Convicted of bigamy, 29th of June, 1840
ON Monday, the 29th of June 1840, Robert Taylor, one of the most impudent impostors that we ever remember to have read of, was tried at the Durham Sessions for polygamy. The offender was a mere youth, between nineteen and twenty years of age, but his numerous matrimonial adventures and devices to obtain money, marked him as a person of singular cunning and dexterity. His plan seems to have been in all cases to practise first on the cupidity of his own sex, by holding out a pecuniary reward to anyone who would procure him a suitable alliance, and then, by representing himself to be of aristocratic birth and heir to extensive possessions, to dazzle and win over the victim and her friends. To aid his views, he represented himself as a son of Lord Kenedy, of Ashby Hall, Leicestershire. He was furnished with numerous documents, framed to corroborate his misrepresentations. These, which he carried in a tin case, were found on his person when he was apprehended. Amongst them was a parchment, on which was written, in a fine clerkly hand, what purported to be 'The last will and testament of Lord Kenedy', &c. By this document Taylor appeared to be the heir to 1,015,000L. three per cent consols, besides immense wealth in coal mines, salt factories, woollen factories, quarries, machinery, houses, plate, jewellery and even ships; and 'John Nicholson, Thomas Johnson and Mrs Robinson' appeared to have been constituted 'guardians of the said Robert Taylor'. The documents bore date 22nd of September 1829, and exhibited the signatures, first, of the supposed testator 'Kenedy', and then of the attesting witnesses, 'Samuel Robinson, clerk to James Lee and John Turner' and 'William Cowley, barrister'. He had also an indenture certifying the correctness of the will, and describing his person by certain marks on his right arm, and elsewhere. He had sundry other papers ingeniously enough contrived for the purpose of aiding his deception, but, as he was a youth of coarse and vulgar manners, the success which attended his impostures can only be accounted for by the blind avarice of his dupes. At the time of his trial, six of his marriages, in several parts of the north of England, had come to the knowledge of the police, but there was good reason to suppose that there were many other instances in which he had successfully conducted his plans.
Like many who have pursued a career of base and unprincipled deception, this scoundrel affected great sanctity, and connected himself at different times with both the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists. Indeed, one of his principal dupes was a Mr Fryer, a preacher in the last-named connexion, who, Taylor having promised a reward of 10L. to anyone who would procure him a young and religious wife, offered him the choice of his two sisters-in-law. Taylor chose the younger, a girl about eighteen years of age, and was married to her. This preacher not only failed to obtain the expected reward, but was swindled out of 12L. which he lent to the roguish adventurer. This, however, proved the last of his exploits, for having made several fruitless attempts to run away from this wife, he was at length compelled to take her with him, and on his way through the county of Durham he was apprehended.
The budget of papers found in the prisoner's possession contained a multitude of curiosities besides those above alluded to, which our space will not allow us to particularize. It appeared from one of them, an indenture of apprenticeship, that at the age of thirteen he had been apprenticed to a sweep and collier in Staffordshire till he should be twenty-one years old. The indenture described him as a poor child from Fatfield, in the county of Durham. There was several licences and documents relating to his marriages. One of these was a memorandum of an agreement between Robert Taylor and Mary Wilson, of Newcastle on-Tyne, to marry in three months from October 16 1839, Taylor to forfeit 20,000L. if he married any other woman and Mary Anne to forfeit one-third per annum of her yearly salary if she proved faithless. Annexed to this was a memorandum of a loan of 4L. from Mary Anne's father, with an engagement, on the part of Taylor, to pay 1L. per annum interest. Many of the papers related to the prisoner's connexion with the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, and with the Teetotallers, of which latter society he appears to have been a staunch adherent. The most curious paper was 'a memorandum of agreement made between Robert Taylor, Esq, son of the late Lord Kenedy, of Ashby Hall, in the parish of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and those he may engage as servants'. We regret that we cannot give this amusing document entire. It bears what purports to be the prisoner's signature, and from it he appears to have engaged an establishment of stewards, butlers, footmen, grooms, coachmen, gamekeepers, helpers, &c, sufficient for half a dozen princes at salaries of from 20L. to 60L. per annum. The stipulation of the engagement was, that the servants, butlers included, were to observe the teetotal pledge.
