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Crime and punishment

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Friday, June 1, 2018

Document of the month - June 2018

Detail from D&C i.b.5, p.82Archive Papers, Dean & Censors, D&C i.b.5, p.82.
Click the small image on the right to view the full document.

During the eighteenth century, Christ Church’s Chapter Books begin to record much more information about student life, particularly disciplinary matters. Undergraduates and graduates alike were often hauled up before the Dean and Censors to be reprimanded for all sorts of misdemeanours from not attending chapel services or failing to offer Collections (termly oral examinations) to being drunk and disorderly or worse.

On 20 June 1726, Michael Ferribie and Charles Arbuthnot were hauled over the coals for duelling, apparently over a love affair.

Both men were Westminster Students, and were probably destined for good careers in the church or government. Both of them were injured in the duel, but the Dean and Chapter evidently decided that they needed to make a point and the men were obliged to make a public apology, in front of their contemporaries, in the Hall.

Ferribie, who was allegedly the aggressor, was suspended from taking his degree for two years and was given the task of translating the three books of Tullius’s de Oratore. His finished translation had to be handed to the sub-dean by 1st November. Arbuthnot was given a lesser task; he just had to prepare additional material for his next Collections on Aristotle’s Ethics. And both men were warned that any repeat offence would lead to expulsion.

Arbuthnot took his BA in 1728 and, in 1731, edited and published his father’s treatise on Ancient coins, weights, and measures but, just three days after he went down, on 21 December 1731, he died, apparently distressed that the duelling affair had limited his chances of a career in the church.  

Ferribie must have been on the verge of receiving his BA when he challenged Arbuthnot – he had come up in 1722 – so with the two years’ delay, he actually took his degree at the same time as his opponent and then his MA the following year. As is so often the case, it seems that the really guilty man got away almost scot free. Ferribie was ordained in 1729, married in 1731, and was appointed to the living of Rolleston in Staffordshire in 1736 where he remained until his death in 1777.

The illustration shows the entry in the Chapter Book outlining the offence and the punishment.