A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty's Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

‘Darkey Kelly’, Brothel Keeper of Dublin

Dorcas Kelly aka Stuart, aka ‘Darkey Kelly’ was a brothel keeper and reputed witch in Dublin in the late 1750s but found notoriety on 7th January 1761 when she was partially hanged then burned at the stake, for allegedly murdering shoemaker, John Dowling on St Patrick’s Day 1760. Her ghost is still said to haunt the city.

Simon Luttrell of Luttrellstown in Turkish Costume Jean-Étienne Liotard - date unknown. The Athanaeum.
Simon Luttrell of Lutrellstown in Turkish Costume Jean-Étienne Liotard – date unknown. The Athanaeum.

Over time, however, the story of her demise took on a life of its own which has now become entrenched into Dublin folklore, so much so that a pub in the city has been named after her. It was reputed that Kelly, whose brothel was in Copper Alley, Dublin became pregnant with the child of Simon Luttrell, Lord Carhampton, a member of the Irish Hellfire Club and that she had demanded he pay maintenance for the child. Legend has it that he not only refused to pay but accused her of witchcraft and that she sacrificed her child in some sort of bizarre satanic ritual. The body of this alleged child was never found, but nevertheless, Kelly was sentenced to death.

This account from the Leeds Intelligencer, 21st September 1773 gives an account of the method used to sentence Elizabeth Herring to death; it appears that a similar method was used for Kelly.

It is only recently that more accurate accounts of her crime have come to light. As to whether she did in fact murder John Dowling, we will never know, but true or false, she was sentenced to death. At her trial, she had pleaded her belly, but a jury of midwives ascertained that she was not, in fact, pregnant; had she been, she would have given her a reprieve. It is interesting to note that women were both strangled and then burned, whereas men guilty of murder were hanged without the additional torture.

A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty's Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty’s Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

It was almost thirty years later the World newspaper of 27th August 1788 carried an historical account of her death, which added fuel to the story. It was claimed that in the vaults of her house in Copper Alley, were found the bodies of five murdered gentleman and amongst them was supposed to be that of Surgeon Tuckey’s son, who went missing and had never been found.  So not only was she a witch but now a serial killer – but was she? No mention was made of this at the time of her death.

Interestingly this latter part of the story only came to light when her ‘sister’ and successor, Maria Lewellin (Llewellyn) found herself accused of procuring a child aged twelve or thirteen, Mary Neal (Neill) for the use of Lord Carhampton’s son, Henry Luttrell. So far there has been no way to ascertain whether Kelly and Lewellin were biological sisters or merely described as such because they ran the same brothel.

A Rake's Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth. Sir John Soane's Museum.
A Rake’s Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth. Sir John Soane’s Museum.

The story tells that John Neal and his second wife, Anne, lived close to Lewellin’s brothel. John was a hairdresser who was apparently rather too fond of a drink and somewhat neglectful of his family and customers. He had a young daughter, Mary, by his first wife. Reports state that Mary was enticed into delivering a letter to the house of Madame Lewellin. On arriving there she was taken inside, and it was then that she was allegedly raped by Henry, Lord Carhampton. Afterwards, she managed to leave the house but didn’t tell her parents what had happened for some time. Lewellin was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for her part in the crime. However, proof seemed to appear from other prostitutes who supported Lewellin, claiming that the child was lying about the whole thing and that she was actually, at the tender age of twelve or thirteen, a prostitute. Needless to say, Carhampton denied even knowing the child and so Lewellin was released and ultimately freed.

In the meantime, both of Mary’s parents were arrested for robbery and imprisoned, where Anne, who was heavily pregnant, died. What became of Mary and her father we may never know.

Other Sources used

An Authentic Narrative; being an investigation of the trial and proceedings in the case of Neill and Lewellin.

