Let’s begin this piece with William’s surname, I have come across quite a few documents about this man, but none of which seem to know exactly what the spelling of his surname was – Habberfield, Huberfield, Heberfield, Aberfield, the list goes on, was making it impossible so far, to find anything more as yet as to where he came from or even who he was married to. What is known without any doubt though, is the date he died at the age of about 50. So, who was this man and why do we know the date he died?
William was better known to his acquaintances as Slender Billy and lived in one of the worst parts of Pimlico, London. Many parts of Pimlico, especially near the river Thames, were, from the late 1700s into the early 1800s virtual ‘no go’ areas. It was described as being poverty stricken,with many of its inhabitants living in what were described as ‘hovels’.
The area was largely swampy marshland used for grazing, but at night was described as being a distinctly unsafe place to visit, especially around Tothill Fields, Willow Walk and Five Fields. It was in the late 1790s into the mid 1820s that Lord Grosvenor, who owned all land around that area, began an expansive development of this area, with the help of a builder by the name of Thomas Cubitt, transforming it into the area we know today.
It is unclear how long Billy lived on Willow Walk, in what was known as the ‘Seven Chimneys’ area of Pimlico, but there’s no sign of him appearing in the rates returns, but exactly where he lived is not important, as, for those who needed to contact him, knew exactly where to find him. His home was described as being in a key position:
situated between two deep, banked ditches, filled with most filthy water, protected by a wall, and in front by Mrs Hubberfield, her husband, a bear, and two bulldogs.
From that description you weren’t exactly likely to receive a convivial welcome. A further description of the area featured in a book by George Keppel, 6th Earl Albemarle, who knew the area from his time at Westminster School:
Leading from Tothill Fields was a road called Willow Walk, which terminating at the Half Penny Hatch, opened on to the Thames near to the spot on which Millbank Penitentiary now stands.
The road on each side of the walk was bordered by wretched hovels, to which were attached small plots of swampy ground which served the poor inhabitants for gardens and were separated from each other by wide ditches.
Between Mother Hubbard’s and the Willow Walk was a nest of low buildings known by the name of the ‘Seven Chimneys’. The inhabitants were of questionable character, and certainly not of that class with whom ladies would wish darling boys to associate.
Keppel went on to describe Billy:
Of the indwellers of the ‘Seven Chimneys’ the prime favourite of us Westminsters was one William Heberfield, better known by the name of ‘Slender Billy’; a good humoured, amusing fellow, but whose moral character, as the sequel will show, would not bear a searching investigation. All we knew of him was that whenever we wanted a go to hunt a duck, draw a badger, or pin a bull, Billy was sure to provide us with one, no matter how minute we might be in the description of the animal required.
Another author who knew Billy well was Lord William Pitt Lennox, who was at school around the same time as Keppel and provided a lengthy insight into the home and character of Billy.
Billy’s ‘cabin’ was a menagerie for animals of every description, also a convenient ‘fencing repository’ from the lady’s lapdog to the nobleman’s plate. There might be seen a King Charles’ spaniel, ready to be returned whenever the reward offered was raised to ten guineas. There might be found an over-fed pug, for whose loss her disconsolate mistress had nearly cried her eyes out, who was prepared to pledge a diamond ring to recover her lost pet, which arrangement was, in due time, brought about by one of Billy’s emissaries. Independently of the above, there were pointers, terriers, mastiffs, bull dogs, Italian greyhounds, all of which had ‘strayed’ into Habberfield’s yard.
He was considered the safest ‘fence’ in the metropolis, as his dwelling was well suited for concealment, and being garrisoned by bull dogs, it was rendered impregnable by any sudden attack made upon it, by the ‘Charley’s and ‘Bow Street Runners’, of that day.
So, we can tell from these descriptions, that Billy was well known to all classes of society from the under belly of London society to those in the upper echelons – but why?
Billy was regarded as something of a hero, he was a prize fighter and also superintended all the badger-baiting, dog fighting and cock fighting which was carried out in that area. He was also had many connections with burglars and pickpockets. The Chronicles of Newgate, by Arthur Griffiths, also referred to Billy saying:
A system of bull-baits was introduced at Westminster by two notorious characters known as Caleb Baldwin and Hubbersfield, otherwise known as Slender Billy, which attracted great crowds and led to drunkenness scenes of great disorder.
By 1811, Billy, was no longer a resident of Willow Walk. Billy was tried at the Old Bailey for dealing in forged bank notes, but this was not Billy’s first crime, far from it, but prior to this offence he had already been sentenced to prison for two years.
His crime prior to dealing in forged notes, was, it transpired, after a little detective work, that:
On 20 June 1811, William Haberfield, had been convicted at the sittings after last Easter Term, at Westminster Hall, charged with assisting General Jacques Pierre Osten, and other army officers of the French army to break their parole at Litchfield, Staffordshire and escaping to London an after assisting them escape to Holland. Billy was sentenced to two years in his majesty’s gaol of Newgate.
Having been sentenced for this crime, it was whilst in Newgate, that Billy couldn’t resist the chance to make some money and began dealing in forged bank notes – this would prove to be his downfall and he found himself back in court, this time, the sentence of imprisonment was not an option, instead Billy was to meet his maker at the end of the hangman’s noose, despite support for him coming from many quarters of society.
The Morning Chronicle 28 January 1812 noted that he would be executed, along with another prisoner who had been found guilty of housebreaking, and with another name which I was very familiar, with despite the reference only giving his surname – Whitehead, who was sentenced to death for bank forgery.
If Whitehead rings any bells with you, it’s because it was in fact Paul Whitehead, the brother of Sarah Whitehead, the Bank Nun Ghost, who I wrote about recently, so quite a coincidence.
I’ll let Lord William Pitt Lennox conclude this story about Billy’s life and with it, Billy’s sad end, but note the twist at the end of this regarding his wife!
So strictly correct was he in all his dealings that had amassed a large sum of money, the greater part of which being out in a trust went to his widow. He suffered the awful sentence of the law on 29 January 1812, opposite the debtor’s door at Newgate.
Poor Mrs Habberfield mourned the loss of her husband with tears and hysterics, but …
‘Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
The happy bridegroom being the identical Bow Street runner who, transported by her charms, had captured her dear departed.
Slender Billy was buried at St Martin in the Fields on 11 February 1812 as William Habberfield leaving a wife and two daughters, none of whose identity I have able to establish yet.
So much as been written about Sarah and ghostly sightings of her around London, close to and including the Bank of England, wearing all black, hence the moniker of Bank Nun, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit the known information about her to check some of the facts, and to hopefully provide a little new information.
To cut a very long story short, Sarah’s brother, Paul (also incorrectly named Philip) worked for the Bank of England until in 1811 when he was charged with forgery. He stood trial at the Old Bailey on 30 October 1811 at the age of thirty six years and was sentenced to death.
The British Mercury, 29 January 1812 reported the execution of Paul Whitehead and other prisoners at Newgate at nine o’clock with their bodies being cut down and delivered to their respective friends. Whilst it’s not possible to confirm with any certainty, there was a burial on 3 February 1812, at St Giles, Cripplegate, for a Paul Whitehead, giving his age as 32.
Paul was supported throughout his trial by Alderman Samuel Birch, who would later become Lord Mayor of London, and supported him to the drop, at the end of Paul’s life. Remember this name, as it will appear later in this story.
There are numerous reports with differing information about Sarah following the death of her brother. Most reports seem to confirm that although not witness to her brother’s death, when she did find out it caused Sarah to suffer some sort of mental health issues, to the extent that she continued going to the bank on an almost daily basis searching for her brother, who she could not accept was dead. The bank were sympathetic to her supposed plight, despite knowing that Paul had been hanged and as such they often gave her money, which she took and went away, until the next day.
The first account of Sarah’s demise appeared in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 12 November 1837 and was repeated in most London newspapers at the time. It went as follows:
It will be in the recollection of many of our readers, and particularly of the gentlemen at the Bank, and of the merchants and banks connected with the Royal Exchange, that for the last 40 years the above named lady was in the habit of paying a daily visit in that vicinity. The circumstances that gave rise to the extraordinary perseverance of this unfortunate lady are well known to have reverted from the ill-fated end of her brother, who held a responsible situation in the Bank of England, and who, having committed an act of forgery, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.
The effect of his untimely end produced an alienation of her mental faculties; while, in addition, she was reduced from a state of comparative opulence (being at the time partly dependent upon her brother’s income) to one of indigence. Being they young, while her enthusiastic and romantic attachment to her brother, leading her to attend daily at the Bank, some opulent and Christian individuals in the City compassioned her in her misfortunes, and became eventually contributors to her support during the remainder of her life.
She as known to strangers by the singularity of her dress which was in the old fashioned style of the period about the early part of the reign of George III. She was always attire in black, while her cheeks had constantly the appearance of being rouged. As there were very peculiar and interesting circumstances connected with her sudden exit from this world, and as no information could be obtained by the parochial authorities, Mr Payne, the City coroner was informed of the occurrence, ad a highly respectable jury was yesterday empanelled before him, at the King’s Arms Tavern, Old Kent Road, on view of the body of the deceased, when the following evidence was received:-
Allingham, the summoning officer said that he had applied at the Bank of England, to find out the deceased’s relations, but he had not succeeded. He had seen there a porter, who had been there for the last 40 years, and who did not know her Christian name.
Mrs Butler, landlady of the Eagle Coffee House, stated she had known the deceased for the last fourteen years. She took her meals daily and read the newspapers. She paid regularly. On Thursday she was in the coffee room some hours.
She complained of not being well and appeared so. She left about four o’clock to return home. Witness assisted her along the passage, when, as she was sinking, the witness called for assistance, and two men then supported the deceased.
She was taken home, where Mr Saunders the surgeon saw her, and pronounced life extinct. After the hearing some further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Died by the visitation of God’.
The day she died she had said that she was going to the civic feast at the Mansion House, and that one of the Queen’s servants, had sent 100 shillings to her, to buy herself a suitable dress. As to whether there was any truth in that we will never know, but it seems unlikely.
Mrs Wallis at number 7, Mason Street, Old Kent Road, stated that the deceased had lodged with her for nine months. Latterly she was very much declined in health. She paid 3s 6d a week for her lodgings. She owed one week’s rent.
The Coroner observed that he had known the deceased from his youth, and it was well known that she had several benefactors, and that she was greatly indebted to Alderman Birch.
Allingham said that her relatives had left 5 shillings a week for her at the parish of Camberwell, and which was payable to her by the authorities. He believed a man named Nicholls knew a little of her history.
George Nicholls, in the employ of Mr Wheatley the extensive coach proprietor, said, that the deceased’s age was 61, as she informed him. After her brother’s death, who was buried in Greenwich churchyard, she walked own every Sunday to pray over his tomb. Latterly, from her infirmities, she rode to Greenwich in his coach every Sunday.
Curiously, there is no sign of Sarah’s burial or in fact anyone named Whitehead who was buried towards the end of 1837. I have read that she was buried at St Christopher-le-Stocks, but this could not be correct as the church was long gone before Sarah’s death in 1837. I can’t understand why she would have been buried anywhere near the Bank of England when she was living just off the Old Kent Road, which is about two miles away.
Trying to track down the names of people in the newspaper account proved difficult, but I did managed to trace the Mrs Wallis who Sarah had lodged with. She appeared on the 1841 census, so only a few years after Sarah’s death and lived at 7 Mason Street, Old Kent Road, with her husband John, a wine brewer and their young son, Thomas.
George Nicholls appears on the 1841 census, living just off Old Kent Road, as a young man aged 25, so it’s feasible he was the one who gave evidence at the inquest. His employers, were Mr John and Thomas Wheatley.
To date, I haven’t managed to track down the Mrs Butler, but that’s not really surprising as she may well have moved on by then, but she seems to have known Sarah well over a 14 year period. She was able to confirm that Sarah not only dined there, but also read the newspapers, which confirms that Sarah was, like her brother, educated and literate, something which has elsewhere been disputed, with suggestions that she may have ended up in the workhouse.
Mrs Butler also confirmed that Sarah always paid her dues, so it begs the question as to where her money was coming from, clearly not her brother, but it has also been suggested in The Book of Wonderful Characters, that her father was a respected employee of the Post Office holding a situation of importance and that his income enabled him to educate his family liberally, and also to layby something for a rainy day. The author provides no explanation as to how he knew this, but if correct, then did her father leave her some funds or was it all spent by her brother or was, as I suspect financially supported by the family friend, Alderman Birch.
Moving on to the ghostly sightings of Sarah, it has been said that she has often been seen around the area of the Bank of England, including at the underground, dressed in widow’s weeds and asking passers-by-by if they have seen her brother.
On 22 May 1820 a ship named The Morley, sailed for New South Wales, arguably there was nothing new about this one as plenty of ships transported convicts to Australia at that time, but this ship was transporting 121 female prisoners, along with some several children, and was one sailing which we know a good deal more about than many other such voyages.
The reason for this being that the ship’s surgeon, Thomas Reid, who was a young man of just 29 years of age when they set sail, kept a detailed account of this voyage, with specific references and a dedication in the book to his good friend, the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry. She and representatives from the British Ladies’ Committee, boarded the ship several times to deliver Bibles, prayer books and to also give the convicts moral advice prior to the ship sailing.
