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Lyons versus Thomas: the Jewess abduction case

Ursula Henriques

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Lyons versus Thomas: the Jewess abduction ease* URSULA HENRIQUES On the evening of 23 March 1868, Esther Lyons, accompanied by two young women of about her own age, knocked on the door of Croome Villa, Roath, the home of the Reverend Nathaniel Thomas, minister of the Baptist Tabernacle, Cardiff. The Reverend Thomas was out for the day, but his wife, Laura Emily Ann Thomas, well known for her religious work among children and young people, was at home. But this was not a routine visit, for Esther, aged eighteen, was an orthodox Jewess, and she was running away from her family. It was the start of a cause celebre which was to shake the town of Cardiff, make headlines in the national press, and exercise a baneful influence on relations between the Jews of South Wales and the powerful Welsh Baptist community for generations to come. The Lyons Case, or the Jewess Abduction Case, as most of the press called it, is not unknown to historians. The story was told under the title 'The Abduction of Esther Lyons', by Raymond Woolfe (CAJEX, July 1952, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 14-23). However, a careful reading of Woolfe's article shows it to be incomplete, resting almost entirely on the reports and correspondence publish? ed in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian for 1868. The detailed accounts of the Assize Court trial of July 1869 in the same paper have barely been tapped, the later legal proceedings and other sources not at all. Evidently there is more to be revealed about the Lyons Case. With the valuable assistance of Miss Katherine Doyle I have tried to discover some more about this intriguing, if in some respects still obscure affair. Barnett Lyons, originally an immigrant from Poland, but long resident in Cardiff, lived with his wife and growing family at his pawnbroker's shop, 11 Mount Stuart Square, near the docks. He was one of the Jewish pawnbrokers who increased in numbers and prosperity as Cardiff became a great coal exporting port in the second half of the nineteenth century. Esther was his oldest daughter. She had an elder brother, Reuben, and five younger sisters and brothers; and after the habit of Victorian families, in March 1868, her mother was expecting yet again. Having left school at sixteen, Esther was now expected to help her parents. In May 1867 her father had opened another pawnshop in Castle Road, Roath, as an endowment for Reuben, who was engaged to be married. Esther was required to work for her father there. From September to December of that year she shared the work with a non-Jewish hired shop-assistant, Sarah Carver from Newport. The two girls slept in the * Paper presented to the Society on 16 May 1985. 267</page><page sequence="2">Ursula Henriques shop during the week and came home to Mount Stuart Square from Friday to Sunday nights. However, in December Esther was summoned home to help her mother look after the younger children. Sarah left the shop on 24 December, but she remained in Cardiff, and she and Esther continued to meet. Esther was also 'keeping company' with a young man, Theodore Goodman, son of a Jewish family from Pontypridd who were close friends of the Lyons, although there is no evidence that she was particularly attached to him. Whatever conflict over the nature of Esther's family relations was to emerge later, the impression remains that, as a daughter at home, she felt that little attention was paid to her wishes or prospects. As with many Jewish girls at the time, even her religious education was perfunctory. Rabbi Nathan Jacobs of the East Terrace Synagogue came two or three times a week to teach the children Hebrew, but it transpired that Esther could read Hebrew words but did not know what they meant. Reuben, who must have celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the traditional way, would have been more seriously educated. Nor was her standing in the family very high. Barnett (but it was after the event) called her 'dull and nervous', and, unlike the other children, not inclined to respect or obey her parents. But he claimed that she was cherished all the more for this reason.1 The truth was that Esther did not get on with her mother. Whether, as she later claimed, her mother starved her, kept her indoors, pinched her, throttled her and beat her with a chair leg, a hairbrush and the fire irons is a matter for doubt. In any case Mrs Lyons was in poor health and constantly pregnant, so powerful physical violence could have been impossible. It was admitted that she objected to Esther's preference for reading newspapers and novels to doing the housework, and she certainly resorted to nagging and slapping. Her father, of whom she was fond, evidently did not interfere effectively. The family failed to take Esther's discontent seriously until the crisis was upon them. The crisis was probably precipitated (though she later denied it) by the finding in Esther's room, by her sister Rachel, of a new purse with a half sovereign in it. Rachel gave it to Reuben, who promptly took it to his mother, a piece of 'sneaking' which cannot have endeared him to Esther. It is not clear whether she was frightened of being accused of stealing, or of accepting a bribe from the Baptists; but without pausing to pack any spare clothes she left home. First she went to see Sarah Carver, who was staying with a friend, Janet Green. But Sarah, who was on bad terms with her own father, could offer her no refuge in Newport. So they decided to call on the Thomas family at Croome Villa, where they arrived late at