would get him "into it" for he had been no good to him ever since the wine job. Told Col. Wallingford of his own accord of what he had seen. Reported to him because he is a magistrates of the districts. Also reported to the superintendent.
         Samuel Woodman, deputy chief constable for Wilts and superintendent of the division in which Keevil is situate, deposed to having received information from the last witness. Also received a statement from London from one Scratchley (put in and identified). Made inquiries as to Mr. Chamberlain's conduct, and heard of alleged misconduct with both sexes. Informed Col. Wallingford, Mr. Barnwell, and others of the result. The witness's cross-examination brought out nothing of importance.
         Captain Sterne, Chief Constable of Wilts – In October, 1877, I heard rumours about plaintiff, and gave instructions to my deputy. A watch was kept, and reports made to me. Mr. Barnwell is a personal friend. In the latter part of June, 1877, I was visiting at Mr. Barnwell's, and had a conversation with him on the subject. The information in my possession then was not of such a nture that I should have been justified in instituting criminal proceedings. I consulted with Mr. Barnwell as to how a public scandal could be avoided.
         The Lord Chief Justice – I apprehend that this was wholly beyond the scope of his authority. The Chief Constable is not the guardian of the public morals.
         Mr. Pitt Lewis – I want to prove that defendant did not write the libel out of his head.
         The Lord Chief Justice – In that sense I will allow it.
         Witness – I supplied copies of the statements made by Scratchley and Mary Bodmin, and Mr. Barnwel lundertook, as one of the clergy, to avert a public scandal.
         Cross-examined – Have been living where I am for nine years. Have visited Mr. Chamberlaine, and have dined at his house once or twice.
         Lord Chief Justice – Is it any part of a chief-constable's business to prevent exposure when the exposure is the necessary result of misconduct? What was the exposure? Was it with a male or with a female?
         Captain Sterne – It was with a male.
         Lord Chief Justice – But you say you could not prove that, and how would there be exposure unless you brought it to trial?
         The witness did not answer.
         Sarah Blake, wife of a farmer near Keevil – Before marriage my name was Sarah Puckeridge. Remember an occasion when plaikntiff came to my father's house. I was 14 or 15. I opened the door for him, and showed him into the drawing-room. We talked for bout ten minutes on different subjects – I don't know what – and then he kissed and tried to behave improperly. (Witness entered into particulars.) I ran away from the room. When I saw mamma I told her of it.
         Cross-examined – I am now six and twenty. Mamma was not in the house at the time.
         Did Mr. Chamberlain officiate at your marriage? – He only assisted. He would not allow the curate to marry me.
         Catherine Puckeridge, of Bulkington, mother of the preceding witness – I remember my daughter making a communicationn to me ten or eleven years ago. Mr. Chamberlaine called after Sarah had made the communiction, and asked that she should be allowed to help to trim the church. I said she should not go. I refused in consequence of the communication.
         Worthy Scratchley – Am living at Croydon. Some years ago I was living at Keevil, where I was brought up. Four years ago I was in the service of Mr. Chamberlaine. Remember on one occasion wheeling a barrow when Mr. Chamberlaine made an indecent action with a rake. A week afterwards in the shrubbery (the witness then proceeded to describe an unnatural offence, which he swore was committed afterwards three or four times a week in various places). Witness was then 16. The offences went on for two years. Witness complained to his mother, when plaintiff gave him a suit of clothes and raised his wages. Had seen a similar offence committed by plaintiff and a person named Jordan in the orchard.
         In cross-examination, witness said he told his mother because people began to talk. The offence did not occur again after that.
         Lord Chief Justice – Whom did you first mention it to? – I told others in the village. Other young men told me and I told them (sensation).
         Sir Henry James – Will you swear you mentioned this to Samuel Ludlow and Ben White? Witness – I do. It was before I said something to my mother. They said plaintiff had acted similarly towards them. Did not tell my mother about Jordan. (Letters from witness to Mr. Chamberlaine were read, showing that Scratchley was grateful to his former employer for giving him a character. The letters had been written by a young lady at dictation. It was after writing these letters that I made my statement.
         Mary Scratchley, mother of the preceding witness, deposed – One day my son came home troubled, and said he could bear to see his master burned. I went to see Mr. Chamberlaine, and asked what it was between my son and him. He said, "It was all right this morning." She said it was far from right. He said, "All right; I'll see Worthy." Two days afterwards he said, "It is all right: I have seen Worthy, and I will raise his wages and give him a suit of clothes." Her son stayed in the vicarage two years after that.
         Cross-examined – He did not tell me what was the matter.
         The Lord Chief Justice – What were your thoughts?
         Witness – I had heard what people said.
         James Orchard was then called, and testified to similar offences.
         The case had not concluded when the court rose. (Bristol Mercury)