The ship was prepared ready to receive its female prisoners and some children.
A supply of books and other things fit for the children was carefully sent on board from the Ladies’ Committee; and to complete their benevolent design, a quantity of straw for plaiting, and some materials for knitting and sewing, were purchased, as their funds would allow, in order to afford the convicts employment on voyage.
Convicts arrived at the dock from prisons all over the country from Cumberland to Devon. The main crimes these women were being deported for were, by today’s standards relatively minor, such as theft of clothing, forging of bank notes, both such crimes would more than likely have been committed due to the extreme poverty they were living in and as a way to support their families.
Accompanying two of the Ladies from the committee, on one occasion, was the Solicitor to the Bank of England.
The Solicitor was commissioned by the Bank to make a present of five pounds to every woman who had been convicted of uttering forged notes, or of having them in possession.
He issued this money to the forty one women convicted of this crime, to ‘alleviate in some degree the distresses and wants brought upon them by their prosecution’.
A set of regulations were produced to ensure the health and comfort of the convicts:
The care and management of each mess shall be intrusted to a monitor who will be held responsible for any irregularities committed by those under her direction; it is expected that everyone will behave respectfully and be obedient to the monitor of her particular mess.
Cursing and swearing – obscene and indecent language, fighting and quarrelling, as such practices ten to dishonour God’s holy name, and corrupt good manners, will incur the displeasure of the Surgeon Superintendent. And be visited with punishment and disgrace.
Cleanliness being essentially necessary to the health, comfort and well-being of every person on board, it is desired that the most scrupulous attention in this respect be observed on every occasion.
The monitors are particularly enjoined the utmost vigilance in taking care that nothing disorderly shall appear among the members of their respective messes.
Anyone convicted of disturbing others whilst engaged in reading the holy scriptures, or other religious exercise, will incur special animadversion, and such misconduct will be entered into the journal.
A proper reserve towards the sailors will be held indispensable and all intercourse with them must be avoided as much as possible.
A daily account will be kept, and a faithful report made to His Excellence the Governor of New South Wales of the conduct of each individual during the voyage, and those who behave well, though they may have come here with bad characters, will be represented favourably; the Surgeon Superintendent pledges to use hi utmost effort to get everyone settled in a comfortable manner who behaviour shall merit such friendly interference.
NB Any breach of above regulations, or any attempt to deface or destroy this paper, will be punished severely; and the person so offending must not expect to be recommended to the kind notice of the Governor of New South Wales.
It took quite some conservable time for all convicts to board the ship, with one of two being old and frail who had to be disembarked, as it was thought that they wouldn’t survive the journey.
One of the women I came across who was named in Reid’s journal, was Browning Owen, she was one of the many women convicted for the forgery of bank notes and was sentenced to 14 years. Browning had four children, John, Eliza, Robert and Elizabeth; Reid wrote this about her situation:
The case of this poor woman seems one of aggravated distress. About nine months since, her husband incited her to commit crime; and after involving her in guilt and misery, left her with a helpless family without a friend in the world. Her conduct having been exceedingly good since she came on board, induced me to lay a statement of her case before Mr Capper, for the consideration of the Secretary of State, whose benevolence granted permission for all the children to be embarked and accompany their mother.
We now know from the New South Wales, Census and Population Books, 1811-1825, that all 4 children did accompany her and were named in the 1824 records for Parramatta, New South Wales.
Two women from York were brought on board, and a few minutes afterwards, three from Winchester. The two women from York were Ruth, the wife of Joseph Clapham and Jane Peck, both had been sentenced to 14 years each. Ruth was from Halifax and her crime was to have knowingly used two promissory notes. Ruth had lived in the village of Northowram near Halifax, with her husband Joseph and at least one son.
It has been possible to trace the three from Winchester from the court registers and newspapers. We have Ann Welch, Sarah Bromley and Catherine Burns. Ann and Sarah were, according to the Hampshire Chronicle 15 November 1819 were convicted of using a forged £1 note. It’s not clear whether they forged it themselves or merely used it as payment to a Jane Moses.
From Newcastle gaol we have Isabella, wife of John Dennison. Isabella was convicted on 29 March 1819, for larceny and sentenced to seven years. The second woman being Frances, the wife of John Pattison. Frances was sentenced on 14 August 1819 to life. We know a little more about the case for Frances from the Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland Gazette of 7 September 1819:
Frances Pattison was charged with passing a note of British Linen Company knowing the same to be forged. On the 30 March, about half past seven, the prisoner went to the shop of Mrs Shiell, in the Milk Market in this town and bought two shilling loaves, for which she tendered the note in question. In consequence of some observations made at the time, the prisoner went out, saying she would go and fetch the neighbour she got it off, but she did not return. There were two forget notes of the same company found in her pocket by Forsyth, who went to apprehend her, after she had got into bed at 10 o’clock at night. The prisoner in her defence, she went to get some beer with a woman named Martha Hand, on the night in question, who desired her to go and get some bread and cheese. When she found the note was bad, she went to look for Hand, but could not find her, she then went to bed, thinking it was too late to go to the shop that night. She saw no more of Martha Hand, who was in custody soon after the prisoner was taken. She did not positively say she got the notes from Hand. Guilty – Death.
Clearly, her death sentence was lessened at some stage, to transportation.
Next, we have Eliza Dilling, alias Dillon, who was convicted at The Old Bailey for pickpocketing, she was aged about 34 and sentenced to life. You can read the account of her trial here.
According to the Stamford Mercury 30 July 1819,
Jane Brown, aged 18, late of Holbeach, Lincolnshire, a single woman, was charged with stealing, on the 26 March last, notes and cash to the amount of 18 shillings, 10 pence in the welling house of Mr John Smith, farmer of Holbeach.
Jane was also initially sentenced to death; however, this was amended to a sentence of 14 years for her crime and transportation.
The Morley arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, disembarked many of the women, then sailed on to Port Jackson, New South Wales, where the remainder were disembarked.
The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter 2 September 1820 reported:
The whole of the female convicts on board The Morley have reached this port in the best state of health and order and their condition in all respects affords the amplest testimonial of the humanity, attention and judgement which have been employed upon the passage. On Thursday Lieutenant Governor inspected the female prisoners of board and this day the number of 60 destined for this settlement were landed and appropriated to service.
Records of this journey have survived with a full list of convicts being held on the Australian Convict Transportation Register. Sadly, although we have names, dates of conviction, length of sentence and which assizes they were sentenced, we know little about the backgrounds of the women themselves which would make for a fascinating project to track them all down before leaving England.
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.
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.’
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.
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
I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Elaine Thornton who trained as a linguist, has lived and worked in Germany, Russia and Cyprus. She has had a varied career, as an army officer, project manager, and development officer.
She is currently researching the life of Sir Henry Bate Dudley and is going to tell us more about a certain crim. con that he was front and centre of. It was a case that doesn’t make for a pleasant read – You have been warned!
In 1788 the Reverend Henry Bate Dudley, known as the ‘Fighting Parson’, found himself facing a charge of adultery, or ‘criminal conversation’. A clergyman, journalist, dramatist and duellist, Bate Dudley had been ordained in the Church of England, but had soon realised that his talents and temperament were better suited to the rough and tumble of the flourishing Georgian newspaper industry. He had been editor of the Morning Post from 1772 to 1780, when he had founded his own newspaper, the Morning Herald.
A modern history of journalism, the Encyclopaedia of the British Press, describes Bate Dudley as ‘undoubtedly, the star of his day’. The Georgian writer and wit Horace Walpole was less flattering, calling him ‘the worst of all the scandalous libellers’. Bate Dudley’s newspapers specialised in high-class scandal and ‘celebrity’ gossip, and at the time of Walpole’s comment, in 1780, he had been convicted of libelling the 3rd Duke of Richmond, by accusing him of treason. He was subsequently sentenced to a year in the King’s Bench prison.
The charge of adultery against Bate Dudley concerned the wife of a Mr Edward Dodwell. Mrs Dodwell’s first name was never revealed publicly, but documents held in Lambeth Palace archives, relating to a later application by her husband for a legal separation, identify her as Frances Dodwell, née Jennings. Edward Dodwell was demanding £3,000 in damages from Bate Dudley for ‘alienating his wife’s affections’ (adultery was treated as a case of trespass on another man’s property, as a wife was considered a ‘chattel’ in law).
The Dodwell’s and Bate Dudley’s lived near each other in the Chelmsford area. The chief witness for the prosecution, Mrs Dodwell’s servant Elizabeth Serjeant, claimed that in September 1780, Mrs Dodwell had gone to Southend for a holiday without her husband. Bate Dudley had followed her there and had visited her frequently in her lodgings. One night, Serjeant claimed, she had opened her mistress’s door at two in the morning and had seen ‘Mr Bate and Mrs Dodwell on the floor in an act of adultery’.
Mrs Serjeant added that the affair had continued after Mrs Dodwell’s return to Chelmsford, citing an instance in February 1782, when Mrs Dodwell had returned from a carriage ride with Bate Dudley, and Mrs Serjeant, ‘having seen certain parts of Mrs Dodwell’s linen, was enabled to judge of her conduct that night’.
Bate Dudley submitted a plea of ‘not guilty in two ways’. In the first place, he claimed that he was innocent of the charge. The second part of the plea was related to the legal time limit on prosecutions for adultery. A charge could not be upheld if the alleged offence had taken place more than six years prior to the commencement of the action and Bate Dudley’s second plea was that he was not guilty ‘within six years’. Bate Dudley’s defence counsel, James Mingay, referred to October 1781 as the relevant date, so this would presumably exclude the evidence dating from 1780.
Mingay opened the defence by revealing that Edward Dodwell had a very strange hobby. He was passionately interested in the dissection of dead bodies, which he carried out in the couple’s home. A visitor to the Dodwells’ house testified that
‘Mr. Dodwell had a room near his bedchamber, which was called a dissecting room, where he [the visitor] once saw an arm half dissected.’
According to the defence, Dodwell did not bother to clean himself up before making advances to his wife, but ‘approached her with his hands covered with all the nauseous filthiness of such pursuits … while his hungry hounds were quarrelling over the flesh he had been slicing’.
The prosecution’s response to these revelations was the perfectly reasonable one that, even if Dodwell had
‘a laboratory wherein he dissected dead bodies … this surely could hardly give any other person a right to commit adultery with his wife’.
Bate Dudley’s next line of defence was that Mr Dodwell had positively encouraged his wife to take lovers. After she had had an affair with a baronet, Dodwell had sent his wife abroad, where she lived ‘in open adultery’ with a British army officer. On her return to England, he had installed her in lodgings in London, where he visited her for sex ‘as if she had been his kept girl’. Dodwell later introduced her to a retired military man, a General Desaguliers, whose mistress she became.
In defence counsel’s view, Dodwell had been ‘an accessory to the prostitution of his own wife’ and was in no position to accuse Bate Dudley of alienating Mrs Dodwell’s affections by breaking up a happy marriage. Dodwell himself unwittingly contributed to this defence, by suggesting that Bate Dudley was only one of many: ‘I have stuck the fork in the dung-hill, up came Mr. Bate, and it is his chance, and I cannot help it.’
Bate Dudley’s final submission was a knock-out blow. He produced a witness to testify that he had actually been confined in the King’s Bench prison, undergoing his sentence for libelling the Duke of Richmond, in February 1782, when Elizabeth Serjeant claimed to have seen him consorting with Mrs Dodwell in Chelmsford. The King’s Bench books were brought to the court to verify the fact. The prosecution’s star witness had lost all credibility, and the jury took twelve minutes to find in favour of the defendant.
‘The Fighting Parson’ had triumphed in court, but was he really innocent? His wife, Mary, seems to have had her suspicions. One day in 1781, she had arrived at her husband’s room in the King’s Bench prison – where, characteristically, he was holding a musical party for his friends – and had met Frances Dodwell, who was just leaving, on the stairs. The unexpected encounter had resulted in a lively quarrel between the two women, and a temporary coolness between Mary and her husband.
Legal opinions on the case differed. A year after the King’s Bench trial jury had found Bate Dudley not guilty, the ecclesiastical Court of Arches granted Edward Dodwell’s application for a separation – based on his wife’s adultery with Henry Bate Dudley. Two years after that judgement, the Court of Doctors’ Commons, after several days considering the evidence for a divorce, ‘finally dismissed the suit of Edward Dodwell Esquire against his Lady’.
Anon, Adultery Trial, in the Court of King’s Bench … between Edward Dodwell, Esquire, Plaintiff, and the Rev. Henry Bate Dudley, Defendant, for Crim. Con., H. D. Symonds, 1789
Dennis Griffiths (ed.), TheEncyclopaedia of the British Press 1422-1992, Macmillan, 1992
I am once again, delighted to welcome back a now regular guest to All Things Georgian, the historian, Mr R M Healey. Today his article is about Patrick Colquhoun on the criminal code relating to capital offences in the UK compared with that which prevailed in Austria.
