Bigamy in Birmingham: the tale of Horatio and Mrs Hoskins

Mary Ann - fifth entry - appeared before the Warwick Assizes under her first married name of Brown.

Mary Ann – fifth entry – appeared before the Warwick Assizes under her first married name of Brown.

At the Loughborough Petty Sessions in April 1846, a Mrs Hoskins charged her husband with having committed bigamy.

This was not unusual; bigamy cases appeared fairly often in court during the 18th and 19th centuries; as David J Cox has stated:

“before men and women could divorce on equal terms and without blame being apportioned, bigamy was seen as one way in which men (or less usually, women) could evade an unhappy and sometimes dangerous marriage and begin afresh.” [1]

But this case had a couple of differences.

Firstly, the man accused, Horatio Huntley Hoskins, was an attorney from a good background, and also the author of a couple of published works: Count De Denia: Or, The Spaniard’s Ransom (1841) and De Valencourt: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1842, written with his brother).

But secondly, Horatio Hoskins had previously accused his wife of bigamy – a case that had been heard at the Warwick Assizes a month earlier. His wife had been acquitted, but she then attempted to get her own back on her husband by accusing him of the same offence.

The details, as given in a brief piece in the local paper, were as follows.

At the petty sessions, Horatio, who was working as an attorney in Loughborough, admitted having been married twice, but then:

“[he] introduced into court a person by the name of Brown, who swore that he was the husband of Mrs Hoskins; and her marriage with Mr Hoskins, as it was therefore contended, illegal. Some doubts were attempted to be thrown on the identity of this first husband of Mrs Hoskins, and she utterly denied and repudiated him, but the magistrates gave credit to his evidence, and dismissed the case.” [2]

I looked into the backgrounds of both Horatio and his wife, to see who was telling the truth here, and it emerged that neither was entirely innocent.

Horatio's childhood home of Newton Park - photo by MJ Richardson.

Horatio’s childhood home of Newton Park – photo by MJ Richardson.

Horatio Huntley Hoskins was the son of Abraham Hoskins, also an attorney, a wealthy man who had Newton Park, in Newton Solney, south Derbyshire, built for him.

Horatio would have grown up in a privileged environment, and, no doubt, his father would have expected his son to make a successful career and make a good match in marriage.

However, it is possible that the Hoskins sons rebelled against their father – Horatio’s brother and co-writer in his youthful plays, William, was an actor – not always a terribly salubrious occupation in Victorian England, describing himself in 1841 as a ‘leading tragedian’ and in 1851 as a ‘comedian’. [3]

William married an American-born singer and actress, Julia Susanna Wallack, who was known professionally as Julia Harland, in 1842. [4]

Whether Mary Ann would have been deemed a better marital choice than Julia Susanna, though, is a matter of speculation.

Her background is unknown, but I believe that she was born Mary Ann Hodgkins, and married William Brown in Birmingham in the summer of 1837, when she was between 17 and 20 years old (records differ – the notoriously unreliable 1841 census gives her age as 20; at the Warwick Assizes in 1846, her age was given as 29). [5]

Two years after her marriage to Brown, in the autumn or winter of 1839, again in Birmingham, Mary Ann Brown married Huntley Hoskins [sic]; Hoskins was, at the time, serving as an articled clerk, having started a five year apprenticeship at the age of 18 that saw him working for at least three different solicitors. [6]

This means that Mary Ann certainly committed bigamy in 1839, assuming that the Brown who appeared before petty sessions in 1846 WAS her husband William.

In 1841, Horatio and Mary Ann Hoskins were living at 2 Darlington Place, Southwark, where the 20-year-old Horatio was described as being ‘independent’. [7]

Perhaps he and Mary Ann had separated by this point. Hoskins continued working, and in 1843 was back in London. But in the summer of 1845, he married Fanny Warner in her home county of Leicestershire, where he appears to have now been working, despite Mary Ann being still very much alive. [8]

Did Horatio know for sure by this point that Mary Ann had committed bigamy in marrying in, and so was confident that this marriage was illegal? Or had he been unaware, and, having separated from Mary Ann, committed bigamy himself (in the belief that his first marriage was legal)? Or, a final option, perhaps he had been aware all along of Mary Ann’s youthful first marriage, and had simply ignored it in order to be with her?

There is no way of telling, although it is interesting that Mary Ann had been acquitted of bigamy at the Assizes. Had she convinced the jury that she had thought her first husband was dead, perhaps?

As an attorney, Hoskins had certainly used his skills to track down Mary Ann’s legal husband and persuade him to be a witness in the case at petty sessions.

The gendered nature of Victorian justice might be seen in the fact that Hoskins’ second marriage was not the subject of disapproval – despite Hoskins admitting that he had married twice knowing Mary Ann to be alive and his excuse that her marriage to him had been illegal anyway – and that more credence was placed on the evidence of a stranger than on Mary Ann’s previous acquittal.

What happened to Mary Ann is unknown. But five years after the case, in 1851, Horatio Hoskins was still living with the remarkably forgiving Fanny in Lambeth, where he continued to thrive as an attorney. [9]  Shortly afterwards, he seems to have emigrated to Australia, where he died in 1876. [10]

Mary Ann retreated into the shadows of history after this case; but I’d love to know what she did next.


1. David J Cox, “‘Trying to get a good one’: Bigamy offences in England and Wales, 1850-1950”, Plymouth Law and Criminal Justice Review, 4 (2011), 2

2. The Leicester Chronicle, 2 May 1846

3. 1851 census, return for St John Street Road [sic], Clerkenwell

4. Marriage entry for William Hoskins and Julia Susannah [sic] Wallack, Medway district, Sep 1842, vol 5, page 427, accessed via Free BMD. Julia was the daughter of London actor and manager Henry Wallack (source: Drury Lane Fund)

5. Marriage entry for William Brown and Mary Ann Hodgkins, Birmingham district, Sep 1837, vol 16, page 244, accessed via Free BMD

6. Articles of Clerkship, 1756-1874, accessed via Ancestry

7. 1841 census, return for Darlington Place, Southwark

8. Marriage entry for Horatio Huntley Hoskins and Fanny Warner, Ashby de la Zouch district, Sept 1845, vol 15, page 3, accessed via Free BMD

9. 1851 census, return for Palace New Road, Lambeth

10. Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, accessed via Ancestry


One thought on “Bigamy in Birmingham: the tale of Horatio and Mrs Hoskins

  1. I just searched on Trove, and came up with this, from the Melbourne Age, 25-8-1851:
    IN the Supreme Court of the Colony or Victoria—
    I, Horatio Huntley Hoskins, lately residing
    at number sixty-nine, Saint John-street road, in the
    county of Middlesex, which said county of Middlesex
    is that part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain
    and Ireland called England, but now residing at Hunt-
    ley Lodge, Madeline-street, North Melbourne, in the
    Colony of Victoria, Gentleman, and the Attorneys of
    Her Majesty’s Court of Queens Bench of Westminster
    and a Solicitor of the High Court of Chancery in Eng-
    land, do hereby give notice that I intend, on the last
    day of the ensuing term, to apply to be admitted as At-
    torney, Solicitor and Proctor of this Honorable Court
    and that my name and admission may be enrolled by
    the proper officer of the said Court.—Dated the seven-
    tenth day of August, one thousand eight hundred and

    Sounds as if he headed for the gold diggings almost as soon as news reached England.


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