Hatch the Buffer


CIVIL SIDE – (Before Mr. Justice GASELEE.)


HATCH V. CRESSWELL – This was an action to recover compensation for the injury sustained by the plaintiff in the utterance of certain slanderous and defamatory expressions by the defendant. The words charged to have been used by the defendant in public company, and in the plaintiff’s presence, were stated in the declaration to be, “you are a buffer – you are Hatch, the Sod – you are Hatch, the Sodomite.” The damages were laid at 1,000l. Plea, the general issue; and Not guilty, without any justification.
          Mr. TAUNTON and Mr. FARREN were for the plaintiff; Mr. JERVIS and Mr. TYRWHITT for the defendant.
          Mr. TAUNTON, in opening the case, observed, that it was one of great importance, as involving the character of the plaintiff, and of equally great importance as it regarded the interest of the public. Allusions of a nature dark and suspicious were calculated to injure the fame of any man, but a direct charge of thee horrible nature now described must for ever annihilate the character of any individual, however high in public estimation, unless those charges were properly repelled, and their truth brought to trial before a Jury of the country. In the present case the plaintiff, very naturally regarding wit horror and alarm the foul aspersions contained in the expressions of the defendant, with a manliness and fortitude which did him honour, immediately determined to bring his case before a Court of Justice; and it was worthy of remark that the defendant had not dared to justify the unnatural slander to which he had given utterance. In an action for slander the Jury would observe, that the defendant had the power of justifying his words if he dared to do so; but in a criminal proceeding it was otherwise, for there a conviction must ensue if the libellous expressions could be proved. The plaintiff, anxious to bring these charges to the test of truth, and to give the defendant an opportunity of proving his assertions, had preferred bringing an action in the present case rather than to institute any criminal proceeding; but the defendant, conscious as it were of the falsehood of his imputations, had not ventured to persist in his attacks, or to avail himself of the advantage which was offered him. The parties were both resident in that portion of the town of Great Marlow, which is situated in this county, and it had been intimated to him (Mr. Taunton), it was the intention of the defendant to insinuate that there were unpleasant rumours abroad respecting the plaintiff, and that the walls of the town of Marlow were covered with certain inscriptions in chalk, which directly case the same odious imputations upon his character. That defence, however, could not serve the defendant, because it was obvious that the very same person who attempted to blast his neighbour’s reputation by his oral slander during the day, might supply the hand to chalk his filthy accusations upon the walls during the night. The Learned Counsel concluded by observing, that pecuniary compensation was not the plaintiff’s object – for what compensation he would ask, could be given for an attack upon the character of any man of the description charged in the declaration? It was not pecuniary compensation, but such a verdictd as would have the effect of declaring to the world that the Jury considered those imputations wholly unfounded, that the plaintiff demanded at their hands; and he thought the Jury were bound in common justice to give such a verdict when they heard the evidence he could produce.
          Thomas Wyatt, the Landlord of the Horns Inn, at Marlow, was then called and examined: I know both plaintiff an ddefendant. The plaintiff came to my house, in company with an Overseer of the Poor, named Broadway, to transact parochial business. The defendant went into the room where they were along with some other persons, and after a short time, I heard a great noise in that room; I went into the room to see what was the matter, and heard the defendant call the plaintiff, “William Hatch, the buffer,” two or three times over; Hatch entreated the defendant to leave him alone, and keep hius own company; he said he wished to have nothing to do with him. There was nothing said in my presence about inscriptions on the walls. I have not seen “Hatch, the buffer,” written on the walls. I did not see the parties drinking together, nor did I know they had previously been friends.
          Cross-examined by Mr. JERVIS: My house is not a large house; I sell ale, and you may call it, therefore, an alehouse, if you will; I have known Mr. Hatch since he was a boy; he is not between 40 and 50; I think he is rather between 20 and 30; Mr. Broadway was there and several other persons; Thomas Hackshaw was there; I have seen chalks on the walls, but I never saw anything concerning this affair; I have known Hatch for some years, but my opinion of him is nothing the worse for this affair. I still entertain the same good opinion of him.
          Thomas Broadway, examined by Mr. TAUNTON: I am overseer of the poor in Marlow: plaintiff held the same office last year; I recollect having to meet him on the 20th of April, at the Horns, in Marlow, in parish business; while in the room, Cresswell looked in, and said, “here he is;” he went out and brought in another young man, and continued repeating the words “Hatch, the Buffer,” &c. several times over; he continued repeating the words at intervals, although Hatch told him to be quiet, and said he did not wish to interfere with him.
