"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Just to prove that the English can put on a French farce as well as anyone, here is a report from the "Chester Chronicle" for August 22, 1857, describing the remarkable technology involved in a case of "criminal conversation" (i.e. adultery.) Behold the inventive Mr. Lyle and his "crimconometer":

An invention for jealous husbands has filled that fraternity with admiration. Numerous experiments are being made, and the results are said to be lamentably successful. The apparatus is called "an indicator," and its use and construction were elicited in the course of an action, last week, for crim. con., at the Croydon assizes, before the Lord Chief Baron and a special jury.

The plaintiff was a builder, named Lyle, having a good business in Charlotte-street, in that town, and the defendant was his partner, Mr. Herbert, who had joined him in Christmas last, since when he had lived at the defendant's house. The plaintiff was aged 34 years, his wife being under thirty. She had no particular personal attractions, and it was stated, was jealous of the servant girl, with whom she thought he had been on too intimate terms. This feeling appeared to be reciprocal, the husband having latterly suspected that she was too kind to his partner. He instituted a watch, calling in the assistance of a reduced cabinet-maker, named William Taylor, who, after the failure of other means, invented what he called the indicator, which was simply a piece of string fastened under the plaintiff's bed, carried through a hole in a parting wall to an adjoining house, which was empty, and having attached to the other end a weight, which would indicate when one or more persons got into the bed. In his examination, Taylor said, on the night of the 18th June he was watching with his ear at the hole, and the indicator acted. (A laugh.) The lever fell according to the weight.—(Laughter.) It first informed him that one person got into bed, and then that a second person had done so.— (Renewed laughter.) He immediately proceeded to the roof, and entered by the trap-door; took the servant by the hand, opened the door of the defendant's bedroom, tore down the curtains, and turned the bull's eye upon them.—(A roar of laughter.) Mr. Herbert and Mrs. Lyle were in bed together. When the bull's-eye was turned upon them they rolled off the bed, and Mrs. Lyle then rushed down stairs to her own room. In cross-examination by Mr. Serjeant Parry, who appeared for the defendant, this witness stated that the plaintiff was in the empty house when the discovery was made, and that he watched the indicator while witness was looking at the hole through the wall.

Mr. Serjeant Parry, in a humourous speech for the defendant, said a more ridiculous--and at the same time disgusting case he--and he believed, he might say every one, including,the learned judge, who had had great experience in these matters--had never heard of. Had any one ever heard such evidence as that given by the witness Taylor? Was it possible for any one to hear him talk of his "indicator"; or rather his "crimconometer," without having his risible muscles excited to the utmost degree?--(Laughter, in which the learned Judge could not help joining.) He could not help saying that was astonished that his learned friend Mr. James, who, he knew, enjoyed anything that was funny as well as any one in the world, could have opened the case in the solemn manner he did, when he was aware of the nature of the evidence by which the plaintiff's case was to be supported? The learned serjeant then proceeded to state that, in his opinion, the action was one of the most disgraceful that had ever been brought into a court of justice, and that even if the jury should believe the evidence of the witness Taylor, upon whom, he said, the case entirely rested; the lowest coin of the realm would be ample compensation for the injury the plaintiff' had sustained.

The jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict for the plaintiff--damages one farthing.

This story desperately cries out for an "Illustrated Police News" image, (complete with detailed diagram of the crimconometer!) but, alas, that publication was still some years in the future at the time of this incident. I hope this drawing from 1898 will suffice.


  1. Those Victorians certainly had a way with words! [she] had no particular personal attractions - would that be the same as ugly or more of a plain Jane??

  2. Poor Lyle would have done better to have caught his wife just by watching the door to her bedroom.

  3. Ouch. The jury punished the suspicious husband...for being correct to suspect his wife in the first place! Pretty cold.


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