Court of King’s Bench

His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench

In English Civil and Criminal Law, cases were heard in the Court of King’s Bench. For Criminal proceedings, those where the State was taking action against a citizen believed to have committed a crime, these cases are found at the National Archives in the Court of King’s Bench (Crown Side) from 1675-1875 (KB 10 for London and Middlesex and KB 11 for the rest of the country), at which time a reform of the court systems resulted in a decline in the use of the King’s Bench system. For cases of disputes between citizens, lawsuits of one kind or another, often involving wills and estates, or disputes over debts, these cases are found in the Court of King’s Bench (Plea Side) collection (KB 122).

The pretence was maintained in the common language used by the lawyers in preparing the Pleas of the Plaintiff (s) and the Answers to those Pleas by the Defendant (s) that these cases were actually heard before the King himself. If that ever did occur, it was more than likely in the distant past. In reality, the cases were heard and judged by a senior Justice, often with a Jury appointed. Details that needed to be clarified in order to make it possible to distinguish between lies and truth in the cases presented by the lawyers for the two sides were ferreted out by “Masters” of the Court (senior attorneys) whose report on evidence taken from witnesses and sworn affidavits, and frequently from financial statements obtained from the plaintiff (s) and defendant (s), more often than not formed the crux of the judgement eventually passed down.


 

Court of King’s Bench Cases Involving Matthew Morry

We know from the text of presentations made before the High Court of Chancery that Matthew Morry had involvement in two cases in the Court of King’s Bench. These cases that we learn about from the text of Matthew’s presentations to the High Court of Chancery in one or more of his cases against Walter Prideaux and others, were taken out by Robert Newman and John Square, respectively, ostensibly to recover monies owed to them by Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux. It was Matthew’s contention before the High Court of Chancery that both of these were vexatious and fraudulent charges orchestrated by his ex-partner, Walter Prideaux, to gain payments from Matthew Morry for bills already paid in an attempt to provide Prideaux with a greater share of the remaining revenue of their failed partnership, and possibly in a vindictive attempt to ruin Matthew Morry financially.

In addition to the above cases involving Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux as defendants, there was another very similar case which, for some reason, Matthew Morry did not mention in his Pleas to the High Court of Chancery. This was a case in which two of Walter Prideaux’s grandsons, Walter Were Prideaux and Robert Were Prideaux, were suing the two of them as the partners in Matthew Morry & Co. for unpaid bills pertaining to provisioning of voyages to Caplin Bay.

Finally, there was one other case before the Court of King’s Bench taken out by people not involved in the Chancery cases that surprisingly was not mentioned in Matthew Morry’s presentations to the High Court of Chancery. Surprising, because it essentially mirrored in most details the methods followed in the above lawsuits. This was a case taken out by an insurance firm in London, Olive and Britten, against Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux, the partners of Matthew Morry & Co.


 

The Mysterious Missing Case of John Square vs Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux

In the High Court of Chancery case C 13-2155-2 Morry v Prideaux & Square 1819, Matthew Morry contends that he is seeking relief from a vexatious and fraudulent lawsuit in the Court of King’s Bench taken out by John Square in Trinity or Easter Term, 1819, which Matthew contends was done at the behest of his business partner, Walter Prideaux, even though he too was nominally a defendant in the case. The feud between the two by this time in the denouement of their thirty year partnership was extremely rancorous on both sides, and it would not be surprising that such collusion could have taken place in an attempt to ruin Matthew Morry and to ensure that he took nothing with him after the financial affairs of the partnership were settled.

There is only one fly in the ointment in this contention; there is no evidence on record that such a case was ever taken out in the Court of King’s Bench. A thorough search of the Docket Books which serve as an index to the Rotuli, or Rolls, of Court of King’s Bench case records revealed no evidence of such a case from 1811 to 1825.

There are three possibilities that could explain this. First, and most obvious, perhaps I somehow missed the entry of record in these Docket Books when I searched them in April 2017 at Kew. Although they are clearly written and in excellent condition, it is a monotonous task to search each Docket Book for each year for the names of interest (Morry, Prideaux and Square) and it is possible that one entry was missed. However, in the Docket Books, the entries on every case that involves more than one Defendant are paired, with one entry under the name of each Defendant. If I missed one, I should surely have found the other, and I did not.