One of the best-known facts about life in Georgian England was that so many seemingly minor crimes were punishable by death. From stealing goods worth a few shillings, to forgery, with many minor infractions in between, murdering someone was not the only crime that attracted the death penalty.
The famous magistrate (for Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex) and commentator on the penal code, Patrick (later Sir Patrick) Colquhoun, devoted a good deal of his best-selling Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis to the question on whether the death penalty for seemingly trivial offences was justified.
Colquhoun’s Treatise (5th edition of 1797) is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what dangers lay in store for offenders, sometimes driven by poverty and desperation, to steal, lie and forge. But Colquhoun was a reformer, not a hanger and flogger.
He sought remedies for the prevention of crimes, and he saw the irrationality of executing someone for stealing property worth a certain amount. To show just how harsh the punishments were for comparatively minor violations he listed all those offences which carried the death penalty. Here is a selection of the most iniquitous:
Forgery of deeds, bonds, bills, notes etc., bankrupts not surrendering, or concealing their effects, house breaking in the day time, shop lifting above five shillings, stealing above 40 shillings in any house, stealing linen &c from bleaching grounds or destroying the linen therein, stealing horse, cattle or sheep, breaking down the head of a fish pond, whereby fish may be lost, maiming or killing cattle maliciously, stealing woollen cloth from tenter grounds, uttering counterfeit money ,servants purloining their masters’ goods to the value of 40 shillings, robbery of the mail, cutting down trees in an avenue, sending threatening letters, riots by twelve or more and not dispersing in an hour after proclamation, sacrilege, destroying turnpikes or bridges, gates, weighing engine locks, sluices, concealing the death of a Bastard child…
Of course, it did not follow that those convicted of some of the most trivial of these offences paid the ultimate penalty. When the Annual Register recorded the monthly county reports of those convicted of capital crimes it invariably declared that most offenders were reprieved. We can surmise that perhaps only those convicted of murder, large-scale forgery, coining, arson, highway robbery and serious housebreaking, to name but a few heinous crimes, were hanged.
Bizarrely, certain offences, though seemingly as serious, or more serious, than the crimes listed by Colquhoun, did not carry the death penalty, but were merely punishable by ‘transportation, whipping, imprisonment, the pillory and hard labour in houses of correction, according to the nature of the offence.’ These included ripping and stealing lead, iron, copper, &c, or buying or receiving, assaulting with intent to rob, stealing children with their apparel, stealing fish from a pond or river, bigamy, manslaughter and killing without malice.
However, most lawmakers agreed that the crime which most deserved the noose was forgery. The Georgian period saw a number of high profile forgery cases involving eminent men. These included Dr William Dodd, the high-living ‘macaroni parson’ who Dr Johnson failed to save from the gibbet in 1777; the celebrated ‘Engraver to the King’ and inventor of stipple, William Wynne Ryland, who tried to defraud the East India Company and was hanged in 1783; and finally, the banker Henry Fauntleroy who in 1824 became the last person to die on the gallows for the crime of forgery.
Colquhoun then compared the legal code instituted by Emperor Joseph II of Austria that related to murder, manslaughter and other violent offences, with that which prevailed in the United Kingdom.
In Austria not one offence was punishable by death, though in some cases, the alternative punishment, which might involve being chained up for thirty years, sometimes without proper food, could have seemed a far worse experience—a sort of living death. Here are some of the offences and the punishments they carried.
Imprisonment not less than 15, nor more than 30 years…When a criminal is condemned to severe imprisonment, he has no bed but the floor, no nourishment but bread and water, and all communication with relations or even strangers, is refused him. When condemned to milder imprisonment, better nourishment is allowed; but he has nothing to drink but water.
Killing a man in self-defence if the layer exceed the bounds of necessity
Imprisonment, not less than one month, nor more than five years, and condemnation to the public works
Murder—with an intention to rob or steal the property of the person, or other property intrusted to his care
Imprisonment not less than 30 years, with the hot iron; in cruel cases, to be closely chained, with corporal punishment every year. This punishment was inflicted with a ‘whip, rod or stick publickly on the criminal’; the degree of punishment ( within 100 lashes or strokes at one time) depends on the sound prudence of the Judge.
Assassination by stratagem, arms or poison.
Condemnation to the Chain, not less than 30 years…the prisoner is closely chained, that he has no more liberty than serves for the indispensable motion of his body…
Inducing another to commit murder by caresses, promises, presents or threats, whether death is the result or not
Imprisonment, not less than 5, nor more than 8 years, and condemnation to the public works—if murder is committed, the criminal shall suffer as a murderer
Duelling—or challenging another to combat with murderous weapon on whatever pretence the challenge be grounded —the person accepting the challenge is equally guilty…
Imprisonment not more than 12, not less than 8 years…If death ensues; condemnation to the Chain for 30 years, where the survivor is the challenger if the survivor be the party challenged.
A woman with child using means to procure abortion.
Imprisonment, not less than 15, nor more than 30 years; and condemnation to the public works: augmented when married women.
Not all countries were as lenient as Austria. In 1772 the Annual Register (1772, pp. 132- 133) reported that the punishment meted out to the Swiss manager of a French vineyard, who had been convicted of rape and murder, was decided under the Swiss military code. It was that the prisoner be sawn in half while still alive. This barbaric practice was not confined to Swiss law but can be found in other nations around the world.
It is interesting to note that the offence of duelling in England seems not to have carried any penalty, unless it came under ‘manslaughter’.
Throughout the Georgian period this method of satisfying an injury to honour or reputation was often practiced, sometimes by leading politicians and members of the aristocracy. Possibly the most infamous literary duel of the period, which occurred at Chalk Farm, near the present Primrose Hill in 1821, was fought over a number of hostile remarks on ‘The Cockney School’ by the critic J. G. Lockhart in Blackwood’s Magazine.
John Scott, the editor of the famous London Magazine, where Lamb’s ‘Essays of Elia’ were appearing at the time, took umbrage and retaliated with his own imprecations. Lockhart travelled to London to challenge Scott, but his friend and second, Jonathan Christie, agreed to take his place. The first shots were deliberately aimed wide, which should have ended the matter. Tragically, a second round ensued, and Scott was fatally wounded. Christie was apprehended but was later acquitted by a jury.
P (atrick) Colquhoun), A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (fifth edition, 1797). See especially pages 284 – 288; 272 – 273.
Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics and Literature…( 1758 – ) passim.
I am once again delighted to welcome back Melanie Barnes, who is bringing her legal brain to bear on the history of child maintenance.
Throughout history, the payment of child support has been a recurring issue, though the policies applied by either the church or government have been remarkably similar.
Early records reveal that even if the father of a child was not known, the parish would still support the mother by payment of ‘Poore Reliefe’. This payment (typically very low) was raised from a tax upon the parish residents, and the church would then seek a contribution from the father or family member to mitigate the cost. In medieval England, canon law placed all parents under a duty to support their legitimate children, but later, the duty to provide for ‘bastard’ children was introduced through various ‘Old Poor Laws’ which aimed to provide better relief to the mother of the child or those in need.
Throughout the 16th and 17th century, legislation was introduced to meet the costs of illegitimate children on the parish. For example, in 1576, the Acte for Setting of the Poore on Work, and for the Avoiding of Ydleness punished both parents for having a bastard child and allowed the mother’s name and fact of pregnancy to be publicly announced, thus making her known to her neighbours who would be taxed for the support of her child. The mere fact of publicity encouraged neighbours to pressure the mother into marriage or to filiate their children on men who could maintain them – an act that was a lot easier before DNA samples could determine paternity.
After 1609, a mother could be sent to a ‘House of Correction’ for a year unless she gave security for her bastard child. So unpopular were women who became dependent on the parish that child infanticide became common so that mothers could avoid the shame and punishment of giving birth to an illegitimate child. In response to this widespread issue, the 1624 Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murthering of Bastard Children was introduced to provide that a woman would face the punishment of death if she gave birth and thereafter concealed the dead body; introducing a presumption that any child buried or concealed after birth had been illegally killed.
Later Poor Acts rather harshly made provision for what became known as ‘badging up’ where a person would have to wear a badge with the first letter of their parish followed by a ‘P’ showing that they were poor. Any ‘able-bodied’ pauper who refused to work was liable to be placed in prison, thus distinguishing between those who were unable to work, and those who were simply seen as idle, a distinction that appears to be accepted in modern politics where policy has once again reverted to the belief system that the unemployed are somehow irresponsible.
Legislation was also introduced to try and discourage the birth of illegitimate children. In the Bastard Child Act of 1732, the law provided that any person charged with being the father of a bastard child should be imprisoned until he gave security to indemnify the parish from expense. It also became the responsibility of the woman to name the father in order to deter both parties.
The indemnities that a father had to provide by law were known as ‘bastardy bonds’ and were registered in parish records. Typically, the father was required to agree to pay the parish a lump sum if he failed to maintain the costs of bringing up a bastard child. The following is an indemnification from parish records in the year of 1747:
“I Abraham Atkinson of Cambridge, Cambridge apothecary am held and firmly bound unto the Churchwardens of the parish of Littlebury in Essex and the Overseers of the Poor of the said parish in the sum of 50 pounds of good and lawful money. If this man and his heirs promise to support the child and all manner of costs, charges and expenses which shall or may in any wise hereafter means of the birth maintenance or bringing up of the said Bastard Child – then his obligation to be void”
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the birth of an illegitimate child was not common. However, as the church lost their moral hold over marital affairs, prenuptial sex became more accepted to the point where approximately half of all conceptions in the 18th century were out of wedlock. Following pregnancy, it is estimated that around one in five actual births were recorded as illegitimate, which suggests that many prenuptial pregnancies were followed by a rather hasty marriage which under church law would legitimise the children – though not for the purposes of inheritance under Common Law.
Review of the Poor Laws
In the 1833 Poor Law Commission Report on Bastardy reported that the Poor Laws encouraged illegitimacy because parish relief was so readily accessible for bastards and their mothers. It was thought that more relief was issued to maintain illegitimate children than to support legitimate children, and costs were rising because mothers were able to avoid responsibility by moving to their home parish. This problem arose as at that time if a child was born legitimately then he would ‘inherit’ the parish of his parents. If he was not legitimate, then a mother could move home to her own parish and leave responsibility of the child to the parish into which he was born. In other words, the child would be considered a ‘no-one’ with no home and the parish into which he was born would have to maintain him. Children and those who were vulnerable were generally cared for in what was known as an ‘alms house’ which still exist today and were similar to sheltered housing though no doubt very bleak.
The recommendations of the Poor Law Commission formed the basis of the Bastardy Clause in the New Poor Law of 1834 which provided that all illegitimate children were to be the sole responsibility of their mothers until they were 16 years old. Shifting blame to the mother appears to be a direct result of the findings of the 1833 Poor Law Report which was led by Nassau Senior, an economist who was against the allowance system.
Instead of relief being readily available, it was recommended that those in need would first have to enter workhouses that were introduced nationally. Through the Act, mothers of bastard children were expected to support themselves and their offspring and would have to enter the workhouse if they were unable to do so which ultimately was proposed in order to reduce the costs of children on the parish. There would no longer be any penal sanctions against either the mother or the father for non-support of their illegitimate children and for the first time, the putative father was absolved of any responsibility for his illegitimate children.
It was hoped that the morality of women would be effected by such draconian laws, but the reality was that it led to many more men avoiding responsibility altogether and placed even greater financial pressure on a mother who already had the burden of an illegitimate child. It is also thought that this Act may have led to the flourish of baby-farming in the Victorian age where discrete adverts were placed in journals or newspapers for ‘care’ of children which amounted to a sort of black-market trade in children.
The injustice caused by the Bastardy Clause, led to the 1844 Poor Law Amendment Act which provided that bastardy proceedings were to be a civil matter between parents. Under this act, a mother could apply under oath for an ‘affiliation order’ which required the putative father to pay a weekly sum to the parish, although she still received maintenance from the church if this was not received. It is thought that this law has probably come to reflect what has always been a de facto division of parental labour: mother as parent with care, and father as financial provider.
This of course, relates mostly to those children who are maintained by unmarried parents, although families who were poor would also receive relief from the parish. Marriage was a clear advantage when it came to finance as a spouse had full property rights and legitimate children and widow could inherit or receive a pension through the rules of legislation, common and ecclesiastical law. Given the importance of marriage, it was therefore crucial that any ceremony or union was seen as valid and legal.
Lawrence Stone “Uncertain Unions”
Marriage, Fertility, and Population Growth in Eighteenth-Century England (Marriage and Society 156-7, 162; E. A. Wrigley)
Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983),
Bastardy and baby-farming in Victorian England, Haller, DL
The Child Support Agency and the Old Poor Law (2006), Nutt, T
Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983)
Elizabeth Boardingham was one of the last women in England to be sentenced to death by burning, but was this really how her life came to an end? Today, we’ll take a look at her life and discover a little more about its end.
Elizabeth, you would imagine, was happily married to her husband, John, with the couple living in the picturesque costal fishing village of Flamborough, Yorkshire. During their marriage the couple had five children, the eldest, Mary, born in 1766, followed by Ann, John, Robert and Thomas, the youngest, who was born early summer 1775.
