In our last blog we told the tale of an eighteenth-century ghost who helped a girl find a hoard of buried coins beneath the stone flags on the floor of her cottage. Today we discuss another ghost who initially seemed equally as helpful, but this one was bent on revealing a murderer rather than a treasure trove and was not what it initially seemed.
The report was circulated in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, dated the 18th March 1762, and began with the following notice:
The Public having for some Time past been impos’d on with so many sham Ghosts, (which credulous People are apt to place too much Belief in), the following may not be disagreeable to the Generality of our Readers.
This referred to the recent controversy in London over the Cock Lane ghost, a supposed haunting carried out by ‘Scratching Fanny’ the dead common-law wife of William Kent, but one really perpetrated by Elizabeth Parsons, the daughter of a man who had recently had a dispute with Kent.
But, to return to our tale…
On a dark night, a farmer’s wife lay tossing and turning, her worry for her missing husband keeping her awake. He had gone to the market at Southam, a small market town about 6 miles south-east of Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, and should have been home hours before. Early the next morning there was a knock at her door.
The farmer’s wife found a man standing there who asked her if her husband had returned the previous evening. She replied in the negative and told him that she ‘was under the utmost Anxiety and Terror on that Account’. The man gave a startling reply.
Your Terror, said he, cannot equal mine, for last Night, as I lay in Bed, quite awake, the Apparition of your Husband appeared to me, shewed me several ghastly Stabs in his Body, told me he had been murthered [sic] by [here he named the individual], and his Carcase thrown into such a Marle-Pit.
The man at the door had named both the murderer and the pit and, after the alarm had been raised, the pit searched and the unfortunate farmer’s body found, the man named by the ghost was arrested. The wounds on the body matched the account given by the ghost and it appeared that the farmer had returned to give evidence against the man who had taken his life.
So thought the men who had taken the murderer into custody, and so thought the jury when the case came to trial at Warwick before the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, all convinced by the evidence said to have been given by the deceased who had helpfully pointed the finger at his murderer and saved them the bother of finding him themselves. They were all set to convict the man accused of the crime until the Judge checked them and spoke to them.
I think, Gentlemen, you seem inclined to lay more Stress on the Evidence of an Apparition, than it will bear. I cannot say that I give much Credit to these Kind of Stories, but be that as it will, we have no right to follow our own private Opinions here. We are now in a Court of Law, and must determine according to it; and I know not of any Law now in being which will admit of the Testimony of an Apparition; not yet if it did, doth the Ghost appear to give Evidence.
The Judge instructed the Crier to call for the Ghost, which he did – three times. Perhaps predictably, the ghost of the murdered farmer neglected to appear in the courtroom.
The Judge continued to address the jury. He pointed out that the man who stood accused of the crime had an unblemished character up to that point, that no cause of a quarrel or grudge between him and the deceased man could be discerned. The Judge gave his verdict.
I do believe him to be perfectly innocent; and, as there is no Evidence against him either positive or circumstantial, he must be acquitted.
Then the Judge pointed his finger at another man in the courtroom, the man who had seen the apparition and had repeated the tale to the poor farmer’s widow.
But from many Circumstances which have arose during the Trial, I do strongly suspect that the Gentleman, who saw the Apparition, was himself the Murtherer [sic]; in which case he might easily ascertain the Pit, the Stabs, &c. without any supernatural Assistance; and on such Suspicion I shall think myself justified in committing him to close Custody, till the Matter can be further enquired into.
With the man in custody, a warrant was granted to search his house and strong proofs of his guilt were discovered. Faced with these he confessed to the murder and was executed for his crime at the next Assize.
The report in the newspaper ended with the following cautionary words – something to bear in mind if you are visited this Halloween.
It is hoped that this simple Relation of a Matter of Fact, now on Record, will be a sufficient Caution to others, not to be over hasty in giving Credit to the Testimony of Apparitions.
Robert Raymond, 1st Baron Raymond (1673 – 1733) was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1725, and held that position until his death in 1733. Although this story has been oft repeated we can find no mention of it before 1762, some twenty-nine years after Raymond’s death.
