From the Evening Herald, 13 April 1926:
“A music hall star well known 35 years ago as ‘Bonnie Kate Harvey’ and now Mrs Kate Macaulay, wife of an Irish barrister, brought an action in the King’s Bench, London, claiming damages for defamation in respect of a story in which it was alleged that she assisted a notorious crook to escape from arrest.
The story related to to a period many years ago when the plaintiff, touring in South Africa, had allegedly helped an admirer, Frank Tarbeaux, ‘the king of crooks, the prince of card sharpers, the best dressed man in town, barring dukes,’ to escape arrest by using her feminine wiles to distract his policeman pursuers.
There was not a word of truth in the story, declared counsel. His client had never known Mr Tarbeaux. When asked whether she had read the article, the plaintiff melted into tears, and said that having read part of it she could not go any further with it. She had been very ill since. “I used to move in the best society’ she declared. ‘But now they are all cutting me.’
Mr Andrew Alfred Macaulay, of Belfast, barrister and husband of the plaintiff, said that when the article was first brought to his notice he did not mention it to his wife because he did not want to annoy her, hoping that no one would see it. Later, however, he was told about it by several persons and was bound to show it to her. In Ireland all women were known by their maiden names and this article had caused him and his wife to be ostracised. People had ceased to visit them.
Counsel for the defendant said he was not in a position to call evidence as the magazine was defunct and the staff were dispersed. “
A verdict of £500 and costs was subsequently given to add to an earlier haul of £1000 recovered by the plaintiff from other publications which had carried the same story.
Mrs Macauley, of part Spanish, part Sligo extraction, and, as Bonnie Kate, a very popular comedienne of the late 19th century musical hall stage, died in 1943. She and Mr Macaulay had met when they performed together at the Alhambra in Belfast, before he qualified as a barrister.
Frank Tarbeaux, who did exist, had also been a sensation in the late 19th century, posing as an oil-king, running a notorious gambling house, carrying out jewel heists and serving as the inspiration for ‘Tarboe,’ a popular novel by Gilbert Parker published in 1927. Tarbeaux’s own memoir ‘Adventurer,‘ published in 1933, is a fascinating read. In it, he details his time in South Africa and says:
‘There was a theatrical troupe in Jo’burg then, and I became very intimate with the star of the troupe, a beautiful red-haired Irish woman. To avoid complications, I’ll call her Jolly Jill Maddern. It is a peculiar thing, but Jolly Jill once brought a suit for libel and collected damages from a news paper that printed an article that she turned me over to the police. And after thirty three years the last time I heard of her, not so long ago, she was suing me on the ground that she never knew me. She was married to an Irish barrister, and maybe is now, for all I know. It struck me as queer that she could sue the second newspaper when the first suit in which she claimed to be a friend of mine still must be a matter of court record in England.‘
A newspaper search does indeed disclose a previous libel action of 1896 by Bonnie Kate under a previous name, Alice Janet May, in which she admits – contrary to her assertion under oath in the 1926 proceedings – having known Mr Tarbeaux in South Africa.
Did ‘Bonnie’ Kate forget or did she perjure?
Let’s hope none of her acquaintances read Mr Tarbeaux’s memoir!