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A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Temperance in the Victorian Era

A Case in Point (1863)

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

(From the Western Morning News)

A Case in PointThe evil consequences that follow intemperance are a text so often preached from that few persons will stay to listen to the sermon. But every now and then some illustration of the topic occurs, so startling, so terrible, that it needs only to be told and people will listen to it, though they suspect a moral lurks in ambush. Such stories arrest the most indifferent, and this is the only compensation that they offer for the despair which they excite in those who are not indifferent. One such story we have to tell to-day, and we trust we may never have to tell another like it.

Ten years ago a young man named William Shaw Grant, then twenty-five years of age courted and married a girl named Marion Taylor*. The husband was one whom a true woman would have not only devotedly loved, but greatly respected. He held the situation of a clerk, and for a person in his position was very comfortably circumstanced. His conduct and temper were then irreproachable. Neighbours and employers, fellow-clerks and associated, united in describing him as a most estimable man and faithful servant. He was of a very genial disposition, sociable, good natured, ready to lend a friend a helping hand and do a generous action. The citizens of Perth knew him to be an honest, contended, and industrious person, and rewarded him with a more than ordinary degree of confidence and esteem. If any man merited a good wife Grant was that man. At first his marriage promised almost unclouded happiness. Marion Taylor had been well brought up; she was pretty and amiable, and in many other respects adapted to sustain her husband’s belief that the trust enjoyments were to be found at home. As children were born in might have been supposed that to both of them the home circle would have become dearer still. But over this happy scene there soon fell a dark cloud, first of gloomy misery and then of unutterable blackness, beneath which the wife was lowered into a dishonoured grave, and the husband was arraigned on the charge of having murdered her. How all this was brought about, how the mother was found a battered corpse, with scarcely a whole bone in her body, how the father was tried for his life, and how the children were sworn to give evidence which might explain the death of one parent and cause the death of the other, is a story in which there is no romance, though the dramatist would find it too dreadful for the stage. Curse by an insatiable craving for ardent spirits, the young wife and mother gradually yielded herself up to intoxication, until at last she who a few years before had been a fair young girl was transformed into a disfigured drunkard. The wife became reckless and defiant of her husband; the mother employed her few sober moments in teaching the children the worst lessons of deceit; while in her many drunkard hours she cruelly ill-used them. Sincere and king friends pleaded and prayed with her to reform, but their pleadings and prayers were in vain. She had sold herself wholly to the demon from whose enticements no influence could enfranchise her. Sometimes the pastor of the congregation with whom she had formerly worshipped came to reason respecting the course upon she has entered, but he generally found her speechlessly drunk upon the floor, and despondingly turned away. Amongst the neighbours her habits were spoken of as a scandal, and the same sorrowful friends had frequently to rescue the unfortunate children from the drunken fury of the mother.

Despite the many evils which had fallen on him, Grant continued a kind father and husband. Not a word of reproach as to his wife’s disgraceful habits ever escaped his lips. He only sought to keep her shame from becoming known. Were the man’s conduct not positively sworn to by independent witnesses it would be difficult to believe in such an exhibition of patience. When he learnt that the only interest which she took in her children was to instruct them in the art of lying, he did, indeed, grieve, but sought by attachment to redeem her from her degradation. Cruickshank could not have depicted more harrowing scenes than those of which this unhappy home was the stage. Instead of being welcomed home at meal times, and finding food prepared for his wants, Grant’s table was unlaid, his grate fireless, and his wife lying or staggering drunk about the room. In order to keep her out of debt he gave her more money, but she repaid his kindness by spending his gifts in drink, and even pawned the household goods to satisfy her guilty passion. At last, after three or four years’ endurance of this dreadful existence, Grant became an altered man. To lighten or stupefy his misery he likewise took to drink. He had only once or twice been noticed the worse for liquor when the inevitable end came. How it was accomplished is best described in the prisoner’s own statement. He returned home, he said, on the fatal Saturday night, at nine o’clock. He had been drinking, but knew what he was about. His wife “was drunk, which was a very common event.” He went into an inner room in which he heard her knocking about. The baby was huddled into the cradle, and being buried beneath the blankest was almost stifled. He told her to go into the bedroom, but as she did not do so he proceeded to carry her. Whilst passing through the room she came in contact with the foot of a table, which caused her to fall, and he fell along with her across another table, which gave way beneath them, and they rolled on the floor. He pulled her along to the doorway of the two rooms where he left her to sleep off the effects of the drink, as he could not get her into bed. Her being left in that position was a thing which had often occurred before. He hoped when she awoke that she would attend to her duties better in future. This was eleven o’clock, and the miserable woman was left there until four o’clock the next morning, when she was found a bruised and bleeding corpse. Her death is thus described by the local journalists: - “The woman who had for many a day gone reeling about her rooms until her neighbours had become accustomed to the sound of her falls, had at last fallen to rise no more. The petite figure which the girlish ringlets lay stiff and cold on the floor, with her arms extended, her dress torn and blood-spotted, and unseemly of position, her temples and forehead blue and darkly livid with extensive bruises, her nose clotted with congealed blood, her breast discoloured, her arm and chin darkened with extraverted blood, her body and lower limbs blackened, her lungs grazed, and her liver ruptured, through which appeared her broken ribs, and the bony structure of the chest a mass of fractures. That was bad, and the anatomists found matters no better when, upon a more careful examination, they discovered, in addition to a lacerated wound in one portion of the body, the right lobe of the liver torn through, the breast-bone broken in two places, eleven ribs and three cartilages broken, and seven of the aforesaid ribs doubly fractured.” Spots of blood being seen on Grant’s clothes, he was apprehended on the charge for which we was tried. After hearing all the facts, the jury took a merciful view, and returned a verdict of “Not Guilty.”

It would be useless to moralise upon such a spectacle, or upon the deliberate breaking up of this home, of which the unfortunate Marion Grant was guilty. In his address to the jury the prisoner’s counsel well declared. – “Such were some of the darker shadows of the picture of this man’s domestic life, but they were far from complete, and he must leave it to them to imagine for themselves the unutterably misery and discomfort which Grant had endured.” One blighting cause alone had wrought this fearful work, which ended in so dismal a tragedy – the once fair Marion Taylor had become a drunkard.

*Marion Taylor died 25th September 1863 (Recorded as Grant, Marion "Mrs William Shaw Grant", Perth, Cork, Ireland).