As Halloween draws near, we thought we’d take a look this week at a couple of helpful (in their own spectral way) eighteenth-century ghosts.
Our first is a ghost that directed the girl it was haunting to a considerable fortune – one we’d all probably be inclined to welcome this Halloween! The Leeds Intelligencer, 3rd July 1764, reported on the story. In the village of Uppingham in Rutland an eighteen year old girl, the daughter of Cornelius Nutt, began to receive visits from a ghost who spoke to her.
Cornelius, or rather Thomas Cornelius Nutt, had married Ann Smyth on Christmas Eve 1741 at St Michael’s in Cambridge and they had a large family with their first few children born at Oakham before they moved to Uppingham. If the girl who saw the ghost was around eighteen years of age she must have been Cornelius’ second child and eldest daughter, Ann, named for her mother and baptised at Oakham on the 1st September 1745.
The ghost informed Miss Ann Nutt that something of value was hidden within her house and when she told her father he had some of the flagstones in the floor of their cottage taken up but nothing was found. The ghost kept on appearing though, and so the girl persuaded a man who was working nearby to take up one particular flagstone (we know not why that certain one – perhaps the ghost had directed her a bit more closely, obviously slightly exasperated with her father’s poor attempt) and when they dug under it they found a black pot. The pot, when opened, was found to contain almost two hundred ancient silver coins.
Cornelius Nutt took possession of the coins and, despite being offered a guinea a piece for them, he intended to take them to London to sell them for a higher value.
The newspaper article ended with a word of caution from the author to Ann and the helpful ‘ghost’:
We would advise this girl, as well as the ghost, to keep their conversation to themselves lest they should both be brought into Westminster-hall.
The British Numismatic Society, in its ‘Additions and Corrections to Thompson’s Inventory and Brown and Dolley’s Coin Hoards, Part 1’ by H.E. Manville, and concerning post-Roman coin hoards, mentions the one found by Ann Nutt and speculates that the coins were English silver and quotes the Gentleman’s Magazine of June 1764.
Friday, 22 June. Near 200 pieces of antient [sic] silver coin being discovered at the house of Cornelius Nutt at Uppington [sic] in Rutlandshire, a report was spread that the man’s daughter had been informed of the place where they were hid in a dream. Be that as it may, some of these coins are said to be very valuable.
Watch out for our next blog later this week for part two and another helpful ghost.
Hearing aids have made some quite dramatic progress since the Georgian era . Towards the end of the 18th century the use of an ear trumpet was commonplace, with collapsible ones being made on a one off basis for customers. Well known models of the period included the Townsend Trumpet (made by the John Townshend) and the Reynolds Trumpet (specially made for painter Joshua Reynolds) which funneled sound into the inner ear.
One of the quirkiest objects we have come across to assist with hearing is this image. It is a flower vase receptacle made by F. C Rein about 1810. The object would sit in the middle of a dining table once filled with flowers. Each of the six openings, or “receptors,” would act as sound collectors.*
This one below, manufactured in ivory was made for and used by Admiral John Borlase Warren (1753-1822).
Here we have an example of a small hearing aid consisting of a pair of metal ear tubes acquired by the surgeon Luke James (1799 – 1881)
In Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 14, we across this ‘letter to the editor‘ from a gentleman suffering from hearing difficulties along with a drawing of a device to help improve his hearing.
Having taken in your very superior Miscellany, from its earliest day to the present, I know you as the friend of man. Upon this ground, I am confident that you will grant the request I make, of inserting the short notice I now send in your very first Number, that those labouring under deafness may reap, from the improvement which I have made upon the Ear Trumpet, the advantages which I so unexpectedly enjoy.
Many years ago, in’consequence of a cough of most uncommon severity, an injury was done to some part of the internal structure of my left ear,which completely robbed me of hearing through that organ. Immediately after this accident, I was seized with a tinnitus aurium, which held out the dismal prospect of entire deafness. For this malady, I had recourse to snuff, and its effects upon the tinnitus were soon perceptible. Still, however, the hearing upon the right ear remained obtuse, and extremely contracted my social enjoyments. I applied in every quarter, including his Majesty’s Aurist, for the most improved ear trumpet. From none of these instruments was the most trivial benefit derived.
