Spaniard found not guilty of theft because of poor language skills

The proceedings of the Old Bailey are now searchable to 1913. Apart from anything else they are an interesting source of information re the misfortunes of London’s Spanish population, from the refugees from Fernando VII to the anarchist trials in the 1890s. The following testimony to the traditional linguistic handicap of the Iberian tribes was given by the witnesses for the defence at the trial of one “Frederick Ruvialle”, which turned in part on the ability of the accused to order a drink in English following an apparently extended spell in London:

FREDERICK BACON . My father keeps the French Hotel in St. Paul’s Church-yard. The prisoner was three weeks living at our hotel in the last year, and he has been there since—I saw him daily while he was there—he always spoke French or Spanish—he cannot speak English.

JURY. Q. Could he say “port” in English? A. No; he could say Yes,” but no other word.

JOHN MOREE . I am an importer of Swiss and French goods. I have seen the prisoner at Mr. Bacon’s house—I have dined with him—he always spoke Spanish—I never heard a word of English from him.

ANN CRESWICK . I am servant at Mr. Bacon’s. I have seen the prisoner there for five or six days together—he cannot speak English—we could hardly make him understand by signs—I never heard him speak a word of English.

NOT GUILTY.

I continue to find this great opening up of archives the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen, but perspective will no doubt return when my barrel organ is ready.

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