Continued from part I
For almost a year Lady Connemara had confabulated with legal luminaries on the grounds for divorce. There had been frank discussions on the Connemaras’ private life and, based on certain proclivities of his, it was agreed that there were sufficient grounds for divorce on the charge of technical cruelty to the partner. But what clinched the decision to pray for annulment of the marriage was the confession of Hannah Moore, a maid-in-waiting, that she had committed adultery with Lord Connemara while in Madras in 1886.
Hannah Moore’s testimony was taken on commission, which meant she deposed in private to officers nominated by the Court. Her story was that she had been in the service of Lady Connemara from 1880 and in 1886 had accompanied the Governor and his wife to Madras. While there, Lord Connemara had committed adultery with her on more than one occasion. In 1887, she had informed Surgeon-Major W. H. Briggs about the matter. Lord Connemara, on being confronted by Dr. Briggs, confirmed that it was the truth and requested the latter to hush it up. Hannah Moore was then sent back to England and had subsequently found employment elsewhere.
The testimony of Surgeon-Major Briggs was, therefore, of vital importance and he sailed for England. In any case it became impossible for him to stay on in Madras for Lord Connemara had spread the story that his estranged wife had committed adultery with Briggs. The latter confronted the Governor over this and managed to obtain a written apology but, sick at heart, he decided to go on home leave. From far away Madras, Lord Connemara began using the official machinery to intimidate him. Threats and blandishments were held out to get him to leave England before the trial. He was posted to Ireland. Surgeon-Major Briggs then met the Director General of the Army Medical Department and informed him in detail of the necessity for his having to stay back in England. He was posted to Woolwich from where he regularly travelled to London to meet Lady Connemara’s lawyers.
A few days before the divorce case, however, he was ordered to leave for India. It was clear that someone high up wanted him out of the way. Dr. Briggs decided to resign his commission with the army and stay on. Realising that the game was up, Lord Connemara went on leave on November 8, 1890, proceeding to England immediately.
The visitors’ gallery of Divorce Court No II was bursting at the seams on November 27, 1890, when Sir James Hannen sat to hear the case of Connemara vs Connemara. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was present at the behest of the Government. The trial was without a jury. Lady Connemara was present, heavily veiled and clad, rather appropriately, in black. A battery of Queen’s Counsel represented her – Sir Frank Lockwood, A. F. Bayford and G. Tahourdin. Lord Connemara was neither present nor represented. The case began with a summing up of the family backgrounds of the two parties and the distressing events that had followed. Doctors who had attended to the Connemara couple as far back as 1875 were summoned and they deposed on the nature of illnesses that they had treated. From what was said, it was surmised that Lady Connemara had suffered ‘cruelty’ at the hands of her husband almost since the early days of marriage.
The deposition of Hannah Moore was then read out. Dr. Briggs was asked to vouch for the veracity of it, which he did. He was then questioned as to whether he had committed adultery with Lady Connemara, which he denied. When Lady Connemara came up for questioning, there was considerable excitement. She slowly lifted her veil and mounted the stand, where she was allowed to sit. She detailed her version of the story, and when asked, said that there was not a word of truth in the canard that she had had a liaison with Dr. Briggs. Further evidence was to be called but the judge ruled this unnecessary as the respondent “had not thought it proper to appear”. The two charges had been established and a decree nisi with costs was granted.
Dr. Briggs then lobbied to get himself reinstated in the army. The Secretary of State for War, the Hon. Edward Stanhope, promised assistance and, in 1891, Dr. Briggs was taken back in the army. To his shock, however, he realised that he had been demoted by several ranks. He refused to accept the offer. Negotiations were opened once again. Questions were raised in the House of Commons, with Lockwood, Lady Connemara’s lawyer being an MP, taking up the matter. Stanhope assured the House that Briggs would be reinstated in full. The assurance was, however, never followed up with a gazette notification.
In the meanwhile, interests inimical to Briggs planted a letter in the Army and Navy Gazette. Signed by ‘Veritas’ it questioned the need for reinstating a man who had been a witness in a divorce. Dr. Briggs was quick to take offence. He wrote a long and detailed letter to the same publication, in which he accused the Director General of the Army Medical Department of succumbing to pressure from higher quarters and doing his very best to scuttle the career prospects of Dr Briggs. The letter was published and brought to the attention of Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. He ordered that reinstatement proceedings of Dr. Briggs be dropped at once as he had made serious allegations against senior officials.
The matter was once again raked up in Parliament by the indefatigable Lockwood. But Henry Campbell-Bannerman (later to be knighted and Prime Minister of England), who had succeeded Stanhope as Secretary of State for War, refused to go against the C-in-C’s orders. Dr. Briggs lost his commission forever. It was some consolation that he had through his ardours secured Lady Connemara’s affection. The two married in 1894 and lived a happy life till her passing away in 1898.
Lord Connemara, whose public career was finished with the lurid details of the divorce, married again in 1894. His new wife was Gertrude, widow of the mining millionaire E.J. Coleman. Queen Victoria never forgave Lady Connemara. In her view, it was less of a case against an erring peer of the realm and more of a besmirching of a Governor of Madras. It was the duty of the white races to set an example to the natives and by exposing her husband to the world Lady Connemara had brought down the image of the empire. She was never received in court while Lord Connemara with his new wife was made welcome. The second Lady Connemara died in 1898. Lord Connemara passed away in 1902.
What of Hannah Moore in the meanwhile? In 1891, a year after the Connemaras had gone their individual ways, the Marchioness of Huntley sued the Brighton Hotel Company for the loss of 1000 pounds worth of jewellery at the Bedford Hotel.
The hotel decided to fight the case, accusing Lady Huntley of carelessness. It also insinuated that her maid Hannah Moore had stolen the jewellery. She denied it and, to support her claim, furnished several testimonials from former employers. Among these was one from Lady Connemara, written after the divorce. She could not speak too highly, Lady Connemara wrote, of the fidelity and trustworthiness of Hannah Moore. Was this a character certificate a wife would ever write on a woman who had had an affair with her husband?
The newspapers speculated on whether Lady Huntley would have taken on a self-confessed adulteress into her employment. Those present in court felt that Hannah was hardly the type to have foolishly involved herself with any man, no matter how highly placed he was. This led to a debate on whether Lady Connemara and Dr. Briggs had paid Hannah to confess to adultery, which Lord Connemara had never committed, at least with her.
The last word is best left to The Star, published from New Zealand. Reporting on the matter on June 10, 1891, it ended its article thus – “The law of libel being what it is, one had better not speculate further”.