Regrettably, the Docket Books have never been digitised or transcribed, though an effort is underway to do so through the Anglo-American Legal Tradition project at the University of Houston. But they have not yet completed the years of interest in this case. Therefore it is not possible to reexamine the indexes without making another trip to Kew or hiring a researcher to do so on my behalf.

The second possibility is that Matthew Morry was mistaken and that John Square had not actually taken out such a case before the Court of King’s Bench. But that theory is seemingly disproved by the fact that John Square was able to convince the Supreme Court of Newfoundland to issue him with a court order to seize Matthew Morry’s property in Newfoundland on the strength of his case in England, which he admitted to and supported by two affidavits. One was written by him and signed by the Mayor of Dartmouth. The other was written by Walter Prideaux and also signed by the Mayor of Dartmouth. The Supreme Court of Newfoundland seems to have taken John Square’s word for this, while at the same time expressing some doubts. But the failure of Matthew Morry’s representatives in court (his son, Matthew Morry II, and an unnamed lawyer) to seriously challenge these affidavits settled the matter. The Supreme Court should have insisted on being presented with documentary evidence from the Court of King’s Bench to support his contention that the debt was indeed owed to him but did not because of the poor defence put up by Matthew Morry’s lawyer. The Court felt it was not their place to do his job for him, in so many words.

The final possibility is that, for some reason, the court record was either never submitted for inclusion in the Court of King’s Bench Docket Books and Rotuli, or it was lost and therefore not included. While this may appear unlikely to anyone not having perused these records, the reality is that there are many chronological gaps in these records where the numbers between the cases that are found in the rotuli jump, missing one or more sequential numbers. It has been explained in the guides to these records given at the National Archives, that this occurred more and more over time, as the requirement to submit the case summary was loosened over the years. Since there was an expense involved in having the transcript prepared and included in the Court records, and this expense would have been paid out of whatever awards were made in the case, there was an obvious incentive on the part of the Plaintiff and his Attorney not to bother submitting their report of the case.

From the evidence of the case heard in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland, we cannot say that such a Court of King’s Bench case was ever heard, and we certainly do not know that, if it existed and was heard, John Square’s complaint was supported, to the detriment of Matthew Morry in that country. And we do not know if Walter Prideaux ever paid a penny toward this debt. The evidence of other case histories reported below seems to suggest that the answer is “no”. Matthew Morry’s assets in Devon were seized to settle Robert Newman’s King’s Bench suit (see below) and in Newfoundland to settle John Square’s suit before the Supreme Court, Central Division. In the end, it looks like Matthew Morry was out-foxed on both sides of the Atlantic.


 

KB 122-1002-1762 Prideaux and Prideaux vs Prideaux and Morry, 1818

Here we have a case in which Walter Prideaux’s grandsons, Walter Were Prideaux and Robert Were Prideaux, are suing Matthew Morry and (ostensibly) their grandfather as partners in the failing copartnership of Matthew Morry and Company, for goods and services pertaining to the outfitting of a vessel to Caplin Bay, Newfoundland which had not been paid prior to the collapse of the partnership in 1818.

Here are the two entries in the Docket Book (IND 1-6330 Docket Book 1818):

Devon                  Issue Case           Morry                   Mattw.   a/s         Waltr. Were        Prideaux }          1762

Jt. Ca agt. Prideaux            & anor.                  W. Price

It was mirrored under “P”:

Devon                  Judgt. Case           Prideaux             Waltr.    a/s         Waltr. Were        Prideaux }          1762

(Iss. Case agt. Morry)     & anor.                 Do. [W. Price]

 

The short-form hieroglyphics used in these Docket Books is new to me and there seemed to be nowhere to find guidance on their meaning[1]. Some are obvious: “Jt. Ca agt.” seems to mean “Judgement Case against Prideaux, referring the reader to search for that parallel entry for more information; “& anor.” means “and another”, telling the researcher that there was at least one other Plaintiff in the case. But suffice it to say that these two entries pertain to the court case brought against Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux by Walter Were Prideaux et al in another instance of what appeared to Matthew as being a ploy orchestrated by Walter Prideaux to exact money from Matthew (but not from Walter) that was not owed and in the process exact more revenge for terminating the partnership by ruining Matthew financially and socially in Dartmouth. So now armed with the information that the only relevant case in this time period was #1762, I attempted to home in on the correct roll or “rotulus” (“rotuli”, plural) as they are called.