24 February 1879

(Before the Lord Chief Justice and a Special Jury.)
CHAMBERLAINE v. BARNWELL. – This extraordinary action for libel was resumed on Saturday, with all the counsel who are engaged present. The further examination of witnesses for the defence was proceeded with.
         Luke Orchard, re-called for cross-examination – After Mr. Chamberlaine had left Keevil I had a conversation with Mr. Wiltshire. He said to me, "I hear you are mixed up wiht the affair." I said I was. I did not say to him that the stories had nothing in them, and that those who had circulated them would be sorry. The names of other persons were mentioned with whom witness had had conversations. He staedfastly denied that he had even said he believed there was nothing in the charges. He been told on one occasion that if he had rung the peal of bells Colonel Wallington would have turned him out of his house.
         William Salter, examined by the Attorney-General – I was a gentleman's servant, but at present am out of employment. Remember working as a carpenter at Keevil and attending the night school there. Mr.. Chamberlaine told me that any time I liked to come to his house he would give me further instruction. I went to his house in the evenings, and saw him in the study. I went there three times. The first occasion I was sitting in the study reading. I went three times, but on consequence of Mr. Chamberlaine's conduct to me I ceased to go.
         Cross-examined – was in the service of Mr. Clarke, the gentleman who is solicitor for defendant, two years. That is about nine years ago. Was then in the service of Mrs. Kendrick, sister of Mrs. Chamberlaine, seven years, and in her service I broke my knee. Not long ago Mr. Clarke came to me and asked me about this. Mentioned what had occurred to me to others. Have mentioned it to Worthy Scratchley. I knowWilliam Gale, but I never said to him that nothing had occurred between Mr. Chamberlaine and me. I do not remember his saying, "You are going to London; what are you going to say?" I did not say to him, "Well, they have acted nasty with me and I will act nasty with them."
         Lord Chief Justice – Had you any different with Mrs. Kendrick?
         Witness – No. I would not say that Mr. Chamberlaine had always treated me well, and that I would not believe the stories against him. Know John White and Henry Foote. Did not tell them Colonel Wallington had been to me two or three times, and that I thought I would go against Mr. Chamberlaine. witness denied other portions of a conversation read to him, and added that he had seen Col. Wallington at Mr. Clarke's office.
         Emma Burgess, wife of Charles Burgess, residing at Keevil, said – My house is close to that of John Orchard. Have seen Mr. Chamberlaine going to the house – sometimes more and sometimes less – four or five times a-day. At times he would go indoors, and at times he would go into the garden and walk about. The house where the schoolmistress was is close to the garden. Have seen Mr. Chamberlaine go there. Elizabeth Orchard would go in before him. she was there cleaning. I have not observed Mr. Chamberlaine go to the house immediatelya fter Elizabeth Orchard. He has been in the house as long as twenty minutes. I have seen Elizabeth orchard cross the ditch at the place, and Mr. Chamberlaine had her over. They would then go into the new school-house. The little brother of Elizabeth Orchard was in the house at the time of the visits, and sometimes there were others. The visits lasted during a period of two yars.
         Cross-examined – I have a daughter, who went with Elizabeth Orchard to Mr. Chamberlaine's to be prepared for confirmation. It was in 1876 I first saw Mr. Chamberlaine go to Orchard's house. My daughter is 18 years of age now. She is three months younger than Elizabeth Orchard. I did not know what was gong on, but I thought there was something wrong.
         Sir Henry James – Why did you not warn the father or mother?
         Witness – The father and mother are as bad as she. I continued on friendly terms.
         The Lord Chief Justice – Let me understand you. Do you mean to say that the father and mother meant their daughter to be seduced by this old gentleman?
         Witness – I don't know. the mother was as bad as she was.
         The Lord Chief Justice – What do you mean by bad? You are speaking of a neighbour.
         Witness – She had a man there.
         . . . John Watts – I live at Henley-on-Thames. In 1861 I was farming at Keevil. I was out one night in an orchard during the apple season. The orchard adjoined the vicarage. Heard parties both walking and talking in the vicarage grounds. I head a female say she would not. Then I heard a rustle and a tustle, and I walked across and looked over the bank and saw plaintiff (his name was then Cook [actually, his name was Pooke, until he took the name Chamberlaine by royal licence in 1872]) and the female on the ground. I said, "Hallo! what are you about here?" The plaintiff looked up at me, but never spoke. I saw the female go into the vicarage, and then the plaintiff walked round the house and entered also. The woman was nursemaid at the vicarage.
         . . . The Rev. E. L. Barnwell, examined by the Attorney-General – I live at Melksham, but have no cure of souls. I have known Mr. Chamberlaine since the latter part of 1866 or 1867. That was the time I went to Melksham. I have known him intimately so far as society goes. I had an interview with the Chief Constable, and in consequence of what passed with him and others I went to the vicarage of Keevil, and saw Mr. Chamberlaine. I had with me some documents. He came out to me in his cheerful manner. I locked the door of the library, and said, "I have come here on a very disagreeable business; I have come as your friend, on account of certain reports." He then gesticulated in an excited manner up and down the room, saying, "Infamous lies," "falsehood," and similar terms. I then said "I have not come here as your judge, but if you will sit down and hear what statements by the police I have about me, I will read them." Mr. Chamberlaine sat down, and I read them. I read first of all the statement of Scratchley's, one of his mother, one of Mary Bodmin, and the report of the constable Chappell. I read slowly and sitinctly, occasionally watching the effect on Mr. Chamberlaine. I have not the least doubt Mr. Chamberlaine heard and understood all. He never said a word, but by the time I had finished his face had turned deadly pale, and he sat in silence two or three seconds. He then said, "Good God, Barnwell, what shall I do; what do you advise?" I said, "There is only one course open for you. You must never set your foot in the church again; leave the parish as soon as you can for some quiet place elsewhere in England or abroad. Apply to the bishop of a license of non-residence for one year, and at the conclusion find yourself too unwell to continue vicar of Keevil." On which he said "Shall I resign at once," and a I said, "No, ecause it will cause more excitement." He then aroe from his chair and said, "It is not true about Scratchley, and I can prove it, because I have a ltter in my pocket from him,w ritten in the most affectionate terms;" and he offered to read it. I said, "No, if it is affectionate it would rather go against you than for you in my opinion." He put the letter back again. I said, "There is one thing that is most important. We must keep it as private as possible from your wife and daughters, and you must arrange some plan to satisfy them and account for your sudden retreat."
         . . . Witness resumed his testimony, and acknowledge writing the letter complained of as libellous. Mr. Chamberlaine did not answer the ultimatum. . . .
         The Lord Chief Justice – What had you to do with it?
         Witness – I wrote as a friend. . . .
         The Lord Chief Justice – And you went to him as a friend.
         Witness – I bleieve Mr. Chamberlaine thought the charge could be supported. He did not know what the crime was. I thought he believed himself guilty from his turning deadly pale. I did not think myuself bound to tell plaintiff his accuser. . . . Wallington was the accuser. . . . Long before July 4th I had heard of a young man attempting to extort money. Mr. Chamberlaine paid a fine for a young man who had killed a hare, I came to the conclusion that there had been indecent conduct. I forgot who told me about the payment of the fine. Perhaps it was an inaccuracy to say in my letter that unless he resigned at once the proceedings would be taken up by the police. I meant I should hand the matter over to the police again, as I had taken it out of their hands.
         The Lord Chief Justice – Who told you they would take proceedings? It is a most serious charge to make against the police that if these matters were going on, they would assist you and you them in compromising a criminal charge.
         Witness – Well, it was rather inaccurate.
         Sir Henry James – It was an untruth.
         Witness – I did not then know that the police would not take proceedings.
         The Lord Chief Justice – But you knew that they would.
         After a brief re-examination by the Attorney-General,
         His lordship asked what right did witness suppose he had to send an ultimatum or what he called an ultimatum?
         Witness – I acted as a friend, and he accepted my services. The witness explained that he was not aware of the real nature of what would constitute a criminal offence.
         The case was then adjourned until Monday. (Bristol Mercury)

25 February 1879

The trial of this action was resumed yesterday [Monday], with still a great amount of interest shown in its progress.
         Colonel J. W. Wallington, who is defendant on one of the three actions brought by plaintiff, was called, and deposed . . . In October, 1876, I first heard these rumours about the Rev. Mr. Chamberlaine, and in December of that year I heard other rumours. In March, 1877, I consulted a clergyman relative thereto. Received information from Chappell. At the request of the Chief Cosntable I saw Mr. Barnwell, and arranged with him that he should see Mr. Chamberlaine. . . .
         James Wilkins, labourer, 25 years of age, said – I was at Keevil seven years. The Rev. Mr. Chamberlaine prepared me for confirmation. He never behaved indecently to me. (Witness, on being questioned minutely, denied positively that there was any truth in the accusation preferred by Mary Bodmin.) She used to open the door sometimes while I was learning my catechism. . . .She came in only once. First heard 12 months afterwards that Mary Bodmin had said this about me. Never said to anyone "Let us have another quart; I have had another shilling out of old Billy to-night."
         . . . Elizabeth Anne Orchard – At any time or under any circumstances has plaintiff taken any liberties with you? – No, Sir, never. He has never been guilty of indecent conduct towards me, I swear that. . . .
[In fact everyone involved denied that Mr. Chamberlaine ever acted indecently towards them.] (Bristol Mercury)

