In August of 1875, a police report was filed in Northern England, in Sunderland, against a young married man named Thomas B. Cowan. Cowan was charged with assaulting Caroline Watson of Wayman Street in Monkwearmouth. The police reported that the event started at the house of Watson’s sister, a married woman named Mrs. Field, but who was Cowan’s cousin by marriage.
When Cowan was hauled before the court, testimony was given that after Cowan arrived, Watson entered the same room. Cowan stood with his back to the fire for a few minutes, and then for no reason, he grabbed Watson, who was standing near him. He began rubbing his whiskers on her face. She resented his actions and kicked him in the shins, which caused him to take a couple of steps backwards.
Watson then grabbed a fork and was threatening to throw it at Cowan, when he exclaimed:
“Now, if you throw that fork at me I’ll slap your Grecian bend.”
Watson, indignant at Cowan’s flippant remark, threw the fork. Cowan was as good as his word. He raised her dress and paddled her behind three times.
A neighbor, a Catherine Beckwith, arrived shortly thereafter. Although she was not in the house at the time of the incident, when she came in she found Cowan being taken to task by the women for having paddled Watson. Beckwith also testified that Cowan replied, “Well I only [paddled] her Grecian bend.” Then to their shock and amazement he partially lifted Watson’s clothes to show what he had done.
Apparently, the women did not think Cowan was funny and had him arrested. When he appeared before the judge, Cowan’s defense was meager. Cowan’s lawyer claimed that it started as a joke and that the women had taken the whole incident too far and out of context. Further, the lawyer asserted the whiskering Cowan had done was called “bearding” and claimed it was a common custom practice in the countryside.
Although the Cowan’s lawyer maintained Cowan had not committed any type of assault, the judge decided otherwise. Cowan, who had been bound over to keep the peace, was found guilty and fined 20s plus costs. Hopefully, Cowan also learned it was never a good idea to beard or paddle a woman.
- “Slapping a Lady’s Grecian Bend,” in Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 31 August 1875