Larger-than-life ladies' man

 Judge Dudley Ward and Francis Talbot and the now much-modified Pollock St house where the affair played out.
Judge Dudley Ward and Francis Talbot and the now much-modified Pollock St house where the affair played out.

A passionate affair played out in former Otago Daily Times editor Geoff Adams' house. Now he has written the book.

Nobody remembers Judge Ward. When told I was writing a book on him, friends often asked if he was the man "blown up by a parcel bomb" in a Stuart St office in 1962. That was solicitor James Ward - and the judge was not related to Sir Joseph Ward.

My Ward was a courageous, bearded giant, famous in his time, with a reputation of being very much a "ladies' man". And he figured in national courtroom and political sensations.

Arriving in Wellington in 1854, Charles Dudley Robert Ward ("Dudley" to friends) started to practise law, and in the following year became MP for Wellington Country in New Zealand's Second Parliament.

He worked closely with his friend, William Fox, but ended his political career in 1858 and soon was acting as a magistrate, moving his bulky 17-stone (108kg) frame round a North Island circuit on horseback. Later he rose to become a District Court judge in various southern districts.

By 1869 Ward was acting in Dunedin as Supreme Court judge and had risen to sufficient standing in the town to figure prominently in the huge funeral procession for Johnny Jones, whaler, early settler and entrepreneur. In that year he became chairman of the committee to organise a major fine arts exhibition, was elected first president of the Otago Institute (forerunner of the Royal Society) and appointed as a member of the first Otago University Council.

His wife, Anne, was also welcomed into the city, the Otago Daily Times publishing this tribute from the Wellington Independent newspaper: "Mrs Ward's benevolence has been of the most active kind, and many a poor family will miss her when she is gone".

Later she achieved celebrity status as first national president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, travelling round the country to set up branches and as an ardent suffragist with campaigner Kate Sheppard. Anne died in Christchurch in 1896, three years after women were granted the vote.

Researching the judge began back in 1984 when my wife and I moved into our house. A neighbour passed on a rumour that the residence was the oldest in that part of Maori Hill and had been "bought by a judge for his mistress". Amused by this, I began delving into records and became amazed as facts slowly emerged.

I am not a historian, but was twice a proud winner of national awards for investigative journalism in my early days as a reporter and my enthusiasm for determined sleuthing returned. I kept finding great stories about Judge Ward, a colossal "Viking" figure of a man - six and a-half feet (2m) tall, with bulky build and rugged visage fringed by reddish locks and beard - and his two wives.

In 1869 Ward received verbatim coverage in the ODT delivering the inaugural lecture for the Otago Institute. It included a long discussion of spiritualism and associated phenomena, all the rage at the time, along with discussion of Darwin's new theories. The reporter observed that Ward's audience "included a considerable number of ladies who appeared to take a lively interest in proceedings".

Responding to a vote of thanks, the Judge stated "so fair an audience might have led me into most unphilosophical digressions". He added that of all forms of prayer "that which springs most naturally to my lips is the old Arab formula 'Praise Allah for beautiful women'."

His mistress could have been one of that fair audience. This was Francis Ellen Talbot, born in Yorkshire. She went to Australia with her mother as a 3-year-old and migrated solo to New Zealand aged 16 in 1867.

Talbot was to become famous as the writer, Thorpe Talbot, in both countries, and then England and the US when she won a rich prize in an Australian newspaper's novel-writing competition with her book Philiberta in 1881. It was taken up by a London publisher and listed with bestsellers by Dickens, Trollope, Mark Twain and others - including Mrs Beeton, of cookery fame.

In her books, Thorpe Talbot made some obvious references to the Judge, remarking on his reputation for gallantry that attracted many women, as well as his remarkable heroism in a Timaru shipwreck drama, where he plunged into rough seas wearing top hat and frock coat, inspiring others to help in rescues.

Ward's reputation of affairs with women is well recorded. Judge Chapman, writing a letter to his son, Frederick, in 1871, described him as "a man of infamous private character, and has not the decency to conceal it". (But Chapman was very sharply critical of other prominent people.)

I believe Talbot was well acquainted with Ward in the 1870s, when she travelled round the country as a journalist, writing travel articles and a guidebook. She was living in our Maori Hill house in the 1880s and regarded as the Judge's mistress.

There was surely a strong element of real romance in this relationship since Ward and Talbot were married six years after Anne's death, on January 6, 1902, in the house. He was then aged 74 and she 51 - but coyly claiming on the marriage certificate to be 45. (In wedded life, the Judge insisted Talbot slept with a revolver under her pillow, for security, a letter revealed.)

The house was built circa 1862 in Graham St, Murrayville (now called Pollock St, Maori Hill), but the Judge's name only appeared on the title in 1896, one month after his wife Anne died in Christchurch. Before that it was ostensibly owned by a North Otago farmer Ward would have known. The Dunedin home was called "The Rest" when the Judge died in it, aged 86, in 1913, owning 10 acres (4ha) of surrounding gardens and paddocks that were later subdivided.

Dalliances and mistresses may not have been uncommon among the upper classes in Victorian society, even in New Zealand, but one would have thought such practices would be frowned upon by members of Anne's WCTU. An interesting item was found in early minutes of the Otago Law Society - when a member raised the topic of women other than members' wives being taken to social occasions. The record stated that discussion was taken in committee, then adds: "No action to be taken".

