Barrister’s Vacation Ends in Litigation, 1885

The charming Cotswolds town of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, the scene of the ill-fated vacation the subject of this post, via Selling Antiques.

Adapted from the Irish Times, 25 and 26 March 1885:

The Reverend Henry Peter Higginson brought a motion for final judgment to recover £27 10s from Thomas Hewson BL, who is a member of the Irish Bar, claiming that he had asked Mr Hewson on a visit to Tetbury during the Long Vacation to provide him with legal assistance, that Mr Hewson had given him no services, and that he had paid all Mr Hewson’s expenses – railway fare, car hire, hotel bills and theatre tickets – while in London and elsewhere.  The sum claimed by the Rev Higginson also included a debt owned by Mr Hewson to a tailor, which the Rev Higginson said that he had purchased because he had introduced Mr Hewson to the tailor and also because he intended to sue him, in order to put an end to annoyances which Mr Hewson was giving him by letters and postcards.

Mr Hewson BL, in a replying Affidavit opened by the Rev Higginson’s counsel, stated that the Rev Higginson had originally been a clerk in the Custom House, Dublin, who had joined the firm of Dickie and Co and subsequently absconded without giving any account of the funds placed in his hands.   He was later ordained by a Colonial bishop.  After having been in Zululand, America and other distant countries, he returned, and Mr Hewson saw him in Dublin.  The Rev Higginson said he was in feeble health, and asked Mr Hewson to go over to England to assist in preparing a suit for a divorce from his wife, which he was then bringing, and success in which was necessary to his getting employment in the Church of England.  Mr Hewson also claimed that £45.5s was due to him including 25 guineas in the nature of fees.

The Master of the Rolls – I must say that if any publicity is given to statements of this kind which have nothing to do with the application, and which I say are scandalous, it is the fault of the plaintiff who insists on having them read.

Mr Sherlock BL, counsel for the Rev Higginson, replied that Mr Hewson had made charges against his client which were nothing less than vindictive untruths.

The Master of the Rolls – There are two ways of conducting a case.  One is influencing the judge to decide a case on the facts.  If you think I am likely to be influenced in deciding a case by the counsel who opened the motion having stated that it was a vindictive motion, you may endeavour to disabuse your mind of this action.

Mr Gerrard BL, Counsel for Mr Hewson BL, said the entire case was peculiar.  Mr Hewson accompanied the Rev Higginson on the journey from Ireland, and the latter’s funds running short Mr Hewson paid all the Reverend’s travelling expenses, so that £26 was really due to him.  

The Master of the Rolls, in giving judgment, remarked that he did not express an opinion as to whether it was proper for Mr Hewson to claim his fees, but he had yet to learn that there was anything to prevent an Irish barrister who had done work in England recovering the money for the work done, if it were done under contract.   It was clear that there was a dispute about the money, and the writ had been obtained in Dublin two days after the assignment of the tailor’s debt in London – in hot haste.  It would, therefore in his opinion be a gross abuse of the powers of the court to give judgment in such a case without a full hearing, even if the assignment of that debt was perfect.  He must therefore, dismiss the motion for final judgment with costs.”    

The Master of the Rolls, Andrew Marshall Porter, as depicted by the Graphic shortly before his appointment in 1883, via ebay.

Characters in these stories have a way of coming up again thereafter, and such was the case with the Reverend Higginson.   According to a story in the St James’ Gazette of 22 December 1887:

Great excitement was caused in Parliament Street, Dublin, about nine o’clock yesterday morning, by the report of a pistol being heard from a cab, which was driving through the street at the time, followed by a noise as if a severe struggle was taking place inside.   It appears that Captain JJ Dunne, stated to have been formerly governor of Castlebar Gaol, and a prominent Home Ruler, now residing at Chelsea Gardens, London, and Mr Henry PHW Melville, described as a clergyman, at present stopping at the Grosvenor Hotel, Westland Row, were driving in a cab when an altercation took place between them… in the course of the dispute Captain Dunne drew a pistol from his pocket and fired at Mr Melville.  The ball lodged in the thick rug which Mr Melville wore and did not penetrate the flesh.  Mr Melville was formerly known as the Reverend Henry Peter Higginson.  After being divorced from his first wife he married again last year to the Honourable Mrs Charlotte Whyte- Melville, widow of the celebrated novelist Major George John Whyte-Melville, and assumed her name.

Mr Melville, who is about forty five years of age, deposed, in reply to Mr McLaughlin BL: I left Paris yesterday for London and came to Dublin.  On arriving this morning at the Kingstown pier, I saw the defendant there.  He came to the first-class carriage which I entered at the station, and he said ‘Where is my daughter?’

Mr McLaughlin: Is it a fact that you had run away with his daughter when she was acting as paid companion to your wife?

Mr Melville:  She came away with me.  She is twenty-eight years of age.  The Defendant asked me where his daughter was, and I said I had left her at Holyhead.  He said ‘You are my prisoner, if you stir, I will put a bullet through your head.  I said I wanted an explanation, but he made no reply.  On arriving at Westland-Row, he insisted on taking charge of my Gladstone bag and said ‘You go before me’  I did so, and entered a cab, he came in also… The prisoner then pulled out his pistol and fired the revolver at my stomach…”

The Higginson-Whyte-Melville marriage did not long survive the above, with an acrimonious court case subsequently ensuing in the courts of England and Wales in which Mrs Higginson-Whyte-Melville sought to set aside a substantial settlement she had previously made in her errant husband’s favour.

Peter Henry Higginson (no longer Whyte-Melville) made a third marriage to Mary Chavelita Dunne in Detroit, but any wedded bliss was short, as the groom died shortly afterwards.   It appears that the former Reverend changed his religion before his death, as his obituary described him as having died peacefully, fortified by all the rites of the Roman Catholic Church.  Far from sinking thenceforth into oblivion, his youthful widow changed her name to ‘George Egerton,’ took up her pen and went on to considerable fame and fortune in the London literary world.

Captain Dunne’s daughter, in her later incarnation as the famous novelist George Egerton, via the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Mr Hewson, a strong supporter of tenants’ rights during his time at the Bar, ultimately became a magistrate in Bray, where he briefly caused consternation by suggesting the repeal of the Sunday Closing Act.  A keen fisherman, he sensibly decided to spend future holidays close to home at Greystones, often described as the Law-Library-on-Sea due to the number of barristers who gravitated there during the summer months, occasionally writing to the newspapers to share details of his piscatorial endeavours.

His dealings with the Reverend/Mr Higginson-Whyte-Melville go to prove the truth of the aphorism that barristers should never combine work and vacation!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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