1892 Elopement Scandal
Harry Pethick Rockey was born in 1863 to George and Louisa Rockey at Werrington. His father worked as a general labourer. Harry worked as a general labourer and in 1883 he married Jane Parsons at Launceston.
Their first child was born the same year, a daughter, Rosinia. The following year William was born followed in 1890 by Frederick. Later in 1890, the family moved to Plymouth where they resided at No. 4, Oxford Terrace and Harry was believed to be working for the GWR as a labourer. The family soon moved back to Launceston living in Westgate Street with Jane now pregnant with their forth child, another son James who would be born in 1893. This is where we pick up the story that caused a sensational scandal during the month of June, 1892.
In the Cornish & Devon Post dated the 11th June, 1892, an article entitled ‘Sensational Elopement at Launceston’ was run. This is how the story began:
Some excitement was caused at Launceston on Tuesday, by the news that early that morning a prominent member of the Salvation Army, having a wife and three or four children, had run off with another member of the Army, the wife of a man, a most respected and hard-working man, with one child, which she left on the doorstep. The couple were seen at Milton Abbott in the morning, walking towards Tavistock, and it is said they have since been seen at Liverpool. The parties are each about 30 years of age. The man sported some new uniform on Sunday, when a brother was buried, and it is stated as a curious fact that when the “cap’n” asked those to hold up their hand who would like to join Brother – in heaven, the runaway couple were among the first to ‘demonstrate’ their desire ‘not’ to be there – alone. It is not yet known whether they have started for ‘the happy land.’The man’s wife and children have gone to the Workhouse so that he will at once be apprehended by the police – if found; and the woman – well, it is said, she has already repented and wants to return – if her worthy lord and master under the marriage law is good and forgiving enough to receive and pardon her. Considerable interest is evinced I the ‘denouement’ of this romance in humble life.
The paper followed this up with the conclusion to the story on the 25th of June, in ‘The Prodigals Return’:
The working classes of Launceston are very tender on all questions of morality, and whenever any dereliction thereof is discovered in others it is not an uncommon thing for them to have what is known in the West of England as a ‘stag hunt.’ This is better imagined than described, suffice it to say that the bonuses of the erring ones are besieged by people, hooting, beating tin kettles and playing ‘all kinds of instruments of music,’ save the harp and the duleimer, then racing the town all over, yelling and playing, only to return to the ‘abodes of love’ to repeat the entertainment. A year or so since such ‘hunts’ were a little too frequent for the public peace and comfort; but they fell into desuetude for some time, in the absence of ‘deserving cases.’ The recent elopement, however, of H. Rockey, a married man, whose wife has three children, with Mrs. Lane, the wife of a steady, hard-working and respected townsman, again aroused not only their strongest sympathy for the deserted ones, and which found practical expression toward Rockey’s wife and family when it was known that they had become chargeable to the workhouse fund, but also the strongest indignation towards the runaway pair. All sections of society felt that both ought to be punished. There was no law to touch the erring wife, but fortunately it gave power to apprehend the man for deserting his family, and dealt with him as a rogue and a vagabond, punishing him as he deserved, though the sentence of the Bench upon him is generally considered to be far too light, in spite of his having left 5s. with his wife and is evidently second-thought letter, promising to send her 6s. per week to maintain herself and four children, while he kept the other 10s.!
The greatest satisfaction was, therefore, evinced when it was found that he had been apprehended at Plymouth, under a warrant issued at the instigation of the Launceston Board of Guardians, who were very properly determined to make an example of such a case. Prisoner was brought to Launceston on Saturday evening, and he was met at the station by some hundreds of people, who followed him all the way to the police station, and manifested their feelings by constant jeers and hissing. It was also reported that Mrs. Lane had walked back from Lifton and was at her former home, in Westgate, where a large crowd also assembled in the hopes of seeing her and giving her too a ‘bit of their mind.’ After waiting some time they found that they had been deceived; the runaway was not there. But the report soon circulated that she was at her mother’s house in Tower Street. Thither the crowd repaired, and on finding that the report was true, they began serenading her with all kinds of songs, from the famous ‘Home, sweet Home’ to ‘Two Lovely Black Eyes’ the whole being interspersed with hooting’s, cat calls, and every kind of remark considered appropriate to the case. This was kept up until a very late hour of night, and it was fortunate for Mrs. Lane that she did not make her appearance outside, or she might have fared roughly at the hands of the indignant and now infuriated mob.
He gets 14 days as a Rogue and a Vagabond.
