The Sodomite Inn, 1826

NOTE: An innkeeper long suspected of sodomy is discovered having sex with another man in an old abandoned barn or hovel on the edge of the town of Market Deeping, Lincolnshire, which appears to be a meeting place for sodomites.

Friday, 14 July 1826

Lincolnshire Assizes,
NISI PRIUS – TUESDAY, before Chief Justice Abbott.
MAWBY (Joseph) v. BARKER (John Hyde).
This was an action for slander: the parties reside at Market Deeping. Mr. McDowal having opened the pleadings, Mr. Denman, in a most eloquent speech, stated that the Jury had heard in a general way the painful sort of enquiry into which they were about to enter. Cases of this description could not be stated without disgracing our nature, violating the feelings of decency, and even in some measure injuring the cause of morality. No man, unless compelled, could be justified in introducing such a case to public view: but the Jury, when they had heard the details which it was his duty to offer, would be satisfied that the plaintiff had no choice: he was compelled to come forward to meet his accuser, or must be content to be overwhelmed with infamy for ever. It was with feelings of anguish that he was driven to appeal to a Jury for protection against the foulest slander which the worst feelings of malice or the most sordid calculations of interest had even induced a man to invent. If the defendant could prove the truth of his horrible insinuations, this was giving him a full opportunity of doing so. His slanders had been both whispered and openly proclaimed; and they were of a nature which called for the corrective hand of justice, or they must cover with etenal shame him who was obnoxious to them. Mr. Joseph Mawby, the plaintiff, had lived for nearly three-score years and ten in the same town and neighbourhood in which his father and grandfather had passed their lives with credit; he was moreover a husband and a father; and now he had, as it were, to hold up his hand at the bar, and solicit that trial and that verdict which must either redeem him from the accusation of the calumniator, or seal his ruin. The defendant had been led to put a plea of justification on the record; and thereby he persisted in charging the plaintiff with the commission of horrid practices so long back as the year 1822. Was it not most extraordinary, if there was one tittle of truth in the accusation, that the plaintiff did not lay his complaint before a magistrate at the time? or, at least, tell his friends, and send some one to remonstrate with or to reproach the plaintiff? And if the charge was not made at first where could be the motive for reviving it after so long a sleep? The truth was that there had been some parish disputes and vestry bickerings; and the immediate inducement to the defendant’s horrid charge (uttered on the 27th of April last|) of some crimes alleged to have taken place four years before, was to be found in the accidental loss which an individual of Deeping had met with in the late banking panic. Some notes of a Mr. Miller were to be taken to the bank to be changed, and the proceeds were very unaccountably lost, until an officer was brought down from London, and then the notes were found on his own premises! This transacton gave rise to much animadversion in Deeping, and the plaintiff did not restrain himself from expressing what he thought of the defendant as connected with it. For this the dark mind of Barker conceived a deadly hatred, and he declared that he would do for Mr. Mawby. The learned counsel then proceeded to observe on the numerous counts of the declaration, each embracing a separate charge of a horrid description. If the defendant proved justification of them, the learned counsel’s task was ended, – the plaintiff would retire with infamy, – would be blotted out from the book of society, – would be held as a beacon of horror to be avoided; and the only concern he (Mr. Denman) would feel, would be for the wife and child of such a wretch. – But, notwithstanding the pleas which had been put on the record, the learned counsel could not think that a justification would be attempted – he rather expected that no witnesses would be called. Should such be the case, after scattering slanders, and writing them on walls and churches, it would be an aggravation which the Jury would remember in the measure of damages. The defendant was rich enough to pay them – at least rich enough in the vulgar sense of the word. To show, however, that the plaintiff did not wish to “coin his reputation into ducats,” he would even at this late time make an offer, that if the defendant would come forward and say that he was ashamed and sorry for what he had said, and that there was no foundation for the charges he had made, the cause should stop, and no damages be taken beyond the costs incurred. At this moment, if such were done, Mr. Mawby would be satisfied. If the offer was refused, he (Mr. Denman) had evidence that the defendant had gone about and wished to retract; and if it should happen that, after having so attempted to withdraw out of court, he now persisted in proceeding, and relied perhaps upon the influence of a speech from an ingenious and eloquent cousel, the Jury had only to perform one of their most solemn and important duties as men, and to give exemplary damages against the defendant for his malicious, groundless, and horrid accusations.