Curious Family History: Or Ireland Before the Union by the author of the Sham Squire

Ireland before the Union: with extracts from the unpublished diary of John Scott, Earl of Clonmell, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, 1774-1798. A sequel to The sham squire and the Informers of 1798

A Brief Investigation of the sufferings of John, Anne and Mary Neal by Archibald Hamilton Rowan

 

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The Arsenic Poisoner

Elizabeth Hinchcliff, aged 14, stood before the court at the Old Bailey, on September 19th, 1810, indicted, that, on August 16th, 1810 she administered a deadly poison, arsenic, with the intent of murdering her employer, Ann Parker, two children in her employer’s care, Christopher John Stanley and Samuel Smith.

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

Ann Parker was a spinster living a quiet life at 14, Tavistock Row, in the heart of Covent Garden, she also ran a school and a shop which sold perfumes and medicines.

A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center British Art
A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

According to Ann Parker, Elizabeth had been telling her for a couple of months that the lower part of the house was overrun with rats, so Elizabeth sent her off to Mr Midgley in the Strand to fetch some poison to deal with the situation.

Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

When Elizabeth returned Ann put the poison in the back locker of a large writing desk but did not lock it and sent Elizabeth off to make tea for her and the school children. Elizabeth returned with the tea and was then sent to buy some mortar to put over the rat-holes after the poison had been administered. Ann then prepared food for the children, poured her cup of tea which was left to cool during this time. When she finally came to drink it, it tasted normal whilst in her mouth, but as soon as she removed the cup she felt a sort of heat in her throat and exclaimed ‘there is pepper in this tea’.

 Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library
Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The children continued taking their tea as Ann became more unwell, with pain in her stomach, back and thighs. During this time two of the children were also taken ill. There was no sign of Elizabeth, Ann assumed she was still out buying the mortar and initially thought that Elizabeth had added pepper to the tea as a trick, but she checked that the poison had not been opened, just to be sure and convinced herself that it hadn’t. Elizabeth returned and was confronted by Ann and denied having tampered with the tea. Ann quickly put on her hat and pelisse and rushed to the chemist to ask how the poison had been packaged to make sure it had not been tampered with and en route she was violently sick. She was worried that both she and children would die before she could get to the chemist.

Mr Midgley, the chemist was summoned to appear before the court to give his account of the packaging:

I am a chemist and druggist in the Strand. On the 16th of August, I received a note from Mrs Parker, the prisoner brought it; she says, I will be obliged to you to favour me with some more poison to kill the rats, as I am overrun. Upon which I put up a parcel of two ounces of arsenic. The prisoner requested to have more than the usual quantity, as they were dreadfully overrun. I put up two ounces in one parcel, that was all that she had; it was marked on the outside, poison, on the outer paper, and the inside paper, arsenic, poison.

He was asked how the package was tied and if it had been altered:

The knot was twisted when it was returned by Mrs Parker; it was tied in my usual way, a double knot, not twisted. When I arrived at Mrs Parker’s, the child Stanley was very sick. I tasted the tea, it had a strong metallic taste, I boiled some arsenic in the same herbs, which I bought of Mr Butler, the appearance of the tea is not altered by the infusion of arsenic.

Elizabeth was immediately found GUILTY of attempted murder and sentenced to death. It was asked that the court should show her mercy because her age and her parents being honest people. The jury did take account of her age and her sentence was changed to transportation.

Elizabeth left England on May 9th, 1812 on board the convict ship, The Minstrel, which, accompanied by another convict ship, The Indefatigable, sailed via Rio de Janeiro to New South Wales, arriving almost four months later. We have no idea what her life would have been like on board, but certainly not an easy one, certainly according to ship records there were deaths during that passage.

A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.
A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.

The following year, on July 24th, 1813 Elizabeth was issued with a Ticket of Leave, but for some unknown reason, it was subsequently withdrawn, until it was reissued on January 6th, 1820.

Whatever the reason, Elizabeth remained in Australia and she obviously did find happiness though, as in April 1824 she received permission to marry fellow convict, George Greenhill, a young man, slightly younger than her.

South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills [picture] / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
George too had demonstrated good behaviour and had been appointed to the post of police constable. He was described in the records as being five feet eight inches, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Sadly, we have no physical description of Elizabeth.  George had arrived onboard the Hadlow, having been sentenced to death for burglary, commuted to transportation, in 1818.

