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Muckleston Family History Group

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Her Husband was a Bigamist
 

In 1925 Arthur  Battersby, the 17 year old son of an eminent builder in Dublin, Ireland,  went to England and mixed in eminent circles passing himself as someone of importance. He had four highly respected sisters who eventually disowned him. Arthur is frequently described as a person of very gentlemanly manners and address.

 

At some point in 1926 he met the Reverend John Fletcher Muckleston and his wife Louisa, also the daughter of a clergyman. They had an unmarried 19 year old daughter called Anne. The parents took to Arthur and after a very short courtship of no more than three months and on his promise to settle £400 a year on Anne, despite the fact that he did not even have a shilling to his name, they agreed to a marriage.

 

Anne was raised in a religious god fearing household, both her brothers were to become clergymen, and her marriage was performed  on 15th June 1826, at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, by her brother John who was a curate in Staffordshire at this time.

 

On the morning of the marriage Anne and Arthur left for London where they lived as man and wife for about five weeks. It transpires that on arrival in London with his bride, he took an apartment in Fenton's Hotel where he lived in great style. While living here he made it known to the proprietor of the hotel that he frequented the Saloon in Piccadilly, apparently preferring the company of harlots to that of his wife. He kept shuffling payments until such time as he had an unpaid bill of upwards of £120 owing. Arthur was taken to the debtor prison in Newgate and his disillusioned young wife was placed in a lodging in John Street, Pentonville, from where she wrote to her father and he sent a servant to collect her. It became clear that Arthur was attracted to Anne's family wealth and the lifestyle he thought it would give him.

 

The whole incident had a negative impact on Anne's health, she was badly scarred mentally. It cost her father £500 to obtain a separation through the Ecclesiastical Court which precluded further companionship. Three hundred and twenty men but only four women were granted divorces between 1670 and 1857 (when divorce became obtainable in a court of law). Divorce could only be obtained by the long and expensive procedure of separation in an Ecclesiastical Court followed by divorce through a Private Act of Parliament. A wife could obtain a separation but she had no right to re-marry and did not usually get custody of her children. A husband could divorce his wife on the grounds of adultery; but a wife could only divorce her husband on the grounds of ‘incestuous adultery’ (adultery with the wife’s sister) or adultery with bigamy.

 

There was no further contact between the Mucklestons and Battersby after Autumn 1926.

 

Having managed to get himself out of the debtors prison Arthur enlisted with the 1st Regiment of Lifeguards but soon deserted and became a private soldier fighting in India. He also changed his name, probably to avoid recognition as a deserter, to that of Henry Napier Disney. Henry was the son of  gentleman of good family in Dublin who Arthur had clearly known or at least been aware of. He went to fight for the Queen of Spain and lost his right arm fighting bravely against the Carlists in a battle which took place near St Sebastian in 1836. He was to claim that he was a Captain in the army but this was later proved to be untrue, more likely he became a Lieutenant.

 

On return to England in 1837 and on keeping the name Henry Napier Disney, Arthur went back to his old ways, He met and quickly married a Miss Sarah Ann Stovin on 14th August 1837 at St Martins in the Fields, Westminster, London, she was a ward of court and a lady of fortune, her wealthy father having passed away. She was to remain a ward of court until her 21st birthday and this marriage took place 3 months prior to this. At the time of the marriage 29 year old Henry/Arthur stated that they were both over 21, that they were both single and that he was a Captain in the army. Three lies which were to come back to haunt him.

 

It was later reported that after this marriage that, "The unhappy young woman had the film removed from her eyes, and she imploringly requested her exit but without effect. The marriage was consummated under circumstances which cannot be described - delicacy forbids. The unhappy victim of this cupidity is bereft of reason and her happiness as well as that of her respectable family was lost for ever". Yet another bride who suffered a mental breakdown as a result of her association with Arthur Battersby.

 

On her 21st birthday Sarah came in to her inheritance of £25,000 and to make sure there was no legal comeback Arthur / Henry made Sarah go through a second marriage on 18th November 1837 at Paddington Church in London as she had turned 21.

 

Sarah had a brother John who was very suspicious of the situation and did some investigation into Henry /Arthur's background. In January 1838 his deception had come to light. John Stovin had completed his investigations and found proof of the false name and previous marriage. As a ward of court Sarah Ann was not allowed to marry without the Lord Chancellors permission and Arthur found himself at the Old Bailey on a charge of bigamy.

 

The trial was adjourned to a second day but the judge was advised that not only did the Lord Chancellor want to see Arthur the following day on the charge of marrying the ward of court without permission, but that there was also a representative from the 1st Regiment of Lifeguards who claimed he was also a deserter.

 

The trial caused a national sensation and was widely reported in the newspapers:

 

Article in the times......

“February 8th 1837 - "In the New Court on Wednesday Arthur Battersby, who has lately gone under the name of Henry Napier Disney, the son of a gentleman of good family in Dublin, was tried on a charge of bigamy.  It appeared that after his first marriage to a Miss Muckleston in 1826, the prisoner went to India as a private soldier.................. and later became a Lieutenant in the British Legion.  He married Miss Stovin, a lady of fortune, his first wife still being alive."