My thoughts being much employed upon the subject, it occurred to me that every ear-trumpet which had been sent to me conveyed the collected sound through a very small tube, the orifice of which was inserted in the ear ; and now a prospect opened which afforded hope. I immediately ordered an instrument to be constructed, of the fittest block-tin, one end of which included the whole external ear, and the other, (circular also) of larger diameter, collected the sound, which was conveyed by a straight tube, of some capacity, into the ear.
The result was most gratifying, indeed, beyond my most sanguine expectation, enabling me to carry on a conversation with a friend, with the utmost ease to myself, and without exertion to the person addressing me.
It is the establishment of the principle of this improvement upon the Ear-Trumpet to which I am solicitous to give publicity, leaving to younger men to make experiments upon the length and diameter of the tube, and of other parts of the instrument.
The only attempt towards improvement which 1 made, was the making a transverse section of the smaller circle, so as to approach nearly to the shape of the ear; and, by a little management, it answers my expectation.
With this I transmit a sketch of the instrument I use.
I remain, Mr Editor, with much esteem, your very obedient servant,
One of the many incorrect facts about Grace Dalrymple Elliott is that of her monogram above the door of one of the houses on the Rue de Miromesnil in Paris. It’s widely known and accepted that she lived on this Paris street during the 1790s, and indeed she did. But at which house?
Rue de Miromesnil, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, is close to Parc Monceau where Grace’s lover Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans resided. The houses were built from 1778 onwards and building continued until 1826. The street was named in honour of the French Minister of Justice, Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil (1723-1796).
Accepted lore gives her address as no. 31 Rue de Miromesnil largely, we suspect, due to the initials over the door which have been read as G.E. It seems that this was presented as fact in a book in 1910 and has been repeated ad infinitum since. On closer inspection though, the initials are not G.E. but E.C.
Above is the text from Promenades dans Toutes les Rues de Paris par Arrondissements, VIIIe Arrondissement, 1910.
We present below both sets of initials in a French Script typeface and a close up image of the monogram above the door.
So, sadly, our belief is that Grace’s initials are not those above that particular doorway. We do have documentary evidence showing exactly what number Grace’s house on the Rue de Miromesnil actually was (and it wasn’t no. 31), all is revealed in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. We can say though that we believe that Grace had an apartment in the building, rather than the whole house to herself.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you agree with us that the initials read E.C. and not G.E.
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.
It is impossible for us to ignore one of the major events of the French Revolution, the execution of Marie Antoinette which took place on 16th October 1793 given our interest in the French Revolution and her reputed acquaintance with Grace Dalrymple Elliott, so with that in mind we thought it might be an idea to take a ‘whistle-stop tour’ of just a few of her paintings and of course, in our usual manner, if slightly disrespectful, we simply had to include a couple of caricatures of her too. We also came across some newspaper reports about her last days which we simply had to include.
Unlike Grace and many others of her time for whom very few, if any paintings still exist, Marie Antoinette totally spoils us with so many remaining for us to enjoy, making it difficult to select just a few. She was one of the most painted celebrities of her day, even right up to her execution.
Our first offering is one from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and is dated 1775, so when Marie was just a mere 20 years old and some five years after her marriage to Louis XVI. We have to say that in our opinion she looks much older than her age, so it’s not very flattering, but it clearly highlights her long slender neck – who could possibly have foreseen how events would end when this image was produced!
Our next is again from the Metmuseum but has no artist nor date, but one that we like very much for its beautiful simplicity, not at all like some of the highly elaborate paintings that exist of her.
Marie’s most notable portraits were those painted by the artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, this one painted around 1783 being our favourite one. Her luscious blue dress, with copious amounts of lace and that beautiful ‘old fashioned’ pale pink rose, quite possibly the highly scented rose, ‘Autumn Damask’ or ‘Cuisse de nymphe’. If anyone can identify it we would love to hear from you.
