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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Rangoon’s Armenian Kissing Cousins: Was this a Salacious Scandal or Simply a Family Affair?

A sensational matrimonial case of a well known Armenian family in Rangoon was reported in the local papers in early 1891 over a period of up to 10 days. The Rangoon Times of February of that year dedicated well in excess of 12,000 words across a number of column inches in their newspaper during the course of the hearing. Suits were brought to Court by Mr. Sarkies Manook (owner of the British Burma Hotel, Rangoon) for a divorce and a separate suit by Mrs. Manook for a separation order.

First to be heard was the suit of Mr. Manook for the dissolution of his marriage.  It was alleged by Mr. Manook that his wife Mrs. Manook had apparently been adulterous with her cousin Vardon Jordan whilst Vardon Jordan had been living in the same house as the Manooks. 

Mrs. Manook’s suit was for a separation based on Mr. Manook’s cruel and abusive behaviour towards her.

Extracts from the newspapers:
1891 February 5 The Rangoon Times
The Manook Matrimonial Dispute

In the Recorder’s Court this morning, the two cases relating to Mr. and Mrs. Manook, members of the Armenian community resident in this city, and well-known locally, came on for hearing.  The first case on the board for judicial separation brought by Mrs. Against her husband on the grounds of adultery and the second case was suit by Mrs [sic should be Mr] Manook against his wife on the grounds of adultery with Mr. Jordan.

Mr. Vertannes appeared for Mr. Manook, Mr. E. Garnet Man for Mrs. Manook and Mr. J.A.D. Heaton for the intervener, Mr Vardon Jordan.

On the cases being vetted Mr. Garnet Man suggested that the case for the dissolution of marriage should be taken up first, as if a decree was granted in that case, there would be no necessity to go on with the case for judicial separation. But, if the latter case were taken up first, whatever might be the rest of it, the case for dissolution of the marriage would have to be gone into.

After some discussion the suggestion was adopted.

Mr. Vertannes then opened the divorce case in a few words, and called as his first witness, the petitioner (the husband) Mr. Sarkies Manook, proprietor of the British Burma Hotel.

MR SARKIES MANOOK, on oath stated that he was the petitioner in this case and was married to Mrs. Mary Manook in Mandalay in the year 1875.  A few months after the marriage they came down to Rangoon.  There were five children by this marriage, four boys and one girl.  His married life had been a happy one until a couple of years ago.  He said his wife had been living in Lewis Street near Rangoon for the last five years.  The co-respondent and his wife’s brother were living in Jordan’s Hotel together and his wife was anxious that her brother should come and live with them, as he had gone after some woman or other.  It was then arranged that the co-respondent and his wife’s brother should come and live with them.  This was about the middle of the year 1890.  Petitioner generally left his house at about 6 or 7 in the morning to attend to his work, returning at about 11 o’clock in the day; and then he used to leave again about 12 or 2 o’clock, returning again about 6,7, or 8 o’clock in the evening for dinner, but his hours were very uncertain owing to the nature of his business.  He had no reason to suspect his wife’s fidelity until Mrs. Jordan brought a serious charge against his wife when she and her husband returned with the children from Calcutta.  After hearing this he went back and said to his wife “what is this Mrs. Jordan is charging you with?” he took her by the arms and shook her and then the first row commenced.  This occurred one morning, and the next mourning which was, he believed, a Sunday, Mrs. Manook left the house and went to Jordan’s Hotel.  He got a letter from her lawyer demanding her jewellery, clothes and other things, which he gave up to her.

Mr. Man asked to be allowed to reserve his cross-examination, as at present, he submitted there was no evidence against his client.

Mr. Heaton begged to be allowed to make the same request, as at present, there was nothing against his client.

After some discussion, His Honour allowed the application.

