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Colonial Cases

Bowebank v. Bishop of Jamaica, 1839


Bowebank v. Bishop of Jamaica

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
Source: The Times, 10 January, 1839

  The following appeal, which excited great interest in the West India Colonies, was heard at the last sitting of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.


  This appeal involved a question of considerable importance relating to the marriage of apprentices in the West India colonies under the Slave Emancipation Act. By that act all the curates of all chapelries are strictly required and adjoined to make a return to the rector of all marriages solemnized by them in their several chapels, and when so returned it is the duty of the rector to see that they are properly registered, agreeably to the forms of the act. It appeared that some time since a curate, named Rowe, made a return to Mr. Bowebank, rector of St. Catherine's, of the marriage of two apprentices, which had been solemnized by him at the chapel of Lonbyn. This return Mr. Bowebank refused to receive, on the ground that the chapel of Lonbyn was not within the parish of St. Catherine, but in the parish of St.  Thomas, and at the same time directed Mr. Rowe to send the notice to the rector of the adjoining parish (Sir Thomas Vale), which he (Mr. Rowe) accordingly did, but the rector of St. Thomas's also refused to receive the notice, on the ground that the apprentices which had been married were residents in the parish of St. Catherine's. Under these circumstances Mr. Rowe made a representation to the Bishop of Jamaica, and that right rev. Prelate issued an order directing Mr.  Bowebank to receive the notice of marriage, and cause the same to be duly registered in the parish of St. Catherine.
  To this order Mr. Bowebank returned an answer to the bishop, stating that as the parties were not married within his parish, he (Mr. Bowebamk) should render himself liable to a heavy penalty if he inserted the marriage in the registry. The bishop was not satisfied with this explanation, and a second time ordered Mr. Bowebank to register the marriage.  He again demurred, but informed the bishop that he would be happy to register the marriage if he might be permitted to add the words "Inserted in the registry by direction of the bishop." The bishop, however, refused to allow these words to be used, and the marriage was not registered. Mr. Bowebank was shortly afterwards summoned to appear before the bishop at the next visitation his Lordship held, and he accordingly attended. After the visitation sermon had been addressed to the clergy, and the customary business transacted., Mr. Bowebank was called before the bishop, and his Lordship's registrar at once, without any previous inquiry, began reading a sentence suspending Mr. Bowebank from his clerical duties. Mr. Bowebank protested against such a summary mode of proceeding, and requested time to obtain counsel, and that the case at all events might be heard before sentence was pronounced against him; and he further prayed the Bishop to assign articles against him, in order that he might know in what form he was accused, and prepare his answer accordingly.
  This the Bishop refused, and directed the registrar to proceed with the sentence. At nearly the close the Bishop asked Mr. Bowebank if he was then prepared to make the entry.  Mr. Bowebank repeated that he was willing to do so, and enter the marriage as returned to him by Mf. Rowe, if he was allowed to add the words "by the direction of the bishop," or omit the name of the chapel [where] the parties were married. Neither of these requests, however, was granted, and the Bishop directed the registrar to proceed with reading the sentence, which was accordingly done. Mr. Bowebank protested against this mode of proceeding, and insisted upon going into his defence, but the bishop would not hear him, and he was sentenced to be suspended from the performance of his clerical duties for four days, and until such further time as he should publicly acknowledge his contumacy in his own parish church. This he positively refused, and immediately brought the present appeal to Her Majesty in Council against the decree.
  When the case was called on, a written statement of the facts of the case, signed by Mr. Knight Bruce and Dr. Adams, as Counsel for the bishop, was handed in to their Lordships. The learned counsel said the right rev. prelate merely wished to hand in a statement, as he considered it would be indelicate in him to appear as a party in support of his own judgment; and, therefore, all they were instructed to say was, that their client had acted in the matter to the best of his discretion and judgment. Although the bishop entertained doubts as to the competent jurisdiction if the Privy Council ibn this case, he would not contest the point, but leave the whole subject in the hands of their Lordships.
  The Queen's Advocate, (with whom was Mr. Burge, Queen's Counsel), on behalf of Mr. Bowebank, opened the above facts to the Council, when he was stopped by
  Sir H. Jenner, who stated that their Lordships were convinced that it would be utterly impossible to support the sentence pronounced by the bishop. It appeared the appellant had been condemned unheard; and therefore under such circumstances the appeal must be allowed, and the sentence annulled with costs.
  Mr. Burge said the appellant's costs had been considerable, not only in lodging this appeal, but he had been put to great expense in Jamaica.
  Their Lordships said they allowed the appeal, and gave Mr. Bowebank the costs of the appeal, and also the expenses in Jamaica.
  The case had excited considerable interest.

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