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Colonial Cases

Comberbach v. Croft [1819]


Supreme Court at Calcutta

17 March 1819

Source: Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), 20 November 1819, issue 15322 [1]


(From the Calcutta Journal)


The following suit, for the seduction of a daughter, was tried before the above Court, on the 17th of March last. The circumstances, as detailed in evidence, are of a singular and aggravated character, exhibiting the most incredible infatuation on one side, and unparalleled hypocrisy on the other. The damages were laid at 50,000 rupees.

Mr. Fergusson addressed the Court on behalf of the plaintiff. To spare as much as possible the feelings which all present must endure upon a recapitulation of the horrible consequences attending the case, he said he would content himself with simply laying the facts which he was obliged to lay before their Lordships, for the purpose of obtaining the only reparation (if he might call it so) which the unfortunate plaintiff could obtain for the misery which the defendant had entailed on a once happy family. The defendant, who was a married man, had come out to this country with his lady and her family in the year 1813, on board the same ship with the two daughters of the plaintiff. An intimacy was formed between the young ladies and the family, high in rank and situation, with whom the defendant was connected by marriage, and which continued after their arrival in this country. Some time after their arrival the defendant became the partner of the plaintiff in his profession, and from this time he was looked upon and treated by the plaintiff and his family as a member of it. The young lady herself, the unfortunate subject of that day's inquiry, was also treated with the greatest kindness by the family. The defendant upon all occasions professed the warmest friendship for the plaintiff; he shewed the utmost concern and interest for the plaintiff during his frequent illnesses, and waited upon him with the apparent tenderness and anxiety of a son. The plaintiff was not insensible (who could be insensible?) in such conduct. He repaid it with the feelings of a father towards the defendant. The Learned Counsel here adverted to the conduct of the deluded young lady (tutored no doubt for that purpose by her abandoned seducer) for some time previous to this day, as being calculated to raise great anxiety in the minds of her parents, particularly of her mother. Her demeanour on several occasions was strange, and in particular she dwelt more than once on the subject of the Lunatic Asylum, and the state of the unfortunate beings who are the objects of that institution. Knowing, as we all do, the sequel of the story, the purpose of this device, hatched in the depraved mind of the defendant, is apparent; but to proceed. It would appear that on the day in question, upon the separation of the family, about ten o'clock in the evening, Miss Comberbach took leave of her sister, as if they were about to separate for ever, but which did not then excite any extraordinary feeling of surprise in her sister, as she had for some time previous appeared to be much depressed in spirits. The Learned Gentleman shewed, that all the arts this most abandoned of men must have used, failed to break asunder those links by which nature binds us to our kindred. What must have been his feelings (if the word be not profaned by so applying it) when he saw the last agonising pang endured by his victim at parting from those to whom she had so long been united by every tie of affection that can bind us to each other! Mr Fergusson then went on to state, that on the following morning, the 4th June, the plaintiff, as usual, came early into town. That about seven o'clock in the morning he was called to the gardens by a note from his wife, desiring that nothing might prevent his immediate return. On his arrival at the gardens he met a friend upon the stairs, from whose countenance he perceived that something dreadful had occurred. He would leave to those who heard him to imagine, for he would not attempt to describe, what must have been the agonized feelings of a doating father upon learning that his favourite daughter had come to an untimely end, and what must have been the horror of both parents when they learned that the cause of this dreadful catastrophe was a fear of approaching insanity!

He then proceeded to state, that soon after the plaintiff left his garden for Calcutta, the ayah of Miss Comberbach entered the room of Mrs Comberbach, exclaiming that her young mistress was gone, and put a letter into the hands of Mrs Comberbach, which had been left on a couch, conveying the dreadful intelligence of her daughter having, through the fear of approaching insanity, put an end to her existence by drowning herself.

He then proceeded to state the conduct of the defendant through the whole of the scene of villainy. On the morning of the 4th he appeared at the gardens, with all the outward signs of grief and sympathy with the agonized feelings of the unfortunate parents. After shedding an abundance of tears, he returned to town with the declared intention of waiting upon Commodore Hayes, for the purpose of obtaining the assistance of his boats and divers to wait for and recover the body; and at the same time requested that he might be allowed to take with him the letters and papers that had been found, in order to show them to his family and the other friends of the plaintiff. He returned to the gardens in the evening, and, with his usual expressions of anxiety and interest for the family, said, that they ought not to be left alone in such deep affliction, and that he was determined to remain all night. He slept in the bed that had so lately been occupied by the lost young lady, the only bed then vacant in the house. Upon meeting Captain Maddock the next morning, he declared that nothing should induce him to sleep in that room again, as Louisa had appeared to him in the night, and questioned him as to his being in her bed.

