Dead cats and horsewhips: August 1825 in the Royal Court

Two unusual court cases from the Gazette de l'Isle de Guernesey, August 1825 [from the French].

Anne Ollivier's cats
Mr Melmoth and Mr Champion get nasty

ROYAL COURT: Last Saturday the Court’s time was taken up by a rather ridiculous case, Demoiselle Anne Ollivier having been actioned by a young girl, Sophie Martin, for the sum of £3 13s and 7¼d sterling, which was the bill for having looked after the defendant’s house and fed her cats during the defendant’s absence from the island between September 1824 and March 1825.

The Comptroller, on behalf of Sophie Martin, explained at great length the entirely natural affection Dlle Olivier had for her cats, and the reasons she entrusted the task of house-sitting to the plaintiff during her trip to London. She had gone there to plead a case before the King and Council. To avoid misunderstanding, she had even written out a binding agreement, whereby she agreed to pay the plaintiff 2 shillings a week for the keep of her three cats and to look after the house. He read this agreement out.

Upon Mlle Olivier’s return, the plaintiff presented her with the following account:

¼ pint of milk a day, for Dlle Ollivier’s cats, from 29 Sept. 1824 to 8 March 1825, 3 doubles a day = £0 13s 4¾d. A liver = £0 0s 4d. A velvet Ridicule [small handbag] = £0 1s 0d. For having looked after Dlle Ollivier’s cats according to the agreement signed by her on 28 Sept. at 2s a week = £3 3s 3½d. Advance = £0 4s 8d. Total remaining = £3 13s 7¾d.

The Comptroller ended with his hope that the Court would order the bill to be paid.

Advocate Carré: Mlle Ollivier is not denying the love she had for her cats, of course she would not object to paying for their keep if they had actually been taken care of; but in fact they were so neglected that two of the poor creatures had died well before her return. So the plaintiff can hardly claim for the keep of three cats when most of the time there was only one! He requested that witnesses be called.

Jurat: What for?

Advocate Carré: To prove that the plaintiff’s negligence caused the cats’ death.

Damoiselle Ollivier took the stand and observed that her poor 'darling' cats had not been looked after according to her instructions: that they had been neglected: that while everyone eventually dies, including cats, they should nevertheless have been properly looked after, and that she felt it was quite wrong of the plaintiff to have tried to substitute a different cat for one of hers that had died, and that she refused to pay for their upkeep. She had even had to send for Constable Touzeau to remove her, instructing the plaintiff to return all that she had received.

The Comptroller replied and observed that there was nothing strange about cats dying after having lived fourteen or fifteen years in the closest of relations with Mlle Ollivier. She was informed soon after the death of the first cat, and replied in a letter to the plaintiff, in which she asked 'For the love of God, take care of my cats, you will be well rewarded.' But fate decided otherwise, and another cat also died. The plaintiff was worried that depression might carry off the third, and obtained another cat to keep it company. Should one make this thoughtfulness a crime, by refusing her what is hers by right?

The Bailiff. It seems as though the cats died of old age, and not through the plaintiff’s negligence. As for the objection to her having procured another cat, it is probable that it was, as has been suggested, to keep the remaining cat company. The defendant should pay.

Mr Josias Le Marchant. We could deduct something from the bill, since the cats died well before Dlle Ollivier got back.

Jean De Lisle and Jean Hubert found the defendant liable.

On Monday, the said Dlle Ollivier appeared before the Court, accused of having, on the Saturday evening, tried to burn down the house which she rented from Mr Jean Tardif, at the bottom of Pedvin Street, by setting fire to the curtains and refusing to open the door to people trying to put the fire out, who had to get in through the windows to reach the scene. The Court heard witnesses and taking into consideration the situation of the accused, who did not seem to be quite all there, issued a stern reprimand, and placed her under police surveillance, while her relatives and friends were consulted on how best to look after her.

Continued in: Gazette 20th August


At the request of several of her friends, Mlle Ollivier has agreed to place before the public the following facts, to contradict the absurd rumours and scandalous stories that have been spread about her by certain individuals who were active supporters of the case that Sophie Martin brought against her, that she should pay her the bill of 13s 4½d from 29 Sept 1824 to March 1825. It is obvious from the following extract from Mrs Rougier’s account how firm a basis this claim has:[details of the bill]

When Sophie Martin was at the bar, Mlle Ollivier pointed out to her that she had not payed for some lungs for the cats, and she replied that she had. The Bailiff asked her again, did you pay for it? She answered: 'Yes!.' However, C. Hammond sent a bill to Mlle Ollivier, by which he requests payment, and here is a copy: 'For loits given to Sophia Martin, for your cats, by your order, from 29 Sept. 1824 to 8 March 1825 = £0 11s 0d. Received £0 0s 4d. Balance £0 10s 8d. I hereby declare that the said Sophia Martin has not paid me a farthing more of the above account.'

