The trial of Joseph Rowe
the second summons under the 1860 Act

The Times 29 September 1860


Yesterday Joseph Rowe, a dock labourer, appeared before Mr Selfe at the Thames police-court to answer two summons, issued against him at the instance of Mr. William Cooke, then sexton of the parish church of St. George's-in-the-East, where the service had been conducted in comparatively quiet manner for several weeks. The first summons taken out under the new Act, the 23d and 24th of Victoria, cap. 32, charged the defendant that he did unlawfully molest, let, disturb, vex, and trouble the Rev. J. Hooper, a clergyman in Holy orders, ministering Divine service in the parish church of St. George. The second summons charged the defendant with a common assault upon Mr. Cooke in the parish church on Sunday last.

There was a large attendance of the parishioners of St. George, who appeared much interested in the proceedings. Since the departure of the Rev. Bryan King, the rector, on leave of absence, and the appointment of the Rev. Septimus Hansard, there have been considerable alterations in the services in the parish church, but the services of the choristers have been retained, and they are very unpopular with the parishioners. The sermon on Sunday morning has been preached in a white surplice, and some portions of the service have been sung, which the parishioners, or rather the congregation, wished to be said, and dissatisfaction still prevails.

The defendant, a somewhat fanatical person, is a thin spare man, about 25 years of age, well dressed, with a red beard and moustache, who has taken an active part in the proceedings of the Anti-Puseyite League in the parish of St. George, and has sometimes presided at its meetings. To show the animus by which the League have been actuated, a resolution, of which the following is a copy, was agreed to at the last meeting of the League, and transmitted, with the accompanying letter, to Mr. William John Thompson, the senior churchwarden, who has acted in the most impartial manner ever since the unhappy differences commended in the parish. We subjoin the letter and resolution :—

To Mr. Thompson, Churchwarden,—
Sir, - I beg to hand you a copy of the resolution passed at a crowded meeting, and which, by a second resolution, was ordered to be forwarded to you.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
T.B. DAY, Chairman of the said Meeting. Sept 27."

Resolution,— This meeting regret that Mr. Churchwarden Thompson should, in the discharge of his duties, insult several parishioners in their parish church, and that he should refuse to call a public parish meeting when solicited to do so by a requisition signed by a number of ratepayers; and this meeting is of opinion that such conduct is an arbitrary stretch of power. In passing this resolution in reference to Mr. Thompson, this meeting is fully aware of the difficult duties he has had to contend with; nevertheless they think faithful decision ought to characterize all honourable conduct, and it must have been long evident that it is impossible for Mr. Thompson to serve the rector and do justice to the insulted parishioners, and this meeting consider that closing the church gates and placing the entrance to the church under surveillance is an insult to the liberty of the subject.

Mr. Wontner stated the case against the defendant in a lengthened address. He said the defendant was charged with two offences - one under the Act of Victoria for brawling in the church, and the other for assaulting the complainant, The defendant had been in the continual practice of attending St. George's Church and constantly interrupting the service by bawling out the prayers in a loud voice, almost drowning the clergyman's voice, and also interrupting the minister while giving out the text by walking won the aisle in heavy wooden shoes. In consequence of this Mr. Thompson, the churchwarden, had expressly allotted the defendant a seat in the south aisle, and refused to allow him to set in any other part of the church. The defendant, however, insisted on taking any place he chose. It was quite clear the defendant went to the church last Sunday evening, to create a disturbance, for he was in the vestibule before the service began, haranguing a number of boys who were around him in most disgusting language. The defendant at the same time said he did not care for the churchwardens, or any of the officers, and that he would not be turned out of the church, On the same evening, on the defendant entering the church, he was offered two different seats, but refused to take either, and declared that he would sit where he thought fit. The defendant then went to the sexton's private seat, where there was only room for Mr. Cooke, who was at the time showing some person into an adjoining pew. On observing this the complainant went to him and placing his had upon the door told him he could not have that seat. The defendant replied, "It belongs to me, I must sit there." The complainant said he should not, and thereupon the defendant pushed Mr. Cooke away from the door, and took possession of his seat. The defendant was no sooner seated than he began bawling out the prayers in a loud voice, and when asked by the sexton to leave his seat he refused to do so. Mr. Thompson, the senior churchwarden, was fetched, and repeatedly asked the defendant in a very polite and civil manner to leave the complainant's seat. The defendant still declined, and after he had been expostulated with for some time it was found necessary to remove him by force. The defendant then took up a position in the aisle, where he began talking in a very loud voice to a number of persons, who rushed to the spot from behind a glass screen, where they had evidently been waiting to join in the disturbance, which was so great that the clergyman was obliged to suspend the service, and order could not be restored until the defendant was removed by the beadle. It would be proved by several witnesses that the conduct of the defendant on Sunday evening last was not a solitary occasion of misbehaving himself in this most disgraceful manner; but that he had for many Sundays behaved so indecently that Mr. Cooke had been obliged to call the attention of the police to him, It was evident that the defendant took possession of Mr. Cooke's seat for the purpose of annoying him. The services at St. George's Church were now performed in the same manner as at every other parish church in the metropolis ("No, no," from the defendant), and the Bishop of London had specially appointed the Rev. Mr. Hansard vicar pro tem., the gentleman officiating on Sunday evening being the curate appointed by Mr. Hansard.

