Sibling rivalry gets out of hand at Westminster

Anyone with brothers or sisters is familiar with the petty arguments and jealousies that we grow up with, and I’m sure most parents are aware that these exist as well. Most of the time these are manageable and parents intervene to restore order and occasionally to ‘bang heads together’ if necessary. It is certainly unusual for them to end up in court, but this is just what happened to the Howell family in 1860.

17 year-old Jane Howell had been a domestic servant but had ‘left a position’ (either sacked, or had ran away we don’t know) at the end of December 1859. She returned to the family home where her mother and her brother Robert lived.

Almost immediately there were problems. Jane and her mother argued, and Mrs Howell accused her daughter of being ‘too fond of late hours’ (the Victorian equivalent of being a ‘dirty stop out’). When Jane and her mother fought it seems that Robert intervened on behalf of his mother.

On New Year’s day Robert struck his sister, blacking her eye. She put up with this but a few days later he entered her mother’s room where Jane was. Robert was looking for a comb on the mantle shelf but couldn’t find it. He and Jane exchanged harsh words and then he hit her again, ‘blackening her other eye’.

This was quite enough for Jane who went to get a warrant to bring an allegation of assault against her brother. He had managed to evade the police sent to pick him up however, and in the meantime had continued to abuse his sister. Finally Mrs Howell had thrown her daughter out of the house and the case eventually found its way to Westminster Police Court.

In court Mrs Howell presented a very different story, backing her son’s account. Jane was out late too often and when chastised for this my her mother she had rounded on her, abusing her. Jane’s accusations that Robert had hit her and used ‘filthy language’ were dismissed and instead Jane was painted as the villain.

The magistrate asked how she could have received the two black eyes but Mrs Howell told him that the girl had collided with the door of the house as she ran out. Robert claimed he had tried to mediate between the warring females, and tried to ‘coax’ his sister ‘as much as he could’ to behave better.

‘By pushing her out of the house, and blackening her eyes I suppose’ asked the magistrate, clearly frustrated with the whole sorry affair.

Jane declared that she could provide witnesses to the abuse she’d suffered and PC Page (147 B) reported that when he had arrested Robert the neighbours attested to the bruises the girl had suffered.

Mum had sided with her son over her daughter, there seems to have been no father at home (he may have died or abandoned them). Perhaps she felt she closer to Robert, perhaps she was scared of him and his violence. Perhaps Jane was a very difficult young woman. Whatever the truth it didn’t end very satisfactorily for the former servant girl.

Robert was bound over to keep the peace towards his sister but I can’t imagine they all lived happily every after.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 18, 1860]

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