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Colonial Cases

Lethbridge v. Best [1835]

criminal conversation (adultery) - assessment of damages

Supreme Court at Calcutta

Palmer C.J. and Comyn J., 9 April 1835

Source: The Morning Chronicle  (London, England), 25 September 1835, issue 20577, from the British Library's 19th Century Newspapers site [1]

SUPREME COURT. - Calcutta, April 9.



(Damages laid at 30,000 rupees.)

The Advocate-General stated the case for the plaintiff. The plaintiff is a Colonel of infantry, and the defendant a Captain of artillery - both in the Company's service. The plaintiff was married to Mrs. Lethbridge in 1823. The match was originally one of affection, they lived together ten or twelve years, and had five children. The defendant was on intimate terms with the plaintiff, and received from him every attention and kindness which it was possible for him to expect at the hands of a brother officer. He was welcomed to the house, and entertained at the table of the plaintiff, and had every opportunity of witnessing the harmony and good feeling which prevailed with the plaintiff and his wife towards each other; yet, in spite of all the happiness he had been witness to, he had done the plaintiff the bitter wrong to take from him the partner who had lived with him so many years in uninterrupted harmony and love. When about to quit Kamptee, Captain Best was invited to a farewell dinner; but though it was specially upon the occasion of his leaving the place, Captain Best, to the surprise of all, was not there. The dinner, however, was partaken of, and Colonel Lethbridge, who was one of the party, returned home between nine and ten, and found that his wife had left him. The plaintiff's wife, at the time of the elopement, was on the eve of her confinement, and was subsequently delivered of a daughter at a place called Tankelgaut. The plaintiff hearing of this, sent two female servants to take charge of the child. Captain Best, who was with Mrs. Lethbridge when these servants arrived, left the tent soon after they came in. Mrs. Lethbridge inquired after her husband, and wept when she was told that he was in great misery, that he was in tears. This, if the defendant had any feeling about him, and it is impossible to suppose him dead to all the inner feelings of the human breast, must have stung him more than any thing else - and if the Learned Counsel had not mistaken human nature, such a scene as this could not have taken place unless there were an affectionate bearing on the part of her husband, and of fond reflections on her own. The only redress which the law afforded the plaintiff would be the damages awarded by the Court. There was hardly bitterness of spirit, hardly misery of mind, greater than his client must suffer to the end of his days from the deep injury he had received from the defendant. The Learned Counsel would not expatiate upon the circumstances which he would prove in evidence, with an view to influence the minds of the Court, for those circumstances would speak but too forcibly themselves; and the Court would grant such damages as would mark its sense of the unjustifiable, the unwarrantable and grievous wrong which the defendant had perpetrated against the peace and the happiness of his client. The Learned Counsel having concluded, put in the defendant's admission of the fact of the plaintiff's marriage on the 18th of December, 1823.

Evidence of the terms on which the parties lived was given.

Lieutenant G. Rowlandson sworn: I am a lieutenant in the Artillery; I married Col. Lethbridge's daughter; I became acquainted with him on his return from England, about three months before my marriage; from having married Col. Lethbridge's daughter I became very intimate with the family, and was at their house every day; they lived on the most affectionate terms; the daughter I married was by a former wife; I have had correspondence with Col. Lethbridge; they had four children before the birth of the last - three boys and one girl.

Cross-examined: I know Capt. Best; I don't think he has more than his bare pay; on the contrary, I think he is involved, but have no idea to what extent.

Several native witnesses proved the facts of the elopement, and that Mrs. Lethbridge and Capt. Best subsequently lived together. We give the testimony of one of them.

Caumatchee sworn: I was an ayah in the service of Mrs. Lethbridge; about six o'clock in the evening my master dressed himself, and went to a supper; I remember him going to fetch a child; my master went to the dinner about five days before I went to fetch the child; my mistress was then in the large hall, drinking tea; I remember she went to her bed-room about seven o'clock in the evening; upon my master's coming home, he went and looked in the bed-room, and asked me where she was; I said, "She is inside;" my master said, "No, she is not;" I repeated that she was; my master said, "Come and see, she is not there;" myself and the dressing boy then went and looked, and my mistress was not there; I never saw my mistress again in that house; the ninth[?] after my mistress left that house I went to Crooonga?? From Kamptee; my mistress was at Tankelgaut; I found her at Tankelgaut in a tent, and spoke to her in the English language; she said to me, how is master, Ayah? I said, "Master very sorry, can't eat anything;" mistress cried, and told me to go out, and I came away; she said "I was very foolish that I came off;" I saw a child; immediately upon my going there mistress said "There is the child, Ayah, look." The I was desired to leave the tent; this was about half-past nine; I did not tell her that I came to take the child; I brought a letter from my master to a gentleman named Lador, and that gentleman gave me a letter to Mr. Best; mistress told me "Take the little baby, Ayah - take care both children - I can't come any more." I saw a gentleman, Mr. Best, in the tent; when I went into it he went out; Mr. Best was in the habit of coming to my master's to eat his meals.

Mr. C. Thorn[?] addressed the Court for the defendant. He submitted that there was no evidence of any great breach of friendship, or that the defendant or plaintiff have ever been on particularly intimate terms. The defendant, it had been proved, was in the receipt of 300 rupees a month, and one of the witnesses had said that he was involved. He was not, therefore, in a situation to pay excessive damages, and the Learned Counsel submitted that it did not appear from the evidence to be a case which called for heavy damages.

Sir R. Palmer, C.J., remarked, that though there was no evidence of any intimacy between the plaintiff and defendant, there were yet no palliative circumstances whatever in favour of the defendant. The Court would not give damages so excessive as would incarcerate the defendant for life, but the Court ought to give such damages as would mark its sense of the great wrong committed by the defendant.

Damages, ten thousand Rupees.

Sir R. Comyn agreed with the Lord Chief Justice. Poverty was no excuse, and it were monstrous to hold that because a man is poor he may therefore commit adultery with impunity.


[1]  See also The Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Ireland), 29 September 1835, issue 10256; The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), 30 September 1835, issue 5385; Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), 1 October 1835, issue 3654.

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