However, life for Elizabeth was no bed of roses, as her husband sailed rather close to the wind and found himself in court on occasion, reputedly for smuggling, thereby leaving Elizabeth to run the home and care for their children.
Eventually Elizabeth had had enough, and despite having five children, all aged under 10, she took up with a man, some six years her senior, a Thomas Aikney of Thwing, Yorkshire, some 12 miles away from where she lived, according to the newspapers, although his correct surname was Hakeney. Perhaps she was hoping for a better life with him, but the choice she made was to elope with him, leaving her young family and fleeing to Lincolnshire for about three months, but was this in reality everything she had hoped for? Elizabeth reputedly told Thomas that,
if her husband was dead, Tom and her would be married, and no longer live like a whore and rogue as they had done for some time.
According to Thomas’s account of events, he didn’t want to go through with such an horrendous act as killing Elizabeth’s husband, rather, it would be much better if they simply eloped to be free of him, which they did.
This elopement didn’t last long, and Elizabeth returned to John, who it seems welcomed her back into the marital home. Thomas however, remained in her life and Elizabeth could bear life with John no longer, and with those few words from Elizabeth about wishing her husband dead, ringing Thomas’s ears, a plot was hatched.
Eight days after she returned home, on the 14 February 1776, about eleven at night, Elizabeth woke her husband, telling him that there was an intruder. She had already persuaded Thomas to go along with her plan and had left the door unlock to make it easy for him to enter the house unnoticed.
Quickly dressing in his coat and waistcoat, John went downstairs after Elizabeth told him she could a noise at the door. Thomas was waiting for him and stabbed him, firstly in his thigh, then one of the left side, leaving the knife in the wound. Elizabeth headed outside crying ‘murder’ and a neighbour immediately came to her assistance, but of course, it was too late.
Thomas and Elizabeth were captured and charged with the murder of John Boardingham and convicted on the clearest of evidence.
During the trial Elizabeth claimed that she knew nothing of Thomas’s plan to kill her husband. Thomas however, showed remorse for his actions and acknowledged that the sentence was just. Elizabeth it is reported, showed no remorse what so ever, declaring right until the very end that she knew nothing about his intention to kill her husband.
Thomas was ordered to be hanged, and his body was then taken to the surgeon for dissection, Elizabeth was to be ‘burnt with fire till you are dead‘.
The couple were transported from York castle to Tyburn, near the city, Thomas in a cart, Elizabeth drawn on a sledge, where they were executed amidst one of the largest crowds ever seen there.
The press also stated that during their time in York Castle gaol, the couple cohabited and that Elizabeth admitted that she liked Thomas and that she would like to be buried in the same grave as him, that that was never going to happen does not appear to have entered her head.
According to the newspapers, just before the unhappy couple died, they shook hands and saluted each other.
An account of the sentenced passed on the pair was recounted well over a century later, in 1909, which stated that the judge was Sir Henry Goulding, who, when sentencing Elizabeth to death for aiding and abetting in the murder of her husband, observed:
The sentence which the law obliges me to pass upon you is, that you, Elizabeth Boardingham, shall be led from here to the gaol, whence you came, and from thence upon Wednesday next, you shall be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution and there you are to be burnt with fire till you are dead, and your body consumed to ashes.
There is nevertheless such a spirit of lenity in the common law of this country, though this is the sentence you have received, and for my own part, do not believe that sentence could ever be more properly executed, in the strict letter thereof, than upon you, however severe the punishment is, that you would have been found guilty of a crime of the great magnitude, are condemned to undergo the law has allowed some mitigation.
You are first to be strangled at a stake and then burnt with fire. You have reason to admire the excellency of that consideration by which you have been tried and found guilty.
As we can see though, the judge showed leniency, so it appears that Elizabeth was strangled first, then her body then burned, not the other way around, as has been noted in other accounts, thereby making the first sentence of this account not strictly accurate.
John was buried in the graveyard of St Oswald’s church, Flamborough, Yorkshire, but as Elizabeth was burnt there appears to have been nothing to mark her grave.
Derby Mercury 22 March 1776
Leeds Intelligencer, 27 February 1776
Yorkshire Gazette 12 March 1887
Western Daily Press 15 May 1909
Richardson I, Thomas Miles; Off the Coast near Flamborough Head; National Trust, Cragside
I am delighted to welcome, author, Andrew Noone, whose book, ‘Bathsheba Spooner, A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy’ makes for a fascinating read. Bathsheba was was the first woman in American history to be executed following the Declaration of Independence. Today Andrew is going to share with us a little about Bathsheba, followed by some questions and answers.
Bathsheba Spooner was the next-to-last of seven children born to Timothy Ruggles and Bathsheba Bourne Newcomb; Mrs. Ruggles had birthed eight children from her first marriage. Her mother’s roots were firmly planted in one of Cape Cod’s oldest families, her father’s from Roxbury. Timothy was born in 1711, descendant of a family long involved in Massachusetts politics, but none enjoyed the status to which he would rise.
A Brigadier General in the French and Indian War, he had also served as Speaker of the House for two years. His reputation suffered dramatically when, as delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 in New York, he refused to join those protesting the actions of Parliament and King George III. Now firmly placed in the camp of those loyal to the king, he freely accepted the position of mandamus councillor, one of the men who were appointed by the king’s governor to the upper Massachusetts house,
to do the king’s bidding.
Few men were as loathed in Massachusetts in the year 1774. That year, he was banished from his new hometown of Hardwick, a town his ancestors had
founded and he himself nurtured. He remained in British controlled Boston until Evacuation Day, March 17, 1776, when he was removed with most Tories to Staten Island.
In the meantime, daughter Bathsheba had married Joshua Spooner of Boston, a
businessman/land speculator/lumber salesman.
The couple settled in Brookfield, not far from nearby Hardwick; the marriage may have been an arranged one, a marriage which gossipers usually characterized as inharmonious.
Sixteen- year- old militiaman Ezra Ross of Topsfield (a native of Ipswich) left his hospital camp in 1777 in Peekskill, NY to venture home. En route, he was taken in by Bathsheba in Brookfield, and nursed back to health. He returned to Topsfield, then headed west again that fall to join what would become the Battle of Saratoga. The British had hoped to cut New England off from the remaining nine colonies, General Burgoyne’s troops heading south to meet up with General Howe’s troops heading north. It was not to be; Howe instead focused on Philadelphia, leaving
Burgoyne to fend off the increasing masses of American troops north of Albany. His entire army surrendered to American General Gates. Marched to Boston, the British prisoners of war were quartered in Cambridge and Charlestown.
Both Sgt. James Buchanan and Private William Brooks managed to escape (not a difficult task), and likely met each other in Worcester for the first time. Now February 1778, the men were apparently headed to Springfield for work when during a fierce snowstorm, they were called in to the Spooner home.
They remained there for the next few weeks, Bathsheba plotting her husband’s
murder with them. In the meantime, young Ezra Ross, just having attempted to poison Mr. Spooner, left with him to prepare his Princeton property, soon to be handed over to Spooner’s brother.
Ross never made it to Princeton, apparently, borrowing Spooner’s horse to return to Topsfield. All rendezvoused in Brookfield the evening of March 1, 1778; it is unclear if their meeting was coincidental or arranged. Having dined with a friend and his wife, Joshua returned home alone through the snow, and was assaulted at his well, beaten to death, and thrown in while his wife finished eating her dinner.
The clothes he wore and those from his chamber, along with his cash, were distributed among the three men, who fled on horseback and foot.
All were arrested the next day. The trial took place in late April, Abraham Lincoln’s distant cousin as defence attorney, Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration as prosecutor, in a trial organized by Gov. John Hancock. With a trial lasting just over a day plus, all were found guilty.
The date of execution was originally set for early June, but the four received a stay until July 2.
Bathsheba claimed pregnancy; the officials in Boston allowed an exam to be done, proving that she was not with child. She insisted; a second exam, not authorized, instead confirmed her pregnancy, but the Boston authorities would not relent.
Despite an informal third exam proving her right, her execution date was not changed.
On June 10, Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy, with his father in Paris:
… the Modern History of our own times furnishes as black a list of crimes as can be paralleled in ancient time, even if going back to Nero, Caligula, or Cesare Borgia.
All four accomplices were hanged July 2; an autopsy requested by Bathsheba confirmed her pregnancy of five months, with a male child.
Timothy Ruggles eventually found his way to Nova Scotia, where as a loyal servant to the Crown he was granted a multi-hundred acre estate which he fostered as he had his legendary estate in Hardwick; his wife chose to stay behind in Massachusetts with their son. Timothy died in 1795, and was buried near his home in Nova Scotia.
To this day, the burial site in Green Hill Park of Bathsheba and her unborn son has never been located; it remains Worcester County’s favourite mystery.
What inspired you to write this book?
When my family bought our first home across the street from Green Hill Park, a friend came by for dinner a few weeks later. He reminded me of the infamous tale of Bathsheba Spooner. A lifelong devotee of Worcester’s history, especially as a village during the Revolution, I wanted to learn more. This being the late 90’s, besides a mid-19th c. essay and the odd article or two, no full scale study had ever been done. I decided that my first book would tackle the notorious episode. While in the middle of research, and with the book about a third written, Deborah Navas’ book appeared in 1999. Well written and scholarly, I admired her contribution, yet I still
hungered for a less academic approach, one which would comprehensively relate the details of the case; while nonfiction, I wanted to tell the story more like a novel. And I wanted to do more than just relate a true-to-life melodrama. Since the early 19th century, historians, poets and other writers from eastern Massachusetts have been Boston-centric in their retelling of the colony’s role in the Revolution, to the neglect of many other towns. Worcester’s contribution to the conflict and the events leading up to the opening gunshot looms dramatically larger than the mere 1,800 residents of 1778. I chose the tale of Bathsheba and her murderous lovers as the frame upon which to re-construct Worcester’s significant role in the rebellion.
Was Bathsheba insane?
Playing armchair psychologist from nearly two-and-a-half centuries away is tenuous for a professional; for me, impossible. We can only speculate, and the facts might lend themselves to characterizing Ms. Spooner as imbalanced. She had a sharp temper, and was involved sexually with at least two, and more likely five men, none of whom were her husband. She freely welcomed two enemy prisoners of war into her home, and on occasion, a handsome teenager, in her husband’s presence. Her actions were often erratic. She allowed her two-year-old daughter to touch her husband’s corpse. She jeopardized the future lives of her three surviving children. She lied incessantly. Would we be safe in assuming that she at least exhibited signs of a disordered personality? Although her attorney suggested insanity during the trial, it would take many more decades before such a defence would be admissible in a court of law.
Was teenager Ezra Ross truly guilty? And of what?
This is one of the hardest to answer, and the overall situation perhaps the most poignant of the saga. Age wise, the eighteenth-century freely condemned teenagers. But what exactly was his role? It appears that he had no knowledge of the murderous March 1 plot before that date. He had spent many days before at his Topsfield home (had Bathsheba sent him any letters while there? Given the slow pace of mail, it’s unlikely). He turned up in Brookfield only hours before
the murder, which he did discuss with the two British men, and Bathsheba. And keeping in mind that weeks earlier he had tried to poison Spooner, and had planned to try again before leaving for Topsfield, his background certainly did not incline the jury to consider his role more leniently.
To read the whole story Andrew’s book is available via the link at the beginning of the story.
Homestead of General Timothy Ruggles, Hardwick, Massachusetts Worcester Art Museum
So far we have looked at Catherine Despard’s life and the demise of her husband, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, but of course there was a son, John Edward which today’s post will take a brief look at. If you have missed the three articles about Catherine this link here will take you back to the beginning of her story.
But what became their son, John Edward Despard?
If you watched Poldark, you would know that Edward and Catherine had a son, but he didn’t make his appearance into the world until about 1801, whereas in reality he was born in the late 1780’s and joined the army in England. However, there remains a great deal of confusion about his life and his military career.
His grandmother, Sarah confirmed in her will that he was serving as a lieutenant in his Majesty’s East London Regiment, but it’s impossible to make out his middle name. It would make sense for it to have been John, after his famous uncle, General John Despard and his father Edward, but the middle name in his grandmother’s will begins with B, which is of no help at all.
Trying to track down John Edward Despard however, has become somewhat problematic. His grandmother was very specific about his rank and regiment, which I thought would surely simplify things – but no!
In December 1799 a John Edward Despard joined army as an ensign in 62nd Regiment, without purchase, but wasn’t promoted to lieutenant until 1801 i.e., after Sarah’s death. This one listed in the army records, was aged 19 when he joined up, so born c1780.
Having chased this John Edward Despard’s life up hills and down dales, it appears that on 12 May of 1799 he had married a Mary Hilder and was then promoted to lieutenant in 1801. According to his military records, he remained with the same regiment throughout his career, until his death in 1836.
In the letter from Joseph Plymley, mentioned previously, Plymley made specific reference to Edward’s son, who he said, had arrived at Shrewsbury gaol and wishing to see his father. Plymley confirmed the boy had arrived from Ireland upon military duty and was in Shrewsbury to receive volunteers from the Glamorgan Militia, was then heading to South Wales.
