We thought our readers might enjoy the two following letters sent in to the newspapers in 1823, on the subject of philanthropic cats.
A POLITE SCOTCH CAT.
A Country Gentleman, who is neither a friend to thieves nor poachers, has at this moment in his household a favourite cat, whose honesty he is sorry to say, there is but too much reason to call in question. The animal, however, if far from being selfish in her principles, for her acceptable gleanings she regularly shares among the children of the family in which her lot is cast. It is the habit and repute of this said Grimalkin to leave the kitchen or parlour as often as hunger and an opportunity may occur, and went her way to a certain pastry cook’s shop, where the better to conceal her purpose, she endeavours slyly to ingratiate herself into favour with the mistress of the house. As soon as the Landlady’s attention becomes engrossed in business or otherwise, puss contrives to pilfer a small pye or tart, &c. from the shelves on which they are placed, speedily afterwards making the best of her way home with her booty. She then carefully delivers her prize to some of the little ones in the nursery. A division of the stolen property quickly takes place, and here it is singularly amusing to observe the sleekit animal, not the least conspicuous among the juvenile group, thankfully mumping her share of the illegal traffic. We may add, that the pastry-cook is by no means disposed to institute a legal process against poor Mistress Gib, as the children of the Gentleman to whom we allude, are honest enough, to acknowledge their four-footed playmate’s failings to papa, who willingly compensates any damage the shopkeeper may sustain from the petty depredations of his would-be philanthropic cat. – (Edinburgh Observer.)
The Morning Post, 12th August 1823.
EDITOR – After reading the interesting little anecdote in your Paper of the Philanthropic Cat, I am encouraged to lay before your Readers another trait of one of its kindred species. In the summer of 1817, I hired a small villa in the neighbourhood of Sevenoaks, which, when I entered, I found not wholly untenanted, for I soon observed a find large yellow streaked Tom Cat, which I admired much, but my wife having an antipathy to cats, I was compelled to order that the hapless animal should be forbid the premises. This the servants attempted to put into execution, but in vain, for in despite of sticks, stones, tin kettles, and other offensive weapons, Puss always returned when the storm had abated, till at length we relented, and the exile was re-established in its office of slaying rats and mice. A month after this, the cook, when about to put a fine fowl on the spit, was called away, d when she returned the fowl was gone. Search was made, and in five minutes the fowl was discovered in the merciless claws of the Cat. The enraged cook darted the spit which she held in her hand at the wretched animal; but anger blinded her aim – it missed, but in a moment Puss was well belaboured with broomsticks, from which at length he contrived to escape. For two days was he missing, but on the third, as the cook was busied in culinary avocations, she head a gentle purr behind her, and looking round, she saw the fine fellow with a plump young pheasant in his mouth, which he gently laid at her feet. Need I add, the pheasant was plucked, pulled, roasted; so it was, and the very best I ever tasted in my life. An anecdote, somewhat similar, may be found in the rare Tract of PERSIA LEFORDE, printed at the Hague in 1589, entitled “Histoyre des Animeaulx Domestiques.” I am sorry to say, Puss took to poaching, and was killed the year after, by the double-barrel gun of one of Lord STANHOPE’S Keepers.
The Boss family, notorious gypsy horse thieves and dealers, plied their dubious trade across throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, into Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire and further afield into Yorkshire.
The family used various aliases, including Heron (Hearne) and Jones. Best known was Riley Boss who had three wives, Charlotte Hammond, Lucy Boswell and Shurensi (sometimes Susannah) Smith. Also of the travelling party was Riley’s reputed half-brother, James Venus, who had taken for a wife Trinity Boswell (sister of Elijah Boswell, a notorious rogue) along with her children by George Boyling, her previous husband.
James Venus and Riley Boss had a sister named Clara. In the latter half of the 1820s the party met Samuel Roberts (1763-1848) of Park Grange in Sheffield, the son of a local manufacturer. It is likely that this was during the summer of 1827. James and Trinity Venus had baptised a son, named Newcombe Venus, in Bowdon Cheshire on the 22nd April 1827 as James and Traineth Venus of Dunham (a neighbouring village) with James’s occupation being described as cutler, a traditional gypsy occupation; he would have travelled with a grinding machine sharpening blades.
In the summer of 1827 the party were on their way back to Lincolnshire where young Newcombe Venus was buried at Mablethorpe on the 5th August 1827, the burial register recording him as the son of James and Trinity Venus, gypsies, aged about nine months. At some point between these two dates, whilst travelling from Cheshire to Lincolnshire via the Sheffield road, the gypsy party met with Samuel Roberts. In his own words:
In taking my accustomed ride into the country, I met with a tribe, or rather family, of Gypsies, consisting, as I then supposed, of the father, mother, and five children; it, however, proved, that the older of the children, a girl apparently about thirteen, was an orphan, and sister to the man, though probably nearly twenty years younger than he. I saw them several times and at length asked the man if he would have any objections to leaving his sister with my family, at any rate till he called again, which I understood to be in about eight days . . . The man said his name was James Vanis. His sister’s Clara Vanis. I have since heard that it was Hearn and not Vanis.
From this description we seem to have James and Trinity Venus, together with his sister Clara, the baby Newcombe and three of Trinity’s children from her previous marriage. Samuel Roberts was a religious man, a keen slavery abolitionist and he published several books, some on the subject of the gypsies and their culture and he was also known as the ‘Pauper’s Advocate’. His reason for wanting Clara to stay with him and his family was to become better acquainted with the language and habits of the gypsy people. With both James Venus and Clara being agreeable to this she returned to Park Grange with Roberts. Clara was, from Roberts’ description, a slight, well-formed girl, not strongly gypsy looking and not handsome but strikingly intelligent.
She spent the eight days with the Roberts family and they seem to have been as delighted with her as she was with them, becoming a firm favourite with two of Roberts’ daughters. She and the Roberts wished to extend the visit but James Venus came at the appointed time and insisted that Clara leave with him immediately. Clara was in tears but agreed to go with her brother, even though Samuel Roberts entreated her to remain. James Venus had told Samuel Roberts that Clara was needed as his wife and one of the children was ill, but after Clara had quit his house Roberts encountered the wife, Trinity, who told him that she was as well as usual and did not wish for Clara’s return. No further mention is made of the sickly child but seeing as the infant Newcombe Venus was buried shortly after this, James Venus was probably right to be concerned and to want his sister to help.
The Victorian gypsiologist, Rev. George Hall (1863-1918), so well known to the Lincolnshire gypsy fraternity, later talked with Clara’s family. Hall knew her as a full sister to Riley Boss and a half-sister to the slightly shadier James Venus, whose identity has always been unsure. Indeed, many authorities have decided that James Venus was simply an alias used by Riley Boss and that the two men were one and the same. George Hall had this to say, referencing the opinion of another, earlier, gypsiologist, George Borrow.