Mr. Cooke said there was service at St. George's Church last Sunday evening. The prayers were read by the Rev. J.H. Hooper, He is the curate to Mr. Hansard, who is appointed by the Bishop pro tem. I have seen the defendant at the church, I have had occasion to point him out to the police in consequence of his bawling out the psalms. Last Sunday evening the service had commenced; I was seating some one in a pew, and I saw the defendant coming towards my pew. My wife and nephew were in it; I went to the pew door and put my hand on it and said, "That is my seat; you cannot go there." The defendant said, "I shall go in, and you shall not stop me." There was but room for one there. I said I should stop him, and he violently pushed me away and took my seat. Upon that I went to Mr. Thompson, the churchwarden, and he returned with me to the seat, and he several times asked the defendant in a most quiet and polite manner to leave it, The defendant said, "I won't! I won't!" Mr Thompson then laid hold of him and removed him. The defendant resisted by placing his hands in front of the pew. After the defendant was removed he placed himself against a bench and addressed a mob of 50 persons, who rushed towards him. He addressed them loud enough to disturb the congregation, The people got up in all parts of the church, There was a good deal of coughing and noise. The minister was obliged to stop. The beadle went up to the defendant and told him he should not remove him if he was quiet. The defendant rattled his feet loudly amid great confusion, and walked down the middle aisle with his wooden shoes, and hustled the people right and left, saying as he did so "Get out of the way!"

Mr William Coxall, head porter at the Whitechapel Union; Mr. William Whittenbury, 29, Trafalgar-square, Stepney; Mr. William John Thompson, churchwarden; Mr. William John Compton, clothing contractor; Rebeca Wyman, pew opener, and the Rev. J.H. Hooper, assistant curate, all confirmed the statement in every respect, and evidence was give of the defendant having conducted himself in a disorderly manner in the church on several occasion, and of his practice of leaving his seat and walking down the aisle in his wooden shoes whenever the clergyman gave out the text before commencing the sermon.

The defendant, in reply to the charge, said he wished the case to be postponed, to obtain legal assistance and to bring forward witnesses who were at present in the country. The prosecution was the result of a conspiracy against him. All he had done was to read loudly, and the Rev. Mr. Baynes, while acting for the Rev. Mr. Richardson, the afternoon lecturer, commended him for so doing.

Mr. SELFE consented to the defendant's application, and adjourned the case until Thursday afternoon next, at 2 o'clock, the defendant entering into his own recognizances in the sum of 20l. to appear on that day.

[Selfe's sister-in-law had married Archbiald Tait, then Bishop of London and a key figure in the Riots]

The Times 5 October 1860


Yesterday Joseph Rowe, a dock labourer, appeared before Mr. SELFE, at the Thames Police Court, to answer two summonses issued against him at the instance of Mr. William Cooke, sexton of the parish church of St. George's-in-the-East, or assaulting him on the evening of Sunday, the 23d ult., and making a disturbance, and behaving in an irreverent manner in the church.

This case had been adjourned from Friday last, after evidence for the prosecution had been heard, and at the earnest request of the defendant, to enable him to obtain the assistance of a professional gentlemen, and to call witnesses to rebut the charges against him.

