Fusion: Deakin Exhibits Online

The scandal

William Clarson was born in England and immigrated to Victoria in 1853 with his first wife Sarah Barratt (1828-1854) and their son William Alfred Clarson (1852-1906). Tragically Sarah died from dysentery when their son was just an infant.

In 1855, just a year later Clarson married Caroline Stubback. They had no further children, much to Caroline’s dismay, and their marriage ended after a scandalous failed court case in 1872, involving Caroline and their surgeon and friend, Dr John Blair.

William Clarson and his wife Caroline sued Dr John Blair, to recover £2000 for three assaults and two libels on Caroline. The case was heard in the Melbourne Supreme Court by his Honour Judge Barry and a special jury of twelve. The incidents had allegedly occurred years earlier although Caroline only confided in her husband and accused Blair, when Blair married. Prior to her accusations Caroline had written hundreds of letters to Blair’s family, new wife, and patients, disparaging his character and claiming the marriage caused her insult. The case was described as ‘a singular and disgusting,’ and reported on in detail, across the country.

‘At length she, or her husband, who took his wife’s part with a boldness that does more credit to his conjugal loyalty than to his discretion, forced Dr Blair into Court, and thus by securing a judicial declaration of his innocence, made, unintentionally, the only reparation that was in their power of the grievous wrong that they had done to him. After Mrs. Clarson’s evidence, no person entertained any doubt about the merits of the case, and the finding of the jury merely gave formal expression to the unanimous verdict of public opinion. Dr Blair appears to have been guilty of nothing more serious than want of firmness in not repressing attentions which were always irksome, and which threatened to be dangerous: and Mrs Clarson has succeeded in presenting a new aspect of feminine character, which we can only describe as truly detestable.’9

William Clarson and his son, WA Clarson left for England to visit with relatives shortly afterwards, not returning until 1877.