          The first witness was Sarah Parker, to speak to the words in the third count of the declaration. She stated that she lives at Deeping St. James, and knows the plaintiff and the defendant. On the 22d of December last (she said) I was at Mrs. Barber’s house in Market Deeping, at eleven o’clock in the forenoon. I met the defendant, John Hyde Barker, there. He said he was very full of trouble. Mrs. Barber said it was quite likely he should be; on which he said, what is talked of in your part of the town about Mr. Miller’s money? I said, most people think it is you, and some thing you would not be guilty of such an act. He said, I have a very great many enemies in Market Deeping; more than any one; I have but two friends in the town, and they are Mr. Molcey and Mr. Laxzton; as for old Mawby, he is the worst enemy I have. – I said, do you mean Francis Mawby? and he said no, old Joe Mawby; he is an old rogue, and deserved hanging some years ago. I said, there are many people deserve hangin who do not get it. Barker said, what was he (Maybe) doing in old ––’s barn? (witness said she forgot whose barn;) he is an old rogue; and if he interferes with me any more, I will soon tell him what he is. I said, you seem to say, Mr. Barker, that you can hang Mr. Mawby; pray what has he done so particular that you can hang him? He answered, do you know what Myers was hanged for? I said every body knows that. Mr. Barker still kept on, but I really thought he did not know what he was talking about; I thought he was going too far. Mrs. Barber said to him, never mind, don’t bother yourself; perhaps there will be some poetry come out. Barker was sober at the time. I remember the person named Myers: he was hanged. When Barker talked about living in trouble, it related to Miller’s money. I know known Mr. Mawby the plaintiff for 20 years; he is married and has one son. He has land, and is a coal-merchant and a maltster, and also proprietor of an inn, which he formerly kept, but has retired. – Cross-examined by Serj. Vaughan: I have a husband, he is a town-porter; Mrs. Barber’s husband is a carpenter; she is a fortune-teller. A neighbour of mine lost a pocket-book and 11l., and wished me to go and see if she could give any account of the notes. I went to hear what she had to say. It is a house of gossip. I can’t say whether Mr. Barker came to have his fortune told; I never spoke to him before. He was very much agitated. He said that Mr. Mawby had said of him that those who could hide could find. He was in trouble that Mawby should say so, and that he should think he had made away with the money. When he began to talk of hanging, I thought it began to be serious, and that if he had no reason it was a bad concern. – Serj. Vaughan: Did you never hear any thing to the prejudice of Mr. Mawby, or that he had been suspected of unnatural propensities? Mr. Denman objected to the question. There was but one authority, the case of the Earl of Leicester v.Walter, in which such an enquiry had been permitted; and the law of England itself would require to be vindicated if it was to grow into a practice. If, because parties put a justification on the record, the effect was to be that any man might first poison the public mind, and then prove the rumours he himself had created, no man would be safe. (A long discussion arose among the counsel on this point, but in the end the Lord Chief Justice said he deemed it better to let the question be put, and he would give leave to move the court above on the subject, if it should be necessary. The cross-examination was then resumed:– Have you not before heard rumours of the kind as to Mr. Mawby? I never heard of any thing of the kind against Mr. Mawby before; I have lived 20 years in Deeping. When Mr. Barker told me this story, I thought it of great consequence, and I never mentioned it to any one except my daughter, thinking it possible that Barker might deny it and fix it on me. I never had any thing to do with Mr. Mawby. In April, I was asked by a woman named Robinson, whether I had seen a writing on the wall; I said that it must be done by Barker; my only reason was, that in the conversation we had had, he talked about the Sodomite inn. About a month back I first mentioned it to Mr. Sharpe, the plaintiff’s attorney.
