Bicknell v. Bicknell Divorce November 1908

I think it’s time to re-post this because it’s very entertaining, but the starting point for this might well be their wedding  in 1897


The Times October 31, 1908 [Day 1]

(Before Mr. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEAN and a Special Jury.)


Divorce-Cross Charges

This was the petition of Harriet Frances Bicknell, née Bagshawe, for the dissolution of her marriage with Herman Kentigern Bicknell, on the ground of his cruelty and adultery. The respondent, by his answer, denied these allegations, and further pleaded that the petitioner had been guilty of such misconduct as had conduced to the said alleged adultery (if any) by a persistent course of mental cruelty and gross insults towards him, practically driving him out of the house, and by her ungovernable temper; that the petitioner connived at and condoned the acts of adultery (if any); and that the petitioner had herself been guilty of adultery with the Cav. Antonino Cariello, the party cited. The petitioner, by her reply,denied and joined issue on all the allegations contained in the respondent’s answer, and the party cited, by his answer, denied that he had committed adultery with the petitioner.

Mr. Barnard, K.C., and MIr. Lailey were for the petitioner; Mr. Marshall-Hall, K.C., Mr. Haldenstein, and Mr. J. W. Orr for the respondent; and Mr. W. B. Campbell for the party cited.

Mr. Barnard, said that the petitioner was the daughter of a well-known member of his own Profession, his Honour Judge Bagshawe. She was married to the respondent on October 19, 1897, at the Church of Our Lady of Victories, High-street, Kensington, the parties being members of the Roman Catholic Church. They lived together first at Knapp, near Bideford, and afterwards at Sorrento, some two hours away from Naples. There were two children of the marriage, one aged nine and the other six years of age. Unfortunately for the petitioner, her husband was a man of no occupation, and at times he drank very heavily, and what became another matter of unhappiness between them was that while at Sorrento he acquired the habit of taking morphia. It was only fair to state, however, that when he was not under the influence of drink or drugs he treated her kindly and well, and at such times she wrote affectionate letters about him to her friends. The acts of violence of which she had to complain were about as cruel as any man could be guilty of towards a woman whom he had promised to love. Both children were baptized and brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. The mother was a good Catholic, and the husband, when under the influence of drugs, threatened to have the children brought up as Protestants, and perhaps it was now going to be suggested that he had changed his religion and wished to bring up his children in another faith.

In 1898, while living at Knapp, he was guilty of an assault upon her, and he used bad language, and while under the influence of drink had said:-” Smile, you devil, or I will turn you and your filthy spawn out of the house.” In January,1899, he threatened that he would not allow her to see any of her relatives, and in February, when her child was only a month old, he insisted on her leaving her baby and on her accompanying him to the United States. They went to Sorrento in March, 1904, and remained there until April, 1907, and in June of the former year they took a villa in that town. In July, 1905, the petitioner thought that she saw from a window her husband kiss a lady in the garden. She called out, and he came into the house in a very angry temper, called her a d-d liar, struck her, and gave her a black eye, which was afterwards seen by Signor Cariello. In 1900 her husband was taking a great deal of morphia as a letter of his dated September 28 of that year would show. On March 3, 1907, when under the influence of the drug, he called her a prostitute and a liar and struck her, and afterwards acknowledged that fact in the presence of her governess. She was, therefore, living a most unhappy life when her husband was under the influence of drugs.

At this time he was in a state of great nervousness, and though they occupied separate bed -rooms, yet when he was under the influence of morphia, as he was frightened of being alone, she used to sleep on a mattress in his room. That was important, as the respondent relied on this for his plea of condonation. which was no condonation at all.

On April 15, 1907, the petitioner found in a blotting-pad a hotel bill made out to the name of “Hermano Harmsleigh “ with certain words upon it. She intended to ask her husband what it meant, but owing to his state of health, she did not until April 25. That was an important date in the case. On that day the respondent suddenly decided to leave Sorrento, and, while helping him to pack, the petitioner suggested that he should not travel with the nurse, who was leaving on the same date. He insisted, and there was an end of that matter, so far as she was concerned. She, however, asked him if he had ever passed as ” Hermano Harmsleigh.” He immediately asked her if it were Antonino (Cariello) who had told her. Antonino was the respondent’s great friend. She said No, she had seen the name on a blotting-pad. He then called her a d-d [damned] spy and said that he had made the acquaintance of a girl in Naples, that lie had given her mother 200f. for her and had promised her marriage, and that he believed that the father was coming that day to the villa about the matter. That was why he was leaving, and that was all she learnt of the matter. He left, and she kissed him at parting. She remained at Sorrento until July, when she and her children returned to England, and with them on the 13th of that month called at Morle’s Hotel upon her husband. He took in the children, but refused to allow her to enter. She returned with a friend, Lady Macfarlane, but he refused to allow her to return to him and to her children.

