An Abernethy Breach of Promise Case

The following article was published in the Dundee Courier on 19 October 1875 and concerns a breach of promise case made against a Robert Wishart, who was a partner in the firm Ireland & Wishart, and a local woman named Elizabeth Douglas Davidson.  Robert was born about 1842 in Abernethy, and was the son of David Wishart and Janet Scott.  His younger brother James was also a partner at the firm, and Robert was the uncle of David Wishart, who wrote the Wishart book in 1914.  A ‘breach of promise’ is described as “a man’s promise of engagement to marry a woman was considered, in many jurisdictions, a legally binding contract. If the man were to subsequently change his mind, he would be said to be in “breach” of this promise and subject to litigation for damages.”  Such law was abolished in Scotland during the 20th Century.

DAVIDSON v. WISHART.

spriteIn the Outer House of the Court of Session yesterday – before Lord Craighill – an action of damage for breach of promise of marriage was called at the instance of Elizabeth Douglas Davidson, daughter of and residing with Alexander Davidson, salmon fisher, Abernethy, against Robert Wishart, manufacturer there. The sum concluded is for £500. In her statement the pursuer says that she is about 33 years of age, and that the defender, who is of about the same age, is a manufacturer, and partner of the firm of Ireland & Wishart, linen manufacturers, Abernethy, and has for a number of years represented himself as such to the pursuer of others. He takes an active part in the management and superintendence of the work of the said firm, carried on in Abernethy. He is possessed of considerable means. Both parties are natives of Abernethy and have chiefly been resident in that small town. They have known each other from childhood, but only became intimate in the beginning of 1870. About the end of April of that year the defender, on meeting the pursuer, asked her to accompany him on a walk, and on that occasion he professed his having fallen in love with her, and solicited her to become his wife. He said that previously the pursuer, when he was only a fisherman, would not look at him, but now that he had acquired means and bought the bulk of the house in which the manufacturing business was carried on he had become her equal, and he hoped she would accept him as her husband. From that date they met one another as lovers, and an assiduous courtship was carried on by the defender. During 1870 they were in the habit of meeting one another once or twice every week, and taking walks together, during which the defender paid his addresses to her as his sweetheart and intended wife. In October, 1870, the defender called at the house of the pursuer’s father where she lived, and was there received as a lover saying his addresses to the pursuer, whom he solicited in marriage. After that occasion he continued to visit the pursuer at her father’s house about twice every week, and generally stayed with the pursuer in her room from eight until ten o’clock at night. During these visits he repeatedly referred to their intended marriage in the presence of the pursuer’s sisters and others. In this way the defender continued to visit and court the pursuer in view of their marriage, and they promised and agreed to marry one another as soon as this could be conveniently done.

In 1871 the defender’s visits to the pursuer were continued several times in the week, and it was known to the relatives and friends of the pursuer and defender that they had promised to marry one another, and the marriage presents were spoken about. Both the pursuer and the defender talked about their intended marriage, and the defender has frequently refereed to it in conversation with others. The marriage was put off from time to time to suit the convenience of the defender. In the beginning of 1873 the defender stated that they were to build a new factory, and after the work was commenced in it that they would get married. He frequently spoke of taking a house, and it is understood that he endeavoured to get a house belonging to Mr Brown in Abernethy, in which they were to live, and latterly he stated to the pursuer that a new house was to be built in 1874 in the immediate neighbourhood of the factory. With the exception of a slight quarrel between the pursuer and defender in or about the month of June, 1873, which was shortly thereafter made up, the defender down to the end of the year 1873 assiduously paid his advances to the pursuer, frequently spoke of their intended marriage, explained to the pursuer his position and the amount of property he had acquired, and was, so far as the pursuer is aware, constant and earnest in his attentions to her. The defender’s conduct, however, underwent a change early in the year 1874. His visits then began to be irregular, and he frequently did not call upon the pursuer at the times he had previously said he would. These irregularities he excused by pretended business engagements. But his conduct to the pursuer became cold and distant, and at last he altogether ceased to visit the pursuer in the beginning of March, 1874. About this time the pursuer began to hear rumours of his paying attentions to a Jane Murray, who wrought in the factory, and he was married to her in the beginning of May, 1875. The pursuer’s agent, Mr Henry Whyte, solicitor, Perth, on 11th may wrote a letter to the defender on the subject, but to this he returned no answer.

The pursuer has suffered, and will continue to suffer, serious loss and damage by and through the defender’s breach of promise of marriage. She has thereby been deeply wounded in her feelings and injured her prospects in life; and as the defender declines to make any reparation to her for the injuries which he has inflicted, she is under the necessity of raising the present action, and therefore pleads that the defender is liable in damages as concluded for, with expenses.

The Courier subsequently followed up the case on 14 December, reporting that:

spriteThis action, it may be remembered, was raised by Elizabeth Douglas Davidson, daughter of and residing with Alex Davidson, salmon fisher, Abernethy, against Robert Wishart, manufacturer there. The pursuer sought to recover £500 of damages for an alleged breach of promise of marriage. The case was set down for trial by jury today, but before the trial commenced the parties agreed upon a compromise, the defender not admitting but on the contrary denying that a promise had ever been made by him to the pursuer; but for the sake of avoiding the publicity of a trial, he tended the sum of £100 and expenses in full of the pursuer’s claim, which offer was accepted.