 

Anne's brother John gave evidence at the trial confirming that the prisoner was Arthur Battersby and that he was still legally married to his sister.

 

During the trial it came to light that Arthur was being blackmailed by one of his acquaintances by the name of Newland, who were aware of his background and he was looking for 10% of Sarah's fortune but Arthur could only come up with £160. Maybe this was John's source of information. At the time of the trial Newland was in prison.

 

Arthur is described as a  person of very gentlemanly manners and address. Clearly what was projected on the outside was not on the inside as he clearly impacted on the mental health of both his wives. The newspaper also states, "The prisoner was attended by a servant in livery who ultimately accompanied him to Newgate".

 

A gentleman called David Flint who wrote a book on the poetess Janet Reid and strongly believes that the following poem was written by her as a result of this trial and that it refers directly to Ann Muckleston / Battersby.

ON AN UNFORTUNATE LADY

No lady should give a man her hand,

If she does not love him, we may understand.

No parents into marriage should take part,

In case afterwards the parties come to smart.

A lady, against her mind, should never give herself away,

For there is danger afterwards, and that we may say.

Both men and women should marry their heart’s desire

And of one another they are not likely for to tire.

They will never offer each other a pickle of the white,

And in each other’s company they will often take delight.

Far better to go about with the rake and howe,

For love in the first Garden in it did grow.

I wish this may be a warning to parents in every place,

That they may never bring their children to disgrace,

Although from the bar of man she had won free,

She’ll remember, over her, there’s an all-seeing ee.

I hope in bitterness she will lament,

And, through God’s grace, she will truly repent –

Christ came the chief of sinners for to save,

I hope afterwards this will be a warning for all to behave.

If she be innocent, it’s a pity to bring her to disgrace;

I’m sorry such tidings should be told in our own place.

There’s neither man not woman has life in their own hand,

Parents over children in marriage should have no command.

True, love in this land has ruined many;

But, by right, it should never ruin any.

Although marriage is only for this life,

True love makes a happy husband and wife.

In this misfortune, the parents, some say, are to blame,

For they should have let the poor lady stay at hane;

Or else married another man for her joe,

And to him she would never likely prov’d a foe.

Janet Reid, Carnock.

 

The trial was ultimately resumed and Arthur was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years, his age was given as 30 years old at the time of transportation.

 

As a result of his bigamy Anne now had grounds for divorce and a petition was put before the House of Lords. Only four women were granted divorces between 1670 and 1857 (when divorce became available through a court of law) - Jane Campbell in 1801, Louise Turton in 1831, Anne Battersby in 1840 and Georgina Hall in 1850.

 

The only reference I can currently find on the divorce is in “The Mirror of Parliament (1840) Battersby’s divorce bill, Vol. 2, pages 1517-1518”.

 

So Anne obtained her divorce and must have married immediately! She married a Frederick Cuerton Travers Smythe in June 1840. Anne and Frederick had a son Henry Travers Smythe born in 1846. Having her first child at the age of 39 must have seemed like a blessing to Anne and she also had 4 grandchildren.

 

I am sure all of this was a great embarrassment to a religious family like the Reverend John Fletcher Muckleston's but it seems it all turned out well in the end.

 

Arthur served his time in Australia and by all accounts was a good worker and caused no trouble and was granted his licence to freedom and returned to the UK. Sarah also remarried but it was a short one as her husband died and she moved to live on the south coast.

 

 

 David Flint speculated an ending to this saga:

 

Now if I was Charles Dickens, I would suggest that, though Arthur was attracted by her money, he had also fallen for Sarah. Sarah (like Anne) was entranced by the dashing, tall, cavalry soldier with the Irish brogue and charm. She never got over the shock of having him torn away through her brother's over-zealousness. Henry got his 'certificate of freedom' in 1845 and wrote to her (he was not going to make the mistake of not writing this time) enquiring if she was still single and professing his love and giving her the date he would be docking in Portsmouth on his return. Sarah had remarried but by the time Henry's letter arrived her new husband had suddenly died so she was overjoyed to receive it. Making post-haste to Portsea Island she took a suite of rooms at an expensive inn - she was not short of money - and they had already married twice so surely it would not be necessary to marry thrice? She was first up the gangplank early that morning when his ship docked and when the ship's manifest officer asked whom she had come to greet, she said 'Henry Napier Disney'. 'There is no one aboard of that name, madam'. Her heart skipped a beat. 'Arthur Battersby?' 'Sorry', madam, 'nor he'. Disraught and in despair at Henry's unfaithfulness Sarah rushed to the side of the ship and threw herself overboard. Henry emerged a little later from his cabin - it always took him a long while to dress and pack - having only one arm. He noticed a gaggle of figures around a prostrate form on the quayside. 'Name, sir?' said the ship's manifest officer. 'John Muckleston', said Henry, 'possibly spelt Muggleston'. Henry had not dared to use either of his other names for fear that the 1st Life Guards were watching for his return. He was disappointed that Sarah was not waiting for him on the quayside - but she had probably remarried. He passed the gaggle of people around the lifeless form of a young woman on the quayside. He had seen many dead bodies in his time and he did not intrude. He never knew how close he, and she, had come to each other.