Gosh, it’s a long while since we had one of these. The last (as Malcolm’s fallible memory goes) was Lia Clarke, eighteen months back.
This one might, semi-usefully, be sub-titled
Eat … even your heart out, Mike Hancock.
However, Malcolm goes with the flow and submits:
Edmund Hope Verney (6 April 1838 to 8 May 1910)
Fret not, our singular and regular reader: this one has a (vaguely) Irish connection.
Verney came to Malcolm’s attention this Wednesday with lot 1290 of Sworder’s auction sale of:
John Diller, Marlborough Street, London, an oak cased instrument set, in two sections, with an engraved plaque, ‘Edward Hope Verney RN’, with compasses, rules, and a large brass rule, label reads ‘For Travelling, Writing and Dressing Cases’
Sworders placed an estimate of £150-200 on the lot: it sold for £170.
Sworders added a catalogue note:
Edmund Hope Verney (1838-1910), from 1885 Liberal MP for North Buckinghamshire, in 1891 expelled from Parliament and sentenced to one year imprisonment for a misdemeanour (procuring a girl under the age of twenty one for immoral purposes), 1877 captain on the Royal Navy, 1884 retired. [sic]
Somebody got a bargain.
There is a biography in the DNB, though it is discreetly subsumed under that of his wife, Lady Margaret Verney (1844-1930, the protagonist of Welsh higher education and historian of the Verney family). On this occasion, the wikipedia version is not only more accessible, but more pertinent.
Edmund Verney, RN
Verney joined the Navy from Harrow School, aged fourteen. That took him to the Crimea and to the Indian mutiny, in both of which he distinguished himself and was decorated.
His recollection of the Indian business were published as The Shannon’s Brigade in India (1862). One might fairly speculate what Verney was up to with this (apart from publicising Lieutenant Verney of the Shannon): it is essentially a hero-worshipping of the meteoric Captain Sir William Peel, third son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, a fellow Old Harrovian, winner of the Victoria Cross in the Siege of Sebastopol, with the Guards at the Battle of Inkerman, wounded at the Relief of Lucknow, and dead at Cawnpore at the age of thirty-four.
He even found time to build a branch line to link the family estate to the Great Northern Railway.
Then Verney was off to the west coast of Canada between 1862-5, which must, at that moment, have been a sensitive posting. Canada was working up to Confederation. The frontier with the United States (including that with Alaska) was still being tested. His letters from this posting, too, were published, and Verney found the country more interesting than the people. The odd bit of plunder found its way back to the British Museum.
Then to his final naval posting, on the West Coast of Africa. Nor would this one be a “cushy” billet: there were still slavers (carrying cargo to South America) to be frustrated. Meanwhile Verney had been wounded in a shooting accident, back home on the Sandy, Bedfordshire, estate, which left him partially disabled, and caused his retirement from active service. He was appointed to the coastguard in Liverpool (1875), and eventually was raised to Captain (1877).
Verney’s public interest in Liberal politics seems to coincide with his engagement to and then marriage with Margaret Maria Williams (right), who was developing into one of those formidable do-gooders who represent all that David Cameron would wish his “Big Society” to be. She was particularly involved in education and heathcare, both in the Verney feudal fief of Bedfordshire and in her family’s perch in Anglesey.
In 1868 Verney was the Liberal also-ran for the Great Marlow constituency, where he was seen off by the Tory scion of the Wethered brewing dynasty. In 1874 in Anglesey (that Williams connection) and at Portsmouth (the naval one) he also failed, until he entered the Commons as MP for Buckinghamshire (1885-6 and 1889 until he was unseated). He was simultaneously a London County Councillor for Brixton. He had laid down a marker by publishing Four Years of Protest in the Transvaal, A Poem from the South African in 1881, which was no verse but a tract against imperialism. Verney was on the side of the angels in the matter of Irish Home Rule; though, his voting record apart, the only parliamentary utterance Malcolm has so far found is a small clash with A.J.Balfour over police “shadowing” (i.e. heavily accompanying Home Rule suspects, in this case in Tipperary).