          Mr. Thos. Atkinson, clerk of the peace for the liberty of Peterborough, produced the indictment and record of conviction of David Thompson Myers [hanged for sodomy in 1812].
          George Browne. – I saw the defendant at Deeping wood-fair on the 24th of May last, as I was returning from dinner across the field. He said, what do you think of this job of mine? I asked him what job. He said, this of Mawby’s and mine: this close will have to come into the question, for he made his attempt upon me in this close. I said, he is one of the last men I should have thought would do so; how did he make the attempt? Barker said, by putting his arms round my neck, and pulling and hauling me about like a great wench. He further said, he had caught him (Mawby) in an indecent situation with a mare. I said, bless me, did you catch him in the fact? He said, oh no, only in an indecent sort of manner. – Cross-examined: He did not say when he caught him. Nobody was by when the conversation passed: my son coming up, I bid him good day and left.
          Henry Kind. – I am a gardener at Market Deeping. Defendant is a farmer, and lives in a very comfortable and decent situation. Two years ago, I was at work in Mr. John Barber’s garden, and he (defendant) was on the other side of the hedge, in his uncle’s adjoining premises. He said, here’s a pretty game on foot; I saw Mr. Mawby and another man come out of a hovel of Mr. Smith’s, and on my going up, one ran this way and the other that, and one had his breeches down. He said no more then. A day or two afterwards he told me that he was attacked in Mawby’s close by Mawby, who put his arms round his neck and kissed him. I observed to him that this was a particular thing, and he said it was. Nothing else passed. – Cross-examined: It might be in the spring of this year that he spoke to me. He spoke as if it had only occurred a few days before. I have had no conversation since with him. Mr. Sharpe the attorney was the first person I mentioned it to, on his asking me if I knew any thing. The hovel is in an 8-acre close, near the town. – Serj. Vaughan: I ask you if you had not hear reports of Mr. Mawby’s being addicted to these propensities? I never had heard. I swer I never heard any one but Mr. Barker say so. – Serj. Vaughan: Did you not say, “I have heard the same things of Mawby six years ago, when I first came to the town?” Witness, after some hesitation, said “I cannot recollect that I ever said so to any one.”
          Zachariah Rolfe. – I live at Market Deepeing. On the 26th of May last I was standing at the King’s Head, when Barker came up to me and said, “we are slashing away; you know what I mean; my old friend Joe and I, we are right on at it. I have been served with the copy of a writ,, and I have made a retaliation. I don’t suppose I can do any thing in it, I fancy they will be too strong for me, they will have too much power; but if I can do nothing else with him, I can take away the character of the old fellow at all events.” I said, how can you suppose such a thing? if you can’t substantiate and prove facts, how can you injure Mr. Mawby’s character? He said he could substantiate and prove every thing he had said about him. I asked him if he had ever caught Mr. Mawby in the fact? He answered, I can’t say I can prove facts against him. I asked, where it was he had seen any thing? He told me he had caught him in Mr. Smith’s hovel with some man. I asked, how he came to suspect him, and to go and examine the hovel? He said, he had been told by several people that Mr. Mawby had been seen to come out of this hovel several times, which caused him, and some one whom he did not name, to go and examine the hovel one night; and when he got to the first door next the street, something rushed out, but he could not tell whether a man or a beast; but the other man went and met Mawby at the other door of the hovel, and said “Oh, it’s Mr. Mawby!” – also that some other person was with Mawby, but he did not know who it was, and in the darkness of the night he jumped over the dyke and made his escape. I told him Mr. Mawby was a man I should least have suspected above all the men I knew: upon which he said, “the old joker wanted to sweetheart me two or three different times, but I would not stand it.” I then said it was not a thing worth our talking about, and bid him good morning. – Cross-examined by Mr. Clarke: I know there are two doors to the novel.
