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Sunday, 5 January 2014

Charles Gidley and a minor misdemeanour

A short report of a court case, published on 6 January 1869 in the Morning Post. Charles Gidley, a labourer of Moyson, Devon, was prosecuted at Kingsbridge Town Hall, Devon, by the Board of Trade for the plunder of goods washed ashore from the ship, Gossamer, wrecked off nearby Prawle Point.
The coastguard had caught Charles Gidley in Hollacombe Lane with a bag on his back. The alert coastguard challenged Charles, only to be told the bag contained something he had bought, but on closer examination, it was found to be a pair of women's elastic shoes. Charles' counsel claimed at his trial that Charles was actually doing his duty and about to deliver the shoes to the Receiver or the nearest customs or coastguard officer, and was on his way straight to the watch house. In fact Charles should really be a plaintiff claiming salvage for saving goods from the wreck, and should not have been put on trial at all. Unfortunately, it was pointed out by prosecuting counsel that Charles had already passed the turning to the watch house when he was stopped.
The charge of plunder was dismissed, as there was no evidence that the goods had come from the wreck. Charles was given the benefit of the doubt, as he had "probably acted under a mistaken view of the law". The newspaper report says "there was no vindictive feeling by the Receiver of the Wreck". But to discourage others who might feel they could help themselves with impunity to goods washed ashore, Charles was ordered to pay a fine of 2s 6d, plus 10s (the estimated value of the boots), plus 15s costs.
The most likely Charles Gidley in the vicinty of Kingsbridge at that time is the son of Robert Gidley and Miriam Heath, born in Dean Prior in 1822. In 1861 he was living in Slew Lake Cottage, South Brent, and in 1871 he was an ag lab in Stokenham, quite close to the coast. He married Maria Ellis Lavers in 1846 and at his death in Kingsbridge registration district in 1892 was survived by just one of their 4 known children, Maria Gidley, who married Thomas Wills Stone in 1869, the same year as the court case. Did she wear the shoes at her wedding?