Here is one of the finest I have ever read. It was made into a book later and sold thousands of copies. A scandal which brought the Catholic and Protestant comunities in Australia to a massive confrontation !!
The Coningham Case
It is December 1900, and Australia is hurtling towards Federation. Queen Victoria's long reign draws to a close and another Contingent leaves for the Boer War in a fanfare of jingoism. Australia is about to become a nation - but beneath the surface of this ideal society lies a honeycomb of sectarian division. Ingrained prejudices exist between Roman Catholic and Protestant. Each group regards each other with deep suspicion and resentment. And into the centre of this strained atmosphere steps Test cricketer Arthur Coningham, claiming that his wife has been seduced by a priest within the confines of Sydney's largest cathedral. The resentment flares into open hostility.
Arthur Coningham was once described as having 'the audacity and cunning of an ape and the modesty of a phallic symbol'. An all-round athlete, he toured England with the Australian Test Cricket team, and represented Australia in the 1894 Test. Although a chemist by profession, he was soon bankrupt, but once released from bankruptcy became a well-known bookmaker, sporting a bag emblazoned "CONINGHAM THE CRICKETER".
On the eve of his departure for England in 1893, Coningham married English-born Alice Dowling - a Catholic. Convent-educated Alice had given birth at 17 to an illegitimate child, which later died. To avoid scandal, she dressed in widow's weeds, claiming her sailor husband had drowned.
After her marriage to Arthur Coningham, their union had seemed happy. The couple had three children and lived frugally in rooming houses. Alice kept her Catholic faith and was a regular at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral, seat of Cardinal Moran, Head of the Australian Catholic Church.
Cardinal Moran was a controversial figure, embroiled in the midst of the Catholic Church's fight for State funding for Catholic schools. His private secretary and administrator of St Mary's Cathedral was Dr Francis O'Haran. Dr O'Haran was a charismatic, tall, good-looking man whose portraits were regularly sold at church bazaars. Alice Coningham became well-known at St Mary's, producing a Passion play (of indifferent success).
Over time, Arthur Coningham became aware that his wife's affections seemed to be cooling towards him. She finally confessed to an affair with the priest, and that he had fathered her third son, Vincent Francis. Coningham twice wrote to Cardinal Moran, setting out his grievances and asking for compensation. Moran ignored the blackmail, so Coningham sued for divorce, naming Dr O'Haran as co-respondent, and claiming five thousand pounds damages for loss of honour.
The Coningham trial began before Mr Justice Simpson and an all-Protestant jury in December 1900. When it was discovered that the Coninghams had been sharing a bedroom even after the divorce proceedings had begun, Coningham's solicitor exited the court, and Coningham was left to conduct his own case, which he did with surprising skill and confidence.
Thus Coningham cross-examined his own wife in an attempt to prove her adultery and win his divorce (and 5000 pounds) She showed alarming candour in detailing the extent of the alleged affair. Intercourse, she stated, took place in the Sacristy, the Cardinal's Hall, upstairs in the hall, and in a little room at the back. Also the Presbytery office on the left, the waiting room on the right, the Cardinal's Sacristy and the fern-house... The "misconduct" usually took place on Friday nights, as O'Haran went to confession on Saturdays. Although he had refused to christen her son, Vincent Francis had been named after O'Haran, she said.
Coningham testified that he could not have fathered Vincent Francis, as he (Coningham) was suffering from a cricket injury at the time of the child's conception.
Through cross-examination, O'Haran's barrister drew out the sordid details of Alice's past, particularly her widow's weeds and illegitimate child.
Justice Owen was furious when, due to a mix-up, Cardinal Moran did not arrive to testify when called, and to the horror of the Catholic population, threatened to arrest the Cardinal for contempt. The Cardinal apologised and eventually proceeded with his evidence, refuting Alice's claims and stating that he had treated Coningham's blackmail letters with the contempt they deserved
Coningham conducted his case - simply his wife's word against that of a priest - by playing on the public distrust of all things Catholic, which made wonderful copy in the press, where divorce court trials were published word for word.
When Alice described her first liaison with the priest, Justice Owen needed to be crystal-clear about the seduction:
Justice: Adultery followed?
Alice: Yes, your Honour.
Justice: He put you down?
Justice: Quietly or forcibly?
Alice: Forcibly, all through the night.
The very nature of the trial, setting Protestant against Catholic, inflamed the existing sectarian tensions. Coningham portrayed himself as a lone Englishman holding out against the all-powerful Catholics and their limitless wealth. Orange Lodge President, Dill-Macky, who saw in Coningham a rallying-post against the Catholic "menace", became Coningham's champion. Rabidly anti-Catholic, Dill-Macky began by setting up the Coningham Fighting Fund to assist with legal fees and expenses.
The anti-Catholic sentiment reached its height when Coningham introduced a question of Catholic dogma based on the teaching of St Liguori: If a priest attends confession and admits his sin, can he then claim that he has not committed a sin? Justice Owen was widely castigated afterwards for allowing this line of questioning to continue. Where Coningham found such an esoteric theme would only be discovered later.
The insinuation that by mental reservation a Catholic can somehow twist reality now became the basis of a long-running debate in the newspapers between the Catholic Church and Dill Macky, as Orange Lodge President and Pastor of Scot's Church.