          Wm. Pilkington, of Market Deeping, shorty stated that on a day in the Spring defendant told him that he saw Mr. Mawby come out of a hovel, and that on his examining it there was nothing but a mare in it – Cross-examined: I did not understand that he was casting a reflection.
          George Reed, of Market Deeping. – Last Spring, Barker told me he was walking in the town and came in company with Mr. Mawby, who asked him to take a walk over the bridge or into the meadow; he declined; but they still kept walking on, till they came to a field of Mawby’s near a mill; they went over the stile into a ground, and had got some way, when Mawby put his arm round Barker’s neck and his hand to his breeches, and said “let’s have hold of you,” but Barker got away from him. When they returned to the stile, Mawby behaved in an indecent way again. Barker said no more to me then. From the description, I know the situation of the field; it is along a hedge that bounds the public road to Stamford. Afterwards, the latter end of May, he said he had seen Mr. Mawby in a hovel with a man, and the man’s breeches were down; he said he did not know the man,, but he had a blue jacket on, and lay with his breast over a rail, and Mawby was doing something indecent with him. Barker said he had a dark lanthorn at the time, and shaded upon them, so that he knew Mawby, but not the other man. Cross-examined by Serj. Vaughan: He did not name the time.
          Wm. Metcalfe, of Market Deeping. – On the 27th of April last I saw a writing on a wall leading out of the town and below the church, on the side of a road. With a pencil I took a cop of the words; they were as follows:– “Absconded and taken the road to Lincoln, taking with him a gang of boats, the old Sodomite’s son, or grandson to the Standgate highway robber. Whosoever will bring him to Sodomite’s inn, shall be liberally rewarded.” The words were written on the wall in rather large letters with chalk. Mr. Mawby had a short time before sold some boats, and his son was gone to Lincoln. The New Inn is Mr. Mawby’s. I took the meaning of the writing to be great, and from the mention of the gang of boats, I thought it applied to the plaintiff. I have known Mr. Mawby well for 14 or 15 years, ever since I have been at Deeping; he is an elderly man, and lives with his wife and son. – Cross-examined by Mr. Clarke: there are other boats in Deeping besides Mr. Mawby’s. It might be half-past 11 o’clock in the forenoon when I saw the writing.
          Wm. Laxton, of Market Deeping. – I purchased a gang of boats of Mr. Mawby on the last day of March. The defendant has once or twice called on me and spoken about the plaintiff. He asked me to speak to him to get this business settled. I said he had better consult a friend, and call on my next morning. He called on me last Saturday morning, and said he wished that I and Mr. Moulcey would speak to Mr. Mawby to see the business settled. I declined interfering, and said he had better consult his attorney. – Cross-examined: I am a friend of Mr. Mawby’s, for any thing I know.
          George Wright, of Deeping. – Was at a barber’s shop on a Thursday evening in April when Barker was there. He said, “old Joe Mawby has sold his boats to Mr. Laxton; I suppose he’s broke; he’ll soon be down now; I suppose he has sold them for his son to go to Lincoln fair to buy sheep with; he was obliged to do so last year; the old miller wants all he has; he interfered a good deal with that business of mine, but I’ll do him for it.” I never spoke to him at all, and Mr. Cox, the barber, only said “I suppose he has.” – Cross-examined: I did not udnerstand any thing about it, and thought no worse of the parties.
          Stephen Green, of Braceborough. – I have seen the defendant since this action was begun. On the 23d of June he called on me at my inn, the Horns and Blue Boar, in Stamford; I went out to him on the waiter saying I was wanted, and Mr. Barker began about Mr. Mawby. I said, you look flat; how are you going on with this affair? He said, “I don’t know; we still keep going on;” he added that he was sorry he was in such an affair, and wished it was over. I asked whether he could not get his friends in Deeping to settle it, and he said he did not know unless Mr. Moulcey would, and he asked me to go and speak to him, and to say he was ready to submit to any terms the case might require. I did not find Mr. Moulcey, and did not see the defendant again till last Saturday. A fortnight before, he told me he should see an old woman who had said to him that she saw Mawby come out of a hovel, and presently afterwards another man.
