He said, She said – The tale of an 18th century Estrangement

Generally, the publication of women's names in 18th and 19th century Irish newspapers was limited to societal notes about the arrivals and departures of the various and sundry Lords and Ladies Lah-dee-dah. The local newspapers could also be relied upon to report fêtes given by the resident Countess to others of the nobility and gentry, as also church picnics to Sunday school children, or Christmas meals and donations of clothing to the unfortunate inhabitants of workhouses. In contrast, very few women of any other class warranted a mention in the newspaper ... unless the story involved a crime—which became popular fodder for news consumption during the 19th century—or, then as now, if a scandal were involved.

As early as the mid-1700s, the columns of The Belfast News-Letter featured the occasional notice from a disgruntled husband whose wife had eloped. Details tended to be confined to (a) the fact of the elopement, and on what date, and (b) a declaration by the aggrieved husband that he would make good her accounts no longer. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for a woman to leave a marriage in the olden days while retaining her good name, some semblance of dignity, and a roof over her head. How much worse her lot, then, to be portrayed the transgressor!

... for Reasons he does not like to publish, ...

And so, on the 10th of March 1769, John Marshall of Mullaghmossagh (parish of Aghaloo, county Tyrone) published such a notice in the News-Letter: his wife, Jane Marshall otherwise Frazier had left him fourteen months earlier and taken up residence at Creevey near Lisburn ... for Reasons he did not like to publish, he was determined not to credit said Jane on his account after this date—and others should heed this caution. The notice is somewhat longer than the average of its type, perhaps twice the number of words.

However, this declaration was trifling compared to the reply which the afflicted Jane published in the 27th March edition of the same journal. Please note that the synopsis given here pales by comparison to the very literate expression of umbrage and distress penned by Mrs. Jane Marshall.

... being ashamed my Husband should treat me
with such Disrespect ...

In no less than 675 words, and published on the front page, Mrs. Marshall explained how her husband had accompanied her on a visit to her father's house near Lisburn. Here, they staid until the 4th January when they departed for home. Just two miles into their fifty mile journey, and in spite of her protestations, Mr. Marshall stopped at a small public house.

tavern ingersoll1

Mr. Marshall then told his wife that he had to return to her father's house to pick up the gloves he'd left behind. Hours went by, and he did not come back.

Not wishing to divulge to the inhabitants of the public house that her husband had treated her with such disrespect, Mrs. Marshall left the house, pretending to go meet him. Once outside, she walked some distance down the road. The snow was deep. Growing fatigued, she stopped, made a rough shelter out of shrubbery, and there waited for her errant husband to appear.

woman in snow2c

Her wait was entirely in vain. Further, Mrs. Marshall declared, she had not one word from her husband until he published his notice to the Publick. In closing her missive, she implored:

I do hereby call upon my said Husband to declare what Part of my Conduct has induced him to treat me with such unexampled Barbarity; and intreat him if he knows me guilty of what he basely insinuates, to publish it to the World, and let me stand condemned and my Perfidy openly declared. If I am free from Blame, why such Treatment? if I am culpable, why am I treated with the least Degree of Tenderness?

Unfortunately, the epilogue to this tale of estrangement is not known. Neither do we know what happened to either of the parties. As I continue to work through Memorials of Irish deeds for the Marshall family, however, an inkling may be gleaned about the fate of the unhappy husband.


  • Belfast News-Letter, 10 Mar 1769 (pg. 2). Notice published by John Marshall of Mullaghmossagh re: his estranged wife, Jane Marshall otherwise Frazier. Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.
  • Belfast News-Letter, 27 Mar 1769 (pg. 1). Notice published by Jane Marshall otherwise Frazier, in reply to her husband's notice of the 10th Mar 1769. Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.
  • Image of the interior of a tavern: Ingersoll, Ernest. The Book of the Ocean. New York: Century Co., 1898. Digital copy online at the British Library's flickr website www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/ (accessed 2016-10-26).
  • Image of a woman standing in the snow: von Uhde, Fritz. Winter Landscape (1890) [adapted]. Online at Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: "Fritz von Uhde," en.wikipedia.org (accessed 2016-10-26).


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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2016. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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