Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Regency Elopements: Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Ellen Turner

Elopements were not always based on love and desire. The Gretna Green histories chronicle some tales in which marriages were accomplished through force and/or lies. Indeed, deception and greed was at the helm of the 1826 elopement of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and fifteen-year-old Ellen Turner.

Early in his life, Wakefield served as the King’s Messenger during the Napoleonic wars, carrying letters throughout Europe. In 1816 he married (also by elopement) an heiress, who later died after complications in childbirth.

Although he had received a settlement of seventy thousand pounds from his first marriage, Wakefield was greedy. He needed more money if he was to live the way he wished and someday become a member of Parliament.

Enlisting his brother’s help, Wakefield devised a plan in which he would lure the wealthy mill’s daughter, Ellen Turner, away from her girl’s school in Liverpool with what appeared to be an official doctor's letter stating her mother was ill and calling for her.

The cruel plan worked. Eager to see her mother, Ellen left the school accompanied by her family’s butler to Manchester. There, she was led to private rooms where she met with Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a handsome, charming man who claimed to be a friend of her father’s.

Edward not only calmed and assured young Ellen that her mother was quite well, but he won her over with his smile and polite manners. She was immediately smitten. When he told her that her father insisted they travel together to Kendal to meet him, Ellen obliged. Once in Kendal, Wakefield informed her that her father would not be coming. Instead, he had terrible news. Her father’s business was ruined. Wakefield produced a supposed letter from a solicitor suggesting Ellen and Wakefield marry at once in order to preserve her father’s failing fortune. Ellen eagerly obliged. She wanted to help her father, and it was in no way a hardship since this man was good-looking and seemingly benevolent of spirit. She agreed, and off they went to Gretna Green.

The marriage took place and the couple left immediately, bound for Calais, France. Fortunately, they were intercepted by Ellen’s uncles. One can only imagine the scene that took place in Calais as the uncles explained that her father was perfectly well, his money in perfect order. Much to her horror, they detailed for the young woman the con man’s intentions to lay hold of her fortune.    

A national scandal ensued known as the “Shrigley Abduction” as Wakefield stood trial in March of 1827. Convicted of kidnapping and felonious marriage, he was sentenced to three years in Newgate Prison and the marriage was annulled.

Even after this, he committed forgery (although it was never proven) in an attempt to extract more money through his deceased wife’s father’s will, but the plan failed.

Despite a sullied reputation, in the 1830s Wakefield became a politician responsible for orchestrating British immigration to Australia and New Zealand as a solution to overcrowding. He spent much of his later years in New Zealand as an influential politician and Member of Parliament.

Ellen Turner married legally and by choice at the age of seventeen to a man who shared her status and position.

Just as they have done since the beginning of time, con artists still swindle unsuspecting folks today. What do you think is the reason people fall for a con artist’s ploy?

Other sites on the topic of Regency elopement:


  1. Fascinating story, especially that he was able to be successful in politics after his brief time in prison!


  2. We fall for a con artist's ploy for varied reasons: We want to believe; The con artist is charming; We're fifteen years old and easily frightened; Mental illness.


    1. Haha! Yes, Janie. I think you're right. I fell for some doozies when I was fifteen. :)