[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
The first case in which Rogers was retained, was a memorable one for him. It was in the Criminal Court before the Deemster and a jury of six men, the charge being for stealing goods under the value of ten shillings.
In those days the offence of larceny was divided into "Grand Larceny " and " Petit Larceny." The former consisted in stealing goods above the value of ten shillings; the latter only included thefts under that amount.
Offences of Grand Larceny were finally tried before the Court of General Gaol Delivery, consisting of the Governor, the Clerk of the Rolls, the two Deemsters and a jury of twelve men; but prior to being so tried, a Bill of Indictment must have been found against the prisoner, by what was known as the Indicting Jury consisting of six men, presided over by one of them
Offences of Petit Larceny did not go before the Court of General Gaol Delivery, they were only tried once, by a jury of six men, presided over by a Deemster
I specially attended to see what kind of a defence Rogers would make for his client.
The jury being duly sworn, " well and truly to try the case between Her Majesty the Queen and the prisoner at the Bar, and a true verdict according to the evidence and the law of the land, so held them God." the Attorney - General briefly opened the case and proceeded to call and examine his first witness for the prosecution. Whereupon, the Counsel for the prisonerRogerswith great vigour, commenced to take copious notes of the evidence, which certainly seemed to tell heavily against his client.
At length the Attorney-General sat down
I fully expected that Rogers was only waiting for this opportunity to smash the credit of the witness, by a searching cross-examination; but, to my surprise, he mildly remarked that he had no questions to ask, and the witness was ordered to stand down.
The next two witnesses gave even stronger evidence against the prisoner, but likewise left the box without being cross-examined; and the last witness was being examined in chief on behalf of the Crown, when I ventured, at this crisis of the case, to lean over to Rogers, and, as delicately as possible, to hint whether it might not be advisable to cross-examine. To this, he whispered confidentially, and with an exceedingly knowing wink, as though to give me to understand that he was " taking a rise " out of the Attorney-General, " I'm only watching the proceedings ! watching the proceedings ! ! " I could not for the life of me understand what he was after.
In about ten minutes the jury, without leaving the box, found the prisoner " guilty," and the Deemster having sentenced him to six months' imprisonment with hard labour, he was removed from the dock, and all was over.
Poor little Rogers had omitted to distinguish between " Grand" and " Petit" Larceny procedure, or to note that his client was taking his one only trial.
I believe that the prisoner richly deserved his fate, but many a worse case had had a different ending, conducted by counsel not confining Himself to " watching the proceedings ! "
Prior to being admitted to the Bar, I was privileged to have a case to defend in open court. I was my own client! Some cynical person will here mentally observe that according to the proverb, of course, I had a " fool for my client."
Let me seriously examine this point.
Take it for granted that my client (myself) was a fool, yet it is nowhere alleged that the counsel who defended the fool was himself one, e.g., I, the defending counsel, was not necessarily a fool, Q.E.D., " Which things are an Allegory " as certain clerical friend of mine used to exclaim, in the midst of an extempore sermon, when his ideas got into an inextricable tangle.
The circumstances of this somewhat ridiculous case were as follows:
One dull winterand we had dull ones in those ancient daysit was decided to get up amateur theatricals for the enlivenment of the town, and for the pecuniary benefit of the House of Industry, which was then lacking funds.
The leading spirits amongst us were Alfred Ormonde (the Editor of the " Manx Cat"), Alfred W. Adams, Fred. Call, Laurie Adamson, John Otway Bennett, Frank Oswald, Tom Harrison, one of the sons, I forget which of Sir George Monro, then residing in Douglas, and others whose names I cannot recall.
The whole town was interested in the approaching event, which was to come in the Oddfellows' Hall, now converted into the Court House in Athol Street.
Our rehearsals were numerous, and often followed by a dance or supper, and by such proceedings the usual dreariness of the winter was considerably lessened.
The great night at length arrived, and all was ready dresses wigs, etc., etc.
The pieces acted were, " Monsieur Jacques," a lady and gentleman in a peculiarly perplexing predicament a scene from Ainsworth's " Jack Shepherd ", concluding with the screaming farce of " The Unfinished Gentleman."
The theatre was crammed. I remember that fine aristocratic looking gentleman, Colonel Shum, and two or three friends, coming in late, and they could only find room on the edge of the stages close to the footlights.