When the prisoner was placed at the bar to take his trial, the court was excessively crowded, and all eyes were fixed upon the young Lothario who had so readily succeeded in procuring half a dozen wives. Instead of a handsome, seductive gallant, there stood before the court a shabby-looking individual, with a face not merely ordinary but repulsive. He was evidently much amused at the sensation which his appearance produced, and joined in the smiles of the bystanders. He was perfectly unabashed and conducted himself throughout the trial with the utmost ease and unconcern.
The first case taken was that of the prisoner's intermarriage with Mary Ann Davidson, the sister-in-law of Mr Fryer, the Primitive Methodist preacher. John Wood, a wagoner of Birmingham, was called to prove the first marriage of which the authorities had any knowledge. It appeared, that this witness met the prisoner in Birmingham in 1838. The prisoner told Wood he was heir to 60,000L. a year under the will of his father, Lord Kenedy. In proof of this assertion he produced papers. He said he had a great wish to be married to a respectable young lady, and if Wood could introduce him to such a one, he would make him a handsome present. Wood introduced him to Miss Sarah Ann Skidmore and to her father, who was a shopkeeper. The documents were shown to the young lady and her parents: the licence and the wedding-ring were procured that very day, and the couple were married the next morning. Shortly after, the prisoner went to London to settle his affairs. He subsequently returned and lived with his wife; but he had not been married more than six or seven weeks when he deserted her altogether.
As the prisoner was undefended, the court asked him if he had any questions to put to the witness.
Prisoner: 'I'll ax him one or two. I axed you if you knew a decent girl as wanted a husband and you said you did, you knew as how one Sarah Ann Skidmore wished to be married. And I told you I'd advertised and offered a reward of 10L. You took me to Benjamin Skidmore. Now, are you sure as how he saw the dockyments?'
Witness: 'Yes, quite sure: you showed him a document stating that you would have 60,000L. a year when you came of age.'
Prisoner's mother (from the middle of the court): 'Robert, tell them thou's under age, and thy marriage can't stand good.'
The prisoner gave a lordly wave of the hand, accompanied by a significant gesture, intimating to his maternal parent to leave the management of the case to his superior skill. Then, turning to the witness, he said, 'Are you sure that you yourself saw the will?'
Prisoner: 'No, it was not the will: it was only the certicket of my guardians to show who I was and what property was coming to me.'
Here Mr Granger, the counsel for the prosecution, drew forth the tin case, which was a pitman's candle-box bearing the following inscription, 'Robert Taylor, otherwise Lord Kenedy'. From this case the learned counsel drew the 'dockyments'. The 'will' was rich alike in its bequests and its odours. It was a foul and filthy affair to look upon and to approach. Disregarding the usual long and dry prefaces in which lawyers are accustomed to indulge, it rushed at once into the marrow of the subject. Mr Granger tickled the ears of the court with a line or two. Thus:
'I give and bequeath to Robert Taylor, son of Elizabeth Taylor, single woman, 1,015,000L. three per cent Consols and no more.' The will proceeded to bestow upon him four coal-pits, a woollen factory, two or three ships, and sundry other trifles, as before mentioned.
Mary Davidson, a neat, modest-looking girl, detailed the circumstances which led to her marriage with the prisoner. The latter, she said, was introduced to her at the house of her father, on the 4th of April, by Benjamin Fryer, her brother-in-law, who was a preacher among the Primitive Methodists. The latter said he had known the prisoner some time, and he recommended him as a pious young man whom he had brought to the house on purpose to marry her. The prisoner said he was the son of Lord Kenedy, and the moment he arrived in London with a wife he would have 700L., and 20L. a year till he was of age, when he would have 60,000L. per annum. He showed her several documents, one of which was a certificate that he was Lord Kenedy's son and would have 60,000L. a year when he came of age. He had previously seen her unmarried sister, whom he rejected in favour of her. They were married by licence the very next morning. They lived together three weeks, during which time the prisoner had made several attempts to get away; and many times, in the night, he had endeavoured to slide the ring off her finger. While they were together, he lived upon the money which he borrowed from her brother-in-law, to whom he owed 22L.