At last the trial ended. After twelve hours, the word came down to the 5000 people gathered outside the law courts: the jury could not agree. A new trial was to follow.
The Coningham Case had become a real thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. After the first verdict, Cardinal Moran contacted W P Crick, solicitor, parliamentarian and Post Master of New South Wales, for help.
Eventually, Crick's assistant, Daniel Green uncovered Coningham's secret ally - a person known only as "'Zero'. Through hand-scrawled letters and messages in the personal columns of newspapers, Zero had amongst other things, introduced the injurious mental reservation subject. Searching further, Green discovered that the secret ally was in fact a distinguished priest with an implacable hatred of O'Haran. Cardinal Moran denounced the traitor, who was spirited away to America.
Meanwhile, Coningham was unaware of his ally's fate. Dan Green took advantage of the situation and became "Zero II". He continued the correspondence until the unsuspecting Coningham demanded a meeting. As a disguise (for they had met before), Green wore a dark overcoat with the collar turned up, a slouch hat with the brim pulled down, a pair of goggles and carried a blackthorn stick with sharp spines. The subterfuge worked and Zero was accepted.
Zero II supplied Coningham with two dates which would be 'safe' for Alice to swear to, having been mistaken at the previous trial. Green told Coningham:
I can give you two dates - April 1 and April 30…I know a cabman who will swear anything for me and will swear that he drove a certain lady to the Presbytery on those dates
Alice Coningham was staying at a boarding house, 'Burrilda', owned by a Mr Miller, who was in dire financial straits. Green, through Crick, purchased the house. At a party at Burrilda, Mrs Coningham was mysteriously laid low, and her private letters somehow disappeared.
When the second trial began, this time before Justice Owen, public interest was at fever-pitch. The papers were not disappointed with the copy:
Coningham asked Dr O'Haran, 'Have you been chaste all your life?', to which O'Haran replied, 'I have been chased by both you and your wife'. Alice attested to knowledge of a tattoo on Dr O'Haran's body, which was later proved to be on his arm.
Much of the trial was a repeat of the previous one, until Alice stated that she was mistaken in the dates she had sworn to in the last trial. She now believed that misconduct had occurred on the afternoons of the 1st and 30 April - the exact dates supplied by Zero II. Now an army of witnesses swore that Dr O'Haran had been present at very public functions on both those occasions.
Coningham put up a brave resistance, but his case had collapsed. Complaining about death-threats and jostling from the crowds, he produced Dill-Macky's revolver in court, but it was promptly confiscated.
The letters which had been stolen from Alice Coningham when she had fallen ill after the boarding-house party were produced by O'Haran's counsel, claiming them to be coded messages between Arthur and Alice Coningham. The Coninghams claimed the letters were forgeries.
The truth came out the following year, when Dan Green's book, Secret History of the Coningham Case boasted unashamedly that he had bought Burrilda solely to search for evidence against the Coninghams. In addition, Green's employer, W. P Crick, still bore the title of Post Master of New South Wales, and had abused his position to intercept mail and contravene laws of confidentiality.
Coningham's case was lost. Nevertheless, his five-hour closing speech reached new heights of oratory.
After 2½ hours deliberation, the jury brought back an emphatic 'No' verdict on the issue of whether seduction and adultery had taken place. However, they provided a strange rider, that there was not sufficient evidence to prove conspiracy in this case.
Coningham broke down in loud sobs until he was led away. Dr O'Haran was carried on the backs of a jubilant crowd to St Mary's where a grave Cardinal quietly raised his biretta.
Meetings were held for O'Haran all over Australia, to both celebrate and subsidise his costs, which had amounted to over three thousand pounds - including Dan Green's "expenses".
Within a year, Dill Macky created an Australian Protestant Defence Association. Packed meetings in the Sydney Town Hall and rural areas followed. Several skirmishes resulted, including a reading of the Riot Act in Wyalong, when Catholics attempted to disrupt the meetings. By 1903 the association had 135 branches and 22,000 members.
It was many years before this particular rift in the fabric of Australian society was mended, but the influence of Dill-Macky's APDA resonated in Australian politics for decades.
· The Coninghams moved to New Zealand, where Arthur worked as a book salesman until being sentenced to six months gaol for fraudulent conversion of six pounds three shillings. In 1912 Alice divorced him after he committed adultery in a beach shed.
· WP Crick died in disgrace in 1909 after the Lands Office scandal.
· Dr O'Haran died in 1931. His career in the Church did not prosper, and he never lived down the Coningham affair.
· Arthur Coningham returned to Australia and died in Gladesville mental hospital in 1939.
· Alice Coningham died in 1959.
· Their son, Arthur Coningham, DFC, was a WW2 flying ace, and died in an air crash near the Azores in 1948.
· Dan Green's book sold thousands of copies, many to Cardinal Moran.
His sole Test was memorable as he was no-balled, and in anger he deliberately hurled the next ball at AE Stoddart, England's captain. On his tour to England, during which he was awarded a medal after saving a boy from drowning in the Thames, he reportedly started a fire in the outfield during one match "to keep warm". A chemist by profession, he was made bankrupt, but once discharged became a bookmaker, carrying a satchel embossed with "Coningham the Cricketer".