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Saturday, 21 June 2014


My ancestral cousin Talfourd Salter QC appeared in many cases heard at the Old Bailey in London, and verbatim transcriptions of many of them can be found online. For those not heard in the Old Bailey, we rely on newspaper articles; and I’ve just found this all too typical case of Breach of Promise reported in clear, concise prose in the Teesdale Mercury of Wednesday 3rd August 1881.

The Teesdale Mercury is still printed in Barnard Castle, as it has been since 1854 (this advertisement is from 1935)


At the Croydon Assizes, the cause of ‘Miller v Sadler’, which was an action to recover damages from the defendant for the breach of his promise to marry the plaintiff, came on for trial before Mr Justice Field and a special jury.

Mr Talfourd Salter QC and Mr Gore were counsel for the plaintiff; and Mr Kemp QC and Mr Willis QC appeared for the defendant.

Mr Talfourd Salter stated that the plaintiff, Mary Emma Miller, was about 35 years of age, and the defendant, who had formerly been a brewer, was about five years older. The husband of the plaintiff died six or seven years ago, and he left the plaintiff with one child about five years old, and some small means, but not sufficient for her maintenance.

The defendant advertised for a housekeeper, and the plaintiff answered the advertisement, but nothing came of the correspondence. In the following year the defendant again advertised for a housekeeper, and the plaintiff again came into communication with him, and in the result the defendant engaged her at a very handsome salary to act as his housekeeper.

The Teesdale Mercury in Barnard Castle today – if George Sadler was originally a Teesdale man, it would explain the Mercury’s report of his trial

Soon after, on a promise of marriage, an undue intimacy took place between the parties, but though the plaintiff expected to become a mother, defendant refused to redeem his promise. The learned counsel proceeded to state that although the parties no longer lived together, a constant correspondence was carried on between them, and he read several letters that were written by the defendant to the plaintiff, in which he addressed her as “My own dear wife,” and used language of the most affectionate kind, assuring her of his fidelity and love. The plaintiff, in her letters to the defendant, always addressed him as “My dear George” or “My dear husband,” and in one of them she begged him not to pay any attention to anonymous letters that might be shown to him by a certain person, as “she” would, no doubt, do all in her power to make mischief between them.

Mr Justice Field inquired who “she” was.

Mr Salter said he hardly knew, but he believed it was the defendant’s mother. He then went on to say that in this letter the plaintiff appeared to have requested the defendant not to leave it in his coat pocket. (A laugh.) The learned counsel read several other letters that had passed between the plaintiff and the defendant, and he said that at length the plaintiff earnestly pressed the defendant to marry her at once, and thus restore her to her proper position.

The plaintiff went to Herne Bay, where she resided in the house of a medical man until the birth of the child, which did not take place until December 27. Immediately after the birth a telegram was sent to the defendant, to inform him of the fact, and he in reply wrote to the plaintiff, addressing her as “My own dear wife,” and stating that on the receipt of the telegram he thought his heart would have stopped beating, but when he opened it and found what the contents were he felt the greatest happiness at finding that she was out of her trouble.

A young mother and her pram on Marine Parade, Herne Bay

At this time the defendant was at Nice, and it was proposed that the plaintiff should join him there, and that the marriage should then take place. It turned out, however, that by the law of that country it was necessary that the parties should have resided there three months before they could be legally married, and it was then proposed that the marriage should be celebrated at the British Embassy at Paris.

After this, however, the defendant then refused, either through the interference of some of his relatives or from some other cause, positively to fulfil his promise; and the plaintiff had, consequently been compelled to bring the present action to recover compensation for the injury she had sustained in consequence of the defendant’s breach of the contract he had entered into.

Mr Justice Field, at the close of the speech of the learned counsel, said it appeared to him impossible to doubt that there had been a promise of marriage, and the defendant had certainly refused to fulfil that promise. He suggested, therefore, that it was a case in which the parties might come to some arrangement.

The learned counsel on both sides accordingly conferred together for a short time, when it was announced that the defendant consented to a verdict for the plaintiff, with £500 damages.

The Old Palace, Croydon, in which judges like Mr Justice Field stayed while hearing the Assizes

I’ve been unable so far to learn any more about the fates of Mary Emma Miller, George Sadler or their unidentified child. £500 was a large sum in 1881, which George seems to have offered readily; and I hope it cushioned the child’s childhood against the absence of his father.

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