Concerning the dramatic termination of the Sheffield episode, two versions are extant. According to Mr. Roberts, it is James Vanis, otherwise Hearn, who comes of Clara with a lying pretext on his lips. In Borrow’s statement it is Ryley who snatches his young sister away in a characteristic spirit of violence. It is true, the girl had a half-brother named James, yet seeing that Borrow obtained his facts during lengthy conversations with Clara herself, it may be presumed that ‘James Vanis’ was after all only one more of Ryley’s many aliases.
However, it seems unlikely that James Venus was purely an alias; certainly Trinity, after leaving George Boyling and taking up with her second husband, consistently uses the surname Venus, or a variant thereof, as does James during several court appearances for vagrancy and theft, and not once do they use differing forenames or surnames.
The year after this Sheffield episode, in Burton by Lincoln, the name Newcombe was given to a son of Riley Boss and Shurensi (as an adult he would be transported to Australia under the name of Barthey Jones for the crime of horse stealing).
28th September 1828, Burton by Lincoln, baptism of Newcome son of William and Susan Boss, at Burton, gypsey.
A month later James Venus (as James Vanus) was sentenced to a week in prison for the crime of larceny at the Doncaster Sessions, possibly tried alongside an Abraham Herring, but he was back in Lincolnshire in November for the baptism of a child named Aswerly at Upon cum Kexby near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, the register there recording the parents as James and Trinity Venus, travelling tinker.
Riley at least remained in the Lincolnshire area as a double baptism of his children took place at the end of 1832, one which was not all that it seemed. For Riley had a son named Adness with Shurensi and a daughter named Naomi with Lucy; polygamy was common amongst these people, and it so happened that Riley had two children born within days of each other by two of his wives. Not wanting to shock the local vicar by proclaiming himself as the father of both children, a relative stood in as the father of Lucy’s daughter. The baptisms took place in the village of Wootton.
30th Dec 1832 – Agnes daughter of Ryley and Susannah Bos, of Wootton, a gipsy
30th Dec 1832 – Naomi daughter of Thomas and Lucy Bos, of Wootton, a gipsy
The Vicar then added a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register, “N.B. I was afterwards informed by report only, after their departure, that the child whom they named Agnes was a boy. The persons who call themselves Bos are probably Boswells”. The child was not only a boy but was Adness rather than Agness, but he also, in later life, used the names Isaac and Haggi.
James Venus made a further appearance in the dock, this time in Derbyshire for stealing an ass, along with his stepson Absalom Boyling, the two men being recorded as James Vanass aged 50 and Absalom Vanass aged 16, both gypsies. James received four months imprisonment.
At Attercliffe, Sheffield, on the 20th February 1844, Trinity Venus, wife of James Venus, brazier, died of typhus fever aged 54 years. Her death was registered by Hesilla Venus, possibly her daughter Asella by her first husband George Boyling, who had been present at the death; we can find no other trace of Hesilla/Asella. Trinity’s son Absalom, or ‘Appy Boswell, was known for his ‘Lying Tales’. Perhaps though there was more truth in them than has yet been supposed?
The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Journal (1925) has this on ‘Appy.
Among them was Trenit Boswell, a daughter of the Absolom or Appy Boswell who is famous all over the North Midlands and the northern counties for his Lying Tales, and about whose origin and ‘breedipen’ there has been as deep and seemingly impenetrable a mystery as any in Gypsy genealogy. Appy himself would declare that he was born at Wickersley, near Rotherham, of respectable gorgio parents, his father being a small farmer and dealer. As a boy he attended Sunday School, where he learned to read and write; after which, he said, his parents apprenticed him to Rogers of Sheffield, ‘to have him put in the way of the grinding business.’ The workmen, however, used him harshly, so he ran away, and ‘listed as a sailor’; and was shipwrecked, and lived for a week at the bottom of the sea — ‘ a beautiful tem in no mistake, only vittles wasn’t to say plentiful there, and it took you all your time to get a bit of fire going.’ Various adventures followed, bringing him back at last to England, where one day he fell in with a widow who had five children, and was so sorry for her that he married her forthwith. But, as will be seen, this is one of Appy’s Munchausen-like efforts, not sober autobiography; and so, having indicated its nature, I must pass it by now, hoping that on some future occasion I may be able to tell it, and one or two more Appy Boswell tales not printed as yet, in something approaching their original form. Here I can only add that Appy once took a sceptical listener to Wickersley, and convinced him of his parents’ residence there, for no sooner had they set down their grinding-barrows in front of the kicema than the door of a house opposite flew open, and a voice inquired : ‘ Is that you, Absolom? Your mother wants to see you. She’s bin took badly, poor old lady.’ This is what Appy said, at all events; and I know of Booths and Claytons nearly related to him who believe that things happened so — by previous arrangement or otherwise.
It seems plausible, having seen Trinity’s death certificate, that the story about his sick mother at Wickersley which is close by Sheffield may have some truth in it after all and relate to Trinity Venus. Incidentally, Absalom (or ‘Appy) was baptised at Scawby in Lincolnshire in 1821 as the son of George and Trinity Boyling, wandering gypsies.
James Venus was buried at Harewood in Yorkshire, as James Veanas, under coroner’s orders.
When the sun of my life is in its zenith, and I should be expected to shine in meridian lustre, behold me, like a fair opening flower, blasted by a Southern wind. See me, in a shattered bark, ready to launch in a tempestuous Sea; no chart to guide, no compass for to steer my course by, but left to the rough waves and the howling winds, till that I sink beneath the dreadful storm. How shocking is the prospect! And was a dismal night-piece is here!
This anticipation of my miseries is still enhanced by the cruel wracking thoughts of never seeing you, nor my dear injured son; yet, perhaps, we may meet again, in realms of never ending bliss, no more to part. . . . Time seems to tread with hasty strides, and new-fledged wings, and hurry me to my approaching fate. O fatal doom!
(Extract from one of the last letters written by William Parsons to his wife)
William Parsons, Esquire, second son of Sir William Parsons of Short Hill and Stanton le Wold in Nottinghamshire, led a somewhat tumultuous if short life, ending it by swinging from the gallows at Tyburn.
His mother was Frances, niece to Mary, Duchess of Northumberland. Born in Red Lion Square in London, the son of William and Frances Parsons and baptized on the 1st January 1717/18 at St. Andrew’s in Holborn, young William was educated at Eton where he began his criminal career. Caught stealing from a local bookseller, he was publicly flogged for his misdemeanours.