          This was the plaintiff’s case.
          Serjeant Vaughan, for the defendant, said he had rarely risen to address a Jury with more painful feelings: the most unpleasant part of his profession was the being occasionally called on to discuss subjects of this nauseating and disgusting nature. But there was a solemn duty to be performed, and he knew that the Jury would hold the scales evenly between the parties in this action. On a review or the evidence adduced, there was no pretence for saying that his client was guilty of the written libel. He called for a full acquittal on every count connected with that chalking, which seemed to have been referred to only to impose on the Jury. He (the learned Serjeant) would not attempt to say what man had made the writing, but he would rather say that the very walls themselves were prating of the infamy of this plaintiff; or else why apply to Mr. Mawby what was written? What right had any man to take it to himself, except that the being landlord of the “Sodomite’s inn” was a cap which fitted. Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung. – With respect to the other points, he (Serjeant Vaughan) did not mean to say the charges were not as gross as ever were imputed to any man. The plaintiff said he came forward as a most reluctant accuser; and when it was asked of the first witness whether certain rumours were not prevalent, the counsel for Mr. Mawby, instead of wising to unseal the lips of every person in Deeping and cast off this mountainous load of obloquy, objected to the question! It did not reflect any disgrace on Mr. Barker, that he expressed himself to be “in a hobble,” and wished to settle the action on proper terms; and it was not to be inferred that he meant to make any improper concession; for if, after having uttered such charges as he had done, he were basely to eat his words to save himself from damages, and to say that the plaintiff was pure and spotless as the sun, though he had represened him to be as black as hell, he (Serj. Vaughan) should think little worse of the defendant than he did of the plaintiff. What the plaintiff wanted was a little salve, not to heal (for that was impossible), but to prevent the rankling of this galling wound. – The learned counsel then applied himself to some observations with respect to the evidence as it related to the first set of words in the third count. “What was Myers hung for? If Mawby interferes with me, I will soon tell him what he was doing.” If the Jury believed the story of this conversation at the old woman’s, it was impossible not to see that the words did attribute that crime which had unhappily been more enquired into in this county than in any other in the Midland circuit. There was no doubt that there had been horrid propensities and practices in this county: those he addressed were in fact now virtually filling the office of Grand Jurymen, and if they should pronounce these charges true, the sooner they put a rope round the neck of the plaintiff the better, and he (Serj. Vaughan) hoped they should all have firmness enough to drive such a man from amongst them, and to send him for trial in the other court. [i.e. the Crown court, for a felony] He allowed that, if the charges were not true, no damages were too large to be given against the calumniator. It had been said, why bring forward in 1826, charges which had slumbered since 1822? But the plaintiff’s own witnesses had said he did mention the plaintiff’s conduct soon after it occurred. Even if they went no further than kissing a man, and putting his hand in the person’s breeches, that was conclusive of intention, and showed that opportunity only was wanting for the consummation of an abominable purpose. The hovel was known to be a place of resort for bad practices. But if the strongest-minded man of the Jury were to be attacked on his way home by a sodomite, and broke away from the wretch, would he not sooner let the matter drop, than go before a magistrate with so odious and contaminating a complaint? There was nothing resting on the character of the defendant for not sooner exposing the delinquent. He (Serj. Vaughan) would show that the plaintiff was a man given to those abominable propensities, and that he had made an attack on a man in that very inn of his, as well as on others at different times. He did admit that it was a most serious cause, of vital importance to the interests of one or the other of the parties; and he implored the Jury not to let their horror of the crime produce an escape with impunity: capital punishment for the attempt even would be no more than the award of justice.
          Witnesses for the defence were then called.
