The Amorous Thief

I came across this curious case of a marriage, a few years ago, in connection with Dido Elizabeth Belle’s husband, John Daviniere. It was a case that many of the London newspapers  of  late 1815 reported upon. I put it to one side as it only appeared for a few days, and with no conclusion. However, returning to it with fresh eyes, I’ve unearthed some more bits and pieces to share with you.

Early November 1815, a man named William Palmer, alias John Everett, was charged with robbing a young Irish girl by the name of Julia Leary of clothing.

Julia was a young and uneducated servant girl, who had recently left Ireland to work in London and knew no-one except her employer and his wife. The couple she worked for were Mr John Daviniere and his ‘wife’. By the time of this case, Daviniere was a widower, Dido having died in 1804.

At some time after Dido’s death, her husband began a relationship with a Jane Holland and by 1815 they were co-habiting and had two children, in addition to Dido’s sons, the family having moved to 31 Edgware Road, London. As a slight aside, one thing I did think was interesting, was that John Daviniere’s wife was mentioned in all the newspapers, and yet John didn’t marry Jane until 1819, so were living together in apparent respectability, despite not being legally married at the time of this account.

Returning to Julia, she began a brief relationship with Palmer after he saw her on Edgeware Road, running errands for the Daviniere’s He introduced himself to her and told her he worked locally as a shoemaker. After just a mere four weeks, he whisked her off to St James’s Church, Piccadilly to marry her … but did he actually go through with the wedding?

Julia would later confirm that on arriving at the church,  Palmer simply put a brass ring rather than a gold one, on her finger, spoke to a man in the church, then announced to her that they were now wed. No legal ceremony took place, but being young and extremely naïve, Julia simply believed him.

Having disappeared for longer than expected, when Julia returned to Mrs Daviniere, she was reproached for having been out so long, but rather than apologise to her mistress, Julia simply announced that she had in fact gone out to get married, despite having only known the man for such a short time.

The following morning Palmer arrived at the Daviniere house and demanded that his new wife, along with her all clothing should leave, as he was taking her to visit his mother at Epping. Julia dutifully packed up her clothes and the couple left. All of this would take place some three weeks before Palmer would find himself in front of the Bow Street magistrate – but why?

The court were told that after the couple left Daviniere’s house, rather than going to visit Palmer’s mother they simply wandered around Epping Forest for four days, staying at a small public house on the heath at night.

Eventually they returned to London, but on arriving at St Paul’s churchyard, Palmer gave Julia the slip, and vanished from sight, along with all Julia’s bundle of clothing. Julia found herself entirely destitute, no money and all her clothing gone.

She had no friends in London except Mrs Daviniere, whom she returned to, and told her what had happened. Mrs Daviniere took pity on Julia and took her back into their house.

It would transpire in court that this was probably not the first gullible young woman that Palmer had done this to, and nor would  it be the last. Shortly after abandoning Julia, he returned to Edgware Road and attempted to repeat his crime, except on this occasion the young woman he selected was vaguely known to Julia and Julia had already told what had happened to her.

This appears to have been a regular occurrence for Palmer. This other young woman told Julia that she was getting married on the forthcoming Thursday, again at St James’s, but neither girl put two and two together and worked out it was to the same man.

Again, the sham wedding went ahead, but as the Daviniere’s had already reported the crime, a court official, John Humphries, was waiting for Palmer after the ‘wedding’ and immediately arrested him and took him into custody.

On searching Palmer, Humphries found pawnbroker’s duplicates for part of the poor girl’s clothes, also three ball cartridges and three bullets.

On being take to the office, Palmer revealed that his name was John Everett, and not William Palmer, the name he had used when he pretended to marry Julia.

Richard Birnie, 1819 engraving by William Say after James Green. NPG

Sir Richard Birnie, Chief Magistrate at Bow Street was so concerned about his case that he said he would ‘subscribe towards the expenses of carrying on the prosecution, as it was such a villainous case, to rob the poor girl of the whole of her property.’

