Shrigley Abduction

From Academic Kids

The Shrigley abduction was a British case of an attempted forced marriage of young heiress Ellen Turner to later colonial politician Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

Ellen Turner was a daughter and only child of William Turner, rich mill owner who lived in Shrigley, in Cheshire, England, and who owned calico printing and spinning mills. At the time of the abduction, Turner was a High Sheriff of Cheshire and they lived in Shrigley Hall, near Macclesfield. Even at the age of fifteen, Ellen was one of the most eligible heiresses and in February 1827 attracted interest of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who begun to conspire with his brother William to get his hands on her inheritance.

Wakefield had in his previous life eloped with a daughter of Indian civil servant and her parents had eventually accepted the marriage (the wife had died years before). He apparently based his plan on similar expectations.

At March 7 1827, Wakefield sent a carriage and a servant Edward Thevenot to Ellen's boarding school in Liverpool with a message to Mrs Daulby, the mistress of the school, where he claimed that William Turner had become paralyzed and wished to see his daughter immediately. Mrs Daulby was initially suspicious of the fact that she did not recognize Thevenot but eventually let Ellen go.

Thevenot and Ellen Turner left for Manchester where Thenevot took her to Hotel Albion where she met Wakefield. Wakefield told her that her father's business had collapsed and that he had agreed to take her to Carlisle, where Mr Turner had supposedly fled to escape his creditors.

Next day in Kendal he claimed that her father was actually on the run and there was an agreement between two banks that some of her father's estate would be transferred to her or, to be exact, her husband. He also claimed that his banker uncle had proposed that Wakefield marry her and if she would agree to marry him, her father would be saved. Ellen allowed them to take her to Carlisle, where William Wakefield claimed to have spoken to her father, who had also agreed to the marriage.

Ellen finally consented and the Wakefields took her over the border of Scotland to Gretna Green, which had become a favorite place of elopement for those who wanted to exploit the less strict marriage laws of Scotland. There they were married by blacksmith David Laing.

Back in Carlisle she wanted to finally see her father. Wakefield agreed to take her to Shrigley but in Leeds Wakefield claimed he had a meeting in Paris that he could not postpone and sent his brother to invite her father to London. In London a (probably bribed) valet in Blake's Hotel told them that Mr. Turner and William Wakefield had proceeded to France and they had to follow them. Wakefield took Ellen to Calais.

Mrs. Daulby became concerned in couple of days and begun inquiries. Ellen's parents received a letter from Wakefield who informed them that he had married their daughter.

Wakefield had apparently expected that William Turner would have accepted their marriage rather than face a public scandal. Instead, Turner left for London to ask for help from police and found out that his daughter had been taken to the continent. He sent his brother, accompanied with a police officer and solicitor, to Calais where they soon found the couple in the docks.

Ellen expressed pleasure at seeing her uncle; at that stage she had presumably found out the truth of the whole affair. Wakefield claimed that since they were legally married, she could not be taken from him by force. French authorities interviewed Ellen and finally let her leave the country with her uncle. Wakefield, in an attempt to not to make his situation worse, put in writing that she was still a virgin and left for Paris.

British police issued warrants for the Wakefields' arrest and William Wakefield was arrested in Dover couple of day later. He was taken to Cheshire where magistrates debated on what exact offense he had committed. He was finally committed to Lancaster Castle to wait for his trial. Court of King's Bench later released him on bail worth 2000 and two sureties worth 1000 each.

Edward Thevenot and the Wakefields' stepmother Frances were also indicted as accomplices. Both brothers and their stepmother appeared in court and pleaded Not Guilty. Thevenot, who was still in France, was indicted for felony in absentia.

The trial of William Wakefield began in March 21 1827 with great publicity - but without Wakefield who was later arrested. Eventually in March 23 1827 all three defendants were put in trial in Lancaster and jury declared all of them guilty the same day. They were committed to the Lancaster Castle in the following day.

On May 14 the Wakefields were taken to Court of King's Bench in Westminster, where William said that he had been working under the guidance of his brother. Edward Wakefield also swore that the legal expenses had exceeded 3000. Both brothers were sentenced for three years in prison, Edward in Newgate prison and William in Lancaster Castle. Frances Wakefield was released. Since the marriage had remained unconsummated, Parliament easily annulled it the next day.

After his release Edward Wakefield became interested in colonial affairs and became a manager of South Australia Company. William Turner was elected as MP for Lancaster for the Whig party in 1832-1841. Ellen Turner was married for real at the age of 17 to Thomas Legh, a wealthy neighbor. She died in childbirth at the age of 19 and was survived by a son.


  • Kate Atkinson - Abduction - the story of Ellen Turner
  • Audrey Jones & Abby Ashby - The Shrigley Abduction

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