Thursday, 27 February 1879

(Before the Lord Chief Justice and a Special Jury.)
The Lord Chief Justice, upon the opening of the court yesterday morning, proceeded to sum up in this extraordinary libel case. He said – Much as I approve of the proceedings of courts of justice being conducted in public, I should have been glad if this case could have been conducted with closed doors. It is a case that will do rather more harm than good by being given publicity to. That the libels are of a most serious nature, no one can for a moment doubt. They impute to a man of advanced years, a minister of religion, the most unscrupulous familiarities with reference to the young females of his parish, and they impute to him unnatural and foul gratifications with young men. I cannot conceive of graver charges. The Attorney-General, at the outset of the defence, said that the communications on which this action is founded were privileged. As I stated my opinion to be at the time, that contention cannot for a moment be entertained. It is quite true that however vigilant and anxious the law and those who represent it are to uphold private character, yet when a man has a duty to perform in making a communication, and from a sense of that duty makes statements which are not well founded, the law protects him. But there was no duty incumbent upon the defendant [i.e. Barnwell] to meddle in the affairs of the plaintiff [i.e. Chamberlaine], still less was there any occasion for him to write these letters; and, therefore, there is no pretence that these communications, libellous as they are, are privileged. It is not unimportant at the outset of the case to look a little at the history of these proceedings. There can be no doubt that, whether well founded or ill-founded, reports disparaging to the character of the rev. plaintiff had become rife in the parish, so that Colonel Wallington, a resident of the parish, and a magistrate and gentleman of position, felt that it was necessary to take some action. Whether these rumours had been aggravated by the officious zeal of the policeman Chappell I do not stop to inquire now; but they were rife, and so rife that it really could very well be assumed by Colonel Wallington to be his duty to the parish in which he resided to ask for the intervention of the Bishop with a view to see whether those reports, so fatal to the character of a clergyman, were true. The policeman keeps a vigilant look out, but appears that he discovered nothing which could have made the matter one for police intervention. Nevertheless, in October, 1876, we find him giving to the Deputy Chief Constable the reports of different things which he himself had observed, and Mr. Woodburn comes over to Keevil in the month of December. He sees Colonel Wallington, whose mind, I have no doubt, at that time was easily imbued with the belief, not only of the existence of these reports but in acts of impropriety on the part of the clergyman, and he (Mr. Woodburn) is impressed with the necessity of watching the plaintiff to see whether these reports of his conduct with young men and young women were true. Then he instructs the policeman, the policeman is by authority directed to watch, and he does, but he discovers nothing more than he did before – that is, that it could not be made a question for the intervention of the police or the police-courts, and so the matter stood until the spring of 1877. In the meantime the police appear to have put themselves in communication with the police of London, and the story of the conduct of Mr. Chamberlaine with the boy Scratchley had of course gone round in the village and was known. One can easily understand that a matter of that sort once talked about would become a matter of considerable notoriety. However, the local police put themselves in communication with the London police, and the London police go to see Scratchley, and his statement is sent down to Captain Sterne, the Chief Constable. The chief and his deputy, upon seeing it, come to the conclusion that it won't do to support the criminal charge. There certainly was no offence from the criminal point of view upon which proceedings could be taken, nothing to constitute the grave criminal charge of sodomy. They also thought that the charge could not be construed into one of indecent assault, Scratchley being a consenting party. Nevertheless it made them more desirous of getting rid of this clergyman. It was not only a scandal that this should go on, but was monstrous, being a desecration of the sacred rights of office. Col. Wallington had applied to the bishop, and he did so again when Scratchley's statement was received, but the bishop declined to interfere. It is perfectly true that the Church Discipline Act limits the time within which proceedings under the ecclesiastical law can be instituted to two yars, but whether the bishop thought the case too old or thought that the evidence was weak does not appear; certainly he did not interfere. But there was cause of great anxiety, naturally enough, to get rid of this man if the charges were true, but then how was it to be done? Capt. Sterne was in constant communication with the magistrates and knew the grievance under which Col. Wallington and others suffered. Accordingly, we find that they look around for somebody to put himself in personal communication with the clergyman and endeavour to get rid of him in that way. The defendant tells us that he acted when no other clergyman would. No sooner does Capt. Sterne mention the matter than the defendant snatches, as it were, at this golden opportunity of distinguishing himself, and he says, "Give me Scratchley's statement; give me the police reports; I will go to him; I will soon put the matter to him;" and in that spirit he appears to have gone to him. As I said before it was no business of his. If the bishop did not think proper to interfere, it certainly formed no part of defendant's business to interfere. At that time defendant must have known that the police did not intend to interfere at all. At that time the police were of opinion that from all the information they had there was no case to warrant any proceedings of a criminal nature, and I think it very much to be lamented that a gentleman of defendant's position should have again and again repeated that the action of the police was deferred by his intervention, and that it would be prevented from being put in practical operation by plaintiff resigning his living. The whole of that statement is neither more nor less than untrue. The plaintiff was in the first place staggered by this information that Scratchley had made this statement, and that there were all these reports against him, and he agreed to resign his living. the plaintiff gave heed to the earnest pressing advice of defendant, and agreed to apply to the lord bishop for twelve months' license of non-residence, and at the end of that time he agreed, according to defendant's account, to resign the living. Then the defendant sees the son, and the son suggests – "Let me go out into the village, and see whether there is any foundation for these reports, and then I will advise my father." And the defendant says, "No, do not do that – the great object is secrecy." "Let me consult a lawyer, then?" "Oh, no, no. let him go away, and resign." Well, as I said, plaintiff consents to get a license for twelve months' non-residence from the bishop, and at the end of that time to resign. But when the twelve months have expired, he changes his opinion, and he resolves not to resign, and he comes back to his parish, and resumes his functions as minister. Defendant hears of it, and he is indignant that, after all the trouble he has taken to carry out the purpose of getting plaintiff out of his parish, the arrangement is likely to break down, and then he sits down and writes these two letters which form the subject of the present action. Why should he have written them? What business had he further to interfere? Suppose his business was in the first instance the honest motive of desiring to relieve the parish from being burthened with a minister of that character, he might have left the rest to the parishioners or the bishop. But no, he must interfere again, and he then writes these two letters. He would be entitled to say of his own exertions, "I interfered with a good motive; I thought it desirable for the sake orf the Church and parish that he should be got rid of, and I used my utmost ifluence to induce him to resign." But why should he write these letters? I should think that, if he had become aware that other clergymen had been applied to to interfere but had declined, this should have made him more cautious in interfering, but there are persons, you know, who lack discretion, and whose zeal outruns their discretion; there are busybodies who seek to make themselves of importance and interfere where persons of sound judgment think it more wise to avoid interference. The Lord Chief Justice then read the libels, and said the statement about Captain Sterne was wholly destitute of foundation. The police were aware that they could not act; they had not the remotest intention of interfering, and if that were so, it was a gross misstatement. In the ultimatum he again put the matter before the plaintiff upon the footing of his intervention having stayed the hands of the police, and says the police would immediately proceed to action unless plaintiff subscribed to defendant's terms. I cannot help thinking that that was a statement which defendant ought not to have made, and, looking at it as a whole, his conduct in the matter is characterised by most lamentable indiscretion – in the first place by interfering in a matter that did not concern him, and in the second place in the conduct of the affair. But you must not allow that to influence your minds in the determination of the issue, for great as you may think his indiscretion, great as you may think his want of judgment, he is entitled, like any other man against whom an action of libel is brought, to defend himself in court, not that he was merely justified in making the statements, but that that which he has said is true, for the law of this country does not allow a man to ask for damages for an assault made upon his character if he himself has done that which his action assumes. Therefore, however indiscreet the defendant may have been, if he establishes that these charges are true, he is entitled to your verdict. The charges divide under two heads – the improprieties with women, and those horrible and unnatural propensities, under the influence of which and under the infatuation of which the defendant alleges that plaintiff committed those beastly acts with young men. His lordship intimated that the jury would, if they thought so found, be able to separate their verdict and return separate findings. Having analysed the evidence in an exceedingly clear manner, he said – The case for defendant has to be made out in point of fact to establish his case. He is entitled to take your verdict if he satisfies your mind that these things are true. This, however, is not a case in which a particular charge is brought forward by a single individual. A single individual may be tempted by malevolence or some other senseless motive to bring forward some unfounded charge, but here you have a number of persons all coming forward and speaking of the same tendency and almost of the same conduct, and unless you believe these persons to be perjured, the matters of which they speak make out the case which the defendant sets up. It may be said that you ought not to believe them when they come forward to make their statements, but then what motive can we suppose to actuate them in thus coming forward with statements of this description. Is there some foul diabolical plot to crush and overwhelm this unfortunate gentleman by proof of acts such as these? If so, who is the mover? Can you bring your minds to believe that those persons have banded together in a foul conspiracy and come forward and upon their oath in an open court of justice, as regards many of them to their shame, made these statements? If you think so, if you think that defendant's witnesses have been suborned to give this false testimony, or if you think that, from partisan spirits, as has been suggested, they came forward to state things which are pure exaggerations, wholly unfounded, or, at all events, mere exaggerations, then it is for you to judge. It is for you, and you alone, to judge of the evidence which has been adduced on the part of defendant to establish these charges, and if defendant fails to satisfy you of the truth of these charges, the plaintiff is entitled to your verdict. There can be no doubt that these charges are of a most serious character, but I do not think it would be just to visit upon defendant, if you find against him, the responsibility in damages, for all that has been said and done to the prejudice of plaintiff's character. He has only taken up the story, and did not originate it, and it is not right he alone should be visited with the entire consequences of the injury which results from common action.
          The jury retired at noon, and, after an absence of one hour and ten minutes, they returned with a verdict for plaintiff – damages 50.
          The verdict was received without any manifestation. (Bristol Mercury and Daily Post)