Because of this he was taken out of Eton and placed as a midshipman on board a sloop bound for Jamaica. Instead he absconded and fell in love with a doctor’s daughter living at Bishop’s Waltham in Hampshire, only to be foiled when his uncle found him and returned him to his ship. Arriving in Jamaica, William immediately made for England and Waltham, to return to his love, and was again intercepted by his uncle and this time sent to Newfoundland. On his return from this venture, he found that, owing to his escapades, his expected inheritance from his great-aunt, the Duchess of Northumberland, had gone to his sister, Grace, instead, who was reported to have been bequeathed between £15,000 and £25,000 (he endeavoured, with the help of his sister’s footman, to have her abducted and, once married to the footman, intended to split her fortune between them but this plan was foiled). Following the death of his mother from an apoplectic fit at her lodgings in Piccadilly in 1735 his father remarried two years later to Isabella, the widow of Delaval Dutton.
Sir William, his father, now got him a place in the service of the Royal African Company of England and our hero travelled to James Fort on the River Gambia, but that did not suit him either and he was once more soon on his way back home to England, threatening to shoot anyone who stood in his way of doing so.
His uncle, Captain Mark Dutton, who lived at Epsom, took William into his house and treated him almost as his son: William repaid his generosity by getting one of the serving maids pregnant and he was soon shown the door (history has not recorded the fate of the serving maid, but possibly she received similar treatment from the master of the house).
Seduced by a Miss E___s, who could not marry as she would forfeit her inheritance if she did so, our hero’s last chance of redemption came when, hearing that his father was in town, he went to his house and, kneeling before Sir William, threw himself on his mercy. A reconciliation between them took place and William, on the recommendation of his father, attempted to enlist as a private in the Life Guards. But they wanted him to pay seventy guineas to join and William was pecuniarily embarrassed while his father had already departed for Nottinghamshire, leaving behind just five shillings for his errant son.
And so William now embarked properly on his career as a fraudster and criminal. He passed himself off at Vauxhall and Ranelagh as an army officer but in reality hunting for a young girl in command of her own fortune to prey upon. Mary Tregonwell Frampton of Kensington, just eighteen and reportedly left an heiress by the recent death of her father (John Frampton of the Exchequer), fell for his machinations and, on the 9th February 1740/41, at the Chapel on King Street in Westminster, she became the wife of William Parsons and he became the master of her fortune. She had £12,000 and £4,000 was given over to Parsons on their marriage; the remaining £8,000 was used to buy Exchequer Annuities and Parsons received the annual interest on these.
A son, Mark, was born to the couple on the 19th November 1741 (baptized on the 10th December that year at St. James in Piccadilly), followed by William Dutton Parsons, born on the 21st March 1742/43 (and baptized in the same church as his elder brother on the 11th April 1743), but who died young.
William’s family was delighted with this turn of events, and the improvement in his condition and reputation. He was helped to an Ensigncy with Colonel Cholmondeley’s regiment of foot and William saw action in Flanders, being promoted to Lieutenant, while his wife and son remained in London living in Poland Street and Panton Square.
But William was living too fast, encouraged by a false friend named only as Doctor N___ (possibly Northgate) to squander his wife’s fortune at the gaming tables, and disaster soon overtook him. On his return to England he was chased by creditors and could not return to his young family at Panton Square; instead he took lodgings, calling himself Captain Brown to evade notice. But, true to form, he debauched his landlord’s daughter and fathered two children on her.
A baptism at the London Foundling Hospital on the 19th July 1747 for a Grace Parsons may be one of these two children, named for William’s sister who had married a wealthy Mr Lambert from Kent earlier that year (by the time of her marriage her fortune was being estimated at £30,000). Parsons’s philandering also reputedly took in Lady Frances Vane (formerly Hamilton, née Hawes), who is named as Lady Frail in his Memoirs.
At Deal, in 1745, as he was about to board a privateer, an attempt was made to apprehend him but Parsons shot and wounded one of the men in his desperation to make the ship, threatening to kill anyone who prevented him. He got as far as Ireland before being taken ill and put ashore. There, when he ran out of money, he drew bills on eminent London tradesmen enabling him to return to England where he lived in some style in Plymouth.
Passing as Richard rather than William Parsons his need for ready money induced him, with a female accomplice, to return to London and swindle a parson and a jeweller, and he even stooped so low as to steal from men who classed themselves his friend. Inevitably he was taken into custody. By the August of 1748 he was in the Wood Street Compter. Standing trial at Maidstone assizes, he was initially condemned to death, but this was commuted to fourteen years transportation and so Parsons was shipped to Maryland in Virginia: the voyage there was hard and cruel and, of the 173 convicts on board the transport, fifty of them died during the passage. William Parsons survived and in November 1749 he landed at Annapolis.
After a couple of months the Virginian landowner and English Peer Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, heard an account of Parsons and received him at his house, allowing him a horse to ride. Sir William Parsons had engineered things so his son would be enabled to live handsomely enough in Virginia. But this kindness by his father and Lord Fairfax was repaid by rank ingratitude: Parsons absconded with the horse and took to highway robbery before making for the Potomac River where he sold Lord Fairfax’s horse to buy passage on a ship. Three weeks and four days later he sighted England once more and landed at Whitehaven in Cumbria.
He immediately recommenced his fraudulent swindles, persuading a Whitehaven merchant to give him £75 by pretending his father was dead and he was home to take possession of a large estate. This money got him back to the gaming tables and bawdy houses of London where he quickly disposed of all his ready cash and had to resort to criminal activities to raise more. And so, at eleven o’clock on an August evening, William Parsons held up a post-chaise on Hounslow Heath.
More highway robberies followed, and the gentleman highwayman gained a certain notoriety. At Turnham Green he returned a wife’s wedding ring to a gentleman he had just taken it from but who begged for its return, handing back five shillings of the thirty he had also purloined from this man on hearing he had no more money: the two men reputedly shook hands before parting at the end of this encounter.
Eventually, breaking his golden rule of carrying out his nefarious activities under the cover of darkness, he set out one fine Sunday morning towards Windsor, having heard that a carriage with a footman and a quantity of money would be passing that way. But also travelling on that road were two men who had prosecuted him at his earlier trial, and so surprised were they to recognize a man who had been transported to Maryland, and who should have still been there, that they insisted upon Parsons surrendering to them at the Rose and Crown Inn at Hounslow. Parsons, realizing resistance was futile, surrendered his pistols to the two gentlemen but then the landlord of the inn casually remarked that Parsons answered the description of the highwayman wanted for the recent spate of robberies on the roads in the area, and a constable was sent for.
