I’m back from hiatus! Are you all starved for some nineteenth-century nonsense? Are you ready for aristocratic hijinx? Do you desperately need someone named ‘Lady Gooch’ in your life?
DON’T WE ALL
I found the following information from The Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1878, and from the New Zealand Herald, December 21st 1878.
It all starts out with a magnificently named baronet, Sir Francis Robert Sherlock Lambert Gooch. Sir Francis met and married his wife, Lady Anne Gooch, when he was 21, a very young age for the time.
Sir Francis inherited £25,000 and the title of baronet upon the death of his older brother. The older brother had no children (obviously), but he did leave behind a wife, the dowager Lady Gooch. It was the responsibility of Sir Francis to care for the dowager Lady Gooch as best as he was able, as befits her station. Sir Francis also had a younger brother, who stood to inherit if Sir Francis died with no children.
As best as I can tell (the papers I’ve read seem a little hesitant to come right out and say what happened, and the one that does was scanned poorly and is hard to read), Sir Francis and Lady Gooch had a child not long after their marriage who died at only 7 months old. For the next five years, there was no indication that they would or could expect another child.
So that’s where that lands us, in August 1877. Lady Gooch announces to Sir Francis that she’s expecting a baby the following May. They go on a trip to Brighton and, for whatever reason, Sir Francis starts to doubt his wife’s word. He finds a doctor at Brighton to examine her. The doctor says, “Yes, she’s pregnant”, but Sir Francis still has doubts. They come home and he gets the family doctor to look at her. The family doctor says, “No, she’s not pregnant.” Lady Gooch strongly insists that she is.
Again, the dates are not explicitly stated, but it appears that months go by, by which point May comes and goes. Lady Gooch now states that her baby is due in October 1878. She is a small woman, but appears to grow bigger (because, as is later revealed) she is padding herself. Sir Francis perfects his suspicious side-eye during this time.
Eventually they get into the habit of arguing in front of the servants (oh no! not in front of the servants! it’ll be all over town!) about her very obviously faked pregnancy. Sir Francis tells her she needs to knock it off, or he’s going to leave her to live in his own establishment.
Lady Gooch takes into her confidence their housekeeper, Miss Garrod, and tells Miss Garrod that she fears Sir Francis dying without producing an heir. If that happens, all the money will go to Sir Francis’s younger brother, and then he’ll have to support two dowager Lady Gooches, and that will mean there’s very little for either of them to subsist on, as they’ll have to share the funds allocated to dowager support. And–horror of horrors–if the younger brother dies without an heir, all the money (for reasons unclear to me) will be inherited by the dowager Lady Gooch, leaving the current Lady Gooch out in the cold.
But–ah, but–if the current Lady Gooch is the mother of the next baronet, well, then she’ll have loads of money to live on. She won’t be shipped off to the dower house to live on peanuts. The only problem is, she and Sir Francis are having a hard time conceiving again.
So she begs Miss Garrod to join her plot to procure an heir under any circumstances and attempts to bribe her with a very healthy yearly stipend. Miss Garrod is having none of it and says, “No, I’m an honorable person, kindly fuck off with your baby-swapping plans.” Miss Garrod then promptly tells Sir Francis everything that Lady Gooch has planned. Sir Francis has Lady Gooch watched closely thereafter.
Not to be deterred, Lady Gooch goes ahead and tries to find a baby, although I’m not entirely sure how she figured that would work out. A FEW DAYS before she is allegedly to be confined, Lady Gooch decides to take a trip by herself to London (keep in mind that heavily pregnant women in the high Victorian era, especially aristocratic ones, were not in the habit of leaving the house). She is, of course, followed by Sir Francis’s people the whole time.
She goes to a few (I presume?) orphanages and baby farms (this is where the scanning gets particularly hazy, so if anyone could clarify the details for me, it would be most appreciated) in an attempt to find a newborn she could buy or barter or steal or purchase on some sort of payment plan.
Look, I don’t know the financial ins-and-outs of surreptitiously obtaining an infant.
It takes a few tries, but Lady Gooch finally find a woman named Anne Walker who was willing to part with a boy-child. Soon thereafter, she goes to her hotel and tells the maid she’s going into labor. A few hours later, Lady Gooch is delivered of a healthy two-week old son! She asks Miss Garrod, who was with her on the trip, to write the happy news to Sir Francis. Miss Garrod gives her a big ole pile of nope, so Lady Gooch has to write and send the letter herself–but it’s okay, because she recovered from giving birth with ASTONISHING speed.
I mean, A+ for commitment.
So now Sir Francis is horrified, as his wife has declared some random-ass baby to be their heir, and he’s like, “NO, HE’S NOT!” So he does the only thing he can really do in this situation: he takes his wife to court and airs their dirty laundry, so there can never be any question that this kid cannot inherit the barony.
The court case, which charges Lady Gooch and Anne Walker with “having unlawfully combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together to palm off on Sir Francis . . . a strange child, with the intent to defraud and deceive”, makes a huge splash (because of course it would).
Both Lady Gooch and Anne Walker were released on £50 bail. There were a few incidents where Lady Gooch failed to appear in court, and even had doctors show up with sworn affidavits that her health wasn’t good enough to be in attendance, as she had A MILD COLD. Jeez, lady, how far will your medical lies go?
Newspapers began to speculate that Lady Gooch might not be mentally sound and perhaps she would be “confined” after all–to an asylum (yuk yuk yuk)! Because the notoriously horrific conditions of asylums were such a laughing matter, even at the time. I make no conclusions about Lady Gooch’s mental state: on the one hand, she seemed to have a very clearly-expressed, rational, and monetarily-driven motive for what she did. On the other hand, she took this to such a desperate extreme, even (or especially) in the face of disbelief that I’m not sure what logical outcome she expected.
Now, here’s where things get really interesting: Lady Gooch and her accomplice were acquitted. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but the case got thrown out. In her disgust with the whole proceedings, it was reported that Lady Gooch intended to file for divorce. However, nineteenth-century divorces were very different from today and generally favored the man. Men had to prove their wives committed adultery. Women had to prove that their husbands committed adultery AND one of the following: cruelty, desertion, beastiality, or sodomy. They were long, expensive affairs and tended to be extremely malicious: there were no “irreconcilable differences”. So WHAT ON EARTH grounds Lady Gooch hoped to obtain a divorce, in light of her extremely embarrassing court case, I’m sure I don’t know.
However, it appears that the next year the Gooches had reached an amicable settlement by which they agreed to divorce (someone PLEASE tell me on what grounds, and who filed against whom).
Shockingly, on November 1, 1879, only a year after her fictitious birth, Lady Gooch died. I don’t know under what circumstances. The Sporting News, on November 15, 1879, reports her death in the most insensitive obituary I’ve ever seen:
“Lady Gooch, who tried to palm off a fictitious child on her husband, is dead.”
That’s the entire obituary.
GAAAAAH, WHAT HAPPENED?!?!?! Can anyone follow up on this? I can’t seem to find anything about her or Sir Francis, except to record her death. Did he remarry and have children, or did his fortune go to his brother? Did they ever actually divorce? On what grounds? Did she die of natural or unnatural causes? How has this not been turned into some sort of period piece melodrama Oscar-bait film yet?