In the late 1880’s, at about the time when he became the MP for St Ives, Mr Thomas Bedford Bolitho became aware that he was attracting unwelcome attention. He was in his fifties, eligible and unmarried: just the sort to make a young woman’s heart flutter. Or at any rate, the heart of a 40 year-old farmer’s daughter from St Just, herself a respectable spinster and a schoolmistress of evangelist persuasion.
The lady had begun with “constant intrusions on him, by correspondence and occasionally in person”. She would hang about the railway stations, the streets - even follow Mr. Bolitho over the border into Devon. People were noticing. In 1891, it emerged that the lady had borrowed a substantial amount of money, with the promise of repayment when a planned marriage to a wealthy man took place. But no doctor would certify her insane, nor had she committed a criminal act.
It was natural that the MP – who seems to have been entirely an blameless victim - should have wanted to keep the matter quiet. But by December 8th it clearly had to be dealt with, for the following day – Saturday December 9th 1893 – he was to be married to Frances Jane Carus-Wilson, at Truro Cathedral. The other lady, presumably imagining herself his true intended, had declared her own intention to be present.
And so, the afternoon before the wedding, what we would now term Mr Bolitho’s ‘stalker’ was brought along to a magistrates’ hearing at Penzance. The press were, as far as possible, kept at arm’s length. Whatever the woman’s feelings in the matter, “she could not well decline the pressing invitation of Superintendent Nicholas”. The Cornish Telegraph described her as a “supposed lunatic at large” now under arrest, but she seems to have been treated in a humane and kindly manner: more so, as the Cornishman pointed out, than would a man who had paid similar attentions to a lady.
In court, Mr Bolitho said that “neither by word or look or letter” had he encouraged her: his contact with her had been limited to a brief conversation when he visited (as patron) the school where she worked, and the “ordinary act of courtesy” of thanking her for some political cuttings she had sent during his election campaign, before the depth of her feeling became known.
The following day, while the wedding proceeded in Truro as planned, the schoolteacher would be occupied in Penzance - at a hearing in front of the Mayor. She would not be declared an asylum case, and would be handed into the care of her father – her behaviour put down to the strain caused by her evangelical work.
We know that the Bolithos went on to have 23 years together, until Thomas Bedford Bolitho’s death at the age of 80. They created the garden at Trewidden, which was later taken over by their daughter Mary, who lived until 1977.
We do not know what became of the ‘other woman’, who had doubtless entertained similar hopes.
Cornishman 13th July 1893 page 4; Cornish Telegraph 13th July 1893 page 8 (earlier fraud investigation)
Cornishman 14th December 1893 page 4
Cornish Telegraph 14th December 1893 page 8
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bedford_Bolitho (accessed 21 9 2018)