Now, we know from John Edward’s military record below, that he sustained an eye injury whilst serving in Ireland. This document of 1828 confirms not only his marriage in 1799, but that they had no children, so I thought I had correct person. His address was given as 50 Britannia Terrace.
He stated that he had never been able to receive any augmentation on his half pay and that the injury he sustained in Ireland was the loss of his left eye. He received no grant or civil employment, so was utterly reliant upon just the half pension.
This John Edward died in 1836, leaving Mary to apply for a widows pension. Again, she confirmed everything exactly as above, about her husband, and here we have his burial, Friday 6 May 1836, Lieutenant John, otherwise John Edward Despard, aged 58 of Britannia Terrace, London. Mary also confirmed that her husband died from dropsy.
I was quite happy, with what I had discovered although unsure about his grandmothers account of his rank and regiment, until I found another John Edward Despard, in the army at the same time.
For this second one we know nothing of his early career i.e., when he joined or at what rank, but we do know that in 1813 this one was serving in the East London Militia and was promoted to Captain following death of a Captain Benwell.
On 11 September 1820, The British Press noted that
Captain John Edward Despard, late of the Royal East Regiment of London Militia, to be quartermaster.
This one had been a lieutenant and served in the East London Militia, so was this someone else with the same name, and was this Catherine and Edwards’ son? If so, who was the other Edward John Despard?
Several newspapers reported on 29 June 1828 that at the Court of King’s Bench amongst others a John Edward Despard was brought up for judgement, having been convicted for the illegal sale of a cadetship, in the East Indian Company’s service. Despard was sent to King’s Bench prison for six weeks. Now, as to which John Edward Despard that account related to, I really don’t have a clue.
On Sunday night last, about 12 o’clock, the London Courier and Evening Gazette, of 29 January 1830, reported that
As Captain J.E Despard, residing at No 50, Britannia Terrace, Hoxton Old-Town, was going from Pittfield Street, towards his residence, he was met by two ruffians …
the story continued, but either the newspaper got his rank wrong or John Edward had been promoted, which seems unlikely.
There were either two John Edward Despard’s about the same age, both in the military, both in London at the same time, but of different ranks or the whole thing has got into quite a tangle.
The final snippet of information about Edwards’ son appears in Mike Jay’s book and which apparently came from Edward’s older brother, General John Despard.
He was leaving a London theatre with another of his brothers when they heard a waiting carriage-driver calling the name ‘Despard’. They made their way towards the carriage, which has been ordered in their name, ‘and there appeared a flashy Creole and a flashy young lady on his arm, they both stepped into it’.
I really don’t know which was John and Catherine’s son, so if anyone can untangle this, I would love to hear from you. Maybe this mystery is one for someone with military knowledge.
All sources not included elsewhere in the articles about Catherine, Edward and their son:
Bannantine, James. Memories of Edward Marcus Despard.
Cloncurry, Valentine, Baron (1773-1853) Personal Recollections of the life and times, with extracts from the correspondence of Valentine, Lord Cloncurry.
Connor, Clifford C. Colonel Despard: the life and death of an English/Irish Jacobin. P137
Gurney, Joseph & Gurney, William. The trial of Edward Marcus Despard for high treason: at the Session House, Newington, Surry, on Monday the seventh of February 1803
Jay, Mike. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard: And the British Revolution that never happened
Linebaugh, Peter. The many-headed hydra: sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic
Trahey, Erin. Free Women and the Making of Colonial Jamaican Economy and Society (1760-1834) (PhD thesis, History Department, University of Cambridge, 2018). Will of Sarah Gordon, 19 May 1799, LOS66, fol 6. Register General, Twickenham Park, Jamaica
Oracle and the Daily Advertiser 22 February 1803
Letter from the Venerable Joseph Plymley, Archdeacon of Shropshire and Visiting Magistrate of Salop County Gaol. 12 June 1800. HO 42/50/81
Letter by Catherine Despard – HO 42/43/127. Folio 291-293.
Letter by Attorney General, Spencer Percival. HO 42/70. Folio 77-80.
Edward Despard’s Petition HO42/70. Folio 81-85
Letter from Lord Mayor to Lord Pelham HO42/70 Folio 181
Letter regarding Catherine HO 42/70. Folio 77-80 and 101-104
Letter regarding Despard’s request for Catherine to visit. HO 42/48. Folio 188-190
Today we are concluding the story of Catherine Despard, but if you missed the previous articles, part one can be found here and part two here.
In February 1799 the Whitehall Evening Post provided a transcript of events in Parliament including a speech by Mr Courtenay M.P, supporter of Edward and Catherine, which was stated to be Colonel Despard’s petition, in which Edward said he was aware of letters being written by Catherine which had been published in the newspaper and that he concurred with the contents of them. Edward stated that he had only been able to see Catherine through an iron grate and that his son, who had travelled a great distance had been denied permission to see him. He also confirmed that the Duke of Portland had refused to see Catherine.
The Courier, 22 August 1799, tell us that Edward was transferred over 100 miles away to Shrewsbury gaol, but there appears little by way of explanation as to why this should have occurred, it simply says:
At five in the morning, a King’s messenger and Bow Street officer took Edward out of the house of correction, Cold Bath Fields where he had been incarcerated for the past 17 months. They set off in a post-chaise for Shrewsbury gaol.
Catherine must have been aware of this where did that leave her, apart from being all alone in London without her beloved husband and fighting for his freedom?
On 2 October 1799, whilst Edward was still in gaol at Shrewsbury, a letter sent on his behalf, by the visiting magistrates, Reverend John Rocke and the Reverend Edmund Dana, asks:
In case Mrs Despard should come to Shrewsbury, in what manner and for what length of time will she be permitted to have access to him?
The original letter in Edward’s hand appears to be quite scribbled with crossing outs throughout it, but clearly, Edward was anxious that Catherine should visit him whilst there.
So, despite a notice in the Star and Evening Advertiser just a month earlier saying that
the orders strictly prohibit any communication either with persons without or prisoners in the gaol
it would appear from the letter that Edward was making representation to have Catherine visit him, so clearly, he wanted to see his wife and it’s probably safe to assume the feeling would have been mutual.
In his recent book, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, Linebaugh states that:
Catherine visited her husband in three prisons that we know of: Cold Bath Fields, the Tower and Horsemonger Lane Gaol. He was incarcerated between 1798 to 1799 in Cold Bath Fields, in the Tower in 1802 and in Horsemonger Lane for his trial and execution in 1803. In these years he was also imprisoned in Shrewsbury, in Tothill Fields, and in Newgate, though we do not have documentary evidence that Catherine visited him in those places.
Despite Lineburgh’s observation and the content of the piece in the Star and Evening Advertiser, saying that he was not to be permitted visitors, we do now have evidence that Catherine visited her husband whilst he was in Shrewsbury.
This comes courtesy of a letter written on 12 June 1800, to the Home Secretary, from Venerable Joseph Plymley, who was the Archdeacon of Shropshire and visiting magistrate of Shropshire County Gaol. He stated that Catherine was Edward’s only visitor at Shrewsbury, apart from the chaplain of the goal and quarterly visits by magistrates.
However, Plymley, also helpfully provided a snippet of information about their son being briefly in Shrewsbury:
Last night Colonel Despard’s son, an officer in His Majesty’s Service, arrived in this town from Ireland, upon military duty, viz to receive volunteers from the Glamorganshire Militia.
Edward’s son was then travelling on to South Wales and wished to see his father whilst he was in town, but the gaoler refused him admission. The gaoler immediately contacted Plymley who, in turn urgently wrote to the Home Secretary to find out if this would be acceptable. Plymley stressed that Edward was a model prisoner and only spent time with Catherine and suggested that any message for Edward from their son, could be conveyed by Catherine and therefore their son was not permitted to visit his father.
Given that we now know that Catherine visited him whilst in Shrewsbury, she must have travelled there by the regular coach service, or mail coach similar to the one below.
The journey from London to Shrewsbury was extremely long and arduous given the condition of the roads at that time. There was usually a ‘stop over’ enroute of a night, so the journey could well have taken at least two, very long days each way. A journey following the same route today, would take about four hours today by car, so we can only begin to imagine how hard this would have been for Catherine.
There was, however, a regular coach which travelled from London to Shrewsbury three times a week, via Henley on Thames, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon and finally arriving in Shrewsbury.
We can only assume that Catherine simply took lodgings and stayed in Shrewsbury for the duration of Edward’s time there, but it does appear from the letter, that she was a regular visitor.
The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 21 February 1801 reported that Edward had been held in gaol on charges of sedition from April 1798 until March 1801, but it doesn’t clarify exactly how much of that time was spent in Shrewsbury.
A report by James Ives, the keeper of the county gaol, Surrey, who wrote to the Northumberland, Durham Cumberland Gazette on 15 February 1803, wished to correct what he deemed misinformation about Edward’s accommodation in goal, he stated that:
Colonel Despard is confined in the attic story, in the same room as before his trial. It is a boarded floor, 80 feet square, with three large windows, framed and glazed, and a large fire constantly kept; his wife attends him daily.
Almost every report about Edward’s ‘domestic’ situation seems to make reference to Catherine being present, obviously they wanted to spend as much time together as possible. One account also mentioned that Edward made a lady, who accompanied Catherine, cut off some of his hair, which she was to distribute to some of his friends as a keepsake. A token which I sure must have been of some small comfort to Catherine too.
Baron Cloncurry noted that he didn’t see Edward between 1797 and spring 1801 and that he passed through London on his travels in 1802 at which time Edward called to see him. There was no mention of Catherine being present at this visit. He described Edward as:
So wan and worn, that he looked like a man risen from the grave. Of the unsound state of his mind, the following anecdote may convey some notion. In talking over the condition of Ireland, he told me that though he had not seen his country for thirty years, he never ceased thinking of it.
This would seem to confirm that since arriving from overseas that by 1802 Catherine must have remained in England and not have visited Edward’s relatives in Ireland as had been suggested elsewhere.
Baron Cloncurry, who was to become a good friend to the couple, described Catherine in about 1800, as:
A Spanish Creole, a remarkably fine woman, much younger than her husband, who then appeared to be about sixty years of age.
Edward was only 52 when he died, so he must have looked much older than his actual age, which provides no clues as to Catherine’s age, she may simply have looked younger than her age.
Edward and his reputed co-conspirators were arrested again on 16 November 1802 at the Oakley Arms public house for their part in Edward’s plot to assassinate King George III and were taken to Newgate prison.
Whilst back in gaol Catherine was still permitted to visit Edward, this may well have come about via the Attorney General, Spencer Percival, who wrote a letter on 15 February 1803, which confirmed that Catherine was being closely watched in case she smuggled papers out of the prison on Edward’s behalf and ultimately decided that whilst she could still visit, she should no longer be permitted to carry any papers for him. We don’t know how complicit Catherine was in doing Edwards’ bidding, so she must have either been very brave or completely unaware how closely she was being watched. Either way she must surely have feared for her own safety or perhaps so devoted that Edward that she wasn’t at all concerned.
Edward and his co-conspirators were tried on Monday 7 February 1803. From his Petition dated 16 February 1803, he stated that from September 1790 to September 1791 he was employed in London at the wish of government ministers, particularly furnishing details which had occupied many months of his helping to plan an attack on the Spanish Main.
For his work Edward was promised upwards of £2,000 and the first vacant consularship on the Barbary Coast, but that neither of these promises were kept. Overall, Edward stated that during his time in King’s Bench his debts amounted to some £3,000. There is no mention of Catherine, so how did she manage for money? It begs the question of who was financially supporting her at this time, friends and/or family? Someone was, for sure, perhaps her son.
On 20 February 1803, we have a letter from Sir Richard Ford, the chief magistrate at Bow Street, who referred to crowds gathering at the prison etc, but then made specific reference to Catherine, describing her as having been:
‘very troublesome, but at last has gone away’.
Catherine was piling on the pressure to have her husband released, she was utterly convinced of his innocence and willing to do as much as she could to persuade those in authority of her views, but to no avail. As her hopes of mercy vanished, Catherine, it is said, became almost delirious, her emotions, when the order for his execution arrived can hardly be imagined.
Morning Post 21 February 1803
Colonel Despard was strictly searched to discover whether he had any knife or meals of self-destruction concealed about him, and everything that it was though might enable him to put an end to his existence was conveyed out of his reach. There was no reason to suppose he had the slightest decision of committing suicide, but it was standard procedure.
Mrs Despard was greatly affected when he first heard that his fate was sealed, but yesterday, she recovered her fortitude. Accompanied by another lady, she had her last meeting with him on 20 February 1803. It is said that the other, unnamed woman wept bitterly. But first Mrs Despard, and then the colonel, reproached her with her weakness. Mr and Mrs Despard bore up with great firmness, even in parting. When Catherine got into the coach, as it drove off, she waved her handkerchief out of the window.
In the vivid newspaper accounts of the hangings that took place on 21 February 1803, there appears no mention of Catherine being present, although given her commitment to him during his life and her courage, it appears likely that she would have been there.