Thus the said Dlle Ollivier has been obliged to pay for the keep of non-existent cats, finding only one on her return from London, the others having been replaced with one cat by Sophie Martin, who fed it at Dlle Ollivier’s expense, for five months.

What is more, Dlle Ollivier was accused of setting fire to her house and barring the door and pumps so as to impede the way for those who were coming to help her; she declares this to be false. As she had to open a cupboard in her parlour whose lock was stiff, she put her candle down on the carpet, unfortunately too close to the curtain; once she had noticed that the curtain was on fire, she tried to put it out; at that moment a crowd of people came knocking at the door, demanding that she open up because it was locked; but since it was not actually locked, the crowd came in, at the same time as two men entered through the window, who pulled down the curtain and threw it on the floor causing the carpet to catch fire. One of the Assistant Constables who was there ordered Dlle Ollivier to accompany him to the prison, where she remained in custody until Monday morning! Dlle Ollivier has in consequence been forced to have assessors to the house, to show that there has been no more than 5 shillings worth of damage, although people have been saying it came to £4. Monsieurs Marquand, Guille, Wilson and Chaseau have visited the house. These people are ready to swear under oath that the door was not locked: MM Liez et Fils; Dale and Houguez. M. Touzeau, the Constable, agrees with them. Top of page

Gazette de l'Isle de Guernesey, 27 August 1825

Sitting of 20 August 1825

On Saturday the case of Advocate Champion versus Mr Melmoth¹ came up. Mr Melmoth was being sued for having beaten and abused the plaintiff. After several witnesses gave evidence, it was clear that there had been no premeditation involved, since it was Mr Champion who had asked Major Hippesley and the defendant into his study, where a quarrel developed between them; Mr Champion and Major Hippesley traded insults; that the latter struck Mr Champion, but as he and Mr Melmoth were leaving the study, Mr Champion tried to kick Mr Melmoth, who turned around and lashed out several times at him with a lead-tipped horse whip, leaving him with severe bruising. The Court came to the opinion that the defendant had been provoked, and only ordered him to pay 100 livres tournois to the injured party, 300 to the King and all costs.

A case had also been brought against Major Hippesley, but as the Court had been busy until past four o’clock, it was adjourned.

After the case had been heard, Mr Champion sent a card to Mr Melmoth, challenging him to a duel; the police 'got wind' of it, and sent someone to stop it; and these Gentlemen were brought before the Court on Monday, where they were bound over to keep the peace. But this order did nothing to discourage Mr Champion, who sent another challenge to Mr Melmoth the very same day, asking him to go over to Jersey, so that they could fight it out there. The Court was informed and judged the second challenge to be in contempt of court, and Mr Champion was ordered to pay 200 pounds sterling bail for good behaviour or go to prison, and was also ordered to keep the peace as far as concerned Mr Melmoth, or forfeit his bail. Top of page

1 Joseph James Chapman, alias Melmoth, was originally from Delingpole, in Gloucestershire, son of John Chapman. On the evening of 16th November in this same year he shot and killed an unarmed man, a William Brown, in whose house on the Banques he was living at the time. A very full report of his trial is given in the local newspapers of 4 February, 1826. William Brown's 15-year old daughter Mary-Ann testifies to what must have been a terrifying ordeal for her and her brother and sister, as Melmoth threatened to shoot them, and she struggled with him in an attempt to take the gun from him. 'What was your father doing during that time?—I believe he was on his knees, begging for his life.' The Jurats decided Melmoth deliberately murdered Brown, but concluded he was acting with diminished responsibility and ordered that he be detained as a danger to the public, until he could be returned to his family in England. A very different account of the case is given in The Berkshire Chronicle of 26 November, in which Chapman had been living with Brown's daughter 'under her father's roof' since she was 12 years of age. It ends thus:

Mr Chapman is separated from his wife; he is a Lieutenant or Captain in the 61st on half pay; his income is about 600l. per annum. He is the son of a very worthy Rector in G-shire, and has lived in Guernsey some time. He was always considered a very eccentric man, strange in his walk and appearance, but much of a gentleman. Seduction was, it is said, his employment.

A William Brown of St Sampson was in some pecuniary difficulties at the time; on 5 November a case was heard in the Royal Court, in which he was cited as owing £26 for Chaumontel pears he had purchased three years previously, and had very narrowly escaped the bailiffs and the forced sale of his house, for the present at least (the Gazette de Guernesey, 12 November, 1825).