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Chronicles of Gretna Green
Chapter VII


Gretna Marriages.—Wakefield and Miss Turner.

Now, if your choler grew full hot,
By reading chapter last,
We earnestly entreat you not
To let it rise so fast.

As most of the persons principally engaged in this conspiracy are still living, it is not without some hesitation that we enter upon an historical narrative of it, considering that their Feelings might receive fresh wounds by the fact of bringing it before our readers in these pages. This is well so far: but in justification we plead, that by printing these things here we are not violating any secrecy, as most of the circumstances of the transaction appeared in all the public journals of the day, pretty freely commented on too, and the detailed minutes of the trial at Lancaster, in March 1827, were issued from Mr. Murray's press in the form of an octavo volume.

Mr. Turner, the father of the young lady, was a gentleman of fortune residing at Shrigley Park, his estate, near Macclesfield, in the county of Chester. Ellen, his daughter and only child, was at school, under the instruction and care of the Misses Daulby at Liverpool, where she had been during the space of several years. Her schoolmistresses were personages of talent, good acquirements, and trust; Miss Turner herself was an amiable,, sensible, and agreeable girl; approved of by her teachers, and loved by her youthful companions.

A plot was hatched for the purpose of marrying this young heiress. One of the contrivers was a lady, wife of Mr. Edward Wakefield, the father of Edward Gibbon; but on this occasion she took her maiden name, .Miss Davies.

In the autumn of 1825 she, the said Miss Davies so called, went over to Paris with her father Dr. Davies, (in which city, during a previous visit, she had been married,) and she now, for the first time, became acquainted with Gibbon Wakefield, her step-son, and his younger brother William, the principal actors on the arena which we are about to spread before you. Although they were veritable Englishmen, they chose to make the French capital their chief residence; and there, either for their edification or their pleasure, Or their fancy, they had established a little coterie, or society,—together with some few selected acquaintances.

"This conspiracy," said Mr. Sergeant Cross, in his opening address at Lancaster Castle, "was hatched in this little coterie at Paris; there it was that the thing was first propounded. I don't mean to say that at-Paris they had conceived the foul design of carrying off the young lady by force, or committing all the frauds that they have practised since, but there the plot was first hatched. In the course of a little while Dr. Davies and his daughter (still called Miss Davies), returned home to Macclesfield. And then Miss Davies began her operations at Shrigley, where Mr. Turner resides. Mr. Turner had resided there, I understand, for about eight years. The first thing that Miss Davies did, was to call upon a lady in the neighbourhood, who was a common acquaintance of both,—both of herself and of the family of the Turners; and she was particularly urgent to have an introduction to the family at Shrigley. She proposed to this lady, that the first time she made a visit there, she might have the pleasure of accompanying her in her carriage. The lady assented to this, and the visit was made at Shrigley. When the ladies got there, they saw Mrs. Turner, the mother of the young lady. Miss Davies made many inquiries about Miss Turner, whom, I believe, she had never seen, and of whom she knew nothing, except that she was an heiress to a large fortune. She said she should be particularly happy to have the pleasure of her acquaihtance ; she lamented that, as she was returned to school the day before, she must wait some time before she could have that pleasure; but begged, as soon as ever Miss Turner returned into the neighbourhood, she might have the pleasure of seeing her. This was the first step."

It was about the first of March 1826 that the two Messrs. Wakefield quitted France for England, apparently to look after their own affairs, and follow up the prosecution of the plan only a little while before begun by the visit at Shrigley: they made their way to Macclesfield, and having arrived at that town, took up their abode in the house of Dr. Davies. This done, they diligently set about the work. In conjunction with their step-mother, they spent several days in paying judicious visits to certain neighbours whose interest might be favourable—in getting introductions, through her, to two or three likely families that lived within a short distance—in acquiring information touching the Turner family, by casual conversations with those on whom they called—and in taking rides about the estates at Shrigley, by which they had opportunities of personally reconnoitering the ground.

Miss Davies also learnt from Mr. Grimsditch (Mr. Turner's solicitor in Macclesfield), that both he (Mr. Grimsditch) and Mr. Turner were going to London on Monday the 6th of March, that identical day in which she was speaking to him being either Friday or Saturday, the 3rd or 4th, only two or three days before, and Sunday being one of the intervening days. This, then, was the favourable time; there was not a moment to be lost, although so rapid a course of proceeding might have come upon them more suddenly than might have been at first contemplated : the opportunity, however, of having these two formidable personages out of the way, was such as might not again happen for a length of time ; and although they had scarcely been able, since their arrival, to mature their plans with much deliberation, the chance before them must not be allowed to escape. They then, in this posture of affairs, came to a resolute decision, and determined to act at once.

Wakefield accordingly started to Liverpool, where the Misses Daulby's school was, taking with him one Edward Thevenot, a Frenchman, who acted as servant.