          Wm. Coates. – I lived at the New Inn, Market Deeping, as horsekeepr to the Perseverence coach. I know the plaintiff Mawby. – Question: “Did any thing ever take place between him and you?” – Mr. Denman objected, unless this was meant to apply to one of the pleas. – Serj. Vaughan: “The last plea speaks of an attempt to commmit an offence with a person unknown.” – The Judge held that the question could not be put. – Examination resumed: – The inn was Mr. Mawby’s property, and Mr. Speight managed it. I first went to it 8 or 9 years ago. I continued 9 months at the inn,, and in the town a longer time. – What was the reputation of Mr. Mawby as to any immoral practices? His general character was good; I never heard any thing ill of him before this rumour of Mr. Barker’s got abroad. I know a man named Todd; I never in my life knew any thing in connection with him and Mr. Mawby. I have heard that letter read (alluding to a letter which counsel held in his hand); I know nothing against Mr. Mawby but that once he gave me a salute.
          Samuel Baldwin. – I lived with the defendant Barker as a labourer, and worked with him at the latter end of 1822. On a Sunday evening in the month of November I saw him in company with the plaintiff; the moon shone a little; they were going along the street on the Stamford road, and got to a stile which leads to Mawby’sclose. I saw the plaintiff put his right arm round Barker’s neck; then I saw Mawby bend, and Barker turn away as if in resentment. I afterwrds heard Mawby say something, as I thought, about money, and use the expression “say ought or nought.” They then went into the town street together. – In consequence of what passed between the defendant and me, we watched Mawby about three weeks afterwards. At 8 o’clock at night in the beginning of December, Barker said “Mawby’s gone over such a close, and let’s go & watch him.” I and Barker, and a boy also named Barker, went to the hovel. Barker and his half-brother were first, and went in; I entered at the other door of the hovel, and as I went in, a man rushed by me. I saw something white about him, either a pocket handkerchief or his shirt out; he went off so quickly I could not tell which. I then went against Mr. Mawby: he said, who are you? and he added, “oh, it’s Baldwin;” I said, “oh, it’s Mr. Mawby.” He walked away with his hands straight down his body, to the middle of the close, where there is no road. That was all that passed. – Cross-examined by Mr. Denman: Why did not not go after the man? I caught at him; I did not observe his white linen at first; he was otherwise in dark apparel. – You went to watch and to catch, and yet you let him go? I did. He went round to the hovel corner. I did not give any alarm. It is across one close and into another, and then into the town. – I was in the workhouse, and was sent to gaol for disorderly conduct there. Mr. Lenton was overseer, and I think Mr. Smith was churchwarden: I do not know that Mr. Mawby was churchwarden or overseer. I was employed by Mr. Barker. I was sent to prison 8 or 10 days after the hovel scene, at the begininng of December, 1822, and was confined for 31 days. I left Mr. Barker’s service in consequence, and afterwards went to Helpstone. I was sent to gaol because my children cried in the workhouse, and we wanted some tea or some hot water. – By Col. Johnson, one of the Jury: It was a cloudy night with few stars; when Mr. Mawby put his right arm on, the defendant turned away to the left. – By Dan. Hebb, Esq., another Juryman: I was about 2 yards from Mawby; they went out at different doors of the hovel.