It appeared, continued the learned counsel. that just before Christmas, 1906, on an occasion when the respondent was in Naples, he had made the acquaintance of a girl named Anita, represented to her that he was a bachelor and wished to be engaged to her, and gave her mother a sum of money. He had visited the girl and taken her to various hotels. Witnesses had been examined on commission, and the respondent’s counsel on that commission had admitted the adultery. Condonation had been pleaded, but the first that the petitioner. had heard of her husband’s misconduct was on April 25, 1907, and she had not since cohabited with him. Connivance and conduct conducing were also pleaded, and he (the learned counsel) was waiting to hear what possible evidence could be adduced to support such pleas. ThereI was also a charge made against the petitioner and Signor Cariello. and, after he had proved his case against the respondent, it would be for his learned friend to establish his case – if he had any evidence to substantiate it.

The petitioner, Mrs. Bicknell, examined by Mr. Barnard, said her married life had been most unhappy, as her husband was very cruel to her. He was addicted to both drink and drugs ever since the date of the marriage. When under the influence of either he was violent, and called her such names as ” d–d [damned]  liar, devil. and prostitute.” A week after the marriage he tore up the Marriage certificate, and told her, ” Now I can, repudiate tho marriage at any time.” In the autumn of 1898 he threw her down and pulled her by the hair, she being enciente at the time. He was very angry because the birth of her first child was inserted in the Tablet, the leading Roman Catholic newspaper, and threatened that she should not see her father, his Honour Judge Bagshawe, or her family again. On another occasion, when she was writing to a friend, he struck her on the back of the hand with a ruler. He forced her mother to write him an apology for inserting the birth in the Tablet, and then threatened to publish it.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – I do not follow. What was the apology for ?

Mr. Barnard, – Mrs. Bagshawe had inserted the notice and the respondent had chosen to take offence.

Examination continued.- In March. 1904 they went to Sorrento. In July she saw from a window her husband kissing a lady in the garden. She called to him to come in. and they both did so. He was very angry, and the next morning struck her and gave her a black eye, calling her a “ d–d [damned] liar.” During 1906 and 1907 he said the children should be brought up as Protestants, and laughed at her for having believed him when he told her they should be brought up as Roman Catholics. He also told her he had changed his religion. On September 28, 1906, he wrote:-” That dreadful morphia has affected mv heart and caused a fainting fit. I had one after lunch:  it was most tiresome. as the Duke and his manservant had to bring me home, and the Duchess had an awful fright ! I never thought the giving up of morphia would entail such disastrous consequences. Old Dr. Garquito wanted me to go into a home for inebriates, and is vastly struck by my ability to give morphia up suddenly. Fancy me in a home. It sounds comical, doesn’t it?  You may be sure I shall never be so silly as to take drugs again.” During 1907 the respondent was again taking morphia, and she had sometimes to sleep on the floor in his room to “watch” him. In March, 1907, the respondent was in a very bad state, called her terrible names and struck her with the back of his hand, his rings injuring her lip. Her child saw the marks and asked the cause, and she endeavoured to conceal the truth, whereupon the respondent said, ” You d–d [damned] liar, why don’t you speak the truth and say I did it.” The governess was also present.

In April, 1907, the respondent having invited her to take part in a bazaar at Sorrento, at the last moment forbade her to attend it. About April 15 she found an hotel bill in her husband’s blotter, made out in the name of ” Hermano Harmsleigh.” A few davs later she found some blotting- paper with the same name upon it and the words ” Poste Restante. Mata” (a neighbouring village).  She had never heard of the girl Anita Esposito until the morning of the day he suddenly left Sorrento. On April 25 lie informed her he was leaving that day, and she advised him not to travel with a nurse, who was leaving. She then asked him if he passed as Hermano Harmsleigh in Naples. He replied,” Has Antonino told you? “ She said, “No, you are wrong; but does he know your secret ?” He then asked her how she had found out, and when she showed him the blotter he called her a “d–d [damned] spy.”

