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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
 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.
 Bristol Mirror,Royal Cornwall Gazette 18 April 1835.
 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.
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.
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.
Elizabeth was buried on 6th December, 1788 at St Andrew’s church, Ampthill.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Family Sitting Outside a Rural Cottage, Attributed to George Morland, Courtesy of Buxton Museum
On August 10th 1817 the marriage took place between Charles Skinner and Mary Gower, at Speldhurst, Kent, the union of two people in Holy matrimony. This seemingly happy union was to last for the next ten years until John Savage appeared on the scene.
We turn to an account of a court case in the Globe newspaper of July 26th, 1828 which took place at the West Kent Quarter Sessions. Charles Skinner, Mary Skinner and John Savage, of the parish of Tonbridge, were indicted for a misdemeanour. The misdemeanour being:
one of those disgusting transactions which were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, and which by a vulgar error, were imagined to be lawful. It was by many persons supposed that if a man became tired of his wife, he might take her to a public market with a halter round her neck, or (as in the present instance) a handkerchief round her waist, and there publicly sell her. Such proceedings were both illegal and immoral, whether the parties were or were not all agreed. Sometime the wife was sold against her will; but in this case, there was an agreement by all parties before they left the cottage at Speldhurst, in which they all lived.
Charles and Mary had separated in the respect of being husband and wife, but they continued to live under the same roof along with Mary’s new lover, John Savage. The cottage they all lived in belonged to the parish and this unusual living arrangement came to the attention of the officers responsible for the cottage. Charles and Mary were told in no uncertain terms to ‘behave themselves’.
Clearly ‘behaving’ was not an option and they decided upon a different course of action so that they could retain possession of the cottage. So, with that, Charles and Mary went to the tap-room of the George and Dragon public house in Tonbridge. Then, after a while, John Savage appeared in the pub and the drama began. Making sure that people heard, Charles, having tied a silk handkerchief around his wife’s waist, said to Savage, “Will you buy my wife?” Savage replied, “Yes, what will you have for her?” Charles replied, “A shilling and a pot of beer”. Savage agreed to the bargain and Mary was handed over to him with Charles saying to her ‘If you give me that handkerchief I have nothing more to do with you”. She then gave him the handkerchief and they went away.
Mr Pollock, prosecuting, concluded by observing that these people ought to be taught that what they had done was both immoral and illegal, that by their punishment other people might be warned that such transactions could not take place without impunity.
William Hook who was one of the overseers of Speldhurst confirmed that Charles Skinner was a pauper of the parish and that he had resided in the cottage belonging to the parish for three years, but was now in the workhouse because of this transaction. Hook also pointed out that the couple had already been warned at the Monthly Vestry that if he permitted Savage to live in the house, and cohabit with his wife, he must leave the cottage; if he had more room than he wanted, the parish would find somebody to put in it, but apparently Skinner took no notice of this warning. John Smith the landlord of the George and Dragon was called to give his account of the events of that evening.
He confirmed that on June 2nd that Charles Skinner went in first and ordered a pot of beer and shortly after Savage arrived, the transaction was carried out. He confirmed that there were about four other people present who also witnessed it. Skinner and Savage assumed that this would make it all legal – how wrong they were! As each witness gave their version of events, all were consistent that Skinner had, in fact, sold his wife for a shilling and a pot of beer.
The learned Chairman intimated that there was not enough evidence to support a charge of conspiracy, but that the transaction took place could not be denied.
The defendants were called to give their account of the event. Mary simply laughed and said, “My husband did not wish to go along with my wishes and that was the reason I wished to part”.
The learned Chairman, in summing up, observed that this indictment was rather of a novel nature. He did not think the charge of a conspiracy had been proved. These people had been living together in the same house, but in what manner it was not now necessary to inquire; and even it was, a mere rumour was not sufficient to reply upon that point. Besides the count of conspiracy, there were two others, charging the defendants with making the sale, and it appeared that such a sale did take place. The lady certainly did not rate her own value very highly; for a pot of beer and a shilling was the only consideration given for that valuable commodity.
The jury, without hesitation, found all of them guilty. They were each sentenced to serve one months hard labour.
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).
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.
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?
Caroline Isham, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Charles Euseby Isham, married Thomas Welch Hunt, the Squire of Wadenhoe in Northampton on 9th February 1824. The marriage took place at Polebrook where Caroline’s father was rector of the parish.
