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The Alleged Ill-Treatment of an Emigation Girl.
Magisterial Investigation in Plymouth.

From ‘The Western Daily Mercury’- 22nd July 1870

At the Plymouth Guildhall yesterday, before the Mayor (William Luscombe, Esq.) and Major Trist, William Watson, master of the Emigration Depot at Lambhay Hill, was summoned by Mary Ann Green for an assault alleged to have been committed upon her on 20th of last June. There was a cross-summons, in which Mr. Watson charged the girl with a counter assault. Mr. Shelly appeared for the girl, and Mr. Brian for Mr. Watson.

Mr. Shelly stated the facts of the case on behalf of the complainant. He said his client was an Irish girl who had been accepted by the Government as an assisted emigrant. It was necessary for persons who were accepted as emigrants that they should produce certificates of character, and the girl having produced numerous certificates of this kind, she was accepted in the usual way. She left Dublin on the 16th of June for Plymouth, and arrived there on the 20th, about mid-day. The passage over had been a long one, and the girl suffered a great deal from sea-sickness, and was very unwell when she landed. In company with another emigrant she went into the town, where she made some purchases, and being still unwell her companion obtained for her a small quantity of brandy and water, and that was all she had during the day. After visiting the Hoe she went to the depot, where her boxes were searched, and in them was found a small quantity of butter, but that being an article which was prohibited from being brought into the building by emigrants, it was taken from her. Wishing to have some tea, she went to the master to ask that the butter might be returned to her, and at the same time she complained of the roughness of the person who had searched her boxes, for her dresses were crumpled, and her bonnet spoiled. Her request to have the butter restored to her was refused, and she then made a remark which was no doubt very improper, for she said, “If this is emigration, I think it is very hard.” But she had since apologised for this, and was quite willing to do so again. But if the observation was an improper one, it met with a very severe punishment. He (Mr. Shelly) thought the bench would agree with him that it ought to be a vary grave offence that would justify a man in turning a young girl out of doors in the middle of the night, and that young girl a stranger to the town and country, without friends and without money; and yet it was no less than this that the defendant did. He did more than this, for he laid hands upon the girl with such violence that immediately he released her a large bruise was seen upon her arm. He then threw her down and dragged her along the floor, causing severe pain to her knee, which had been previously injured on board ship. He also tore her dress very much, and while she was being thus treated she screamed and struggled, and whether during the struggle she did anything to Mr. Watson to justify the cross summons he (Mr. Brian) could not say. Eventually, the defendant out of (?) and she then asked that a policeman might be (? ? ?) policeman was sent for, and when he came (? ?) charged her with being drunk; but the girl would distinctly demy that there was the least foundation for the accusation and the policeman would also tell the bench that she was perfectly sober, and that he declined to take her into custody on such a charge. He wished the Bench clearly to understand that the present proceedings were not brought against the defendant in any vindictive spirit whatever, but as the only means which the girl had of having her story heard and of getting a fair trial, and Mr. Watson had no reason to complain that this course had been taken, because the friends of the girl had been challenged in the newspapers to being the matter forward.

The complainant was then called, and she, in the main, corroborated the open statement of Mr. Shelly. She stated that when she went to the master and complained to him with respect to the butter, he told her that no complaints were permitted, and that the parties who made them were not allowed to proceed in the ship. Thereupon she said it was very hard, and he caught her by the shoulder and pushed her on before him. She appealed to him to take his hands off and she would then do as he desired, but his reply was that she should go out of the depot, boxes and all, at that moment. She sat down on a form, when the defendant caught her violently by the shoulders, dragged her along the ground, and hurt her knee. She screamed, and the defendant then caught her by the throat, and fearing that he was going to choke her she put up her hands and pushed him off. Then he made a violent rush at her, caught her by the arms, kicked her in the back with his knee, and two servants interfered. She asked him to send for a policeman, and he did so; and when the policeman came he asked Mr. Watson what charge he had to make against her. Mr. Watson said she was drunk, but the policeman contradicted it, and he would not take her into custody. Mr. Watson then drove her outside the yard.

In cross-examination By Mr. Brian, the witness stated that the steamer arrived in Plymouth from Dublin at one o’clock in the day, and when she went to the depot she thought it was between five and six o’clock. No one showed her into the mess-room to give her any tea. When she complained that her butter should have been taken from her she did not say that the d---- b---- Government should not have the butter. It was false. Q. Did not Mr. Watson tell you that you had been drinking, and did you not reply that you had had two glasses of brandy and one glass of whisky? – Witness (emphatically): No, no, no: I never said so. I did not on the following morning express a desire to see the master that I night beg his pardon. I will swear that I never called the master a d--- liar when I spoke to him about the butter, neither did he order me out of the kitchen. I did rush at him and catch him by the beard; I will swear that no empty bottles were found in my boxes; I did not cause a letter to be written to Mr. Chant expressing my regret for what occurred, asking him to grant me a passage, and stating that I would by my future conduct show that I was not the girl I had been represented to be. It is not true that when Mr. Chant came I had every opportunity of calling witnesses in my favour. On the contrary, I asked that I might be allowed to do so, and was refused. Mr. Chant said if I did not go out, he would have me put out, as he had no time to lose.