Considerable excitement was again manifested when Rocky was brought before the Launceston Bench of Magistrates — The Mayor (Mr. J. Treleaven), and Messrs R. Peter and W. Prockter — on Monday, at one o’clock, at which hour some two or three thousand people were thronging the thoroughfares to witness the procession of Julian’s circus, which happened to be in town that day. Several hundreds besieged the Guildhall gateway, and when the prisoner was brought down by the police he was received with loud and continued hisses and yells.
He was formally charged by the Town Clerk (Mr. C. H. Peter) with deserting his wife and three children, all under the age of 6, the age set forth by the act, by which they became chargeable to the common fund of the Launceston Union. On being asked by the Mayor to plead, prisoner first said ‘guilty’ but added, ‘guilty of going away, but I gave her something before going away, so that she was not destitute.’ The Mayor: ‘Then that is not guilty and the case must be proved.’ Mr. Graham White, who appeared on behalf of the Board of Guardians, stated the facts of the case, which were that as the Guardians had no power to recover money spent in the house in maintenance in such cases, they thought that an example should be made of the prisoner, to prevent other cases of the kind occurring in the locality. On the morning of 6th June prisoner went to the house of Thomas Lane, about half past seven. Lane had just left home to take a picnic party to Trebartha. Rockey saw him after and asked him where he was going. Lane told him, and Rockey then went to his house and remained there with Mrs. Lane until tow or three o’clock in the afternoon. He then went home, changed his clothes and told his wife that he was going away, never to return. She replied that he would be sorry for this, and he then threw five shillings on the table.’
Mr. Peter: ‘Unless some one else was there and hear that it would not be evidence.’ Mr. White: ‘There was no one else present. Rockey then left with Mrs. Lane and they were both seen at Milton Abbot. Afterwards they were both found in lodgings at Plymouth. Rockey never sent his wife six pence after that, and she and her family were left entirely destitute. It was Rocky’s practice to have a sack of flour once a month and the sack was up the Tuesday following the day he left her, Monday. A more heartless case was never before a Bench, the prisoner leaving his wife and family without any other reason than to satisfy his own lustful passions, ruining his own home and the home of another man, and he (Mr. White), therefore, asked the Bench to make an example of Rockey by sending him to prison for the longest term the law allowed.’ (Applause).
The Mayor: ‘Order, there must be nothing of that kind here.’ Police Sergeant W. Endean was called and deposed that on Saturday last he went to Plymouth and executed the warrant. Had the warrant duly endorsed and read it to the prisoner. He said ‘ Yes, all right, I expected it.’ He said no more. Coming home in the train, and when they got to Lifton, Mrs. Lane got to the carriage window and handed prisoner a note (produced). Got the letter from prisoner’s pocket on searching him at the police station afterwards. It was as follows: ‘Dear Harry, —- I could not stay there, the place was up in arms in two minutes. I shall stop for you tonight on the bridge after dark. If you can be there tonight come there; if not to mother’s on Monday if you think best.’ There was no date, place, or signature on the letter. Did not see her, but heard Mrs. Lane returned to her mother’s on Saturday night.’
The Bench to prisoner: ‘Have you any questions to ask witness?’— ‘No, but I should like to ask my wife some questions.’ The Clerk (C. H. Peter): ‘You cannot. She is not a witness today.’ Prisoner: ‘Well, I will say my life has been sworn away to a very great extent.’ The Mayor: ‘You will have every opportunity of saying anything in your defence directly.’
