Monday, February 20, 2017

"Extraordinary Conduct for a Clergyman."

Clarence House, London
On a rainy and cold January night in 1849, a sentry stood under the portico of London's Clarence House. A well-dressed gentleman scurried past, heading toward St. James' Park. A few moments later, the man returned, stopping for shelter from the rain. Lighting a cigar, the man said, “Tis a wet night, isn’t it, soldier?” After a few pleasantries, nodding toward the house behind, the stranger wondered who lived in such a grand place. "This is the home of the Queen's mother, the  Duchess of Kent, sir.” The man then leaned closer to whisper, “Ah, I see, the Duchess of C**t.” The next thing the startled sentry knew he felt the vulgar stranger’s hand as it slipped beneath his tunic, reaching for his private parts.  

Not on his watch; the sentry barked and quick-marched the attacker off to the guardhouse where he made the statement quoted above. 

The Rev. Henry Seller, a curate from Send, a small Surrey village near Woking, would face charges for a gross assault upon Private Joseph Cooper of the Scot's Fusilier Guards. The clergyman, 32 and married, protested his innocence. He admitted to first giving a false name but purely from the shame such a charge, however false, would bring upon him. In Bow Street Police Court, the sentry failed to appear and the magistrates had no choice but to dismiss the Rev. Seller with a caution. 

It seems like Private Cooper was in trouble of his own. Disobedient to an officer, he was put in the cells but escaped. Back in custody, several fellow guardsmen testified to his villainy. Cooper had boasted of threatening numerous gentlemen in the park, who from fear would pay up with some money, a ring, or maybe on a good night, even a watch. Rev. Seller returned to testify at Cooper's trial. The soldier had the crafty Old Bailey hand Sergeant Ballentine who put up a lively defense. What was this country curate doing out, darting back and forth, in the darkened parks on such a night in London? Seller said he was walking to Pimlico to visit a friend. An unmarried male friend. Why had he left the gas-lit streets for the gloom of the park? Why would a Cambridge-educated clergyman spend even three minutes in conversation with a private soldier? Ballentine suggested it was "extraordinary conduct for a clergyman." 

In the end, the evidence against Cooper was overwhelming. He had engaged in a “system of wickedness" and was ordered transported for fifteen years. The Rev. Mr. Seller was praised for his bravery in coming forward in such an unpleasant affair. Seller spent most of the rest of his long clerical life living blamelessly in Trull, near Taunton, in Somerset.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

The Reverend Dog-Torturer

St. Mary's, Turweston (
It was a summer Sunday evening in the small, straggling Bucks village of Turweston. The Rev. William Harley, rector of St. Mary the Virgin, returned from the evening service to find a dog digging in the garden. Now this dog had been a persistent annoyance. With the assistance of his gardener, Mr. Harley put a sack over the dog's head and poured a pint of turpentine over the animal's "hind quarters." The animal began running in circles, yelping his way home to his master at nearby Turweston House. Mr. Stratton, JP, with the assistance of the RSPCA, brought Mr. Harley before the magistrates, charging him with “having ill-treated, abused and tortured a dog." 

The case of "The Rev. Dog-Torturer" became a cause celebre across England. Harley freely admitted doing it; he was at his wit's end, the dog had been chased off so many times. A veterinarian stated that the pain lasted no longer than hour. The RSPCA official called it a "gross act of cruelty" and beyond a landowner's rights. Denounced in many papers and among animal-lovers, Harley wrote to The Times, expressing some sorrow but claiming he was the victim of great exaggeration, "I was particularly careful not to allow it to touch any tender parts." At the Petty Sessions, the rector was cleared and, moreover, "he leaves this court without a stain upon his reputation as a Christian minister, a gentleman and a humane man.” 

Critics feared that if a clergyman could get away with this, what would others do? The Spectator reminded readers: "There is nothing more striking in our Lord's whole teaching than the reality with which he binds together the whole living universe in the bond of His Father's care and love." 

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