The couple were both young; Caroline was 22 years old at the time of her wedding and Thomas was 27. Moreover, Thomas Welch Hunt was a wealthy and amiable gentleman. Their future looked bright.
A short time after the marriage, the new Mr and Mrs Hunt took an extended Grand Tour of a honeymoon on the continent, heading for Italy. The Napoleonic Wars were at an end and British tourists were once more able to travel across mainland Europe. They made first for Rome and then travelled south, stopping at the coastal town of Salerno in the Kingdom of Naples before, in early December, continuing on to the small town of Eboli in order to visit the ruins of the three Greek temples at Paestum. They were in wild and dangerous countryside where banditti roamed and English visitors were warned to carry pistols.
The hills became less picturesque as the Hunts carriage travelled from Salerno but Eboli itself was a handsome town, built on the slope of the hills. Beyond Eboli was the plain of Paestum, with large tracts of dark green shrubs which had a dismal and desolate appearance when viewed from the higher ground of Eboli but which were myrtles, ten feet high, standing in a pasture which fed water buffalo (kept for making cheese from their milk). A traveller in 1822 was to recall that there ‘was something solemn and imposing in the silent loneliness of this monstrous expanse… [our driver] pointed out to us a spot, where, about two years since, two Englishmen had been stopt… [and] robbed of everything, even to their shirts, and sent literally naked back to Eboli, where these travellers had been so incautious as to exhibit diamond pins, and gold watches and seals’.
There were three groups of English tourists visiting Paestum; the Hunts, a Mrs Benyon and her two daughters and three midshipmen from the Revenge, Charles Alex Thorndike, a Mr Hornby and Mr Thompson. Thomas and Caroline Hunt spent the night at a ‘miserable little inn at Eboli’, and unwittingly placed themselves in mortal danger.
The landlord was a rogue and a villain, in league with the lawless men who terrorised the vicinity. Naples had changed hands a few times during the Napoleonic wars but, from 1823, was – for the second time – under the control of the Bourbon, King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and maintained by an Austrian garrison. A Corps of sixty pardoned highwaymen had formed part of the king’s troops in Sicily under the command of a Chef de Brigade named Costa, also a former criminal and a fervent anti-Jacobin. They had not received their pay for some time and – it was rumoured – had reverted to their old trade, roaming the plains of Paestum and preying on visitors to the ancient ruins. Unbeknown to the Hunts, their landlord at the inn alerted the banditti. Mr Hunt had been careless – or imprudent – in putting his expensive travelling accoutrements on display. The eagle-eyed landlord had noted their value.
…the landlord, observing that he [Mr Hunt] had silver mounted cruets, and silver backed brushes in his dressing-case (a wedding present he had received), communicated with a band of brigands that infested the neighbourhood.
The next day – Friday 3rd December 1824 – the banditti were stationed, ready to pounce on the unwary tourists. Mrs Benyon and her daughters were their first victims. As they left the ruins at around one o’clock in the afternoon they were held up, threatened and relieved of their valuables but allowed to continue on to Salerno where they were expecting to meet up with the other two English parties. By nightfall, Mrs Benyon was convinced that misfortune had befallen her fellow travellers and penned a hasty and unfortunately prophetic letter to the Minister at Naples, ‘it is much to be feared that resistance… may have led to dreadful results’.
Thomas Welch Hunt and his wife Caroline were the next victims of the troop of brigands. They set off in their carriage from Paestum but had only travelled about half a mile when a man jumped out from behind a hedge and stopped the horses; another man leaped on to the footboard of the carriage and demanded money from the servant travelling on the box before throwing him to the ground and holding him fast there. In all, there were six highwaymen, all masked and armed; one pointed his musket at Mr Hunt (who was unarmed) and another targeted Caroline. Mr Hunt gave the men his purse but repeatedly asked for at least two or three carlins (a Sicilian silver coin worth about fourpence) to be returned to him, perhaps trying to convince them that he had no other money or valuables with him. Caroline – terrified – begged her husband to just hand over everything; the men knew there was a box in the carriage containing the silverware and they wanted more than just Mr Hunt’s purse. But Thomas Welch Hunt was obstinate and imprudent; he was also deaf to his wife’s pleas and bravely contemptuous of the threats made by the men pointing their muskets at the couple. “If you do not immediately give up everything, we will shoot you”. “You dare not do that”, responded Mr Hunt. Caroline recalled the fatal moment:
The words were no sooner uttered than we were both unfortunately shot. I wish he had not been so obstinate, and I am sure they would not have acted so rashly – but pray do not tell my husband I said so. They all made their escape without delay without taking a single article from us.