This next portrait is in stark contrast to the previous one. Marie making quite a statement in her low cut beautiful red velvet dress accompanied by her two children.
Our next two as promised are caricatures of her, the first a search for her being carried out with Marie disappearing out of the door whilst they try to kill her in her bed.
The next, the Royal Runaways as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are trying to make their escape, but are captured.
We move to her last few days and in a newspaper article referring to her time in the Conciergerie which confirmed that the total number of prisoners in Paris prisons at that time as being some 2,989. Life, although extremely cramped, was described as being one of mirth and gaiety, guzzling Bordeaux with their dinner which was described as splendid and sumptuous, suppers consisted of ham and salad* – how accurate a reflection of the truth we could not say.
According to the St James’s Chronicle of November 21, 1793, Marie’s situation was in stark contrast, she was confined to a small cell, half underground and a mere 8 feet by feet –
‘her bed was made of straw, one mattress and an old tattered coverlid, and terrible to tell she was continually and in all situations in the presence of four Gens d’Armes, who never quitted her chamber. Her food was such as given to common prisoners ; her health was visibly declining; her hair became grey; and the monsters fearing her natural death might deprive them of their wretched victim hurried her to the scaffold.
Some days before her death she was wearing black and even sleeping in her mournful attire, expecting every instant to be dragged from her bed of woe by executioners. She wished to die in mourning for her unfortunate consort, but the barbarous regicides deprived her even of this last consolation and compelled her to put on a white waistcoat’.
A further report in the same newspaper, dated 3rd October 1793 sheds a little more light of her situation :
‘She rises every day at 7 o’clock and goes to bed at 10 o’clock at night. She enjoys a good appetite her breakfast consists of chocolate and a small roll; dinner of soup, fowl, mutton chops etc. She only drinks water and is in this respect said to imitate the late Empress Maria Teresa her mother, who never drank wine. She performs the business of her own toilet with great care. Her eyes are red from weeping and restlessness; her hair turned grey. Her looks still remain sweet and her deportment royal and majestic’.
At midday Marie reached Place de la Revolution; she showed some emotion but quickly regained her composure, climbed the steps to the scaffold. A mere fifteen minutes later the blade came down – Marie Antoinette died just two weeks before her 38th birthday.
According to the English newspaper reports that appeared following her execution, she was described as having
‘preserved a calm and steady countenance. During the first hours of her trial she played with her fingers upon the bar of the chair with an appearance of unconcern and it seemed as if she were playing on the piano-forte’.**
Our final offering shows the demise of Marie Antoinette and was a sketch by Jacques Louis David, the sketch requires little explanation in our opinion.
We also came across this highlighted document listing everyone who was sent to the guillotine and is an immensely helpful resource as it includes Marie Antoinette.
Mrs Porcher in a letter to Cooper tells him it is reported in London that Mrs Fenwick is going to be married to Mr Hodgson, the infamous seducer of many of the girls at the Asylum some years ago!!!
This somewhat vague but tantalizing comment needed further investigation to establish more about this ‘infamous seducer’ but the chances of finding him seemed like a mammoth task and possibly not one worth pursuing until now. George and Amanda (custodians of Fanny Chapman’s diaries) recently began looking at a will that provided some clues as to his identity and to cut a long story short, they have tracked him down, so it seems only right to correct Fanny’s spelling of his name (it was Hodson) and then to ‘name and shame’ him. So here we go with a grizzly, if not unfamiliar story.
Septimus Hodson was born 17th February 1763, the son of Rev. Robert Hodson and his wife Mary in Huntingdonshire. He was educated at Caius College, Cambridge after which he was ordained into the priesthood.
Having found his parents and education we began to look for any potential marriages for him. The first marriage we came across took place when he would have been under the age of 21! The Marriage Act, 1753 did allow couples under 21 to marry by Banns, as in this case, either with parents consent or if the parents did not forbid it.
This was to be a very short marriage as Ann Hodson née Bell was buried at St Mary with St Benedict Church, Huntingdon on the 14th May 1784.
