Seaford dispute that ended in London courts

Corsica Hall
Corsica Hall

LAST time I wrote about a dispute between Thomas Henry Harben of Corsica Hall, Seaford and Lieutenant Henry Rowed of the Royal Navy station at Seaford.

Lt Rowed had admitted the assault at an earlier court hearing but appealed against his conviction. The case came up in front of Lord Ellenborough at the court of the King’s Bench in London on November 27, 1802 (a Saturday).

Rowed told the court how he had been commended for bravery by no less than the Duke of York following his command of a gun-boat on an attack of Holland. He said that when he came to Seaford to command a navy cutter (ship) his wife had become friends with Mrs Jane Harben and often visited her. (the Harbens lived at Corsica Hall)

Lieutenant Rowed said he had not become friends with Harben as he believed that his conduct with his wife was improper, indeed he claimed that Mrs Harben had asked him for protection due to the unreasonable behaviour of her husband. He said she was seeking a divorce and had moved into the house of her brother Mr Durand. (Their father was John Durand, who had been MP for Seaford between 1780 and 1784). Rowed further told the court that a few weeks earlier he had passed Harben who was escorting two ladies in a carriage in Alfriston ‘where the road divided’ (probably the Market Cross) and that Harben had tried to provoke him by ‘making ridiculous faces at him’.

Thomas Henry Harben then took to the witness box. He admitted that his relationship with his wife had deteriorated and that her affection for him had decreased, but said that this was not due to his own misconduct. He claimed that Lieutenant Rowed had taken ‘improper freedoms’ with his wife and he had once witnessed him pinch her thigh. He also claimed that Rowed had taken his wife Jane to Lewes where they had shared a room at the Star Inn (a room adjoining a bedroom no less!). When he had reproached his wife she had said that she ‘had gone to please herself – and that she had indeed been pleased’!

Harben claimed that Lieutenant Rowed had moved into the house of Mr Durand (where his wife was living) and was pretending to be his butler. He also claimed that Mrs Rowed was Mr Durand’s mistress. (Apparently this is what had provoked the assault.)

Harben admitted that he had met Rowed in Alfriston but gave a different version of events. He said that he had been travelling in a curricle (a two-wheeled carriage) with two ladies when Lieutenant Rowed had leant into the carriage saying, ‘Ladies, you are riding with a man bred behind the counter. He is no gentleman. He would not fight me but took the law to me’.

It was later proved that Rowed had told other people that was it not for Harben’s illness he would have ‘called him out’ (in other words challenged him to a duel.)

The lawyer for Lieutenant Rowed, Mr Serjeant Best summed up by telling the court how brave his client had been in the past, but Lord Ellenborough interrupted him saying ‘You push the argument too far – because a man has fought the King’s enemies, he is not therefore to attack his subjects’. Serjeant Best went on to say that his client was a gentleman of honour and was provoked by a man who had ‘prostituted the virtue of his wife’.

Lord Ellenborough complained that much of the information during the trial could have been spared as it bore no relation to the actual offence. Lieutenant Henry Rowed was found guilty of the assault and was fined £50 (the equivalent of about £2,000 today); he was also bound over to keep the peace for three years in the sum of £300 (about £10,000 today). He was obviously not able to pay this sum as he was immediately taken into custody by the Court Tipstaff who committed him to the Kings Bench Prison.

A reporter for the Sussex Advertiser was in the court and said that he had been shocked by the trial, particularly the ‘indecent and barbaric’ accusations made by Rowed.

The newspaper goes on to say that despite his injuries Harben was a local magistrate and attended court weekly and that he enjoyed the comforts of his children, his friends, the bottle and field sports. Indeed it is reported that on June 26, 1802 Harben had caught 1,000 mackerel while fishing (presumably with nets) in Seaford Bay.

I can find no further information about the feud between Thomas Henry Harben and Lieutenant Henry Rowed – maybe Rowed moved abroad – in 1825 a now Captain Rowed attended the marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth-Anne in Paris.

In April 1811 Harben sold Corsica Hall and presumably left Seaford – I wonder if he took his wife with him?