The servant who had been on the box took one of the horses and galloped as fast as he could back to the ruins at Paestum to find the three midshipmen. The carriage, with the wounded couple inside, headed back the same way.
Mr Hunt and his wife were gently carried into the ruins and it was clear that they were both mortally wounded. A ball had passed through Mr Hunt’s right breast, and another had passed clean through Caroline’s left hand and left breast. Medical aid was sent for and a message also sent to Mr John Roskilly, an eminent English surgeon resident at Naples (who had treated Percy Bysshe Shelley a few years earlier). Thomas Welch Hunt was too injured to be moved and he died amid the ruins of the Greek temples at seven o’clock that evening; Caroline had been taken to a nearby farmhouse where she was tended to but not told of her husband’s death. The next morning (Saturday) she was able to tell Mr Thorndike what had happened but after that she became weak and she died in the early hours of the Sunday morning. Mr Roskilly arrived at noon on the Sunday, too late to be of use but it was he who discovered what had become of Thomas Welch Hunt’s body. It had been taken to the church and the local surgeon had opened the body before placing it – upright – in a narrow closet, unclothed and with the body still open. Roskilly was able to prevent Caroline’s remains suffering the same fate.
The young, newly married couple were buried side-by-side, and a tablet to their memory is located nearby in the churchyard of Christ Church in Naples; another was placed back in the church at Wadenhoe.
The brigands were rounded up, accused and found guilty of the Hunts murder.
EXECUTION OF THE ASSASSINS OF MR. AND MRS HUNT
NAPLES, APRIL 28, 1825
The assassins of the unfortunate Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, whose case excited so deep and extensive an interest, were executed last Saturday, 23d inst. The Neapolitan journal, which, as you may remember, avoided making any mention of the distressing affair at the time it happened, and which only alluded to it lately, when the malefactors were discovered, inserted yesterday a long article on the subject. It appears, that immediately after committing the crime, the villains had kept themselves closely hidden, and by means of the wife of one of them, who denounced certain innocent individuals, misled for some time the pursuits of the police. At last, however, the whole mystery was cleared up, and the following individuals secured: – Felice Solito, aged 32, a peasant; Biagio Manzo, 32, a colono, (or little farmer); Liberato Letteriello di Vincenzo, aged 26, a peasant; Pietro Antonio di Pasquale, aged 28, a wine seller, or tavernajo; Maria Vittoria Calabrese, aged 39, wife of Biagio Manzo; Marianna Cirmo, aged 30, wife of Liberato Letteriello, Raffaele Frasca, aged 30, a guardiano campestre, (or man armed for taking care of country property); and Nicola Maria Petrelli, whose condition is not mentioned, aged 38. These persons were brought before the Military Commission of the Province at Salerno, according to a decree of King Ferdinand, dated 3d October, 1822, which orders that all briganti, or companies of robbers, be tried by martial law, and executed immediately after conviction. The Commission… declared Solito, Manzo, Letteriello, and Di Pasquale, guilty, recommending, however, Solito to Royal mercy, as his evidence had principally discovered the secrets of the crime, in which also he had taken the least part. Of the other individuals, accused of being privy to the desperate projects of the assassins, and of having lent them arms and assistance, one, viz. Cirmo, was acquitted in toto, and the other three detained in prison for further examination.
The three ordered for execution were carried down to Eboli and shot, at three o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday. The brutal ruffians, the sanguinary destroyers of defenceless youth and beauty, died like dastardly villains as they were. Those hearts which had the baneful energy to arrive at the excess of crime, which could dictate the cruel blow that was to send to a premature grave two beings rich in merit, in love, and in happiness; and that was to wound the hearts of thousands of the just and virtuous, trembled and sunk at their own sufferings. They moaned, they shrieked, nor could all the consolations of religion give them strength to face their punishment.
It appeared on the trial that the criminals took to the road, for the first time, the day before our unfortunate country people fell into their hands.
Probably the last likeness of Caroline Hunt née Isham which survives is a plaster cast medallion, done by Neri while she was in Rome and which was in the possession of a descendant of the Isham family, Gyles Isham, in 1950. Intriguingly, either the original or a second copy was bought at an antique show in Massachusetts and was in a fragile box alongside a similar one of Rosa Bathurst, another young Englishwoman who also died in Italy in 1824 (Rosa drowned in the Tiber). It is not known how their two medallions ended up together, but you can read more about them by clicking here.