Dish the dirt!
In October 1890 a warrant was issued for the arrest of a “Mr Wilson” on a charge that he counselled and procured, and conspired to procure, a female for immoral purposes, so in breach of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.
We may need to note this Act further, perhaps in an addendum to this post.
“Wilson” had been named, and the arrest warrant issued, as a result of the trial of Madame Eugenie Rouillier, who had been charged with attempting to procure a 19-year-old, Nellie Maude Baskett for immoral purposes. Miss Baskett was whipped off to Paris (as Mme Rouillier’s “travelling companion”) and introduced to various gentlemen. In giving evidence, Nellie reckoned that “Wilson” conducted himself in such a manner that she realised what his intentions were; and nipped back home to London next day.
The following April Nellie was with her mother in Westminster where she recognised Verney: she clutched her mother’s arm and said ‘Mother, there is the beast Wilson!’ Henry Labouchere’s journal (for whom, see addendum below) Truth was forward in publishing the juicy details.
Faced with a succession of witnesses who indentified Verney as “Wilson”, Edmund Verney pleaded guilty on all charges, and on 6th May 1891 was sentenced to twelve months. On 12th May he was expelled from the House of Commons.
After release, Verney retired to the family estate at Claydon, where he occupied himself collecting Bibles (there were a couple — a 1640 Puritan Bible, sold for £330, and a Breeches Bible of 1603, sold for £200 — at that same auction sale on Wednesday). He inherited the baronetcy in 1894. His wife, Lady Margaret Maria Verney, continued her good works in North Wales and Buckinghamshire long after Verney was dead.
What are you doing with that hand, Henry?
That Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 is notable for the Labouchere Amendment, named in “honour” of the MP who proposed it. In more general parlance it was “the blackmailer’s charter”. It was the clause under which gay men could be, and were, prosecuted. It was the clause under which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned; and it also did for Edward de Cobain, MP for Belfast East the year after Verney was sent down.
Henry Labouchere (right) was one of the more expert politickers of his day: a journalist and radical Liberal (and a closet agnostic, who was able to deign himself “the Christian member for Northampton”, since his fellow MP for the city was Bradlaugh). He invented Gladstone as “The Grand Old Man”. His great contribution to Anglo-Irish affairs was active support for Home Rule, and unmasking Richard Pigott as the forger behind the Parnell stitich-up. Queen Victoria vetoed his appointment to the Cabinet because his journal Truth was so scabrous.
The (in modern terms) stain on Labouchere’s record is his homophobia. His amendment to the 1885 Act poisoned British society for many subsequent decades. His only regret about Oscar Wilde’s sentence was its brevity: his original amendment suggested a seven year sentence.
Edward de Cobain
Edward Samuel Wesley de Cobain was Tory MP for Belfast East 1885-1892 (in the 1886 General Election he took 80% of the vote over a Nationalist).
In April 1891 a warrant was issued for his arrest, charged with the commission of unnatural offences in Belfast. He was already out of the jurisdiction, having taken a boat from Goole to the Continent.
de Cobain was “invited” to resign his seat in the Commons; but refused to do so, on the grounds that it would be a confession of guilt. He let it be known that the charges were political, machinated by a cabal in Belfast and by the Tory administration (not a lot , then, has changed on the Belfast political scene in the last century). de Cobain was expelled from the Commons on 26th February 1892. Gustav Wolff (indeed!) was elected at the by-election, and was unopposed for the next five parliaments.
The fugitive was seen in Bilbao and in Boulogne, before arriving in New York, where he was organising revivalist meetings. Back in Belfast (February 1893) he was arrested and put on trial. His defence was that a young man named Haggie with whom:
he had conversed … at several temperance demonstrations, and subsequently treated him with courtesy and familiarity. Taking advantage of this intimacy, the young man asked for a considerable sum of money, which he had refused.
The jury chose not to believe de Cobain: sentence: twelve months with hard labour.