Agnes, aged 27, was appearing in the Divorce Court, seeking the end of her marriage on the grounds that her husband already had a wife living.
She had married just two years earlier, to a 39-year-old baronet named Greville Louis John Temple – the couple marrying on 8 March 1897 at St Peter’s, Pimlico.
However, a year later, in August 1898, a court case was heard in New York. A woman named Estelle Wassall was seeking a divorce – from Greville Louis John Temple.
Estelle had married Greville Temple in 1895, but three years later, he had confessed to her that he had since married Agnes in London.
Agnes too sought a divorce, filing the papers on 3 March 1899. Greville Temple failed to appear at the Central Criminal Court to defend himself, and Agnes was duly awarded a decree nisi.
Why did Greville fail to defend himself? There was good reason. On 20 June 1898, Greville had been convicted of bigamy at the Central Criminal Court, after Estelle’s case had been heard in the States.
Greville was given a harsh punishment – he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude (at a time when others convicted of the same offence were more likely to receive six months).
He was therefore already in prison when Agnes sought the divorce from him, his conviction providing her with a clear-cut case.
It also turned out that in addition to being a bit of a cad when it came to marriage, the bigamist was also anything but a baronet. The grand Greville Louis John Temple was actually William Woodman Runcieman, a chancer from Chelsea.
Born there in 1858, he was the son of a Welsh commercial traveller, and named for his father, his middle name being his mother’s maiden name.
He spent his early childhood in Ewell in Surrey, before being sent to stay with his uncle, an army schoolmaster, at the Royal Military Asylum of Children of Soldiers in the Regular Army, back in Chelsea. He was educated there, under his uncle’s supervision.
Runcieman is not to be found in the 1881 census; the next time he appears in the archives is in April 1889.
He was convicted at the Oxfordshire Easter Quarter Sessions of obtaining an endorsement to a cheque by false pretences – with an additional charge of larceny not proceeded with – and was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.
He served his sentence in Dorset, at Her Majesty’s Convict Prison in Portland, where he was listed as a convict in 1891.
Therefore, when he was convicted of bigamy, his earlier conviction was considered and he was given a harsher sentence as a previous offender.
Agnes’s decree nisi granted on 12 June 1899 and the final decree on 22 January 1900.
She may have had reason to want to divorce Runcieman quickly, for as soon as the final decree was issued, she married again.
Conned by a man who said he was a baronet, Agnes’s second husband made no such claims.
Meanwhile, William Runcieman continued to live a life not suitable for a baronet – this time, in the confines of Dartmoor prison.
Sources: The Era, 17 June 1899; Old Bailey Online, trial of William Woodman Runcieman, bigamy, 20 June 1898 (t-18980620-426). 1871 census, 1891 census, 1901 census and Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions register (Easter sessions, 1889) via Ancestry.Tweet