night, asking for refuge for Esther. So far the facts are not in doubt, but the subsequent Assize trial was to turn on the question of whether Esther went to Croome Villa spontaneously, or whether she was enticed there. Barnett Lyons stoutly maintained that Esther went as a result of a deep-laid plot to abduct his children and convert them to evangelical Christianity. It did indeed emerge that Esther, while at Roath, had been under the eye of Mrs Blagdon, mother of Mrs Laura Thomas, who lived 268</page><page sequence="3">The Jewess abduction case with her other daughter opposite the Roath shop. Mrs Thomas was already acquainted with Esther's cousin, Dinah Lyons, whom she was trying to convert, but who turned out to be too 'indecisive'; in other words she balked at being baptized. Dinah and Esther, out walking a month or two before, had heard music coming from Tredegarville Chapel, out of curiosity had gone in to investigate, had watched acolytes being baptized, and had been recognized. It would seem that serious conversion attempts had begun with this event. Dinah was given a New Testament to pass on to Esther, though she denied that she had delivered it. In any case, the Thomases were already known to Esther, or she would hardly have been willing to go to them. But no evidence ever emerged that she was urged, or even invited to do so. Mrs Thomas stoutly maintained that she tried in vain that evening to persuade the young woman to go home. Whether Mrs Thomas' word could be relied upon the reader must decide. Esther Lyons stayed at Croome Villa one night, with the reluctant acquiescence of the Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, when he came home. Next day she was taken by a Mrs Alice Arthur to 20 Canal Street. Sarah Carver, who came the following afternoon, saw her there with some religious books on the table. She was told to say goodbye to her, and shortly after Esther left in a cab, Sarah being required to stay in the house so that she could not see which way they went. In fact they went to 1 Brighton Terrace, to a small school kept by a Mrs Sleeman, wife of another minister. Next door, at 2 Brighton Terrace, lived a Mrs Hollyer, a friend of Mrs Thomas, who had already been implicated in the attempt to convert Dinah. Esther stayed there under the name of Jane Barton until the end of April. A bedstead was brought in for her and she was given some of Mrs Hollyer's daughter's spare clothes, and the process of converting and educating her went on apace. She was said to be doing sums, and was allowed to play croquet in Mrs Sleeman's garden, but when her father came enquiring for her she was helped over the garden wall into Mrs Hollyer's premises. Towards the end of April, Mrs Hollyer's sister, Mrs Keep, came from London. Esther was taken to Chepstow, avoiding the policemen watching for her on Cardiff Station platform, who she said ignored her. She stayed there a week, and then moved on to Stroud, where Mrs Keep came to fetch her to stay at her home in Finchley Road, St John's Wood, London. Meantime, Sarah Carver, renamed Elizabeth Wood, had been placed in a 'situation' in Bristol. It was evidently desired to prevent her from having any contact with Esther's family. Although she disliked the 'situation' and grumbled about it angrily in her correspondence with Mrs Hollyer, she was firmly kept there and used as a go-between in forwarding letters from Esther to her parents. When Esther disappeared on the night of 23 March her father and Reuben went out to search the streets. Finding nothing they alerted the police, and after a week's agonizing search, as a result of police enquiries, Barnett Lyons went to Croome Villa to see the Rev. Nathaniel Thomas. Mr Thomas told him his suspicions were groundless, but a later interview with Mrs Thomas was 269</page><page sequence="4">Ursula Henriques slightly more fruitful. Mrs Thomas admitted that Esther had slept at Croome Villa on the night of 23 March but denied any knowledge of her present whereabouts, saying 'you ask me too strong questions'.2 At a later interview she admitted that she had sent Esther to Brighton Terrace, but denied all knowledge of her subsequent movements. At least by now Barnett Lyons knew that his daughter was in the hands of conversionists, and not in the Victorian underworld. On 25 May, when Esther was safely in London, in response to one of his appeals, Mrs Thomas wrote Lyons a long letter. She denied telling any falsehoods; she had told the police she was wilfully ignorant of Esther's whereabouts. She had had to protect Esther, who had come to her for refuge from a very wretched home, and would never betray her. Her conscience was clear, she would do the same again, and was not afraid of any punishment he could inflict. T am a FRIEND and no ENEMY of yourself and family; and would not harm a hair of your heads, and would do and suffer a very great deal for your salvation, and pray (oh! how fervently) that the veil may be removed, and that with joy you may see and adore the blessed Messiah who died for you on Calvary, and look upon Him whom you have pierced, and mourn and bathe in the Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanliness, and be saved!' She added that she could find out Esther's whereabouts, and bring her to Cardiff, but would need travelling expenses and repayment of money spent on her clothes. She suggested a sum of ?10, the balance to be returned. Finally she wrote that Esther was dearly loved by all who had to do with her. 