1 August 2003

THE HABITUAL DRUNKARDS’ ACT
A Painful Case at Dukinfield

At the Dukinfield Police Court on Thursday, before Alderman H PRATT, J KERFOOT, and Councillor R WOOD, an application was made by Mr J A GARFORTH, under the above Act, on behalf of Mr Thomas BOWKER, hat trimming manager, of 28 Russell-street, for an order an order of separation from his wife, Ann BOWKER, on the ground that she was an habitual drunkard. On her name being called there was no response.

Mr GARFORTH said he was sorry and also glad at the same time that the lady had not put in an appearance. He thought every chance should be given to her. In the first place he should like to point out, and it must be his excuse for going into the case at some length, that it was, as far as he knew, the only case that had ever arisen in this and the immediate surrounding district, where an attempt had been made to put into force this section of the recent Licensing Act.

The Magistrates’ Clerk (Mr WESTBROOK): Isn’t this a case where the defendant ought to be here? — Mr GARFORTH: How are you going to get her? — The Clerk: There are always means in this Court. You had better had a warrant. — Mr GARFORTH: There is nothing in the Act. — The Clerk: I understand she lives very near the court. It would be better if an officer went for her.

Mr GARFORTH: It would increase the painfulness of the case. — The Clerk: That may be, but this is an important application. — The Chairman: Supposing a constable went to her residence, and asked if she will come. It will save issuing a warrant or an adjournment of the case.

Mr GARFORTH: I want to save her the painful humiliation of coming into court. — The Clerk: That is all very grand. — Mr GARFORTH: I don’t often dispute my friend’s law, but I know no precedent except the Bench make an order to send her away to a home, where her personal attendance is necessary. — The Clerk: This is a case where the magistrates can make such an order. — Mr GARFORTH: With her consent? — The Clerk: Therefore she must be here to give her consent. — Mr GARFORTH: There are alternatives, and I ask for an alternative clause. — The Clerk: It is for the magistrates to say.

Mr GARFORTH: Of course, as to what order they could make. It will be a painful scene for her to come here. — The Clerk: It may be painful; but it does not do away with the necessity for the woman attending. — Mr GARFORTH: It is perfectly true her consent must be given, if the Bench decide she ought to go to a home. They can act on other portions of the law, such as he may not be bound to cohabit with her, and as to the custody of the children, and what he has to pay per week, for which consent is not absolutely necessary. Of course, I am in the hands of the court and I cannot go any further.

The Clerk: It seems a waste of time to go on without the defendant. The magistrates must have the whole of the facts before them, and then they can make any such order as they think fit. One order is that they can confine this woman, but she must give her consent. They cannot have her consent unless she appears in court.

Mr GARFORTH then consulted with Mr BOWKER, and said his client left the whole thing in his hands. He thought the best thing they could do was to ask an officer to go over to the house, which was only 40 or 50 yards away, and see if she was in a condition to come. He need hardly say that she was heartbroken at the necessity of these proceedings. If she declined to come he would ask the Bench to adjourn the case, and in the meantime it would be shown that to her that it was essential she should attend court.

The Clerk: Has she been told it is not essential? — Mr GARFORTH: Certainly not. — The Clerk: It is no use getting summonses if people are told they need not appear. — Mr GARFORTH: I was never in such a case in my life. I may say that Mr BOWKER has been to the trouble to communicate with the whole of her relations, brother and sister, not later than yesterday, warning them that this case was coming on, and the necessity of her being protected.

An officer then left the court to fetch Mrs BOWKER. In a short time she appeared with a wrap round her head.

The Clerk addressing her said: You are charged that you are an habitual drunkard, as defined by section 3 of the Habitual Drunkards Act, 1879, and your husband desires to apply for an order or orders against you under section 5 of the Licensing Act. Do you admit the charge or not that you are an habitual drunkard?

Mrs BOWKER: No, sir.

Mr GARFORTH said the Bench could see from the surroundings without him telling what an extremely painful case this was. It was painful for him to have to appear in such a case. He treated this lady as suffering from a disease, and he trusted that the action now being taken, which they would find from the evidence was amply justified, might be the means of reformation and the leading of a better and happier life.

