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Mrs. Turton's 1829 Divorce as debated in Parliament
In 1829 Louise Turton, born Louise Brown, was the second woman to receive a divorce through a Parliamentary Act. The first had been Mrs. Addison in 1801.
In the 180 years during which such bills were allowed, only 4 women were granted such divorces. The cost was one factor. Estimates are that it cost between one thousand and 5 thousand pounds to go through the various courts and processes. The double standard regarding adultery was another reason. Those women who did obtain a divorce through Parliament only did so because their cases involved incestuous or bigamous adultery on their husbands’ parts—extraordinary, in other words.
In April 1829, The Times of London published the transcript of a discussion in the House of Lords that transpired upon the second reading of the Mrs. Turton’s bill. All the sordid details were laid out for everyone to read. The transcript follows, copied from the Times. Note how the lords’ deliberations compare Mrs. Turton’s situation to a husband’s, and how they itemize the rules regarding the ability of husbands to procure a divorce:
Appeals—House of Lords—March 31
Turton’s Divorce Bill
Mr. Adam in stating the case on the second reading of this bill, observed that it was an application on behalf of a lady to dissolve a marriage which she entered into in 1812, with a young man then practicing at the bar. The lady, who was the daughter of General Brown, was then in her 18th year. The parties lived happily together until 1821, when a letter, which came into the hands of Mrs. Turton, led her to suspect that a strong attachment existed between her sister, Miss Adelaide Brown, and Mr. Turton. She subsequently discovered that an adulterous intercourse was carried on between them, and being anxious to conceal the circumstances from her aged parents, lest it might drive them prematurely to the grave, she communicated with her elder sister, and arrangements were made for the family to go to Bath, in order to prevent any further intercourse between Mr. Turton and Miss Adelaide Brown, and also to conceal the infamy and disgrace attached to their conduct. The learned counsel, after alluding to the case of Mrs. Addison in 1801, before which time there was no instance of a marriage being dissolved at the instance of the wife, said that though Parliament made a distinction between adultery committed by the wife and by the husband, he confessed he did not see any grounds for such distinction. In a moral point of view, there certainly was none. Adultery committed by the wife might certainly, on political grounds, be of more importance than if committed by the husband; but in no other respect did he see any distinction. In no other country in the world was there a distinction made between the grounds on which a divorce should be granted at the instance of the wife and at the instance of the husband. However, this was not an adulterous intercourse of an ordinary description.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR [LC hereafter]—When did Mrs. Turton first know of this incestuous intercourse?
Mr. Adam—She suspected it in 1821, but she had no actual knowledge of it until January 1822, when she took steps to send her sister and her father’s family to Bath, and Mr. Turton continued in town, pursuing his profession until July in that year, when he took it into his head to go to Calcutta, and Mrs. Turton having resolved to accompany her husband, thinking there was an end of the attachment between him and her sister, set out to Portsmouth for that purpose; where, to her great surprise, she met her sister and Mr. Turton together; the former having eloped from her parents in consequence of a previous concert with Mr. Turton, who said that the sister should accompany them to Calcutta, as she was far gone in the family way, that being the best means of concealing the scandal and infamy of her situation. Mrs. Turton made all the resistance in her power, but in vain. She was so strongly attached to her husband that she did not wish to remain behind.
LC— Still attached! It was no reason why she should love her husband that he loved her sister.
Mr. Adam—No reason, certainly; but, in spite of it, her attachment for him was so strong that she was prevailed upon to accompany him, on condition that her sister should be sent home as soon as she had been brought to bed. When she left London she was not aware of his intention respecting her sister, and when at Portsmouth she had no friend to consult. Mr. Turton went on his knees to her, and implored her not to insist on leaving her sister behind in distress and infamy. She felt as if distracted, and in the agony of the moment she consented to preserve the honor and character of her family. After their arrival in India, Miss Brown was delivered of a child; still she continued to live in the same house with Mr. And Mrs. Turton and Mrs. Turton, having demanded a pledge from Mr. Turton that he would have nothing further to do with Miss Brown, he refused to give it; whereupon she resolved to return to England, but in consequence of illness she was not able to return until 1824. When she arrived here, she went for a time to Mr. Turton’s family, and afterwards to her father’s. Mr. Turton and Miss Brown returned in 1828, with three children, no doubt the produce of their incestuous adultery.
LC—Did Mrs. Turton and her husband associate with her sister, and sit at the same table with her on their voyage?
Mr. Adam replied in the affirmative.
The Lord Chancellor was in a painful situation, as Mr. Turton was a friend of his. This was the second application, which had been made to their lordships for a divorce on the grounds of incestuous adultery. But this application was made under circumstances which would induce their lordships to give it a negative if it had been made by a husband, for a man who consented to associate with the paramour of his wife could not get a divorce, and he did not see why a wife should get a divorce unless she was in such situation as would entitle a husband to one.
Mr. Adam—Lord Stowell laid it down that the more the wife suffered, and the more patience she manifested, the stronger grounds there were for a divorce. Mrs. Turton accompanied Miss Brown against her will, which should not imply an acquiescence. The whole of her conduct negatived every idea of assent.
Lord Wynford agreed that this was a most extraordinary case, and should not be governed by the rules of ordinary cases. If a man gave his assent in any way so as to countenance an adulterous intercourse with his wife, he could not get a divorce. If he cohabited with his wife after he discovered the adultery, he would be precluded from relief. The same rule applied to a wife, who stood in the same situation. But he entreated their lordships to consider the dreadful situation in which Mrs. Turton had been placed. It was asked, why she permitted her sister to accompany them to India? The reason was, because her character would otherwise be ruined. She had suffered a great deal to save her father’s gray hairs from going prematurely to the grave.
Lord xxx (paper unreadable) said he would weigh the evidence very closely and would expect clear proof that Mrs. Turton had not been aware of the renewal of the incestuous intercourse on the voyage, or in India. If the contrary should appear, it would afford grounds for suspecting that she was actuated by something more than a generous feeling, and that connivance usurped the place of charity. The case was very extraordinary; the conduct of Mr. Turton was more defenseless than if he had had a criminal connection with his sister by blood, for the feelings of nature revolted against the latter, which was not he case as regarded a sister by marriage. Their lordships had granted a divorce on a former occasion and under similar circumstances, to show the abhorrence of the Legislature for such infamous conduct. He thought it his duty to say so much, because when their lordships deviated from the ordinary course, the grounds for such deviation should be known.
The further consideration of the subject was deferred until the 20th of April.
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