Liverpool, New South Wales [picture] / I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
Liverpool, New South Wales I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
The couple married at the recently opened St Luke’s church, Liverpool, on the outskirts of Sydney. The only other sighting of the couple was on the 1828 census when George’s occupation was that of a labourer and in 1829, George was issued with a Ticket of Leave, then in 1836, he was given a conditional discharge. Elizabeth remained in Australia with George until her death at aged 50, in 1846.

No record of the couple having had any children remains, so we can only assume that there were none. Shortly after her death George, who had become an upstanding member of the community, remarried and lived out his days in Sydney.

Sources used

Old Bailey Online

Convict registers for Australia

Featured Image

A woman suffering the pain of colic. Etching after G Cruikshank. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library

 

Runaway Spouses – Naming and Shaming

1753 saw the arrival of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke’s Marriage Act. This was seen to be a way of banning clandestine marriages once and for all. Parental consent was required for any person wishing to marry below the age of consent, i.e. 21. The marriage had to be conducted in church during the day by a clergyman, banns had to be read or a license issued. Falsification or errors made could result in the marriage being nullified.

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Libary
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Libary

Those unable to afford to buy the license could risk going to a city parish where they would not be known and have the banns published by a clerk, who was perhaps a little less vigilant than in your local area and who might not check the validity of your residence.

If all else failed there was always the option to make the potentially long journey to Gretna Green where, due to a loophole in the law, you could marry with few questions asked, although the validity of such a marriage might be questionable.

Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library
Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library

So, you have found yourself married and now decided it’s not for you. Your wife is nagging you and the children are screaming, the baby is crying. How to escape this intolerable situation. As a woman, there was little choice. Very few mothers would walk away from their offspring and as a wife you were as good as owned by your husband, but for a man, if wealthy you could divorce your wife. If the financial means for divorce were lacking, then one further option was simply to run away.

Before and after marriage
Before and after marriage.

It was, however, a crime in the Georgian Era for men to abandon their wife and family, as by doing so the family would become reliant upon the parish to support them, so it was important to have these men apprehended and returned to the bosom of their family as soon as possible. The way to try and trace these men was by naming and shaming in the newspapers, complete with name, age, occupation and a brief physical description. How many of these men did return home is unknown, but clearly obtaining their safe return was not through lack of trying on the part of the authorities. Here is an example from the Kentish Gazette, October 1st, 1816

Run Away

And left his wife and family chargeable to the parish of Frindsbury, James Apsly, known by the name of ‘Jemmy Rags’, he is about five feet ten inches high, a native of Aylesford, dark complexion, scar on his left cheek and a mole on the tip of his nose. Whoever will give information where he may be found, to Mr Edward Ross, Overseer of Frindsbury, shall, on his apprehension, be rewarded for their trouble.

Women did run away from their husbands, the difference being that if the husband wished his wife to return he would most likely put an advertisement in the local paper, something like this one reported in the Chester Chronicle, September 27th, 1799, along with a comment by the newspaper itself

A man at Condover, near Shrewsbury, advertising his runaway wife, thus concludes:

he will not be answerable for any debts she may contract until she returns to him again, and make him some acknowledgement for her misconduct.

We are at a loss to know what sort of acknowledgement it should be that would entirely satisfy a man in such a situation!

A Nincompoop, or Henpecked Husband. © The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

And, from the Leeds Intelligencer July 17th, 1797:

A Runaway wife

Whereas Elizabeth, the wife of me, Eli Baron, of Hunslet, in the parish of Leeds, Pot Vender, has absconded without any cause or provocation of my part:

Notice is therefore hereby given,

That whoever harbours her after this notice will be prosecuted: – she is about fifty-three years of age, broad set and dark complexioned.

He will not be answerable for any debts she may hereafter contract.

As Witness of his hand                                                        Eli Baron

The interesting point to note about many of these appeals for the wife to return is that they appear in almost the same format each time, the man’s priority is not necessarily the safe return of his wife, but that people are publicly made aware that their spouse has left them and that they are therefore no longer financially responsible for them. The majority also seem to wish to share the fact that it was not their fault, that they had done nothing to provoke their wife to leave them.

