Catherine Horrell has been researching the fascinating life of Mary Ann Tocker (1778 - 1853) as part of the push to redress the gender balance in Wikipedia biographies. Catherine stumbled across this story as she was researching her own family history:
‘Mary Ann Tocker (1778 – 1853) was born in Tregony, Cornwall and tried for Libel at Bodmin in 1818. Acting in her own defence, she drew attention to corrupt electoral practices and the arrogance of men in Judicial office who thought they were above the Law.
Mary Ann had written an anonymous letter published in the West Briton. In it she exposed the behaviour of a Stannary Court Judge who had obtained office by electioneering. When he discovered she was the writer, he accused her of libel. She could prove that he had both neglected his duties while himself in jail and that he had taken bribes. In 1818, it was not a lawful defence against Libel to argue that statements were true or in the public interest. However, Mary Ann argued against the absurdity of the law. She quoted from celebrated Libel cases and used moral philosophy to make her case. She stood up to the judge when he interrupted or blocked her attempts to give evidence. She finished by appealing to the common sense of the jurors: "I trust that it will be seen this day, that it is more hazardous to commit a crime, than to publish that crime when committed.''
Despite the Judge's instructions, the jurors found her not guilty. Mary Ann's victory was rightly celebrated as 'triumph of virtue' over bribery and corruption. She had triumphed in a male domain and influenced other woman radicals. Why is she not better known today?’
Read Catherine’s full Wikipedia article here.