Friday 21 July 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 14. Still at the Bar

In this episode we are continuing to follow Herbert Jacobs' legal career by looking at cases of his reported in the press. However, before we pick up again from 1914 a little backtracking to the previous episode is necessary consequent upon digging up some more reports from the first years of Jacobs career. Contrary to what was suggested in episode 13, the British Newspaper Archive shows Jacobs as early as 1887 (he was formally called to the Bar in January of that year), so it seems that he didn't have to wait until 1889 for his press debut. In 1887 Jacobs was still only at the very start of his career, and so rather junior, and he was mentioned only as second fiddle to more senior Counsel.

The first case that turned up during this additional ferreting was a contract of employment (as we would know it these days) dispute in November 1887 (London Evening Standard 18 Nov). Jacobs was on the winning side, and the wronged employee won his damages. The second was a rather dry bankruptcy case where the Jacobs team was engaged in formal proceedings to condemn some unfortunate soul to financial oblivion (Huddersfield Chronicle 8 Dec 1888). The third case (Bristol Mercury 7 Dec 1889, and countless others) was altogether more shocking, as it was about extortion from, and abuse (including possible rape and impregnation) of, a domestic worker - a Miss McShane -  and speaks of the dark side behind the veneer of late Victorian respectability. She was mercilessly taken advantage of, and yet the case was heard in the London Sheriff's Court merely for the assessment of damages. The miserable defendants (he, an organist in the local church, his wife and their son) didn't defend themselves and were obliged to pay retributions, though hardly punitive, and it is not obvious that criminal charges were ever brought; but at least Herbert helped her obtain a measure of justice.
Now let's pick things up again in 1914, the year when war broke out.

Another series, beginning here on our predecessor blog, attempted a potted history of British chess during WW1. It noted how all members of the City of London Chess Club of fighting age rushed to join up. The Club also donated spare chess gear to the war effort - to give the volunteers something to do while awaiting training and active duty. Jacobs himself was too old for conscription when it was enacted in 1916. As for his professional practice, it is not obvious that is was distorted by the war, as we will see below. Nonetheless, the period was not without interest and he was involved in several cases that are worth examining, particularly as chess came up in court.

Jacobs' liberal political inclinations, especially prominent in the first decades of the 20th Century, would lead us to expect to see his legal activity engage with goals of social justice, equality, and support for the exploited: and the McShane case above fits that perspective. So let's pass over another where he represented a bank seeking recovery of a debt (Western Mail 13 Jan 1914), if for no other reason that the legal terminology employed made it impossible for your blogger to understand - although Herbert, armed with his update of Steven's Mercantile Law, would no doubt have mastered the brief with consummate ease. But a Robin Hood he was not.

Pathé Blues
So, on to the remarkable case of the colourful Thomas Sarll "a tall soldierly man, with an eye-glass".

From here, with thanks

"Tiger" Sarll (1882-1977) was a film camera man with a taste for adventure and a fund of vivid stories: the Southern African theatre (wounded), big game hunting, the Russo-Japanese War, action in Mexico, a war-correspondent in Casablanca, etc., and employment at the Pathé Gazette. At their request he went to photograph the Balkans campaign and was told to "spare no expense to get ahead of other correspondents" (Shipley Times 30 Jan 1914 - also covered by several other papers). On his return Sarll got himself sacked and Jacobs argued his case for breach of contract, wrongful dismissal, and unpaid earnings, claiming - as Jacobs put it - "it would be believe he would have consented" to take pictures in a war zone for the same pay as "taking pictures in the London Streets". All claims were resisted by Pathé. To the delight of the Judge, Jacobs gave Sarll free rein (could he stop him?) to relate his yarns of daring-do when the Turkish foe mistook his camera for a Maxim gun which "drew fire" - as this picture from the Daily Mirror 24 Jan 1914 supposedly demonstrates.

Captured, film incinerated (searing the hair and beard clean off a Turkish officer), he escaped by bribing his guards to fake his execution. Much hilarity in court. Such film as could be smuggled home, past the Army censors, was used extensively by Pathé. You couldn't make it up. Let's hope that Sarll didn't either. His film (there's a bit here) speaks for itself, and is of some historical value (see blog as above). But "the jury disagreed and were discharged". Given the coverage in the press, and the larger than life character of Sarll (he was featured in This Is Your Life in 1959), this was a particularly high profile, if unsuccessful, case for Herbert; and though one might have been sympathetic to Sarll's plight, he was not an obvious under-dog either.

