Tuesday 28 December 2010

Strange bigamy

Minnie Langford, a 30-year-old laundress living at 151 Creek Road, Deptford, married police constable John Alfred Ellis on 24 January 1889. That might sound like a pretty ordinary event, but there were two problems: first, Minnie was already married, a detail which saw her brought before Greenwich Police Court in January 1890. However, in her defence she raised a second issue: John was her nephew, they had never cohabited, and her sister had 'made her do it'. (The marriage would therefore not be legal and thus, arguably, no bigamy would have been committed.)

That defence raised more questions than it answered. Why did Minnie marry her nephew if they had no intention of sleeping together (they already lived in the same house)? Why would he, as a police officer, want to venture into such legally dubious territory? There were no answers at her first appearance before the court, but Inspector Phillips raised a new set of problems: Minnie had given a false name and false personal details on the marriage certificate.

At a later hearing, matters hadn't become a lot clearer. Minnie continued to say that she had married at her sister's behest; her 'husband' was now a co-defendant, charged with aiding and abetting her. He said, 'It was mother's fault. It was done as she was in debt, and I did it to get her out of a difficulty.'

Information continued to leak out at the next magistrates' court hearing: reports noted that the charge had been brought by Minnie's sister, the supposed inciter of the marriage. Further, John Ellis 'had made a report on his marriage for submission to the superintendent' but it was not admissible evidence in court, because it had been made under duress.

Sadly, the records never give us a full explanation. When Minnie and John were tried at the Old Bailey, they pleaded guilty. As a result, no further evidence was heard. (More may have been said in mitigation, but if so that is not recorded.) Minnie was sentenced to six months' imprisonment with hard labour, John to four.


Hels said...

What a very weird story. If the marriage was conceived as a way of getting out of debt, I could well believe it. But who gained and who lost?

And what happened to the protagonists, after their gaol sentences were over? Did they admit their love for each other and elope to New Zealand?

CarolineLD said...

It is very hard to work out how their marriage would benefit the sister/mother. As for what happened later, that of course is outside the court records - although I might check the census records if I have some spare time...