Oh, you naughty villain! – Morning Chronicler 24 July 1820:
SURREY SESSIONS. – July 22.
Bigamy. – Wm Thomas, a old decrepit man, who is so deformed that he has been from his birth unable either to dress or undress himself, having neither hands nor feet, stood indicted for unlawfully intermarrying with one Mary Staggs, in March last, at Christ-church (* see note below), in the Borough, his former wife being then alive.
[Note that several newspapers reported this case and wrongly gave the second wife’s name as Mary Johnstone instead of Mary Staggs. All reports further confused the situation by naming his first wife as Mary Johnstone when in fact the only record that fits is for a marriage between William Thomas and Elizabeth Johnstone. See end of this article for details.]
Hercules Manning, the parish-clerk of Plumstead, in Kent, proved the marriage of the prisoner with Mary Johnstone, (her name was more likely Elizabeth Johnstone … see note below) at Plumstead church, in June, 1808 (# see note below). The ceremony was performed by the curate, the Rev. S.Watson.
Mary Johnstone , the prisoner’s first wife, came into the witness box, and Mr Manning swore that she was the woman the prisoner married in 1808.
Mary Johnstone’s appearance excited a good deal of merriment; she was attired in the costume of the last century, and appeared at least 80 years of age. She called to the prisoner, “Oh, you naughty villain!”
Order being restored, Mary Staggs, a decent-dressed woman, was called. She said she was 70 years of age. She was the lawful wife of the prisoner. She was married to him last March, at a church in the Borough. She did not know the name of it.
Prisoner. – I only married her to dress and undress me.
Witness. – You know better; you left me.
Chairman. – Were you married by banns or licence?
Witness. – By banns.
Prisoner. – “My Lord, have mercy. I am an helpless old man; quite a cripple; I can do nothing; I was born at Brecknock; the women know I am an innocent man, and never does any thing to any body.”
Chairman. – You will be allowed to speak in your defence hereafter.
Mary Savage, being sworn, stated that she was at the marriage of the prisoner with Mary Staggs, at Christ Church in the Borough, on the 2d of March last.
Chairman. – Now, prisoner, what have you to say in defence of your conduct?
The prisoner then put in a written defence, composed by himself, and written by a fellow prisoner in form of an affidavit, as follows:-
I, W Thomas, do declare that I am unable to cut my own victuals, I having no hands nor feet; nor am I able to dress or undress myself without help. I married Mary Staggs, but she did not long bide with me before she robbed me of every thing only what I can stand upright in; and she, (Mary Johnstone), abided and assisted in it, she living as housekeeper with me; she has since threatened to hang me because I could not give her money. I gets my living by selling tins about the country. Now, I pray you, gentlemen, to do what you can for me, for Johnstone tells me that she has hung one and transported two, and will hang me. I hope God will forgive all my wrongs and you too, for I decay daily, and must soon die of old age. (Signed) WM. THOMAS. Horsemonger Lane, July, 1820.
The Chairman recapitulated the evidence, and said a more extraordinary charge had not been recently before the court.
The prisoner interrupted the Chairman:
My Lord, I was pressed to marry; I did not want to marry. What could I do.She knew I only wanted her to undress me at night and dress me in the morning!
Chairman. – The case is completely proved; it is an unaccountable transaction; you will consider your verdict.
The jury immediately returned a verdict of guilty, but strongly recommended the prisoner to mercy.
Chairman. – Upon what grounds?
Juryman. – His great age and infirmity.
Another juryman. – The prisoner was not able to dress himself; it was necessary that he should have some person to attend upon him, as he has no hands or feet. We hope the Court will deal mercifully with him.
Chairman. – Your recommendation shall be attended to.
The court sentenced the prisoner to three months’ imprisonment in the house of correction.
The prisoner is possessed of property in the funds amounting to near two thousand pounds.
*NOTE: There is a marriage record between William Thomas and Mary Staggs for 2 Mar 1820 at Saint Saviour, Southwark, Surrey, England.
#A search of the marriage records for Plumstead, Kent, reveals a wedding between William Thomas and Elizabeth (not Mary) Johnstone, on 20 Jun 1808. That suggests the newspaper report may in fact have incorrectly recorded her name as Mary Johnstone.