Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

Loftie v. Hunter [1793]

breach of promise of marriage

Supreme Court at Calcutta

January 1793

Source: Morning Chronicle (London, England), Tuesday, July 9, 1793, issue 7518

BREACH OF A

PROMISE OF MARRIAGE IN INDIA

It is of great consequence to the young ladies who make a voyage to India, to know that there, as well as here, though at lovers vows Jove laughs, Judges think them serious.

In January last an action was tried in the Supreme Court of Calcutta, in which Miss Barbara Loftie was plaintiff against William Hunter, Esq. one of the Judges of the Circuit Court of Bahar. It appeared that a promise of marriage had passed between the parties, the fulfilment of which was first delayed by an indisposition of the defendant, which he did not choose to explain from motives of delicacy. Captain Garston, of the Engineers, brother-in-law of the lady, seems to have conducted the amour, and under his auspices Miss Loftie, whose stile of writing in general was feminine and delicate, penned the following letter:

To William Hunter, Esq.

"My dear Hunter,

"Yesterday evening my sister received a letter from my father, wherein he says, he is miserable on my account, being kept in a state of suspence, so very injurious to his health and peace of mind, that it is too painful to be long endured; he requests her to inform him, when the wedding is to take place; and if she cannot, desires her to impart his commands to me, to do it without loss of time.

"This injunction deprived me of rest all last night, reflecting on the obedience I owe to a parent, who has tenderly loved me, and who is so deeply interested on my happiness; reason declared he had a right to ask the question, and that it is my duty to respect his sorrows, to spare his old age, and to answer it fully: you must be sensible that it is not in my power to comply with his request; but the propriety of it strikes me so forcibly, that I have determined to wave all ceremony, and surely not ought to subsist between people who are under such solemn engagements as you and I are, especially when it can only tend to make us unhappy. Not doubting your honor or affection, I flatter myself that you will not deem this letter an improper one, but enable me to return my father what he requires - a plain decided answer.

"This request is made by a woman, as deeply interested in your welfare as you can possibly be; who, conscious of the rectitude of her intentions, deems that false delicacy, which makes such numbers miserable, because they dare not to be candid, the extreme of folly; and who has too great an opinion both of your understanding and good sense, to think you can take this amiss, from, dear H.

Yours affectionately,

(Signed) Barbara Loftie."

This letter, written in a stile so foreign to the unobtruding manners of the lady, gave Mr. Hunter much uneasiness from the idea of the interference of Captain Garston; and in his answer he says - "I was much surprised at your being induced by any person to call on me to fix a day for the wedding, after that I had told you, and written to your father, that the time must be left to me, without the interference of any other person." - He, however, soon after this received a more explicit proof of the Captain's active friendship in his sister-in-law's cause; for he sent Mr. Hunter the following letter:

To William Hunter, Esq.

"Sir,

"To animadvert upon the cause of this letter would be unpleasant, but it is necessary to say that your conduct has long disturbed the peace of my family, and in a degree no longer to be borne; you will therefore do me the favour to accede most exactly to the terms of accommodation which Mr. Nowell, who will present this, and who has my authority to communicate with you in the fullest manner on the subject in question, shall be pleased to prescribe.

Patua, May 15, 1792.                      John Garston.

"This conciliatory epistle put the defendant into an embarrassing situation," said his Counsel, the Judge Advocate - "he had his own honour and that of her who was most dear to him to support. He sacrificed his own feelings of resentment, however, to the emotions of affection which arose in his bosom." - He wrote the following letter to the lady:

To Miss B. Loftie.

"Madam,

"From a real regard to your honour (though you have doubted mine) and not from any apprehension of your family, I now propose a time for our nuptials, and leave it to you to fix any day after the 1st of July next; when you please to send me the size of your finger, I will get a ring made for the occasion, and whenever the settlement shall be prepared. I shall be glad to give it validity by my signature, but must request that I may not be included of the trustees. I remain with regard,

Your sincere friend,

William Hunter."

Mr. Hunter soon found that the ladies and gentlemen of the settlement were not so complaisant as to attribute his fixing of the day of marriage to any other cause than Captain Garston's letter. Wounded by the reflections that were made upon him, he determined to sacrifice his love to his character (we speak the language of his Counsel0 and accordingly he wrote the following letter:

To Captain Garston.

"Sir,

"I erred in so readily yielding to the contents of your letter of the 15th of May - Reflection informs me I was wrong; reflection also tells me that were I to perform the contract I entered into with Miss L. I should render both her and myself miserable for ever. This conviction compels me to say that I am resolved never to unite myself in marriage with that lady. Your's &c.

William Hunter."

The Judges, who are also the Jurors, did not enter into Mr. Hunter's feelings in this business. They gave a verdict for Miss Loftie, with 20,000 rupees of damages, about £2000. Mr. Hunter's fortune was said in Court to be £250 a year.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School