'What a mine of wealth in her loving heart her mother has lost.' If Mr Lyons would send the ?10 and give a pledge to leave Esther's decision to her own desire, Mrs Thomas would find her out and have the plan laid before her.3 This letter was probably a blunder. It allowed Barnett Lyons to claim that his daughter was being held for the purpose of making money (which was certainly not true, the cost of her keep being far higher than any expenses claimed from her parents). He had it published in the newspapers, and cited it as a proof of 'refined cruelty' and hypocrisy on the part of the minister's wife, who 'flings her poisoned arrow into the bereaved mother's breast'. Further negotiations followed, in the course of which Lyons signed a paper of conditions for the interview. But the interview was cancelled, for, according to a letter written by Mrs Thomas on 3 June, Esther refused to come to it. Shortly after, Lyons received an undated, unaddressed letter from his daughter, saying that she had left home of her own free will, and had embraced Christianity.4 Neither this letter nor subsequent ones seemed to Lyons to be genuine. The spelling and the grammar were altogether too perfect, and the language (as Mr Justice Blackburn was to comment) was that of a preacher rather than a half-educated young woman. Lyons now resorted to the law. He went to London and consulted Messrs Sampson Samuel and Emanuel, solicitors to the Board of Deputies, who briefed a counsel, Mr Oppenheim, to apply to Mr Justice Blackburn in the Court of 270</page><page sequence="5">The Jewess abduction case Queen's Bench for a writ of Habeas Corpus to produce Esther in court. Mrs Thomas thereupon declared that she would 'stand to be whipped to death' rather than restore the girl. Oppenheim produced Esther's undated letter to her father as proof that she was being coerced. Blackburn could find no proof that Esther was being detained against her will that was sufficient to justify a writ of Habeas Corpus, but he considered that the letter, rather than being genuine, was a composition of the Baptists, and he granted a summons against Mr and Mrs Thomas to show reason why a writ of Habeas Corpus should not issue. The Thomases responded with an affidavit (sworn statement) saying that they did not know where Esther was. Barnett Lyons' friend, David Goodman, now revealed that he had been to Thomas' chapel and heard him telling his congregation that he would have to go to London to produce Esther Lyons in court, and appealing for sympathy and assistance.5 Thomas replied that he had not used these words, and that Goodman, a foreign Jew, could not have understood his remarks which were in Welsh. He denied any wish to interfere with parental authority, and claimed he was being persecuted. He had received a letter signed: 'A Jew who hates the imposter and swindler Jesus Christ'. If he consulted the flesh he 'would never again help the helpless or succour the oppressed'.6 The letter about Christ was angrily repudiated by Lyons and other correspondents as a scurrilous invention; while it was pointed out that Goodman had lived in Pontypridd for twenty-seven years and understood Welsh very well. Mr Justice Blackburn said he did not believe the Thomas' affidavit, and if he had been a Lord Chancellor, he would have sent them to prison for contempt of court. But he still could not issue a writ.7 At this juncture Esther (or her representative) wrote to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian denying that she had left home under any coercion whatever. She was quite ready to meet her father in the presence of witnesses, and to tell him what he already knew, that 'Of my own accord I left his house, and that I have found in Jesus of Nazareth the saviour of my soul and have been baptized in His name'.8 Meantime, what was Esther doing? She spent some two months in Finchley Road as companion to Mrs Keep, and then moved to a school for Jewish converts kept at Tottenham by a Dr Lazarone and a Dr Schwartz, minister of a Presbyterian chapel, who were both converted Jews. She was baptized on 23 June by the Rev. Sleeman at Mr Stott's chapel, Abbey Road, London, as 'Anna'.9 She was now in the hands of professional conversionists, and in touch with more formidable (if not more confident) intellects than those of Messrs Thomas, Hollyer and Keep. Dr Schwartz became her adviser, and 'helped' her to write her letters. He also convinced the Baptist ladies, and eventually Esther herself, that she must submit to an interview with her father. During the summer negotiations proceeded between Mr Lyons' and Dr Schwartz' solicitors for an interview betwen Esther and her father. Meantime Barnett and Reuben were still searching for Esther, coming up to London, and possibly even engaging a detective. Esther's friends redoubled their efforts at 271</page><page sequence="6">Ursula Henriques concealment. Letters from her to her family arrived with Bridgend postmarks. One even sported a postmark from Neuehatel, and contained a rather vague reference to Swiss scenery. At last, late in August, Barnett received a letter from Schwartz' solicitors, Messrs Norris and Allen, proposing an interview between himself and his daughter at the office of Messrs Sampson Samuel and Emanuel on i September. Esther would be accompanied by a lady and a gentleman. She would see her father privately, and then, in the presence of her father's solicitor, but not of her father, would declare whether she would return with her father or stay with those with whom she now was.10 Lyons hastily agreed, but the meeting was postponed. It emerged later that when Schwartz accompanied Mr Allen on a visit to Sampson Samuel, wearing a white necktie, the mark of a minister, Samuel sent him out of the room and would speak only to Allen. This caused a furious quarrel in which Lyons wrote to Norris and Allen saying their behaviour was unworthy of their profession, and only withdrew the letter when threatened with a total cancellation of the interview. Schwartz called Sampson a 'bigoted Jew', and Lyons later called Schwartz a 'Meshummad' or apostate.11 The interview between Barnett Lyons and his daughter took place on 2 September in the offices of Messrs Norris and Allen, 20 Bedford Row. Barnett came with Reuben, a brother-in-law (Esther's uncle), and his solicitor. He was taken alone into a back room, and after nearly an hour Esther was shown in. 