The parties had been married so long ago as October 5th, 1872, and there had been numerous children of the marriage, some of them now being grown up. The plaintiff, Mr BOWKER, was with Holland’s the leather merchants at the present time, and he had started for them a new business. He would tell them that for the last 20 or 25 years he had only been in two or three employments, having been in a responsible in one well-known firm for 17 years.

Some 12 years ago his wife became addicted to taking too much drink. It showed slowly for some little time, but within the last four or five years she had got into such a condition that her house and children had got into such a condition that this was the last resort which the husband could adopt. The aim of the legislation for many years had tended towards the protection of the wife against her husband, and it was only in a portion of the new Licensing Act, which came into force on January 1st, that any attempt had been made by legislature to find relief for a man who was hampered and crippled with a woman who took too much drink.

The defendant was charged that she was an habitual drunkard, as defined in section 3 of the Act of 1879, which provided that where the wife of a married man was an habitual drunkard he should be entitled to apply to the court of summary jurisdiction for an order under subsection 2. Upon such application, the court might make one or more orders, such that he should be no longer bound to cohabit with his wife; that he should have legal custody of the children; that he should pay towards his wife’s maintenance a sum not exceeding £2 per week.

They had also the power to commit the defendant to a home for inebriates for a term, and they could, of course, make an order that he should be responsible for her maintenance there.

The section defined an habitual drunkard as a person who, by reason of habitual intemperate drinking of intoxicating liquors, was at times dangerous to himself, or herself, or others, and incapable of managing himself or herself or affairs. The money given to the defendant to keep the household had been spent in drink, and the plaintiff and his children had come home and found no dinner ready, and some of the children had been driven from home through the woman’s drunken conduct.

He need hardly say that this step was taken by the husband as a last resort. Every effort that love and affection could make and every persuasion had failed. If the magistrates decided that the plaintiff was no longer bound to cohabit with his wife, and if they thought it would be better for her to be sent away — better for the household and the lady herself, they would make an order to that effect. He hoped and trusted that at the end of the term probation which she have to undergo, lengthy or short as her conduct determined, she would be able to return and have a new life. If such a happy issue came about the plaintiff would be perfectly willing to take her back again as a loving wife and mother, and the honoured head of his household.

Mr BOWKER was then called, and gave evidence bearing out Mr GARFORTH’s opening. He said he had eight children living, two of them married, and the youngest was six. His wife had been addicted to excessive drinking for many years, and when in that state was violent and hysterical. When she had these paroxysms on they had to stay up with her until four or five in the morning and hold her down. He had given notice to her relations of these proceedings, and her brother had written, “Whatever steps you take I cannot blame you.”

Asked if she had any questions to ask her husband, defendant said they were both to blame. They had thrown things at one another. She did not try to make herself good, or appear that she was a good person. They were both alike.

The Clerk: He charges you with being an habitual drunkard. — Defendant: As for drink he came home roaring drunk last night, and could not stand. — The Clerk: Is that so? — Plaintiff: No — Mr GARFORTH: Last night has nothing to do with this case. — The Clerk: She has a perfect right to put the question. He comes here and tells the magistrates he is an angel and she is the other.

Defendant: He is telling stories. Were you not drunk last night? — Plaintiff: That has nothing to do with last Monday week. — Defendant: I could have come here for a separation from you, but I’m not so hard-hearted. I have always done my house work, and washed last Tuesday. Of course, he has got Mr GARFORTH. He is all right; he is lining Mr GARFORTH’s pocket. — (Laughter.) He has had money for a solicitor and I have had none. That is not a right thing. I want him to let me go home and try to do my house duties once more. He promised this morning he would try me another month.

The Clerk: What do you say to that? Plaintiff: I did not promise that. I have no desire for separation, but we must lead a different life. The Clerk: Are you willing to try her for a month? Plaintiff: From what I see now I am not willing. Miss Ada BOWKER having given evidence, the bench decided to adjourn the case for three months.

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