Husband discovered in act of kissing a maid . Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Husband discovered in an act of kissing a maid. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Two murders in a Derbyshire village 1815 and 1819

The first murder took place about a couple of miles from the murderer’s home of Litton, a pretty village in the middle of the Peak district, a mere stone’s throw from the beautiful Chatsworth House. The murderer, one Anthony Lingard was one of the several children born to Anthony Lingard senior and his wife Elizabeth.

Anthony Lingard, the younger, reputed to be aged 21 but who was in fact 25, was charged with the murder, by strangulation, of one Hannah Oliver, a widow aged 48. Hannah was the keeper of the turnpike gate at Wardlow Mires, in the parish of Tideswell.

Wardlow Mires, Derbyshire
Wardlow Mires, Derbyshire

According to the evidence given, Lingard committed the robbery and subsequent murder on the night of 15th January 1815. Having killed Hannah, he left her house taking with him several pounds and a pair of new, red, women’s shoes. He immediately went to see a young woman, Rebecca Nall, in the village who was pregnant with his child and offered her some money and a pair of new shoes if she would agree to say someone else was the father of her unborn child. Rumour of the murder spread quickly, and mention of the shoes convinced the young woman that Anthony had committed the crime. She tried to return them to him but he merely said that it was nothing to do with him and that he had got the shoes in exchange for a pair of stockings form a travelling packman.

In court, no-one believed his story and judge summed up the evidence for the jury, who took a matter of minutes to conclude that he was guilty. The judge, Mr Justice Bayley, then proceeded to pass the death sentence upon Anthony.

Anthony resigned himself to his fate and forgave the girl who gave evidence against him, before being taken to the drop in front of the county gaol, Derby. After a short time occupied in prayer, he was launched into eternity. He met his fate with a firmness and seemed very calm at the end, which was on 28th March, 1815.

Before the judge left town, he directed that the body should be hung in chains in the most convenient place near the spot where the murder was committed, instead of being dissected and anatomised.

The treasurer’s accounts for Derbyshire 1815-16, show that the punishment of gibbeting cost a considerable amount of money. The expenses for apprehending Lingard amounted to £31 5 shillings and 5 pence, but the expenses incurred in the gibbeting reached a total of £85 4 shilling and 1 penny, and this was in addition to the ten guineas charged by the gaoler for conveying the body from Derby to Wardlow.

Subsequent toll -keepers apparently complained about the noise of his bones creaking in the wind, so after some considerable time, his remains were cut down and buried. There remain even today rumours of ghosts and people avoid that area after dark.

The body of Hannah Oliver neé Richardson, widow of Joseph Oliver was buried at the parish church in neighbouring Stoney Middleton.

Burial of Hannah Oliver January 17th 1815 at Stoney Middleton
Burial of Hannah Oliver January 17th, 1815 at Stoney Middleton

Some four years later Hannah Bocking, another local girl from the village of Litton, aged just sixteen, was also to meet the same fate as Anthony Lingard.

Hannah was tried for the poisoning of her friend, Jane Grant, who had angered her as Jane had succeeded in securing a job and Hannah had not.  She purchased arsenic on the basis that she had rats she needed to kill some ten weeks prior to committing the crime. She added the arsenic into a cake which, under the guise of civility, she offered to her victim. The excruciating torment in which Jane Grant died seemed to awaken no remorse in the guilty mind of Hannah.

During the long imprisonment which preceded the trial, Hannah showed no contrition. She showed no emotion when the sentence was passed and simply accepted her fate. During the night preceding her execution she slept soundly, and when the time arrived she ascended the platform with a steady step.

At the trial, Hannah implicated other members of her family, including her sister. It was not until the sentence of death was passed that Hannah retracted this and claimed sole responsibility for her actions. She was hanged at Derby on 22nd March, 1819. After hanging the usual time her body was taken down to be delivered to the surgeons for dissection. Great anxiety was expressed by her friends who wished to have the consolation of interring her body, however, the law at this time would not permit it.