          Robert Barker. – I live at Ryhall, in service with Mrs. Brumhead, and have lived with her a year at Martinmas. Defendant is my brother by the father’s side.. At the latter end of 1822 I was living with my father, and in 1824 with Mr. John Addy, of Market Deeping. In 1822 I went with my brother and Baldwin, about 8 o’clock at night, to Mr. Smith’s hovel. I went in, and saw two men rise up from the hovel floor, as if they had their breeches down. Baldwin was gone on to the other door. I saw Mr. Mawby after he had come out of the hovel; the other man ran out, and I did not see him again. I saw Mawby just out of the door. I told it only to my father and mother; they wished that I should not. – About two years ago I was living with Mr. John Addy as a sesrvant. I went with my brother, about 7 o’clock, to the same hovel; nobody was then in it. He told me to go and stand still in the corner. The hovel was dark. In ten minutes or a quarter of an hour after, two men came in; I could not see who; they went to the opposite corner from us; I heard a noise, a little shuffling about; I could not see how they placed themselves. My brother had a dark lanthorn; he opened it; then I saw the men. One knelt down and laid his arms on the crib, and the other man was on him. When the light flashed upon them, they got out of the way as quick as they could; their breeches were down. I knew Mr. Mawby, but not the other. I am quite sure Mr. Mawby was one of the men; I knew him well. I had before heard reports. I heard a young man say he had run Mawby out of the hovel, and I heard a woman say she saw him come out. – Cross-examined: neither I nor my brother did any thing whilst we remained in the hovel; there was some straw; we were 7 yards or more from the men. I did not see Mr. Mawby again that night; I never told him that I saw him in the hovel. I did not mention this when I got home. I am now 18 years old. It was in February, 1824. We all three went together.
          Edward Algar. – I was applied to by the defendant to go and watch, in 1822. I went as far as his house, and he asked me wether I would go with him in search of a man, Mr. Mawby. I declined. I had before the heard rumours about Mr. Mawby, from one man, but not more.
          Mr. Denman submitted to the court that, after this evidence, he was entitled to call evidence to character. If evidence to character was admissible to his prejudice, a fortiori it was admissible to his service. – The Judge said he did not know any case in which such evidence had been allowed; and Mr. Denman confessed he could not state any.
          Mr. Denman then addressed the Jury in reply. The evidence being now closed, he appealed to the Jury whether there was any thing deserving the name of proof, either of fact or character, to the prejudice of his client. After living all his days on his patrimony amongst his neighbours, thus to be called to answer a charge to horrid and despicable, although confuted and despised, was a circumstance which he must lament to the latest moment of his life. It was to be deplored that the defendant had been so ill advised. A charge of such a nature preferred without foundation, made the accuser even more depraved and infamous than the wretch who deserved to be stigmatised with the foul crime imputed. It was a contest of character against character, and one in which he who cared not for his own, had unhappily that of another in his power. But the talisman would be broken by a British jury, who would, he was sure, award a perfect and honorable acquittal to his client. – He (Mr. Denman) considered it fortunate that his objection to evidence of general character had bene over-ruled; for though it had admitted a more dangerous sort of attack, that attack had completely failed. It was most clear that nothing had occurred to the prejudice of Mr. Mawby, up to the time that the wretched youngman his accuser went into the neighbourhood with his malignant and slanderous disposition. Whatever rumours had existed, were shown to have their origin with him. When the Judge intimated that there was no legal evidence of the writing on the wall being done by the defendant, the learned counsel had certainly no right to ask specific damages for this writing; but was it not clear to the minds of the Jury that the defendant had done it? The expressions were his own; and they would jot be forgotten by the Jury in their estimate of the injury suffered by the plaintiff. The character of Mr. Mawby had come like gold from the fire, sustained as much by the emphatic silence of some, as by the honorable testimony of others. Murder of character was not less atrocious and difficult to avert than murder of another kind; and it was impossible that the plaintiff should have been prepared to disprove allegations of which he could not know any thing. The evidence of Coats, in its fullest extent, amounted to the circumstances of a kiss having been at some time given by accident, in the dark, when it was probably intended for a female. If there had been any assault, Barker might now go before the Grand Jury with his indictment; but, happily for the cause of truth and justice, his own witnesses would give Mr. Mawby one of the best of characters. – Mr. Denman then commented on the several charges contained in the three sets of pleas. the imputation of