He then said he had a disagreeable story to tell her, adding that, if she had been a woman of the world she would not have thought much of it. He then told her that while driving in Naples he had seen the girl in the street, had taken a fancy to her, had got out of his trap and spoke to her, and eventually gave the girl’s mother 200f. for her, saying he was going to marry her. He added, ” I told them you were my married sister: but now they are beginning to suspect, and may come here any day, and I want to know what you are going to say.” He also told her that the girl was not enecinte. At this stage the Court adjourned until Monday.

Bicknell v. Bicknell [Day 2 – Nov 3, 1908]

(Before MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE  and a Special Jury,.)


Divorce-Cross Charges.

The hearing of this matrimonial suit, which, commenced on Friday last, was resumed, the first day’s proceedings being reported in The Times on October 31, 1908.

Certain interlocutory proceedings In the Court of Appeal with regard to a commission to take evidence in Italy were reported in 1908, W.N., 97. It will be remembered that Mr. Harriet Frances Bicknell, daughter of the late Judge Bagshawe, petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage with Herman Kentigern Bicknell on the ground of his cruelty and adultery. He, by his answer, denied these charges, and pleaded alternatively that if he had committed adultery the petitioner had by her mental cruelty conduced to it, had connived at it, and had condoned it. He further alleged that the petitioner had herself committed adultery with the Cavaliere Antonino Cariello, who was cited. The petitioner and the party cited denied the charges made against them

Mr. Barnard, KC. and Mr. Lailey were, for the petitioner; Mr. Marshall-Hall, KC., Mr.Haldenstein, and J. W. Orr for the respondent; and Mr. W. B. Campbell for the party cited.

The petitioner, further examined in chief by Mr. Barnard  said that on April 25, 1907, the governess,  Miss Serek, was in the house, and she (petitioner) made a complaint to her.

Mr. Marshall-Hall – I do so object to that form of question. The proper form is, ” Did you make a statement?

Mr. Barnard –Very welL. Did you make a statement ?

The petitioner.-Yes.

Mr. Barnard .- And in what state ,were you at the time ?

The petitioner.-I was in tears.

Examination continued.-She continued to write in affectionate terms to her husband up to the time when she saw him in England on June 13, 1907. On that day she took the children to Morle’s Hotel, where her husband was then living. She was prepared at that time to resume cohabitation with him, but he refused to allow her to remain and actually threatened to summon help and have her and her luggage turned out. He, however, retained the children. The following day she called a and he then told her that as she had not apologised he should take the children away. The apology was demanded in consequence of her having told him that his uncle, Mr. Sidney Bicknell, had professed to be ashamed of his nephew’s conduct. Mr. Sidney Bicknell, writing to the respondent from Barcombe-house, near Lewes, on June 11, 1907, denied having called the respondent a scoundrel or having said that he was ashamed to bear the same name as him. She had never stated that the respondent’s uncle had called him a scoundrel; but he saying that he was ashamed of his nephew. As soon as she obtained evidence of her husband’s adultery with Anita she filed her petition for divorce. When under the influence of drink or drugs her husband used to call her terrible names which upset her greatly and made her cry. . He would then say, “Smile, you devil, or I’ll make .you come cringing to me.”

Cross-examined by Mr. Marshall-Hall.  She denied that Morle’s Hotel was full on the occasion of her call there on July 18. She had, to use her own words, ” stolen the children away, and they had been in hiding ever since.” Her husband did not see the children from July 15, 1907, until last Saturday. She had, changed her boy’s name from Bysshe to Basil. That was not done at the instigation of Father Galton, S.J., nor of the Jesuits. That was not one more influence exercised by them over her. Bysshe may have, been the name of an agnostic and one of Shelley’s names, while Basil was that of a saint in the calendar. The boy was christened Bysshe against her wish. Her husband’s adultery and not the change of his religion was the true cause of this suit. She had consulted Roman Catholics before bringing the suit.. She had written on June 22, 1907, ” I was nearly mad, but on Monday I stole the children away from him, and have been in hiding ever since. I have brought an action for divorce against him (I found I could do so as a Catholic, and was told by the Jesuits and the Archbishop that I ought to),  and now we are waiting results. As long as he only treated me badly I could stand it, but once he touched the children it was another matter.” Bysshe was now at a Roman Catholic school at Boscombe. He had been sent there in July by her brother-in-law. She had previously had him at a Protestant school. The dispute at Morle’s Hotel had arisen because of what she asserted Mr. Sidney Bicknell had said about the respondent and the latter’s demand for an apology. Her husband had been for years a member of the Reform Club. Her husband had complained that she did not always speak the truth. Mr. Sidney Bicknell, on June 11, had written to her husband that  “the ‘trouble’ I had in my mind was the children going to the English Church and your recession from Catholicism.” She was ready to forgive her husband for the adultery he had confessed to her on April 25 when she went to call on him on July 13 at Morle’s Hotel.  On April 26, the day after her husband’s departure from Sorrento, she had written to him,  “Cheer, up; I am glad you wrote me a kind note before you left Italy. You cannot think how miserable I was, seeing you leave me in such a manner. I hope when this reaches you you will feel happier. Don’t forget that your best and truest friend has always and will always be your wife. The children send you their love.-Your affectionate wife Harriet.” 

