Public breakdown of a Shandon marriage



An action by Mrs Sybil Messum or Fleming, Harrow Lodge, Baldslow, St Leonards-On-Sea, Sussex – runner-up in the West of Scotland Ladies Golf Championship in 1938, and winner of the Renfrewshire County Championship in 1939 – who sued for separation with aliment at the rate of £1500 per annum against her husband, William Young Fleming, Linnburn, Shandon, Helensburgh, was dismissed by Lord Patrick in the Court of Session yesterday. The action, which was defended, was based on the alleged cruelty of the husband.

Lord Patrick said the the pursuer and defender met for the first time about the month of February 1919. They were married on May 20, 1919, after a short engagement. The marriage was unhappy almost from the beginning. The dispositions of the parties were entirely different, and they had no common interests. There was no evidence that there was ever any lasting love or deep affection, at least on the wife’s side, to bind them together, and from an early date her distaste for the physical side of marriage deprived them of that bond and of that medium of reconciliation after differences.


At the date of the marriage she was 22 years old. She was a bonnie girl, of fine physique. She was a fine player of games and much addicted to them. Much of her life had been spent in playing tennis, golf, curling, and bridge. At the date of the marriage he was 33 years old. He was nowhere near her class at the games she played. In fact, he seemed to have had or developed a dislike for the tennis-playing, golfing, bridge-playing type of women who were her friends. His sporting interests were in yachting and shooting, in which she had no interest and took no part. He was passionately interested in his business, at which he worked hard all day.

In the course of a long review of the evidence his Lordship said that the parties had frequent quarrels. Witnesses from the wife’s family placed all the blame on the husband, representing him as a bully and her as never in fault. Witnesses from his family placed the blame on her. She was represented as snubbing him on every possible occasion. In his Lordship’s opinion both were to blame. Neither would yield to the other. His Lordship thought both had tempers which were not always under control. In their quarrels they apparently at times blackguarded each others’ families, which appeared to have rankled a great deal.


The pursuer was runner-up in the West of Scotland Ladies’ Golf Championship in 1938, when the defender had, according to her, been ill-treating her for two months, and when certainly she and the defender had been quarrelling for that period, and she won the Renfrewshire County Championship in April 1939, when, according to her, her husband had been persistently cruel to her for eight months.

His Lordship had no doubt that she was emotionally upset by the continual bickering in which she took part at home, and showed that when she spoke of her relations with her husband to her friends and to her doctors, His Lordship could not hold it proved that the conditions of her married life ever seriously impaired the pursuer’s health. In this case the wife had never had cause to fear that her husband would use physical violence towards her. It was a case where the faults of the husband and of the wife contributed to produce a state of embitterment between them which led to their living a life of misery. No doubt the wife suffered in her feelings through this misery, and might have been in better fettle if this condition of affairs which she helped to produce had not existed. This was true also of the husband. The mental misery never had any serious effect on her health. She remained in astonishingly good health, as did he. In this country release from the obligation of matrimony was not yet accorded to a spouse who had contributed materially to the injury of which he or she complained.

Counsel for the Pursuer: Mr L Hill Watson, KC, and Mr W R Milligan. Solicitors: Martin, Milligan and MacDonald, WS, Edinburgh, and Brownlie, Watson & Backett, Glasgow.

Counsel for the Defender: Mr J R Wardlaw Burnet, KC, and Mr A W M M Williamson. Solicitors: J W & J MacKenzie, WS, Edinburgh, and McClure, Naismith, Brodie & Co, Glasgow.

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