On this day in history : 16th May 1862 – The death of Edward Gibbon Wakefield – the British politician who in 1827 abducted a 15-year-old heiress and forced her into marriage, leading to the Shrigley Abduction case….

Edward Gibbon Wakefield by Benjamin Holl – Public domain

Wakefield was a key figure in the establishment of the colonies of South Australia and New Zealand and had involvement with Canada…. In 1816, at the age of 20 he eloped with 17-year-old wealthy heiress Miss Eliza Pattle…. They were married in Edinburgh; it appears to have been a marriage for love and her mother, being a party to it, settled a sum of £70K on the couple…. They were to have two children, a daughter in 1817 (who was to die later from TB) and a son in 1820…. But Eliza was to die 4 days after giving birth….

Although wealthy by normal standards, it was not enough for Wakefield – he wanted an estate and an open door into Parliament…. He began to hatch a plan….

Ellen Turner was the only child of wealthy mill owner William Turner, who lived at Shrigley Hall near to Macclesfield…. Wakefield, twice her age, decided he was going to marry the 15-year-old for her inheritance – he enlisted the help of his brother, William….

Shrigley Hall

Ellen was at boarding school in Liverpool…. On the 7th of March 1827 Wakefield sent his servant, Thevenot, with a carriage to the school…. He was to deliver a message to say that Ellen’s mother was gravely ill and wanted to see her daughter…. Thevenot took the girl to a hotel in Manchester where Wakefield was waiting – and who then told her that her father’s business had collapsed and that he had fled to escape his creditors…. Wakefield said he had been instructed to take her to her father in Carlisle….

They travelled to Kendal – and on arriving Wakefield put the next part of his plan into action…. He explained to her that although her father was now a fugitive two banks had agreed to transfer part of his estate to her – providing she was married…. Therefore, if she were to marry him, Wakefield, then her father could be saved…. He then took her to Carlisle, where they were met by William Wakefield who said he had seen Turner and who had agreed to the marriage…. Ellen consented and the couple continued over the border to Gretna Green, where they were married by blacksmith David Laing….

After returning to Carlisle Ellen asked to see her father and Wakefield promised to take her to Shrigley…. However, he took her to Leeds instead…. He claimed he had a meeting in Paris that he simply had to attend – but they would go via London so she could see her father there…. He then sent his brother to ‘invite’ Turner to London…. But on arriving at Blake’s Hotel, where the supposed rendezvous was to take place, a message had been left for them saying that William and Turner had already departed for France and that they should follow…. So, Wakefield took Ellen to Calais….

A few days later Ellen’s parents received a letter from Wakefield saying that he had married their daughter…. His line of thinking was that rather than face public scandal they would accept the marriage – but he was so wrong! Turner went to London to seek the help of the Foreign Secretary…. On learning that Ellen had been taken to France Turner despatched his brother, along with a police officer and a solicitor to find her…. It didn’t take long, Ellen and Wakefield were found in a hotel in Calais….

Although Wakefield claimed they were legally married and nothing could be done about it, after being interviewed by the French authorities Ellen was permitted to return home with her uncle…. Wakefield, after making a statement to say the marriage had not been consummated, carried on his way to Paris…. He probably thought that was the end of the matter….

However, there was a warrant out for his arrest…. A few days later, on his arrival back at Dover, he was detained and taken to Cheshire to be held at Lancaster Castle to await a court appearance…. He was later to be released on bail of £2K plus a further a further two sureties of £1K each…. When the case came to be heard on the 23rd of March 1827 at Lancaster he, his brother and their stepmother, Frances, who had also been indicted as an accomplice, all appeared…. They all pleaded not guilty…. Thevenot, who was still in France, was indicted in his absence…. All were found guilty….

On the 14th of May they appeared before the Court of the King’s Bench at Westminster Hall, London…. The brothers were each sentenced to three years imprisonment – Edward served his in Newgate, whereas William was sent to Lancaster Castle…. Frances was released….

The marriage between Wakefield and Ellen was annulled by an Act of Parliament…. She went on to marry a wealthy neighbour but died in childbirth at the age of 19…. Her daughter survived….

As for Edward Gibbon Wakefield – despite all of this he went on to have a successful career…. He became involved in prison reform and then continued his leading role of the development of Australia, Canada and New Zealand….

Wakefield circa 1850-1860 by Albert James Allom – Public domain

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