In 1840, a lengthy dispute arose between the two ladies and Mrs. Freestone went to law. Relying on the common law principle that a husband shall be responsible for the debts of his wife, Mrs. Freestone sued the Rev. Butcher for goods (i.e. birds), sold and delivered, valued at £959 - close to a neat £100,000 in today's sterling. To which the country cleric replied, "Nunquam indebitatas." Not my debt, ma'am.
In the Court of Queen's Bench, the Rev Butcher explained that he was simply a "poor rector with a rich wife." Actually, he earned £400 a year. His wife was the sole heiress of a wealthy Middle Temple Barrister, with a separate bank account and fortune paying her £380 per year. In their marriage settlement of 1823, Edward and Caroline had agreed it was to be her money. Caroline's bird passion was solely her doing. Mrs. Freestone had come to Milton Malsor rectory several times to visit her great client but the Rev. Butcher swore that his wife had never troubled herself to introduce him to this curious woman "who dabbled in birds." The bills that steadily arrived were all addressed to "Mrs. Dr. Butcher."
|Milton Malsor Rectory (Milton Malsor Historical Soc.)|
Sadly, the bird-hoarding Mrs. Butcher "shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the bleedin' choir invisible" in 1844. The fate of her collection is not known. Her husband left Milton for a new flock in Wandsworth in 1844.
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