The performance was a tremendous success; each act was followed by deafening applause or laughter from all parts of the house, and the curtain dropped amid a perfect furore of excitement.
Several of usamateursthereafter adjourned to the Adelphi Hotel hard by, then kept by that genial host Lycett, to enjoy an oyster supper with trimmings, and to discuss our representative merits and those of our confreres. John Otway Bennett was one of the party (his bones, poor fellow, now rest in a churchyard in Cheltenham); Call had gone home to his lodgings.
We broke up about two in the morning, and John Otway and I, flushed with the consciousness of our personal triumphs, determined that we would look in upon Call, to talk over the theatrical success of the evening.
He lodged in Mount Pleasant, with one Miss Teare, a maiden lady, considerably acidulated, highly respectable, of the Methodist persuasion, and elderly.
The lights were out, no sign of life, and all seemed quiet and peaceful, as was seemly, around a maiden lady's domicile at that period of the morning.
We, however, not considering the fitness of things, got hold of the knocker and sounded that potent awakener to its fullest extent for the space of, at least, one solid minute. No response being made, we repeated our summons for double that period, until the inmates of even the adjoining houses were aroused.
One gentleman, by name Lieutenant Horan, an Irishman, threw open his bedroom window, and thereat appearing with a horse pistol in his hand, stood, prepared to resist any invasion of his particular castle that might be contemplated. Discovering, however, that the attack was confined to the territory of a solitary and unprotected spinster, who was, moreover, so unconsidered a trifle in the social sphere as to be only a lodging house keeper, the gallant Lieutenant at once closed his window, and retired to bed.
In the meantime Miss Teare, in night attire, made her appearance at an upper window, and in very shrill accents, thus accosted us, " Gentlemen, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves coming at this time of night to the house of a lone woman, making such a disturbancee; go away with you.? To which, in soft and persuasive! tones, I replied, " That we regretted to have been obliged to make such a noise, but that we supposed she had gone to bed early, and was asleep, and therefore had not heard our first gentle appeal to the knocker, and so we had been compelled to repeat ita little louder," adding, " that we had important business to transact with Mr. Call."
At this juncture, Call himself appeared at the window, and not, it must be confessed, in a very affable mood at having his slumbers thus disturbed; notwithstanding which, he came to the hall-door, and let us in, and soon warming to the occasion, we spent an agreeable hour or two with him, before returning to our respective domiciles.
The day but one following this was a day of humiliation and mourning to us " Play-Actors." Our Secretary having written to the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Industry, enclosing a cheque for £25 4s. 6d., the net proceeds of our Theatricals, received a reply stating that they unanimously declined to accept it. They also assured us that were the poor of Douglas to be appealed to, they would likewise refuse to receive any assistance from such a source. The cheque was returned.
This correspondence was published in the Insular newspapers, and it may well be imagined that we poor " Play-actors " were smitten in the hinder parts, and put to a perpetual shame. What was to be done? We were possessed of the £25 4s. 6d. What were we to do with it?
A meeting was called to consider the position, and finally, a happy thought suggested itself to us. The Committee had given it as their opinion that the poor of Douglas would not accept assistance derived from Amateur Theatricals. We resolved to try them!
Accordingly we issued our orders to Bridson, the baker, then carrying on business at the lower end of Old Post Office Lane, to set all hands to work, to make £25 4s. 6d. worth of four-pound loaves, which we publicly announced would be distributed, gratis, to all the deserving poor, on the following Monday.
All Douglas was in a turmoil. The whole influence of those whose sympathies were with the House of Industry authorities, was exerted to induce the poor people to refuse the loaves; but it was very severe weather, and work was slack. Sermons also were preached, denouncing the Devil and all his works, and workersourselves, of course, particularly included in that categoryand altogether we had a bad time of it.
The critical Monday at last dawned upon the town, and from eight in the morning until darkness closed in, it had the appearance of a huge Ant Hill, with numberless monster Ants, dressed in human clothes, going about, each carrying a beautiful white loafas an Ant might carry its egg. At four in the evening, good old Mr. Bridson announced that all the bread had been given away.
The point of difference between the Committee and ourselves was, therefore, decided in our favour, indeed, his Satanic Majesty and we, his Satellites, were never so popular amongst the poor and needy, as during this brief period of our existence.