She had not seen her husband except at Morle’s Hotel – since April 25 – the day on which he confessed his adultery with Anita. The confession was made on April 25, and not some days earlier. She had found the sheet of blotting paper containing the incriminating words, in one of her own books – a copy book she used daily for the study of German. She had not spoken to her husband the same day. He first told her of his adultery the day he left; she had not previously questioned him about it. She had never been to his bedroom or condoned his adultery after she was aware of it.

At this stage Mr. Marshall-Hall proposed to refer to the evidence taken on Italy.

Mr. Barnard objected to the evidence being used as the commission had not been returned to the Court, owing to the commissioner, Mr. Valentine Ball, barrister-at-law, not having been paid his fees.

Mr. Marshall-Hall .-It was a joint commission; my client has paid his half, but the other side refuses to do so.

Mr. Barnard – My learned friend is mistaken in describing it as a joint commission. It is his commission, and being on the spot we took the opportunity of examining certain witnesses before the commissioner.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – The commissioner is entitled to keep beck the commission until he has been paid his fees.

Mr. Marshall-Hall.  My client brought £ 20,000 into settlement, and he has now nothing. But the lady obtained leave from Mr. Justice Warrington to raise £1,000 for the purpose of this very commission.

Mr. Barnard –  The learned judge gave her power to anticipate to that extent to enable her to defend the suit.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – I have already intimated my view.

Mr. Marshall-Hall. – My solicitor client – Mr. Furber – undertakes to pay the commissioner’s fees. After the adjournment,

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane said that during the adjournment the commission had been returned to the Court, and was accordingly now in.

Cross-examination continued.-Four or five days before April 25 there had been a scene between her and her husband, but that had to do with his forbidding her to take part in the bazaar. Her husband had not confessed his adultery to her on April 21, but on April 25- the day he left Sorrento. Between April 21 and April 25 she had twice slept on a mattress in her husband’s room, as was stated by two witnesses -who were examined on commission. Her letter of April 26 to her husband did not refer to his dispute with her as to what his uncle had told her about him. She had been quite ready to forgive her husband. She had been told by the Jesuits ant the Archbishop that as a Catholic she could seek the protection of the law, but that even if she were successful in her suit she could never marry again. She had asked in May, 1907, a servant named Rose Scott if she remembered.seeing her with a black eye, but she (Rose Scott) did not remember the occasion. She did not remind Rose Scott of past favours, or warn her against allowing the respondent to go out with her young daughter.. She did say that the respondent had been lunching with the child at the Metropole Hotel, Brighton. She had heard of that incident from a Mrs. Farnham. She (petitioner) did not know that Rose Cox was a witness for the respondent. She had not sought to poison her mind against him.  She told Rose Scott that her husband had stayed with Flora Cox ( a nurse) at an hotel in Naples, passing as ” Mr and Mrs. Bicknell ” She believed her statement to be true, having herself seen the names in the hotel book.

Mr. Marshall-Hall. – Then why is not that charge pleaded ?

The petitioner.-I already had one charge.of adultery, which I thought sufficient.

Cross-examination continued. – She had told Rose that the respondent had accused them of impropriety together. The respondent had dared to make that suggestion. She had not accused her husband of un-natural practices, nor was she responsible for  witnesses having been cross-examined on commission in Italy to show that a certain Giuseppe was of evil habit.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – Most- of the cross- examination referred to was on behalf of your client.

Mr. Barnard – There was, no such suggestion made by my client.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – We are not trying any issue as to Giuseppe.

Before her marriage she had heard from a cousin that the respondent was addicted to morphia, and she had refused to marry-him when he first proposed to her. He was at that time a very rich man possessed of about £ 140,000, all of which was now gone! Subsequently the respondent. settled £ 20,000 upon her, and her father settled £1,000. She had been told that he had taken to morphia because she had refused him. Before her marriage she had written to her fiancé referring to her violent temper. In spite pf her, husband having struck her on the back of the hand with a ruler or paper knife and dragged her by the hair of her head, she had written to him in most affectionate terms about the times these incidents had taken-place. When her husband tore up the marriage certificate he told her that he could now repudiate the marriage..

