EDWARD GIBBON WAKEFIELD, WILLIAM WAKEFIELD AND FRANCES WAKEFIELD
Romance of a Wealthy Heiress who was abducted, and married at Gretna Green
THE extraordinary abduction of Miss Turner, a wealthy heiress, the daughter of Mr Turner, a gentleman of the highest respectability, living at Shrigley, in the county of Cheshire, by Mr Edward Gibbon Wakefield, excited an unusual degree of interest. The notoriety of the case renders it unnecessary for us to do more than give a general history of the circumstances attending the abduction, and the final termination of the proceedings against the defendants, Mr E. G. Wakefield, a barrister, and his brother William, and Mrs Frances Wakefield.
It would appear that Miss Turner, at the time of this affair, had just entered her fifteenth year. Her father was a man of large property, and was High Sheriff of Cheshire; and with a view to the proper education of his daughter, who was a young lady of lively disposition, of quick perception, and also of great personal beauty, he placed her at the school of a Mrs Daulby, at Liverpool. She had been there for a considerable time when, in the month of February, 1827, Mr E. G. Wakefield and his brother William went to Macclesfield on a visit, where they learned the situation, the wealth and the beauty of Miss Turner. They soon formed a design, by means of which they proposed to secure possession of the person of Miss Turner. With this view they quitted Macclesfield on the evening of the 5th of March, with the professed object of proceeding to the metropolis on their route to Paris; but, instead of taking the road to London, at seven o'clock on the morning of the 6th of the same month they presented themselves at the Albion Hotel, Manchester, in a Wilmslow post-chaise. Having purchased a carriage in this place, they sent it to Liverpool; and at eight o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, the 7th of March, the newly bought carriage was driven up to the house of Mrs Daulby, and a servant alighted from it and presented a letter, which was in the following terms, and which he professed to have brought with him from Shrigley. It was addressed to Miss Daulby, and was as follows: -- -
SHRIGLEY, Monday night, half-past Twelve. MADAM, -- I write to you by the desire of Mrs Turner, of Shrigley, who has been seized with a sudden and dangerous attack of paralysis. Mr Turner is, unfortunately, from home, but has been sent for, and Mrs Turner wishes to see her daughter immediately. A steady servant will take this letter and my carriage to you to fetch Miss Turner; and I beg that no time may be lost in her departure, as, though I do not think Mrs Turner in immediate danger, it is possible she may soon become incapable of recognising anyone. Mrs Turner particularly wishes that her daughter may not be informed of the extent of her danger, as, without this precaution, Miss Turner might be very anxious on the journey; and this house is so crowded, and in such confusion and alarm, that Mrs Turner does not wish anyone to accompany her daughter. The servant is instructed not to let the boys drive too fast, as Miss T. is rather fearful in a carriage.
The best thing to say to Miss T. is, that Mrs T. wishes to have her daughter home rather sooner, for the approaching removal to the new house; and the servant is instructed to give no other reason in case Miss Turner should ask any questions. Mrs Turner is very anxious that her daughter should not be frightened, and trusts to your judgment to prevent it; she also desires me to add that her sister, or niece, or myself, should they continue unable, will not fail to write to you by post. I am, madam, your obedient servant, JOHN AINSWORTH, M.D.
The allusion to the indisposition of the young lady to ride quickly gave the letter an air of authenticity, and its contents were immediately communicated to Miss Turner. On her seeing the servant, however, she expressed her surprise at his being strange to her; but the fellow, whose name was Thevenot, and who was in the service of Wakefield, answered with great readiness that, in consequence of Mr Turner's having taken a new mansion, he had made some alteration in his establishment, and had engaged him as butler, in lieu of the person who had before filled that situation. He added that the carriage would return by way of Manchester, where it would take up Dr Hull, who, it was known, had previously attended Mrs Turner, and that then it would immediately proceed to Shrigley. The extreme plausibility of the man's manner and story left no room for suspicion, and the young lady was in a few minutes handed into the carriage and driven off.