Mr Gomm, from the office of Mr. Charles Young, solicitor, now appeared for the defendant; Mr Wontner, solicitor, as before, conducting the prosecution.

There was again a large number of the ratepayers of the parish of St. George in attendance, who appeared to manifest great interest in the proceedings.

The case established against the defendant by numerous witnesses on Friday last was that he was averse to the choral services in St. George's Church, and had been in the practice of bawling out the prayers in a loud voice, almost drowning the clergyman's voice, and also interrupting the minister while giving out the text by walking down the aisles in heavy wooden shoes. On the evening of Sunday, the 23d of September, after haranguing a number of boys in the vestibule of the church and using disgusting language, he entered the sacred edifice, and. although offered to different seats, refused to accept of either, and found his way into the pew, No. 10, on the north aisle, while Mr. Cooke, the sexton, who had left his own, and the only seat vacant there, was showing a person into an adjoining pew. Mr. Cooke returned to his pew and said that the defendant could not have that seat, to which the defendant replied, "It belongs to me; I must have it." He then pushed Mr. Cooke away from the door of the pew, began to bawl out the prayers in a loud voice, and after being twice requested by Mr. Thompson, the churchwarden, to leave the seat he refused to do so, and was dragged from it by force, owing to his violent resistance. He then took up a position in the aisle, addressed the persons near him in a loud voice, and the greatest confusion ensured. The service was suspended, the defendant was under the surveillance of the beadle for some time, and was ultimately removed.

Mt Gomm said that this prosecution was the result of a conspiracy against Rowe, and that upon going to the church on the evening of the 23d he was cautioned by many persons to be very careful as Mr. Thompson, the senior churchwarden, had stated in their hearing that he would "have" the man Rowe that night. The pew in question could accommodate five persons. There were only four in it when the defendant entered it, and he was about to take the vacant seat, on the ground that Mr. Thompson had directed him to it. On his refusal to leave Mr. Thompson laid hold of him with both hands and dragged him away. If any disturbance took place, it was owing to the violent and forcible manner with which Rowe was dragged out of the pew. There was no intention on the part of the defendant to molest, let, disturb, vex and trouble the Rev. Mr. Hooper, the assistant curate, as charged in the summons; and if Cooke and the churchwarden made the disturbance, although Rowe might have mistaken the pew intended for him, he was not chargeable under the statute. If Rowe was seized by the churchwarden, he had a right to resist. There would have been no disturbance if Mr. Churchwarden Thompson had not in the midst of Divine service exercised a supposed right over the pew, and the appropriation of the seats in it.

Mr. SELFE.– The churchwarden had a right to regulate the appropriation of the seats in the parish church.

Mr. Gomm.– If the churchwarden, in exercising a real right, makes a disturbance, the defendant ought not to be convicted for refusing to give up a seat which he had the previous authority a seat which a seat which he had the previous authority of the churchwarden to take. The defendant was not answerable for the hisses, coughs, and groans of the congregation. It was the fault of the churchwarden and sexton in forcibly removing a parishioner from that seat.

William Powles, a carpenter, of 83, Cannon-street, St. George's-in-the-East, said that he was at St. George's Church on the evening of the 23d ult., and saw a crowd in the vestibule before the commencement of Divine service, and heard Mr. Thompson, the churchwarden, say, as Rowe entered, "Here he comes. I must have that man Rowe tonight at any price." He left the vestibule,. The churchwarden pointed to the north aisle, and he went there. Rowe opened the door of No. 10 pew and went in. The pew would hold five persons. There were only four in it when Rowe went in. Rowe did not enter the pew in a hostile way at all. Not long afterwards Button, the beadle, asked Rowe to leave the pew, and he said he would not, and that he had the churchwarden's authority to be there. The sexton went for the churchwarden, who asked Rowe to come out. Rowe said "You have appropriated this seat to me, and I will not leave it." The churchwarden then laid hold of the defendant with both hands and pulled him out of the pew. At that time the Rev. Mr. Hooper, the assistant curate, was reading the latter part of the Confession, and the congregation were responding. Great excitement and confusion followed, and the congregation stood up, got upon the seats, and leant over the pews, to ascertain what was the matter. In cross-examination by Mr. Wontner, the witness said there was a great disturbance in St. George's Church last Sunday evening, and he was afraid no peace would ever be restored with the services conducted as they were at present. The witness was asked if he had heard the defendant swear, to which he replied, "Yes; we all swear at times."