'When she left my house and protection she was in a robust state of health, happy and contented looking. I found her now trembling and nervous, and Oh! so fearfully emaciated and haggard, that my heart ached for my poor misguided offspring.' Asked by what means she had been induced to leave them, she began a long statement and said she had 'suffered a perfect martyrdom', but suddenly interrupted, and 'trembling all over, became so terrified she could proceed no further'. When asked to go with him she said: 'How can I, I have taken...I have been baptized'. T said "Never mind, I will forget and forgive all that." She gave no reply but wept and dropped her head as though perfectly bewildered.' When he begged her on his knees to return to him 'She appeared to be labouring under some powerful influence, and exclaimed T shall go mad, I shall go mad.' He entreated her to consider the subject for a week and let him know the result. She said 'I cannot do that, I must ask my friend whether I may do so'. After half an hour Allen, who had been watching them intently through a window, came in. Reuben and the uncle and solicitor were then called in, but Barnett was excluded. When Reuben and the uncle, after kissing Esther, tried to speak to her, Allen sent them out and declared the interview at an end.12 This, of course, was Barnett Lyons' account of the interview. Schwartz', at the subsequent trial, was different; he said the interview had lasted at least an hour. He said that Lyons had apologized to him for writing against him in the papers and asked for his help in arranging a second interview with his daughter, and in letting her come home for a week. In return he had told 272</page><page sequence="7">The Jewess abduction case Lyons that if Esther had been under his control he should have seen her immediately, and she would never have been baptized before the interview. But she could not go home, 'because she was a Christian, and they would despise Jesus whom she would praise'.13 Esther herself at the trial gave an account of the interview very different from her father's. She said her father had threatened to disinherit her, had tried to get her to sign a document, and when she refused without her solicitor had said that his mother would 'rise from her grave and cry out for revenge'. When her father had asked her to take a week to think it over she had told him her determination was already made. She admitted that her letters were partly written for her, but insisted that she agreed with everything in them. 'The thoughts were her own.'14 After the interview Esther returned to Mrs Keep for a month, where she was told that the Jews were 'much enraged' and would 'tear her to pieces if they caught her'. 'She read in the newspapers that the Jews would crucify her as they'd done her Saviour.'15 After moving about for a few days while somebody tried to break into Mrs Keep's house, she was sent off to a place with the unlikely name of Pancarnarvon, in Prussia. There she remained for nine months at Mrs Keep's expense, learning German with the Pastor of Stroube, and only returned to Britain for the trial. Or so she said; but one must wonder whether she ever went abroad at all. Barnett Lyons returned to Cardiff, uncertain what to do but determined not to give up. At law he was in a weak position. He had already failed to get a writ of Habeas Corpus. Young persons over sixteen had a right (as Mrs Thomas had been careful to ascertain) to live where they pleased. Nor was there anything illegal in trying to convert someone to another religion, providing they were not coerced nor detained against their will, and it was now apparent that Esther would not support any such allegation. Lyons had spent a lot of money, and was quarrelling with his solicitors about whether or not he had agreed to abide by his daughter's decision.16 Strenuous attempts to get up a fighting fund on his behalf had failed. By the spring of 1869 it seemed as though the case would peter out. But by the summer he had acquired a new and enthusiastic solicitor, Mr Joel Emanuel, who, on consulting eminent counsel, Mr Michael and Mr Chitty of King's Bench Walk, had been advised that the plaintiff had good grounds for action. While the object of the action would be not so much to recover damages as to restore Miss Lyons to her family, there was every possibility that the exposure and expense of a trial would have 'the beneficial effect of causing conversionists to hesitate before again resorting to similar means to obtain converts to Christianity'.17 Barnett Lyons would sue the Thomases and others for enticing away his servant (who was also his daughter) from his service to his financial detriment in the sum of ?2000. If he couldn't get his daughter back he could at least punish his enemies. Barnett Lyons v. Rev. N. Thomas and Others (The Jewess Abduction Case) was 273</page><page sequence="8">Ursula Henriques heard at the Assizes in Cardiff Town Hall from Monday 26 July to Saturday 31 July 1869. Joel Emanuel had instructed Mr Hardinge Giffard QC, later to become the famous judge Lord Halsbury, and Mr Michael. The defendants were represented by Mr Grove, soon to become a High Court Judge. The Assize Judge was Baron Channell.18 The defendants were the two