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The Abduction of Ellen Turner

LANMS.1977.88.6 (image/jpeg)

In spring 1827 British society was all a flutter at the excitement and intrigue surrounding the trial of British diplomat Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his brother William at Lancaster Castle.

Driven by financial gain, in 1826 they hatched a daring plan to abduct 15 year old Ellen Turner. Ellen was the sole heir of William Turner, wealthy owner of a calico printing business in Blackburn.

Ellen was taken from her school near Liverpool under the false pretence that she had been summoned home to attend her ill mother. She was met by Edward Gibbon Wakefield at Manchester who claimed he was a friend of her father come to escort her.

During a 600 mile journey Edward used all of his skills to weave a convincing web of lies. That her father had lost his fortune due to the collapse of his bank and the security of her family was dependent on her marrying him. The marriage was illegal in England so they were married by the blacksmith at Gretna Hall in Scotland. Edward was a very clever man and expected that in order to avoid a scandal, Ellen's family would agree to making the marriage official.

Ellen's uncles finally tracked the couple down in France. She was brought back to England horrified at the truth but relieved that the marriage was not legal.

Edward was arrested on his return to England and sentenced to 3 years in Newgate prison, William to 3 years in Lancaster Castle.

The marriage was annulled leaving Ellen free to marry again. She married her father's neighbour Thomas Legh of Lyme Park one of the magistrates involved in the trial. Tragically she died in child birth in 1831. Edward went on to live a long and productive life. He is remembered as one of the key figures involved in the colonisation of New Zealand along with three of his brothers.