In Judge Ward's lengthy will there were, among complex provisions, generous bequests to six other women, including 500 plus the building of a new house (costing another 500 at that time) for a woman and her daughter in neighbouring Lothian St, Maori Hill, and 2000 to a former stewardess in the SS Grafton, a coastal steamer that took a circular route between Wellington and South Island ports.

No wonder Ward had been able to own many properties and acres of farmland throughout New Zealand: his Ward family was seriously rich and linked with the various English baronetcies and royalty.

Ward's grandpa, Richard Plumer Ward, made a fortune from his best-selling political novels; his father, Sir Henry Ward, had been a British MP, early supporter of the New Zealand Company, and ended up as governor of Ceylon for several years and governor of Madras, India, where he died from cholera.

The widow Emily, Lady Ward, a daughter of baronet Sir John Swinburne, returned to London where Queen Victoria invited Ward's mother to the splendour of large "grace and favour" apartments at Hampton Court Palace where she lived for all of her remaining 16 years.

Ward's birth was "at sea" on HMS Primrose, travelling to England from Mexico where his father had been the British minister during a diplomatic war. He was educated at Rugby School and Oxford before legal training at the Inner Temple, London, where grandfather Robert Plumer Ward had also graduated - and also William Fox.

I had sympathies with Dudley Ward, apparently a friend of many journalists and early newspaper editors. Locally there were Julius Vogel (first editor of the ODT), George Bell (Otago Witness, Evening Star, Guardian, etc), James Hutchison (ODT editor from 1909 to 1946) and others.

Ward had been the MP for Wellington Country in the Parliament in Auckland one year after arriving in New Zealand, and always adroitly manipulated leaks to journalists. He was ghost-writer of a searing editorial in the Evening Star that resulted in a notorious libel case. He was also keen on art, having a large collection of paintings sold after he died.

Thorpe Talbot was supposed to have a "missing novel", called Guinevere, according to some previous writers. After much research I found it at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, in a scrapbook. It was actually a long epic poem (59 seven-line stanzas) titled Guinevere in the South, and the cutting came from an obscure newspaper the Geraldine County Chronicle, a short-lived weekend edition of the Timaru Herald.

The theme is a modernised version of the killing of King Arthur by Lancelot (pistols, not swords) caused by the charms of Guinevere. It seems based on similar passions that perhaps strained the triangle of Ward torn between wife Anne and his mistress, Talbot (the "sweet mad bliss" she describes in the poem).

Some sensational cases heard by Judge Ward in Otago included the Smythies Affair: The judge managed to stop a lawyer who had been jailed for forgery in England from practising in the profession in New Zealand. He urged the creation of a Law Society, which happened soon after. In thundering decisions, Ward made caustic remarks about the Chief Justice, Sir George Arney, and the other Supreme Court judges.

Sir George rebuked him but Ward made challenging replies, with William Fox going public in Wellington to defend Ward's actions and himself drawing criticism. In the following year, Fox became prime minister and was able to give Sir George an effective slap on the wrist. Most of the old Supreme Court judges then retired within a couple of years. Dudley Ward was offered a permanent seat on several occasions but would not accept it.

Other local cases included the bankruptcy case of a former Oamaru mayor, which led to the resignation of a cabinet minister (the Colonial Secretary, Thomas Heslop) and a by-election, and the Macassey versus Bell libel case in which Ward was named but not directly implicated in proceedings. Macassey was accused of "hiring spies" to dog the Judge's footsteps in his private life.

The Meikle Case was a long-running row - the equivalent of an Arthur Alan Thomas controversy in a later century. A sheep-stealer convicted by Ward in Invercargill protested innocence for more than 50 years, during and after his seven years in prison. Eventually a vital witness was found guilty of perjury. Parliament at last acquitted John Meikle, with no blame on the Judge, but finally gave Meikle only a measly 1 in compensation.

Judge Ward made many land purchases in Southland, North Otago and South Canterbury, had a farm in the Hakataramea Valley and was one of the eight shareholders in the ill-fated Duntroon-Hakataramea Railway scheme.

He also had a long battle with the National Bank where he kept appealing a Timaru dispute right up to the House of Lords in London and still would not pay up his debt, starting his own action against the bank. And he passed New Zealand investment tips back to the family lawyer in London.

He was a busy man and fascinating character.

Judge Ward is available from Amazon Books

Paintings missing

Four paintings by noted Dutch-born painter Petrus Van der Velden were donated to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery after Judge Ward's death. The editor of the Otago Daily Times, James Hutchison, wrote a letter to Dunedin Public Art Gallery chairman, Mr A. Bathgate, in 1914 on behalf of the widow Thorpe Talbot to perform the bequest.

A small painting, Dutch Snow Scene, remains in the collection but the other three were found to be missing in 1971, even though included in a 1931 inventory and valued in 1963. Titles of the missing works were His Photo, The Lady of the Violin, and A Gathering Storm.

Park Reynolds Ltd sold at auction the rest of the judge's private collection: 105 paintings that included eight other Van der Veldens. The painter's large Otira Gorge painting is now one of the treasures of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.


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