§ Lord Redesdale
said, he rose to present a petition of more than ordinary importance. It was from Wm. Turner, esq. of Shrigleypark, in Cheshire; and prayed that their lordships would be pleased to allow a bill to be brought in, which should declare the marriage between his daughter, Ellen Turner, a maiden, under sixteen years of age, and Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to be null and void. With respect to the circumstances under which this marriage had taken place, it would be necessary for him to observe, that the parties concerned in bringing it about, had been lately tried and found guilty "of a conspiracy to carry away Miss E. Turner, and afterwards to compel her, by fraud and intimidation, to marry the said E. G. Wakefield." The case was an extremely novel one; for there had been none such for the last century. The only one of any thing like a similar nature with which he was acquainted, 788 took place in the year 1691. The daughter of a Mr. Wharton had been run away with, and compelled to marry a Mr. Campbell. She was subsequently rescued from him; and a bill was brought into parliament, for the purpose of dissolving the said marriage. The bill had been first brought forward in the House of Commons; when it was determined, that the young lady was competent to give evidence, upon the principle, that, without her's, the body of evidence must necessarily be incomplete. The noble lord said, he had recommended the line of conduct which it was Mr. Turner's intention to pursue. From a consideration of the novelty of the case, he had been anxious that a petition should, in the first place, be laid before their lordships, and referred to a committee of the whole House. He was convinced that by these means the subject would be discussed with the most advantage.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, that the first thing to be taken into consideration was, whether the marriage was or was not valid; as the marriage must be proved to be valid, before their lordships could proceed to dissolve it.
§ Lord Redesdale
said, that what the noble earl had just stated, afforded a strong reason for referring the petition to a committee of the whole House; in which all questions falling under their consideration could be discussed.
§ The Earl of Eldon
said, he did not rise with the intention of giving a judicial opinion upon the subject. He was merely anxious to throw out a few suggestions for the consideration of their lordships. Taking the marriage to be valid, or taking it to be invalid, in consequence of force having been used, their lordships should consider, that before they could proceed to set aside that marriage, they should be satisfied that it was held to be a valid marriage. He apprehended, that the case was one of a very peculiar nature; and that its peculiarity arose from the difficulty of having a decision in the Ecclesiastical Courts, upon a suit brought forward for the purpose of setting aside the marriage. If he had been rightly informed, the difficulty turned upon this circumstance—that the evidence of Miss Turner would not be received; but if that evidence could be received, although not in that court, the question for their lordships would be simply this: whether they would or would 789 not interfere? In the case of Wharton v. Campbell, in which the lady had been taken away by force, the court decided upon the principle of the statute of Henry 7th, and held that, although after the lady had been forcibly carried off, a marriage might have been entered into, with her full consent, that subsequent consent was not sufficient to quash the previous force. Such a case as that to which their lordships' attention was then called, he believed had never yet been heard of in a civilized country; or, at least, in a country so highly civilized as England. And, provided their lordships could satisfy themselves that the lady's evidence, if given in the Ecclesiastical Court, would be sufficient to satisfy that court that the marriage was not valid—and if they could satisfy themselves, that the Ecclesiastical Court would decide that there was no marriage—the question for their lordships to consider would be, whether (since, of necessity, various processes must he carried on in the Ecclesiastical Court before there could be a decision there), they would or would not, under all the circumstances of the case, then think proper to bestow more prompt justice? Such was, at least, his view of the subject.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, there was still another view which ought to be taken of the subject. He was of opinion, that it would be much better to have a general act passed, to legalize evidence such as that which appeared to be so essential in the present case, than for their lordships to assume a dangerous jurisdiction, and take upon themselves to decide points of law, which did not, in the first instance, fall within their proper cognizance.
It was then ordered, that the petition be referred to a committee of the whole House, on Thursday next.