And so William Parsons found himself in Newgate, awaiting his execution. He sent several penitent letters to his family, and several more to people of influence, hoping for a reprieve. None was forthcoming, even though his father and his wife petitioned the King for this. Mary Tregonwell Parsons, for all she tried to save her reprobate husband, appears to be a woman full of the common sense she lacked at her hasty wedding a decade earlier. She wrote a very business-like letter to William, setting out her plans to meet with his father and discuss the petition to go before the king, but telling her husband at the same time to prepare to die and chiding him for his first letter to her from Newgate which, in Mary’s opinion, was much too romantic for one in his circumstance. Reading between the lines of her letter, she also seems to suspect that William’s protestations of repentance are more for effect than truly heartfelt. In the end Mary’s aunt delivered the petition, in the names of Mary and her father-in-law, but it was disregarded. The petition sounds a bit half-hearted, and indeed it probably was, for his family had employed a similar action to reduce his sentence of execution for one of transportation only two or three years earlier and it is doubtful they would have had many expectations of Parsons living up to any promises they could make on his behalf on this occasion.
The Petition of William Parsons, and Mary Tregonwell Parsons, Father and Wife to the unhappy William Parsons, now under Sentence of death in Newgate, for returning from Transportation,
Most humbly Sheweth,
THAT your petitioners humbly implore your Majesty’s most gracious pardon for the said William Parsons, and faithfully promise, that if your Majesty be pleased to grant the same, they will take care for the time to come, that it shall not be in his power to abuse your Majesty’s clemency, or injure any of your Majesty’s subjects:
And your petitioners (as in duty bound) shall ever pray, &c.
Mary Tregonwell Parsons
On the 11th February 1751 William Parsons swung at Tyburn for his crimes.
LONDON, February 12.
Yesterday the Ten Malefactors under Sentence of Death, were carried from Newgate to Tyburn, in four Carts; they all behaved in a decent Manner, becoming Persons under their unhappy Circumstances, but particularly Parsons, who, tho’ he had been so long in Prison, still retained the Appearance of a Gentleman, and seemed to be duly affected with the near Prospect of a future State. [William] Vincent, [Thomas] Clements, and [Anthony] Westley, three Boys, went in the first Cart; [Edward] Smith and [Daniel] Davis, in the second; [Thomas] Applegarth and [Michael] Sauce, in the third; and [James] Field [a stage boxer], [Jeremiah] Sullivan, and Parsons, in the last.
Field’s Legs were chained together, for Fear of a Rescue.
A Hearse attended the Place of Execution for the Body of Parsons, which conveyed him to an Undertaker’s on Snow-hill, in order to be interred.
Mr. Parsons, a little before his Death, ordered a Diamond Mourning Ring, of ten Guineas Value, to be made, with the following Inscription, William Parsons, Ob.11th Feb. 1750-51,Ætat. 33. The Motto was, When this you see, remember me; which Ring he presented to a certain young Lady, as the last Token of his Affection for her.
Was the diamond ring for his long-suffering wife, or for the landlord’s daughter with whom he had two children? His Memoirs published directly after his death suggest his mistress had remained by his side, both in the Wood Street Compter and during his spell in Newgate. Whoever it went to, it’s probably a safe bet the jeweller wasn’t promptly paid for his work.
The Baronetage of England; or, the History of the English Baronets, and such Baronets of Scotland, as are of English families; with genealogical tables, by The Rev. William Betham, London, 1802
The Eton College Register, 1698-1752
St James’s Evening Post, 16th May 1747
General Evening Post, 29th May 1735
Stamford Mercury, 30th June 1737
London Evening Post, 2nd September 1738
Read’s Weekly Journal, 23rd June 1750 and 8th September 1750
Derby Mercury, 8th February 1750/51
The Universal Magazine, February 1751
The Tyburn Chronicle: or, Villainy Display’d, volume iii
Remarkable Rogues: the careers of some notable criminals of Europe and America by Charles Kingston, 2nd ed., 1922
Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of William Parsons, by himself, 1751
Richard Pendleton, a fisherman or waterman living in the parish of St Mary’s at Lambeth on the banks of the Thames, was a cruel man and often rained down blows upon his poor wife Elizabeth’s head. Eventually, after his frequent rages and ill treatment of her, she saw her own opportunity for revenge.
Her husband had returned home drunk, and he tumbled into their bed where he fell asleep. Waiting a while to be sure that he was senseless, Elizabeth then took up her needle and some thread, and proceeded to sew him securely into one of the blankets on the bed. When Richard awoke, he found his arms and legs were so confined that he was incapable of movement. Even more worryingly, Elizabeth stood over him with the hearth brush in her hands.
And so, in return for all the cruel punishments she had endured, Elizabeth began to beat him unmercifully until her husband begged for forgiveness, in the humblest of terms. Upon obtaining his promise never to ill-treat her again Elizabeth ceased and, taking up her scissors, she cut him free from the blanket.
There the matter should have ended, Elizabeth had taken her revenge and was satisfied with her husband’s apology and his oath not to strike her again. But Elizabeth had fatally underestimated Richard Pendleton’s rage.
Elizabeth too was fond of a drink and on the 1st July 1778 Richard Pendleton returned home to find his wife tipsy and no supper ready for him. Shouting “blast your eyes, you b___ch, I’ll murder you!” he punched her several times on her head and she fell to the floor: one source asserts that he then beat his wife’s head against the stone floor, another that he gave her prone body a kick. Leaving her lying on the flagstones, he went out, presumably looking for his supper, whilst a woman who lived in the house carried Elizabeth to bed, where she lay senseless.
Pendleton returned home and slept in the bed next to his wife; in the morning he got up and went to work as usual, leaving Elizabeth lying, still senseless, in their bed. She was still there when some of her neighbours found her later that day, close to death.
Elizabeth Pendleton died in her house on the 2nd July 1778. She was buried three days later in the grounds of St Mary’s church at Lambeth. An inquest found that she had died of a contusion of the brain, caused by her husband’s blows to her head.
Richard Pendleton stood trial for her murder, and was found guilty: on the 3rd August 1778, at the gallows on Gangley Common near Guildford, he hung for his crime. Before he swung he was sullen and obdurate, but the Reverend Mr Dyer ‘expostulated with him in the most servent Terms, which brought him to some sense of his future State’. He then addressed the crowd assembled to watch him die, advising them to avoid drunkenness and the heat of passion.
His sentence had stipulated that he should be anatomized after his death, and so his body was carried to the surgeons at Guildford in order to be dissected.
Georgian fashion dictated that women wore ‘big dresses’ accompanied by even bigger hair so with all that fabric and ‘high hair’ fashion it should come as no surprise that accidents happened. With that in mind we thought we would take a peek at the fires caused by the fashions of the day.
