Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Prosecution and Suicide of Prominent Historian, 1891

24 April 1891

At the Croydon Borough Police Court on Tuesday – before Alderman J. W. Hobbs and other magistrates – Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., of 64, Lexham Gardens, Souith Kensington, was brought up in custody, charged with assaulting Christopher Richmond in a railway carriage between Horsham and East Croydon. It was stated that the proceedings were taken under the Act 24 and 24 Vict., a. 100. – Mr. S. G. Edridge appeared for the accused, who gave his age as 42 years. – Christopher Richmond, a youth of 16, who said he was a goods clerk in the service of the Brighton Railway Company and lived at 16, Oval Road, Croydon, gave evidence as to the acts mentioned in the charge. – Cross-examined by Mr. Edridge, Richmond stated that he did not complain to the officials, because he was afraid of the defendant. At Three Bridges, finding that the defendant had followed him, he could have left the compartment, but being a cripple it was not advisable for him to hurry. It was not true that he asked the defendant for a present and that on his refusing to give him one he told him that he should charge him. As a matter of fact, nothing was said about charging him until they reached Croydon. If the accused had offered him something he would not have accepted it. – Inspector Richard Cow, W Division, said that at 10.40 on the previous night the defendant was brought to the station and charged. He on three different occasions gave the name of a gentleman having chambers in the Temple, and then said, "You have ny correct name and address; now let me go." The witness replied that the charge was far too serious. It was not until the accused came to court that morning that he gave his correct name and address. – Mr. Edridge addressed the Bench at considerable length, asking them to discredit the prosecutor's evidence. The defendant was a man of education and good position, and if an opportunity were afforded him he would call witnesses to character. – The Bench remanded the accused for a week, agreeing to accept £400 bail. (North Wilts Herald)

25 April 1891

At the Croydon Borough Bench on Tuesday last, Charles Alan Fyffe, 42, of 64, Grexham-garden, West, described as being of no occupation and said to be a Master of Arts, was charged with indecently assaulting Christopher Richmond in a railway carriage while travelling between Horsham and East Croydon Stations.
          Mr. S. G. Edridge appeared for the accused, and before the case opened admitted that hs client had given a wrong name and address at the police station.
          Prosecutor said that he was a goods clerk at East Croydon Station, and resided at 16, Oval-rload. He was 16 years of age. On the previous night he was travelling from Horsham to East Croydon by the 9.8 p.m. train, in a third class closed compartment. No one was in the carriage when he got into it first, but just before the train started prisoner got in. At first he sat at one end of the carriage, but when the train was in motion, moved up and sat opposite witness. Witness had been unfortunate enoiugh to lose one of his feet, and prisoner commenced a conversation by asking him how he came by his accident. He placed his hand upon his leg, and then committed the offence with which he was charged. When they arrived at Three Bridges prisoner asked him what he would have to drink, but he refused to have anything. At East Croydon he gave the accused into custody.
          In cross-examination the witness admitted that he might have got out of the carriage at Fay Gate, Crawley, Thee Bridges, Horley, or Redhill, but added that he was afraid of the prisoner. He did not tell prisoner before arriving at East Croydon that he was going to charge him. He did not ask prisoner for a present.
          P.c. Pratt, 277 W, who gave his evidence in a somewhat curious manner, said that when he arrested prisoner he denied the charge.
          Inspector Cox stated that when brought to the station, prisoner would at first give neither name or address. He then gave three different names and addresses. He denied the charge.
          Dr. Shadforth Morton, divisional surgeon, spoke to having examined the lad Richmond. He found no evidence to bear out his statement as to what oiccurred.
          Mr. Edridge then addressed the Bench at considerable length on behalf of accused, contending that there was no evidence whatever against him. He was, he told him, a man of good position.
          Ultimately prisoner was remanded for a week, the Bench agreeing to accept bail, prisoner himself in £200 and two sureties of £100 each. (Croydon Times)