St John the Baptist, Tideswell
St John the Baptist, Tideswell

Her victim, Jane Grant was buried at the neighbouring church in Tideswell, her entry unmistakably noted by the vicar denoting how she died – by arsenic poisoning and who it was that took her young life.

Burial of Jane daughter of Jane Grant of Litton
Burial of Jane daughter of Jane Grant of Litton, which took place September 19th, some considerable time after her death.

Sources used

Parish Registers for Tideswell & Litton.

Parish Registers for Stoney Middleton

Nottingham Gazette, and Political, Literary, Agricultural & Commercial Register for the  Midland Counties. 31 March 1815

Derby Mercury 09 January 1878

Northampton Mercury 28 January 1815

The execution and confession of Hannah Bocking, aged 16, of Litton

Bristol Mirror 03 April 1819 

Derby Mercury 25 March 1819

The Last Days of Mary Ann Burdock

We are delighted to welcome back to our blog, the author Naomi Clifford. For her book Women and the Gallows 1797-1837: Unfortunate Wretches, Naomi researched the stories of the 131 women who were hanged in England and Wales between 1797 and 1837. Here she outlines the last days of the notorious poisoner Mary Ann Burdock.

Women and the Gallows 1797-1837: Unfortunate Wretches by Naomi Clifford

For 25% off the RRP and free UK P&P phone 01226 73422 or visit Pen and Sword Books and use discount code WATG25 on the checkout page.

People passing by the solid stone gatehouse on Cumberland Road in Bristol would not necessarily be aware that it is all that remains of the city’s New Gaol and that it holds a truly grisly history. Two women were executed on the flat roof above the entrance: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last person publicly hanged in Bristol, in 1849, and Mary Ann Burdock in 1835. [1]

Gateway to Bristol's Gaol, by Linda Bailey, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikicommons.
Gateway to Bristol’s Gaol, by Linda Bailey, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikicommons

A record crowd waited hours in the rain to witness Mary Ann’s final moments, at 1.40pm on 15 April 1835. The Bristol Mirror estimated the numbers at 50,000 and described it as ‘the largest assemblage of human beings we ever beheld’, their mass stretching ‘the entire line of Coronation Road, from the distance of 200 yards beyond the New Church, to the Bridges, and from the top of the river banks down nearly to the water’s edge’. While they assembled there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere; people did not seem overly impressed with the seriousness of what was about to happen.

Then at about 1.30pm, if they were close enough to get a good view of proceedings, they watched a small female figure dressed in black appear on the platform accompanied by the prison Governor, under-sheriff, turnkeys, executioner and the chaplain, the Rev Jenning. They might have heard Jenning intoning the funeral service… ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life…’ At this point, as understanding that events were reaching a climax rippled through the crowd, the feeling amongst the spectators changed. A ‘shuddering and anxious silence’ pervaded.

Bristol New Cut showing the New Gaol and gateway
Bristol New Cut showing the New Gaol and gateway

Those close enough to the gatehouse would have perceived that there was a hiatus on the platform while an umbrella was called for – whether for Mary Ann or for the Chaplain was unclear. Probably only the official entourage on the platform and the newspaper reporters, who were allowed special access, would have heard the Governor ask Mary to move to her place on the trapdoor and her refusal: ‘I will wait for the umbrella.’ The Governor again insisted and again she refused. But the Rev Jenning resumed reading the service and Mary Ann was led reluctantly but not resisting to the drop. The journalists noted that her face suddenly drained of colour.

Why was there such a degree of interest in this particular execution? Why such enormous crowds? Certainly, Mary Ann’s gender was a draw. This was the first hanging of a female in Bristol since 1802 when friends Maria Davis and Charlotte Bobbett were dispatched on St Michael’s Hill holding hands, punishment for abandoning Davis’s 15-month-old son on Brandon Hill where he died of exposure, and the first since 1832 when William Clarke, Thomas Gregory, Christopher Davis and Joseph Kayes were hanged for rioting. There was the added factor that Mary Ann was young – 30 or 35 at most – and attractive, and her crime had given her a new level of local notoriety. The public was much exercised at the time by an apparent spike in poisoning murders by women.