P.C. Hodge said he was called to the Emigrant depot between half-past nine and ten o’clock, on the evening of the 20th of June, and when he got inside the yard he saw the young woman and Mr. Watson. The latter requested him to put her out, but he said it was not his duty to do so, and, therefore, he declined to interfere, but in order to avoid a disturbance he advised her to leave quietly – Mr. Watson then put his hand upon her shoulder, showed her the door and she went out. Witness had some conversation with her, and she showed him her dress which was very much torn, and also her arm on which was the press of fingers. He then went inside to see Mr. Watson, and the latter charged her with being drunk, but witness said to him, “I beg to differ with you. In my opinion she is not drunk.” He did not say he thought she had been drinking. Mr. Watson said he had been grossly insulted by her; that he had had a great deal of trouble with the Irish emigrants, and that he would not tolerate it any longer. He begged and entreated of him to allow the girl to come inside for the night, as she was a stranger and had neither friends nor money, but for some time Mr. Watson persistently refused to take her in. Eventually he said if Mrs. Watson liked to allow her to come in, she might do so, but he would not give the order. The girl was afterwards taken inside.

Cross-examined by Mr. Brian, the policeman said Mr. Watson did not tell him that the complainant had pulled his beard. He did not perceive that she had been drinking spirits, and he never told Mr. Watson that she had been drinking, or any other person. To everyone with whom he had spoken on the subject he had distinctly stated that the girl was perfectly sober.

Two other witnesses – Elizabeth Lavers and Thomas Simpson – both swore that the complainant was quite sober on the night in question.

Inspector Murch said he saw the girl on the 21st of June in the superintendent’s office at the Guildhall. He noticed that the skin had been torn from her knee, and her elbow upwards was as black as it possible could be.

This closed the complainant’s case, and

Mr. Brian opened the case of Mr. Watson. He said although the cause of the girl had been carefully and cleverly advocated, he believed he should be able to satisfy the Bench that her statement was not entitled to any credence. First, and foremost, he had two things to complain of. He wished to know why there had been such a long delay before these proceedings had been taken, for had the summons been issued within a short period after the occurrences complained of, Mr. Watson would have been able to call as witnesses a large number of emigrants who were present at the time, and who would have given their versions of what really transpired on the occasion. He supposed the reason of the delay was not that the girl wished to have any enquiry, but because her friends had failed in coercing the Company in to giving her a passage. They made every attempt to get her passage for her, and because they could not succeed in so doing, they had brought these proceedings. Then again, another complaint which he had to make was that letters and other matter should have been published in the newspapers calculated to prejudice the minds of the public against Mr. Watson. It was not fair towards him that his name should have been traduced in such unmeasured terms. It was only recently that a very long statement had appeared in the Western Daily Mercury purporting to come from the girl Green, but it was evidently concocted by some person who was very much better educated than she was. Although evidence had been called on the other side to prove that the girl was sober when she came to the depot, he should show that she was most decidedly intoxicated, and that she did not get there until seven o’clock in the evening although the steamboat arrived at one o’clock in the afternoon. When she came in she smelt strongly of spirits, and she was incoherent in her speech. While her boxes were being examined her conduct was so bad that the young person who was engaged in the work was obliged to give it up and call in some other person to do it. Her language too was very bad, and when she made a complaint because the butter was taken from her, she said, “The d---- Government should not have it.” Ultimately Mrs. Birtenshaw talked to her, and told her that she had been drinking, and the girl’s reply was that she had had two glasses of brandy and one glass of whisky. Notwithstanding the statement of the girl to the contrary. Mrs. Birtenshaw would swear that she found two empty bottles in her box. After this she went into the kitchen, where she had an altercation with the cook, and the master coming in asked her whether she had been making a complaint about the butter. She replied that she had, and disputed with Mr. Watson the precise wording of the rule which prohibited butter being brought in by the emigrants. He read it to her, and she called him a d--- liar. She then rushed at him, caught him by the beard, and tore out a quantity of hair; in fact her conduct generally was so bad that several of the emigrants refused to sail in the ship if she were allowed to go on board.

Mr. Watson was then examined and gave a thorough denial in everything that had fallen from the complainant he swore in the most positive terms that she came to the depot at seven o’clock in the evening in a state of intoxication, that she called him a d--- liar whom they had the conversation about the butter, and added that there was no justice as the depot for the poor Irish by the d--- English. He denied that he used any more force than was necessary in removing her, and asserted that she caught him by the beard while he was remonstrating with her, and pulled out a quantity of hair. She then went on the ground, and shouted “B--- murder!” and her own country girls shouted “Shame!” on her, and more than fifty of them said they would not go in the same ship with her. When P.C. Hodge came to the place he said most positively that the girl had been drinking. When she was brought before Mr. Chant she had every opportunity of calling what witnesses she pleased.

Seven other witnesses were called, and they all gave similar evidence. – Mrs. Ruth Birtenshaw swore that she found two empty bottles in the girl’s box, and that Green admitted to her that they had contained spirits. – All the witnesses said she was most unquestionably in a state of intoxication; and Mr. Chant bore out the statement of Mr. Watson – that every opportunity was afforded her at the enquiry of making whatever statement she pleased, or of calling witnesses.

After some consultation the bench dismissed both summonses. They expressed their regret that the young woman did not go to the depot until five or six hours after the arrival of the steamboat, and were of opinion that she had been drinking on that day, and also used improper language, and they considered that Mr. Watson could not have acted otherwise than he did if he was to carry out the orders of the commissionaires in a proper manner. As the same time they hoped some attempt would be made to obtain a passage for the girl, who was here alone and friendless, and they trusted that what had now occurred would be a warning to her for the rest of her days, and be an inducement to her to pursue a right course.

The court rose at 6•30.

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