Wakefield having alighted, Thevenot alone drove up to the school, Miss Turner being in the house, and, according to his instructions, delivered the letter to Miss Daulby, of which the following is a copy :—

"Shrigley, Monday night, half past twelve, March 6th." Madam,

"I write to you by the desire of Mrs. Turner of Shrigley, who has been seized with a sudden attack of paralysis. Mr. Turner is unfortunately from home, but has been sent for; and Mrs. Turner wishes to see her daughter immediately. A steady servant will take this letter and my carriage to you, to fetch Miss Turner, and I beg that no time may be lost in her departure, as, though I do not think that Mrs. Turner is in immediate danger, it is probable she may soon become incapable of recognizing any one. Mrs. Turner particularly wishes that her daughter should not be informed of the extent of her danger, as, without this precaution, Miss Turner might be very anxious on the journey, and this house is so crowded, and in such confusion and alarm, that Mrs. Turner does not wish any one to accompany her daughter.

"The servant is instructed not to let the boys drive too fast, as Miss Turner is rather fearful in a carriage.

"I am, Madam, your obedient servant, John Ainswortii, M.D.

"The best thing to be said to Miss Turner is, that Mrs. Turner wishes to have her home rather sooner, for the approaching removal to the new house ; and his servant is instructed to give no other reason, in case Miss Turner should ask him any questions. Mrs. Turner is anxious that her daughter should not be frightened, and trusts to your judgment to prevent it. She also desires me to add, that her sister, or niece, or myself, should she continue unable, will not fail to write to you by the post."

The unsuspecting girl was given up by Miss Daulby, who had no idea but that all was right and true : and, on getting into the carriage, she was forthwith driven to Manchester, accompanied only by the pseudo domestic, Thevenot.

Here, for the first time, she beheld the two Mr. Wakefields, who took occasion to introduce themselves, severally, at the inn in that town, whereat she had alighted. Edward Gibbon, the principal, regretted that her father, whose dear friend he was! was not present to introduce him, so that" he was under the necessity of performing that office for himself; but excused this step by saying that Mr. Turner had sent him to her, with the request that she would accompany him to her father.

Surprised, uneasy, and anxious as she was, she gladly complied with a request so welcome; she desired nothing more than to meet with those whom she knew and loved, since she was now surrounded only by strangers, a position to a girl of fifteen, both annoying and formidable.

To all her questions, however, as to where Mr.. Turner was, she got evasive, perplexing, and unsatisfactory answers; in fact, it was here necessary to work forcibly upon her fears and her credulity, as, indeed, the sequel will shew. Nor did the smallest part of the plot centre in the necessity of keeping her in ignorance of all that concerned her parents ; of making representations to her in which there was no truth, and in terrifying her mind by fabrications of distress recently come upon them. He took occasion to tell her that her mother's illness was not the true cause of her being sent for (and here he was right), but that it was the unfortunate reverse in her father's affairs; in this way terrifying her with an appalling picture of ruin just lighted on the family. He said that Mr. Turner had lately lost much money through the failure of certain banks, which he duly specified ; a piece of information that threw Miss Turner into a heart-rending state of sorrow and apprehension. Then, in order to excite the feelings of gratitude and obligation in the sensitive bosom of this young lady towards himself, he added, by way of consolation, that a generous-minded uncle of his had actually lent Mr. Turner the sum of sixty thousand pounds.

Mr, Wakefield, having now worked the young lady up to a pitch of extreme terror, set about to allay her apprehensions by suggesting how these immense evils might be averted : he said he had received a letter from Mr. Grimsditch, her father's lawyer, in which a plan was proposed and approved of by them, and which he would at once proceed to explain ; and he also had to mention, that the liberation of the whole family from destruction, and the warding off of the peril which was about to overwhelm them, centered in herself entirely : in fine, that if she would only accede to the proposal propounded by her father and his lawyer, as set forth in the letter, she could be the means of restoring them all to prosperity and happiness.

The words in the opening speech of the trial, on the part of the prosecution, are these: "An expedient has been suggested," said the learned counsel, imitating the language of Mr. Wakefield, "for relieving himself (Mr. Turner) and all your family from this distress, by Mr. Grimsditch, your father's confidential adviser, from whom I have received a letter ; and what do you think it is? Why that you should marry me! and then my uncle, if you do, will settle matters between you and me, and it will save your father from beiug turned out of doors, and all your family from destruction."

Miss Turner was perfectly astounded at this proposal ; and after she had been pressed about it several times, She very properly said, "I must see my papa first, before I can answer upon such a matter as that."