On a slight lighter but macabre note, the Gloucester Journal, (amongst others) of 28 February 1803 reported this reputed conversation (how very British, a conversation about the weather):
The following anecdote respecting Col. Despard immediately previous to the instant of his execution, is not generally known. When Macnamara was brought out, he said, upon seeing Despard, “I am afraid, Colonel, we have go into a bad situation”. The answer was very characteristic of the man, ‘There are many better, and some worse”. He was extremely anxious to assist the executioner in adjusting the rope about his neck and placed himself the noose under his left ear. When he was on the point of being launched into eternity he said to Francis, who stood next to him – “What an amazing crowd” and looking up, he observed, with the greatest indifference ‘Tis very cold, I think we shall have some rain”.
The sentence included disembowelment, but with the assistance of Lord Nelson, Catherine was able to have this part of the torture removed, instead he was hanged, and his head severed. An horrific sight whichever it was carried out, for Catherine to witness.
The day arrived for Catherine to say her final farewell to Edward and for his remains to be buried. About ten o’clock in on the morning of Tuesday 1 March 1803, just over a week after Edward’s death, several hundred people congregated near Lambeth asylum, at the property Catherine and Edward had lived in, but not where Catherine was living by that time of the funeral.
After fifteen minutes a hackney coach arrived, Catherine was inconsolable and almost fainted when the coach arrived and had to be supported by two female friends; sadly, no names were given for the female friends.
The Ipswich Journal, 5 March 1803, tells us that
An artist, it is said, took a cast of Mr Despard’s face, a few minutes before the lid of the coffin was screwed down.
This artist was Madame Tussaud.
Edward’s remains were taken away through the streets of London to be buried. Twelve of his friends arrived about eleven, with four gentlemen in each of the mourning coaches. Newspapers confirm that there were no women mourners. This was quite normal at that time for women not to attend funerals. Graveyards were not really places deemed safe or suitable for women.
It was reported that the procession initially headed for St Pancras for Edward’s final resting place, but this was a ruse, instead he was taken from where his body had been kept, near Lambeth, across the river, to St Faith’s Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Lord Mayor of London immediately wrote to Lord Pelham, in a polite, but clearly furious tone, asking why Edward’s place of burial had been changed and wanting to know why no-one had bothered to tell him! This change of burial appears to have been instigated by Catherine who felt that it was Edward’s hereditary right to be buried there.
Shortly after Edward’s death, the Morning Post stated:
It has been reported that Mrs Despard, since the execution of her husband, has been taken under the protection of Lady Nelson. We have authority to state that the circumstances is holly untrue, and we much fear that the rumour has been propagated by the enemies of the virtuous an amiable Viscountess.
However, the Dairies of James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury confirm that it was not Lady Nelson, rather Nelson’s lover, Lady Hamilton who visited Catherine, so it was she who took Catherine under her wing.
Monday Feb 21 – Lady Hamilton, whom Lady Malmesbury met in the evening of this day at Lady Abercorn’s, after singing etc said she had gone to see poor Mrs Despard in the morning – she did not know her, but she went to comfort her, and that she found her much better since the body had been brought back to her. This is the consequence of Lord Nelson having spoken to his character.
The Morning Post 21 February 1803 provided confirmation that a musical event was held at Marchioness of Abercorn’s that day, so that would tally with Harris’s diary entry.
Following the execution of Edward, Catherine was left virtually destitute and possibly heading for the workhouse, were it not for a pension being agreed for Catherine by Sir Francis Burdett and the kindness of 2nd Baron, Valentine Cloncurry, who offered her a safe haven at his estate in Dublin, Ireland, his father having died in 1799.
A year after this conversation, this poor madman made mad by official persecution, was executed for a plot to take the Tower. I was afterwards able to afford his wife an asylum from destitution. She lived in my family at Lyons for some years.
Lord Cloncurry doesn’t provide any clues as to how long ‘some years’ was, but we know that at some stage she returned to London, where she died. Catherine’s fight was over, and she died in 1815 in the Somerstown district.
She was buried at St Pancras parish chapel, Camden on 9 September 1815. Her address is almost impossible to read, but it looks like Elmore Street, so if anyone is able to decipher it, please do let me know.
Many newspapers nationally, noted Catherine’s death, all carrying the same few, simple words:
As to who notified the press we will never know, but someone certainly did, perhaps it was her son, I’d like to think so.
There remain a myriad of questions about Catherine’s life, but just maybe this has filled in a few of the gaps … for now. You can find out more about her mysterious son by following this link.
As there is so much to tell in this story, during the next articles I will be taking a look at the life of Catherine Despard and that of her son, so do keep an eye out for the following parts.
Firstly though, I would like to give a massive ‘Thank you’ to the kindness and generosity of Mike Jay, author of The Unfortunate Colonel Despard, who kindly shared with me Sarah Gordon’s will, which helped to open some doors. To Mish Holman, who, despite being busy with her own research, found time to check out some documents at the National Archives for me and to Professor Gretchen Gerzina for telling me to ‘go for it’ when I initially thought everything known about Catherine had already been written.
For fans of the programme, Poldark, you may well have seen the episode about Edward (Ned) Marcus Despard and his wife, Catherine and her valiant, but unsuccessful, attempt to save her husband’s life.
Whilst Poldark is fiction, the lives of Edward (Ned) and Catherine were real. The programme, as you might expect, used quite a bit of creative licence in the telling of their story, especially as neither character appeared in the books by Winston Graham.
Much has been written about the life and more dramatically, the death of Edward, who, for those who don’t know, was found guilty of high treason and met his end courtesy of the hangman’s noose, closely followed by the removal of his head, which was placed on a spike as a warning to others.
Edward allegedly plotted along with his co-conspirators, to kill George III whilst on his way to Parliament on 23 November 1802, then to seize the Tower, and the Bank of England. Whether he was guilty or not is another story, as he refused to admit to anything, perhaps to avoid implicating his co-accused. I’ll leave you to read more about the trial for yourselves, as the focus in tis post is really upon his wife, Catherine.
Fewer than a handful of writers have attempted to record in any detail Catherine’s life, and so, always being one for a challenge, it was suggested that I try to see if I could piece together a little more about the life of the woman who stood beside Edward every step of the way, until he mounted those final steps on 21 February 1803.
Not only did Catherine seem to be a dutiful and loving wife, but she also acted as a courier and campaigner, visiting her husband, writing letters on his behalf and fighting as hard as she could to gain his freedom.
Who was Mrs Catherine Despard?
Accounts vary but, she is often described ‘a former black slave‘, from somewhere in the Caribbean, but we do know a little more about her than just those few words.
Catherine’s early life
To begin with though, we don’t know exactly when, or for sure where Catherine was born, but it now seems fairly safe to assume she was born around 1760, give or take a few years, in Jamaica.
Having trawled through the baptism parish registers for Jamaica, there are a few possible matches for Catherine, as below, from the parish register of St Catherine’s Jamaica, but there is nothing conclusive. This entry provides no parents being named but describes her ‘a mulatto child’ meaning one white parent, one black which could possibly be hers.
It is now known that Catherine’s mother was Sarah Gordon of St Andrew’s, Jamaica, who was buried on 25 July 1799 at Long Mountain, St Andrews, as can be seen here.
The parish register of St Andrew’s clearly states any person of colour or black and as you can see the entry directly above Sarah Gordon’s, states that Martha was ‘a free black woman’, the next but one entries after Sarah’s name, tells us of two women who were buried as ‘a woman of colour’ and yet there is nothing against Sarah’s name, which is unusual in light of the other burials recorded at St Andrews, but this could simply have been an omission. The burial entry also tells us she was not buried in the church graveyard, but at Long Mountain.
Sarah left a will, of which I was extremely kindly sent a copy, by Mike Jay (see bibliography at end of the whole article). The handwriting not the easiest to decipher and is quite faint, but it does tell us that Sarah was a ‘free black woman’.
I have read that Catherine’s father was a church minister, but I haven’t as yet been able to confirm the source. Mike Jay also said that ‘There was a claim in the London pamphlets of 1802 that her father was a Jamaican preacher and her mother a Spanish creole’ but he had no luck confirming this either.
When writing her will, Sarah was ‘sickly state of health, but sound of mind.’ She was a land owner of the parish of St Andrews, and sadly no mention of a husband, it simply describes her as being a relic i.e., widow.
Although very difficult to read, the will tells us that at some stage in the past Sarah had borrowed money from a friend or possibly a relative, Hannah Williams, a ‘free sambo woman’. Sarah part purchased three pieces of land in Kingston, half of the money for the three plots was funded by her, the remainder of the money borrowed from Hannah, which Sarah wished to be paid to Hannah upon her death. She also names Hannah’s two children, Eleanor and Benjamin Pierce, who, in the event of Hannah’s death, would take over ownership of the land, assuming they were aged 21 or over.
Both children named in the will were born in St Andrews, Jamaica, Eleanor in 1783 followed by Benjamin, 1791, but what is confusing is that both children shared the same father, a Benjamin Pierce, but the mother of Eleanor was named as Johanna Williams, whilst Benjamin’s mother was a Hannah Pierce. It’s interesting to note in the parish register, just below Sarah’s burial was that of a Joanna Williams, was this Eleanor’s mother? once again, we may never know.
The children were baptised on the same day in January 1799, a fact that Sarah would, in all likelihood have been aware of. Whilst that is a slight aside, Sarah also names her sister, Catherine Pierce (surname illegible), so quite who her middle name, Pierce was in honour of, I don’t know, but what does seems highly probable is that Sarah named her daughter, Catherine, in honour of her sister.
Sarah also left a legacy for her daughter, Catherine:
to my dear daughter, Catherine Gordon Despard, now in London … four negroes, who had been in my possession, a negro man named Jack and a negro woman, named Maria and a little boy, her child, named December and a negro woman, named Louisa.
It has not been possible to find out anything more about the enslaved people or what became of them, unless Catherine bought them over to England, which seems rather unlikely. Sarah also described Catherine as
my beloved daughter and best of friends, Catherine Gordon Despard of the city of London‘
It would seem clear from Sarah’s will, that Catherine was very much loved, but perhaps more importantly that her mother knew about her husband, Edward, where they were living and also that Catherine and Edward had a son, Sarah’s grandson, John (illegible) Despard.
Sarah knew that her grandson was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s East London Regiment, so despite Catherine having left Jamaica almost 10 years previously she was aware of her grandson’s military rank prior to her death, which must mean that they retained communications after Catherine left the island, so presumably Catherine wrote to her mother with news from England.
This link will take you to Part 2 and Catherine’s arrival in England and this one to part 3.
I am delighted to welcome back, ‘legal eagle’ Melanie Barnes, who, with today being Valentine’s Day, is taking a look at brides and bigamy.
When the government introduced Lord Hardwicke’s Bill for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage in 1753, the whole country literally was livid. Modern commentators have now acknowledged that in reality the Acts made little difference, but at the time the mere idea of marriages only in public led to widespread protests, a gazillion angry pamphlets and much debate.
Essentially, the Marriage Act introduced the structure for a valid marriage as we know it today with public banns and licence, but previously it was also possible to have a ‘clandestine marriage’ in secret. You’ve probably already imagined a dashing young Master sneaking into the stables with a pretty young maid, and you’d be right, as the Bill was partly designed to prevent rich heirs from being seduced into clandestine marriages with their social and economic inferiors.
One of the problems is that a valid marriage attracted all sorts of financial goodies such as rights to maintenance, inheritance or property. For example, a spouse could sue for ‘reinstatement of conjugal rights’ or bring a claim of ‘failure to maintain’ in order to receive regular support. Or, a husband could sue for damages if the promised ‘portion’ or dowry was not paid. Any valid marriage, for example, one that might quickly follow the tête-à-tête between the young heir and his maid, could also annul any future union which automatically made the children of the second marriage illegitimate. Oh the shame!
In terms of punishment, the Act provided that any clergymen who performed clandestine marriages were to be transported to America for 14 years. I like to think that this explains why there are so many Chapels of Love in Las Vegas.
It was also hoped that the Bill would prevent the problem of bigamy as marriage was a well-known remedy for women against debt. Essentially, upon marriage in the 18th century, a man and woman became one legal entity under the doctrine of coverture and the husband would subsume his wife’s rights and obligations. This prevented, for example, women from owning property in her own name without permission from her husband (though she could protect her money through a trust), but also made him solely responsible for their joint actions in crime, for example if they both committed murder. Coverture is one of the reasons that gave men the right to physically chastise his wife – if there was a risk that the wife could break the law then she needs to be controlled! It’s very hard for us now to get our heads around this doctrine, but at the time it was simply accepted.
In terms of liabilities, any debt accrued by a woman was the responsibility of her husband so, yep, you guessed it; all she needed to do in order to avoid liability was to marry. This also wasn’t a problem for the new husband (who might have been paid for his services), as law suits were crazy-expensive and took years in court. I am aware of one woman who went on to marry five times without a single divorce and in her memoir describes how she arranged the first simply to avoid prison. In fact, her first husband was already married so when her second husband tried to argue that their marriage was void, the woman argued that this was impossible as her first union was already void so their marriage was valid and … yeah, it’s complicated.