George Perkin, relieving officer of the Launceston Union, said he knew the prisoner and his wife and family, who had been living for some time at Priory Cottages, St. Thomas. On the evening of June 7 Mrs. Rockey came to him and asked for information as to what she could do about her husband, who, she said, had left her and that she had no means to keep herself. He gave her an order for the house. Mr. Daniel Downing, master of the workhouse, deposed that Mrs. Rockey is about to be confined again. They were searched, but no money was found on them, and at the time the warrant was executed they were chargeable to the common fund of the Union. Prisoner to witness: ‘If she was “compliable” to the union why did she come out again? If she had nothing to live on when she went in why did she come out again?’ The Mayor: ‘That is an important point which should be cleared up.’ Mr. White: ‘I can prove, your worship, that she has been living on private charity ever since she came out, and that some friends have given her as much as 10s. at a time.’ The Mayor to prisoner: ‘Now, what have you to say in defence, or do you wish to call any witnesses.’ Prisoner: ‘I wish to say that the reason I left my wife was because of disagreements and poverty. For a whole week up to the time I went away she did not speak a dozen words to me.’ The Mayor: ‘Then you could not have quarrelled very much. (Laughter) How about poverty?’ Prisoner: ‘Today, gentlemen, I stand £12 in debt in Launceston, and I have not the means to pay it. It is a well known fact that I have worked hard and tried hard to keep my family respectable.’ The Mayor: ‘But you have behaved as if you were rich, you took away another man’s wife to keep.’ (Laughter and applause). Prisoner: ‘I am not charged with taking away another man’s wife, I am charged with leaving my own.’ The Mayor: ‘But how about your poverty? You haven’t proved that.’ Prisoner: ‘ I can prove that she has run me in debt all over Launceston.’ The Mayor: You shouldn’t have allowed her to do it. It is your own fault that.’ Prisoner: I can call my sister to prove that my wife told her she was not in a destitute state.’ The Town Clerk: ‘That would not be evidence. She went to the Workhouse with her children and became chargeable for a week.’ Prisoner: ‘I told her when I went away that I would send her some money as soon as I got it. She said, “Very well, you can go, provided you give me an understanding.” She asked where I was going? I said I didn’t know; I should drop into work where-ever I could get it.’ The mayor: ‘But you only gave your wife 5s. Did you maintain your wife and family on 5s. a week only.’ Prisoner: ‘Yes, sir (here there were expressions of indignation in Court.) Unfortunately I could not trust my wife, as many can prove. When I went away she said, “You can go provided you give me an understanding.” I said, “I will go and send you money.” I went away and wrote a note saying I had work and would try to send her 6s. per week.’ The Mayor: ‘What wages were you getting?’ Prisoner: ‘16s. per week.’ The Mayor: ‘Then you wanted to keep 10s. for yourself and give a woman 6s. a week to maintain herself and three children, with another coming.’ Prisoner: ‘Yes (indignation).
A letter was here handed in which had been addressed, through the superintendent of police to Rockey’s wife, dated Plymouth, 11th June — it ran as follows — “To Jane Rockey, — Just a line to say that I will send you some money next week, as I have got work, and I will send money every week. If you send after me it will only be in vain, as I shall only go away again, as you and me have not lived comfortable for some time — H. Rockey.” The letter reached Mrs. Rockey on the 13th June.
Prisoner: ‘That was the first day I worked when I wrote that letter. I should have sent money only I got on the Great Western Railway as a packer, and I had to work a fortnight before I got any money. I sent a letter to my mother stating that as she could not keep herself I would send her that.’
The Bench retired to consider the case, and on their return, the Mayor said they consider it fully proved. The law classified anyone committing such an offence as a rouge and a vagabond and being worthy of the penalty of three months imprisonment with hard labour. Before he passed sentence, however, he wished to say that it was not in their power to deal with the other matter, by which prisoner had brought sad trouble not only on his wife and family, but other people and for which he ought to be ashamed. But they could deal with the desertion of his family, whereby they became chargeable to the common fund of the union, and they felt that justice would not be done unless they sent him to prisoner as a rogue and vagabond for 14 days hard labour. And he could quite understand that unless he maintained his wife and family in future he would be liable to be brought up and punished again — (applause).
On being taken to the police station prisoner was followed and again hooted by hundreds of people, who said the sentence was too light; but he took no notice, simply laughing, dancing and waving his cap in the air.
Harry Rockey duly served his sentence and returned to live with his wife Jane. As previously mentioned their son, James, was born the following year and in 1897 their final child, Edwin, was born. By this time the family were living at Cleaverfield with Harry still working as a general labourer. Harry died on October 13th, 1903, aged just 40 and was interred at St. Thomas Churchyard. Jane, now widowed with two young children, found herself in yet another difficult situation. She found work as a charwoman and managed to eke out a living. By 1911 she had ironically moved to Kensey Place, the irony because this had been the original Workhouse. With her were two of her children, the unmarried Rosina and James.
There is no record of what happened to Jane from that date, but of her children Rosina never married and died in 1954. William went to live with his cousin George Rockey and his wife at 15 Thornwood Terrace Treharris Glam, Merthyr Tydfil and worked as a coal miner hewer, returned to Launceston and married Felicia Curtis in 1913. He seems to have returned to live at Pontypridd where he died in 1958. Frederick too moved to Wales and worked as a coal miner hewer and married Emily Llewellyn in 1915. Frederick died in 1957. James remained in Launceston and served an apprenticeship in ironmongery. He married Nellie Walter in 1936. He died on June 24th, 1979 and was interred at Launceston cemetery. Edwin too served an apprenticeship in ironmongery and in 1911 was working Llanwonno, Wales. In 1918 he returned to Launceston and married Beatrice Moore in 1918. Edwin died in 1981 at Bedford, Bedfordshire.