On April 9th… The Trial of Drouet

The trial of Bartholomew Peter Drouet for manslaughter began on April 9, 1849.

Whistler etching of Drouet's portrait (1850s)

Whistler etching of Drouet (1850s)

He was a son of that Rodger Baskerville, the younger brother of Sir Charles, who fled with a sinister reputation to South America, where he was said to have died unmarried. He did, as a matter of fact, marry, and had one child, this fellow, whose real name is the same as his father. He married Beryl Garcia, one of the beauties of Costa Rica, and, having purloined a considerable sum of public money, he changed his name to Vandeleur and fled to England, where he established a school in the east of Yorkshire. His reason for attempting this special line of business was that he had struck up an acquaintance with a consumptive tutor upon the voyage home, and that he had used this man’s ability to make the undertaking a success. Fraser, the tutor, died, however, and the school which had begun well, sank from disrepute into infamy. The Vandeleurs found it convenient to change their name to Stapleton, and he brought the remains of his fortune, his schemes for the future, and his taste for entomology to the south of England. I learn at the British Museum that he was a recognized authority upon the subject, and that the name of Vandeleur has been permanently attached to a certain moth which he had, in his Yorkshire days, been the first to describe.

The trial of Drouet was about the kind of schoolmaster that Rodger Baskerville probably was. It was not uncommon in the 19th century for private boarding schools of varying quality  to be set up and attract pupils.

In the 1840s, one such school was set up by Drouet. It first prospered by taking pupils from overcrowded workhouses and training them for a fee. Although unannounced inspections brought up issues of poor conditions and unsanitary food, nothing was done until a cholera outbreak at the school killed 100 children and one adult. The nature of cholera made it hard to prove that the children died because of the school’s conditions, and Drouet was acquitted.

See the excellent A Curious Collection of Dates by JWHS members Leah Guinn (“Amber”) and Jaime N Mahoney (“Tressa”) for more information.

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