estiality with a mare had vanished altogegher; and was it to be for one moment believed that a human creature, educated in England, should have witnessed such scenes as had been described in the hovel, and not have interposed to prevent their repetition? Such a statement refuted itself. Four years afterwards, when the horrid charges were made, it was impossible that any explanations could be given, or that a person could produce proof of the way in which he was actually engaged at the time when the crimes were alleged to have taken place. This most shameful and perjured case was to be supported by the testimony of a boy, who condemns his associates by the proof that, supposing there to have been one particle of truth in his story, he must have been taken to witness the revolting scenes described, at the age of 14 years. But there was no such thing: the boy came here to save his brother in his extremity. Mr. Mawby, if his accusers were to be bleieved, always went to the same hovel where he had been disturbed and suspected, and on all occasions the unknown paramour escaped. And what could be thought, after such events, of Mr. Mawby’s being the man to take an active part against Mr. Barker in the matter of Mr. Miller’s lost notes? It was no charge against the plaintiff that he was a lunatic; was it likely then, that he, of all men, should kick up a quarell with Barker? The latter knew the groundlessness of his wicked accusations, and up to Saturday last was endeavouring to effect a compromise. The evidence of Rolfe was decisive proof of the dark malignity of Barker’s mind and disposition. If such feelings were not restrained, they might be the destruction of every neighbou in turn; and it behoved the Jury ot affix an adequate and exemplary punishment, in damages, for accusations at once somalignant, so false, and so futile.
          Chief Justice Abbott briefly observed to the Jury, that this was an action for slander, which divided itself into two parts. Of that which related to the publishing by writing on a wall, there was no evidence of its proceeding from the defendant, and therefore the Jury would dismiss it from their consideration. “The other part,” his Lordship said, “appears to me to have been proved, by the connecting of “old Joe Mawby” with “Myers,” and other expressions which have been sworn to. The question is, therefore, whether you will believe the justification. There is one count in which there is no justification: it is that which charges the defendant with the use of the words “I caught Mawby with a mare, placed in a situation which he had no business to be in.” The witness to prove these words is Browne, and there is no question that your verdict must pass for the plaintiff on that count. The material point is, whether you believe the imputation of the plaintiff’s putting his arm round the defendant’s neck, and the pulling and hauling about: that the defendant made such an imputation is admitted for the plaintiff, the justification rests on the evidence of Baldwin, who says he saw the plaintiff put his right arm round the defendant’sneck, and Barker turn away to the left in resentment: but if he turned to the left, that would be into the plaintiff’s arms. And then (which is important) the witness states that plaintiff and defendant went together in the town, after this alleged outrage. If you are of opinion that the story as told by Baldwin and Robert Baker is true, the justification is certainly made out; but the story is very extraordinary. Knowing what the plaintiff is, as they say, they take no pains to bring him to justice; and the statement that one brother did not know that the other had a lanthorn about him, although they had a common purpose, and had walked a distance together, does seem very strange: it is certainly improbable that the lanthorn should have been so effectdually concealed from each other whilst they were walking over the field together. But this is a matter, Gentlemen of the Jury, peculiarly for your decision, after I have made the observation that you are not bound to give credit to a witness who endeavours to screen his brother from the consequendes of what they have done. The conduct imputed is of a most grievous description: If it is not proved, the attempt to prove it is an aggravation of the worst kind, and you will bear it in mind if you do not give credit to the story. Some weight, I think, attaches to the wish expressed by the defendant to put an end to the cause, but not so much as the learned Common Serjeant has imagined; it may ony show that the plaintiff was willing that those who were to arbitrate in the matter should make enquiries. The plea about the mare is not worth notice: the main circumstances are those in connection with the hovel. It is for you, Gentlemen, to decide in this important case, what credit is due to the witnesses.
          The Jury retired, and in ten minutes returned into court wht a verdict for the Plaintiff, damages Two Hundred Pounds.
          This trial engaged the court from ten o’clock till half-past four on Tuesday. (Stamford Mercury)

SOURCE: Stamford Mercury, Friday, 14 July 1826.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Sodomite Inn, 1826", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 20 February 2015 <>.

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