The prisoner being again directed to ask the witness any questions he pleased said, placing his hands upon the bar and leaning forward in a counsellor-like attitude, 'Now, Mary, are you certain that I had 22L. from your brother-in-law?' Witness: 'You had 12L. in money and you were to pay him a reward of 10L.'
Prisoner: 'You say I had 12L. in money, Mary. Now there was 10s to be paid for the ring, 5s for fees, 3L. 10s. for the licence, and 8L. had in money, which makes 12L 5s. So you see, Mary, you are wrong. You was also wrong when you said I told you I was to have 20L. per annum per year.' Witness: 'You said 20L.'
Prisoner: 'No, Mary, I said 150L. per year per annum. And I wish to ax you if I didn't say, "Will you have me, money or no money?"' Witness: 'No, you did not.'
Prisoner: 'Yes, Mary, I axed you, would you have me, money or no money, and you consented either way.'
The prisoner spoke at considerable length in his defence, giving a rambling account of his various migrations from the north to 'Brummagem', from 'Brummagem' to the north, &c, with some amusing particulars of his marriages and courtships, whereby he wished to make it appear that all the young ladies he came near wanted to have him, and that he had been in every instance inveigled into wedlock for the sake of his possessions. His main defence was that he was under age, and that all his marriages were illegal; and his conclusion seemed to be that having contracted one illegal marriage, he thought himself perfectly justified in contracting a hundred.
The prisoner's mother having expressed a wish to give evidence, and the prisoner having consented, she took her place in the witness-box, and deposed that she was now the wife of Michael Rickaby. The prisoner was not born in wedlock; she had him in a love affair. But she would not say who his father was. She had not come there for that. He was under age.
The jury found the prisoner 'Guilty'.
The prisoner was next indicted for having, in October 1839, married Mary Ann Wilson, daughter of George Wilson, a tobacconist of Newcastle. The marriage to Miss Skidmore was again proved by the certificate, which bore his lordship's mark. The prisoner, it appeared, had advertised for a wife in the Newcastle papers. In that town he appears to have attached himself to the Wesleyan Methodists. By his professions of religion and his teetotal pledges, he obtained a high character for morality and sanctity. Miss Wilson said she first saw the prisoner in October at a Methodist chapel in Newcastle. On the same day she met him at a class meeting. On the 16th of October she was introduced to him by a friend, when he promised to call upon her at three o'clock that afternoon. He did so, and as soon as he sat down, he pulled out a tin case which was marked 'Robert Taylor, otherwise Lord Kenedy'. He said he was entitled to 60,000L. a year and other hereditaments. The following day he made her an offer of marriage and she accepted him. He said if he could get the loan of some money, they would be married the next morning. Her father lent him 4L., a licence was bought, and they were married the day but one after she had accepted him and three days after her introduction to him. Eighteen days after this he deserted her, and she heard no more of him till he was in custody.
The jury returned a verdict of 'Guilty'.
The court having spent some time in deliberation, The chairman said: 'You have for some time been going about the country in a most unprincipled way, marrying weak and unsuspecting girls and bringing misery upon them and their friends. We have seriously considered whether it is not imperative upon us to visit you with the severest penalty that the law allows. We have determined, however, to stop short of this; but you must be punished with great severity for your wicked con duct. For the first offence of which you have been convicted, you are sentenced to be imprisoned one year to hard labour, and for the second, to be imprisoned eighteen months to hard labour, making altogether two years and a half.'
Prisoner: 'Gentlemen, when I come out again, will any of my wives have a claim upon me?'
The court declined to answer the question, and he then requested that his 'dockyments' might be restored to him.
The court thought it better to make no order: they might be placed in the hands of the governor of the jail.
The mother of the prisoner, on quitting the court, finding herself an object of some attraction, became somewhat communicative on her family history. Among other things, she stated that her son was one of General Evans's 'Legion', and that she had sent a letter into Spain, which had the effect of procuring his return to England. She had come from Workington, in Cumberland, a distance of one hundred and fifteen miles, to attend the trial, for 'her son was her son', and she could not rest without coming. One thing she would not allow curiosity to penetrate -- and that was, the mystery which hung over the prisoner's birth. She had 'kept the secret' nineteen years and was not going to reveal it in the twentieth. All that she would say was, that 'she had him to a real gentleman'.