          Cross-examined: The plaintiff and defendant did not drink together; the defendant had a pint of beer and a pipe; I had threepenny worth of gin; I did not hear the chalking mentioned; neither the plaintiff nor the defendant said anything of the meaning of the words which were chalked about the town; I don’t know the meaning of the word “Buffer,” but I suppose it is a nickname; I think it would have been better to call him Mr. Hatch; I have seen “Buffer Hatch” chalked on the walls of houses in Marlow; the language used by the defendant certainly did make an impression upon my mind unfavourable to the plaintiff; I thought he was a guilty man, and I left his company.
          This was the case for the plaintiff.
          Mr. JERVIS, for the defence, admitted that the expressions used by the defendant were unfit to be applied to one gentleman by another, and even unfit to be used by any Christian in society; but the guilt of their use ought to be taken into consideration, in connection with all the circumstances under which they were called forth. It ought to be recollected, that the two overseers were transacting their public business in the public room of an alehouse, and although the term “Buffer,” might sound coarse, he really did not see any harm in it. He really did not undersand what it meant.
          Mr. Justice GAZELEE here observed, that the Learned Counsel might probably call to his recollection that the term was used in connection with the profession of the law, during the earlier part of the Learned Counsel’s practice.
          Mr. JERVIS did certainly recall to his mind the term Buffer, meaning a low lawyer’s clark, who served notices or processes, without making the parties so served acquainted with their contents.
          Mr. Justice GAZELEE said, it rather meant an attorney’s clerk who, when he wished to serve a notice, would send a creature of his own to a house door, and then having served that person, would make an affidavit of the service, as good service, upon the real party.
          Mr. JERVIS thanked his Lordship for this information, and intimated an intention to provide a Slang Dictionary when he returned to town, as he found it was become of absolute necessary in his profession. He hoped, however, in the present case, to be able to show that the defendant merely said, upon entering the room, he saw “Hatch, the Buffer” written on the walls, and he could not tell what it meant. The plaintiff acknowledged he was the man, and that was all that passed. The whole matter seemed to him, indeed, to be a mere drunken squabble, and quite undeserving of that character of serious importance which his Learned Friend (Mr. Taunton) had endeavoured to bestow upon it. He concluded by declaring, that if any damages were given at all, they ought to be extremely moderate.
          Witnesses were then called for the defence.
          Thomas Hackshaw: Was in the room at the time of the dispute. When the defendant came in, he first took up a newspaper, but in a few minutes he observed that he had seen the words “Buffer Hatch” written on the walls, and he could not understand who was meant by that name. The plaintiff then said it meant him, and he was known as well by the name of Hatch the Buffer as by his own name of Wm. Hatch; that was all that passed in his hearing.
          Thomas Harris: Was present at the time when the Overseers met in the room; he had been subpœnaed by the plaintiff, but not called; he heard the words “Hatch the Buffer” used by the defendant, and he also heard the other expressions mentioned in the declaration; he had seen many chalks upon the walls of Marlow; he had seen “Warren’s Blacking” and “Day and Martin’s Blacking,” and “Hunt’s Blacking” but he had never seen anything connected with Mr. Hatch. In reply to the question of whether the plaintiff held a worse situation, in his opinion, after hearing these expressions? the witness said, that he could not avoid thinking it a very scandalous thing to put such a charge upon any man.
          In cross examination the witness said, that when the defendant first entered the room he seated himself close to the plaintiff, and said, contemptuously, “get further.”
          Mr. Justice GAZELEE told the Jury that they must consider the words to have been used beyond any doubt; and as no justification had been pleaded, they were bound to send the plaintiff out of court free from imputation. The words used in the declaration were, that “you are a buffer,” &c.; but the words proved only amounted to the saying – this is Hatch the Buffer. If the Jury thought these words contained as much of malice and of slander as those laid in the declaration, they were bound to give the plaintiff temperate, but not extravagant damages.
          The Jury consulted a few minutes, and returned a verdict for the plaintiff – Damages, Five Pounds.

SOURCE: Morning Chronicle, Thursday, 17 July 1828.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Hatch the Buffer, 1828", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 16 February 2015 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/buffer.htm>.

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