From Shields Daily Gazette 31 July 1899:
A story of common assault and kidnapping by the acting in-laws of a cousin.
A THEATRICAL MANAGER AND HIS WIFE.
SCENE AT TYNEMOUTH.
STRUGGLE FOR A CHILD
At the North Shields Police Court on Saturday an interesting and rather singular case was heard by the magistrates (Ald. Collins and Mr T. Byers)- James Sanderson Moffat, aged 24 years, the leading actor in the play, "Under the Czar," appearing at the South Shields theatre this week, and his two sisters Catherine D. Moffat (20), and Ellen Ormiston Moffat, being charged on a warrant that on the 25th they unlawfully assaulted Jane Sanderson Moffat. Mr Strachan, of Newcastle, appeared for the complainant, and the three defendants were represented by Mr G. R. Duncan.
Mr Strachan, in opening the case, explained that the complainant was the wife of the defendant, who was the manager and leading actor of the theatrical company playing at South Shields last week. The young ladies standing in the dock beside him were his sisters, and were at present travelling about with him. The complainant and defendant were married in 1894, and after a miserable co-habitation of ten months they had practically never lived together since. There was one child of the marriage, a boy aged 4 years. as the male defendant had refused and neglected to maintain his wife and child, they had been living with Mr Dickson Moffat, the defendant's brother, who could not stand by and see his sister-in-law used as she had been. At the present time she was staying with Mr and Mrs Dixon Moffat at Tynemouth. the latter being under an engagement at the Palace. Thus, after not seeing each other for two and a half years, the complainant, while out with her child, met her husband in Hotspur Steet on Monday afternoon last. He, it appears, did not recognise her until she was pointed out to him by one of her sisters. Nothing occurred on that day, but on the following afternoon, while complainant was on Sharpness Point with her little boy, her husband came up and snatched away the child. Complainant made an effort to get possession of the boy, and was struggling with her husband, when the two sisters, who had apparently been lying in wait behind one of the seats, suddenly appeared on the scene and attacked her with their umbrellas.
At this juncture the two female defendants began to cry, and were permitted to leave the dock and sit sown on a form behind the box.
Mr Strachan, proceeding, described what took place afterwards, pointing out that the male defendant's treatment of his wife necessitated the interference of Mr Alex. Deuchar, against the railings of whose house Moffat knocked his wife repeatedly. As a consequence of these assaults the complainant was bruised about the arms , shoulders, and back, and had her blouse and gloves torn to pieces. It was a serious and aggravated assault, and one for which there could possibly be no excuse.
The complainant was then sworn. She was married, she said, to the defendant in Dec. 1894. Her husband had never supported her, and she was living with her brother and sister-in-law, Mr and Mrs Dickson Moffat. On Monday last she was coming along from the Palace with her child when she met her husband and his two sisters. He did not seem to notice her at first, but his eldest sister made some remark. She, however, took no notice, and walked on. On the following day at about five minutes to five she was on Sharpness Point with her child, when her husband came up to her and asked how it was that she had never gone over to see him at South Shields. He swore at her, and added that it was a funny thing he couldn't get his own child. The two girls then came up to them and the eldest one shouted, "You are a fool, Jimmy." The male defendant snatched the child. She tried to get the boy away from him, and they were struggling when the two girls commenced to beat her so unmercifully that she was obliged to let go her hold. The youngest girl thereupon ran away with the child up the street, while her husband dragged her across the road to the railings at Percy Gardens. the older sister struck her with her umbrella. Witness called for assistance, and Mr Deuchar interfered, but after he went into the house, her husband again seized hold of her and dragged her a considerable distance past the Grand Hotel. While he was so doing he threatened to settle her. She was still suffering from the effects of the assault.
By Mr Duncan: Her husband left her at Morecombe three years ago, and went to Glasgow. He sent her no money. Six weeks afterwards she joined him in Glasgow at his brother's. Mr Dickson Moffat's, house. Two days later her husband sent her to Dundee to gis mother, who lived at 2 Hellfield Avenue. From that time until last November she lived there, and was maintained by his mother. In November last she went to Glasgow to nurse Mrs Dickson Moffat. When her sister-in-law got better, her husband wrote and asked her to join him, or to send the child.
Mr Duncan: You refused to join him?
Witness: I can't exactly remember.
Ald Collins: Did he send you any money?