When the defendant next appeared at the gardens, which was the Sunday following the day on which he had witnessed and triumphed over the scene of desolation he had occasioned, he appeared in deep mourning, saying that his relationship to the family through Captain Maddock entitled him to appear so, and that he mourned her loss as deeply as he could that of a beloved sister. At that very moment, "this wretched young person was living with him in his house," the object and victim of his brutal sensuality! Was there any thing like this to be found in the annals of human depravity?

Mr. F. said, he would gladly quit a subject so disgusting, and would proceed to call the evidence in support of the case which he had stated. The defendant had fled from justice, but he could never fly from the pangs of a guilty conscience. A whole life of remorse and penitence (if such could ever reach a heart so steeled and hardened) would be insufficient to atone for such complicated wickedness.

The first witness called was Captain Thomas Maddock, whose testimony corroborated the statement made by the Learned Counsel. He spoke of the impression entertained by the young lady's family, that she had drowned herself, and deposed to her having been, after some time, discovered in a house belonging to the defendant. He stated that the following letters were in the hand-writing of Miss Comberbach:-

"My dear and respected Parents - Before this meets your eye, your Louisa will have found in a watery grave the only refuge that is left to her from insanity. To escape this worst of human calamities, I shall, when all are buried in sleep, hasten to the river, and in its waters find a speedy, but not painful death. You, my dear mother, who know that I have long been a prey to the terrors of approaching insanity, will be less shocked and surprised than my father, who knows not that his poor daughter has for many years dreaded it; but of late, as the symptoms have increased, the idea has become more rooted and strong. I have been subject to horrible and indescribable pains and burning in the head, which will even deprive me, for a time, of recollection; I have also been subject to discharges of water from the head, which I once unguardedly told you of, but you suspected not the cause, the horrible cause of it; none knew but myself. My beloved parent, to leave you is misery; but to live is to inflict on you a still greater one; death is far preferable to the loss of reason; surely you would not wish to see me live, reduced to this last state of human misery, a burden to my family, and an object of pity to the world; from a very early age I have been at times subject to the fears I am not confirmed in; before you, my dearest father, I have endeavoured to appear cheerful, that I might not cause you unavailing distress; but the effort has of late been so painful, that I have been obliged to avoid, as much as possible, your presence. It is my last request, that you break my death cautiously to my beloved mother; tell her the greatest proof of affection she can now shew me, is not to regret the loss of one, whose life must have (had she lived) ended in madness. Tell her not increase the sin of my leaving the world before I am summoned, by making me also answerable for the misery of my parent. In Harriet you will find as good and affectionate a daughter, as to me she has ever been a kind and indulgent sister; you know not how good she was to your Louisa when she had no parents in England to protect her; in your grandchild you will find another source of comfort. To write this letter has been a painful and trying task, but I shall have yet time to compose myself before I see you, for before you I must appear so. You would not let me die, but I cannot hesitate while insanity stares me in the face. Were I to live a little longer, it might be too late for me to avoid it. I can write no more, pray for me, beloved parents, and may God for ever bless and protect you! Oh! my parents! do you think I could leave you if I did not feel how urgent is the necessity? For all your tender care of me, accept my most grateful thanks. Once again I intreat you not to mourn the loss of

"Your affectionate daughter,


"Mrs Maddock - The last day of my existence will be passed with you, my beloved sister, and the close of it in the midst of my family; to part from you all will be a heart-rending pang; but I have wavered too long, my mind is now made up. Harriet, my beloved sister, I cannot write, it is too painful; accept my last thanks for all your kindness to me. I would ask you, Harriet, if you have another daughter, to let her be named after me. Do not mourn the loss of one whose only regret at leaving this world will be in parting from those she loves so dearly; that once over, she will be happier than she could have been in this life.

"Pray for me, and may the God of heaven bless and protect you, my beloved niece, and my dear Maddock!

"Unconscious that you see me for the last time, you will smile on me when we part. Oh, Harriet; what a moment of trial will that be for your poor sister!

"Once more, God for ever bless you; dearly beloved Harriet, think sometimes, but not with sorrow, of

"Your tenderly attached sister,


Some further evidence was received in support of the Learned Counsel's statement, and Doctor Young deposed that the young lady was pregnant, and the Judge having commented upon the evidence, pronounced the verdict of the Court in favour of the plaintiff, giving 25,000 rupees damages.


[1]  Also reported by The Times, 15 November 1819, p. 3.

This dramatic case was referred to in the English Prerogative Court case of Robson v. Rocke, 1824, reported in The Times, 19 February 1824, p. 3.

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