Conjugal Wrongs
July 1914 was a busy one for Jacobs with two marital dispute cases running side-by-side, both attracting considerable press interest. In the first, a child (Eric) had disappeared after Mabel and Pelham Rayner divorced. The mother was given custody, but it was Eric's grandfather who spirited the child away...
Pelham Rayner and "the missing child"
Daily Mirror 14 July 1914. 
...yet it was Pelham, the father, who was banged up in Stafford Gaol for six months as a consequence of not meeting the court order to deliver up the boy. After some suspicions by the court that there was mischief afoot, they eventually granted Jacobs' application for Pelham's release (not, incidentally, opposed by his ex-wife), which came with a "stern warning" not to withhold anything concerning the child's whereabouts. It is not clear how the case was resolved and if Eric was ever returned to his mother.

The Rayner case was reported widely, including in The People of Sunday 19 July 1914 in the column adjacent to coverage of "Mollie" Russell's application (advocated by Jacobs) for the "restoration of conjugal rights" by the 2nd Earl Russell.

The People 19 July 1914 
Both parties were much married, and sometimes divorced - he was tried in the House of Lords for bigamy. As was the fashion, when the conjugal rights case came to court, the prurient public would have sight of any intimate correspondence laid out as evidence. Restoration was awarded in 1914, and duly ignored by the 2nd Earl. The terms of the inevitable divorce were settled in 1916, including alimony, which Bertrand Russell (the 3rd Earl) continued to pay in later life after "the wicked Earl's" demise (according to this note).

Divan Intervention
1915 and 1916 saw two cases involving Isidor Gunsberg, one of Tim Harding's Eminent Victorian Chess Players, and of world-class. The substance of the first case was, again, breach of promise, and the newspaper reports (for example Dundee Evening Telegraph 29 July 1915 p5) reveal that Gunsberg was at the time "proprietor of the Divan Café in the Strand" (or "managing director" as it was put elsewhere), though its days as London's pre-eminent "chess resort" were over. Jacobs represented Miss Elizabeth White of Warrington Road, Richmond, who Gunsberg employed in the winter months as the manageress of the Divan. In the summer, though, she was a "tea-shop waitress" at the Royal Albion Hotel, Margate, where she met William Mills, a consulting engineer from Manchester.

In 1912.  From here.
Their relationship bowled along for six years, during which she had introduced Mills to Gunsberg ("the famous chess player"), as "my future husband" - Mills had expressed an interest in buying out the Divan business on Miss White's behalf. When Mill's wife found out about the relationship - an "affectionate letter [from Elizabeth to William] fell into her hands" - she warned her off in "not precisely affectionate" terms. Mills grovelled (he claimed some excuse about losses in the war) but was sued for breach of promise, which he did not defend.

Tim Harding documents Isidor's precarious financial arrangements, and in that context the following from the newspaper report takes on added significance: "Mr Gunsberg said he was anxious to get the business arrangements off his hands" - so he might concentrate on the chess said Mr Justice Lawrence who was presiding in court. It seems that the Judge also considered - unwisely maybe - that Gunsberg's chess competence was a sufficient guarantee of his judge of character: "In summing up, his Lordship said that when a great chess player like Mr Gunsberg was prepared to leave the conduct of his business in [Miss White's] hands as managing tenant, it was probable that she was a competent, responsible and level-headed woman". She was awarded £100 damages by the jury.

Good Housekeeping
The following year Jacobs again came to Gunsberg's aid in a better known case: one of libel. The press coverage, principally from the Evening News (12 December 1916) and the Times (9 and 13 December 1916), is reproduced in full at Chess History here.

The libelous slur appeared in the chess column edited by Alfred Foster in the Evening News 3 July 1915. Gunsberg had published a number of "cooked" problems (i.e. they had additional solutions unintended by the composer) in his Daily Telegraph chess column, which, on the 26 June 1915, he excused as a "hostile series" - i.e. a run of bad luck. Foster, who had been President of the Cambridge University CC and v-p of Oxford Uni CC, alluded to Gunsberg - without directly naming him - as a "sapient scribe of the chess world", which he defended in court as fair comment and merely sarcastic and ironic (as indeed my Chambers also says of the word "sapient"). But the real offence taken by Gunsberg was at the imputation that the publication of the cooked problems was out of carelessness on his part and that bad luck had nothing to do with it. Blackburne, Guest and Laws appeared as witnesses for Gunsberg to say that "cooks" were an occupational hazard for a chess editor, and often hard to spot.

