HUSBAND faced wife in court in the first case of its kind in Hampshire after a revolutionary change in the law.

Under the new Married Women’s Property Act, Katherine Tomlinson took proceedings against her husband, Reginald, from whom she was separated after a short and stormy marital relationship.

Tomlinson, a 30-year-old steward, was accused at Southampton Quarter Sessions in late October, 1909, of stealing several items including a dinner service and china from her.

The basis of the allegation was that he had taken the goods while she was temporarily away from home and disposed of them for cash. The couple had lived uncomfortably together since their April wedding. She once had contemplated initiating divorce proceedings but decided to give their marriage a second chance. Unhappily, the reconciliation failed.

Mrs Tomlinson went away for a few days, expecting to find her husband in their home on her return, but neither he, nor her daughter Joan was there. The china was also missing.

Later she received a letter, which had no address, from her husband, saying he would write the next day and tell her where the china had gone.

The letter however carried a veiled threat: “Do not imprison me as that will not get Joan back.”

She ignored the warning and contacted the police who discovered the china had been sold to antique dealer Henry Payne on the assurance it had been left to him by his mother in her will.

But where had Tomlinson gone?

Theorising he would stick to his maritime job, police went to the major shipping companies in Southampton.

Their hunch paid off, finding he was serving on the White Star Line’s RMS Cedric, and when it docked in Liverpool, he was arrested.

Tomlinson, who pleaded not guilty, claimed he had been motivated by his concern for Joan as he considered his wife was not a fit and proper person to look after her, and she was now in the care of an elderly woman.

“The money I received from selling the china went to Joan’s benefit.”

But in his summing up, Recorder Temple-Cooke told jurors Joan was not the issue in the case. The only point they had to consider was whether he had stolen the items, and following a short retirement, they concurred he had.

The judge then sharply rebuked him: “When a married woman has property, it is her own, not her husband’s but I shall deal with this case on the basis it was an ordinary one of larceny. I am sorry to see you in a position like this because you are a man of education but you took advantage of your wife with whom you had lived for some time and then married her.

“You took away one of her children, taking a considerable amount of her property to which you were not entitled.”

Having taken into consideration that he had spent a month on remand, the judge reduced his sentence from six months to five.