Thomases, J. E. Hollyer and his wife, and Ellen Keep. The jury was carefully vetted to exclude Baptists and Jews. Cardiff Town Hall was thronged day after day with eager spectators, mostly females in their best attire, including many Jewesses. Such excitement was rarely available in the dull provincial life of mid-Victorian Britain, and hundreds who could not squeeze into the Town Hall stood about outside waiting for juicy pieces of sensation and scandal to emerge. In the course of the trial, the events between the crucial dates of 23 March and 3 September 1868 were fully investigated. In every aspect of the story the two sides adduced conflicting statements, on oath. Esther herself dwelt on her cruel treatment at home, saying she had resolved to run away twelve months before, but her mother had locked up her out-of-door clothes. She was supported by three servant girls formerly in the employment of the Lyonses, but contradicted by other servants, all her own family, and their friends the Goodmans. The attempts of Mrs Blagdon and her other daughter to convert Dinah, and also to approach one of Esther's younger sisters (who ran away), were revealed. Mrs Thomas had, with forethought, destroyed all her letters, but correspondence between the sisters, Mrs Hollyer and Mrs Keep had (how is not known) fallen into the hands of Lyons' lawyers. These revealed in detail the stratagems employed by that remarkable group of ladies to conceal Esther's whereabouts from her family. They also revealed some of the spite which underlay their pious professions of religious love. Mrs Keep had written to her sister on 2 June 1868 that the mother (Mrs Lyons) was near confinement and not unlikely to die: T say of mortified rage, they say of grief. The Jews were in a great rage just now, and if 'Cissie' wrote 'All's well, good night', it would be sufficient notice that all was well. Any letter from Mrs Sleeman should be in handwriting different from that of herself, or Esther or Mrs Thomas.19 That letter was to attract much comment. During the trial several women used the conventional weapons in their Victorian armoury. Mrs Lyons established herself in the courtroom immediately opposite the witness box, and when Esther was brought in, fainted away. The judge, saying he did not want the witness unnerved or intimidated by her family, had Mrs Lyons removed from court. Both Sarah Carver (now Mrs Sarah Jones) and Esther fainted when cross-examination got too hot for them. Esther, who seemed 'very feeble' and was accommodated with a chair at the judge's direction, had to be sent home with the keeper of Cardiff Gaol, and returned next day much restored. The townswomen enjoyed it all, and the press had a field day. Baron Channell's summing up was not on the whole favourable to the plaintiffs. The questions at issue were, firstly, whether Esther's departure 274</page><page sequence="9">The Jewess abduction case her father's house had been voluntary, and secondly, whether the defendants had 'harboured' her while she was still a servant. The answer to the first of these, on the evidence, must have been 'Yes'. It was not very clear what 'harbouring'meant in this context, but the answer to the second appeared to be not proven. However, the jury, while exonerating the Hollyers and Mrs Keep, brought in a verdict of Guilty against the Thomases, and awarded Mr Lyons ?50 damages. The judge thereupon gave the Thomases leave to appeal.20 The following Sunday Mr Thomas went before his chapel congregation and offered to resign. But his audience announced their warm support, and set up a fund to finance the appeal.21 Encouraged by his court victory, Barnett Lyons now tried to get Esther made a ward in Chancery, with Reuben as her official guardian (for fear that there would be objections to himself). But the move backfired disastrously. Mrs Keep and Dr Schwartz put in a counter-application for the guardianship. Vice Chancellor James summoned Esther, who was living with Mrs Keep in St John's Wood, for a long personal interview in chambers, and as a result refused to nominate a Jewish guardian. Lyons appealed to Lord Justice Giffard in court, who refused to alter the verdict. Vice Chancellors James, he said, had seen the young lady and was satisfied that she was a genuine convert to Christianity. She had been baptized, would be twenty next February, and appeared to be of a most nervous temperament. 'To compell her to return to her father's house would be most prejudicial to her health'.22 But her guardians were required to allow her father to see her at any time he chose to apply. The Thomas' appeal against the Cardiff Assize Court judgement was not taken until June 1870, when it was heard in the Queen's Bench before Justices Blackburn, Mellor and Lush. Legal argument went on for a day and a half, centring largely on precedent. Finally the judges, by a majority verdict, overturned the Assize Court judgement and found for the defendants on two grounds: that there was insufficient evidence of enticement, and even if there had been, Esther was not under any contract of service to her father. Blackburn (who had originally cast doubt on the veracity of the Thomas' affidavit) disagreed, saying there was suficient evidence of enticement; but he was overruled. The judges cancelled the ?50 damages, and awarded costs to the Thomases.23 Barnett Lyons now threatened to take the case to the Court of Appeal, and the Thomases, to avoid further trouble, agreed to forgo their costs. This did not deter Lyons from bringing a criminal action against them in the Cardiff police court for perjury. He based it on Mr Justice Blackburn's comment in Chancery chambers in July 1868 that he did not believe the Thomas' affidavit that