MACARTOOM GALASTIN MANOOK, on oath, stated that he was a cousin of Mr. Sarkies Manook, the petitioner in this case.  In June last he was living with Mr. Sarkies Manook.  He occupied a room on the ground floor, and Mr. Vardon Jordan occupied an adjoining room. In the mornings between 6 and 11, Mrs. Manook would be in Mr. Jordan’s room, and Mrs. Sarkies Manook would be either in bed or at the Hotel.  This would occur almost every day between those hours.  Mrs. Manook was sometimes in Mr. Jordan’s room even when he was dressing.  He (witness) had seen this. Jordan himself to be in his night-dress when Mrs. Manook was in his room.  The night-dress consisted of a pyjama and a thin coat.  The pyjama was made of white cloth – neither thick nor thin. His body could be seen through it. Mrs. Manook and Jordan were on affectionate terms.  He (the witness) saw them both seated on the bed playing with each other and kissing each other.  They were just touching each other. No one else was in the room at the time. He could not say that he had ever seen them in any other position.  He had seen them in the position just described several times. He (witness) told Mrs. Manook on several occasions not to go into Jordan’s room as he husband did not like it, and also not to go out with Jordan at night time.  He said this to her several times but as she took no notice of it, he did not speak to her any more about.  He did not tell Mr. Jordan about this.  He (witness) left the house on the 7th or 8th June but he did not recollect the month exactly.  He first went to his brother’s house and subsequently to Mandalay.  In the evenings he used to be in the hotel up to 7 o’clock, returning home about that hour.  About this time Mrs. Manook, if she was downstairs, would be in Jordan’s room.  He had seen Mrs. Manook and Mr. Jordan go out together and return together at night………….

Another witness stated:

GREGORY CATCHIC THADDEUS sworn.  I am employed at Solomon & Co, I know Mr. and Mrs. Manook and Mr. Jordan. In April last I saw her in the Jordan Hotel. (Mr. Man objected to any evidence being given as to any acts outside what occurred in the house, as no particulars had been furnished). I saw Mr. Jordan there. Mrs. Manook came in while I was there. Mr. Vardon Jordan was sitting down there. As soon as he saw Mrs. Manook coming, he got into bed and covered himself with a blanket. Mrs. Manook came in wished us the time of the day, and stood near Vardon Jordan’s bed.  I offered her a chair but she would not sit down, she began to talk to him and I left the room.  I saw her feeling him under the blanket in my presence so I went out.  I cannot say what she was feeling for I cannot say at what request she did that. I did not exactly look but I think she felt him about the chest and stomach.

The Rangoon Times Friday 6th February
We give below a report of His Honour’s judgement yesterday morning, dismissing Mr. Manook’s petition for dissolution of his marriage on the grounds of his wife’s adultery:

In the case the petitioner prays for a dissolution of his marriage with the respondent. It appears the parties were married at Mandalay in 1875. A few months after that they came into Rangoon and remained in Rangoon eve since. Up to last year they lived happily together and the petitioner says he had no grounds whatever to suspect his wife of any improper conduct.  About the middle of last year his wife’s brother came to live at their home together with the respondent Mr. Vardon Jordan, who is a married man but whose wife and family were then away from Rangoon and it is said that during the time that Vardon Jordan was living in this house acts of adultery were committed between him and the respondent.  Now, there is no direct evidence whatever of adultery.  There is nothing such as would lead this Court in many cases to the conclusion that adultery had been committed, such as the respondent and co-respondent going away and living together for a short time, or going to a house of ill-fame, or --- --- repeatedly in some very out of the way place, or anything of that kind. The acts from which I am asked to infer that adultery was committed were certain acts of familiarity, not one of which could by any possibility be sufficient to ground a charge on.  The question is whether taking all those acts together, they are such assuming the evidence is correct, as would justify me in coming to the conclusion that the respondent and the co-respondent must have committed adultery.  Now the petitioner himself has not given any evidence whatever of any thing he himself saw.  On the contrary, he says that he did not suspect his wife in any way at all.  It was not until he received certain information which led to a quarrel between himself and his wife that his suspicions were aroused, but even after that he still had believe in his wife’s innocence.

His Honour then reviewed the evidence and concluded as follows: That is the substance of the evidence, and it comes to this that the respondent and co-respondent were related to each other that they called each other by their Christian names, and did so to the knowledge of the petitioner, they kissed on various occasions, they did that also with the knowledge of the petitioner, and these acts were known to him and caused no suspicion in his mind.  They went to the theatre together, that was equally known to the petitioner.  It was done with his knowledge, as he has himself admitted, and he himself asked the co-respondent to take his wife to the theatre.  There was no concealment about that.  There was no concealment about going into the room, and the petitioner himself admits that he was present when Jordan appeared in his sleeping suit before Mr. Manook.  The evidence as to Mrs. Manook being in the room when the last witness but one went to the house really proves nothing.  It is quite clear, according to his statement that Mrs. Manook must have known that he was there and must have heard him ask for her, and yet, having an opportunity of concealing herself, she did not do so but comes out of the place where she must have known that he was. That itself is not the act of a woman who had been guilty of any impropriety, and it further appears that the room out of which she came was the room in which the hotel linen was kept.  The witness says that Mrs. Manook did not bring back any linen out of the room, and that on previous occasions that he had seen going for linen, the door had not bee shut. But the door being shut on one occasion is not sufficient, taken with the other matters which happened at the same time, to warrant me in thinking that there was any improp0riety.  It is not suggested that Jordan was there at the time.  On the whole case, I think even admitting that there might have been some familiarities – even admitting that there might have been something which might be called indiscretions, if possible (though I must say, considering the complete openness with which everything seems to have done I am hardly justified in saying there was any indiscretion) there certainly is not sufficient to my mind to justify me in holding that the respondent and co-respondent committed adultery, and therefore this petition must be dismissed with costs.