29 April 1891

The charge of serious assault in a railway carriage brought last week against Mr Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., of 64, Lexham-gardens, London, W. – the well-known writer on European history, and Liberal candidate for the Devizes division – again came on for hearing before the Croydon magistrates on Tuesday morning. The magistrates before whom the matter came were Mr Alderman Hobbs and Dr H. G. Thomson.
          These gentlemen having taken their places upon the bench, the case was at once brought on. The defendant did not answer to his name, and the magistrates asked the sureties if they surrendered him to his bail. They answered that they did not.
          Mr Edridge, the solicitor for the defendant then explained what were the reasons which accounted for the defendant's non-appearance. He said he should have to ask their worships to be good enough to adjourn the case for a brief period, as the defendant was in such a state as to be entirely unable toc ome there to surrender to his bail. He was extremely ill, as the doctor whom he intended to call would prove. It would be within their worships' recollection that the case had already been adjourned in order that he (Mr Edridge) might produce evidence as to whom and what the defendant was, and to prove that he was of good character. Mr Fyffe was, in point of fact, an extremely well-known man both in social and in literary circles; and among the witnesses whom he purposed to bring down to testify to a life-long character were the Dean of Westminster, Professor Jowett, Sir Horace Davey, Sir George Grove, Sir Whittaker Ellis, Mr Robinson, editor of the Daily News, and others. These gentlemen were coming down to speak to the high and blameless character in every respect of the accused. He proposed to call the doctor, who would give reasons for the non-attendance of the defendant on Tuesday.
          Dr Walker, of 5, Marloe-road, Kensington, then gave evidence. He said he was called in to see Mr Fyffe at 10.30 on Monday morning. He attended to him at 64, Lexham-gardens.
          Now as a medical man tell me is he in such a state now –
          The Clerk: Had you not better ask where and how he found him?
          Where did you find him? – He was lying on the bed.
          Is he able to be here to-day? – He cannot move; he cannot move his – he cannot move at all.
          For what reason? – He is suffering from a severe wound in the neck.
          What do you say his state is – critical? – Most critical. It is impossible to tell whether he will recover or not in the next few days.
          The Chairman asked if any-one appeared for the prosecution. There was no-one present in that capacity; but a gentleman from the solicitor's department of the London, Brighton, and Souith Caost Railway stated that he was there at the request of the manager of that company, in order that he might give all the assistance necessary to the elucidation of the truth. He was not, however, present to prosecute.
          The Chairman to Dr Walker: When do you think the defendant will be able to appear? – In no circumstances would he be able to attend in less than three or four weeks.
          "Then," said Mr Alderman Hobbs, "we adjourn the further hearing of this case until the 26th of May, reserving the question of the forfeiture of the recognizances until that date. In the meantime it will be necessary to consider formally the question of issuing a warrant from the bench to secure the defendant's attendance on that day."
          On enquiry on Tuesday evening, the Press Association learns that Mr Fyffe, who is under remand from the Croydon police-court on the charge of attempting to commit an offoence in a railway carriage, and who attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat, was still alive, and slightly better. (South Wales Daily News)

29 April 1891

. . . It is difficult to conceive a more melancholy case (writes a London correspondent) than that of Mr C. A. Fyffe. This gentleman, known both as a brilliant historian and a rising politician, was recently arrested on a charge of indecent assault. Unnerved, as it is believed; by the charge, he gave a wrong name and address, and so materially prejudiced his answer to the accusation. He realised when too late the error he had committed, and the position in which he stood so preyed on his mind that he made an attempt on his life. His recovery is despaired of. His friends believe that he was absolutely incapable of the offence with which he was charged, but that the accusation completely unmanned him.
          Mr Fyffe was a distinguished graduate of Oxford, and was a Fellow of Balliol, and a very accomplished man. He had made a specialty of historical studies, and his "History of Modern Europe" is a work of standard value. His Election Committee in Wiltshire met on Saturday in view of the charge against him. A vote of confidence in him was unanimously adopted, the committee pledging themselves to redouble their efforts to get him returned to Paraliament. (Aberdeen Free Press)