Lord Hardwicke was aware of this particular case and referred to it in parliamentary debates. Of course, he couldn’t say that the real reason the Act was needed was to stop rich people from marrying the poor, so much was made about bigamy, when in reality, fake marriages were probably not that widespread a problem, although they did happen.
But, it wasn’t all bad for those who opposed the Act as they had the final glorious protest. On the day before the Marriage Act was introduced in 1754, in defiance of the new rules, hundreds of couples entered into a clandestine marriage. I like to think that all of them ended up drinking and dancing in Covent Garden. Thousands of people all coming together in a democratic demonstration of nuptial love and freedom. I wonder how many of us were born of those unions. It’s a lovely thought.
I am thrilled to welcome to All Things Georgian a new guest, Melanie Barnes. Mel is is a lawyer and recent NFTS Screenwriting MA graduate, who has more than a passing interest in 18th century marriage law, military history and like myself, she loves all things Georgian.
Mel’s post today takes a look at punishment and so I should warn you that it includes images of violence, which many people may find upsetting.
The British Army, an elite unit of around 1000 “gentlemen volunteers” from Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh regiments, came into being with the restoration of Charles II. According to those in power, by 1689 the army had expanded to a force of 74,000 unruly and untrained “common men” who we now know probably weren’t volunteers at all. Perhaps suspecting that catchy ballads, inspirational drumming and the promise of non-existent bounty was unlikely to sustain the new recruits for long, in the same year Parliament introduced the Mutiny Act and made desertion punishable by death.
Discipline and obedience is the foundation of an army. Otherwise, the theory goes, your large majority of murderous soldiers, all traumatised by war, will not easily be managed by the minority of posh blokes with authority. Prior to 1689, regulations were in place to discourage insubordination and mutiny but during peace-time could only be dealt with under civil law. The Mutiny Act introduced a much clearer distinction between military and civilian law, although there were occasions when civilians travelling with the army were also sentenced under Martial Law.
Death was the most extreme penalty of all, with beheading apparently reserved only for the most aristocratic. This is surprising, as I’d always assumed that those who made it onto ThePeerage.com would prefer to be poisoned by sumptuous grapes or drowned in a pond of lilacs and flowers. For those of us who only make it onto Facebook.com, I’m afraid punishment of death was the less honourable death by shooting or rope.
For anyone who has watched Handmaidens, you will already have a good idea of 18th century military punishments, and only have to reimagine most of the scenes with men wearing red coats instead of capes – the ceremony is very similar. Troops would surround the prisoner in a semi-circle who would then be tied to a stake and blindfolded. After (hopefully) being told by the Chaplain that that all would be forgiven and they were definitely going to heaven, the execution party would fire, followed by a reserve party if the target was missed. In one case, a soldier was shot simply for grumbling about having to go on sentry duty – I wouldn’t have lasted long!
Very occasionally, punishment would be by fire. The records show that on one occasion in Flanders, during the Nine Years War, a French spy was apprehended after throwing a fire bomb into a wagon of explosives. In retaliation, he was burned slowly on a stake; a hideous and painful death.
The most terrifying punishment builds on the Roman punishment of decimation; death of a minority by chance. This was usually ordered when a large group were considered culpable but it wasn’t feasible for them all to be killed. For example, permission was sought in 1668 for several soldiers to “throw dice for their lives”, with the lowest score resulting in death. There were several other instances of dice being used for this purpose.
In another case recorded at a Court Martial in Flanders in 1694, several men were caught deserting their post and one was ordered to be executed. The remaining six had to draw lots, with two being executed, a scenario recorded several other times in the records. In our day and age when an abusive tweet or harsh word is considered a crime, it is difficult to imagine the horror and dread experienced by the men who were killed for deserting out of fear, and later, bad luck.
A hangover from medieval torture was the punishment of disablement or mutilation. The strappado is a form of torture in which the prisoner’s hands are tied behind their back and they are hoisted to the ceiling on a rope. In medieval times, they would then be dropped, bottom-first, onto a large spike. OUCH! In the army, the lucky devils were simply dropped to the ground, in a way that usually guaranteed a serious disability.
But it wasn’t just men who received corporal punishments. Whipping was a common chastisement and records reveal that civilian women also received this treatment. The amount of strokes, or stripes, depended on the crime, but often was based on the biblical “40 stripes save 1”, in other words, 39 strokes. There were, however, instances where the sentence was for much more. One story relates to a woman who was found guilty for inciting to mutiny. Her sentence was that she should be gagged and receive 50 lashes on her bare back, 10 at 5 different spots, and then to be sent away from the garrison on the first available ship. This wasn’t seen as enough, and she was also sentenced to being whipped all the way from the prison to the dock. In Ireland, another woman was sentenced to death for inciting troops to desert their post, something I would be likely to do at the first sight of blood!
Most of us have heard the saying “running the gauntlet” but I never knew the ruthlessness of its origin. The word Gatloup was used by the Roman Army, and is said to have derived from a Germanic word meaning “lane” and “run”. Essentially, as seen in the picture, the regiment would line up and form a lane of men, all of whom would hold a cudgel or other weapon. The prisoner would then have to run past them all, perhaps even a number of times, and be struck by each and every soldier. It was an officer’s duty to make sure all of the soldiers adequately attacked the prisoner, so by the end the poor man would be very badly beaten. By the Victorian times, the saying was already being used as a joke, perhaps signifying the lack of continued use as a punishment in the army.
Lesser sentences were also given for lesser crimes, for example, mutilation by branding, cutting off the ears or nose, or even temporary starvation. Another sentence was time spent on the “wooden horse”, a punishment designed to humiliate the offender, usually with physical pain by tying guns or weights to his or her legs, or making them face the backside which might have been used for an officer. All of these punishments were designed to deter others in a way that is less apparent in our sentencing system of “just deserts”, Under this philosophy, the sentence should be commensurate with the offence, and cannot be ordered as a deterrent to the wider community.
The life of an 18th century soldier was harsh and unrelentingly brutal. The wars of the Georgian period were less about freedom and more about power and wealth, so the hardships endured and the lives lost are difficult to justify.
When you next commemorate those who have fallen, take a moment to also remember the god-forsaken lives of the red-coated soldier in his thread-bare shirt:
Went to a tavern and I got drunk
That is where they found me
Back to barracks in chains I was sent
And there they did impound me.
Fifty (lashes) I got for selling me coat
Fifty I got for me blankets
If ever I ‘list for a soldier again
The devil will be my sergeant
The Oxford history of the British army (1996)
History of the British Standing Army (1894), Harrison & Sons, Walton, Clifford
Tried and Valiant (1972, Leo Cooper, Sutherland, Douglas
It’s always a pleasure to welcome new guest authors to All Things Georgian and today I’d like to welcome Robert N. Smith who tells us more about the day to day life in the north of England during the Georgian era and his analysis of the truly shocking murder of an elderly man in his home, in his latest, absolutely fascinating book, ‘A Horrid Deed‘.
Robert earned his PhD in History from the University of Georgia and also holds a master’s degree in History and his undergraduate degree was in Classics and Mediaeval History from the University of Edinburgh.
Robert’s interest in crime developed through his research into the death penalty in the United States of America, which led to his book ‘An Evil Day in Georgia‘ that was nominated for several awards.
A Horrid Deed is Robert’s fourth book and one that takes him back to a few miles from where he was born in Hexham, Northumberland. He now lives with his wife and two chinchillas in the west of Scotland.
“On the morning of 7 January 1826, a small gathering of people stood outside the cottage where Joseph Hedley, ‘Joe the Quilter’, had lived since the time of the American Rebellion. Concern etched their faces as they chatted and glanced around at their dreary surroundings. The recent snow had drained the landscape of its colour, leaving a few patches of green along the hedges and brown ruts in the lane where wagons had passed by. Along with the usual small-talk of country neighbours who had not seen each other in a while, they discussed how the reclusive man who lived in the cottage often left home for days at a time, so they probably had little need to worry about this latest absence. But this time felt different, and they sensed something was amiss; no one had seen or heard from Hedley for five days, not the local farmer’s wife who gave him food and milk when he called round, or his labourer friend who raised the alarm about the missing man. A pair of well-worn clogs discarded in a drift of snow on the other side of the lane opposite the cottage door heightened their sense of unease.”
Four days before the strange gathering, Joseph Hedley had answered a knock on the door of his isolated little cottage along a country lane near Hexham, Northumberland. He was never seen alive again.
The group that assembled the following Saturday broke in and found his mangled body discarded in a dark corner. An inquest was held, a policeman arrived from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to conduct an investigation, a reward of 100 guineas was offered for information leading to the capture of Hedley’s murderer, and the newspapers ran with the story for weeks. But despite rumours and conjecture, no one was ever convicted of the crime. Joe the Quilter’s murder remains officially unsolved.
But who was Joseph Hedley, how did he live, and why was he killed? In A Horrid Deed, I have tried to answer those questions while providing a flavour of what that world was like in the places we rarely see in history books.
Part I surveys the life of Joseph Hedley. Known as Joe the Quilter for his craftsmanship, Hedley lived in relative anonymity in the backwaters of Northumberland during a momentous period in history. Born in the wake of the Jacobite Rebellions, Hedley’s life followed the rhythms of childhood, apprenticeship, marriage, work, then inevitable decline. As he worked away on his quilts, the world underwent momentous changes, much of it with Britain at its centre. Indeed, this was the period of Britain’s true emergence onto the world stage as its empire stretched across the horizons in all directions. Yet even someone as isolated could feel the impact of that empire, from his cup of tea in the morning to the cotton he used on his quilts.
Quieter upheavals occurred closer to home in rural economics, industrial and urban development, and social change. This was the era of the Bloody Code, widespread Enclosures of farmland, Parish relief and Poor Houses, poachers and smugglers, industrial unrest, and the paranoia over fears of a French invasion.
Even the environment emphasized the vulnerability of the poor and unprotected as winter storms created havoc down the Tyne Valley where Hedley and his aging wife cowered in their cottage. Despite his skills as a quiltmaker, Hedley found himself at the wrong end of the emerging class system, dying in abject poverty, though his killer perhaps suspected otherwise.
Part II examines the crime. Hedley’s murder stood out for its brutality in brutal era. This assault on a frail, old man shocked England and still resonates. Authorities suspected a botched robbery committed by two assailants who believed Hedley was a wealthy man, but the investigators had very little tools at hand to track down the killers. Through a careful reconstruction of the crime (aided by the recreation of Hedley’s cottage at Beamish Museum), and deploying methods unavailable at the time, I argue that the answer lay under investigator’s noses all along and identify a suspect who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit this “horrid deed”.
You can find out more about Joe the Quilter in Robert’s book, which is available from Guardbridge Books and other book retailer.
On April 18, 1797, George Morrey, from the village of Hankelow, near Nantwich, Cheshire married Edith Coomer, from the neighbouring village of Wybunbury. The couple went on to have six known children, the first, Elizabeth, born in 1798, followed by William, James, Mary (who only lived for a year), Edith and finally, George in 1810.
Clearly, despite George being a successful farmer, their marriage was not as happy as it ought to have been and as the saying goes ‘while the cat’s away …’ it was whilst George was away selling his wares, that Edith began an affair with a younger man, their former farmhand, John Lomas late 1811. It was in the Spring of 1812 that things came to a head when Edith found herself pregnant with John’s child. Things had to change and with that, John and Edith hatched a plan to murder Edith’s husband, George.
Between two and three o’clock in the morning of Sunday 12 April, the family servant, Hannah Evans, who slept with the children in the room adjoining the parlour heard a noise which sounded like several blows being delivered in her master’s room.
She quickly got up and could hear groans coming from the bedroom. She opened her chamber window to get through it, and, as she was putting her head out of the window she heard the door open, and turning her head saw her mistress come in with a lit candle, and caught hold of her, saying, she must not go out, as there was a murder in the house, and if she went through the window she was likely to be killed. After a few minutes, all went quiet, Edith sent Hannah to fetch John Lomas, their servant. Hannah then told him to wake the neighbours which, after some persuading, he agree to do.
Having gathered some neighbours and George’s brother they went upstairs to George’s bedroom, where they found him lying in dead on the floor, his throat having been cut through the windpipe, a left temple bone fractured. A large, blood-stained axe, covered in blood was found underneath his body. Claims of a break-in were made, but on checking there were no signs of any sort of break-in.
When daylight appeared, one of the neighbours noticed that Lomas had blood on his nose and on one of his wrists, creating suspicion of guilt. The room in which he slept was also found to have traces of blood on the floor and the stairs leading up to his bed. Also, his bed showed traces of blood and he was wearing a clean shirt. On finding the one he had worn the previous day, needless to say, other items of clothing were found with had blood on them too. This was hardly a well-thought-out crime as he had left evidence of his crime, everywhere.
Once the search was complete Lomas was taken away by the constables to await his fate. Whilst on the journey not only did Lomas confess to the crime but also implicated his mistress, Edith as his co-conspirator, saying that it was she who had administered alcohol to her husband to get him drunk and that she had urged Lomas to kill her husband so that once he was out of the way she would inherit the farm and the money they had and she would be free to be with Lomas.