Mary Ann Burdock in court, Bristol Mirror, 18 April 1835
Mary Ann Burdock in court, Bristol Mirror, 18 April 1835

Burdock was born Mary Ann Williams at Urcop near Ross on Wye in Herefordshire. Aged 19, she joined the household of Mr Plumley, a poulterer living in Nicholas Street, Bristol but was abruptly sacked for petty theft and ‘other improper acts’. Soon afterwards she married Charles Agar, a tailor, but he left her and she then lived with Mr Thomas, a married gentleman’s servant. Later, she ‘formed a connection’ with Mr Wade, who kept a lodging house at 17 Trinity Street. A son and daughter were born but it is not clear who their fathers were. Mary Ann appeared to live by her wits. She was illiterate and, as the middle classes tut-tutted to each other, had no knowledge of religion.

It was in the Trinity Street house, in October 1833, that one of the lodgers, Mrs Clara Smith, a widow in her fifties, was suddenly taken ill with severe stomach pains and expired soon afterwards. Mary Ann told anyone who was interested that Mrs Smith had died in poverty and had no relations and she herself hastily arranged a burial for her lodger at St Augustine’s Church.

But Mrs Smith was not poor. Quite the opposite. She was known to hoard large quantities of cash because she did not trust banks and kept her money, possibly as much as £3,000, in a locked box in her room. It did not go unnoticed that soon after her death, Mr Wade and Mary Ann started doing noticeably well: Wade was able to pay off his debts and bought £400 worth of stock to start a business. But Wade’s own run of luck was short. By April 1834 he too was dead and within weeks Mary Ann was bigamously married to Paul Burdock. She was still legally married to Charles Agar, of course.[2]

A few months later, Mrs Smith’s relatives, who had been living abroad, arrived in Bristol and started making inquiries about her estate. Suspicions were aroused. Mrs Smith’s body was exhumed and the contents of the stomach sent to the analytical chemist William Herapath of Bristol Medical School, who identified arsenic.

On 10 April 1835 Mary Ann came to trial at the Guildhall before Sir Charles Wetherell, the same hardline anti-Reform Recorder of Bristol whose arrival in Bristol for the assize in 1831 had provoked civil disturbance during which four people were killed and 86 wounded and after which Clarke, Gregory, Davis and Kayes were hanged.

Bristol Riots: The Burning of the New Gaol from Canon's Mars by William James Muller
Bristol Riots: The Burning of the New Gaol from Canon’s Marsh by William James Muller; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

Mary Ann’s trial lasted three days, ending with a nine-hour summing up by Wetherell, after which the jury retired for 15 minutes and returned a verdict of Guilty. Execution was inevitable [2].

Two days later, on the morning of her death, dressed in a black dress, bonnet and veil and wrapped in a dark shawl, Mary Ann attended the condemned service in the prison. She sat in chapel ‘sullenly silent, never once rising or kneeling’. At one o’clock, leaning on the Governor’s arm, she was led out to the press room situated under the platform in the gatehouse to be prepared for the gallows. Her bonnet and shawl were removed, her arms pinioned, a white cap placed on her head and the rope put around her head. According to newspaper reports, it was only then that she responded to Jenning’s prayers and uttered loudly ‘Lord have mercy on my soul’ and ‘Christ have mercy on my soul.’

Understandably, she was in no hurry to proceed to the next stage and when reminded that it was time to go said, ‘Dear gentlemen, the time is short – it is hard to die.’ She asked to be remembered to her husband, who seems to have abandoned her, and friends. Faced with the stairs up through the gatehouse to the roof, she again hesitated but when the Governor offered assistance, declared that she could manage.

On the platform, the executioner William Calcraft fastened the rope to the gallows, pulled the white cap over her face and placed a handkerchief in her hand. This was to be the signal she was ready for him to release the trap door. Within seconds she dropped the handkerchief and was hanged. ‘A thrill of terror pervaded every countenance,’ according to the Bristol Mirror. Mary Ann died relatively quickly ‘with a slight convulsive movement of the hands’, her ‘stoutness’ apparently helping to speed her end.