Wednesday, 21 May 1879

CHAMBERLAIN v. BARNWELL. – The hearing of the rule for a new trial in this case was resumed, it being an action by the Rev. W. H. Chamberlaine, vicar of Keevil, in Wiltshire, against the Rev. E. L. Barnwell, of Melksham, to recover damages for alleged libel, a verdict with 50 damages having been returned in favour of the plaintiff at the investigation before the Lord Chief Justice of England.
          . . . Sir H. James continued his argument against the rule, remarking that what might be regarded as the crucial point in the case was the charge against the plaintiff with respect to the Orchard family. . . .
          Lord Coleridge thought the learned counsel need not labour this branch of the case. What pressed upon his mind was the extremely unsatisfactory evidence of the plaintiff himself. If the plaintiff had been before the jury the court might not interfere, even although they might not have arrived at quite the same conclusion. Grave doubts had been thrown upon the testimony of Chapple, and the jury appeared to have preferred to believe the evidence of the girl. What he had now said did not apply to the boy cases.
          . . . Lord Coleridge – The plaintiff was a clergyman and a man of education, and he knew the charges that were brought against him. Bearing that in mind, I am bound to say that anything more unsatisfactory than his cross-examination I have seldom read. The question for the jury was whether defendant established the charges which he undertook to substantiate, and as to that the cross-examination must be dealt with as at least open to the suggestion of being that of a guilty man.
          . . . Mr. Clark: . . . All the charges that could possibly be collected against this clergyman were before the jury and investigated, and it would be hard if justice were to be denied him becasue of his inability ot enter the witness-box. It would be placing his life in absolute danger if he did attend the court, so great was the strain which this case had had upon him. It was not suggested that if a new trial were granted it would be possible to produce additional evidence. . . . I submit that your lordship ought not to disturb the verdict. . . .
          The Attorney-General supported the rule. He did not deny that the question was essentially for the jury, but it was quite possible for a jury to do wrong, and he submitted that in this instance they did not come to a correct conclusion. He asked for a new trial on the ground that the jury had not appreciated the evidence, either because they were prejudiced or because they had not the capacity to appreciate it (laughter). The evidence of the plaintiff himself was the most damning portion of his case. The jury were evidently prejudiced against the defendant, regarding him as a busybody, but he believed that seven persons out of every ten would have acted in precisely the same manner as the defendant had done. The Lord Chief Justice himself said there was no reason to doubt Mr. Barnwell's description of what occurred when the charge of criminality was first brought to the plaintiff's notice, and the conduct on the plaintiff on that occasion was indicative more of guilt than of innocence. Mr. Chamberlaine at once made arrangements to leave the vicarage, and by the end of the week had actually gone, intending to reside either in France or Beligum. In his absence he wrote letters full of contrition to the defendant, but those letters the defendant destroyed in order to prevent their falling into the hands of other people, in the event of anything happening to him. Why shoudl the plaintiff have gone away if he had been innocent? Why, too, should he have written the contrite letters to the defendant? In his evidence he did not suggest that he did not write those letters to the defendant. The plaintiff's last explanation was that he went away for the benefit of his health and nothing else. Was that true? It clearly was not. And, being untrue, what did the court think of the plaintiff's conduct? It was obvious from the correspondence which had been put in that the plaintiff contemplated remaining away and resigning the living at the end of a year. Bearing in mind the evidence of the defedant, was that consistent with the plaintiff's innocence?
          The learned counsel had not concluded his argument at the rising of the court. (Bristol Mercury)