That Mr. Wakefield is a clever, shrewd, and acute man, the whole scheme and prosecution of this plot everywhere evinces. There was an immense deal to do; a great many difficulties to combat; a host of obstacles to overcome. There was as much ingenious and plausible fictiou to invent as would fill a romance ; there were several episodes, as it were, besides the main fiction, which must be kept as reserves to fall back upon ; so that if any member or portion of the principal thread of the invention should miscarry, or fall under detection, one of these detached episodes of reserve might be brought up to carry on the business without an hiatus. It was an ingeniously contrived affair, and gone through likewise with equal skill: the only lamentation is, that the talent herein displayed was not devoted to a better purpose.

Miss Turner, as we have said, was taken in the carriage from Liverpool to Manchester, and here wrought upon, as the reader knows. The rubicon now being passed, every expedient was urged that would consummate. the scheme with all despatch. The design was, to 'marry her to the principal in the affair, according to the proposal pretended to have been set forth in the said letter; and to this end it was necessary to lose no time in getting to Gretna Green. They told her that Mr. Turner was flying from the sheriffs' officers, who were in pursuit of him in consequence of his reverse; that he was endeavouring to escape into Scotland, where they had no power to touch him; and that, as he had fled northward with this intention, they must follow him immediately, if she desired to see him as she wished.

This innocent child, suspecting no evil, and yearning after nothing so much as to throw herself into the arms of her parent in his affliction, and more especially so, as she had been given to understand that the power of delivering him from his enemies was in her own hands, readily and willingly consented to go anywhere in the world where her father might be; and with this ostensible purpose they quitted Manchester without delay. They travelled all that day from the morning they left the school, and all the succeeding night, nor stopped until about ten o'clock before noon of the next day, when they got to Carlisle.

Here they did not tarry much longer than to change horses; but here they practised upon their prey the most torturing scene in the whole drama.

On arriving at the inn the two Mr. "akefields alighted, leaving Miss Turner in the carriage. At the door of the inn, and in the street, several idlers had collected, to satisfy their curiosity by looking at the strangers, as they generally, do in most towns on similar occasions. These two, who accompanied her, either walked about within sight, or went into the house, sometimes near her and sometimes away, whilst she remained where she was. Although the servants of the establishment came and offered her their civilities, she rather preferred not to get out; nor indeed do her companions appear to have been very anxious that she should escape from the cage in which they had put her.

After some little tarrying, they came to speak to her at the carriage window, and poured forth into her affrighted ears such a torrent of afflicting news, as might well have overwhelmed the strongest mind ; no wonder, then, that she was sorely troubled. They assisted each other, either separately, together, or corroboratively, in informing her that her father was really arrived before them, together with his friend Mr. Grimsditch ; that he was endeavouring to effect his escape over the Border into Scotland from the bailiffs, who were searching for him ; that, in fact, those very bailiffs were now standing round the door of the hotel, and that her papa was actually at that moment in the house, but dare not discover himself for fear of being taken.

Still working on her terrors and her affection towards her father, they went on to say, that they had . been into the inn, and had positively seen both Mr. Turner and Mr. Grimsditch concealed in a backroom, hid away in bodily fear ; that they would come out to her if they dare: that they had twice that morning tried to escape into Scotland, but could not effect it on-account of the sheriffs1 officers: but that her father had sent her out a message, commissioning them to deliver it to his child, and which was, that if she ever loved him she would not hesitate to accept Mr. Wakefield for a husband !

Most indignant reader! art thou in an honest passion? art thou as justly furious at perusing this narrative as we are at writing it? We would venture a small hazard that thou hast not coolly gone through these pages with an indifferent mind.

It may. not be uninteresting to add part of the evidence, as -given by Miss Turner's own lips in the court of justice at Lancaster, in illustration of the above particulars. The court on this occasion was crowded to excess, since the most intense desire to hear the proceedings was manifested by both sexes and all conditions. Not only did a great many from the neighbouring English counties, and even from the more distant ones also, flock thither to be present on the occasion, but persons from Scotland likewise repaired to Lancaster, so great and so extended was the curiosity and the interest.

After several witnesses had been called, and minutely examined, amongst whom was her father, it was signified that Miss Turner's evidence would be required next. Infinite anxiety spread itself all through the building at this moment; the longing to see the youthful and innocent victim was intense; the feelings of pity and commiseration burst: from the hearts of every one towards her. Edward Gibbon Wakefield was seated at a short distance, where he was necessitated to withstand the gaze of a multitude' that looked not kindly on him; at the same time that certain others who had promoted the conspiracy, had sociably to undergo the like public exhibition. • At last Miss Turner appeared. Every breath was stopped; every tongue was hushed; and every eye was fixed on one object.

Nothing so much engrosses the sympathies of this human heart as the contemplation of youth and purity being inę imminent peril. Our whole soul is turned to that object; our whole desire is for .its rescue; -our whole yearning for its safety.


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