The Shrigley abduction was an 1826 British case of a forced marriage by Edward Gibbon Wakefield to the 15-year-old heiress Ellen Turner of Pott Shrigley. The couple were married in Gretna Green, Scotland, and travelled to Calais before Turner’s father was able to notify the authorities and intervene. The marriage was annulled by Parliament, and Turner was legally married two years later, at the age of 17, to a wealthy neighbour of her class. Both Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his brother William, who had aided him, were convicted at trial and sentenced to three years in prison.
Ellen Turner was the daughter and only child of William Turner, a wealthy resident of Pott Shrigley, Cheshire, England, who owned calico printing and spinning mills. At the time of the abduction, Turner was a High Sheriff of Cheshire. He lived in Shrigley Hall, near Macclesfield. Fifteen years old heiress, Ellen Turner attracted the interest of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. He conspired with his brother William Wakefield to marry her for her inheritance.
Edward Gibbon Wakefield was 30 years old; he had been a King’s Messenger (diplomatic courier) as a teenager, and later became a diplomat. At the age of 20, he had eloped to Scotland with a 17-year-old heiress, Eliza Pattle. Her mother accepted the marriage and settled £70,000 on the young couple.
Eliza died four years later in 1820 after giving birth to her third child. Wakefield had political ambitions and wanted more money. He tried to break his father-in-law’s will and was suspected of perjury and forgery. He appeared to have based his plan to marry Ellen Turner on the expectation that her parents would respond as the Mrs Pattle had.
On 7 March 1827, Wakefield sent his servant Edward Thevenot with a carriage to Liverpool, where Ellen was a pupil at a boarding school. Thevenot presented a message to the Misses Daulby, the mistresses of the school. (The Misses Daulby were the daughters of Daniel Daulby, a well-known Liverpool collector and author of The Collected Works of Rembrandt (1796).) The message stated that Mrs Turner had become paralyzed and wished to see her daughter immediately. The Misses Daulby were initially suspicious of the fact that Ellen did not recognize Thevenot, but eventually let him take her away.
Thevenot took Ellen Turner to Manchester and the Hotel Albion to meet Wakefield. Wakefield told her her father’s business had collapsed, and Wakefield had agreed to take her to Carlisle, where Turner had supposedly fled to escape his creditors.
The party proceeded to Kendal, where the next day Wakefield told Ellen her father was a fugitive. He claimed two banks had agreed that some of her father’s estate would be transferred to her or, to be exact, her husband. He said his banker uncle had proposed Wakefield marry Ellen, and if she would agree to marry him, her father would be saved. Ellen allowed them to take her to Carlisle. There they met Edward’s brother William Wakefield, who claimed to have spoken to Turner and gotten his agreement to the marriage.
Ellen finally consented and the Wakefields took her over the border of Scotland to Gretna Green, a favored place of elopement for those who wanted to exploit the less strict marriage laws of Scotland. There Ellen and Edward were married by blacksmith David Laing.
They returned to Carlisle, where Ellen said she wanted to see her father. Wakefield agreed to take her to Shrigley, but instead took her to Leeds. Wakefield then claimed he had a meeting in Paris he could not postpone and had to go to France by way of London. He sent his brother off, ostensibly to invite Turner to meet them in London. Wakefield and Ellen continued to London. In London, Wakefield, accompanied by Ellen, pretended to inquire after his brother and Turner. At Blake’s Hotel, a valet told them Turner and Wakefield had gone to France. Edward Wakefield and Ellen had to follow them, and he took her to Calais.
After a few days, Miss Daulby became concerned. Turner and his wife received a letter from Wakefield, stating he had married Ellen. Wakefield may have expected the Turners to accept the marriage rather than face a public scandal. Instead, Turner went to London and asked for help from the Foreign Secretary. Learning his daughter had been taken to the European mainland, Turner sent his brother to Calais, accompanied by a police officer and a solicitor. There they soon found the couple staying in an hotel.
Wakefield claimed since they were legally married, Ellen could not be taken from him by force. After interviewing the girl, the French authorities let her leave the country with her uncle. Wakefield wrote a statement attesting that Ellen was still a virgin, and he left for Paris.
Arrest and Trial
The British Foreign Secretary had issued a warrant for the Wakefields’ arrest; William was arrested in Dover a couple of days later. He was taken to Cheshire, where magistrates debated his offence. They committed him to Lancaster Castle to await trial. The Court of King’s Bench later released him on £2,000 bail and two sureties of £1,000 each.
Edward Thevenot and the Wakefields’ stepmother Frances were indicted as accomplices. Both brothers and their stepmother appeared in court and pled “not guilty.” Thevenot, who was still in France, was indicted for felony in absentia. On 23 March 1827 all three defendants were put on trial in Lancaster. The jury found all guilty the same day. They were committed to Lancaster Castle the following day.
On 14 May the Wakefields were taken to the Court of King’s Bench in Westminster Hall in London. William testified his actions were guided by his brother. Edward Wakefield swore the legal expenses had exceeded £3,000. The court sentenced the brothers to three years in prison, Edward in Newgate and William in Lancaster Castle. Frances Wakefield was released. The marriage was later annulled by Act of Parliament.
After his release, Edward Wakefield became active in prison reform. He became involved in colonial affairs, and had roles in the development of South Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. William Wakefield became an early leader in the colonization of New Zealand.
William Turner was elected Member of Parliament for Blackburn as a Whig in 1832, serving until 1841. At the age of 17, Ellen Turner married Thomas Legh, a wealthy neighbour. She died in childbirth at the age of 19 and was survived by a daughter.