Elizabeth Morton and ‘The Gentleman in Black’

Elizabeth Morton was baptized May 4th May 1747 in the small, rural Nottinghamshire village of Misterton, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth. She had three siblings – Mary (25th September 1743), Thomas (25th Sept 1757) and Ann (1757).

All Saints Church, Misterton, Nottinghamshire.
All Saints Church, Misterton. Courtesy of Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project

When just 15 years old she had gained employment as a servant in the neighbouring village of Walkeringham, just over 2 miles from her home, for a farmer John Oliver and his wife Elizabeth née Clark. At that time the couple had three daughters:

Ann (baptized 12th October 1758);

Mary (baptized 7th June 1760);

Rebecca (baptized 20th May 1762)

Their son John (baptized 29th May 1763) was not born until after the incident in question.

St Mary Magdalene church, Walkeringham, Nottinghamshire.
St Mary Magdalene church, Walkeringham. Courtesy of J. Hannan-Briggs

On 10th August 1762 Elizabeth was committed to Nottingham county gaol, by Daniel Newton, one of the coroners; she was charged with the murder of an infant about two years of age, the daughter of John Oliver. The Leeds Intelligencer of 24th August 1762, reported that Elizabeth had strangled the child with her hands as it lay in the cradle. The newspaper also stated that:

there is too much reason to suspect, that this unhappy girl has murdered two other young children, in different places, where she was taken in to look after them. She is a stout made girl, has little to say for herself, can neither read nor write, and appears to be of a brutish disposition.

Some seven months later, on 10th March 1763 at the Nottingham Assizes her trial for a capital offence began i.e. the murder of a two-year-old child and the attempted murder of another child, who survived and had recovered. Also for attempting the life of another of the children, whose neck she had almost twisted round, and hid it in some straw in the barn, where it was found by its mother struggling in the agonies of death. At her trial, Elizabeth claimed that she had been incited to commit the crime by a ‘gentleman in black’ who came to her during the night (alluding to it being the devil who made her commit the crime).

The Derby Mercury of 11th March 1763 described her as:

a most profligate harden’d young wretch, the reason she gives for such inhuman acts, is that the children were cross and troublesome. Execution was respited for the time being on account of her youth.

The Derby Mercury of 1st April 1763 noted her demise.

Yesterday Elizabeth Morton, a girl of only 16 years of age, was executed at Nottingham (being her Birth-Day) for the murder of her master’s daughter, a child of two years old, who liv’d at Walkeringham, near Gainsboro’. Her behaviour since she received sentence of death has been decent. She never denied the fact but could give no satisfactory account of the motives that induc’d her to commit so shocking a crime. She was attended to the place of execution by a prodigious concourse of people where after the usual time spent in prayer with the minister, she was tuned off about one o’clock much frighted with the terrors of death.

After her death, her body was given to a surgeon of Calverton near Nottingham, to be dissected, then buried in a village near her home.

According to The annual register, or a view of the history, politicks, and literature, for the year 1763

‘… it is probable that she was an idiot …’ 

This would, if proven, have been sufficient grounds for a pardon, the register gives no indication as to whether this was tested or not.

On a final note, having found the baptism records for John Oliver’s children there are also two corresponding burials at the time Elizabeth was charged with the murder of the two-year-old. Mary was buried on 5th August 1762, but there is also an entry for the burial of Rebecca who would have been a mere three months old on 3rd August 1762 – did she die from natural causes or was she also one of Elizabeth’s victims?

 

Featured Image

Nottingham Gallows. Courtesy of University of Nottingham 

 

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