A little under two years later on the 15th March 1786 Septimus married Miss Charlotte Affleck, the daughter of Rev W. Affleck, who conducted the ceremony at All Saints Church in Stamford, Lincolnshire.
On the 7th March 1788 he became a preacher at Tavistock Chapel, Broad Court near Drury Lane, amongst his duties he was appointed Chaplain-in-ordinary to George, Prince of Wales.
Septimus and Charlotte produced 5 children during this time, Charlotte (1790), William (1791), Charles Phillip (1793), Robert Eyres (1795) and finally Gilbert (1796).
Never shall I forget calling on the above mentioned gentleman, upwards of forty years since, on behalf of a poor country curate who was anxious to come to London on literary pursuits, and to fill the situation of assistant reader, then vacant at the Asylum. I was introduced to the Rev. Mr. Hodson, in his peculiarly neat and handsome apartments, where his accomplished and beautiful wife, and I think the finest family of children I ever saw, were partaking of a dessert. He politely asked me to partake, and pressed me to take wine, which I did; and from his easy and graceful manner, his handsome form and figure, and animated countenance, added to those of his smiling cherubs of children, on whom my eyes were fixed, I thought I never witnessed so much conjugal happiness and domestic felicity in my life.
By 1789 he had been given the living of Thrapston in Northamptonshire. He had also been appointed chaplain to the Orphan Asylum, Westminster Road, in the parish of Lambeth. This is the point at which the horrors of his actions became clear and for once we do put a serious warning – this account from 1823 is reported as being true and if so it is quite distressing
VILE ACTIONS OF THE REVEREND SEPTIMUS HODSON
Child violator, formerly Chaplain to the Orphan Asylum, Westminster Road.
“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.”
The Asylum of which Mr. Hodson was an unworthy Chaplain, educates and provides for numerous female Orphans, who otherwise would be consigned to lives of infamy and ruin.
Mr. Hodson was celebrated as a preacher, and noted for the uncommon sanctity of his manners; he had a fine person, and always assumed such a sincerity of heart in delivering his exhortations from the pulpit, that the chapel was crowded to an overflow whenever he preached; but alas! he was fair without and foul within. The Monk of Lewis’s novel was not more infamous, and whilst outwardly attending to the salvation of the helpless Orphan’s souls he was inwardly meditating the ruin of both body and soul.
From his situation, he had access to the Orphans, at all hours, and a little child, named Fox, about thirteen years of age, was selected by him for the object of depraved debauchery.
In fact he violated the hapless Orphan’s person; to call it by the name of seduction would be untruth: for surely a child at her time of life could only be a passive instrument in the hands of one, whom she had been taught to look up to with fearful obedience.
The pregnancy of Fox, as a natural consequence of illicit intercourse, ensued, and she, most probably tutored by the artful and lustful priest, delivered herself in a certain office in the chapel yard; and there left the infant, which she imagined would never be heard of.
Suspicions, however, were immediately awakened, and the infant was found, and as a natural effect of contrition and fear, Fox pointed out the father of her offspring. The Governors and Committee were horror struck at the Reverend Divine’s hypocrisy and depravity; but they had no power to punish him beyond dismissing him from his office, and striking his name from the list of Chaplains, which was instantly done, in as marked a manner as possible.
The Reverend Violator, incredible as it may appear, was suffered to retain his gown; and we cannot help reflecting that the good Bishop Porteus, then in charge of the Metropolitan see, must have been very strangely misinformed respecting this hideous transaction, or he would never have permitted the criminal to escape with impunity.
Mr. Hodson now resides on his living at Thrapston in Northamptonshire; we are sorry for it, he merits the severest punishment; penitence, it is true, can atone for any crime, but few repent in affluence and prosperity; it is poverty and obscurity, disgrace and obloquy, that wring the sinner’s soul, and make him sensible of all he has lost upon earth, and the little he has to hope for in heaven.
Such corrupt pillars only for a time uphold a fabric by deceitful support that it may fall unexpectedly with more tremendous ruin: and they should be at once levelled with the ground, never more, to rise in a conspicuous situation.