Mary Ann Burdock’s body was taken down from the gallows and casts were made of her head and bust for the use of doctors at Bristol Royal Infirmary, after which it was buried within the precincts of the gaol, the Anatomy Act of 1832 having ended the practice of dissection of murderers’ corpses. Three weeks later ‘P.R’ wrote to Richard Smith, chief surgeon of the Infirmary, with the conclusions of a phrenological analysis of the casts, which concluded that they indicated Destructiveness, Combativeness, Secretiveness, a lack of Benevolence as well as ‘a masculine degree of force and energy’. That energy was, of course, now extinguished.[3]

The next and last person executed on the roof of the gatehouse was 19-year-old Sarah Harriet Thomas, convicted of bludgeoning her elderly employer to death. It was a traumatising scene. Sarah was dragged struggling and screaming to the roof of the gatehouse, pleading for mercy until the end. The prison governor fainted.[4]

The gaol closed in 1883, replaced by the prison at Horfield, and the site was sold to Great Western Railway. The gaol ruins were gradually removed and the ground levelled for rail yards and buildings. The gatehouse, now Grade II listed, is all that remains. Now a shiny new development is planned, the entrance to which will be through the gatehouse. As they pass through perhaps residents and visitors will spare a thought for the souls who were dispatched just a few metres above them.

Notes

[1] A total of nine people were executed on the flat roof above the entrance to the gaol. The original gatehouse, first built in 1820, was demolished in 1831, having been damaged in riots, and was rebuilt in 1832. Historic England.

[2] Bristol Mirror, Royal Cornwall Gazette 18 April 1835.

[3] Charles Agar, Burdock’s legal spouse, later sued Stuckey’s bank for the contents of Mary Ann’s bank account, some of which was probably ill-gotten gains from Mrs Smith. He won.

[4] Bristol Mirror, 2 May 1835.

 

Murder in Bedfordshire

During our research for A Right Royal Scandal which features Flitwick and Ampthill, we came across this shocking murder which took place on Monday, 1st December, 1788, in Flitwick Wood, just two miles from Ampthill, Bedfordshire.

The victim was an Elizabeth White, of Ampthill, who according to her sisters, went out on the morning of the murder to meet a Joseph Cook(e), a baker of Steppingley, near Ampthill and told them she would be home by dinner time. There was speculation that Cook was a criminal and that she had gone to meet him for money (there were also rumours which were found to be untrue that she was pregnant). Elizabeth never returned.

A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Her body was discovered between eleven and twelve the following day by an old man and his two sons, as they were gathering sticks in the wood. Her throat had been cut, an incision of about four or five inches in length, and down to the neck bone. There were four or five wounds near her mouth, her jaw bone had been broken and three of her upper teeth were bent out of place, her cheek bone was fractured, there were also several wounds and bruises on her head, one wrist was badly bruised and one of her fingers had been cut off just above the nail in a slanting direction, and another finger had been cut down to the second joint. A white handled case knife with about an inch broken off from the point, and the blade of a new pen-knife (both very bloody) with the piece of her finger, were found on her cloak, close to where the body lay.

The Coroner’s Jury sat to discuss the death. Mr Boldington junior, surgeon, at the request of the jury, cut open her head and found upon the head and face ten wounds, but no other fractures other than on the cheek and jaw bones; it was his opinion that the bruises were given with the claws and face of a hammer.

Cook was arrested and with other corroborating circumstances was committed by the Coroner to Bedford gaol to await his trial. The newspaper reported that he was a married man and described his wife as a very neat, decent woman, saying the couple had three or four fine children.

At the assizes, the trial took upwards of nine hours and the jury went out for an hour and a quarter before pronouncing their verdict: death! At the time of his demise, Cook acknowledged his guilt to the clergyman who attended him and he was then taken to the place of execution in a post-chaise. After the hanging, his body was cut down and delivered to the surgeons for dissection.

St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington
St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington
Elizabeth was buried on 6th December, 1788 at St Andrew’s church, Ampthill.

