Local History Society

 Memories: Florence Arthur Libel Case

The Mount, Bishopstoke

Thomas Hargreaves at Arborfield

Thomas Hargreave in Bishopstoke

Thomas Hargreaves - death and afterwards

Sarah Hargreaves

The Schooner 'Ianira'

While his wife Sarah Hargreaves had been bringing up their family at Arborfield Hall, Thomas Hargreaves was living apart at The Mount, Bishopstoke, and had been in a relationship with Mrs. Geraldine Bertha Warriner until her death in 1885.

It seems from a libel case in April 1887 that Thomas had then taken up with a young lady named Florence Arthur. His relationship with her was made public during a libel case which hinged around a letter that Florence had written to him in private, but the letter was opened by Florence's sister and thus made public. The libel case was reported in several publications including the Pall Mall Gazette, London Standard, Hampshire Advertiser, and the Illustrated Police News, where the following article appeared on 30th April 1887:


At the Marylebone Police-court, on Tuesday, Miss Florence Arthur, aged twenty-nine, a lady residing at 11, Park-village East, Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park was charged on a warrant, having failed to answer a summons, for maliciously publishing a defamatory libel concerning Mr. Thomas Ratcliffe. A counsel conducted the case for the complainant, and Mr. Mann, solicitor, defended.

Captain Thomas Hargraves [sic], of The Mount, Bishopstoke, said he had known both the complainant and the defendant for a long time. The letters produced were in Miss Arthur's handwriting. Witness received them while yachting off Ramsgate, about October last year. After having read the letters he caused them to be forwarded to Mr. Ratcliffe, the complainant.

The learned counsel then read one of the letters in question, in which the writer cast serious reflections on the moral character of the complainant and his wife, who is the defendant's sister, and suggested that Captain Hargraves should consult members of the Junior Carlton Club as to the complainant leaving it.

Cross-examined: Mrs. Ratcliffe was on board witness' yacht when the letters were received. In fact, he believed they were handed her from shore, and seeing one in her sister's handwriting she opened it, although it was addressed to witness. He certainly did not regard it as “private and confidential”. He thought the two sisters would become friends again. He (witness) had no ill-feelings in the matter.

Mr. Mann: Has not Florence Arthur, my client, occupied the position of your wife? Captain Hargraves: Well, really, what do mean? She's not my wife.

Mr. Mann: You know well enough what I mean. Has she not occupied the position of your wife? Captain Hargraves: I swear not. She has visited me at times. She has occupied the position of another man's wife.

Mr. Mann: Was defendant not living with you, shortly before this letter was received, as your wife? Captain Hargraves: I never considered her my wife. I refuse to answer these questions. (To the Magistrate): Am I obliged to answer them?

Mr. Mann: Have you not written to the defendant, and called her “My dear wife?” Captain Hargraves: I might have done so.

Mr. Mann: Here is one of your letters (produced), in which the words appear. Further cross-examined, the witness said there was a serious breach between himself and the defendant before October last year. Mr. Bedford was his solicitor, and he was conducting this prosecution. He believed that all the complainant wanted was an apology from the defendant. The witness was being examined as to some civil proceedings pending when counsel objected.

Mr. Mann remarked that letters between a man and his wife had been held to be privileged, and he should show that the defendant was occupying the position of wife to the witness at the time she wrote the letters to him. Re-examined: The defendant had stayed with him for a few days at a time.

The complainant had just entered the witness-box in order to give evidence, when the court adjourned for luncheon.

Later in the afternoon the learned gentleman made a statement to the effect that, as the defendant had expressed regret for what she had written, the prosecutor wished to withdraw the case. Mr. De Retzen said he thought that a wise course to pursue, and allowed the case to be withdrawn.


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