Mr. SELFE.– That is wrong; we don't all swear.

Julia Jones, of 30, Chapman Street, St. George's, confirmed the evidence of the last witness as to what occurred in the church, and on cross-examination by Mr. Wontner, said she and her husband were not members of the Anti-Puseyite League.

Mr. John Neck, grocer's assistant, No. 10, Widegate-street; Mr. Thomas William Lewis, clerk in the London Dock of 5, Prince's-street, St. George's; Jane Cooling, of Chapman Street, St. George's; Mr. Thomas Barrett, a trustee of the parish and ex-churchwarden; and Miss Fanny Train, a seamstress, confirmed generally the statements of the first two witnesses, although there was some discrepancy as to the exact pew to which Mr. Thompson directed the defendant. Mr. Barrett, who has taken a leading part in opposing the tractarian innovations of the rector for 17 years, admitted that he and the defendant had recently attended and spoken at an Anti-Puseyite League meeting in the parish. Jane Cooling said she had been in the practice of going to St. George's Church for some time. She went there for the purpose of seeing what was going on. No one went there to worship God. (Derisive laughter.)

Mr. SELFE.– I must have order. I hope some go there to worship their Maker.

Witness.– How can they! There is such a fuss and bother: the choristers screaming, others coughing, and all confusion.

Mr. SELFE– If you do not go there for the purpose of Divine worship, you had better stop away.

The witness, in answer to other questions, said her attention had been called to the defendant in the church several times. She thought that he was most beautiful reader when he read the responses aloud. If a person once saw the defendant it was impossible to forget him. (A laugh.) It may be here noticed, that the defendant is a remarkable-looking man, short, with a small and allow face, high cheek bones, and wearing a decidedly carrotty beard and moustache,

Mr. Gomm.– It has been hinted that the defendant is something like Mullins, the alleged murderer of Mrs. Emsley, that has drawn attention to him.

This remark caused loud laughter, in which the defendant heartily joined.

Mr. SELFE, after reading over the voluminous evidence of which he had taken full notes, gave judgment at great length, He said this was the first case brought before him for his decision under the recent statute called the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act, the 23d and 24th of Victoria, cap.32, and he was in hopes that he should never be called upon to decide such cases. It was disgraceful to the age we live in, and hurtful to public morality that there should be disturbances in places of public worship, All right-minded men must deplore such discussions as these. Before he delivered his judgment he wished to say a few words relative to a decision given by his excellent friend Mr. Elliott at that court in July last, and before whom the first case under the new statute was brought. Mr. Elliott had convicted a man named Rosier, and in his (Mr. Selfe's) opinion rightly convicted him in the penalty of 3l. for creating a disturbance in St. George's Church. He was sorry to find that it had been stated there was a difference of opinion between so excellent and astute a lawyer and so experienced a magistrate as Mr. Elliott and himself., There was no substantial difference of opinion between them. If there was he (Mr. Selfe) should think himself mistaken, It was perfectly clear it was quite a misapprehension to suppose there was any difference of opinion upon the law of the case between him and Mr. Elliott. It was very necessary to say this, and that the inferior courts should not be considered as tribunals in which no dependance could be placed. Mr. Elliott held that reading the responses in church in a loud, noisy and irreverent manner was an offence under the Act, a breach of the law. He quite agreed with Mr. Elliott in his exposition of the law., The magistrates of the police-courts had no law reports, but fortunately he could put his hand upon a remarkably accurate report of a case heard at that court on Christmas-eve, 1859, in which he believed he laid down the same proposition as Mr. Elliott. Mr Selfe then read from the Thames-police, in The Times' report of the 35th of December last, as follows:-

"Mr Selfe said the question under the statute (the Act of Queen Mary) was whether there was a wilful disturbance. To sat the responses was not necessarily an interruption to those who sung them, provided they be said reverently and devoutly. Some people could not sing. Were they to be silent altogether? At the Temple Church and Lincoln's-inn Chapel where he often attended, the clergyman said his part of the services while the choir intoned the responses. A portion of the congregation joined the choir, and a portion of them said the responses at the same time, but there was no disturbance, because all was done in a reverent manner."