29 April 1891

Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, Master of Arts, and Bursar of University College, Oxford, who was remanded, on bail, from the Croyidon Borough Bench on Tuesday, April 21st, charged with an indecent assault on Christopher Richmond, aged 16, in a railway carriage, while traqvelling between Horsham and East Croydon Stations, on Monday attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat at his residence, 64, Lexham-gardens, West. . . .
          The following is the evidence which was adduced at the former hearing of the case:–
          The evidence of the prosecutor, who is a goods clerk at East Croydon station, was to the effect that on the previous Monday evening he was a passenger by the 9.8 train from Horsham. He entered an empty closed third-class compartment and just as the train was starting the defendant, who he had never seen before, got in. Witness had had the misfortune to lose one of his feet and directly the train moved the defendant came opposite him and asked him how me met with the accident, at the same time touching his leg and disarranging his clothing. He acted in a grossly indecent manner three or four times and witness told him that he did not want him to play about with him. They had to change at Three Bridges, where the defendant ask[ed] him whether he would take anything to drink. Witness replied "No, thanks." Witness entered a compartment of another train, followed by the defendant, who again commenced mawling him about. When the train stopped at Horley the defendant asked him what would be the next stopping place. Before they got to Redhill the defendant asked him to act indecently and he refused to whereupon the defendant forcibly moved his (witness's) hand. Between Redhill and East Croydon nothing improper took place. Upon arriving at the latter station witness left the carriage and made a complaint to a porter in the hearing of the defendant, who was then standing on the platform. What he said was that the defendant had been trying to abuse him in the train and that he had resisted. The defendant heard that without making any remark and witness gave him into custody. When the charge was read over to him at the station he said "I deny it."
          Cross-examined – Faygate was the first statin they stopped at, but he made no complaint there because he was afraid to, not knowing what sort of man the defendant was. Then, again, if he had alighted there he would not have got home that night. He did not leave the compartment at Crawley, the next stopping-place, for the same reasons. At Horley, two ladies looked in and enquired if it was a smoking carriage, and the defendant said it was, although it was not. It was true that at Three Bridges he might have left the compartment in which the defendant was, but being a cripple he did not wish to hurry. There was not time for him to change at Horley; at least, he did not think so. During their conversation, the defendant told him he was going to West Brompton. He believed that he changed carriages at Croydon so as not to be noticed. He had not told him that he was going to charge him. It was not true that he asked the gentleman for a present; had he offered him one, he would not have taken it. He did not threaten to charge him unless he gave him something. He never mentioned a word to him about it in the train. . . . (Croydon Times)

1 May 1891

Among all the shocking scandals with whch the closing days of the present Parliament have bgeen marked, no case has been so infinitely sad as that of Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, the Liberal candidate for East Wilts, who is lying at his London house suffering from severe and self-inflicted wounds. Ten days ago Mr. Fyffe was made the subject of a terrible charge by a lad with whom he had travelled. Unnerved at his frightful position, and in a moment of the direst confusion, he gave a wrong name at the police-station. Remanded for a week, so that the Dean of Westminster, Professor Jowett, the editor of the Daily News, and others might speak of his character, Mr. Fyffe's mind gave way, and he attempted suicide. Mr. Walter Long, M.P., whose seat Mr. Fyffe was to have contested, has written in the kindliest terms, and the deep sympathy of his political friends and foes are with him. Nothing could have been sadder. Bursar of University College, a man of the highest mental achievement, a well-known literary man, the writer of a scholarly history of Europe during the last century, and a Parliamentary candidate of the higehst promise, popular beyond measure with those who knew him as "Charlie Fyffe," the whole thing is heart-breaking. No-one who knows him believes him for one moment to be guilty; no-one who has any knowledge of the world can believe that his career is not closed. (Western Chronicle)

27 May 1891

At the Croiydon Borough Police-court yesterday, before Alderman J. W. Hobbs (in the chair) and other magistrates, Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., Bursar of University College, Oxford, Gladstonite candidate for the Devizes Division of Wilts, of 64, Lexham-gardens, W., appeared to further answer the charge of assaulting Christopher Richmond, aged 16 years, while travelling in a railway carriage betwen Horsham and East Croydon, on the night of April 20. Mr. Fyffe was brought to the court in a pair-horse ambulance car, belonging to the St. John Ambulance Association. He appeared very weak, and was carried into court on a litter, causing an exciting scene in the street. Several promiment politicians were present.
          . . . Mr. Charles Mathews, who appeared for the prisoner, asked that he might be allowed to call evidence as to character, and then to address their worships. A consultation took place as to the nature of the charge, with the result that it was modified to an alleged offence under the 11th section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
          Dr. W. Cowper James and Dr. Savage were respectively sworn, to speak as to the present condition of the accused, who meanwhile had been removed to an ante-room. Each witness deposed that the prisoner was physically and mentally weak, and was suffering from hallucinations and loss of memory. They declined to take the responsibility of allowing him to go into the witness-box.
          . . .
[Several witnesses appeared to give evidence of Fyffe's good character and reputation.]
          Mr. Mathews then asked if the bench thought, in the face of this evidence, it would be necessary to proceed, seeing that the boy's charge against Mr. Fyffe was uncorroborated.
         The Bench consulted for a moment, and the chairman then announced that the case must go to a jury. . . .
          The chairman then formally committed the prisoner to take his trial at the next Surrey Assizes, and granted bail, prisoner in £500, and two securities in £200 each. . . . (Bristol Times and Mirror)