Gunsberg in 1902.
From Chess Archeology
Jacobs - "a distinguished player" himself (according to the Evening News 12 December 1916) - appeared alongside a King's Counsel for Gunsberg. Once again he made only a brief appearance in the press when he was requested, by the opposition Defence Counsel, to assist the court in confirming that a "rook" and a "castle" were one and the same thing (to the astonishment of the Judge: "Do you really pretend, Mr Hume Williams, that you do not know?" "Your lordship must not say ‘pretend’. I shall bring an action against your Lordship.” (Laughter.)). And once again it was given to the jury both to pass judgment and determine the level of damages, which they did "after an hour's deliberation": £250. Gunsberg was later said to have "rubbed his hands...since he was provided with housekeeping money for some years." (Chess January 1950).

Playing The Long Game
We should not forget that Eric, Herbert and Agnes's son, who had been born back in 1895, was commissioned into the Army in 1916. It was to be the beginning of a long and distinguished military and diplomatic career - though in the depths of the war, and among the appalling loss of life, that was beyond the horizon.  At the end of the war Herbert was 55, and getting his chess back to normal - he still had appearances in four more British Championships to come. His professional career continued, although there are now very few references to it in the press.

In one of those, from 1918, Jacobs was again involved in an employment dispute: a farm-worker was claiming damages "under the Act" for a strained wrist and permanent incapacity from using a faulty motor-plough. Jacobs was in the Sherborne County Court (Western Gazette 14 June 1918) to represent the respondent - he had been appointed by the Treasury Solicitor, possibly because any compensation "under the Act" would come from the public purse. The respondent, through Jacobs, contested the claim, but the worker came away with only two months half-pay as compensation. Once again it would be difficult to say that Jacobs was on the side of the under-dog; and unless the worker really was faking his incapacity (as the Doctors rather implied), a month's pay wouldn't go very far.

In 1924 we get an interesting chess experiment reprising a correspondence game played (and/or published) that same year between the English Bar and their Spanish counterparts (given in episode 9). This time it was against the New York Bar:

Falkirk Herald April 16 1924
The "London team" of Jacobs, Haydon and E.G. Sergeant, which completed the four-year marathon, was the same as against the Spanish Bar.

Towards the end of his legal career Jacobs was able to dine out on his chess adventures, witness this report in the Nottingham Evening Post 18 May 1939.
"Chess Match That Lasted Four Years.
    In a case in the Chancery Court yesterday, Mr. Herbert Jacobs, barrister, produced a set of Staunton chessmen which he won in a tournament in 1886, and said that, though it had been constantly used, it was perfect still. 
   In 1887 he won the Ruskin chess prize, and had two letters from John Ruskin congratulating him on the fact. He was champion of the City of London Club 1894-97, and played in a correspondence match between the English and American Bars. 'It lasted four years,' he added, 'for sometimes we took a month a move.'"  
This was on the eve of World War 2. In 1941 (Agnes had died 10 years earlier) he turned up in the BCM when his Chambers sustained "superficial" damage - but he was reported as remaining his usual "bright and witty self". According to his obituary in 1950, he was still practicing in his 80s.

A couple more episodes will suffice to tie up a few loose ends of this Jacobs saga, including one next week.
Eminent Victorian Chess Players by Tim Harding. Published by McFarland 2012.
Chess in the Courts by Edward Winter. See entry for 1916. There is also another passing reference to Jacobs in 1933.

Previous episodes: 1. Beginning in Croydon2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar3.City Champ4. Congress Man5. A Load of Old Cablers6.Engaging Agnes7. Congress Man Replayed8. Madame Larkcom9. Jacobs Crackers10. Votes for Women!  11. Votes for Jacobs! 12 Intermission Riff; 13 Barrister......and subsequently 15 Down the Line; 16. Finale.
Lost in History; and more Chess History 


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