We had no idea that there were so many incidents reported in the newspapers about hair and fabric being set alight by the open fires and so many deaths resulting from these incidents, so here are just a few.
London Chronicle (London, England), September 28, 1776 – October 1, 1776
Edinburgh, Sept 25. We hear from Dundee, that a few days ago, as a young lady was writing, the candle set her head-dress on fire. It burnt some time before she was aware; the then wrapped a handkerchief round her head to smother the flame, but it also catched fire; it was, however, extinguished with having scorched the lady much; but the fright affected her so much that she died in two days. Her name was Wedderburn*, an amiable young lady and her death is deeply regretted.
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), March 17, 1778 – March 19, 1778
Last week a very melancholy accident happened to Miss Vane, daughter of the Hon. Mr Vane of Bielby , in Yorkshire; being sitting by her fire she dropped her keys within the fender and, stooping to take them up her head-dress took fire, and she was burnt so dreadfully before it could be extinguished, that she expired in a few hours.
Public Advertiser (London, England), Monday, January 7, 1793
Lady Elizabeth Pratt is out of danger from her late unfortunate accident, which very deeply affected the venerable Earl, her father. Her Ladyship had her head scorched by her head-dress catching fire while she was reading.
Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 8, 1778
An evening paper has the following whimsical article: amongst the many accidents which happened on Sunday evening last from the lightning, the following, however extraordinary, may be relied on as a fact. About half past nine, just as the thunderstorm began, three ladies took shelter under one of the trees in St James’s Park : One of their heads was erected to an enormous height, and consequently stuck full of long wire pins : unfortunately these acted as conductors, and set her head-dress on fire, by attracting the lighting. Her two companions screamed with horror, but so stupefied with fear and astonishment were all parties that not one had presence of mind to remove her from the shelter of the tree into the rain. In spite of every efforts made by those distressed ladies, the fire raged with great violence for above ten minutes, destroying in that time above eight yards of gauze, a small quantity of hair and a prodigious load of wool, powder and pomade. At last two young fellows, supposed by their being furnished with syringes, to be apothecary’s apprentices, seeing the fire from an adjacent tree, and apprehending it might set the whole park ablaze, sallied forth to the poor lady’s assistance, and levelling their syringes with infinite adroitness and success both before and behind in a little time happily extinguished it.
As soon as the storm abated, she was bought to a house in Spring Gardens, where our correspondent saw her. All her hair was burnt down to a black crumbling stubble and her face was singed with the flopping of the flames over it, that she cut a most shocking figure. It being intimated that she lived in Threadneedle Street, a coach was called, and she was conveyed home to her family. The writer of this article cannot dismiss it without earnestly requesting his fair countrymen would drop, at least for this summer, so dangerous a fashion as high heads.
Clearly as these instances of hair or clothing being set alight were not rare as a very a sensible couple advised their daughters to how cope in such an event:-
Bath, March 1809.
A beautiful young lady, in a neighbouring city, was lately rescued from the most imminent danger of being burned to death. As the method of her preservation from this dreadfully calamitous situation might be successfully adopted in like cases, a minute detail of all the circumstances ought to be generally known. Her muslin dress, being touched by a candle; caught fire, and the flame instantly blazed above her head. Fortunately two of her sisters were in her chamber. One sister with a long and strong pair of scissors, blunt at both points, with great expedition and steady resolution, cut through all her clothes on the hind part of her neck all down her back; that is, through her gown, her stays in the space between two whalebones, her shift, and the bindings of her petticoats.
As one sister was thus employed, the other slit up the gown at the wrists; and then immediately, with a pair of tongs from the fender, took firm hold of the clothes on fire, upon the fore part of the neck, and pulled them forcibly forward and downward from the shoulders; when all the garments instantly dropped off upon the floor, and were thrown into the chimney in a blaze. The time between the commencement of the fire, and till the young lady was rescued from all danger, was less than two minutes.
The flame, had scorched her face and neck, so as to be very painful for some hours; but not even a blister had arisen. A delay of but a few minutes longer, would have occasioned incurable mischief; either death or deformity must have been the inevitable consequence.
It may be proper to explain how these measures of prevention were so promptly and successfully executed. All the sisters had previously received complete instructions from their parents in what method to proceed in such a dreadful emergency, if their muslin dress should catch fire. They had frequently consulted together how to act in the moment of alarming danger. Each of them had provided a proper pair of scissors for the purpose. It is impossible to describe the exact of joy, which the sisters and the parents expressed upon this happy occasion. They united in fervent thanksgivings to Providence for this wonderful deliverance from so dreadful a calamity.
To end on a slightly cheeky note, this young woman must have heard about the perils of setting your clothes alight and wasn’t prepared to take any chances!
* It appears highly likely that Miss Wedderburn was Miss Susanna Wedderburn, the daughter of Sir John Wedderburn of Blackness, a Perthshire gentleman who joined the 1745 rebellion of Charles Edward Stuart and, captured at the Battle of Culloden, was afterwards hanged as a traitor; there is a burial date of the 18th September 1776 in Dundee for a Susanna Wedderburn.
We are delighted to announce a ‘sister’ site to All Things Georgian, and would like to introduce to you ‘The Diaries of Miss Fanny Chapman’ which can be accessed by clicking here.
Some time ago we were approached by George and Amanda Rosenberg who had enjoyed our blog posts on this site, and thought we might like to host the diaries that they had painstakingly transcribed which were written by Fanny during the Regency, late Georgian and Victorian eras (George descends from Fanny Chapman’s family).
We were both thrilled and somewhat overwhelmed when he sent us the diaries and associated information, and quickly decided that they deserved a site of their own, for they are quite wonderful to read, and we hope that others will find them as fascinating as we have done. They are still a ‘work in progress’ as George and Amanda have far more information than we have managed to pull together as yet, so please keep checking back for further developments.
Christiana Fanny Chapman was born in 1775 to Henry Chapman and his wife Christiana (Kitty) nee Neate. Her diaries were kept in the form of notebooks and a number of loose pages and cover the years 1807 to 1812 when she lived in and around Bath and in Somerset with her aunts Jemima Powell and Mary Neate (Mary was also Fanny’s godmother), very much dependent upon them. The diaries describe their everyday life, their circle of friends and the social routine of the minor gentry of the time.
A constant presence in the diaries is Fanny’s uncle by marriage, Colonel John Hutton Cooper. He had been the second husband of Fanny’s aunt Phillis, who had been left a wealthy widow upon the death of her first husband, Charles Meniconi. When Phillis died she left everything to Cooper, including the villa in which they all lived, probably upon the understanding that he would continue to provide for her sisters and nieces (Fanny had a sister, Emma). Cooper reneged on that agreement, but George believes, and (after reading the diaries) we agree, that Fanny was more than a little in love with her widowed uncle, at least initially. Emma later described Cooper as a ‘reprobate and a fortune hunter’.