The separation order of Mrs. Manook was heard directly after the dismissal of the divorce application by Mr. Manook.

One witness, an employee of Mr. Manook called Ramat Akal stated “he had witnessed rows between Mr and Mrs Manook and seeing Mr. Manook smash furniture and break panes of glass….”

Another witness also an employee of Mr. Manook’s called Jugger Nath stated “hearing rows going on in the house.  On one occasion, he had seen Mr. Manook beating Mrs. Manook and he (the witness) took hold of Mr. Manook by the hand and pulled him away……”

Also testifying in Mrs. Manook’s defence was Vardon Jordan, who said:   I went with Mr. Manook’s brother to live with Mr and Mrs Manook. I was living with Mr. Manook’s brother in Jordan’s Hotel when I arrived from Calcutta. Mr. Manook persuaded me to come and live with them.  I and her brother shared one room. Mr. and Mrs. Manook’s room was in the upper floor above our room.  When I went to live there I had not heard that Mr. and Mrs. Manook had been in the habit of quarrelling. About eight or nine days after we went there I heard quarrelling going on upstairs. I heard Mr. Manook abusing Mrs Manook. I could hear the words quite distinctly……. He called her a damn bitch a damn scoundrel etc.

………………..this was a disgraceful state of affairs and that the whole neighbourhood could hear the obscene language he used.  On the 31st October I left the house to go to fetch my family from Calcutta. I returned with my wife and family on the 18th November and lived next door. I was on very intimate terms with Mr. Manook up to the time I left.  I heard this suit was being filed for judicial separation and at that time and after the institution of the suit I was on intimate terms with Manook.  On the 18th January my wife and I went over to Mr. Manook’s house at Mr. Manook’s request.  Mr. Manook was there.  On the night of the 4th January I heard distinctly from the other house Mr. Manook abusing Mrs. Manook.  I also heard Mrs. Manook shriek out “murder murder!” My wife was in the house with me.  I went down stairs and then went upstairs again.  Mrs. Manook then came over to our house. In consequence of what Mrs. Manook told me my syee went for her brother. The ayah and the baby came soon after and with Mrs. Manook and her brother went over to Jordan’s Hotel. The other two children were left in my wife’s care. The next day, Mrs. Manook came over to the house.  She took away the children and some of the boxes.”

Cross examined by Mr. Vertannes, Vardon Jordan said: “I have been on intimate terms with Mrs. Manook and kissed her often in presence of her husband but never in his absence except on one occasion and that was at the wharf when I returned from Calcutta…………….”

The sensationalism of this case which included a great deal of highly unusual personal detail to be reported in the newspapers, was the talk of Rangoon and in particular the Armenian community there for a very long time.

Mrs. Manook was successful in her desire for a separation.

Vardon Jordan’s own wife also filed for a separation in the Calcutta Courts. Vardon ended his days in London dying in Notting Hill in 1919. Two of his children were executors of his Will. His life was a far cry from that of his brothers’ Paul Jordan and Dr.Gregory Jordan both of whom carved successful careers in Hong Kong, Paul as a stock broker and Gregory as the Port Health Officer. Gregory, who spent a lifetime apart from his brother Vardon is buried only a few feet away from him in Kensal Green cemetery.

Vardon Jordan's grave in Kensal Green Cemetery

Dr. Gregory Jordan's grave is close to his brother's

So far, nothing can be found on what happened to Mary Manook, her estranged husband died in 1894 in Mandalay. He is most likely to be buried close to his first wife whose early demise he lamented dearly and whom he held in such high regard that Mary was simply unable to compete against the angelic Fairy.

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