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Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

Lawrence v. Dixon [1869] NSWSupC 1

criminal conversation

Cheeke J., 20 August 1869

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1869

BEFORE his Honor Mr. Justice Faucett and a jury of four.


This was an action for criminal conversation by defendant with the plaintiff's wife on the 27th of May, 1868, and at divers other times, &c. Damages wore laid at £2000. The defendant pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Butler, Mr. Belinfante, and Mr. Brown, instructed by Mr. Williamson, appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr. Salomons, instructed by Messrs. Brown and Holdsworth, for the defendant.

Jury. - Mr. Frederick Andrew Bliss, of George-street North, Sydney; Mr. James Alexander Brown, of Piper-street, Woollahra; Mr. William Lee Bugle, of Cumberland-street, Sydney; and Mr. David Buist, of George-street North, Sydney.

The plaintiff was a dyer, formerly living in Sydney, and the defendant an undertaker of South Head Road, near Sydney. Defendant was a widower of middle age, who had a family, the ages of his children varying from about twenty years to about four years. Plaintiff was a young man, who had been married for between four and five years to his wife, a young and attractive woman, whose conduct was the subject-matter of this action. They were married in Sydney, where they resided together for some years, and had one child. As the law would not allow either the plaintiff, the defendant, or the plaintiff's wife to be examined, there was no direct and positive testimony as to the terms on which plaintiff and his wife had lived; but other persons were examined upon this point, from whose evidence it appeared that they at first lived together happily, upon the whole, although with a slight quarrel now and then. Plaintiff worked at his trade as a dyer, and Mrs. Lawrence, who appeared very industrious, assisted him a good deal in his business. Her part of such business was cleaning gloves and cleaning and dyeing feathers. Many ladies were her customers, and they appeared to be doing pretty well. They resided in Castlereagh-street, but let out the greater portion of the house. What they retained to themselves was a kitchen which was also used as a living and sleeping room - a workshop, and a place where Lawrence slept. At the time spoken of by the witnesses - in 1868 - Mrs. Lawrence slept in the kitchen until a week or two before Lawrence went to Melbourne, in that year. It was alleged that this determination of Lawrence to go to Melbourne had been arrived at in the hope of breaking off an intimacy between Mrs. Lawrence and Dixon, which, although not supposed to be criminal at that time, was greater than Lawrence liked. There was no evidence, however, in support of this allegation. Mrs. Law- rence refused to go with her husband to Melbourne. It was proved by several witnesses that after Lawrence had left Dixon was in the habit of taking Mrs. Lawrence out for walks and drives. He also visited her at her residence, and was with her at late hours of the evening and night in the apartment used by her as both kitchen and bedroom. Such a visit was paid by Dixon to Mrs. Lawrence on the very night of Lawrence's departure. A witness named Mann spoke of one occasion when Mrs. Lawrence got in at the kitchen window at night, and Dixon came after her. He also said that they used to come there after the place had been let to another person, when such person was absent. After a time Mrs. Lawrence left her own residence, and went to live at Dixon's. She subsequently went to Melbourne, but refused to live with her husband, and after a brief stay came back again to Sydney. There was some evidence of admission by Mrs. Lawrence that her husband had sent her money from Melbourne. Early in the present year Lawrence came to Sydney to sell some property which he had, with a view to a return to Melbourne, and permanent residence there. After his arrival here, Mrs. Lawrence proceeded against him at the Central Police Court , under the Deserted Wives Act, and obtained an order for payment of £2 per week, which was subsequently, on appeal, reduced to 10s. per week. An elderly woman, named Vaughan, who had lived as servant with Dixon while Mrs. Lawrence resided there, declared that she twice saw them together in the very act of criminal inter- course in Mrs. Lawrence's bedroom, with the door wide open. Also, that she had seen Mrs. Lawrence pull out Dixon's grey hairs, put her hands in his pockets, and indulge in other familiarities. Likewise, that Mrs. Lawrence had spoken of having two husbands, in evident allusion to Lawrence and Dixon. Lawrence was in gaol for disobedience of the magistrates' order for maintenance when this criminal intimacy between Dixon and Mrs. Lawrence spoken of by Mrs. Vaughan was going on. It appears that Mrs. Lawrence had at the Police Court and elsewhere accused Lawrence of having beaten and grossly ill-treated her. She had, indeed, charged him with acts of brutality too gross for description, but there was no evidence in support of those charges. Strong reliance was placed, on the part of defendant, upon the fact that plaintiff had paid for the board and lodging of Mrs. Vaughan, and that he remitted some money due for rent from Mann. It was also urged that the charges of ill- usage, never having been contradicted, must be assumed to be true. It was further asserted that Lawrence had been groundlessly jealous of others, but of this there was no evidence As it appeared that Mrs. Lawrence was distantly connected by marriage with Dixon, it was contended that this relationship, the probable employment of Mrs. Lawrence in cleaning feathers for Mr. Dixon, and her deserted state, must, it ought to have been assumed, have been the cause of his having assisted, and sheltered her without any criminal intent. No witnesses were called for the defence, but the jury were addressed with considerable force by Mr. Salomons, who used the arguments already mentioned, and maintained the plaintiff having deserted his wife, was not entitled to material damages in any case.

His HONOR summed up the evidence, pointing out that if the jury believed the testimony of the witness Vaughan, there was conclusive proof of criminal intimacy between Dixon and Mrs. Lawrence, and that even some of the other testimony went to show an amount of intimacy which might or might not be considered evidenciary of criminality. It was for the jury to judge of all this evidence. If they found that the plaintiff had made out his case, they would be entitled in considering their award of damages, to view all the circumstances of the case and all the probable consequences of the defendant's conduct.

The jury, after about a quarter of an hour's consideration, found a verdict for the plaintiff. Damages, £50.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University