If we hear anything more of this fortunate sinner, it shall be recorded; such a person cannot remain long in obscurity; success will throw him off his guard at last, and the punishment so long delayed come with tenfold vengeance on his head, when the stings of a guilty conscience are made additionally severe by the bodily pangs of old age.
The Ipswich Journal, 14th October 1797, reported that ‘The Prince of Wales has commanded that the name of a certain Rev. Seducer be erased from the list of His Royal Highnesses Chaplains’ and that he has been ‘suffered to resign, in consideration of the services he has rendered to the charity’.
The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 12th October 1797 confirms the story.
A Clergyman, Preacher to the Asylum, has lately seduced a young woman, retained as a singer in the Chapel of that Charity. By which act, the man has ruined himself and family, disgraced the Charity and his profession, brought shame on the unfortunate object of his passion, and set a most unpardonable example for a man of his character to the world.
We did, of course, wonder what happened to Miss Fox; did she survive this horrific experience and what became of her?
The answer appeared in The Morning Post and Gazetteer of 26th January 1801:
The girl that was seduced by Septimus Hodson at the Asylum is now married to a gentleman of about seven thousand a year, and now goes regularly to the asylum, every Sunday in her own carriage.
This report was not quite accurate and later revision was published in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 2nd February 1801
The statement in the Papers respecting the Asylum Girl of the name of Fox, who was so basely seduced by a late Chaplain of that Charity, is erroneous. She is neither married to a Gentleman of 7000l. per annum, nor attends the Asylum every Sunday in her own carriage, because she has succeeded no more to the one than the other:- but, from her exemplary conduct, she has wedded a widower near Barnet, who is possessed of about 500l. per annum, with whom, and his amiable family by a former wife, she now partakes of a domestic felicity, not very frequently enjoyed.
The Monthly Visitor and Entertaining Pocket Companion, Volume 12 described Miss Fox as ‘the asylum warbler’ but so far we haven’t managed to track down her marriage. She was noted as a beauty, and had received offers of marriage from several gentleman before the Reverend Hodson debauched her (which does suggest that she was older than thirteen years). She was retained as a singer in the Chapel, and contemporary newspaper reports give the information that the child was not born alive but Miss Fox suffered a miscarriage. It was during this traumatic event and whilst she feared that she was dying that she gave the information which proved the Reverend’s guilt (no-one had suspected she was pregnant until she lost the child).
The girl is an orphan, bred up from infancy in the charity, and afterwards articled to it as a singing girl. She is very pretty, and rather of a gay than grave appearance; and has had several offers of marriage. A gentleman of property has solicited her hand.
(Ipswich Journal, 14th October, 1797)
On the other hand we find that by the 14th March 1809 Septimus had been widowed and had married again, his next wife being Frances Fenwick, the widowed daughter of G. Burden. The service was performed in Doncaster, Yorkshire again by his father-in-law, Rev Affleck. Frances was the one referred to in Fanny’s Diary.
This marriage proved to be a financially lucrative one for Septimus as his wife had inherited the Bywell estate in Northumberland from her late husband and upon her death it transferred to Septimus, who then sold it for £145,000.
Then finally, at All Saints South Kirkby, near Wakefield, Yorkshire on the 16th October 1826 he married once more, his final spouse being Margaret Holford, author; her most successful work was a historical verse romance entitled Wallace, or, The Fight of Falkirk. She was also a good friend of Robert Southey and another close associate of hers was Joanna Baillie, a Scottish poet and dramatist.
Hodson was to die on the 12th December 1833 in his seventy first year. The inscription of his grave at St John the Evangelist, Sharow, near Ripon, Yorkshire reads:
Sacred to the memory of the Revd.Septimus Hodson late Rector of Thrapston in the county of Northampton And Perpetual Curate of Little Raveley In Huntingdonshire. He died on the 12th day of December AD 1833 In the seventy first year of his age. His widow offers this poor brief tribute To his beloved memory ‘I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’.
