The Times, Wednesday, Nov 15, 1876; pg. 10; Issue 28787; col E




(Before Vice-Chancellor Sir RICHARD MALINS.)


The plaintiff instituted this suit as Sir Frederick Henry VANE, heretofore commonly called Frederick Henry VANE, against Henry Ralph VANE, heretofore commonly called Sir Henry Ralph VANE, and others, to obtain a declaration that the plaintiff, as the eldest legitimate son of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE, deceased, is, under the will of Sir Lionel Wright FLETCHER, deceased, entitled to the estates devised by that will, and still remaining unsold, as tenant in tail male in possession; that the defendants may be ordered to deliver up to the plaintiff the possession of the estates, and for an account of the rents and profits of them. The plaintiff’s case was to this effect: - Sir Lionel Wright FLETCHER died on the 19th of July, 1786, having devised the estates in question, which are in Cumberland and Westmoreland, to trustees, for his son Frederick Fletcher VANE, for his life, with remainder to his first and other sons, lawfully begotten, in tail male. On the 9th of March, 1797, Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE married Miss Hannah BOWERBANK, by whom he had previously had, as the plaintiff alleged, three illegitimate children. The first of those children was a girl, born on the 22d of August, 1794, and afterwards called Hannah VANE. The second was born on the 9th of July, 1795, and afterwards called Walter VANE. After the birth of Walter VANE the intimacy between his parents still continued, and they lived together at various places in Cumberland, and among others at Broughton-hall, in the parish of Bride Kirk, in that county. Miss BOWERBANK again became pregnant. Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE then took lodgings for her at Bushey, in Hertfordshire, whither she went in January, 1797. He was deeply attached to her, and had repeatedly promised to marry her. Soon after her going to Bushey, and before the birth of her third child, she threatened him that if he did not marry her he should never see her or her children again. He then told her he had got the licence for their marriage, and that she was to get ready and go with him the next morning. The suddenness of the whole proceeding on his part had such an effect upon her that she was prematurely delivered in the course of that day – the 9th of March, 1797 – of a third child, afterwards called Francis Fletcher VANE. As soon, however, as Miss BOWERBANK had sufficiently recovered – viz., on the same 9th of March, 1797 – she was taken by Sir Frederick to London, and then and there married to him, at the Church of St. George the Martyr, Queen’s-square, Bloomsbury. On the 16th of April, 1797, Francis Fletcher VANE was baptised at that church, and the entry of his baptism in the register now stands thus: - “16, Francis Fletcher, born March 29th, 1797, son of Sir Frederick Fletcher and Hannah VANE, Great Ormond-street.” The plaintiff insisted that it was evident from the colour of the ink and other circumstances, and that it was the fact, that the entry had been tempered with; and that the words and figures, “born March 29th, 1797,” were added some time after the original entry was made. The plaintiff further alleged that both Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE and Lady VANE were informed by their doctor, and believed, that after the birth of Francis Fletcher VANE they would never have another child born alive, and that Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE accordingly determined to, and did, bring up Francis Fletcher VANE as his legitimate son, born after the marriage. With that view, Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE procured the words, “born March 29th, 1797,” to be added to the entry of the baptism. In 1801 Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE and Lady VANE removed from London to the family mansion in Cumberland, which was at Hutton-in-the-Forest, whence they went to Armathwaite-hall, in the same county. All the three children were there called by the name of VANE, and Francis Fletcher VANE was introduced to society by his father as his legitimate son and heir apparent. After the removal, however, to Armathwaite-hall, Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE and Lady VANE had two other children – viz., Sophia Mercy VANE, who was born on the 18th of March, 1802, and the plaintiff, who was born on the 10th of May, 1807. Francis Fletcher VANE attained the age of 21 years in March, 1818. On the day on which he was supposed to have done so, he had an exciting interview with his father at Armathwaite-hall. The plaintiff met him coming from the room, crying and evidently much agitated, and the plaintiff believed that his father then told Francis Fletcher VANE that he was illegitimate, and that the plaintiff was, in fact, his father’s rightful heir apparent. However that might have been, the plaintiff alleged that Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE concurred with Francis Fletcher VANE, as his eldest legitimate son, in a re-settlement of