Wife Sued for Libel by Estranged Husband After Circulating Hand-Bills Seeking Name of her Predecessor, 1862

Portrait silhouettes by Monsieur Edgar Adolphe, via Alamy.

From the Dublin Daily Express, 6 October 1862:

“A STRANGE CASE.- Madame Margaret Phibbs, otherwise Adolphe, appeared to answer the complaint of Monsieur Edgar Adolphe, a photographic artist, 75 Grafton-street, to show cause why informations should not be taken against her for having published, at Mrs Dempsey’s, Grafton-street, on Wednesday, the 1st of October, and various other occasions a certain wilful and malicious libel, in the form of a hand-bill, for the purpose of annoying him and injuring him in his business, and to bring him into disrepute and shame; also for causing to be posted in the leading thoroughfares of the city and suburbs a defamatory bill, and thereby tending to provoke a breach of the peace.

Nicholas Harding, a printer, of Werburgh-street, was summoned by the same complainant for printing a certain wilful and malicious libel, in the form of a hand-bill, for the purpose of bringing said complainant into disrepute and shame. 

Mr E.A. Ennis appeared for the complainant, and Mr Purcell, instructed by Mr Charles Fitzgerald, senior, for the defendant. 

The case against Madame Adolphe was proceeded with first.

Mr Ennis stated that a case of a similar kind had been brought before the court some months ago, and there was a promise made that if no further annoyance were given the proceedings would not be gone on with.

Mr Purcell denied that such a condition was made.  He called upon Mr Ennis to read the alleged libel.

Mr Ennis said they could scarcely fail to have seen that bill on the walls of the town.  It was to this effect:

‘£50 REWARD!

If the Baron de Glasben de Tettenborn, artist, will give satisfactory information respecting the female under his protection, whom he alleges to be the former wife of Edgar Adolphe, photographer, 75 Grafton-street, Dublin, and, if she be now living, bring her forward, or if not, give legal proofs that she was alive on or about the 16th of November, 1856, he shall receive the above REWARD, or ANY person giving the required proofs.  Letters addressed to M.P., 87 Lower Dorset-street, Dublin, will meet attention.  N Harding, printer, 7 Werburgh-street.”

Mr Ennis proceeded to comment on it to show that it was a libellous nature, that it insinuated that his client had acted foully and dishonourably to some lady of rank.

Mr Purcell said they were anxious to examine the complainant.

Mr Ennis – Well, so you can.  Come up, Baron.

Mr Purcell – Oh! Is he a baron?

Mr Ennis said they were not there to inquire into his titles.

Monsieur Edgar Adolphe was then sworn, and examined by Mr Ennis. – I only want to protect myself from this annoyance.

Mr Purcell said he appeared for the defendant, and if she was his wife there was no known law for indicting a man’s wife for libel.  She had merely advertised for information to right herself, and he would ask the court to decide the case on this question.

Witness continued.- I know defendant.  She is my wife.

Mr Purcell asked the court to dismiss the case.  He had sworn that the lady was his wife, and he was sure that no proposition in law supported the idea of a man taking an action for libel against his wife.  This was the first case of the kind that had ever occurred in his experience, and now that the man had confessed that the defendant was his wife, assuming the whole charge to be true, there was no charge could be supported against her of this kind.  It was a principle most clearly established in law that a man could not be a witness against his wife, nor a wife against her husband, save in three cases – first, of treason; second, where the wife brought a charge of violence against her husband; and third, in a case of murder.

Mr McDermott,(who was assisted by Mr Allen in trying this case) asked was it not competent to bind the husband over to keep the peace? 

Mr Purcell said this case was different altogether.  It was a case of libel, and he would ask on what principle could a man bring an action for libel against his wife, and, if not, how he could proceed criminally on the same charge.  They were one flesh.

Mr McDermott – Then, if he committed suicide she should die also, I suppose?

Mr Purcell said she would – as a wife.  He would put in the objection, and if their worships wished he could overrule the objection and proceed.  He did not see how a man who had sworn that a woman was his wife could ask for these informations to be taken.  On legal grounds, strictly, this case should be dismissed.