He left £1500 in his will (about £75,000 in today’s money) to his wife, so despite this shocking incident in his life he appears to have married well, produced several children and lived an enjoyable life, we can only hope the same was true for Miss Fox. Was it all true about Miss Fox, we really don’t know so we will leave it for you to draw your own conclusion.
Although we haven’t manage to find a picture of Septimus there is an engraving of him dated 1790 held in the Royal Collection but not yet digitized.
On a surprisingly mild day in the October of 1821, in the second year of the reign of King George IV, a heavily pregnant woman sat herself down on the doorstep of a gentleman’s house in Gloucester Street, Queen Square in London’s fashionable Bloomsbury district; she felt suddenly faint and needed to rest. A crowd gathered around her and some people, assuming she was a poor beggar, threw halfpence into her lap. At this point two officers from the Mendicity Society arrived and took her to their rooms and then conveyed her to the sitting Magistrates at Hatton Garden and attempted to have her charged her under the Vagrant Act.[i] It was discovered that she had been relieved three times before, and on each occasion had been passed back to Birmingham in the West Midlands, her home parish.
The lady then began her defence and told the officers an extraordinary and hard to believe account of her life up to that point.
She gave her name as Mary, otherwise Tom Jones. She had been born a soldier’s daughter and after her father was killed when she was still a child she had dressed herself in boy’s clothes and enlisted in the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot, serving seven years in their ranks as a drummer boy. It was certainly unusual but not unknown for women to enlist and live as a man; Hannah Snell famously did so in the eighteenth-century. Maybe Mary’s father had served with the 47th and the soldiers had taken in the young orphan (if so she was) letting her live amongst them and looking after her? But eventually it was discovered that she was a girl and discharged. We are given no clue about the years in which Mary saw service in the 47th, but it must have been at some period in the first fifteen years of the 1800’s. During those years the 1st Battalion of the 47th saw action in South America and India and the 2nd Battalion were stationed in Ireland for five years before, in 1809, being sent to garrison Gibraltar and they then saw action from 1811 in the Peninsular War. It therefore seems possible that Mary spent her years as a drummer boy with the 2nd Battalion during their seven years of garrison duty in Ireland and Gibraltar, and possibly deliberately allowed her sex to be discovered rather than risk her young life on the battlefield.
Shortly afterwards, at the age of nineteen years, she married a soldier in the , otherwise known as the 7th Hussars or the ‘Saucy Seventh’, a regiment which was ‘the embodiment of dash and panache for which every cavalry regiment strives’.[ii]
Mary followed her husband’s regiment and was present at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815 where their regimental Colonel, Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge, was commander of the entire British Cavalry force (Paget famously lost his leg towards the end of the Battle and was subsequently created the Marquess of Anglesey). In the mayhem of the day she claimed that she once again dressed herself in male clothing and fought, as a volunteer, by the side of her husband. The 7th Hussars were in the thick of the battle from 5pm (they were not used before that) and were charged more than a dozen times. Mary told the officers that she was wounded three times on that day, slashed across her nose by a sabre, stabbed by an enemy bayonet in her left leg and received a musket ball in her right. Her unnamed husband sadly lost his life on the battlefield.
Staggering from the field, Mary came across a Captain belonging to her husband’s regiment who was dreadfully wounded in his head. She had him removed to a surgeon and safety and he recovered. Mary told the officers of the Mendicity Society that the grateful Captain now lived in Sloane Street and allowed her a shilling a day in return for saving his life. For some time after that fateful day in 1815 she had also received nine pence a day from King George IV, but that allowance had been taken from her on account of her drunkenness.[iii]
But Mary had turned her life around once more and married for a second time, to a soldier in the Guards by whom she was now with child. She asserted that she had not been begging, that she had merely sat down as she was feeling faint and had not solicited the ha’pennies which had been thrown into her lap. The officers could not prove the charge against her and so Mary was discharged.
We thought it was a fascinating tale and tried to prove or disprove the facts within it. Sadly the newspaper report on this ‘Female Soldier’ had not given us much to go on and we were left not even knowing if her alias of ‘Tom Jones’ related to her maiden surname, the surname of one of her two husbands or a name she had chosen at random. She did not give her father’s rank in the 47th regiment of foot, nor that of either of her two husbands. We thought that probably the only person we could track down was the injured Captain of the 7th Hussars who allowed poor Mary a shilling a day.
