Bigamy and elopement on the Passenger Lists

July 16, 2007 customer Catherine Major emailed us recently with a fascinating story that she uncovered whilst viewing the new decade of our Passenger Lists.

According to a family story, Robert Bruce ran away with his mistress, a ‘Mrs Harding’, to start a new life, leaving behind his wife and their 1 year old son. On searching our new decade, sure enough, Robert Bruce and his mistress could be seen travelling to Australia aboard the Berrima in July 1922.

What is most interesting about this story is the fact that the couple wanted to conceal the fact that they were travelling together, and the means by which they did so. The pair are not listed together on the Passenger List, having bought their tickets separately – he had ticket 249, she 238. Bruce can be seen four rows below Harding.

Robert Bruce and Maud Harding

The 1920s decade includes the traveller’s last address in the UK but rather than stating their correct ones, in Ripon, North Yorkshire, the couple give different Hotels in London’s Euston Square.

Catherine Major believes that the pair married upon their arrival in Adelaide, in what would have been a bigamous union.

Whilst this may seem a rather dramatic course of action to take, elopement and even bigamy weren’t as uncommon as one might imagine. Divorce in the UK at the time was rare; the only cause for which a divorce might be issued until 1936 was adultery and even that had a number of caveats procluding reciprocal adultery, connivance and collusion from allowing a legal end to the marriage. 

As such, the majority of unhappy marriages remained legally binding despite neither party wishing them to do so. In this climate married people, particularly men, often extricated themselves through extreme means.

It is also worth noting that as the address and personal information stated on the lists are as supplied by the passengers themselves, they must be viewed with a degree of caution.

It was not only a moribund marriage that caused people to take to the seas in search of a new life. There are two known examples of elopement on the Titanic.

Henry Morley, from Worcestershire, was eloping with Kate Phillips – Morley died in the sinking. They can be seen travelling as Mr and Mrs Marshall:

Henry Morley and Kate Phillips

Also on board were an Irish couple, Denis Lennon and Mary Mullin, who intended to disobey their families wishes and marry in America. They apparently presented themselves as brother and sister when travelling but their true relationship can be seen here.