Fanny’s diary ends in 1812, and then recommences in 1837, just weeks after the young Queen Victoria had ascended the throne. With her two aunts dead, Fanny is living in Bath with her sister, finally her own mistress. Her aunts both left Fanny the main beneficiary of their wills.
Whilst the diaries which cover the years 1807 to 1812 are all fully available, the ones covering the Victorian years will be added to the site shortly.
The diaries end in 1841, but Fanny lived many more years, not dying until 1871 at the grand old age of ninety-five years.
Please feel free to share this with anyone whom you may feel will be interested in these diaries. You may also wish to follow @ChapmanDiary on twitter.
Once again we are absolutely delighted to welcome a return guest to our blog, the lovely Regan Walker, who has written another fascinating article for us. This time she has looked at a subject which is very close to our hearts – food!
For more information and snippets from Regan’s book please see the links at the bottom of the page.
While doing research for my story, To Tame the Wind, the prequel to my Agents of the Crown trilogy, I was reminded how well the Georgians ate, even in the 18th century, particularly if they were people of means and had access to a large country garden.
Beginning in the late 1600s, many in the English aristocracy sent their cooks to France to learn to cook, but apparently the experiment was of mixed success (though I daresay England’s kitchens benefitted from the French Revolution when many refugees fled North). Eliza Smith, one of the early female cookbook writers, was not complimentary of French cooking, but Hannah Glasse, whose The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy was possibly the most successful cookbook of the 18th century, must have felt differently as she included French recipes.
By 1758, modern cooking techniques began to emerge with Sarah Phillips’ The Ladies Handmaid wherein she instructs cooks to use the minimum liquid and minimum cooking times for vegetables, sounding very modern. Artichokes and French beans were popular, as were cucumbers.
If one had land to cultivate a garden, the French company Vilmorin-Andrieux & Cie, Paris merchants, would assist with the first catalog of seeds for kitchen garden vegetables, including legumes, salad plants, flower seeds and bulbs published in 1766.
Many estate owners maintained extensive gardens and orchards. In the second half of the 18th century, they used canals to transport produce where such were available. Late in the century, the roads improved and transport was made easier. Thus London’s markets benefitted from produce grown elsewhere.
As for bread, a staple of life then as now, the population seemed to prefer white bread to dark bread. Farmers grew more wheat to meet the demand for white wheaten bread. When bad weather hit in the second half of the century, grain was either imported or bread was supplemented with other cereals, not popular with the people. In 1767, Arthur Young commented, “rye and barley bread are looked upon with horror even by the poor cottagers.”
For breakfast, the gentry ate enriched, fruited spice breads or cakes and lightly spiced buns flavored with caraway seeds served hot and buttered. Muffins were also popular in the North from the 1770s. If one was of a mind to spread something on the bread, there was butter, honey, marmalade and jams made from various fruits, such as raspberries, cherries and apples.
Breakfast might include kippers. I’ve had them and, personally, once was enough. Kippers are usually herring or a young salmon split, cleaned, boned, dried, and rubbed with salt and pepper, then fried or baked and served hot at the breakfast table. The kippers I had were baked herring. After one bite, I asked the waiter to take the fish away. My traveling companion thanked me.
Boiled oatmeal with butter, called “gruel” could be served at breakfast with cream as it is today, but it was also served in the evening.
Chocolate was a hot drink thought to make women fertile. How clever. No wonder we love the solid stuff today!
As for other meals, there was soup, stews and meat if you could afford it.
White soup contained veal stock, cream and almonds. Sometimes it was thickened with rice or breadcrumbs. On the streets of London, vendors hawked both pease pudding and pea soup.
Lobscouse, a stew of meats and vegetables was familiar to seamen and could be quite varied. (Stew was a frequent dish on the Fairwinds, my hero’s ship in To Tame the Wind).
What did they eat for the main course at dinner? Well, if one could afford it, mutton and beef to be sure. During the first half of the century, thousands of cattle found their way to Smithfield Market in London each year. The meat was not always of good quality, however. The Duke of Bedford had sheep and cattle driven up from his estate at Woburn and parked in the fields outside his London house so he did not have to shop at Smithfield. They had to be guarded against thieves, however.
Many different types of meat were consumed, sometimes at the same meal, among them beef sirloin, venison, mutton, ham, bacon, hare (rabbit), chicken, geese, turkey, pigeons, ducks and partridge. An Irish gentleman travelling in England in 1752 had a “very good supper”, consisting of “veal cutlets, pigeons, asparagus, lamb and salad, apple-pie and tarts.” An Irish Gentleman, Journey through England, 1752.
Fish would have been consumed, as well, depending on where you lived. Salmon and tuna were among those recorded as well as shellfish, such as oysters. (Lobster was cheap because they were so numerous.)
For supper, the fare might be cold meats and a hunk of Cheddar cheese. There were many types of cheese available, too.
The English loved their puddings, both then and now, both savory and sweet. Even officers on ships liked them. And syllabub, a drink containing cider or wine sweetened with nutmeg, milk and cream, was enjoyed.
Fruit was surprisingly varied. Open-air markets might sell fruit as they do today, but other shops featured fruit as well. Sophie de la Roche, a German visitor to London in 1786, wrote about her stroll down Oxford Street. After commenting on the many shops, she noted:
“Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show.”
When it was warm, ices were much desired. Although they had been known in England since the late 17th century, ices were made popular by French and Italian confectioners setting up shops in London in the mid 18th century. Some varieties that are fashionable in modern times, such as brown bread and pistachio, date from this period. There were also ices made with elderflowers, jasmine, white coffee, tea, pineapple, barberries and a host of other unusual flavors. Yum!
In 1757, an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri opened a shop on Berkeley Square under the sign of “The Pot and Pineapple”. The pineapple was a symbol of luxury and used extensively as a logo for confectioners. Negri’s impressive trade card not only featured a pineapple, but it advertised that he was in the business of making English, French and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats. In To Tame the Wind the heroine and her friend, Lady Danvers, make a special stop at Negri’s to procure some sweetmeats.
What to drink? Well, tea was the national drink, but expensive. Coffee houses flourished and no wonder. Men thought it improved their sexual prowess. Wine might accompany a wealthy man’s dinner. A good wine cellar might include Champagne, Claret (Bordeaux), Sherry, Port and Madeira. Punches were popular, too, cold or warmed and often spiced. (This may have been one of the uses for the stores of nutmegs, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.) The populace drank ale. And we can’t forget wassail at Christmastide.
Altogether it was a rich fare!