He (Mr. Selfe) never said and never meant to say it was lawful for any one to say the responses in a loud and turbulent manner. He refused to acceed to the proposition of the learned counsel (Mr. Prideaux) that no one had a right top say the responses when the minister ordered them to be sung. If a person said the responses aloud, but in a reverent and devout manner, that was not a disturbance. He would repeat, there was no essential difference between him and Mr. Elliott. If people would say the responses, they had a right to do so, but in a reverent manner, not in a loud and irreverent manner. And now for the case before him. The question was whether the defendant Rowe had disturbed, vexed and troubled the minister, or said the responses and behaved himself in such a manner as to bring himself within the meaning of the Act. The first part of the second clause of the new Act referred to "any person who shall be guilty of riotous, violent, and indecent behaviour in any cathedral church, parish church, or district church or chapel, or in any churchyard or burial-ground," and the second part to those "who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher, " &c. If this was really a squabble about a particular seat ot pew he should not attach so much importance to the case. The defendant might have thought he was at liberty to take a seat in the pew which the sexton had just left. It was, however, impossible to take that act by itself. A witness for the defence had admitted the defendant was in the practice of swearing, and it was clearly proved by witnesses for the prosecution that the defendant used words in the vestibule of the sacred edifice more fitted for a brothel than the House of God,. He must use the words and not be squeamish, but it was with great reluctance he did so. The defendant said, "By G-d! I won't be prevented going into the church by those snotty fellows," and immediately afterwards repeated that beautiful prayer, the General Confession, in a loud and irreverent manner. Mr. Smith, the deaf sidesman, said the defendant was bawling out the Confession as loud as he possibly could. That was a wicked mockery of God's Holy Commandment - a wicked mockery, to shout out those words as the defendant had done,. It was a distinct breach of the Act of Parliament, He put aside the attempt to get a seat in spite of the remonstrances of the churchwarden, although it was violent and indecent conduct, and no one could defend it. It has been said this was a conspiracy. If there was one, the officiating clergyman, the senior churchwarden, the sidesman, the sexton and the beadle had joined in it, with other respectable parishioners. He was glad, for the first time in the history of these unhappy dissensions, there was such a conspiracy in the parish of St. George. There was a conspiracy of all parties to have the services of the Church of England respected, order maintained in the sacred edifice, and ecclesiastical law and disciple respected and enforced. Such conspiracies would have the sympathy of all good men, and command the assistance of that court in the enforcement of the law. Mr. Selfe then went over the Act of Parliament at great length, and said he was glad it had passed. It did not repeal the Act of Mary or the Act of William and Mary, but it removed many difficulties, simplified matters, and enabled magistrates so inflict fines, or imprisonment without a fine, according to the degree of guilt. It was also free from all doubts.

He wished to make one other observation. He had had no case of brawling before him since December last. He had been found fault with for not rapidly enforcing the old law. He did not at all regret what he had done. He was accused of carrying clemency too far. He did not think he had done so. The state of things in St. George's parish were of an extraordinary nature; the statute under which persons were charged was almost obsolete, and he believed he had adopted the wisest course. Those who had complained ought to be the last to do so because, when persons had been remitted to a higher tribunal for trial they abandoned the prosecution simpliciter; when people were sent for trial the prosecution was abandoned and no means adopted to obtain the opinion of a higher tribunal. He did not blame any one for abandoning the prosecution, but it was a little too bad to complain of him and his learned and more experienced colleague for exercising clemency in cases of a most novel and difficult nature.

He had now to deal with the defendant. He believed Rowe was guilty of the charge against him, and the question now was the amount of punishment to be awarded. If this were an isolated case of a struggle for a seat he should have inflicted a pecuniary penalty, but he believed the defendant's whole conduct in the church on the Sunday evening in question was most disgraceful - a systematic violation of all that was decent in respect of the performance of Divine service and the rites of religion - and the sentence was that the prisoner be imprisoned for three weeks in the House of Correction.

The Prisoner.– Have I not a right to be heard in self-defence?

Mr. SELFE.– You selected to be heard by your solicitor, and he has done all that could be done for you.

The Rev. R.H. Baynes, of St. Paul's Parsonage, Whitechapel, here got up, and emphatically denied that he had ever commended the defendant for saying the responses loudly. He never saw him until that day.

Mr. SELFE.– Very well; your denial has already appeared in The Times.

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