22 May 1879

The hearing of the rule for a new trial in this case was again resumed . . .
          The Attorney-General, in continuing his argument in support of the rule, adverted to the document in which the plaintiff denied that he had ever acknowledged having been guilty of a criminal offence to any one. The defendant replied that he was surprised the plaintiff should dream of returning to Keevil, as his unnatural coduct had been the case of scandal in the neighbourhood for years past, and the Bishop had consented to grant a license of non-residence of twelve months on the distinct understanding that the plaintiff should resign the living at the end of that period. The plaintiff's declaration was an extraordinary one to make at such a time and under such circumstances, and it was evidently done with a certain object. He vouchsafed no answer, however, to the defendant's reply, which appeared to terminate the correspondence between the parties. Was the omission of the plaintiff to take any notice of the defendant's letter the act of an innocent man? Would not an innocent man at once have indignantly denied that he had ever agreed to resign, and that he had been guilty of unnatural conduct? This phase in the plaintiff's conduct ought to have been considered, but it did not receive adequate consideraiton at the trial, for although counsel commented upon it the Lord Chief Justice passed it over in silence. he could not help thinking that if the learned judge had drawn the attention of the jury to this the result of the trial would have been very different from what it was. When the plaintiff brought his action a very considerable body of evience was forthcoming, and it came from such a variety of independent sources that it could scarcely be accounted for except on the supposition that the inhabitants of Keevil were steeped in wickedness. He could not conceive why the plaintiff did not make up his mind to come into court and face his accusers, for, although he did not seem to be in the best of health, he gave his evidence before the commission very composedly and bore the brunt of a severe cross-examination.
          Mr. Justice Denman said that several acts of gross impropriety were alleged, but he could not discover that in any one of the cases anything like corroborative evidence had been produced. Indeed, in some instances the statements on one side were positively contradicted by those on the other, thus very properly making the matter one for the jury. It might be urged that there was great difficulty in producing corroborative testimony in a trial of this sort, but he should have thought that in some one or more of the cases it would have been possible to present decided evidence of corroboration.
          The Attorney-General agreed that the difficulty of obtaining corroborative evidence was very great in a case of this description, the witnesses being naturally very reluctant to come forward and disclose their own degradation. But he contended that in numerous cases there were strong elements of corroboration. In Wilkins's case, for example, the story of Mary Bodman was corroborated in a measure by the fact that Wilkins, a young man, obtained an allotment, although the allotments were generally reserved for married people. It was inconceivable that Mary Bodman should have come into court and committed foul perjury. Worthy Scratchley voluntarily made a statement, which was very much against himself, and was in a great degree substantiated by the evidence of his mother, who showed that the vicar fulfilled his promise of giving her son a new suit of clothes and raising his wages. It was not surprising that the other side declined to call Henry Jordan as a witness, notwithstanding that he was within the precincts of the court during the trial. Scratchley's evidence as to the impropriety of the plaintiff with Jordan was very conclusive, and it would be remembered that Jordan was the man who stole two bottles of the vicar's wine, was prosecuted by the police, and actually defended at the expense of the vicar himself. That was a thing which the plaintiff would assuredly not have done without a motive. His cross-examination on this point was a shameful piece of fencing, but it was all to no purpose, as he was obliged finally to admit that he paid the lawyer's bill. Assuming that it was shown the plaintiff had been guilty of indecency towards Jordan, the jury were not justified in finding the verdict they did. Taking the evidence altogether – having regard for that which was corroborated as well as that which was not – a formidable indictment was raised against the plaintiff. It was upon the evidence of Mr. Chjamberlaine himself, however, that he mainly relied. Could anybody account for the conduct of the plaintiff – his quitting the vicarage, his consenting to exile himself, and his receiving letters from the defendant without the assumption that he knew he was quitting, and did not dare to face an inquiry. No more shameful evidence was ever given than that of the plaintiff, who, in spite of being a clergyman, fenced in the most disgraceful manner, and over and over again made statements which it was quite obvious must have been untrue. Sir. H. James had plaintively entreated the court not to order a new trial, because the repetition of the details of the case in a court of justice and their re-publication in the press would be an injury to public morals. He did not know why his learned friend should be so solicitous about the morals of the country. If people objected to the details they need not read them; but surely it was much more important that a gross miscarriage of justice should be rectified, and a verdict which was altogether contrary to the evidence set aside, than to avoid running some little risk of injuring public feeling. The defendant had been condemned in damages and costs, and if, as he contended, the verdict was contrary to the evidence, it was only an act of justice that it should be set aside.
          Mr. Collins said he had nothing to add to the full and complete statement of the Attorney-General.
          Their lordships retired more conveniently to deliberate. After an absence of a quarter of an hour,
          Lord Coleridge said the case had been elaborately argued, but at no greater length than its importance, both to the parties and the public, demanded. It was obviously a case in which the court would be most reluctant to interfere. It had been tried by a special jury and before a learned judge of the greatest experience. But he (Lord Coleridge) and his learned brothers had unanimously come to the conclusion that the jury had not fully appreciated and carefully weighed the whole of the evidence, and without going into details as to this or that portion of the evidence which had most influenced their minds, he would merely say that they had firmly arrived at the opinion that there must be a new trial.
          The rule for a new trial was accordingly made absolute. (Bristol Mercury)

6 July 1880

CHAMBERLAIN v. JOHN WARLINGTON AND OTHERS. – Mr. R. I. Smith said that that this was one of several actions of libel brought by the Rev. Mr. Chamberlain, rector of Keevil, in Wiltshiure, against Mr. John Warlington, Mr. Warlington, and Mr. Barnwell. The action of Chamberlain v. Barnwell was tried in the Court of Common Pleas, and a motion for a new trial was granted and confirmed on appeal. Since that order the plaintiff had made an affidavit and applied in Chambers stating the very serious position in which he stood, stating that at all risks he would submit himself at the new trial, and that he was extremely anxious for his own personal character and all connected with it that one or other of the cases should be tried as soon as possible. The application at Chambers was that the case of John Warlington might be put back on the paper.
          . . . The Lord Chief Justice – The Western circuit is not likely to be over so as to allow sufficient time to enable me to try the case.
          . . . After some further conversation, the court ordered that the case of Chamberlain v. J. Warlington be restored to the list and not brought on without further application, and that the case of Chamberlain v. Barnwell be set down with it. (Bristol Mercury)

