Saturday, 29 November 2014

Effeminate and Obstinate

This story makes sad and strange reading.

In 1875 William Stafford, an attorney and solicitor living at 49 Hanley Road, was taken to court on the charge of having unlawfully assaulted his illegitimate child, William Stafford, on the 24 of May.

[Bastard, but with his father's name - how did that work?]

On Friday 11 June the  Morning Post reported that 'the complainant, a boy about 14 years of age, stated that his father had twice beaten him so badly that he was compelled to leave his home and go to the Islington Workhouse. 

On the day mentioned in the summons the defendant beat him with a whip which he made him fetch and subsequently when the defendant had had his bath he ordered him to have one and when he was undressed the defendant beat him most unmercifully with a broom. 

The boy acknowledged that he had worried his father, but not until he had made him do so by threatening him. The defendant turned him out of the house, having previously beaten him with a whip on the legs and back. 

There were marks on him where the defendant had beaten and knocked him, and there were also marks of violence on his legs.

Mr Sustins, the master of Islington Workhouse, said the defendant had told him that the complainant was illegitimate, as were his six other children. 

[6 other children?]

On the 6th of May when he examined the complainant at the workhouse he was bruised from head to foot and there was not a place on his body as large on his hand that was free from bruises. 

There were marks on his body and back as if caused by a whip and his flesh was much discoloured. There were marks on his side, stomach, back, body and hips.

Mr Philip Cowne, surgeon of the workhouse, having deposed to the bruises on the boy, said that from his general observation of the boy he had come to the conclusion that he was effeminate and obstinate.

[I'm not sure what 'effeminate' means here. It seems to be put forward as a justification for the father's actions. Perhaps the idea behind it is that a milksop of a boy needs toughening up? Perhaps 'effeminate' is code for homosexual and therefore corrupt and deserving of punishment?]

The defendant said he should reserve his defence and his witnesses for the sessions. He hoped that the magistrate would take his own recognaisance for his appearance. Mr Cooke said he could not do that. He must have some surety in the sum of £25.'

On Tuesday 15 June they are back in the Morning Post. This time the assistant judge is addressing the Grand Jury. 

He says that every father has a right to correct his child, that the boy did not appear to have suffered in health and was by his own admission mischevious and disobedient. 

He also says that 'corporal chastsement [...] should be administered with moderation and not with a vindictive spirit or a cruel indifference.  

He does not, I think, much like the father.

The father was fined £10 plus costs and ordered to keep the peace towards the boy for 12 months. The 20 June Reynolds's Newspaper reported the sentence under the heading 'Cruelty to a Child'.

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