the estates, the particulars of which the plaintiff did not know. The evidence showed that Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE was for some reason averse from his son Francis Fletcher VANE’s marrying, and on one occasion forbade his fulfilment of an engagement with a young lady of good fortune, family, and great personal attractions. In April, 1823, however, Francis Fletcher VANE married Miss Diana Olivia BEAUCLERK, when a settlement was executed, with respect to which the plaintiff insisted that Mr. BEAUCLERK and his daughter were aware of the true circumstances of Francis Fletcher’s birth, and that Mr. BEAUCLERK took advantage of the power that knowledge gave him over Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE, and obtained from him a much more favourable settlement that otherwise would have been made. After that marriage Francis Fletcher VANE went to reside at Hutton-hall, and received the rents of the estates settled on him and his wife. Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE died in 1832, and Francis Fletcher VANE then assumed the title of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE. He had three children by his marriage with Miss BEAUCLERK – viz., the defendant, Henry Ralph VANE, his eldest son, born in the year 1830; Frederick Fletcher VANE, the younger, who was born in 1832 and died in 1865; and Gertrude Elizabeth, afterwards Mrs. WING. Sir Francis Fletcher VANE died in 1842; and thereupon his eldest son, the defendant, Sir Henry Ralph VANE, entered into the possession of the estates. He had since married and re-settled the property, but there had been no issue of that marriage. Lady VANE, formerly Miss BOWERBANK, died in December, 1866, at the advanced age of 93 years. The plaintiff said that she used to keep entries in books concerning the births of her children, and had made divers statements to various persons about the births of her children, and particularly as to that of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE, from all which entries and statements the truth of the plaintiff’s case would appear. The plaintiff had been in the 12th Lancers, but sold out in 1829. From that time till 1859 he was seldom in Cumberland. He went down there to attend the funeral of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE in 1842, and in 1856 paid a visit to Lady VANE at Armathwaite-hall. In October, 1866, he and his wife paid Lady Diana Olivia VANE a visit, in the course of which a conversation passed between her and the plaintiff’s wife, in which Lady Diana, in a state of great agitation, told the plaintiff’s wife that she (Lady Diana) knew at the time of her marriage of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE’s illegitimacy, and that Mr. BEAUCLERK had told her of it. The plaintiff’s wife afterwards told him the purport of what she had heard. Till that moment the plaintiff had never heard of the rumours, but on being informed of them he opened negotiations with the defendant, Sir Henry Ralph VANE, with a view to some amicable arrangement of the case. Those negotiations were, however, broken off in 1871, and in 1872 the bill was filed in this suit, praying the relief already mentioned. A portion of the property had been sold, but there still remained a considerable estate – about £8,000 a year. The plaintiff’s case was that there had been a systematic fraud perpetrated upon him by the ancestors of his nephew, of which Lady Diana Olivia VANE and her father were cognizant, but which, having been concealed from the plaintiff for so many years, justified him in taking these proceedings to recover the property. Two demurrers were put to the bill in the suit – one by Sir Henry Ralph VANE, and the other by his mother, the widow of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE. Those demurrers came on to be heard before this branch of the Court on the 4th and 5th of November, 1872, when they were overruled. The hearing of them was reported in The Times of the 6th of November, 1872. The decision so pronounced was affirmed by the Lords Justices on the 18th of January, 1873. The defendants then put in their answers to the bill, from which it appeared that on the 3d of May, 1802, a bill was filed in the Court of Chancery to perpetuate testimony of the fact that Francis Fletcher VANE was born after the marriage of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE and Hannah Lady VANE, and was the first legitimate son and heir apparent of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE. That bill stated the marriage of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE with Hannah BOWERBANK – as to the accuracy of which statement there was no dispute between the parties – and described the plaintiff in it as “the eldest son, lawfully begotten, of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE, Baronet, by Hannah, his wife, late Hannah BOWERBANK, spinster, an infant under the age of 21 years – that was to say, of the age of four years or thereabouts – by Edward HAZELL, his next friend;” and as “born on the 29th of March, 1797.” That suit of 1802 was