The Abduction of Emily Easterby

Sir Harry Poland, prosecuting counsel

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Montagu Williams; defence counsel

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The location of Paddington Workhouse, the last home of Emily Easterby

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Shortly after the 1874 trial of Jean Luie (the false witness in the Tichborne Trial; see 'The Chieftain' pp.153-159), George Clarke was back at the Old Bailey in June 1874 giving evidence in a witness-intimidation and abduction case, where the defendants were charged with “unlawfully conspiring to prevent Emily Easterby from appearing as a witness, and thereby obtaining the acquittal of John Diprose and others”.1

The Diprose family were a City-based firm of money lenders from whom Mrs Easterby, a widow and day-schoolmistress living in Finchley, had borrowed about £40 early in 1873, and had signed some documents in the process. On the evening of 3 February 1873, with snow on the ground, about ten men including John Diprose turned up with a furniture van and emptied her house of all her furniture, clothes, food and fuel, leaving her with nothing. Mrs Easterby contacted a solicitor, Robert Harris, to bring a prosecution against the Diproses and their associates.  The charges included obtaining by fraud her signature to a bill of sale of her furniture, and stealing the furniture (valued at £200).  Prior to trial, her solicitor, Harris, and two other men (including another solicitor, Henry Wells, who Easterby knew only as ‘Fell’) encouraged her to withdraw the charges, offering payments if she agreed.  She had refused to follow that course of action and had alerted the legal authorities of the requests. However, when the case was due to be heard at the Old Bailey, she did not appear in Court and, despite postponing the case on several occasions, her continuing absence finally persuaded the Common Serjeant in October 1873 to direct the jury to acquit the accused men.2

In February 1874, Emily Easterby re-emerged with a story that, in June 1873, she had been taken against her will, together with her 10-year old nephew, initially to Southsea, and then Dover, and afterwards to Calais, Boulogne, and Paris and had been kept out of Britain until the Old Bailey sessions had ended. Her story was corroborated in most details by her young nephew. As a consequence, Clarke, again in collaboration with members of the City police force, pursued investigations that culminated in the arrest and charging of five individuals, including the solicitors Harris and Wells, both of whom were arrested by Clarke. When Clarke sought to confirm their identity, Wells was not immediately identified by Mrs Easterby and her nephew, until he spoke. None of the Diproses were amongst the accused, presumably because of their earlier acquittal when Easterby had failed to appear in Court in 1873. After initial hearings at the Mansion House, the five accused were committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

With Harry Poland prosecuting, and Montagu Williams appearing for one of the defendants, Clarke was on familiar territory, but whether he was expecting or had successfully influenced one of the defendants, Henry Holman, to plead guilty at the outset of the trial is not known.  However, Holman’s ‘guilty’ plea was undoubtedly a bonus for the prosecution, providing further corroboration of aspects of Mrs Easterby’s evidence.  Of the four other prisoners three were found guilty, receiving sentences of 4-15 months imprisonment, with Harris, Mrs Easterby’s original solicitor, receiving the longest term.  Wells was found not guilty by the jury, probably on account of the uncertainty in his identification.3

It would be nice to think that Mrs Easterby’s fortunes might have improved after the successful prosecution, but this seems not to have been the case.  Census records show her living as a boarder in a Paddington house in 1881 and by 1891 she was working as a seamstress and living in Paddington Workhouse. She died there in 1898.

One intriguing possibility is that the 'Henry Wells' in this anecdote may have been the fraudster and solicitor's clerk, Edwin Murray, who Clarke was later to encounter as a participant in two 'turf frauds', and who sometimes used the alias 'Henry Wells'. (See 'The Chieftain' pp. 162-166 and 200-210).

Notes: 1. Old Bailey Proceedings Online, June 1874, Henry Hammond, Robert Harris, Alfred Baldwin, Henry Holman, Henry Wells (t18740608-438); 2. The Times 31 October 1873, 28 April 1874 and 16 May 1874; 3. The Times 12 and 13 June 1874.

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