The report of this case records in a conventional repetitious manner over and over again the various charges of the plaintiffs against the defendants. In this particular case, the report goes on to summarise the responses received from the lawyers representing the two defendants. And in addition, as a result of this, the next steps in the case are laid out.

But here is the interesting part. Walter Prideaux adopts a tactic that he has used in other similar cases brought against he and Matthew Morry. Essentially he bids no contest. As a result, the court concludes that it has no option but to proceed to trial against Matthew Morry alone and, if he is convicted, and ONLY if the Court is unable to obtain complete satisfaction of the debt from him alone, will they proceed to attempt to obtain the remainder of the debt from Walter Prideaux.

This is an extremely cagey ploy on the part of Walter Prideaux, a seasoned Attorney. Had Matthew Morry’s Attorney adopted a similar strategy, the Court would have been at liberty to charge them both equally with the debt and ostensibly Walter Prideaux would have paid his half to his grandsons. But in reality, had this been the way the case unfolded, one can well imagine that Walter Were Prideaux and his brother, Robert Were Prideaux, would have forgiven their grandfather’s “debt” to them but not that of Matthew Morry. So the latter was left with no option but to defend himself in court.

The judgement in the case is unknown. This is the sad reality with almost all of the case records in both the Court of King’s Bench records and the High Court of Chancery records. The reason for this is that it cost money to file an addendum to these records and neither the winning side nor certainly not the losing side of these cases could be bothered paying for such an addendum. There are published synopses of important precedent cases, but this was a fairly routine case and would not have attracted the attention of the authors of such summaries.


KB 122-1011-1690 Britten & Olive vs Morry & Prideaux, 1819

Here are the Docket Book entries that serve as an index to the location where this case record can be found:

London                 do. [Issue Debt]                 Morry                   Mattw.                   a/s          Thos.      Britten } 1690

(Jt. Ca agt. Prideaux)                                       &anor.  W. Price

London                                Judgt. Case                           Prideaux             Waltr.                    a/s         Thos.      Britten } 1690

(Issue Ca agt. Morry)                                       &anor.  Do. [W. Price]

This is a case brought  by the London insurance firm of Olive & Britten against Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux, at least nominally so. But in point of fact, their lawyer followed the same ploy in pursuing this case as in others taken out against Matthew Morry – seek a judgement against him first and only then, if necessary, go after Walter Prideaux for any residual amount not gained from Morry.

In fact, Walter Prideaux, representing himself in court, did not bother to contest the allegations by Olive and Britten, leaving Matthew Morry wide open to attack by the lawyer for the plaintiffs. Since John Square, Walter Prideaux’s partner in his law practice, was representing Olive and Britten, it was pretty well a closed shop and the judge could not have helped but know that.

Unfortunately, the judgement is not given here. We have to rely on a newspaper account of the case uncovered by Nimshi Crewe in 1965 and brought to Dad Morry’s attention at that time to know that the judge and the jury quickly concluded that this was a case of collusion on the part of all parties going after Matthew Morry and thus he was released without charges or costs. That is, if we can believe the newspaper account. It appeared in a Newfoundland newspaper and one wonders if Matthew Morry may have been the informant behind the article or whether the reporter really did review a transcript of the case and Judgement, which I have not been able to find at the National Archives to date.


KB 122-1020-2914 Newman vs Morry & Prideaux, 1819

This is the only case I have examined amongst those involving any of these parties before the Court of King’s Bench that actually provides a Judgement and the the efforts made to follow through on that Judgement. Such a complete story from beginning to end is extremely rare in the reports of cases before either this court or the High Court of Chancery.

Here is the only entry I found in the Docket Books which points the searcher to the correct Roll and Folio number to find the account of this case:

Devon   Do. [Issue Case] Morry   Mattw.   a/s          Robt.     Newman } 2914

& anor.                                                  R. Brutton

There should have been a similar, parallel entry in the same Docket Book with Walter Prideaux’s name given as the Defendant. It is possible that I missed it, as explained above. But I do not think so. Instead it seems to me to be indicative of how one sided all of these cases taken out nominally against Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux really were. Prideaux was only named as a Defendant as a matter of form. The Plaintiff or Plaintiffs in all of these cases had no intention of pursuing a judgement against Walter Prideaux, nor did he have any intention of taking part in the payment of any such Judgement.