instituted because for about four years after their marriage Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE kept his wife and his three children away from Cumberland, and they resided during that time at Putney, in Surrey, and at other places in or about London. In 1801 they removed (as already observed) to the family mansion at Hutton-in-the-Forest, and took with them the three children. The defendants, Sir Henry Ralph VANE and the others, strenuously denied the charges of fraud, concealed or otherwise, on which the plaintiff relied, and emphatically insisted on the legitimacy of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE. The cause came on to be heard on the merits on Monday morning. Several witnesses have been examined and cross-examined in open court. The hearing of the cause has occupied the attention of the Court during the whole of Monday and to-day. The plaintiff’s case rests entirely on his being able to prove that Sir Francis Fletcher VANE was born before his parents’marriage, while the defendants’ counsel allege that they are perfectly competent to establish that Sir Francis Fletcher VANE was born in wedlock. The proof of the plaintiff’s assertion rested, after so many years, upon conversations said to have passed between Lady VANE and other parties on the subject, at various times, up to her death. Lady VANE’s faculties were, to some extent, impaired by years. Among the witnesses called to support the plaintiff’s case was a Mrs. ROUTLEDGE, who, however, appeared to have been only 15 years old when she heard the conversation to which she deposed, and did not, in other respects, strengthen the case. A Mr. Jackson GILLBANKS, a Justice of the Peace, said that Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE was a man of violent disposition. He used to see him come to witness’s father’s house when witness was a boy. Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE was in the habit of calling all persons “bastards.” He called witness a bastard; so he did his pony! Witness recollected Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE coming over to see witness’s father, and speaking of the BEAUCLERK family as a very good one, in reference to Sir Francis Fletcher VANE’s then intended marriage with Miss BEAUCLERK. Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE said of it, “Yes; there is plenty of blood, but no groats,” meaning that he would have to find the money for an allowance to his son. After it there was “war to the knife” between the parties. The witness said he was about five or six years old at the time the marriage of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE, and he well remembered the circumstances connected with it. It appeared, however, that the witness was born on the 5th of November, 1820, and, as the marriage was in April, 1823, he must have been but two years and seven months old at the time.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR said the witness had recklessly stated that which must have passed when he was little more than two years and a half old and which could not possibly be remembered by him. His Lordship said he much regretted the consequence of that, but he must entirely discredit the whole of his evidence.

It should be also stated that other portions of the evidence went to show that when Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE went to Mr. BEAUCLERK to discuss the marriage of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE with Lady Diana Olivia, his wife, Sir Frederick told Mr. BEAUCLERK that Sir Francis Fletcher was “a bastard,” and that Mr. BEAUCLERK, in his indignation, struck Sir Frederick, who went home with “a black eye” from the interview. Another witness, Dr. HORCY, who had married Sophia Mercy VANE, the plaintiff’s legitimate sister, said that Lady VANE made two wills; the first before 1864, giving his wife a benefit, the second in 1864, not doing so. That second will was against the plaintiff’s wife, but in his favour. Lady VANE was then within two years of her death; and an inquiry into her state of mind, at her great age, showed she was then unfit to make a will. The earlier will was acted on. The witness said he should not have attached any importance to any statement of Lady VANE affecting the honour of her family. The witness believed his wife did not know of Sir Frederick Fletcher VANE’s illegitimacy till a short time before she told witness of it, and that was in or about 1866. She never questioned the legitimacy of Sir Francis Fletcher VANE till after the dispute arose in this case. The witness himself never doubted it, but regarded the idea of it as a mere crotchet. The plaintiff himself was placed in the box for cross-examination a short time before the rising of the Court, and his evidence will be proceeded with to-morrow morning at the sitting of the Court.

Mr. GLASSE, Q.C., Mr. Serjeant BALLANTINE and Mr. R. Newton SMART were for the plaintiff; the Attorney-General (Sir John HOLKER, Q.C.), Mr. J. PEARSON, Q.C., Mr. DAVEY, Q.C., and Mr. NORTH were for the principal defendants; Mr. Mounsey HYSHAM was for the trustees.