THE STRANGE CASE OF THE SOLICITOR AND MISS O'GRADY


Robert Bartlett and Maria O'Grady


I am mystified as to how the main villain of this piece ended up as a kind of local hero, but I suspect it had something to do with the reputations of the victim and her mother.

Mr Robert Henry William Bartlett (born c. 1816 Devon) arrived in Epsom as a solicitor at some point after 1844 and became clerk to the District County Court; his house was very close to the Spread Eagle public house. Mrs Bartlett was formerly Emily Emma Carpenter Warrington.

The Bartletts had a young live-in house servant and there doesn't seem to have been any problem with her in relation to Mr Bartlett, but his wife intended to let her go and replace her. Whether or not the girl was unsatisfactory or Mrs Bartlett suspected her husband of an inappropriate interest is not known.

There was a girl in town called Maria O' Grady, who was the daughter of a Mrs Waghorn by a previous marriage (this marriage was not to a Lieutenant O'Grady of the 9th Foot, who was killed in a romantic duel - the story had been circulated by someone but was later discredited). Mrs O'Grady had then married a brick and tile manufacturer, one of the Ewell Waghorns (possibly William Richard), but they separated in about 1846/47. Mr Bartlett had acted in a matrimonial matter for her.

Mrs Waghorn, who seems to have been prone to violence and fond of a tipple, was in straitened circumstances, to the extent that she applied to the Epsom Guardians for relief. One of the Guardians was Mr Oades of Banstead and, attempting to help, he offered Maria O'Grady, then aged 15, a position as nursery governess to his children. She was quickly found to be unsuitable and, when Oades mentioned it to Bartlett, he and his wife took her in for a few days until they could find her another job.

Maria remained with them for a time, acting as a companion to Mrs Bartlett, but in November 1848 the girl was packed off to Liverpool, apparently by Mr Bartlett, to visit some people who turned out not to be there. She claimed that the Mayor of Liverpool had provided her with the rail fare home.

On her return, Maria told Mrs Waghorn that she had been raped by Mr Bartlett on the night of 6 November 1848. Mrs Bartlett was away for a couple of days and, according to Maria, she (Maria) woke up suddenly that night to find Mr Bartlett in her bed and he had his way with her. He was charged and released on bail. Meanwhile, in an unrelated matter, he was arrested on a civil warrant for debt and incarcerated in Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Southwark (the County Gaol for Surrey).

When the Epsom magistrates next came to hear the case Bartlett did not appear (because he could not) and an application had to be made to the prison governor, who personally escorted him to Epsom. Evidence was given by the house servant and her friend, who had been staying over on the night in question, and Maria's tale immediately started to sound dubious. The girls said that Mr Bartlett's bed appeared to have been the only one occupied that night and in the morning he had called for many jugs of hot water to wash his bottom sheet. One of the girls had then been asked to iron it. Maria had said nothing to them about the alleged rape and they had heard nothing untoward in the night - such as a cry for help - although Bartlett had been seen lurking around in his nightshirt. In an attempt to discredit Maria further, the defence lawyer produced a letter to Bartlett from Mr J Bramley Moore, the Mayor of Liverpool, which said, 'My attention having been called to a paragraph in a London journal, of Monday, relating to yourself and Miss O'Grady, I deem it my duty to address you on the subject. You are a perfect stranger to me, and I can know nothing of what may have taken place between you and Miss O'Grady; but I deem it a duty incumbent on me to inform you that all which Miss O'Grady is said to have stated as having taken place between the mayor and yourself is entirely untrue. There are other important points connected with Miss O'Grady's visit to Liverpool, which, if you think it worthwhile to inquire into, to promote the ends of justice, I will afford every facility and information respecting her during her stay here.'

It seems from the letter that Mr Moore did know something about Maria's stay in Liverpool, but nothing of further interest was reported on that aspect, although Bartlett does appear to have been involved in sending her there. There were also allegations at the court that the prosecution side had asked Bartlett for £700 to make the rape charge go away.

On his next appearance before the magistrates Bartlett admitted that he had had consensual intercourse with Maria in his dining-room at lunchtime on the day preceding the alleged rape. As to the nocturnal events which had landed him in court, he said that he had been out and found Maria waiting up for him - lying on his bed. He sent her back to her own room until he was sure that the servant and her friend were not about and then fetched her to his bedroom, where she remained all night.

After deliberating, the magistrates concluded that criminal* intimacy had taken place and that Maria had been ill used, but they felt that the evidence fell short of rape. Bartlett was discharged (and immediately re-arrested on the debt warrant).

As I mentioned at the beginning, Bartlett's discharge seems to have been a cause for celebration in the town, albeit that he had committed adultery in his own home at least twice with a 15-year-old. The Yeovil Mercury of 3 March 1849 ended its report of the case with, 'The discharge of Mr Bartlett appeared to give considerable satisfaction to the townspeople of Epsom, and when the news became known, three cheers were given in front of The Spread Eagle Inn, near which his late residence is situated. The household furniture and effects, lately belonging to Mr Bartlett, were sold off on Wednesday, under an execution.'

I have been unable to discover what happened to Maria and her mother: nor can I find the Bartletts in the 1851 census, but they resurfaced later and, somewhat surprisingly, he was still practising as a solicitor (in Staffordshire). Mrs Bartlett died on 11 February 1871, by which time they had moved to Litherland Park in Seaforth, Liverpool. I have a feeling that they may have been separated, since Bartlett had a different address from his wife in her probate record, but by the night of the 1871 census, just a few weeks later (2/3 April), he was ensconced at Litherland Park with a friend of his and his wife's, one Letitia Gertrude Megevan (née Agar, born c.1830 Ireland), widow of a former High Bailiff of the Staffordshire County Court. The couple married in 1872 and moved to Formby, Lancashire, where Bartlett died on 15 December 1887, leaving effects of just £576. Letitia went to live with an aunt in Acton, West London, where she died in 1910.

This article was researched and written by Linda Jackson in 2013

*in 1848 the age of consent for girls was just 12, so we don't know why the magistrates used the term 'criminal intimacy'.


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