Dialect, Despoilation and Disrepute

I should be working on some of my other writing projects but today I was back at The Old Bailey Online, pouring through some cases I’d noted earlier that had to do with topics of women’s reputation. One such case that I’d searched out and saved, unread, in my workspace had also turned up in another context – my interest in dialects and the representation of the spoken word. I figured that the case had to be interesting, spanning two such divergent aspects, so I finally settled down to read it in detail.

I’m not entirely certain it was a great idea as the case rather disturbing once you delve into the text. The case involves a claim of rape involving an eleven-year-old girl so you may want to hit the back button on your browser now.

The story begins with an indictment from 1735 against Julian Brown, an Italian-born resident of London who was charged with ravishing the young (disturbingly termed by the court as an “infant”) Susan Marshall, eleven years of age. According to Marshall’s own testimony, which opened the case, she had been sent to Brown’s shop to purchase two red herrings when he promised her another for herself should she come back privately. Marshall explained did so and was taken to a back room where he forced himself upon her:

Then he set me on his Lap, and put his Hand up my Coats, and threw me on the Floor, and – and – I screamed out, and called him nasty Rogue. But he said, Hush! hush! I do so to my Wife. And then he made me promise to tell no body, and so I did not speak of it till Monday; but then I told Mrs. Bathaway, for I was so sore that I could not go about; and she told my Mother.1

Brown responded that Marshall had only come to his shop one time that night and, thus, there had been no assault on his part. unusual only in that his dialect is incorporated into the record as with this line: “Vat’our it vas ven you come to mine Shop?”2 This claim reads as transliterated French-flavoured English, which it likely was, albeit Julian Brown claimed to be Italian by birth. That entire linguistically-mixed background was revealed in an earlier trial from 1735 where he testified against Mac Cray.3 The records for this 1735 trial are very revealing. They indicate that Brown had conveniently claimed to know no English in 1731 when he was charged with highway robbery, of which he was acquitted.4

According to Brown, Marshall’s family bore a grudge against him. “I brought an Action against deem in de King’s Bench for Scandal, and den dey indict me for dis Rape.”5 Now that is a tantalizing statement! I have not been able to look up that case yet but it’s now on the to-do list. (Of course, figuring out what type of case, civil, likely, but what particularly?, it is in order to figure out where in the Court of King’s Bench records I might find it? Well, that’s a whole other ball of wax.)

It was clear from the medical testimony that young Susan Marshall had recently been sexually active, whether consensual (with someone else, as Brown’s supporters would have it) or with the Italian immigrant, it could not be determined. A midwife, Elizabeth Palmer, testified that she had examined Susan Marshall almost a week later, but had still seen sign of what she and a corroborating surgeon termed to as use “in a barbarous Manner”.5 Other medical evidence offered that suggested the young woman had “the clap”, a venereal disease such as gonorrhea. However, the testimony of one John West who had sought to examine both victim and defendant but had only been permitted to see Brown, that Brown did not have a venereal disease likely weakened Marshall’s case since it would be assumed that Brown must have given her a disease which he himself manifested.

Not only did the medical evidence fail to clearly implicate Brown, but several witnesses spoke for Brown, including two lodgers, Elizabeth Frazier and Elizabeth Hammond. The first not only denied that Susan Marshall had ever been at Brown’s a second time on the night of the alleged assault, she went on to detail how the girl had come back the next day, buying gin and talking of spending time with other boys. Frazier even went so far as to cast Brown in a moralistic light, objecting to serving gin to the young girls.

In this trial, Brown is repeatedly described as an honest man. That would not always be the case in his dealings with the court. Just a few months earlier, in July, Brown testified in the case of Cray (or Gray) where he was closely questioned as to his linguistic abilities and trustworthiness. There, an unusual note appears in the Proceedings to explain why the court questioned Brown so closely:

* In September 1731 Julian Brown was indicted for robbing Rebecca White of her Pocket, &c. near Hungerford Market, and though he pretended that he could not speak a Word of English, the Prosecutrix and another Witness swore that he said very plainly D – your Blood ye Bitch, deliver your Money – She cry’d stop Thief. He ran away, was immediately pursued, and taken in Covent Garden Church Porch ( where he had hid himself) with the Pocket in his Hand. See the Sessions Paper, 1731. Number 7. Page 11.6

Other witnesses attested to and against Marshall’s character. Notably, there was no one to speak against Brown’s but I doubt that even a charge against his character would have been enough to turn the tide. With no witnesses to Marshall’s return and multiple claims against her story as well as her character, her case against Julian Brown must have appeared impossibly weak, even without considering the ways in which the deck was stacked against women making charges of sexual assault.

In the end, Julian was acquitted of the charge of rape. Brown’s only remaining appearance in the Old Bailey materials was a curious return in December of 1735 where he testified against five men, Mac Cray’s accomplices in highway robbery and other crimes in such a way that it was clear that Brown was in it, right up to his neck.7 However, that’s a story for another day.

1. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 18 August 2013), October 1735, trial of Julian Brown (t17351015-28).

2. Ibid.

3. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 18 August 2013), July 1735, trial of Thomas Gray , alias Mac Cray alias Mac Creagh (t17350702-22).

4. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 18 August 2013), September 1731, trial of Julian Brown (t17310908-51).

5. OBPO, October 1735, trial of Julian Brown (t17351015-28).

6. OBPO, July 1735, trial of Thomas Gray , alias Mac Cray alias Mac Creagh (t17350702-22).

7. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 18 August 2013), December 1735, trial of William Wreathock Peter Chamberlain James Russet , alias Rushead George Bird Gilbert Campbell (t17351210-54).



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2 responses to “Dialect, Despoilation and Disrepute

  1. Fascinating! As well as painfully similar to what often happens today.