18 July 1891

At the Guildford Assizes on Thursday the Grand Jury threw out the bill against Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., who was brought up at the Croydon Police Court on Tuesday, April 20th, charged with having committed an act of gross indecency towards a young man named Christopher Richmond, while travelling in a railway carriage, on the previous day, between Horsham and East Croydon. The case created a painful impression throughouit the country, as the accused, who is a well-known writer on European affairs, is the Estates Bursar of University College, Oxford, and Liberal candidate for the Devizes Division of Wilts, while the circle of his acquaintance includes many of the most scholarly men of the day. Richmond, the prosecutor, is a lame lad, 16 years of age, and is employed as a clerk in the goods department at East Croydon. When the prisoner
[error for prosecutor] was first brought before the magistrates he told the Court that he got into a third-class carriage at Horsham Station on the previous evening, whither he was followed by the prisoner. At Three Bridges they had to change into a main line train, and defendant again followed him into a compartment. On arriving at Croydon Richmond made a complaint against Mr. Fyffe, which formed the basis of the present indictment, but the accused denied the charges.
          The case was adjourned for a week, but on the day fixed for the adjourned hearing the prisoner failed to surrender to his bail. His medical attentant, Dr. Henry Goerge Walker, of Kensington, explained Mr. Fyffe's absence by stating that he was suffering from an incised wound in his neck. The hearing was subsequently adjouned until May 26th, when Mr. Fyffe was still in such a prostrate condition that he had to be brought into court upon a stretcher, and medical witnesses pronounced him to be totally unfit to give evidence. Professor Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College, then spoke of the defendant's scholary attainments and high moral character, similar testimony being given by Sir Horace Davey, Q.C., M.P., the Dean of Westminster, Sir J. Whittaker Eltis, M.P., Sir George Grove, and the Mayor of Devizes. The magistrates, however, had no other course but to commit the prisoner for trial at the assizes, which commenced on Thursday.
          In charging the grand jury, Mr. Justice Mathew said that what first struck one about the case was that the acts were improbable, seeing that the charge was made against a man of mature years. Everything must depend upon the trustworthiness of the prosecutor, and the cardinal consideration with reference to such cases was how far it showed upon the statement of the prosecutor himself that he was a consenting party to what was done.The moment it was shown that the prosecutor in such a case was consenting or willing, or not resisting, he stood in the position of an accessory, and no tribunal would act upon the evidence unless corroborated. The story was a very singular one. The prosecutor and the accused appeared to have started together by train from Horsham to go to Croydon. The statement of the prosecutor was that improper acts took place, and were continued in spite of his protests until they both reached Redhill. The train stopped at Redhill, and the boy could have left the carriage or complained; but he did neither until he got to Croydon. When taken into custody the defendant gave a wrong name and address, and the prosecution would say that that was corroboration. On the other hand, it was contended that in the state of confusion in which a man would be thrown by such a charge, such a course was not improbable.
          In the course of the morning the grand jury threw out the bill agaisnt Mr. Fyffe, who was therefore not called upon to surrender to his bail. It is understood that Sir Charles Russell and Mr. C. Mathews had been retained for the defence, while the prosecution was entrusted to Mr. Gill. (Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter)

19 August 1891

THE CHARGE AGAINST MR. C. A. FYFFE, M.A. – Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., who was the subject of a serious charge heard at Croydon some time ago, brought by Christopher Richmond, a railway goods clerk, has resigned his candidature in the Liberal interest for the Devizes Division of Wiltshire. In a letter written by Mrs. Fyffe, and read at a meeting of the East Wilts Liberal Council, it was stated that Mr. Fyffe resigned in consequence of ill health. (Croydon times)

23 February 1892

Mr. Charles Alan Fyffe, M.A., died last Friday [19 February] at the age of 46. He was educated first at Christ's Hospital; obtained an exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford; gained a first-class both in Moderations and in the Final Schools; and in 1870 became Fellow of University College. He was also well-known as an excellent and forcible speaker at the Union. After spending some years more at Oxford and being called to the Bar, he began to turn to account his great knowledge of political history, by writing, for Messrs. Cassell, his "History of Modern Europe," a brilliant sketch in three volumes.
          After completing this work, Mr. Fyffe intended to enter Parliament, and was for some time a candidate for one of the divisions of Wiltshire. His prospects and indeed his life, were suddenly overcast by the terrible event that is still fresh in the public memory. The utter disbelief which his many friends felt as to the truth of the odious charge was shared by the Grand Jury, which threw out the bill. But unhappily his reason had been shaken by the accusation, and in a fit of despair he had already made an attempt upon his life. Although tenderly watched and nursed by a devoted wife, he died on Friday last. (Yorkshire Evening Post)
[He was survived by his wife and two sons and a daughter.]

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Prosecution and Suicide of Eminent Historian, 1891", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 September 2021 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1891fyff.htm>.

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