As I more or less knew already, this was a case of Robert Newman and his lawyer attempting to exact from Matthew Morry (and ostensibly, but not really, from Walter Prideaux) several amounts of money for goods and services that Matthew contended had already been paid for by his partner, Walter Prideaux, long ago. In its delivery, it so closely mirrors the case of Olive and Britten versus Morry and Prideaux that there can be little doubt that it too was orchestrated by Prideaux with the collusion of Newman as part of a concerted effort to ruin Matthew financially and socially in Dartmouth in retribution for canceling their partnership, effectively killing the goose that laid the golden egg, or to mix metaphors, to kill the cash cow that Prideaux had been milking to prop up his failing banking interests.

Once a Judgement was rendered in favour of the Plaintiff, the Sheriff of Devonshire was given orders to seize the remaining property of Matthew Morry in Devon in order to settle the claim. When that proved insufficient to cover the Judgement completely, an order was given to the Sheriff to seize the property of Walter Prideaux. The Sheriff contended that Walter Prideaux, a wealthy land owner, lawyer and banker, resident in Kingsbridge at the time, but also with property in other locations including Dartmouth, had no goods or chattels to confiscate, So a further order was issued by the Court to seize both Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux in order to secure the remaining amount. But by this time, Matthew Morry had left the country, most likely permanently, since he would have had this Judgement  hanging over his head had he ever returned. , and later contended that he could not be found anywhere in Devon in order to arrest and bring him to accounts. Meanwhile, the Sheriff reported back to the court that he was also unsuccessful in finding Walter Prideaux anywhere in his bailiwick (the County of Devonshire). I suppose it is possible that Prideaux fled justice for a while until things cooled down. But it was much more likely that the Sheriff and Prideaux were on the same side, likely friends as well as partners in the law, and that the Sheriff made no effort to apprehend him. Certainly, if Matthew Morry’s contention of collusion between Prideaux and Newman in bringing this case forward is to be believed, it would have been only a token gesture to go after Prideaux for payment in any event. Clearly, Matthew Morry had the deck stacked against him by the crafty Walter Prideaux and his cronies, including the Sheriff.


KB 122-1033-781 Graham et al vs Prideaux, 1820

There is one other case involving Walter Prideaux, but not Matthew Morry, that is worthy of mention, because it involves Matthew Morry’s sisters-in-law, Jennet Graham, Sarah Clift and Elizabeth Ellis. They were acting as the Executrixes of the estate of their late mother, Mary [Churchwill] Graham. Though, once again, a definitive Judgement is not found in this court record, it does reveal interesting facts that are both germane to Prideaux’s vendetta against his former partner Matthew Morry, and also newsworthy because of the facts it reveals about the location, occupation and relative wealth of Matthew Morry’s mother-in-law after the death of her husband, Capt, Christopher Graham. If the evidence given by her daughters is to be believed, she owned a business of some kind selling merchandize and also owned property in Tiverton that she rented to Walter Prideaux.  His counter argument was that Mary Graham owed him greater sums of money than those claimed in the suit were owed by him to Mary Graham. This was a typical ploy for Prideaux turning around the charges against him and making the opposite charges, only more so.

Unfortunately, once again there is no conclusion to this case and we do not know who won. But it fits a pattern that Walter Prideaux was feeling the financial pinch in the latter years of his partnership with Matthew Morry, very likely because of the fact that the banks in which he was a principal were also beginning to fail at that time and needed infusions of funds to remain solvent.


[1] Nigel Taylor, the specialist at the National Archives on legal records, provided this guidance in response to an email that I sent him enquiring about such abbreviations: “Yes “Jt Ca” means     Judgement Case”. You are also correct with abbreviations for “against” and “another” for more than one plaintiff. Also “a/s” does mean “at the suit of”.     “Pr. Bk.” Case means “Paper Book Case”. See attached an explanation of Paper Book. The meaning of “Cons” I believe is “Confessed”. Yes the     “1000 L & ” refers to the award of     £1000. Anything after the “&’ will be costs. Gt One etc” should be     Gentleman One [of the attorneys of     this court]. With “Cons Exec’s etc” I believe that translates into “Confessed executor’s etc”.”

 

 

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We hope that this site will serve as a link and a gathering place for the scattered remnants of the Morry Family, whose ancestor, Matthew Morry, came from Stoke Gabriel via Dartmouth Devon, England, to Newfoundland to make a living in the fishing trade some time before Sept. 1784. At that time we know he was granted land for a fishing room in Caplin Bay (now Calvert) near Ferryland, a tiny fishing village on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore that we, his descendants, think of as our family seat.

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