The Yellow Dress

A surprising dark side to life at the Town Hospital is hinted at in this Royal Court case. Unmarried local girls who became pregnant and who sought help at the Hospital, although treated kindly, were nevertheless put under a great deal of pressure to disclose the name of the father, so that he would be responsible for the child's maintenance and not the parish, but the threat extended to this girl is another thing entirely and seems to have terrified her. It should be noted that the Star newspaper chose not to mention the dress and represented the trial somewhat differently.


Mr Abraham Lainé, Guardian of the Poor, of the Parish of St Peter-Port, and Elizabeth Le Lièvre1 adjoined, actioned Mr Joseph Burrowes,2 to show cause why he should not pay five shillings per week, for the maintenance of the child with which the said Le Lièvre is pregnant.

On Saturday last, the Court ordered that witnesses should be heard, in order to prove that undue familiarity existed between the parties, with the view of making out the case of affiliation against the defendant; and today, several witnesses were examined but nothing in their evidence tended to prove, in a convincing and satisfactory manner, that an improper intimacy had existed between the parties.

It came out in evidence that the girl Le Lièvre was in the habit of going to Burrowes' lodgings in the day time, but none of them declared ever having seen her there at unseasonable hours, or had they seen any impropriety in their conduct when together. It appeared that about two months since, when her situation became suspected, that she, in the presence of witnesses, exonerated the defendant from any imputation of impropriety, and then gave him a certificate, under her own hand, duly attested by two witnesses, to that effect. That afterwards she sought refuge in the Town Hospital, and upon being admitted into that asylum, she was closely questioned as to the reputed father of the child with which she is pregnant, and that in consequence of her hesitation to make the required disclosure, she was told that she should be clothed with the 'yellow dress,'3 and be placed among the common prostitutes; that she then declared Burrowes to be the father, and afterwards made oath before the Bailiff in confirmation of her statement to the Hospital authorities. It was also stated that she never had been seen in the company of any other man, and that her conduct whilst acting in the capacity of a servant at different places, had always been regular and proper.

Advocate MACCULLOCH conducted the prosecution, and contended that enough evidence had been elicited to show that an improper intimacy had existed between Burrowes and Le Lièvre. His situation as a Preacher (Anabaptist) gave him very considerable influence over the members of his church, and the circumstance of her being frequently with him at his lodgings, afforded strong grounds to conclude that the girl's declaration was true. As to the girl's certificate, he attached no value whatsoever to such a document, especially when he considered that it had been presented to her 'ready cut and dried,' and signed in his own room, with the view to screen himself from the imputation of the charge in question.

Advocate FALLA, for the defendant, examined at some length the nature of the evidence adduced to prove the case against his client, but he maintained that nothing had appeared in the shape of proof to fasten the accusation upon him. He dwelt particularly on the nature of the certificate given by the plaintiff to the defendant, and her previous declaration to two of the witnesses of his innocence, and therefore as there was no proof to criminate him, he trusted the court would nonsuit the plaintiff.

THE BAILIFF4 in summing up the case observed, that the evidence of the witnesses against Burrowes, was solely of a presumptive character, and the only thing that appeared against him was, his not having so strongly and positively denied the charge as might have been expected from a man under those circumstances, especially if he feels conscious of innocence. He thought a case of this kind should not have been undertaken by the Officers of the Hospital, owing to the influence which they have on persons of this description. One day she denies that Burrowes is the father, and the other day she declares that he is so, consequently no faith can be placed in her statements. Probably she had been frightened into it, by the exhibition of the yellow dress.

The majority of the jurats participated in the views expressed by the Bailiff. They thought that sufficient evidence had not been brought forward to make a case of affiliation upon Burrowes, and therefore they ordered that the Guardian of the poor should be nonsuited with costs.

1 'Neither a minor, nor a pauper, but a young woman twenty-five years of age, fully able to work, and by no means without money'. She had £3 or £4 ready cash on her when she arrived at the Hospital. Advocate Falla, acting for the defendant, maintained that Le Lièvre should have insitututed the prosecution herself. She had been converted about a year previously, and baptised by Burrowes. He claimed that someone had suggested to Elizabeth that she could extort money from Burrowes by persuading the Guardian of the Poor to action Burrowes with her and thus threaten to involve Burrowes in an expensive court case. The Star, June 13th, 1836.

2 'The defendant is a little lame man, a shoemaker by trade, and has for the last year or two preached in a private house in the vicinity of Tower Hill to a small number of persons of the Anabaptist persuasion, several of whom he has baptised. He is it appears a single man. Eliz. Le Lièvre was one of his flock—and was in the habit of binding shoes for him, and of occasionally going to his house to perform his domestic work.' Advocate MacCulloch said that 'There was but too much reason to believe he was the guilty party who had seduced Elizabeth Le Lièvre, and this was not the first time, he believed, that he had been implicated in affairs of this kind.' The Star, as above.

3 According to the Star, the Bailiff agreed with Advocate Falla that Le Lièvre was perfectly capable of instituting her own case, being of the opinion that females who were supported in legal paternity cases by the Hospital authorities in this way were either minors, or paupers brought up in the Hospital. The Jurats P B Dobrée, Le Retilley, and H Dobrée were, however, of the opinion that as soon as a female became chargeable to the parish the Hospital authorities had a duty to sue the father for maintenance, and that before 1827, when the Court had ruled that such cases should be instituted jointly by the parish officer and the female, the Hospital officials had been able to institute actions of this kind without the woman's agreement.

4 From The Star of July 11th, 1861, referencing an article describing a visit the Guernsey Town Hospital from the Friend of the People: 'The lunatic asylum I did not visit, nor the correctional wards; but I was shocked to see two women, belonging to the latter, as I concluded from their wearing the grotesque parti-coloured dress inflicted upon criminals, mixed with the other inmates, one of them in a ward with children.'