During my researches, on looking for search terms like ‘Brighton’ (because it was Prinny’s watering hole, and his tailor Louis Bazalgette used sometimes to visit him there in his professional capacity) and ‘tailor’, for obvious reasons, I came across a cause celebre of 1785-6. It was the trial of John Motherhill, the Brighton tailor. I have held off blogging about this story because the events are quite repugnant to me, but the discovery of a couple of cartoons which depict Motherhill in comparison with Prinny puts a different spin on the affair, which I will discuss later.
A later report of this case is reproduced below:
John Motherhill was tried at the Lent assizes for the county of Sussex, held at East Grinstead, on Tuesday, the 21st of March, 1786 for a criminal assault on Miss Catherine Wade, the daughter of an officer in the army, then Master of the Ceremonies at Brighton. The trial, though now scarcely known, excited at the time intense interest, from the high respectability of the party injured, and the singular circumstances of the case. The lady was under seventeen years of age, had many personal charms, but was of weak intellect. She had been set down in a friend’s carriage at her father’s door, about ten o’clock at night on returning home from a ball. Unluckily, her friends drove off without waiting to see the door opened; the young lady had returned earlier than was anticipated, and there was no one in the house to receive her. The prisoner, who had been loitering about the door, then came up, took her by the arm, forced her through several streets, making her walk part of the way before him, she being too much fluttered and alarmed to cry out or attempt to escape, till they came to a churchyard, where he effected his purpose.
He detained her during the night, compelling her to enter a bathing machine on the shore, and was secured at day-break the next morning attempting to make his escape. The appearance of the poor girl afforded the strongest presumption of his guilt. This extraordinary case could not but call forth universal sympathy. To aid a father’s natural yearning for vengeance, Thomas Erskine, the noted barrister, was brought down specially, and appears to have yielded too much to his anxieties as an advocate and his feelings as a man. After a long examination of the unhappy young woman, conducted by Erskine with his accustomed skill, the jury remained unconvinced that she had resisted to the utmost of her strength. They consulted together for half an hour, and then, after stating their scruples to the Court, and being informed that there was no middle course, reluctantly returned a verdict of acquittal.
The account printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine gave more details:
It appeared that Catherine Wade, the unfortunate young lady whom this fellow had abused, had dined and spent the day at Lady Hart’s, at Brighthelmstone, on the ninth of September last and that Miss Wade and Mr. Griffiths went home with her to her father’s in their chariot. Mr. Griffiths handed her out at the steps, then got into the chariot again. From the steps there was a passage that led to the door of Mr. Wade’s lodgings; and, as at Brigththelmstone most of the outer doors are left upon the latch, Mr. Griffiths had not the most distant thought that any harm cauld be offered in that little way, and the carriage drove back, but the door being shut, as she was standing for admittance, the prisoner came up to her; told her he came from her Papa, who, he said, was waiting for her; then entered into converssation with her and, as they went along, he told her she was a very pretty girl, kissed her, and began to be very rude with her, which so terrified her, she had not power to speak. He then took her into the church-yard, where he used her in a brutish manner, and afterwards led her into one of the bathing machines, and kept her there till five o’clock in the morning, and then let her home.
Mr. Wade, as soon as he was told she was missing, felt the most poignant distress; sent several people, as well as went himself, in search of her the whole night; that meeting one of his people in the morning, who told him she was come home, he returned, and found her a most deplorable object, ruined and undone. He said she was educated in the Benedictine Convent at St. Omer’s, where she had been between 12 and 13 years; that she was a perfect stranger in England; and had besides the misfortune to be but weak in her intellects, and easily deluded. When the prisoner was first apprehended, he asked him, if he had been all night with his child. Motherhill replied, he had; and owned he had been a wicked wretch, and that he deserved hanging. Upon the whole, it did not appear that the prisoner had used any violence in the commission of his villainous purpose; and the jury being told there was no punishment short of death by law, they, after a few minutes consultation, brought in their verdict: Not Guilty.’
There is not the slightest doubt of the tailor’s guilt, but since rape at that time carried the death sentence, rapists frequently managed to escape punishment. Not content with having got off scot-free, this odious man compounded his crime by publishing a book, named: The trial of John Motherhill, for a rape, on the body of Catherine Wade, … at the Lent assizes for the county of Sussex, held at East Grinstead, on Tuesday, the 21st of March, 1786. In this book he gave his version of events and attempted to vindicate himself.