Paris 1782…AN INNOCENT IS TAKEN
All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell’s schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear… her.
A BATTLE IS JOINED
The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire’s father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.
Links to purchase Regan’s book can be found by clicking on the links below
Clarkson Cardinall of Tendring in Essex was a miser. He lived in a large manor house, set in a good estate and had £60,000 in the bank, but he had let it fall into disrepair (to be honest, he reminds us of Sir Pitt Crawley, owner of Queen’s Crawley, in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair). The front entrance to the house was shut up and the front court overgrown with weeds; guests had to enter by a narrow dark passage, conducted by the one and only servant, a decrepit old woman. Most of the windows were blockaded, to prevent the payment of window tax, but through the dim light available, guests could see the worn out old chairs they were expected to seat themselves on amidst the dust, cobwebs and detritus collected in the once stately rooms. Hanging proudly in the hallway was a military sash and sword, the remnants of Clarkson Cardinall’s military career as a junior officer with the Essex Militia. The family dressed in tattered clothing, Clarkson Cardinall often to be seen in a rusty drab coat with his grey hair straggling from beneath a faded brown wig.
Two children had been born to Cardinall, John, his son and heir, in 1770 and a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1776. His wife Elizabeth (known as Bessy) was the only child of the Reverend Talbot Lloyd; she had married Clarkson Cardinall in 1769.
Once a year father and son travelled (frugally of course!) to London to receive the dividends on their fortune held safely with the bank; the dividends amounted to more than £3,000 per year, but a visitor to their home would see scant evidence of the Cardinall’s wealth.
Elizabeth, when in her early 20s, attracted the attention of the son of a wealthy neighbouring landowner and William Leeds (for that was his name) began to pay court to her, leading to a marriage being arranged between the two fathers. Negotiations continued after William’s father had died and William moved in to live with the Cardinall’s in their manor house; terms were eventually agreed for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and the parties travelled to London to draw up the marriage settlement and to procure the marriage licence, staying at an Inn in Whitechapel.
Clarkson Cardinall reluctantly settled £4,000 on his daughter, but stipulated that the marriage should not take place until after midsummer; the half year dividend was due then and he wanted to be the recipient of it, not his new son-in-law. William Leeds was eager to marry though, he also settled £4,000 upon the marriage and promised that he would allow his father-in-law the full dividend on his own money if he would consent to the marriage taking place before then. Cardinall agreed, and on the 15th April 1802 a Faculty Office Marriage Licence in the names of Elizabeth Cardinall and William Leeds was obtained. Elizabeth and her father returned to Essex to prepare for the marriage and William remained in London where the marriage was to take place (either the bride or the groom had to have resided for four weeks in the parish where the marriage was to be held) and the marriage was scheduled for mid-May.
And then, on the 9th May, just days before the nuptials, Elizabeth ran away with a sailor who was newly landed on shore.
William Leeds, seeking damages against his inconstant lady, instructed his lawyers to prepare a ‘Breach of Promise’ case which was heard on the 1st March 1803 at the Court of the King’s Bench in the Guildhall.
Mr Erskine, acting for William Leeds, addressed the court.
Gentlemen, I do not mean to contend that when a man is thus deceived and disappointed, he suffers the like disparagement as when it happens to a female; nor do I affect to say that my client is ready to hang himself; but his Lordship will tell you, that if a man suffers mortification, in having his marriage settlements overturned by a woman’s playing the jilt, he is also entitled to compensation for his mortified feelings.
Elizabeth, now the wife of Charles John Cooke, the handsome sailor who had so swiftly obtained her hand in marriage and who, as Elizabeth was penniless, would be liable to pay any damages awarded to William Leeds, was represented by the well-known Mr Garrow. And here her story began to take on a different character.
For William Leeds was not the bereft lover he presented himself as. In fact, he was a cad of the highest order and Elizabeth had made a lucky escape.
As soon as the marriage settlement had been signed, and the marriage licence procured, William Leeds had shown himself in his true colours, confident that Elizabeth, or rather her fortune in the three percent’s, was his and that the marriage was now a mere formality. When Elizabeth expressed a wish to walk rather than to ride in a carriage when they went to take the air, William threatened her, promising to break her bones and flay her alive if she did not always instantly conform to his wishes when they were married. Mr Garrow continued:
It had once been a matter of merriment, to consider whether a man might not use a stick as thick as his thumb to correct his wife; but, to prevent all future discussion, Mr. Leeds before hand gave his intended wife a taste of the horsewhip he meant to use as his instrument of correction.
And, rather than stay by Elizabeth’s side, just hours after the marriage deeds had been drawn up he had, with the full knowledge of his future father-in-law, proceeded to enjoy the favours of two whores he met in Fleet Street; they took him back to their lodgings in Milk Street.
If Elizabeth had been shocked and frightened by William’s treatment of her in London she was aghast when, back in their mouldy Essex mansion, her father informed her that her intended spouse had been consorting with the Milk Street whores. Even though he knew of this, and of William’s treatment of his daughter, he still pressed for the marriage. It was against this backdrop that she ran into the path of the handsome sailor, and he presented an escape route from both her father and her fiancée; is it little wonder that she took to her heels and eloped with him, with scarcely a backwards glance?
It was claimed that the pair, Charles James Cooke, a purser on an East Indiaman, and Elizabeth Cardinall married at Gretna Green in Scotland, but if they did so they solemnised their vows a second time close to Elizabeth’s home for on the 9th July 1802 they presented themselves at the parish church in Ardleigh to recite their vows to one another. The three witnesses who signed the register were William and Elizabeth Cook and Louisa Kelly and the Ipswich Journal, on the 12th June 1802, carried the following notice.
COLCHESTER, June 11.
Lately was married, Mr. Chas. John Cook, of the Hon. East India Company’s service, to Miss Eliz. Cardinall, only daughter of Clarkson Cardinall, Esq. of Tendring.
Charles took Elizabeth without any fortune, for her enraged father cruelly refused to have anything to do with her (and was probably most satisfied with the prospect of keeping his fortune intact). Charles had been left under the care of a Trustee as a child when his father died, and the unscrupulous trustee had converted the money his young charge possessed to his own use, and so Charles had sought his own fortune at sea but had little besides his wages.
A daughter was soon born to Elizabeth, named Eliza Cardinall Cooke, and Elizabeth and her child found themselves in desperate want. On top of this, William Leeds brought the Breach of Promise case to try to win the money he had hoped to gain when Elizabeth was his wife, despite the fact that he had since asked for the hand in marriage of another lady, a Miss Turpin (it was suggested in court that this had been within a day or two of Elizabeth eloping).