they did not know where Esther was and had used every endeavour to find out. During December 1870 much of the old evidence was gone through again. Mrs Hollyer was closely cross-questioned (Mrs Keep had died). But the magistrates were unwilling to charge Mrs Hollyer, a Crown witness, with perjury. Lyons, on his lawyer's advice, declined to be bound over to prefer a bill 275</page><page sequence="10">Ursula Henriques of indictment against the Thomases in Assizes. And so, as the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian put it, 'The case is now finally closed'.24 The abundance of detailed but conflicting evidence in the Lyons case raises almost as many questions as it answers. Was Esther's really a cruel and violent home? We shall never know. What was Esther really like? Was this one more case of the Victorian girl of superior natural abilities denied the opportunity to develop her capacities? Probably not. There are no indications of special intelligence; rather the reverse. At the trial she was described as 'a small, child-like looking girl, with no striking marks of her race on her features'. Yet she had mounted a very effective teenage rebellion. Doubtless she suffered for it. She had been fond of her father, and had wept when she was hiding at Mrs Sleeman's and he passed by the window. But she bore furious witness against her family, and in the end the quarrel became irreconcilable. It is unlikely that the change made her happy. All who saw her, including the Chancery judge, testified to her nervousness. She did not need to believe the legends told her about Jewish revenge to realize that she could not live at home as a Christian. And however much she was under the influence of the conversionists, and indebted to them for the sanctimonious and provocative letters sent home in her name, there is no reason to doubt that her conversion was sincere, nor that her own determination made it impossible for her father to get her back or to win his lawsuits. What happened to her afterwards? Did she ever marry? How did she fare? Alas, after 1870 she vanishes into thin air. Barnett Lyons was obviously torn by grief at the loss of his daughter, as well as by shame that she should be a 'Meshummad'. In the eyes of orthodox Jews this was the ultimate sin, even though more assimilated families such as the Marks, first Jewish settlers in Cardiff, regularly lost members to baptism in each generation. As it became increasingly clear that his daughter would not return, his motives shifted towards revenge: 'The Jewish community may at some future time (with the help of the God of our fathers)', he wrote to the Jewish Chronicle in March 1869, 'see how a Jewish father can strive to repair, or if not, avenge the atrocious wrong committed on him by these bigoted and unprinci? pled zealots'.25 It is difficult to blame him. Mrs Laura Thomas was described in court as 'a lady whose firmness and decision are marked in her countenance, her keen look and compressed lips betokening no small degree of energy and self-possession'. She was probably the leader of this strange knot of fanatical women-the Jewish Chronicle called them 'very odd Lydias and Dorcases'26-who did not hesitate to employ deception for the purpose of making converts, and whose religious anti Semitism bubbled beneath the surface of their professions of Christian love. The two most sacred tenets of mid-Victorian morality were truthfulness and the sanctity of the family. Mrs Thomas broke the first freely; her willingness to break the second was probably accounted for by her own history. Born Miss Blagdon, the eldest daughter of the squire of Boddington Manor, Gloucester 276</page><page sequence="11">The Jewess abduction case shire, she had when quite young undergone some sort of religious conversion experience. Thereafter she had become dissatisfied with the state of piety in her local Anglican church. Quarrelling with her father over his preference for moderate religion and high living, she had finally left home, taking her mother and sister with her. 'Guided' to go to remote Carmarthen, she had sampled various Nonconformist chapels, had been rebaptized by the Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, and subsequently married him.27 Her husband was working class, Welsh speaking, and had started down the mines at the age of seven, losing an eye in an accident.28 Although he became a leading and respected Baptist minister, moving to Cardiff in 1856, the world would consider that she had married disastrously beneath her. They had no children, and their opponents, of course, suggested this was an added inducement to break up the families of those who had. Certainly she wore the trousers, and having divided her father's family did not seem to balk at dividing someone else's in the cause of conversion. Defiantly she proclaimed that she expected her reward in Heaven. Public opinion as revealed in the press generally condemned the 'abduction' of Esther Lyons. The Jewish Chronicle, leading organ of Anglo-Jewry, was, not surprisingly, outraged. It perceived the Cardiff case against a background of increasingly aggressive conversionism arising from current evangelical move? ments. For instance, Dr Schwartz was one of a group of ministers (several of them converted Jews) who in the East End of London regularly supplied feasts of bread and butter, tea and coffee to destitute glaziers from Central Europe, accompanying them with readings from conversionist literature in Hebrew. To their 'surprise' these charitable endeavours had been condemned by the Chief Rabbi, Dr Adler. The London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews was quarrelling with its junior