The English Review described this book as:
…a mere summary of the trial printed on coarse paper. It has by way of frontispiece a bad etching of Motherhill attempting to lay Miss Wade down on a tombstone. To please the libidinous reader the story is here very indelicately told and is apparently written not by himself but perhaps from his mouth. Having laid nothing in his own defence upon his trial he enters upon it here and endeavours to exculpate himself by saying she not only consented to the act but encouraged him in the comission of it. The publisher of this tract says in a preface that the conquest that Motherhill so easily obtained over the lady, as many others would have done in his situation, he attributed to his own figure and address and not to her mode of education, which was in a sequestered monastery, and want of mental abilities. If this be true it shews us how apt we are to think favourably of ourselves, for Mr Erskine in his pleadings makes use of these words to the jury: “Let me ask you this question: whether it be consistent with any thing we ever saw heard or read of that a young lady of hitherto chaste and virtuous life, artless, simple and innocent in her manners, should all of a sudden go out in a tempestuous night, leave her father’s house not to throw herself into the arms of a lover who had addressed her and endeavoured to seduce her but into the arms of a stranger with nothing to recommend him; with nothing on earth to captivate or seduce fancy. It is repugnant to reason to believe it; it is a thing incredible that the most viciously disposed woman could go into the arms of the squalid wretch before you. In short it appears that he escaped the gallows from the doubts of the jury owing to a little inconsistency in Miss Wade’s evidence, the natural consequence of a weak understanding. That he used violence is evident, but it may be doubted whether she took those pains to escape the hands of her ravisher that the law requires and as a humane jury will and should always lean to the side of mercy, as they could only acquit or convict him they of course acquitted him. In this tract is at the end a coarse engraving of Motherhill but as it is rather a handsome figure we presume it is no likeness.
It may please our readers who have not read the trial to give them Mr Erskine’s description of Miss Wade: “When she is attentively observed by you you will probably make the remark that I confess I made myself upon seeing her, that if you could conceive a painter of the finest genius to be desirous of painting the character of artless simplicity and innocence he would fix upon the countenance and figure of Miss Wade.” ’
The Monthly Review subsequently said:
John Motherhill has been tried at East Grinstead and to the surprise of many acquitted. The publication of those proceedings hath in course brought the matter to a second trial by a jury of Reviewers who have unanimously found the ruffian guilty and sorry they are that it is not in their power to go farther and see justice executed upon a wretch who in the moment of surprise when arrested for this crime acknowledged himself to be a very wicked villain who deserved to be hanged a long while ago.
Disgraceful as this whole business was the newspapers and of course the cartoonists found in it plenty of material for tasteless quips and satire.
The Times of 18 October 1785:
The Pantry scene will shortly be dished up by newspaper writers as a desert to the entertainment which the Brighton Taylor has afforded.
The Times of 7 April 1786 said:
Motherhill has taken a house, and in a few days will crest his sign, under which is to be written: ‘Motherhill, Lady’s Riding Habit Maker, from Brighton’.
And now to the cartoons:
In this one, Prinny is swinging at the tailor a cudgel (the Royal Bang you or Whapp ye) whose head is of his equally dissolute crony George Hanger, crying at the same time: “There shall be no Fornication”, while holding in his left hand a scroll marked ‘Matrimony’. Behind him is a pub sign – George and ye Dragon – no doubt a reference to Mrs. Fitzherbert, who stands behind him, egging him on with: “Stand stiff for the sex Georgy”. Motherhill is defending himself with his iron and his tailor’s yard, while behind him stands a pregnant Miss Wade, who is saying: “I’ll Wade to my middle for Snip”, while above her head the shop sign describes Motherhill as a ‘Womans Taylor’. This clever cartoon by S. W. Fores is poking fun at Prinny for high-handedly castigating the tailor for immorality, while he of course is married, though illegally. So it uses the tailor to indicate that Prinny is morally no better than he is.
The second cartoon is just as scurrilous but has a similar message, though this time about his ‘marriage’. Prinny is with Mrs Fitzherbert in the churchyard, where he is saying: “’Twas here the famous Catherine W—, and the more famous Taylor laid; Who after strugling hours two, Yielded their breath: let’s do so too”. Mrs Fitz is saying” “Oh! fie my dear let’s go unto the Altar; And then you know our conscience cannot falter.” On the right, Motherhill looks on from behind a tombstone. Onlookers on the left, perhaps Fox and Sheridan are saying: “Will they stop in the Porch” and “And follow the Taylor’s Example”. On the gravestone to which Prinny istrying to lead Mrs Fitz is engraved: ‘Here on this Stone were laid – Tom Stitch and Kitty W—. ‘Twas here they languished here they sigh’d And here dear Souls they four times died’.