The vehicle reached Manchester in due course; but instead of going to Dr Hull's residence it stopped at the door of the Albion Hotel, and there the young lady was directed to alight. She was shown into a private room, but she had been there scarcely five minutes when Mr E. C. Wakefield presented himself. Miss Turner was at this time completely unacquainted with him, and she made to leave the room; but on his stating to her that he came from her papa, she remained. She proceeded immediately to make inquiries of him as to the state of her mother's health; but the necessity of some reason being given why she was not taken to Shrigley having arisen, Mr Wakefield told her that the fact was that the real cause of her removal from the school was the state of her father's affairs, and that the only reason why this was not at once communicated to her was a desire on the part of her parents to keep the circumstance secret from her schoolmistress and companions. He then introduced his brother William to her, and telling her that they were directed to conduct her immediately to Mr Turner, they ordered post-horses to be instantly got ready.
They then proceeded on the road to Huddersfield, and Miss Turner, buoyed up with the assurance of seeing her father at almost every stage, travelled all night until they arrived at Kendal, where she was assured that her parent would be waiting for them. Here, however, a fresh disappointment awaited the unhappy young lady. Wakefield, perceiving that she began to exhibit great anxiety, now found it necessary to become "more explicit" upon the subject of the state of her father's affairs, and he stated to her that the bank of Messrs Daintry & Kyle at Macclesfield had failed, and that an uncle of his, who was a banker at Kendal, had lent her father sixty thousand pounds; that this had partially relieved him, but that the Blackburn bank had also failed, and everything was now worse and worse; that her father was completely ruined, but that he (Wakefield) was his greatest friend; that his uncle could turn Mr Turner out of doors, but that Mr Grimsditch, the legal adviser of the latter, had hit upon a plan which, if it were followed out, would make all right; that some settlements were to be drawn up and made, and some property transferred to her, so that her estate would belong to her husband, whoever he might be; that Mr Grimsditch had proposed that he (Mr Wakefield) should marry her, but as he had never seen her he had laughed at the proposition; that his uncle, the Kendal banker, had insisted upon his seeing her, and it now remained for her to determine whether she would accede to this proposition, or that her father should be turned out of doors. He added that she might come to a determination when she saw her father, who was then on his way to Scotland, pursued by sheriff officers. Imposed upon by these representations, Miss Turner permitted herself to be carried to Carlisle, on the way to Gretna Green; and on their arrival in that city the younger Wakefield quitted the party for a short time. On his return he said he had seen Mr Turner and Mr Grimsditch at an inn close by, but that in consequence of their dread of sheriff officers the former was afraid to show himself; that Mr Grimsditch, in his fear, had thrust him from the house, declaring his anxious desire that the marriage should take place immediately, for that as soon as the certificate arrived at Carlisle, Mr Turner would be released. He also added that Mr Turner had desired him to inform his daughter that he entreated her not to hesitate; for if she did, there would be an execution at Shrigley, and they would all be ruined.
With such an injunction Miss Turner, with a degree of filial solicitude which did her honour, hesitated no longer, but at once proceeded to Gretna with Mr Wakefield, where the ceremony of marriage was performed by the far-famed blacksmith in the customary manner. This done, she returned with Mr Wakefield to Carlisle, and there expressed her anxious solicitude with regard to her father's situation, and desired at once to see him, in order that she might be assured of his safety. A new subterfuge was adopted, however, and she was informed that her father, having now secured his liberty, and intelligence of her marriage having already reached him, had gone on to Shrigley whither they were to follow him. Leeds was the point to which they next proceeded; and, on their arrival there, Wakefield recollected that he had an appointment at Paris, which he must keep in the ensuing week. He declared it impossible therefore that they could then go to Shrigley, and pretended to dispatch his brother to Cheshire with directions to conduct Mr Turner to London, where they would all meet. Wakefield and Miss Turner arrived at Blake's Hotel, in Prince's Street, Hanover Square, at half-past eleven o'clock, on the night of Friday, the 19th of March; but there a person who was in waiting declared that Mr Turner and Mr W. Wakefield had proceeded to France, so a chaise was directly ordered, and they started for Dover, and from thence by the first packet to Calais.