Strange to say, no earthquake followed our great sin, nor was the town visited by any special plague or pestilence, not even were any of the" Play-actors " affected so much as with a cold in their heads. Indeed, so far as we could ascertain, not one of the poor old folks who had partaken of the proceeds of our iniquity had been troubled even with the slightest symptom of indigestion. Verily, Providence must have been asleep ! or, which is just possible, the holy and well-meaning, but narrow-minded men and women of those days were not accurate interpreters of the Beneficence which pours down perpetual blessings upon us from above.
I, however, was singled out for chastisement
Miss Teare, who was one of the stout supporters of the House of Industry managers, and who, on Sabbath Days, sat under the fattiest and heartiest of them, determined to institute legal proceedings against me for disturbing her maidenly slumbers, and that of her quiet neighbours, on the morning succeeding the sinful Theatricals. I was accordingly summoned before the Bench of Magistrates to answer for my transgressions. The late Colonel Taubman, of the Nunnery, presided as chairman. Mr. Ridgeway Harrison, a great supporter of our opponents, appeared for Miss Teare, whereas, as before stated, I was my own client and my own counsel.
The Court was crammed in every part, by the friends of Beelzebub on the one hand, and of his opponents on the other; and great excitement prevailed.
Proof of my freely using the plaintiff's knocker at what she described as "a most unholy hour of the morning" was easily given; and I did not cross-examine upon it. In defence, I put Call in the box, who deposed that John Otway Bennett and I were friends of his, and that he was a lodger of the plaintiff's, and he claimed to be entitled to " ingress, egress, and regress " in regard to his lodgings, for all his friends.
John Otway Bennett proved that the lodging-house knocker was in the first instance used with great respect and discretion, but that its velocity of action had certainly been accelerated and continued, by reason of Miss Teare neglecting to carry out the legitimate object for which she had placed it upon her door, viz., to announce the presence of any visitor who was desirous of and legally entitled to admission.
John Otway was severely cross-examined by the counsel for Miss Teare, and amongst other matters, his convivial habits were delicately enquired into, it being more than insinuated that on the morning in question, he had been in abnormally high spirits. This point, however, seemed to be disposed of entirely to the satisfaction of the Magistrates, by the following questions and answers:
Counsel: " Had you anything to drink at of after supper on that
J. O. B.. " Certainly.''
Counsel: " What? "
J. O. B.: " Hollands."
Counsel: "How many glasses?"
J. O. B.: " One glass."
Counsel: "Had you no more?"
J. O. B.: " Certainly not."
Upon receiving this reply, counsel sat down, completely discomfited.
It did not occur to him to ask as to its size, but the fact was that John Otway Bennett's glass at the Adelphi was a thing to behold! and was very well known to his intimate friends, who called it " Bennett's." It was about the size and shape of a large celery glass; and upon high feast days, was always filled to the rim. Like an hour glass, it faithfully recorded the advance of the evening; and its owner never departed until it had completely run out.
The Court was evidently impressed by my view of the case, for it dismissed the suit with costs, Colonel Taubman remarking that if people took in lodgers, they must submit to these little inconveniences.
Thus to the general delight of the town, we achieved another triumph!
The case was referred to in the " Manx Cat," a weekly comic newspaper of the day, published in Douglas, but which has been extinct many years, and its Editor, Alfred Ormonde, has been long since dead.
In describing a tour which he had taken through the streets, " The Cat" proceeded thus:
" He passed the Court where the lawyers meet,
And he thought of the glorious store
Of fun, he had gleaned from the learned spot,
And he entered the open door.
He took his seat, and soon found out
A lady! pray don't think I mock her,
Had summoned a young Manx Student wild
For playing tattoo with her knocker.
The laws are full of fatal flaws,
The knocking was certainly queer
But the case was dismissed, and Counsel repaired
To comfort his client, Miss Teare."
This case, alas! resulted in an " ouster of possession " for my friend Call. His landlady gave him notice I'm sure will secure the sympathy of all loyal Irish patriots, especially when I record the fact that he was never restored to his tenancy.
We arranged, therefore. for him to come and take a bedroom in the house in which I lodged, and that we should have a joint commissariat and sitting-room and so it came to pass.