The Tragic Tale of the Death of Ann Hoon, 1796

When aged just twenty-one years of age, Ann Rollstone was married to Thomas Hoon, a labourer, at the parish church in Longford, Derbyshire, about six miles from the town of Ashbourne. Just nine months later the couple produced their first child, a beautiful baby girl whom they named, Elizabeth.

Longford Church. © sarumsleuth via Flickr
Longford Church. © sarumsleuth via Flickr

Tragically though their joy at this birth was to be short-lived as the child died the following April. Despite this loss and unknown to Ann at the time, she was already pregnant with their second child, another daughter whom they named Ann, after her mother. Ann was born at the end of January 1795.

The couple’s life continued as it did for most people, with Ann looking after the home and raising their daughter and Thomas going out to work.

In March 1796, this picture of domestic bliss was about to end abruptly as the story will now show from Ann’s trial at Derby Assizes. This tragic story came to the attention of the newspapers of the day due to its unusual nature.

On Friday last this poor creature, who is the wife of a laboring man, was about to heat her oven, and being short of wood, had broken down a rail or two from the fencing round the plantation of a gentleman in the neighbourhood, some of her neighbours threatened her with prosecution and told her she would be transported for it.

This so much alarmed her mind and the idea of being separated from her child, whom she had always appeared remarkably fond of, so wrought on her imagination, that she formed the horrible design of putting her to death, in order that, by surrendering herself into the hands of justice, she might be executed for the murder, and so be forever reunited in heaven with the baby whom she had loved more than life.

(Kentish Gazette, 22nd March 1796)

Her story continues – no sooner had her husband had gone to work she began to hatch a plan to put this dreadful thing into action. She decided that the best way to do this was to fill a large tub with water and plunge the child into to it causing it to drown. However, when she took the child in her arms and was just about to plunge her into the water, the baby, smiling up at the mother’s face, disarmed her for the moment, and Anne found herself unable to commit the dreadful act.

Having composed herself, she then lulled the baby to sleep at her breast, wrapped a cloth around her and plunged her into the tub, and held her under water till life became extinct.

She took the baby out of the tub and carefully laid her dead body on the bed. She then collected up her hat and cloak, went outside, locking her street door after her, and took the key to a neighbours for her husband to collect when he returned from work.

She then proceeded to walk about eight miles to a magistrate (which would, in all likelihood have been at Derby). When she arrived, she knocked on the door and asked to be admitted. Ann then proceeded to tell the magistrate the whole story, desperately wishing to be executed immediately for what she had done.

Derby Prison as it was previous to the riots of 1831.
Derby Prison. Courtesy of British Library

About an hour after she had left, her husband, Thomas, returned home from work and to his very great shock and dismay he found his dear little infant lying stretched out on the bed. It had such an effect upon Thomas, that he was insensible for quite some time. When he had composed himself he enquired of neighbours as to whether they knew where his wife was and was told that she went out about an hour earlier, but no-one knew where she had gone. Distraught he simply sat down by his dead infant and waited for Ann to return.

Derbyshire Assizes. © Enjoying Derby via Flickr
Derbyshire Assizes. © Enjoying Derby via Flickr

Ann did not get her wish of execution but was instead sent for trial at Derby Assizes whereupon it transpired that there had, in fact, been ‘many instances of insanity over the past four years’ and it was felt that this was the most likely cause of her dramatic action. This mitigating evidence was taken into consideration by the jury and somewhat surprisingly they found her … not guilty of such a heinous crime. It is well known that at that time many juries were reluctant to convict women of intentional killing and in fact, infanticide was not particularly rare during the Georgian Era and there are quite a few cases that appeared at The Old Bailey.

What became of the couple after this terrible event remains a mystery, did they return to the marital home in Longford or did they move elsewhere? There are baptism records for a William and a Thomas Hoon at Derby in 1800 and 1805 respectively, with parents named as Thomas and Ann Hoon: could the couple have moved to Derby for a fresh start? We may never know, we can only hope.

 

Featured Image

Family Sitting Outside a Rural Cottage, Attributed to George Morland, Courtesy of Buxton Museum