HL Deb 04 May 1830 vol 24 cc354-8
The Bishop of London

said, he rose to present to this House, according to the notice which he had already given, the Petition of Mary Anne Wayte, (mother of Elizabeth Hickson,) and George Wayte, her husband, for leave to bring in a Bill to annul that young lady's Marriage. In the year 1828 she had the misfortune, being then under age, to contract a marriage with Thomas Buxton. The parties eloped, the marriage ceremony was performed, but the young lady was speedily overtaken by her uncle, who extricated her from the grasp of her husband before the marriage could be consummated. The young lady soon became sensible of the impropriety of the step which she had taken, and extremely desirous to be emancipated from the society and control of Thomas Buxton. It appeared from the statements in the Petition, that Buxton had for a long course of time addicted himself to every kind of profligacy and vice, and a good deal was mentioned in it of the prosecutions and legal proceedings which had arisen from the conspiracies of which this unfortunate young lady had been the victim. Among these was an attempt he made to have her produced, by virtue of a writ of habeas corpus, before the Court of King's Bench; but in that instance the Court declined to interfere, because it would have had to try, by a sort of side wind, the validity of the marriage. The petitioners stated, that Thomas Buxton had, in the whole course of this unhappy transaction, conducted himself with fraud and treachery, and the young lady herself declared, that to be compelled to live with him would be only to entail upon her permanent unhappiness. Under these circumstances, the petitioners hoped, that in consequence of the clause of the Marriage Act, which provided that a marriage should be null and void, when the banns had been published in a parish where the parties did not actually reside, they might have the relief for which they prayed. But he observed, that by a subsequent clause of the same Act, all evidence of such a marriage was interdicted. It seemed, however, to have been the intention of the Legislature to declare a marriage so obtained null and void, and at the same time to declare, that the law would not interfere to allow the parties to prove the circumstances of their alleged marriage. The petitioners nevertheless hoped that their Lordships would hear such evidence, that considering the fraud which had been practised, and more particularly considering that the marriage had never been consummated, which was a most essential circumstance, they hoped that their Lordships would feel it to be an act of justice to nullify such a contract. He was aware that public policy required that their Lordships should rarely interfere in abrogating such engagements, but parliamentary interposition might be justified in cases of deliberate fraud and informality, such as was the case he brought under their Lordships' notice. The young lady herself implored to be saved from the effects of her own impropriety; her life would be miserable if consigned to the association of this man. She was herself an heiress; her uncle was likewise in possession of a still more considerable property than her mother, he had no other relation so near to him as this young lady, and his mortification would be great if his property were to run the risk of passing into the hands of so profligate a person as Buxton, who not contented with fraudulently enticing the young lady away from her home, and palming this marriage upon her, had persecuted her ever since with the most pertinacious annoyance. At all events, he hoped that their Lordships would give a calm hearing to the solicitation of the petitioners, and would allow him, on a future day, to submit it to the judgment of a committee of the whole House.

The Bishop of Lichfield

seconded the Motion.

The Earl of Eldon

was of opinion, that the subject then before their Lordships was one which required very serious consideration. No cases, in the view of the law, were more complicated than those which related to clandestine marriages. Conspiracies of this kind were frequent, and when he had the honour of holding the Great Seal, they were often brought before him, and he had to dispose of them in the same manner as his predecessors had done. He was aware that when the banns have been fraudulently performed, a clause in the Marriage Act declared the ceremony to be null and void; but he was also aware, that the subsequent clause which forbade the circumstances of such marriages from being given in evidence, counteracted the means of establishing the nullity, so as to bring it under the previous clause. If the marriage be null and void, he wished their Lordships to see whether the parties could not have their remedy at common-law without coming here; if they had not, then their Lordships must see whether the special circumstances of this case resembled those upon which the legislature had heretofore acted. It would be their duty, when they came to consider the case, not to confine their attention to it alone, but to sec how any decision respecting it would bear upon the general principle which ought to govern all such cases. The party complaining had here, as he understood given her free consent to the marriage and in relation to the general question, that circumstance was very important. No man wished more than he did that the legislature should enact the strongest provisions against the base and scandalous frauds which had been of late years so prevalent amongst us. Of the old Act of Parliament he was convinced, from his own experience, while holding the Great Seal, that it was imperfect and inadequate, and he believed that the inefficient clause was literally copied into the new Act. Of what use was it to provide that the wrong publication of the banns rendered the marriage null and void; when in the next clause, forbidding the circumstances of such marriage from being given in evidence, the law deprived the party wronged of the only means of proving the fraud which had been perpetrated? What could be more absurd than that,—and yet it was the law of the Marriage Act? The banns were, in fact, never legally performed. The Act provided that no clergyman should be obliged to publish banns, until he had received seven days previous notice; and yet that provision was evaded every day; indeed, it had, on more occasions than one, been his painful duty as well as that of his predecessors, upon complaint of the illegal publication of banns, to drag into Court some of the most respectable of our clergymen to answer for that offence. The Act of Parliament said, that the clergyman must have seven days notice of the intended banns. But he did happen to know, and so most likely did their Lordships, that just before the clergyman began the second lesson, the clerk handed him up a paper, which was for the publication of banns, and he published them immediately, without further inquiry, or, indeed, without having, at such a moment, any means of making any inquiry. The clergyman then became inadvertently culpable, and amenable to the law for this offence. Ought such a state of things, with reference to such a ceremony, to exist? Certainly not; the whole subject ought to be examined and revised. The present question was merely whether their Lordships should examine into the circumstances of this particular marriage, and then, if they found the banns to have been illegally published, declarc the marriage void by an Act of the Legislature? There might be circumstances, as in Miss Turner's case, which would justify their Lordships' concurrence in the prayer of such a petition. There was not a man, he believed, whose heart beat rightly in his bosom, who would not feel happy to put an end to such wicked contrivances; but their Lordships should anxiously look into all the particulars of such cases, and take care not to infringe general principles. At all events, he agreed cordially with the right reverend and learned Prelate, that the Petition was entitled to their anxious consideration before they decided upon it.

The Petition read, and referred to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.

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