Husband Alleged to Have Had Estranged Wife Declared Insane to Avoid Paying Maintenance, 1836

From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 26 September 1836:

“HENRY STREET POLICE-OFFICE, DUBLIN. – Two ladies, of respectable appearance, came before the magistrates, and made the following statement:- They said, that some time in the month of July last, a lady of respectability came before their worships, at that office, to say that she dreaded her husband would send her to a madhouse, and requested advice of the magistrates.

Mr Cole said that he remembered the circumstances perfectly well, and it was one which surprised him a great deal, as the lady appeared to have been perfectly sane at the time. He then told her, that if any attempt was made upon her liberty by her husband, from whom it appeared she was living separate, her friends could bring the matter before the bench. One of the ladies, in continuation, stated that such was precisely the case. That a few weeks after the lady in question made this application, she was standing with the informant in her own garden, when they saw three desperate looking fellows pass by; the lady exclaimed, ‘there are the three men whom my husband got to beat me in my own house.’

On the following day the lady was carried off, and placed in Swift’s Hospital, where she has remained since the 18th of the month. She wrote to this lady, who went to see her, and it was her opinion that she was perfectly sane, and that she was getting very bad treatment, not being allowed any tea or any means of comfort. The governor of the prison mentioned to the informant that he was surprised the lady should have been allowed to remain in the house, that she was not a subject and that he would wish she was out of it. Here the lady took a letter from her pocket, written by her friend in the mad-house, and read it for the magistrates. It appears to have been the production of a person perfectly sane, as the writer complained of the harsh treatment she got, being denied tea and every other comfort and necessary to which she had been accustomed. The lady further petitioned that the husband of the unfortunate woman had consented to pay her a guinea a week as a separate maintenance, and that it was for the purpose of getting rid of the payment of the sum that she was sent to the mad-house, it was said, too, that the husband was living with another woman.

The magistrates said it was altogether the most extraordinary case that ever came before them; and they would, at first instance, write to the governor of Swift’s and have a private interview with him regarding how the lady got in there, or if any doctor had certified as to her insanity, and then they would better know what course to adopt.

The gentleman against whom these charges have been levelled holds a lucrative situation in one of the public offices.”

Wives committed to insane asylums by husbands who wanted them out of the way to steal their fortunes was one of the tropes of Victorian romantic literature, but this is the first case I’ve read of where the husband did so to avoid paying maintenance!

This lady was lucky she had such loyal friends! Great to see women looking out for one another – though one does wonder whether the ‘other comforts’ of which the incarcerated one described herself as having been deprived might perhaps have included that class of beverages described by Victorians as ‘ardent spirits’? 😉

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