An ‘exceedingly painful case’ at Bow Street

FOT1142573

Charing Cross station in the nineteenth century 

Mrs Ann Leonardi (or Lee as she was also known) was, by her own description,  an ‘independent lady’. This probably meant she was unmarried, or widowed, or even an heiress (the latter seems less likely in these circumstances however) but whatever the reality she found herself in the dock at Bow Street charged with theft.

Ann had visited the ‘refreshment bar’ at Charing Cross railway station because, she later claimed, she felt unwell.  Ann had asked for a little brandy, that well known pick-me-up for ladies of a certain class. The barmaid placed a glass and two flasks of the spirit on the counter and Ann (‘with some little hesitation’) handed over enough money for a glass.

However, when the barmaid returned Ann had gone and so had both flasks.

It seems the station employed its own private detective, a man named Tom Toby, who was informed of the theft and went in search of Ann armed with her description. He soon caught up with her and discovered the brandy flasks in her possession. Ann offered to pay with a cheque for £5 but this was refused, she was arrested and handed over to the police.

When she was brought before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street she was bailed to reappear in a week’s time. For whatever reason (and Ann put this down to ‘foolishness’) she failed to appear and so a warrant was issued for her arrest. In the meantime however, Ann handed herself in to the nearest police station and apologised for her behaviour.

So in early July 1873 Ann Leonardi was in court and she pleaded guilty to the theft but with the mitigation that she had no idea she had the flasks as ‘her head was completely lost through trouble and too much drink that she had taken that day’. What was the cause of this ‘trouble’ and why was Ann so upset? Unfortunately we can never know this but a novelist might speculate. Was she unlucky in love? Or distraught about the death of a child or other relative?

Ann had some friends though, and several came to Bow Street to offer her a ‘good character’. They told the magistrate (Mr Vaughan again), that sometimes she ‘was not in her right mind’. So perhaps Ann suffered from some form of mental illness or, and this maybe more likely, she was an alcoholic.

Ann’s situation was about to get worse. Mr Vaughan expressed his opinion that this was an ‘extremely painful case’ but since she had broken the law and skipped bail, he had no choice but to send her to prison for a month at hard labour. In doing so he may have been influenced by the implication that she was in some way addicted to alcohol. Perhaps he felt this shock would be the necessary cure for her problem.

Personally I can’t see how a month in a Victorian prison would have done much for her well-being and the consequences would be felt by Ann for years afterwards. She had stolen two small bottles of brandy, which she had subsequently offered to pay for; the magistrate’s actions here seem to fall far short of ‘justice’.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, July 02, 1873]

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