HL Deb 24 February 1846 vol 84 cc3-5

then said, that he wished to bring before their Lordships a case of hardship for which the law and the Constitution afforded no remedy. Their Lordships would recollect the case of "Wakefield v. Turner;" he had followed exactly the practice that was adopted in their Lordships' House in that case. The petition praying for the Divorce Bill which he was to present to their Lordships was the petition of Jane Wortham, of Stoke Newington, Middlesex, the widow of a Mr. Wortham, who died in 1842. The family were at that time in narrow circumstances, and took lodgers; and Thomas Burton Newenham, a person of forty years of age, or upwards, became an inmate of the house. The widow had a daughter about thirteen years of age. Soon after the death of Mr. Wortham, in 1842, a succession opened to the daughter to a landed estate of 400l. a year. Newenham laid his plans immediately. He visited at the house where he was no longer a lodger since the improved circumstances of the family. Mrs. Wortham was put off her guard from the disparity of years, and from his having known Miss Wortham since she was a child of eleven years old. The girl, as was represented to him (Lord Brougham), was not of strong understanding. Newenham took an opportunity, about five o'clock one evening, when Mrs. Wortham was out, to state that her mother's affairs rendered it absolutely necessary that Miss Wortham should proceed with him to his solicitor's in Furnival's-inn. Instead of conveying her there, however, he took her to the Euston-square station of the Birmingham Railway, and ultimately to Gretna-green, having effected her seduction, as it appeared, on the road. At Gretna-green the parties were married and came back. Newenham was tried for the abduction at the Central Criminal Court, convicted, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Mrs. Newenham, it appeared, had been since delivered of a child; but the relief asked by this Bill would not bastardize the child, for it would only go to dissolve the marriage. All that he begged of their Lordships was the amplest attention to this case. He did not wish to provoke any discussion, and he therefore merely stated the facts. He wished to refer the whole matter to a Committee of the whole House. This was a case in which the wickedness of one party worked on the innocence and ignorance of another party, so as to destroy that individual's peace of mind, and transfer the whole of her property to himself. In this instance the man had acquired a right to all the woman's personal property without any control. All these grievances she would sustain, if their Lordships could not grant her relief; and therefore he prayed their Lordships to weigh well and maturely the whole bearings of this case.


hoped his noble and learned Friend would have the petition printed before it was referred to the Committee.


concurred, and was understood to say that he could not lay before the House the whole circumstances of the case of Wakefield, as all the inquiry that could be made on the subject was in a great measure useless, in consequence of the Wakefields having bought up the published accounts of the case.


must enter his solemn protest against the proposal for dissolving marriages which it was admitted had been celebrated according to the law of Scotland. This was a case where the marriage was clearly in accordance with that law, where the parties had lived as man and wife, where the marriage had been consummated, and there had been issue of that marriage. To talk of dissolving that marriage, and leaving the child legitimate, would be contrary to all principle, and might be attended with most alarming consequences. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord that the law of Scotland was exceedingly defective, and ought to be amended; and he hoped that the learned Judges in Scotland would return to the opinion they held in 1835 on that subject. But while the law remained as it was he held that it must be obeyed; for if they were to allow the dissolution of a marriage which was admitted to be valid, and of which there was issue, there was no saying where such a proceeding might stop, if once adopted.


thought, if all marriages were to be dissolved which were contracted under the same circumstances which characterized the present case, no great harm would be done. If a robber entered a house and took off a child of fourteen—that robber being a man of forty—and by the grossost fraud contracted a marriage with that child, he did not think the consummation of that marriage anything but a gross aggravation.

Motion agreed to.