partner, the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Jews, the former going so far as to deny publicly any knowledge of or connection with the Lyons Case. The Jewish Chronicle called them 'The Great Gull Societies' because, it said, they were always shrieking and dabbling in murky waters. It deplored all conversionists, associated and individual. In its sympathy with Barnett Lyons it went even beyond the Victorian doctrine of the sanctity of the family, appealing to the overriding authority of the parent as justified by the fifth Commandment: 'Honour thy Father and thy Mother'.29 During the winter of 1868-9 its editor tried to organize a defence fund for Lyons. But after a meeting in the Borough Synagogue, Walworth Road, to which hardly anybody came, the attempt broke down. A number of individuals in the provinces-and Hebrew Congrega? tions led by Lyons' friends in Cardiff, Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd sent in subscriptions. But the total was trivial, and eventually they were returned to the senders, or devoted to the relief of Russian Jews. Lyons was left to pay his legal expenses largely out of his own pocket, assisted by Joel Emanuel, who gave his legal services free. The trouble was that the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Ecclesiastical Board would do nothing. The Board of Deputies, currently chaired by J. M. Montefiore, nephew of Sir Moses 277</page><page sequence="12">Ursula Henriques Montefiore, was too busy fighting the cause of oppressed Jews in Rumania and Russia to worry over much about a case of doubtful legal validity in Cardiff. It did not respond to the Chronicle's criticisms (which fell short of attacking Sir Moses himself). The wealthy Anglo-Jewish establishment in London was always timid about denouncing anti-Semitic manifestations in Great Britain, and preferred to keep a 'low profile'.30 In contrast, the Welsh Baptists got up generous subscriptions for the Thomases. Many sectional as well as national papers agreed in principle with the Jewish Chronicle. Even The Freeman, the leading Baptist weekly, exhibited embarrass? ment when the story first broke, taking quite a different stand from that of some of its correspondents. Under the heading 'A Strange Story', its editor commented: 'Supposing the facts are at all as represented, what can be thought of the fanaticism which could regard the claims and affections of a father and mother as nothing when there was a chance of making the girl a proselyte?' But at their annual conference in August 1868 the Welsh Baptists unanimous? ly passed a long resolution regretting the proceedings against their much beloved brother the Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, because of his humanely sheltering for one night a young person who left her home because of alleged cruelty, and especially his persecution by certain parts of the press. Conference declared its unwavering confidence in Mr Thomas as 'An upright man, an exemplary Christian, and a devout minister of the Lord Jesus'.31 However, as the months passed, The Freeman swung round. After the trial of July 1869 it published long extracts from the evidence of Esther and the two Thomases, omitting all the rest.32 It had come to accept the Welsh Baptists' line, that the Thomases had simply rescued a poor girl from cruel parents, ignoring all evidence of conversionist purposes. The secular papers did not mince their words. The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, in a leader of 29 August 1868, denounced the melancholy want of sincerity and candour in Croome Villa, and the Thomases' pride, callousnes and defiant temper. It greeted Mrs Thomas' demand for ?10 for the cost of bringing Esther to Cardiff for an interview with her father with the words, 'Talk of Shylock, his pound of flesh after this!'33 To the Standard, which reported the case in detail, the question was simply 'Whether the zeal of religious proselytism can or cannot with impunity override all the restraints of social duty, and violate rights anterior and superior to all differences of creed.'34 The editor considered that while Lyons did not appear in a very amiable or dignified light, Mr Thomas had forfeited respect 'by a disregard of truth and a system of evasion and equivocation worthy of a jesuit'. Several papers wanted to know how the public would have reacted if Mr Thomas had been a Roman Catholic priest and Esther a member of the Church of England, thereby appealing to popular anti-papist prejudice. From all sides analogies were made with the Mortara case, now ten years old, in which the infant son of an Italian Jew had been secretly baptized by a priest at the instance of his nurse, and subsequently kidnapped and sent to a monastery. Neither the international outcry nor even 278</page><page sequence="13">The Jewess abduction case an attempt by Sir Moses Montefiore to interview Pope Pius IX had restored him to his parents. But as Schwartz pointed out, the cases were not analogous, since Edgar Mortara was a small child, while Esther had to be considered a responsible and consenting adult.35 Condemnation of the Thomases did not necessitate praise for the Lyons. Esther, in particular, attracted very little sympathy. The Jewish Chronicle, while condoling with Barnett, thought the Jewish Community well rid of Esther,36 although one or two of its correspondents raised a demand for better religious education of Jewish girls. The Standard thought Esther 'pert and wilful' and did not doubt that 'she got her ears boxed now and then, or that she deserved it'.37 The Times believed that she had left home on well-founded calculations of advantage.38 The Tory papers had little affection for Jews in general and Jewish pawnbrokers in particular, but