Mr. Marshall-Hall. – Then why, Madam, if you believed your marriage was invalid did you continue to live with-your husband ? – .

The petitioner.-,He said he could repudiate it, if he liked !

Mr. Barnard –  Voidable, -not void-!

The petitioner.-I only believed his statement for two hour.

Cross-examination continued.- She had in her letters referred to the bitter expressions she had used towards her husband, and regretted that she had not first bitten her tongue out.

Mr. Marshall-Hall. –  You called him a skunk did you not? About the worst thing you can call a man; The petitioner. – That, I think, was one of his expressions.

Cross-examination continued.- He had objected before the birth of the child to that birth being announced in the Tablet, and her mother had promised not to do so, but she afterwards put the announcement in the paper. The respondent in consequence declined to allow her mother to see the baby until she had apologized, and on June 7 1900, his Honour Judge Bagshawe  wrote on his wife’s behalf.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane. – This is 1900 and the child was born in 1899 !  All I can say is that the respondent is a most unreasonable man. I cannot understand any man taking such a line as that.

Cross-examination continued.-In spite of her husband’s conduct, she loved him and forgave him, and she never contemplated divorce proceedings until he took away the children from her. On September 28 she wrote of the lady from whom she had heard of the incident at the Metropole Hotel, Brighton, “Mrs. F. has lied like a trooper, and will get into trouble.”

At this stage the Court adjourned.

Bicknell v. Bicknell  [Day 3, Nov 4, 1908]

(Before MR. JUSTICE BARGRAVE DEANE  and a Special Jury.)


Divorce-Cross Charges.

The further hearing of this matrimonial suit, which has been reported in The Times on October 31 and November 3, was continued, and concluded, this being the third day of the trial.  It will be remembered that Mrs. Harriet Frances Bicknell, daughter of the late Judge Bagshawe, petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage with Herman Kentigern Bicknell on the ground of his cruelty and adultery. He, by his answer, denied these charges, and pleaded alternatively that if he had committed adultery the petitioner had by her mental cruelty conduced to it, had connived at it, and had condoned it. He further alleged that the petitioner had herself committed adultery with the Cavaliere Antonino Cariello, who was cited. The petitioner and the party cited denied the charges made against them.

Mr. Barnard, KC. and Mr. Lailey were, for the petitioner; Mr. Marshall-Hall, KC., Mr.Haldenstein, and J. W. Orr for the respondent; and Mr. W. B. Campbell for the party cited.

After the sitting of the Court.

Counsel having conferred together and seen the learned Judge in private for upwards of one hour and a half.

Mr. Marshall-Hall said that the respondent had never contested the adultery charged at Naples, but he did seriously deny any other charge made against him, and after the cross-examination yesterday those charges would not be persisted in, and he was quite willing that all charges made against the petitioner and the party cited should also be withdrawn and the jury discharged, and that a decree of judicial separation should be pronounced on certain conditions.

Mr. Barnard said that he was willing to withdraw all the charges made against the respondent -other than the one of adultery at Naples. The petitioner, however, was desirous of going into the box to deny the truth of the charges made against her.

The evidence of the girl Anita Esposito, taken on commission at Naples, was read, and went to show that the respondent had made her acquaintance in Naples five or six days before Christmas, 1906, and that the intrigue between them had continued for five months, during which time the respondent visited and passed the night at various hotels with her.

Further corroborative evidence, taken on commission, having been read,

The petitioner denied on oath that there was the slightest truth in the allegation made against her, and

The Cavaliere Antonino Cariello, in answer to Mr. Campbell, said that until the citation was served upon him in October he had no suspicion that the respondent had anything against him. He was a close friend of both Mr. and Mrs. Bicknell, and there was not a shadow of truth whatever in the charges made against him.

The respondent, in reply to Mr. Marshall-Hall said that he admitted his adultery at Naples with the girl Anita Esposito, but he denied the statement made as to the payment of money. That statement was not true. Ho had never struck his wife, and there was no truth in the charges of cruelty made against him. He did not drink to excess, nor was he habitually addicted to the use of drugs. There was no truth in the suggestion that he had ever committed adultery with Flora Cox.

Mr  Justice Bargrave Deane accordingly pronounced a decree of judicial separation with costs, and gave the custody of the elder child to the respondent, and that of the younger one to the petitioner. Questions of access to the children would be dealt with in Chambers.

Judgment accordingly.

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