The Mary Travers libel case

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Mary Travers | Somerville Press | 14477

It is only loosely gay history, but the Irish Times reminds us of the fascinating Mary Travers libel case that engulfed Oscar Wilde’s parents when he was a 10 year old boy.

On December 12th, 1864, the Mary Travers libel trial opened in Dublin. This case, which The Irish Times called extraordinary, soon mesmerised Irelandwith accusations of sexual assault and hints of illicit affairs. It all began when Travers, an angry young woman, sued Jane Wilde, mother of 10-year-old Oscar, for libel because of an intemperate letter that Wilde had written. On May 6th that year she had sent it to Dr Robert Travers, assistant keeper of manuscripts at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, complaining about his daughter Mary’s behaviour.

Mrs Wilde’s letter claimed that Travers was well known at Bray “where she consorts with all the low newspaper boys in the place” and Travers was now trying to blackmail Mr and Mrs Wilde.

The case at the Four Courts lasted a week. Nationalist MP Isaac Butt was counsel for Mary Travers and all of the Irish media were in rapt attendance, as Jane Wilde was a much-loved figure.

The case quickly got juicy when Butt raised an alleged assault by William Wilde, in his surgery, on Travers – William Wilde and Travers had been lovers – with Jane’s compliance! – and that the letter came in the angry aftermath of the ending of the affair.

Travers took the stand on December 14th but contradicticting herself, turned the tide of public sympathy against her, and the Wilde’s counsel alleging Travers was a laundanu addict, and revealing the letters demanding money from William Wilde.

On December 19th the jury took only 80 minutes to find in Travers’s favour – but awarded her a paltry farthing damages.

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