The Reverend Henry John Hatch was the subject of my first book, Henry’s Trials. He, and his loyal wife Essie, had to deal with many strange people in the course of Henry’s odyssey through the British legal system of the mid-19th century.
One of the oddest, and certainly the character with the strangest name, was Walters Freake Pratt. He was the young lawyer retained by the Plummer family who visited Essie in Wandsworth after Henry had fled to secret lodgings to avoid imprisonment for debt. He wanted Essie to admit that Henry was guilty of the charges of indecent assault which the Plummer children had made against him. If he did that, Pratt said, the charges could be dropped. Essie declined.
Subsequently, Pratt was called to account at the Court of Queen’s Bench, accused of gross misconduct. It transpired that not only had he suggested to Essie that the charges could be dropped when an arrest warrant for Henry John Hatch had already been issued, but he had acted in a very questionable manner towards the Home Secretary, Sir George Cornewall Lewis. Lewis had been asked to grant Hatch the Royal Pardon, although he had been told that there was a rumour that Hatch had actually confessed himself guilty to someone, the someone being lawyer Pratt. Lewis called Pratt in to ask him if it were true. Pratt replied that he would only answer under oath – and this to the Home Secretary no less!
Pratt got away with it, the judges at the Court of Queen’s Bench having decided that he had acted with ‘…tenderness and mercy…’ It was, unfortunately, just one of the many nails in the coffin of Henry’s treatment by the legal system at the time.
Today, I discovered quite by accident, that Pratt’s daughter, Clara Ripley Pratt, married John Ambrose Fleming in 1887. Fleming was to become a very famous electrical engineer; in 1904 he patented the thermionic diode, arguably the beginning of the electronic and microprocessor revolution.
I mention all of this because of the variable nature of the spelling of Pratt’s name. When I first came across him, his name was spelled, almost invariably in the newspaper reports, ‘Walters Freake Pratt’. Surely, I thought, the press had got it wrong, it was 'Walter' not 'Walters'. But when he died in 1874, his name was registered as ‘Walters Freak Pratt’, without the ‘e’ at the end of Freak. His grave similarly shows the same name. When he married Sophia Elizabeth Octavia Tyndale Ripley in 1856, his name was recorded ‘Walter Freak Pratt’, and when his daughter Clara married, by which time he was dead, his name was given as ‘Walter Freak Pratt’, and this is how it was spelled in Fleming’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Is all of this important? Well, yes it is. These days we are fortunate that so much genealogical information has been transcribed into computer databases. But unless the search criteria exactly match the stored information, the latter will not be found. Thus a search for ‘Walters Freak Pratt’, will not find an entry for ‘Walter Freake Pratt’ or ‘Walter Freak Pratt’ although it may find ‘Walter Freak Pratt’, and so on. It is thus vital to try all combinations of spellings where there is the slightest possibility of different versions existing.
I am still amazed at the apparent ease with which Pratt extracted himself from the gross misconduct charge. He was almost certainly responsible for the refusal of Cornwall Lewis to grant Henry John Hatch the Queen’s Pardon in January/February 1860, and thus condemned Henry to another four months in gaol. I may well investigate his family background further to find out just how he acquired that curious name.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs