Breach of Promise to Marry

Wreford v Hart 1837

Before Lord Chief Justice Tindall on 26 Jul 1837: The Court was crowded; and among the audience on the Magistrates' bench were a number of elegantly dressed ladies of the elite of this city and its vicinity.

Mary Wreford’s lawyer stated that she was compelled to come before a public court to vindicate her character, not only for her own sake, but for the satisfaction of her family who well knew in what various ways suspicions would be excited amongst those who knew of the engagement so long existing between her and the defendant that she must have done something to cause Mr Hart to break off the match, if she did not vindicate herself by instigating a public inquiry.

Her father Samuel Wreford gave evidence that Mr Hart the defendant was first introduced to his daughter in 1829; he first saw him in the beginning of the year 1832 at Grattons. Hart soon applied to him for consent to pay his addresses to his daughter. He told him from what he knew of him and his family that he could have no objection; but that if fortune was his object, he must beg at once to undeceive him, as he could not give his daughter much fortune. Hart then told him that fortune was not his object, he only sought her affections; Mr Hart after this visited Wreford’s daughter at Grattons, constantly upon average once a fortnight, staying two or three days at a time.

Nothing was said to him by Mr Hart about the marriage until the beginning of the 1836. Between 1832 and then Mr Hart’s father was in a weak state of health and Mr Hart had lost his only sister Mrs Hulme in 1833. In the spring of 1836 Mr Hart applied to Mr Wreford and said he wished to get settled and asked him if he had any objection to meet his father.

The two fathers met in Exeter to arrange the marriage settlement. Mr Hart would settle upon his son £300 a year and £200 at once for furniture. Mr Wreford stated that it was his intention at his death to give his daughter £3000 but that he would give her £1500 on the day of marriage. Mr Hart said that was a trifling sum and would add but £10 a year to their income which would not be sufficient. Wreford then said that if income was the object, he would give his daughter £100 a year during his life but that he must deduct the sum it might amount to from the £3000, as otherwise he could not do justice to the rest of his family.

At a second interview Mr. Hart again expressed himself dissatisfied, and said, as to £100 a year, if Wreford deducted anything from her ultimate fortune of £3000, he would not consent to it. In October 1836, at Grattons, Mr Hart said that he and Wreford’s son Robert had arranged to his meeting [his] £1500 with an equal sum, which was a very fair proposition; the arrangement was that Mr. Hart should meet my £1500 with £1500 of his own money, to be settled upon the wife and then upon the children.

Wreford said he did not have any subsequent communication with Mr. John Hart, until May 1837, although on the 11th of December 1836, wrote him a letter. (The letter was produced and read; it expressed surprise at finding, on inquiry, from his son Robert, that no instructions had been given him for drawing up the settlement, the terms having been agreed upon by all parties; and observed that he could not but think that, after so long an engagement it ought to brought a termination.)

Wreford asked Rev Hart why he had not been to Grattons  to see his daughter, as he had promised; he said that his cousin had sent him a pack of hounds, and he could not come; He asked  him if his daughter had given him any offence, or if he had anything to complain of in her conduct ; he said, no, he was perfectly satisfied with her, but that other members of the his (Wreford’s)  family specifically his two sons, had treated him with contempt, and wished to get off his daughter from him.

Wreford then told Rev. Hart that his conduct towards his daughter was very suspicious, He replied that he wouldn’t marry his daughter until he was in a situation to enable him to do so without having any of Wreford’s money; Wreford then said, “Mr. Hart, you have now been engaged to my daughter between five and six years, during which time you have admitted that she has not given you any offence, and that you have no cause of complaint against her,- and yet, after I have acceded to all your father's terms, you are now about to break off the engagement without assigning one sufficient reason for doing;— your conduct towards her has been the most unjust, the most cruel, and the most villainous I ever heard of: you have blasted all her prospects in life, and ruined her happiness”

Mr. Samuel Budd, surgeon, said he knew the parties. [His wife was Mr Wreford’s cousin.] He had seen Miss Wreford since the match was broken off, and she was very low-spirited and apparently ill; she was thin and much altered in appearance. He knew her before, and she was a lively spirited girl, in good health.

After deliberating, the foreman of the Jury, addressing the Lord Chief Justice, said, —My Lord, I am requested by the jury to desire that the Learned Counsel on both side will consult, and try if they cannot settle this case without returning a verdict." The Plaintiff's father here obtained permission from the Judge to make one observation to the Court, when Mr.Wreford stated that the object of the Plaintiff in bringing this action was not to obtain pecuniary compensation, but that if any damages had been awarded, Counsel for the Plaintiff had received Instructions from his Brief to declare that those damages would appropriated to some Charitable Institution.

The Lord Chief Justice said he had done all he could to induce settlement of this case without the trial, and was happy it had now terminated in the way recommended by the jury. He thought it his duty to say that there has not been the slightest imputation on the character or conduct of Miss Wreford; and notwithstanding the unfortunate feeling that has been engendered, he could see no earthly reason why the parties should not again be reconciled and sincerely hoped that such might be the case.



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