Who doesn’t like a good divorce? Someone else’s, by preference. 1817 saw a rather nasty one that excited a London public that had gotten little enough of excitement since the end of the Napoleonic wars.
The Reverend John Castleton Miller was chaplain to the British Army at Malta, and married, we can hope happily, to Sarah Paget. After a brief time in Malta, a time that saw the birth of one child, Mrs. Miller was compelled for reasons of health (dodgy liver) to return to England. The year was 1809, and her stay was supposed to be a short one.
It did not. The doctors, it seemed, were not at all happy with her situation and insisted that she continue her treatments at places like Cheltenham and Bath. She faithfully kept the Reverend Miller informed on her progress: “The Medical People tell me the more Time I can give myself here, the greater Chance there is of my being able to bear a warm Climate.”
”They do not appear to give me much hopes of my being able to return again this Winter, but this is only from doctorial Hints, as they have not ventured to say I shall not, seeing me positive as to my Return; but they say, if I do, I shall have to leave Malta again next Summer.”
“My Side has been very bad of late (though considerably better than when at Malta); and if the Pain does not get better, Doctor Dick, whose Advice I have had as the most famous in my Complaint, has decreed I must have an Issue in my Side.”
What she neglected to mention, what with one thing and another, that she had became involved with the scapegrace, Sir Charles Drake Dillon, Baronet, (1770-1840) of Lismullen, High Sherrif of County Meath* Granted, she was busy. While the Reverend Miller spent the next six years sprucing up the home at Malta for her anticipated return, Sarah and her special friend produced four subsequent children. She neglected to mention them as well.
Her requests for money, however, never failed: “As yet I have not paid any Bills in this County, and Gilpin has £400 in his Hands; but I shall want more soon.” Between 1809 and 1815, Miller arranged for her to receive 3,400 pounds. (Mrs. Dashwood kept herself and three daughters afloat on 500 pounds per annum, and that could include servants.)
It couldn’t last, of course. The Reverend eventually got wind of the whole thing, and soon enough the reluctant Dillon was high-tailing it from process servers. The case was heard in the house of Lords, the Lords presumably enjoying a bit of dish as much as the rest of us.
Dillon was forced to pay 2,000 pounds for his actions and the Reverend Miller, now back in England for good, was free to re-marry if he so chose. He did not. Possibly there was an element of spite. So long as he remained unmarried, Sarah, as the offending party, was legally unable to wed the Baronet.
Were there extenuating circumstances for the seemingly willful Sarah? A case can be made.
It appears that on Malta, where time lay heavy on the hands of peace time soldiers and bureaucrats, the Reverend Miller was a member of the Blue Rum Club. On a regular basis, British expats dressed in costume (his, a chimney sweep’s) and drank themselves stupid, and capped the evenings by rolling the empty barrel over the downed glasses and staggering home. Women tend not to appreciate such high spirits.
Miller died of ossified heart age 53. Dillon had the decency to marry the woman immediately thereafter, and lived, we will presume happily, for another twelve years on the Dillon Estate in County Meath. The Dowager Lady Dillon herself lived on to be 74, and the line continued down to 1982 when Michael Dillon (1914-1982), last of the Dillon Baronetcy died. Not much claim to fame for him, but his sister Laurence, nee Laura, was the world’s first female to male transgender.
*The Bart’s first wife, Charlotte, was killed by a Catholic rabble called The Defenders who were busy tearing down his father’s Irish house. Their Protestant counterparts were rather more inventively called the the Peep o’ Day Boys.