Mr Garrow roundly denounced both William Leeds and Clarkson Cardinall, and various witnesses, including Elizabeth’s brother John, testified to William’s cruel treatment of her and the jury agreed with them; they awarded William Leeds a derisory one shilling for damages.
And, with that matter sorted, one could have hoped that Elizabeth might now have a chance of future happiness, having escaped both William Leeds and her father. Sadly it was not to be and, however much we would like to, we cannot give Elizabeth the happy ending that fate cruelly denied her. Just weeks later, beset by poverty and misery and with her new-born daughter in distress she approached her father’s house, only to be rebuffed by him. Just a few yards from his door she fell to the ground and breathed her last. She was buried on the 25th March 1803 in Tendring churchyard.
Maybe Charles John Cooke had returned to his ship, for he was not mentioned further. Their infant daughter was placed by her grandfather with a poor woman who lived near to his house, but his charity to this helpless infant, his own flesh and blood, extended little beyond that. He paid as small a sum for her sustenance that he could manage to get away with, and she lived a miserable existence.
Clarkson Cardinall died in 1825 at the grand old age of 95 years, and probably his passing was mourned by very few (his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1818). His son John inherited his father’s fortune and his estate, although little Eliza Cardinall Cooke was mentioned in her grandfather’s will. She was to receive the interest and dividends on a sum of £5,000 for the term of her natural life, and after her death the lump sum of £5,000 was to be shared by any lawful children she left behind. At the end of his life, had Cardinall regretted the cruel treatment he had meted out to his only daughter and her child? For Elizabeth’s only crime was to marry without his consent, an act she rashly undertook to try to save herself from a lifetime of misery as the wife of William Leeds.
Eliza Cardinall Cooke lived until 1839. She was buried, on the 9th May 1839, in the churchyard at Tendring, next to her mother; her abode was given as Wrabness.
Between 1798 and 1801 Charles John Cooke was the Purser on board the Tellicherry which sailed to St Helena and Bengal and arrived at the Downs on the 25th September 1801, but he had left the ship by the time of his marriage to Elizabeth (it sailed from the Downs on the 13th April 1802 with a new Purser).
Life at Weeley Camp and Barracks, 1803 to 1804, from Mary Ann Grant’s Sketches of Life and Manners (contains a link to an excellent transcript of Mary Ann’s letters, including one written after a visit to Clarkson Cardinall’s home in July 1803, just months after the death of Elizabeth).
The Ipswich Journal, 12th June 1802.
The Morning Post, 2nd March 1803.
The Morning Chronicle, 2nd March 1803.
A Register of Ships, Employed in the Service of the Honorable the United East India Company, from the year 1760 to 1810 by Charles and Horatio Charles Hardy, 1811.
Earlier this week we took a look at bigamy cases heard at the Old Bailey and next we have the case of Maria Edkins, one of the 5 who was found guilty of bigamy.
In the September of 1794, a young Welshwoman was convicted of bigamy. She went by a bewildering variety of names, and could be a Mary, a Maria or an Anne Maria, and might have originally borne the surname Jones although she could also have been a widowed Mrs Wettenhall or Whittenhall when her adventures began. Born around 1768, she had a dark complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes; she stood 5ft 3”.
In 1789 Maria (we’ll go with that name) was lodging with a Mrs Gibblet (you really couldn’t make this up!), posing as a widow with £20/year to live on, and using Maria Jones as her name. She was visited by a young music master named George Edkins of Hungerford Market, and a marriage swiftly followed.
The wedding took place in St James the Less Thorndike in Westminster on the 11th August 1789, after banns, in the presence of two witnesses, Samuel Bride and Jane Wilson. The marriage register does not record if Maria married as a spinster or not, and unless she reduced her age when she was subsequently charged with bigamy, she was only around eighteen or nineteen years of age. Almost four years later Mrs Maria Edkins was involved in a fracas when she was assaulted by a woman named Dorothy Booth who had tried to steal from her, and George was named as her husband in the records relating to that.
Around the same time as this assault, Maria reputedly met a man named William Jonathan Slark whilst walking in the street. An attachment followed, together with a marriage. Both parties gave a different version of the events leading up to the wedding: Maria said Slark was most insistent on marrying her, and got her drunk on the morning of the wedding and Slark countered with the information that Maria had threatened to remove into a convent if he did not make her his wife.
And so, at St James in Clerkenwell, the banns were read and another wedding took place, this time on the 6th April 1794, with the bride named as a spinster on the banns. If this was indeed Maria, she married under the name of Ann Maria Wettenhall, and the marriage was witnessed by John Garth and W[illia]m Chaplen or Chapel, the clerk and sexton of the church.
William Slark’s father was an eminent city merchant, and was horrified to find his son had married (Maria was described as a woman of ‘easy virtue’ at her trial). As we had differing accounts of the contraction of the marriage, we now have two different versions of the events leading up to the trial.
Either, William Slark’s father turned detective, investigated his new daughter-in-law’s former life and discovered the first marriage, or Slark set the whole thing up, and the Ann Maria Wettenhall who married William Slark was not the Mary Jones who had married George Edkins five years earlier. For Maria insisted that William Slark wanted to be released from his hasty marriage to marry a lady of fortune with £5,000, and he had advertised for a woman named Wilson, and then persuaded a woman to pretend to be the Jane Wilson who had witnessed Edkin’s marriage and to identify Maria Wettenhall/Slark as the bride from 1789. If Maria could be proved a bigamist, his marriage would be no marriage and he could freely marry his heiress.
Maria stoutly denied ever having married George Edkins: she said she had married a Mr Wettenhall (or Whittenhall) in Paris, and her first husband had been dead for between twelve and eighteen months when she met Slark. Unfortunately for Mary, witnesses were brought to disprove her testimony. Jane Wilson, now Jane Moore (she had married John Moore at St James Clerkenwell in May 1794, six weeks after William and Maria Slark’s marriage) took the stand (and denied conspiring with Slark for a cut of the £5,000 fortune of the unnamed young lady Maria said he wished to marry), Mrs Gibblet appeared and swore that Maria Slark was the young Mary Jones who had lodged with her and said that the new Mr and Mrs Edkins, together with Jane, had returned to her house after their wedding. Finally Edward Parry, a schoolmaster living in Down Street, Piccadilly, had been appointed to give Mary Jones away at her marriage to Edkins but she had been late and he had left the church before times, but he too swore that it was the same woman who stood in the dock charged with bigamy.
With all the evidence against her, Maria was found guilty of bigamy and sentenced to six months imprisonment in Newgate and fined a shilling. We should probably hold our hands up here and say we’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for Maria through our research into her life; while she was, on the balance of evidence, guilty as charged, she was certainly ‘a trier’.