For several days the circumstances of the abduction remained totally unknown to the friends of the young lady; then the fact of her not having arrived at Shrigley having been discovered by Mrs Daulby, some members of the family were dispatched in pursuit of her, and she was traced to Manchester, and thence to Huddersfield; but there all trace of her and her companion was lost. The dreadful anxiety entertained by the unhappy parents of the young lady was soon still further excited by the receipt of a letter from Mr Wakefield, headed Carlisle, begging that Mr and Mrs Turner would render themselves quite easy, for that the writer had married their daughter. In a state of mind bordering on distraction Mr Turner instantly proceeded to London, for the purpose of procuring such aid as could be afforded by the police of the metropolis. His inquiries revealed to him that Mr Wakefield had carried his daughter to the Continent, and thither he dispatched the paternal uncle of the young lady, accompanied by his solicitor and Ellis, an active and prudent officer attached to Bow Street, and armed with a letter from Mr Canning to the British ambassador in France. In the meantime a letter was received by Mrs Turner from Mr Wakefield, headed Calais, in which the writer repeated the declaration that he had married Miss Turner, and taking all the blame of the transaction on himself as far as " over-persuasion " went. He added: " Miss Turner is fondly attached to me, and I do assure you, my dear madam, that it shall be the anxious endeavour of my life to promote her happiness by every means in my power."
Upon the landing of Mr Turner and his companions at Calais the first persons they saw were the young lady whom they sought and Mr Wakefield, who were walking on the pier. The exclamation of Miss Turner afforded a convincing proof that she had remained with Mr Wakefield unwillingly; for, crying out, " Good God! here's my uncle," she rushed from her companion, and was soon locked in the embrace of her relation, declaring how rejoiced she was that he had come to convey her home. Mr Wakefield, on finding matters take this turn, declared that the young lady could not be taken from him by force, and appealed to the. civil authorities of the town as to whether any person could be hurried from the country against their will. The mayor immediately interfered; but when he applied to the young lady to ascertain her feelings upon the subject she clung to the protecting arm of her uncle, and exclaimed that she would " freely go with him, to avoid the sight of that man " (Mr Wakefield). Mr Wakefield still urged his right to the possession of the young lady, as she was his wife; but Miss Turner cried out: " No, no, I am not his wife! He carried me away by fraud and stratagem. He forced me to accompany him to Gretna Green; and there, in the presence of a third person, I was compelled to acknowledge him as my husband, and to be called his wife. By the same forcible means I was compelled to quit England and trust myself to the protection of this person, whom I never saw until I was taken from Liverpool, and now never wish to see again." Wakefield, finding his plans completely frustrated, said to the uncle: "Then, sir, you may dispose of your niece as you think proper, but you receive her at my hands as a pure and spotless virgin." Mr Wakefield also drew up an acknowledgment declaring that no familiarities whatever had passed between him and the young lady, and, having signed it, put it into the hands of Mr Turner.
Mr Turner and his niece then forthwith returned to England, while Mr Wakefield proceeded to his hotel, packed up his luggage, and started directly for Paris.
A question now arose as to the proper mode of proceeding in the courts of law against the offending parties in this extraordinary transaction. Warrants were, however, issued against the Wakefields, upon one of which Mr William Wakefield was apprehended at Dover within a few days after his brother's flight to Paris. He was instantly conveyed before the magistrates of Cheshire, where an examination of great length took place. After a long argument upon the nature of the offence he was committed to Lancaster Castle to await his trial, the magistrates refusing to take bail for his appearance at the assizes. Under a writ of habeas corpus Mr Wakefield was brought before the Court of King's Bench on the first day of the followin Easter Term; and the depositions in the case being produced on the succeeding day, Mr Wakefield was admitted to bail, in a personal recognisancc of two thousand pounds, and with two sureties to the amount of one thousand pounds each.