The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.
The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

On 6 December 1815, William Palmer now using what was assumed to be his real name, John Everett, aged 46, appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with grand larceny.

JOHN EVERETT alias WILLIAM PALMER , was indicted for stealing, on the 8th of October , two gowns, value 10s. two shifts, value 2s. one towel, value 2d. one apron value 6d. two caps, value 6d. and one gown piece, value 10s. the property of Julia Leary .

The outcome of the trial being that Everett/Palmer was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for 7 years. He didn’t depart immediately, rather he spent over a year onboard The Retribution, prison hulk, which stated his age at that time as being 46, so born around 1770, therefore considerably older than Julia would have been, even though we don’t have an exact age for her, she was reported to have been young.

He eventually sailed for New South Wales in April 1817 onboard The Almorah. The convict records confirm that John Everett was a shoemaker from Suffolk. His occupation tallies what he had told Julia.

A View of Hobart, Tasmania. YCBA

From NSW he sailed onboard The Pilot, to Tasmania. The convict record helpfully provides a physical description of him – 5 feet 7.75 inches, hazel eyes, black hair with a sallow complexion. His conduct was described as good.

The Tasmania Archives show that his conduct wasn’t always quite what it should have been though, as he was fined for being drunk and disorderly and suspected of theft on another occasion – not guilty of that crime, however.

He then disappears from view, so the rest of his life remains a mystery … for now, at least. As for  Julia, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know what became of her.


The Globe 4 November 1815

The Star 7 November 1815

Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868

Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849

Assignment List CON13-1-1; Conduct Record CON31/1/9; Other Records CON13/1/1




11 thoughts on “The Amorous Thief

  1. mistyfan

    Sweetheart swindlers like John Everett are still around today. Their MO is preying on women of substantial finance by sweeping them off their feet, offering them phoney marriage proposals and the like, all to con them out of money, valuables or whatever, and max out their credit cards. Then they disappear, leaving their victims heartbroken as well as broke.

    The case of a similar swindler, Wilhelm Meyer (aka John Smith), had even more devastating consequences – an innocent man, Adolf Beck, was misidentified as Meyer and was wrongly convicted for his crimes. The Beck case made legal history for being the case that established the Court of Appeal in Britain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah Murden

      Very true, but at least action was taken swiftly to punish Everett, even if rather dramatic by today’s standards. I can’t imagine his time on a prison hulk was much fun, let alone the journey to the other side of the world! 🙂


    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks as always, Christopher. Dido and her husband didn’t live in a bubble, so I’m always finding bits and pieces about people who ventured into their orbits, some interesting, some less so, but this one grabbed my attention. There are a couple more posts connected to Dido in the next few months 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Conmen must have found it relatively easy to commit their crimes then with no fast news reports to alert people. However, the penalties were much more severe when they were caught; I suppose they thought it was worth the risk! Thanks for an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Transportation to Tasmania — that man paid hard for his crimes, those prisons were among the most terribly brutal ever, which is saying something. Interesting podcast series about the transportation to Tasmania on the podcast, Age of Victoria, a harrowing listen if there ever was one. That said this post raised my pity for a long forgotten servant girl of the past. That strange and dangerous man left devastation in his wake, far more than most who were deported and imprisoned for stealing food to survive. Servant girls’ stories are fascinating and I am glad to find out more about them as individuals. I believe there were such anonymous servant girl ancestors in my own past. Thanks much for this posting.


    1. Sarah Murden

      I agree, it would have been a very tough life in Tasmania, for what appears to have been, by today’s standards, a relatively minor crime. Equally it must have been hard for his victim to recover, sadly I couldn’t track the maid after this event as I’d love to know what became of her. It appears that John Daviniere took her back into the house, but I’ve no idea how long she remained there.

      Liked by 1 person

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