Victorian scandals: Ten shocking stories revealed | Life | Life & Style

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Mabel LoveGETTY

Actress Mabel Love was dragged out of the Thames

THE ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF QUEEN VICTORIA

The most famous Victorian of all, Queen Victoria, almost ended her reign after three years, when Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her in 1840.

The pregnant monarch was in a carriage with her husband when Oxford took aim with a pistol. He missed and was arrested after being nabbed by onlookers. The shaken Queen went home, wept for a while and then regained her stoic attitude.

She was concerned, however, to discover that while Oxford admitted the crime, no bullets were found at the scene. He was tried for treason but, because nobody could decide if the pistol was loaded, he was not imprisoned. Instead he was admitted to an asylum then shipped off to Australia. Queen Victoria was not amused.

THE SELFISH HOUSEWIFE

In 1837 Mary Stansbury longed for a more exciting life. Bored by living with her husband, Mary hatched a plan to give her servant the slip while on a walk in London.

Terrified, the maid ran home and told Mr Stansbury her mistress was visiting relatives and would return by morning. But she did not and after days of questions the servant hanged herself, fearful that she would be blamed for Stansbury’s kidnap or even death.

In reality the woman had run off to Bristol where she bigamously married another man. However her notoriety, due to her disappearance and the death of her servant, ensured she was recognised and arrested.

THE BLOODY BATTERSEA BRIDGE MURDER

The Victorians had a thirst for scandal and this was apparent when Augustus Dalmas admitted murdering his lover Sarah MacFarlane after a torrid affair, which began shortly after the death of his wife.

MacFarlane was rumoured to be a prostitute with several lovers but Dalmas could not resist her. However he felt so guilty about the dalliance that he bombarded the woman with hate mail, blaming her for their active sex life.

Then in April 1844, Dalmas sliced MacFarlane’s throat during a walk on London’s Battersea Bridge. But instead of being hanged for murder, he was shipped off to Australia where he lived for many years.

THE BATTERED BODY BENEATH THE FLAGSTONES

Maria Manning thought she had it all: a husband, a lover and her lover’s cash. But she soon realised that she loved the money more than the man so, together with her husband Frederick, she plotted to rid herself of lover Patrick O’Connor and keep his fortune.

After inviting him to dinner in August 1849, one or both of the Mannings shot O’Connor and buried him under the kitchen flagstones. Maria stole all his money but when Frederick laid claim to his half, she double-crossed him and ran away to Scotland.

When O’Connor’s body was found and the couple arrested, they each blamed the other. They were hanged in November 1849, in front of a crowd that included novelist Charles Dickens.

MABEL LOVE, THE PUBLICITY EXPERT

Still in her teens, actress Mabel Love failed to turn up at The Gaiety Theatre in March 1889 and a frantic search followed. For days newspapers were full of theories and Mabel was “spotted” all over the UK.

In truth she had fled to Dublin where she tried to find work. When she returned to London, she was fired from her job at The Gaiety and only reinstated when her parents pleaded with the manager.

Then in July 1889 Mabel was rescued after throwing herself into the Thames. Her workload at The Gaiety was blamed but some wondered if her disappearance and suicide attempt were merely clever publicity stunts. Certainly the scandal was enough to keep her name in the headlines for many years to come.

THE STRANGE CONFESSION OF PRISCILLA GUPPY

In November 1857 Priscilla Guppy was living out her last days in Weymouth, Dorset. What no one knew was that 65 years earlier she had worked in a brothel.

When the 90-year-old confessed, her family were shocked. But then a sensational tale followed. A fight had broken out in the brothel between two men and Guppy hit one over the head, killing him.

With help from two customers, she dumped the body under a bridge. Although they were arrested, lack of evidence meant all three walked free. “I beat him in the head with an iron! May God have mercy on my soul.” Guppy died shortly afterwards, once again escaping justice for her grisly crime.

Jack The RipperALAMY

Jack the Ripper remains a mystery to this day

THE SAD TALE OF BERTHA DENNIS

In late 1884, young cook Bertha Dennis was raped and became pregnant. In March 1885 she decided to seek advice from her aunt but was stopped at the station by a mysterious woman.

“Mrs X” encouraged Bertha to go to her house, which was actually a brothel, and in the following weeks Bertha was subjected to vile abuse. When she gave birth her son was taken away and she never discovered what happened to him.

Eventually, Bertha managed to escape the house of horrors but no charges were ever brought against “Mrs X”, due to the victim’s reluctance to give precise details of where the brothel was located.

WAS IT JACK?

In November 1892 Emily Edith Smith was convinced she had escaped Jack the Ripper’s clutches.

According to the 18-year-old, he asked if she’d like to have a drink. She agreed but “Jack” led her down a passageway where he produced a knife. “I’ll settle you now,” he said but Smith kicked him between the legs and fled.

She gave a full description of the attacker to the police – 5ft 9ins, dark hair, different coloured eyes and peculiar eyebrows – but despite assurances that they’d investigate, they never took her seriously. Jack was never found and his legend continues to this day.

William TerrisGETTY

Actor William Terriss was stabbed to death by a rival

THE GHASTLY MURDER OF WILLIAM TERRISS

Matinee idol William Terriss was a swashbuckling hero, one of the most successful entertainers of his generation. But for fellow actor Richard Archer Prince, Terriss was a hindrance and a rival.

Prince desperately wanted to be as successful as Terriss but his unsteady temperament and lack of talent prevented this. While Terriss had always been supportive of Prince, the rivalry was extreme.

In December 1897 a cloaked Prince waited outside London’s Adelphi Theatre and plunged a knife deep into Terriss’s back and chest. Terriss died shortly after and Prince was arrested and sent to a secure unit. He outlived his victim by almost 40 years and revelled in the infamy the killing had brought him.

DREADFUL BOURNEMOUTH NIGHTMARE

Louisa Bailey was working at a Bournemouth store in 1896 when, after a party with colleagues, she was visited by one of the customers – Mrs Digby – who spotted an open bottle of brandy in the room and decided Bailey must be an alcoholic.

She convinced authorities to admit the woman to an asylum and Bailey was kept in a ward for deranged patients for 11 months, until she managed to escape.

She hid under a bush until guards gave up their search and she then found her way to Southampton.

Bailey sold her story to the press but it remained a mystery as to why she’d been sent to the asylum and no apology was ever made.

The Battered Body Beneath The Flagstones & Other Victorian Scandals, by Michelle Morgan, is published by Robinson and available now, £18.99



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