Turning to the 1815 Army List we found the names of twelve men who were Captains in the regiment at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. We then checked the newspaper reports which appeared in the wake of the battle listing the men who were killed, wounded or missing. From those we found that three Captains in the 7th Hussars were wounded in the battle, Captains Thomas William Robbins, William Verner and Peter Augustus Heyliger. If Mary’s story was correct then her Captain had to be one of those three men. We dug a little deeper.
Captain Peter Augustus Heyliger had been particularly noted for his bravery on the day by the Duke of Wellington, but his injury consisted of being shot through the arm. The wounds suffered by Captain Thomas William Robbins did not seem to be specifically mentioned. We then turned our attention to Captain William Verner who was raised in rank to a Major after the battle.[iv]
Verner, a native of Armagh in Northern Ireland, had left behind some memoirs and had described his experiences on the day. He had indeed received a severe head wound, caused by a musket ball, and had been taken to the surgeon. Later moved to Brussels he developed a fever and his life was feared of. Reputedly the Duke of Wellington visited the badly wounded Captain and brusquely told him that “You are not nearly so bad as you think”. With that Verner was up and about within a month but instead of attributing his recovery to either Mary or to the Duke of Wellington, he instead said it was down to the recuperative powers of Guinness porter. Verner married in London on the 19th October 1819 (his wife was Harriet, daughter of Colonel Wingfield and granddaughter of the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt) and subsequently is mentioned as living at 86 Eaton Square, but if Mary’s story was correct he must be the man whose life she helped to preserve and who allowed her a shilling a day. William Verner eventually retired from the army as a Lieutenant-Colonel and subsequently became Sir William Verner. We have yet to find that he mentioned any part played in the battle by a young female soldier who was widowed on the field.
There was at least one wife of a soldier with the 7th Hussars on the battlefield that day: could she possibly be Mary? If so she seems a little less forward than her tale to the Mendicity officers would have us believe but perhaps, even if she did not fight, she did indeed assist the badly injured Captain William Verner from the field in his hour of need, earning his lasting gratitude and assistance if not his public thanks. From William Verner’s Memoirs:
About this time we heard a person in a rough voice cry out, “What is the matter with you, are you afraid?” Upon turning to see we found that this was addressed by Sergt. Major Edwards of Captain Fraser’s Troop, to his wife, who had accompanied him ever since our arrival in the country upon a small pony. As soon as she was discovered by Captain Fraser, he asked her husband if he intended his wife to go into action with us, and ordered her immediately to the Rear.
Caledonian Mercury, 6th July 1815
Stamford Mercury, 26th October 1821
Heroic Option: The Irish in the British Army by Desmond Bowen and Jean Bowen, 2005
Reminiscences of William Verner (1782-1871) 7th Hussars, 1965
The Waterloo Archive: Volume III: British Sources edited by Gareth Glover
Waterloo Letters by Major General H.T. Siborne, 1993
Wellington’s Doctors: The British Army Medical Services in the Napoleonic Wars by Martin Howard, 2002
WO 65. War Office: printed annual army lists, National Archives
[i] The Society for the Suppression of Mendicity (also known as the Mendicity Society) was founded in 1818 to attempt to prevent people begging on the London streets by offering them charity if they left the area immediately.
[ii] The newspaper report on Mary’s arrest said her husband was in the 7th Dragoon Guards: the 7th (the Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards did not, however, see action at Waterloo (see National Army Museum) but the 7th (the Queen’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) did. We have therefore assumed the latter regiment was the one to which her husband belonged.
[iii] In an age when a soldier’s pay was nominally one shilling a day the allowance provided by the Captain seems generous. It is of course possible that the newspaper had got its facts a little wrong and Mary received a her allowances weekly rather than daily.
[iv] Vice Major Edward Hodge who was killed at Waterloo.
Header image: The Passage of the Bidassoa, 7th Queen’s Own Hussars 1813