At the following assizes for the county of Lancashire, indictments were preferred against Mr E. G. Wakefield and W. Wakefield for " having at Liverpool feloniously carried away one Ellen Turner, spinster, then a maid and heirapparent unto her father, William Turner, Esq., for the sake of the lucre of her substance; and for having afterwards unlawfully and against her will married the said Ellen Turner." An indictment was also preferred against the same parties, together with Edward Thevenot, their servant, and Frances Wakefield, their stepmother, who was alleged to have been concerned in the transaction, for a conspiracy; and the grand jury returned true bills in both cases, in the former, however, reducing the offence to a misdemeanour only. All the parties, with the exception of Thevenot, who was in France, appeared, and pleaded not guilty to the indictments; and Mr Justice Park, upon an application by the defendants, refused to postpone the trial. Mr E. C. Wakefield then claimed a right to traverse, and after some argument it was allowed him. Upon the 21st of August public curiosity was excited to the highest degree, in consequence of its being anticipated that the trial of Mr William Wakefield would then come on. The court was crowded to excess, and the ladies formed, as usual on such occasions, the principal part of the audience; but when Mr Wakefield was called it was found that he was not in attendance. Great disappointment was felt by the public in consequence, and an order was made by the learned judge that the recognisances of the bail and of the defendant should be estreated. The interest which the public took in this case from its commencement was now doomed to be suspended for a considerable time; for it was not until Friday, the 23rd of March, 1827, that the general curiosity which was entertained with regard to the termination of the case was satisfied. The three defendants were then put upon their trial at Lancaster, Mr Brougham appearing with others for the prosecution, and Mr Scarlett for the defence. After a trial which occupied the whole day, and in the course of which the circumstances we have already detailed were proved in evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against all three defendants.
The most remarkable part of the case was the examination of David Laing, the blacksmith at Gretna. His evidence simply amounted to proof that the Messrs Wakefield and Miss Turner had come to Gretna, being apparently agreeable to the match, and that he joined their hands and heard their acknowledgment in the usual form. The young lady, he said, presented him with a twenty- shilling note, and afterwards "embraced her husband very agreeably." The fellow, in his examination, declared that he had formerly been a merchant (that is, a Scotch pedlar), and that he had been forty-five years employed in joining hands at Gretna Green. He got thirty or forty pounds for this job. In appearance the old man had been made to assume an air of respectability. Someone had dressed him in a black coat, and a velvet waistcoat and breeches of the same colour, the shape of his hat being that commonly known as the "clerical cock." He seemed a vulgar fellow, though not without shrewdness, and had that air of familiarity which he might be supposed to have acquired by the freedom necessarily permitted by persons of a superior rank in life to one who was conscious that he had the power of performing for them clandestinely a most important ceremony. When he entered the witness-box he leaned forward towards the counsel with a ludicrous expression of gravity on his face, accompanying every answer with a knitting of his wrinkled brow and a significant nodding of his head, which gave peculiar force to the quaintness of phraseology which he assumed, and occasionally convulsed the Court with laughter.
On the following day Messrs E. G. and W. Wakefield submitted to a verdict of guilty on the second indictment; and upon the two findings the male defendants were committed to Lancaster Castle, there to remain until the ensuing term, when they were to be brought up for judgment in the Court of King's Bench.
On Monday, the 14th of May, Messrs E. G. and W. Wakefield were carried to the Court of King's Bench at Westminster to receive judgment, when affidavits were put in on their behalf, declaring that the latter had acted entirely under the guidance and direction of his elder brother. Mr E. G. Wakefield also swore that the expenses of his trial to him had exceeded three thousand pounds. The counsel on behalf of the prosecution having addressed the Court on aggravation, pressing for the severest penalty allowed by the law, Mr Justice Bayley addressed the prisoners. He dwelt in impressive terms upon the falsehood and art used by them to entrap the young lady into the marriage, and the gross delusions resorted to for the purpose of lulling her suspicions, and inducing her to yield to the design in carrying her off. He then referred separately to the conduct of the defendants, after which the learned judge passed sentence, which was that Edward Gibbon Wakefield should be imprisoned in Newgate for the space of three years, and that W. Wakefield should be imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for the like term of three years. Mrs Frances Wakefield, against whom a verdict of guilty had also been returned, was not brought up for judgment; the generous feelings of Mr Turner, much injured as his family had been, preventing him from proceeding with harshness against a female.
The next day a motion was made in the House of Lords by Lord Redesdale for leave to bring in a Bill to annul the marriage between Miss Turner and Mr Wakefield, when, after some discussion, the Bill was granted in the usual way.