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Newgate Calendar - JOHN SPEED, ESQ.


A Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, Convicted at the Lent Surrey Assizes, 1809, of Bigamy

            This officer was indicted for marrying Ann Thorn, his former wife being still living. Mr. Bolland, as counsel for the prosecution, stated, that the prisoner at the bar, in the year 1785, was an ensign in the marines, and then became acquainted with a Miss Nelson, whose father was then an Alderman, and had been a mayor of London. After some interval of courtship he married that lady on the 14th of September, 1785, at the parish of Furneux Pelham, in the county of Hertford. He continued with his wife for some years, and had children by her; but, in consequence of impropriety of conduct on his part, she was compelled to seek refuge with her father, and in the year 1792 articles of separation were signed between them.

            The prisoner was abroad for some time, and in the year 1799 he was recommended to lodge in the house of a Mr. Thorn, a respectable market-gardener, near Putney. He soon found means to insinuate himself into the favour of his second daughter, and she was persuaded to marry him. He represented himself as lieut.-colonel in the army, and as one having the best expectations. They had not, however, been married but a very short time when he went to Germany, and from thence Miss Thorn received a letter from him, saying she must not look to him for protection, as he was already married, and his wife was still living. In short, having lived with her but a very little time, he wholly abandoned her.

            The register of his first marriage was put in, and his identity proved. By this it appeared that he was married to his first, Miss Nelson, on the 14th of September, 1785, at Ferneux Pelham, in Hertfordshire, and a witness proved that his wife was still living.

            Miss Thorn deposed, that the prisoner came to lodge at her father's on the 6th of October, 1799, and she married him in the November following. After he had lived with her about five months he went to Halifax, and left her pregnant. He never contributed to the support of the child. The prisoner being called upon for his defence, said, he should merit the severest punishment of the laws if he had wilfully offended; but he hoped the court would believe, after they had heard his case, that he had erred through ignorance. It was true he had married Miss Nelson, as was stated, and he had lived with her until they had six children. His means were then unequal to the support of so large a family. Three of the children died; his mother took the eldest, and his wife at that time had an employment which produced her two guineas a week. She agreed to provide for two children, and after some time a deed was brought to him to sign, which he understood was to secure to her own separate use those two guineas a week. No sooner had he signed it than his wife refused any longer to take care of the children, and he understood he had been deceived into signing a deed of absolute separation from his wife. After this he instituted a suit in the Ecclesiastical Court, either to compel his wife to return to him, or to get an absolute separation; and, in a motion which was made in the King's Bench for a prohibition, Lord Kenyon had said from the bench, that after that deed he was as free as air.

            Thinking himself thus free from restraint, he did marry Miss Thorn, and continued with her until his military duties called him abroad. On her discovering his former marriage she refused any longer to live with him; and when he solicited her to it, her reply was angrily, that she could hang him if she liked it. He stated that he had suffered great hardships in prison; he had been shut up in a damp and solitary dungeon, which had brought on him a rheumatic fever; and, by an order of the Commander-in-Chief, that no officer in custody of the law should receive his pay, he had lost all his pay during his confinement. He protested that he never meant to offend the laws, which he had fought to protect, in all ranks, from an ensign to that of lieutenant-colonel, and in what he had done he had been misled by error of judgment.

            The Lord Chief Baron told the jury the fact was proved unquestionably, and he expressed some indignation at the language represented to have come from Lord Kenyon, the absurdity of which every attorney's clerk could have told him. The jury found him Guilty—Transportation.


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