Mr Duncan: Have you refused up to the present time to live with your husband?
Witness: I have never refused to live with him. He never sent me any money to keep me or take me to him.
Mr Duncan: are you willing to live with him now?
Mr Duncan: Are you acting as servant to Mr and Mrs Dickson Moffat?
Witness (indignantly): I don't act as any servant.
The clerk: Do you assist in the house?
Witness: I assist.
Mr Alexander Deuchar, wine and spirit merchant, residing at Percy Gardens, Tynemouth, said that on the day in question, when about nine or ten doors from his own house, he saw a desperate struggle going on about a child. The male defendant had the child in his arms, and the complainant was tugging at the child's legs. The man was running round and round and shouting out "I must take it with me to Shields with me tonight." After a desperate struggle two girls came up and released the child, taking it out of the man's arms.The man then seized the complainant and trailed her all the way down to his (witness's) house, and dashed her against the rails. Two or three women who were spectators at the scene began shouting "Its another murder case." Witness went forward, and when complainant appealled to him for assistance said, "He won't harm you now." The male defendant looked at him and desisted, and witness went into the house. The woman's clothes were very much torn. He did not see the two girls do anything but take the child.
By Mr Duncan: When the male defendant was trailing his wife he had one arm round her waist.
Mr Duncan: Do you call that trailing?
Witness: They walked sometimes and then there was a waltz. (Laughter).
It was done in a most disgraceful manner -- such a thing I have not seen in Tynemouth for the last ten years.
Mr Duncan: If you saw the man dash the woman up against the railings, why didn't you as a man, find fault with him? Can you answer that?
Witness: Because they were man and wife, and because the whole thing was stopped when I got up to them.
Wm. Jame Batey, a visitor, Florence Dickson Moffat, an artiste engaged at Tynemouth Palace, and Sergeant Weatherburn also gave evidence, this completing the case for the prosecution.
At this point the magistrates intimated their intention of adjourning the case for an hour.
Mr Duncan: I submit there is no case, and ask that it be at once dismissed.
The Chairman (Ald. Collins) said so far as the two young ladies were concerned they were discharged. we will hear the evidence on behalf of the male defendant when the Court resumes. On the sitting being resumed,
mr Duncan for the defence, submitted that the case had been grossly exagerated, and spoke strongly of the harsh measures to which his clients had been subjected in a warrant having been taken out for their apprehension, and executed in the case of the male defendant and one of the sisters. Having given a denial to the charge, and stated the defendant's version of the affair, which arose, he explained, purely through defendant attempting to get possession of his own child - to which he had every legitimate right - he asked the Bench to say that this young couple should make up their differences and come together again, for defendantwas perfectly willing to take and maintain his wife.
Catherine Moffat, the younger sister of the defendant, then stepped into the witness box, and said that the complainant lived with witness's mother for 3½ years until last November, and was maintained by him, the money being remitted by her brother. She left them and went to Glasgow to nurse Mrs Dickson Moffat, and although her husband wrote to her repeatedly asking her to come back to him, she never returned. Witness did not see her at Tynemouth last Monday, and did not know she was there until informed by another brother. She went over to Tynemouth on the Tuesday with her sister, and joined her brother, the defendant, there. She saw him go up and speak to his wife, and heard her, in reponse to her brother's invitation that she should come to South Shields to see him, say: "I will see what Dick says" (meaning Mr Dickson Moffatt). Witness walked away, and had nothing further to do with it, until she heard her brother shout: "Katy, come and take Mousey." When she went back, the complainant took hold of her brother's coat, and then the row began. Witness took the child from her brother, and ran away with it. She did not see her brother either strike or push his wife against the railings.
Ellen Ormaston Moffat, the elder sister, gave similar evidence, and denied that either she or her brother assaulted Mrs Moffat.
Defendant was also sworn, and describing what took place, said his wife seized hold of him as soon as he picked up the child. He never struck her and did not push her against the railings. He merely held her with his arm round her waist to enable his sister to get away with the child, and did not use any more force than was necessary to prevent her running after them. While his wife was staying with his mother he forwarded money regularly for her maintenance. He had not the same regard for his wife now as he he had when they were married, but he had no ill-feeling, and was quite willing to maintain her.
The Bench found defendant guilty of a common assault and imposed a fine of 20s and costs.