There were demons as well as angels in the house...
The case files at The National Archives record a catalogue of domestic tragedies that wouldn't look out of place in an 1860s Sensation novel. The readers of Dickens's Oliver Twist would have been shocked to know that there were plenty of Bill Sykeses alive and well and living in the suburbs.
In July 1894 Mary Gertrude Campbell filed for divorce from her husband, Frederick Burleigh Campbell. In a quiet middle-class Cheltenham street, Frederick Campbell had apparently been behaving cruelly and even violently towards his own family.
The Campbells appear in their 1891 census listing to be an ordinary family, living in Brighton, with Frederick working at the Scientific Branch Ceylon Collieries. Frederick met and married Mary in England, although he was born in Ceylon where the couple lived for a time after they wed. After four children and a return to England cracks began to show in the marriage.
In 1894 36-year-old Mary petitioned for a divorce. The petition begins with his adultery, common enough at a time of sexual double standards. Between the 17th and the 27th of April 1894, Mary wrote, Frederick had committed adultery with a woman named Nellie Bosanquet in several seedy Earls Court lodging houses. A week later, Frederick “violently twisted” Mary's wrist, “in order forcibly to get my purse from me...[depriving] me of the use of that arm for several days.” She adds that he also “habitually used coarse, violent and insulting and threatening language.”
Matters seem to have reached a peak on the 23rd June, when Frederick went on a violent rampage through the family house. In front of Mary, he “violently assaulted and seriously injured" their young son Richard; "knocked him down and violently assaulted me when I attempted to protect [Richard].” On the same day Frederick locked himself in a room with his two daughters and "proceeded to ill treat them very severely". Mary had to fetch a neighbour to break down the door and stop him.
Frederick denied cruelty and adultery, but the records do not reveal whether Mary's petition was successful. Sadly, many were not...