Rice Owen Clark got off New Zealand’s first charge of bigamy in 1849 because there was no proof that his first wife was still alive, where she was or even if she was a woman. Even though she was sitting in the back of the courtroom.
Bigamy used to be a bit more common back then than now, usually because it was difficult to verify whether new immigrants coming to New Zealand were not already married when their new marriages were registered here.
Clark (sometimes seen as Clarke) however got the ignominy of a Supreme Court trial.
Clark was born August 19, 1816, in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire in England to Josiah Clark and Ann Rose.
He had a good career as an underwriter with Lloyds before he immigrated to New Zealand in 1841 on the Gertrude.
At the Supreme Court in Wellington, the jury was told there was a marriage to Ann Insgoldby (records show the name was more likely to be Ann Inglesby) in England. Indeed, records now show a marriage recorded at Christ Church, Spitalfields, London England for December 14, 1835.
On the ship to New Zealand, Clark was assigned a berth as a single man but rumours began that he and Ann, who was travelling on the same ship, were married.
But on arriving in Port Nicholson they went their separate ways and Clark later met and married Louisa Felgate.
Prior to this marriage, he had inquired with Methodist minister James Watkin if he was able to marry Louisa. Watkin performed the marriage ceremony.
The Clarks lived a settled life until suddenly Rice was brought before the Supreme Court, on September 1, 1849, on the charge of bigamy. It was the first case of bigamy to be heard in that court in New Zealand.
Initially Ann was said to have returned to England, but she turned up at the police station in Wellington alleging her husband's misdeed.
The trial was not only odd, but clearly deficient, much to the fury of Justice Henry Chapman. The Crown brought no witnesses to either identify her or to claim she was alive. Even though she sat through the whole trial.
There were no records before the jury and, as his supposed wife, Ann could not be called to give evidence against him.
Clark himself said whoever the person called Ann Ingoldsby was, he had not consummated any marriage - of any sort - with her.
The implication was that Ann was not actually a woman, although there was no proof of this. In the end, the jury found him not guilty.
Clark and Louisa moved to Auckland in 1854 with their first child, initially living in Devonport.
After selling that property they moved to Hobsonville where he was the first European settler.
Despite his ‘nefarious’ background, Clark is best known for founding the pottery and pipemaking family firm that produced the Crown Lynn range of ceramics which later became Ceramco in 1974.
Clark died on June 16, 1896 and he and Louisa are buried at Hobsonville Cemetery, near the church he helped build.
It is not known what happened to the mysterious Ann.