22 September 1880

Mr. Henry Kisch, on behalf of the vicar of Keevil (The Rev. W. H. Chamberlaine) applied this morning to Lord Coleridge, sitting as Vacation Judge in the court of Vice-Chancellor Malius, to fix a day for the new trial of the action Chamberlaine v. Barnwell.
          . . . Lord Coleridge: Why is the application made now? Should it not come on in the ordinary way?
          . . . Lord Coleridge said he saw no reason for taking the matter out of its ordinary course, and ordered the application to stand over until the 2nd November. (Globe)

12 March 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, yesterday, the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was continued by further evidence being given in support of the defendant's case.
          . . . Mrs. Mary Bodmin, the wife of a gardener in Colonel Wallington's employ, said she was formerly in the employ of the plaintiff as housemaid. She left the plaintiff's service to be married. About six months after she entered the plaintiff's service she one day entered the library without knocking, and saw the plaintiff and James Wilkins standing in an indecent positionn towards each other. She delivered her message, left immediatley, and told her fellow servants. Wilkins had come to the vicarage to be prepared for confirmation.
          In cross-examination, witness said the young men often came to see the plaintiff at other times than when preparing for confirmation. She remembered the library door was locked on one occasion when Worthy Scratchley was in the room. She could not say that she said so at the last trial, but she had spoken of the fact before. She never spoke to the plaintiff's wife about the plaintiff's ill practices with the young men.
          Job Chappell, the police-constable who furnisehd the report, gave evidenc ein support of his written statement, and the case was then adjourned until Monday. (Bristol Mercury)

15 March 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, yesterday, the case of Chamberlain v. Barnwell, which was an action for libel brought by the rector of Keevil against a clergyman residing at Melksham, in Wiltshire, was continued before Justice Field and a special jury, sitting in the Court of Exchequer, at Westminster.
          Job Chappell, a police-constable, who was employed to watch the plaintiff, said, in further examination, that he was instructed to do so in December, 1876, and continued to do so down to the autumn of 1877. In June, 1877, he saw the young man Burgess go to the Vicarage at night, and afterwards he saw Burgess and the plaintiff cross the orchard together and enter a shed. He watched for about a quarter of an hour, but never saw them come out again. On another occasion he saw the plaintiff rapping the palings outside Burgess's house. In May, 1877, he saw the plaintiff go across the orchard about eight o'clock in the evening with the young man Ludlow, enter the shed with him, and remain there for more than ten minutes.
          Cross-examined – Commenced to watch the plaintiff in October, 1876, and did so until the plaintiff left Keevil, in July, 1877. He did not tell anyone he was watching, but reported the fact to Colonel Wallington on the 31st of October, 1876. Sometimes he saw young men in the vicarage grounds wandering among the shrubs, adn the plaintiff met them there. Never saw anything else happen on those occasions. Never went into the plaintiff's grounds except after dark, while going his rounds in the course of his duty, and always watched the plaintiff from outside the premises.
          The private diary of the witness was produced, and entries were read describing indecent behaviour on the part of the plaintiff. Witness, in further cross-examination, said he heard about the plaintiff's misbehaviour with Worthy Scratchley in June, 1871, from different people in the neighbourhood, who were in the habit of talking about it. About that time he saw Scratchley come home crying, and afterwards saw the plaintiff and Mrs. Scratchley talking together. Could not say why he had not entered dates against the different statements in the diary; he had written them within a few days of their occurrence. Spoke to Mrs. Scratchley about the matter, but she refused to tell him anything. When he apprehended the young man Jordan for stealing wine from the vicarage, he understood the plaintiff did not wish to appear against hm. On the way to the police-station Jordan said, "You may as well let me go, as I know old Billy (the plaintirff) will not appear against me, as I can have his gown off him any day, and I can have 20 or 40 from him any time." On one occasion, when in the Beach Arms, Jordan told him it was quite true about the report spread by Jefferies as to the plaintiff's indecent behaviour with him in the study and in the hay loft. He served one subpoena in the present case, and he did so in the performance of his duty as a constable, although it was a court action. Remember seeing plaintiff frequently at Elizabeth orchard's house both by night and day. Did not speak either to her father or mother, because they would only have abused him, but he was sure they knew that something improper was going on between the plaintiff and their daughter.
          . . . The case was again adjourned. (Bristol Mercury)

25 March 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell, an action for libel by the vicar of Keevil against a clergyman at Melksham, was yesterday again before Justice Field and a special jury.
[Much evidence from the previous trial was contradicted, and the case was adjourned.] (Bristol Mercury)

26 March 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, yestereday, the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was again proceeded with, Sir John Holker addressing the jury on ehalf of the defendant. After commenting on the painful nature of the case, and urging the improbability that a wicked conspiracy could have been concocted aainst the plaintiff by persons of respectable character, who had no grudge against him, and towards whom the vicar had been on good terms, asked why should the witnesses for the defence pursue such a course? What could they achieve? What advantage could they attain? The learned counsel then proceeded to sketch the history of the case and to deal specifically with the evidence, and in doing so reminded the jury that it was undoubtedly a fact, although denied by the plaintiff's witnesses, that there had been rumours of the charges against the plaintiff in June, 1870, when Constable Chappell was instructed to watch, and did watch, the plaintiff, and when Capt. Sterne, the chief constable for Wiltshire, and Colonel Wallington, a magistrate, examined into reports in reference to the charges. Cosntable Chappell gave his evidence in support of the charges while the stroke of death was upon him, to which he had since succumbed; Mary Jane Jordan was stated by old Mr. Wallington, who gave his evidence with the most perfect propriety, to have told him of improper acts on the part of plaintiff towards her; Mrs. Blake spoke of specific acts of indecency on the part of the plaintiff, and in that evidence she was confirmed by her father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Puckeridge; and other witnesses had deliberately spoken of specific acts on the part of the plaintiff towards them sometimes to their own condemnation, and those allegations had been met only with a blank denial on the part of the plaintiff himself, supported in some instances by statements which had been themselves contradicted by opposing evidence. It was a kind and generous act of the defendant to come forward and offer his assistance in the painful circumstances detailed before them. If the plaintiff had been innocent of the charges wouold he have allowed the defendant to tell his son of them, or would he have left Keevil immediately without challenging whether they were true or false? Such a course was only consistent with the plaintiff's guilt.
          Mr. Charles Russell, replying for the plaintiff, reminded the jury that there was no doubt his client was upon his trial for charges which, if established, must destroy the respect of friends, and almost of his family, and which would bring down his gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. It was important to bear in mind that the onus of proving these charges was upon the defendant, and nothing short of clear and convincing proof was sufficient to entitle the defendant to their verdict. Could they believe that for so many years the plaintiff had played the part of a hypocrite, and whie performing the ministrations of his church had given way to the most disgusting practices of which man could be capable.
          The learned counsel had not concluded his remarks when the court rose. (Bristol Mercury)