all of them balked at a proselytism which violated the sanctity of the family. Tory press attitudes illustrated a curious inversion of usual political partisanship in the Lyons Case. The Lyons' counsel in 1869, Hardinge Giffard, had been a Conservative candidate for Cardiff in the general election of 1868. Nathaniel Thomas had been a member of the selection committee of Colonel Stuart, the victorious Liberal. The Baptists along with other Nonconformists supported the Liberals in the name of religious liberty. They demanded the disestablishment of the Church of England, and when Gladstone disestablished the Anglican Church in Ireland in 1869 this seemed to be coming near. The Tories were not sorry to be able to point out the hollowness of the professions of tolerance among some of their more fanatical religious and political opponents. At the same time the 1860s were, in some ways, the peak period of religious liberalism in many sections of British public opinion (the late nineteenth century with its flood of Central European refugees saw a revival of anti-Semitism, though mainly of an economic and social kind). Most Victorians of all denominations thought the kind of proselytism practised by the Thomases and their friends a betrayal of genuine Christianity. The Lyons case did not, as readers of the Jewish Chronicle feared, encourage the conversionists to further efforts of the same kind. The trouble and animosity incurred by the Thomases and their allies seem to have been something of a lesson. But the effects of that case did not end in 1870. Biographies or rather hagiographies of the Rev. Nathaniel Thomas and his wife were published by two Baptist ministers at the turn of the century.39 By their biased, and indeed factually inaccurate accounts of the Lyons case, as well as by their snide comments, it was obvious that ill-feeling against the Jews lingered on, at least in South Wales. Was there any connection with the anti-Jewish riots which broke out in Tredegar and the upper Welsh mining valleys in 1911? It is difficult to establish such a link. One can only make the obvious generalization that fanaticism and intolerance leave an evil legacy behind them. 279</page><page sequence="14">Ursula Henriques NOTES 1 Letter from Barnett Lyons in the Jewish Chronicle, 7 August 1868, p. 5. Most of the information about Esther's relations with her parents comes from the detailed transcript of the Assize Court trial held in Cardiff Town Hall in July and published in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian on Saturday 31 July and 7 August 1869. 2 Quoted in a long letter from Barnett Lyons to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian dated 3 August 1868, published on 8 August p. 6. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. This, of course, was Barnett Lyons' account of the events, including Blackburn's remarks. 6 Letter from Nathaniel Thomas, publish? ed in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian on 15 August p. 5. 7 Letter from Barnett Lyons to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 8 August, p. 6. 8 Letter from Miss Lyons to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 22 August 1868, p. 6. 9 Evidence of Esther Lyons at the Assize Court trial. Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 31 July 1869, p. 7. 10 Letter from Barnett Lyons to the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, published 12 September 1868, p. 6. 11 Letter from C. Schwartz DD, dated 21 September, published in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian on 26 September 1868, p. 6. 12 Letter from Barnett Lyons in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 12 September 1868, p. 6. 13 Evidence of Dr Schwartz, Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 31 July 1869, p. 8. 14 Evidence of Esther Lyons. Ibid. p. 7. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Letter from Joel Emanuel dated 25 June, published in the Jewish Chronicle on 2 July 1869, p. 3. 18 'Baron' is an archaic title for an Exche? quer Court judge. 19 Letter of Mrs Keep to Mrs Hollyer read out in court by Giffard in his opening speech. Report of Trial in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 31 July 1869, p. 6. 20 Report of Trial, Ibid. 7 August 1869, p. 6. 21 Cardiff Times 7 August 1869, p. 3. 22 Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 24 Decem? ber 1869, p. 5. 23 Ibid. 2 July 1870, p. 8. 24 Ibid. 10 December 1870, p. 8; 17 December 1870, p. 8; 24 December 1870, p. 8. 25 Jewish Chronicle 12 March 1869. 26 Ibid. 13 August 1869, p. 6. 27 Rev. David Davies, Christ Magnified. The Life of Mrs N. Thomas of Cardiff (London 1884) passim. 28 Thomas Morgan, Cofiant y Parch. Nath? aniel Thomas, Caerdyff (Iiangollen 1900). I am greatly indebted to Mr Brian James M.A. of the Humanities Library, University College, Cardiff, for translating parts of this work into English for me. 29 'Let Conversion Societies and unattach? ed Conversionists learn that parental authority is vindicated by the majesty of the law and the Decalogue is set on high as a guiding code of conscience in enjoining a tribute of honour from child to parent.' Jewish Chronicle 6 August 1869, p. 6. 30 Jewish Chronicle, 1869-70, passim. 31 The Freeman, 28 August 1868, p. 658. 32 Ibid. 6 August 1869, pp. 627, 633. 33 Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 29 August 1868, p. 5. 34 Reported in Cardiff Times, 7 August 1869, p. 3. 35 The Freeman, 11 September 1868, p. 737 36 Jewish Chronicle, 14 August 1868, p. 4. 37 Reported in the Cardiff Times, 7 August 1869, p. 3. 38 Reported in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 7 August 1869, p. 6. 39 See notes 27 and 28. 28o</page></plain_text>