Mr McDermott said that was not quite clear, but that they should, at all events, hear the evidence.

Mr Purcell asked them to take a note of the objection.

Witness continued (in reply to Mr Ennis) – I have been married these six years to this lady.  I have been four years and five months separated from her.  The matter that I complain of commenced two years ago, and I brought her before the court for it.

Mr Purcell objected to the former case being opened up again.

Witness continued – I have observed these bills distributed in thousands within the last two years.  They have been sent up to me by my boys by this lady.  On the 1st October, my wife was in Mrs Dempsey’s, opposite, at the window, and when I went to the opposite window she made faces at me, and took out one of these bills and shook it at me, and sneered over, as she is in the habit of doing.  I did not notice who was with her.  That bill would tend to lessen me in the public estimation, as it might provoke me to knock that woman down in the street if I saw her.  It speaks as if I had this woman under my protection.

Mr Purcell – Is the name of the lady to it?

Witness – ‘MP’ are her initials.

Mr Purcell – Would that excite you – that bill?

Witness – It would, sir.  If I saw it in her hand, or in your hand, I might knock you or her down.

Mr Purcell – Would you?  If you tried it you might get the worst of it.

Cross-examined by Mr Purcell:  I am a photographer and minature painter.  I married defendant on 16th of November 1856, in Warrington.  I was married before, at Brighton, in Essex, 25 years ago.  I object to answer further, as I wish to respect the ashes of those who are gone.

Mr Ennis cautioned the prisoner against answering any question but such as he pleased.

Mr Purcell only asked him to answer or decline as he pleased.  He would not force him to answer any question that might criminate himself.  Either way would serve him equally.

Witness objected to tell his first wife’s name, but afterwards said it was Eloise Giles.

Mr Purcell – Where were you married in Brighton?

Witness – I object to this.

Mr McDermott said it would be better to show, first of all, where the libels lay in this document, and then they could proceed.  He did not see any crime in what was printed there.  It did not imply any crime that he could discover.

Mr Ennis said he would show at once a prima facie case.  First, it was implied that there was an improper female living with him.

Mr McDermott did not see that it did.  Frequently there were advertisements of that kind printed, seeking information as regards a legacy, or for some such cause.  This lady evidently wished to gain information with reference to her position as the wife of the complainant, as, of course, she would not be his wife if his first wife were living.

Mr Ennis proceeded to argue at length on the difference which, he stated, existed between defamation and libel and in this case he contended there had been a case of defamation by the defendant.  He would willingly stay the case if the defendant would promise not to give further annoyance.

Mr Purcell would enter into no agreement.

Both the magistrates stated that they were unable to find anything that would warrant them to find the defendant guilty of a libel or defamation, or that it was anything but a bona fide transaction on the part of the defendant to endeavour to obtain information which she was entitled to under the circumstances.  They would, therefore, dismiss the summons, recommending that defendant would not irritate complainant further.  They would give no costs to either party.

The complaint against the printer was then dismissed without prejudice, and the parties left the court.”

Monsieur Adolphe’s premises at 75 and 76 Grafton Street as they are today.

First wife still alive or not, no prosecution for bigamy was ever brought against Monsieur Adolphe, who continued to carry on the Gold Palette Photographic Gallery at 75 and 76 Grafton Street, Dublin, until well into the 1880s. The notoriety of the above proceedings does not seem to have prejudiced his business. In 1865, he advertised the addition to his establishment of a ‘third exclusive Ladies’ Room’ added in the hope of affording ‘greater comforts and convenience to its numerous visitors than can possibly be met with otherwise… no appointment necessary.’

It seems that the Adolphes never reconciled, as Monsieur Adolphe was recorded as living alone in 1879. Hopefully his estranged spouse followed the magistrates’ advice and refrained from treating the above advertisement as an invitation to pay his premises a visit!

More on the art and photography of Edgar Adolphe here.

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

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

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