29 March 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was yesterday again before Justice Field and a special jury sitting at Westminster. This was the fifteenth day of hearing.
          Mr. Chas. Russell, in continuing his reply for the plaintiff, argued that among other improbabilities appearing in the defendant's case was the ract that it was contended the plaintiff had been guilty of immoral acts alleged against him without a rumour having been spread abroad in the village before June, 1876. Considering the character and position of the persons upon whom the practices had been committed prior to that date, it was not, as he submitted, an exaggeration to suppose that they would have been noised widely abroad throughout the neighbourhood, and that the boys themselves would have made some attempt to extort money from the vicar. As a fact, however, no such rumours had been spread, and there was a strange absence of confirmatory evidence of the acts themselves, which went far towards the supposition that the charges were concocted and incapable of credence. The learned counsel then proceeded to deal with each charge spearately, and in the course of his remarks represented that the story of the plaintiff frequenting Eliza Orchard's cottage, although told by Job Chappell, who had since gone to his account in another place, could not have taken place except with the knowledge and permission of her parents. The action of Colonel Wallington, wo had played such a prominent part in this case, had been, in his opinion, most reprehensible, adn especially so when remembering the discharge of tenants from their cottages, tradesmen from his custom, and the doctor from his service, because they expressed an opinion favourable to the plaintiff, and when also remembering the manner in which Colonel Wallington enabled his official capacity to serve his private interests by obtaining the services of the police in London to find out Worthy Scratchley, and to take other steps in the immediate neighbourhood to obtain the end he had in view against his former friend.
          The foreman of the jury, while Mr. Russell was continuing his remarks, sent a note to his lordship, intimating that they only wished to hear the learned counsel on the subject of damages.
          Mr. Russell adopted that course.
          Justice Field summed up the case very briefly to the jury, intimating that he thoroughly agreed with the verdict, severely criticising the conduct of Colonel Wallington in the matter, before whom it might have been brought in his capacity of magistrate, but warning the jury not to visit the defendant with damages in consequence of such conduct.
          The jury gave a verdict for the plaintiff, with 3000 damages, and judgment was given accordingly.
          This is the second trial of the case, the former having taken place in February, 1879, when the jury found a verdict for the plaintiff – damages, 50. The verdict was, however, upset on a motion to a Divisional Cour; and ths decisionw as upheld in the Court of Appeal subsequently, and this new trial ordered. (Bristol Mercury)

2 April 1881

THE CLERICAL LIBEL CASE – It was stated in the Queen's Bench Division yesterday that the defendant in the Keevil libel case was about to apply for a new trial on the ground of excessive damages. Owing to the absence of Sir J. Holker, the judges allowed the application to stand over until Wednesday next. (Bristol Mercury)

2 April 1881

"Chamberlaine v. Barnwell" has just been disposed of in the Queen's Bench Division by Mr. Justice Field and a special jury. The hearing, whcih lasted fifteen days, was the second trial of an action brought by one clergyman against another in respect of two letters which contained imputations of the grossest immorality. The first trial in February, 1879, resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff, with 50l. damages. This was set aside by the Divisional Court, a new trial being ultimately ordered by the Court of Appeal. On Monday a verdict was again given for the plaintiff, with 3,000l. damages. (The Graphic)

7 April 1881

In the Queen's bench Division the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was yesterday again before Justices Grove and Lindley, sitting at Westminster. The case had recently been heard before Justice Field and a special jury, wiht the result of a verdict for the plaintiff, with 3000 damages.
          Sir John Holker, Q.C., on behalf of the defendant, now moved for a rule for a new trial in this case, on the ground that the damages were excessive. The learned counsel gave a history of the case, and referring to the summing up in the late trial, it was unnecessary, he submitted, for the learned judge at the trial to have inflamed the jury with a condemnation of the actions of Colonel Wallington as a magistrate, and of Captain Sterne as chief constable, in watching the plaintiff in the vicarage grounds. The defendant had nothing to do with those actions, and could not have prevented them. His lordship drew attention the effect which the evidence had had upon the minds of the jury, and remarking that notwithstanding such a result, the defendant might still remain in the same state of mind as he had been in before the trial commenced. Such a remark, however, had the improper result of condemning the defendant in the eyes of the jury for having brought the matter forward a second time. Such a result was manifestly unjust, as he should not have been made to suffer because the Divisional Court considered there should be a new trial. The defendant had before these occurrences been an intimate friend of the plaintiff, and had acted with the bvest intentions; and for those reasons he asked the court to grant a rule nisi for a new trial, on the ground that the damages were manifestly unjust.
          Their lordships, without giving any reasons, said the rule would be granted, so that the matter might be discussed. (Bristol Mercury)

9 April 1881

In the Queen's bench Division on Wednesday, the case of Chamberlaine v. Barnwell was before Mr. Justice Grove and Mr. Justice Lindley. In this case, tried at such length a second time during the past month, and in which the trial took 15 days, ending in a verdict of rthe plaintiff for 3,000, there was now an applicationn for a new trial on the ground of excess of damages. It was an action by one clergyman against another for an alleged libel and slander imputing to him "horrible and unnatural depravity." There were similar actions against two of the gentlemen referred to in the case, and these actions are still pending.
          Sir J. Holker (with Mr. Collins, Q.C., and Mr. Pitt-Lewis) now moved, on the part of the defendant, for a new trial on the ground that the damages were excessive. The learned counsel stated the material facts, which have been repeatedly published. When the imputations against the plaintiff became known it appeared doubtful whether the facts would sustain a criminal prosecution, and, at all events, it was desired, as far as possible, to avoid public scandal, and some of the gentlemen in the parish, therefore, communicated with the Bishop; but it was found that he could not interefere, as the latest matter of charge was alleged to have occurred more than two years before, and, therefore, his power to interpose was taken away by the Church Discipline Act. They then thought it would be well that some one should try to induce the vicar to resign, and Mr. Barnwell, the defendant, agreed to make the attempt, and went to see the ficar, and read some of the statements to him. Having detailed the circumstances attending that interview, and the results of it, Sir J. Holker said that at the first trial before the late Lord chief Justice many witnesses were examined in support of the justification. The Lord Chief Justice told the jury that unless they thought all the charages proved they must find for the plaintiff, as they did. In directing the jury as to damages, the Lord Chief Justice pointed out as material that the defendant had not originated the charges, but that they were merely the repetition of statements by others. The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff for only 50, but the Court set it aside as against evidence, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision, and so the case was tried again. The jury on that trial said they had made up their minds as to their verdict without hearing the summing up of the evidence, and Mr. Justice Field only addressed them as to damages. In so doing the learned Judge severely censured the magistrate and police for taking certain of the statements obtained. These observations were extremely likely to prejudice the jury, and they were entirely irrelevant to the question of the damages to be given against the defendant. And then the learned Judge went on to complain of the vicar being watched by the police, which he denounced as "contrary to the whole spirit of our criminal law." Why was it so? There were statements made to the police as to horrible practices among young people of the parish, and they merely looked out for them. What was there wrong in that? But if it was, how did it affect the defendant in this action for libel? Yet these observations were calculated most seriously to prejudice the jury against the defendant, although the learned Judge acknowledged that there was nothing to show any direct motive in the mind of the defendant. In conclusion the learned Judge had told the jury to give such damages as would be sufficient to compensate the plaintiff for the pain and distress he had suffered, and, at the same time, observed that Mr. Barnwell had shown a most uncompromising spirit, and had insisted on having the witnesses tell their story a second time. It was probably these remarks which accounted for a verdict for this enormous amount of 3,000. The learned Judge made it a matter of complaint agianst the defendant that he had had the case trie a second time; yet the Court had set aside the first verdict as against evidence, and the Court of Appeal had affirmed the decision. To suggest that a verdict for this anormous sum was necessary to vindicate the plaintiff's character was absurd, and he asked the Court to set the verdict aside an enormously excessive.
          The learned Judges conferred together for some minutes, and then
          Mr. Justice Gove said the learned counsel might take a rule nisi for a new trial. (Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser)

