‘a terrible tale of drunkenness and cruelty’

In May 1890 Allen McLucas appeared at the North London Police Court charged with threatening to murder his sister-in-law, Sarah Ann. McLucas was described as a 47 year-old traveller living in South Hornsey. Sarah Ann deposed that the prisoner had visited her and when she answered the door he had rushed at her, grabbing her around the throat and ‘put a razor to it, saying he intended that for her’. Fortunately she managed to wriggle free and escaped in to the back garden and was helped over a wall by her neighbours.

When he was arrested he was found to have a revolver in his pocket.

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At the hearing McLucas’ wife told the court ‘a terrible tale of his drunkenness and cruelty’. McLucas admitted to deserting from the 11th Hussars some 12 years earlier and she claimed she had done everything possible to shield him from prosecution for that act. However in return she had suffered greatly; ‘Many times I have had to run for my life’, she said, and ‘only on the 1st of this month I got out of the bedroom window in [her] nightdress’ and sought shelter with her neighbours.

Allen McLucas pleaded for forgiveness and even promised to return to his regiment and face the consequences. His wife was prepared to forgive him but was not prepared to take him back without ‘protection’ from the court. The magistrate offered him freedom if he could find sureties willing to answer for his behaviour for the next six months. He couldn’t and so he was taken away, to be remanded in prison for his wife and her sister’s safety.

It is sometimes assumed that domestic violence was rife in nineteenth-century London and that this was a working-class problem. Men got drunk and beat their wives; the police ignored it and only occasionally did the state do anything about it. In reality the police courts are full of domestic violence cases, which suggests that women were prepared to use them – even if it may have been a last resort. The law was not entirely impotent and some justices took a very dim view of male violence, particularly when directed at the ‘weaker’ sex.

Hopefully Sarah Ann managed to make a new life away from her abusive spouse but that in itself was hard in the period before a benefit system. Far too many Victorian wives (of all classes it has to be said) simply put up with it; those that fought back, or ran away, risked a much worse fate as the depressingly large number of domestic murders attests.

[from Daily News , Tuesday, May 13, 1890]

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