27 April 1881

Yesterday Mr. C. Russell made an application in the Queen's Bench Division in the well-known clerical libel case of "Chamberlain v. Barnwell." Since the trial a rule had been obtained for a new trial, on the ground of excessive damages awarded (3,000). As the proceedings had already been very protracted and expensive, and the probability that a considerable time must elapse before the rule could be argued and decided, he applied to their lordships to make an order whereby the plaintiff's costs might be taxed earlier than otherwise would be the case, or that the defendant should pay into court a certain sum on account of the damages. The application was refused. (Western Morning News)

27 April 1881

The Queen's Bench yesterday refused an application in the case of Chamberlain v. Barnwell (the Keevil libel case), that the plaintiff's costs might be taxed earlier than usual, or else that the defendant should pay into court a certain sum on account of damages. (Bristol Mercury)

30 June 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, yesterday, the action for libel and slander instituted by the Rev. W. H. Chamberlain, rector of Keevil, against the Rev. E. L. Barnewell [sic], a clergyman without a benefice, residing at Melksham, was brought before Justices Grove, Denman, and Lindley, sitting in banco. . . .
          Mr. Russell, Q.C., in showing cause against the rule, . . . submitted that they [the damages] were not excessive, having regard to the terrible nature of the accusations and the position of the parties.
          Sir J. Holker supported the rule, submitting that a more unfair and unjust verdict was never pronounced by a prejudiced and excited jury, and that the damages were preposterously excessive. Rumours got afloat in the village that the vicar had been guilty of gross acts of indecency, and when those rumours had been rife for a considerable period the defendant interposed in order to prevent scandal and to save the family of his friend.
          Mr. Collins also addressed the court, and the case was not concluded when the court adjourned. (Bristol Mercury)

1 July 1881

In the Queen's Bench Division, yesterday, the arguments were resumed in the action in which the Rev. W. H. Chamberlaine, vicar of Keevil, sued the Rev. E. L. Barnewell, a clergyman, without a benefice, residing at Melksham, to recover damages for alleged libel in imputing, in a letter written to Admiral Chads, that the plaintiff had been guilty of horrible and unnatural depravity, and that it had been going on in the parish for year. The case has been twice tried, the verdict on the first occasion having been for the plaintiff for 50, and on the second for 3000; and the question now was whether a third trial should be ordered, on the ground that the damages awarded were excessive.
          At the conclusion of the arguments,
          Mr. Justice Lindley said that he did not see his way to disturbing the verdict. The imputations against the plaintiff were of the most shocking kind, and the jury had found that they were not proved. He believed that they also thought the charges untrue, because on no other assumption would they have awarded such substantial damages. The damages were certainly large, but not so large, in his opinion, as to justify the interference of the court.
          Mr. Justice Denman had the misfortune to differ from his brother Lindley. He considered it reasonably certain that the jury had awarded vindictive damages. So terrible were the charges against the plaintiff, that if he felt they had been made by the defendant with any indirect motive, or unfairly, and not from a real desire to do justice and right, he should have thought no damages could possibly have been too large; but there seemed to him to be a total absence of evidence to show that in what he had done the defendant had been actuated by other than honest motives.
          Mr. Justice Grove concurred with his brother Denman. He accepted the verdict of the jury, but could not help thinking they had been influenced by erroneous considerations. It appeared to him that the defendant had good grounds for the suspicions which he entertained, and that being so, the damages must be regarded as punitive and excessive. Under those circumstances, he and his brother Denman held that unless the plaintiff consented to the damages being reduced to 800 the rule for a new trial should be made absolute.
          Notice of appeal was given. (Bristol Mercury)

2 July 1881

On Thursday Justices Grove and Denman, (Mr Justice Field dissenting) directed a new trial of the libel case of "Chamberlaine v. Barnewell," on the ground that the three thousand pounds damages awarded by the Jury were excessive. Notice of appeal against this decision was given. ( Derbyshire Times)

11 August 1887

Death of the Rev. E. L. Barnwell. – It is with deep regret we have to record the death of the Rev. Edward Lowry Barnwell, M.A., of Melksham House, and father of the Rev. O. K. B. Barnwell, Vicar of Southbroom, Devises. The deceased gentleman, who had been a resident in this town for about thirty years, had just passed his seventy-fifth birthday, and had been suffering from weariness of physical power for many months past, but he had been able to go out as late as last week. It was known early on Tuesday morning that he had suddenly become much worse, but the news of his demise, announced at mid-day by the solemn tolling of the parish church bell, came as a sudden shock to the inhabitants of the town, by whom he was greatly beloved and respected. . . . His name will also be remembered as defendant in connection with the casus celebre of Chamberlain v. Barnwell. Mr. Barnwell was a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, taking a first class in Mathematics in 1814. (Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette)

22 February 1902

The death of the Rev W. H. Chamberlaine, M.A., vicar of Keevil, which took place on Saturday, at the advanced age of 92 years, has resulted in the loss of one of, if not the oldest, clergyman in England. For over 60 years he held the living, and in addition to re-building the vicarage, he was largely responsible for the erection of a church in the adjacent village of Bulkington. The family seems to be remarkable for their longevity, deceased's grandfather having reached the great age of 90, whilst his brother and sisters lived far beyond the allotted span. The funeral on Wednesday was largely attended. (Wiltshire Times)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Keevil Libel Case, 1879", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 13 February 2019 <>.

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