When Edith was questioned the constable went to arrest her when she produced a razor and attempted to cut her own throat, but as a doctor was already present in the house examining George’s body, he was summoned and quickly sewed up the wound.
After the trial at which both pleaded not guilty, after just a few hours deliberation and, with a packed courtroom, the like of which had never been seen before, the death sentence was passed for the pair. Lomas immediately said ‘I, John Lomas, deserve my fate’. He was taken from the County to the city goal in Chester, and at midday ascended the drop and met his maker.
According to the Criminal Registers, John Lomas was executed on 31st August 1812 and that prior to his execution, it was agreed that both he and Edith should receive the sacrament together at which time the pair made a full confession of their guilt.
But what about his accomplice, Edith. She pleaded ‘the belly‘ i.e. that she was pregnant, a fact that was substantiated by a jury of matrons who confirmed that she was between four and five months pregnant and therefore permitted to live until the birth of her child, once born she would then suffer the same fate as Lomas.
On 23 April 1813 Edith was taken to the scaffold. She walked from the Castle to Glover’s Stone, having hold of Mr Hudson’s arm, with the utmost firmness, amidst an unusual pressure from the immense crowd assembled. She then got into the cart, and immediately laid herself down on one side, concealing her face with her handkerchief, which she has invariably done when in public, from her first appearance before the judges to her final dissolution, and we venture to affirm that no person obtained a view of her face out of the Castle since her commitment. She remained in prayer with the Rev. W Fish till one o’clock when she ascended the scaffold with a firm and undaunted step, with her face covered with a handkerchief and she immediately turned her back to the populace. When ready Edith dropped the handkerchief as a sign that she was ready to die.
By the time Edith died, her son Thomas was now aged four months, having been born on 21 December 1812.
But what became of this ‘love child’? He was raised by Edith’s brother, Thomas Coomer, but this child had his own story to tell. He was baptised in 1814, his baptism showing clearly that his parents were dead.
Life was not to be plain-sailing for this young man, who frequently found himself in trouble for thieving and according to the Chester Chronicle, 12 April 1833, yet again young Thomas found himself in trouble with the law –
A Jail Bird
At the present session, a youth named Thomas Morrey, only 20 years of age, appeared before the court for the third time, charged on this occasion, with stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, and some fowls, from his uncle, Thomas Coomes, of Basford, who had humanely taking him into his house, in the hope of snatching him from a career of crime which must end in bringing him to the gallows. This ill-starred boy is the son of Edith Morrey, who was convicted at the August assizes of 1812, of the murder of her husband and whose execution took place in April 1813, was stayed on account of her pregnancy until after the birth of this boy.
The court despaired of ever being able to reform young Thomas, so opted for having him transported to Tasmania, for a period of 7 years.
Following his sentence, he was removed to the prison hulk, Cumberland, moored at Chatham, Kent, where he remained until being transported the following year on board The Moffatt. On arrival in Tasmania, he was appointed to ‘public works’ and received a ticket of freedom in 1846.
As to what became of him after that is lost to history, so far, perhaps someone out there knows!
Leicester Journal 24 April 1812
Chester Courant 27 April 1813
Lancaster Gazette 20 April 1833
Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 1
England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892. Class: HO 27; Piece: 31; Page: 72
The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 82, Part 1; Volume 111
The full story of this family’s life has been told in a book, ‘Rope Dance’ by Maureen Nields.
Stanfield, Clarkson Frederick; Prison Hulks and Other Shipping; University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
Today I thought I’d take brief look back at what was making the news in December in 1819, so here we go.
Very much as it is today, advertising for Christmas was in full swing, with retailers mainly recommending books as gifts, but if you wanted to buy someone a gift with real possibilities then you could do as one gentleman did for his daughter at Blackheath, London when he presented her with a Lottery Share from Piddings of No.1 Cornhill. She won a quarter share of twenty thousand guineas. What a lovely Christmas gift that must have been.
Of course they too had their Boxing Day sales as we discover at Mr A. Shears, Bedford House, 11 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden
Bombazines in all colours cheaper and better than ever. Rich figures and plain poplins at little more than half price. Beautiful velvets 9 shillings and 6 pence per yard. Fine merino and ladies’ clothes warranted never to wear rough.
As it is today, it was also Pantomime Season for those Georgians too, ‘Oh no it isn’t, Oh yes, it is’!
Yes, those Georgians loved the pantomime and of course if you were in London you had several choices as to which to. All went well at the Adelphi, according to The Globe, December 28th, 1819 and Drury Lane theatre hosted the premiere of a brand new pantomime – Jack and The Beanstalk:
The entertainment at this small but attractive theatre brought a very numerous audience last night. The pit, at an early hour, was crowed to excess and the boxes, before the rising of the curtain, exhibited the same appearance. The entertainments commenced with the principal dancers with much elegance and effect. A pantomime called The Fairy of the North Star, or Harlequin at Labrador, was produced for the first time this season. Though it has no incidents particularly new or striking, it is not however, without merit, and did not fail in affording pleasure and amusement to the Christmas visitors.
The new pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk; or Harlequin and the Ogre was first performed at Drury Lane theatre on the same day. Jack, performed by Miss Povey, who sang, is in poverty, and the little money which he had gained by a sale, is, by the Genie of the Harp, turned into beans, which the mother indignantly throws away. A fine ‘scarlet runner’ soon sprouts forth and threatens to wind round the moon. Jack ascends and reaches the fierce Ogres’ Castle.
The various hair-breadth escapes in endeavouring to rescue the damsel, Junetta found there, is the ground work of the subsequent changes and Harlequinading. Their approach was most acceptable, as the early scenes were heavy, there being too much narrative and too little action.
In Royal News
The Prince of Wales accompanied by Sir B Bloomfield visited the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in Marlborough Row on Christmas Eve of 1819. The Bells of the parish church immediately rung a merry peal on the occasion.
His Royal Highness had the happiness to find the Duchess of Gloucester (who has been indisposed for a few day), much recovered. On Christmas Day, at noon, divine service was performed in the presence of the Regent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the royal suite, by the Rev. J.R Carr. The Regent and the Duchess received the sacrament. The royal dinner party was small and select. At nine o’clock a few of the nobility joined the assemblage, and a charming selection of music was performed for the entertainment of the guests. The workmen an artists of the Pavilion, anxious to get everything ready for the reception of his Royal Highness, had assembled on Christmas Day, but a mandate from the Regent quickly occasioned their dismissal, his Royal Highness positively ordering that the day should be observed as one of rest and sacred devotion.
The Irish Free School
An appeal to the public was made a few days ago by Mr Finnegan, the Master of The Irish Free School, in George Street. St Giles on behalf of 240 of the destitute children of his fellow natives. On Christmas Day we visited these schools and were highly gratified at seeing the greater part of those suffering innocents (boys and girls) provided with new clothing, which we understand has been procured for them through the liberal aid of a generous public. At two o’clock all the children sat down to a plentiful dinner of plum pudding, beef and potatoes, at the expense of a gentleman, a long benefactor to the institution. Our pleasure, we confess was greatly increased at seeing ladies of the highest respectability become servants of these poor children.
On Saturday, as usual on Christmas Day, the Lord Mayor ordered the prisoners in Newgate to receive each one pound of beef, a pint of porter and a two-penny loaf of bread, in addition to the increased allowance of bread, meat and coals, given by the City of London.
And finally …
Christmas Food Fight
On Christmas morning a ludicrous event occurred in Union Street, Holborn. As two women, residing in George Alley were carrying dishes to the oven to be baked, they ran into two drunken labourers. The dishes which contained in one, a piece of beef and the other a loin of mutton, each with a batter pudding, both were thrown out of their hands. Here the fun began. The women, on finding their Christmas dinner was spoiled were so enraged that they grabbed the two men by their hair and beat them around their heads with the beef and mutton until they were covered with grease, milk and flour much to the amusement of the large crowd which had now gathered.
Eventually after some intervention peace was restored, and the two women left the scene and headed to the nearest public house, where they drowned their sorrows with copious amounts of rum, gin and beer.
I would like to wish you all a very happy festive season.
If you’re still searching for that last minute Christmas present, then perhaps take a look at the Bookshelf, you might just find what you’re looking for.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 28 December 1819
One thing I have concluded during research over the years is, that I have an incredible propensity for being dragged, kicking and screaming off at tangents and this one is a case in point. How on earth is it possible to get from court dressmaker to body snatcher in a matter of a few steps? – well, with amazing ease, it appears.
The research was actually about the renowned milliner and court dress maker of 32 Albemarle Street, Mrs. Charlotte Bean. She found fame as dress maker to
‘Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Kent and also the Princess Charlotte of Saxe Coburg by special appointment’.
It didn’t take long to discover another story about one of her apprentices, a Miss Elizabeth Lane.
On July 18th, 1810, William Webb, a resurrection man, who had been the grave digger for four years at the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, London was accused of stealing a dead body, that of a young lady Miss Elizabeth Lane. She was described as being aged between eighteen and twenty years of age when she died of measles.
Elizabeth was interred on the 21st June, at 8am.
Mrs. Lane said that they left after the service before the grave was filled up, but within half an hour of returning home a boy called at their house to say that the corpse which had just been buried had been stolen from the grave. Mr and Mrs Lane immediately returned to the burying ground, accompanied by Mr. Adams, the church warden, Mr. McLaughlin, the sexton and Mr. Cater, the watchman. They went straight to the grave and near it they saw the grave digger, Webb.
He was instructed to open the grave, at first he hesitated, saying it was wasn’t right to do so, stepped back a few paces and let the spade fall out of his hand, again exclaiming that all was not right, he fainted and fell down near to a newly made grave.
At first they thought he had died, but after a while he recovered. Once recovered, he was asked whether Elizabeth’s body was in the grave, he answered that it was. So, again he was ordered to open it. About a foot and a half below the surface a sack was found, which, on being examined, contained the dead body of Elizabeth, who had just been committed to the earth.
Everyone recognised her, but the body appeared to have mangled in different parts in a shocking manner, as if it had been struck with a spade or some instrument whilst breaking open the coffin. Her body had been tied at the neck and heels, with rope, as if to prevent it having the appearance of a corpse in the sack. The shroud lying in the bottom of the coffin, folded up.
At his trial which took place at Westminster Sessions on July 13th, 1810, Webb, in his defence, presented a ‘frightful picture of ignorance and depravity’. He told an incoherent story about a man whom he called Jack, assisting him and that he supposed some person would come at night and take the body over the church wall. He complained that his trial was hurried on sooner than he expected and persisted he was not guilty, it’s no clear why he thought this, but in any case the jury, unanimously agreed that he guilty. So far, I have not been able to find out what his sentence was.
We begin this story, which only just made it onto our radar, with two gentlemen – Lewis Pleura, who was born in Italy and referred to himself by the title of Count, and who was very fond of gambling, and as such, eventually found his way into Fleet debtors’ prison, where he became acquainted with Nathaniel Parkhurst.
Nathaniel was from the village of Lower Catesby, near Daventry and descendant of John Parkhurst, the owner of Catesby Abbey and one of county’s major landowners of the time. He went up to Wadham College, Oxford in 1692, aged 16 where he got in with the wrong crowd who spent their time ridiculing religion, and making a jest of the scriptures, and everything that was held sacred.
It was on 3rd March 1715 that Nathaniel Parkhurst was indicted at the Old Bailey for the murder of Lewis Pleura and on a second count, of stabbing.
Parkhurst and the deceased were fellow prisoners in the Fleet prison for debt. Parkhurst had apparently sat up drinking until three o’clock in the morning when he went into the room of Pleura where an argument broke out between the two with Parkhurst saying that Pleura owed him four guineas.
Soon after this, everyone was woken by screams of ‘murder, murder’ and Parkhurst was found with his sword having stabbed Pleura some twenty times, leaving a trail of blood all over the floor.
The surgeon was immediately sent for, but of course, it was far too late. He dressed the deceased and placed him in bed, declaring that Parkhurst had assassinated him. Parkhurst, seeing the deceased in bed went to the corpse shouting ‘damn you Pleura, are you not dead yet?’.
When questioned about the murder, Parkhurst said he had no knowledge of committing it and that he had been in an ‘unhappy state of mind’ for the past two and a half years. Witnesses were called to confirm that Parkhurst was not of stable mind, however evidence proved to be the opposite – he knew exactly what he had done. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
Soon after he received sentence of death, he began to see the error of his ways and acknowledged the truth of the religion he had ridiculed. He confessed that the dissolute course of life which he had led had wasted his substance and weakened his intellectual faculties.
It was recorded that on the morning of execution, he ordered a fowl to be prepared for his breakfast, of which he seemed to eat with a good appetite and drank a pint of liquor with it, then was launched into eternity of on 20th May 1715, leaving a wife and two children, John and Altham.
Having previously written about fortune telling, a matter which was very popular during the Georgian era, today I have a couple of short stories to share with you on the subject.
In April 1801 John Rowe was indicted for defrauding Sarah Hall of the sum of two shillings and six pence. According to the newspapers he was
one of those modern Sidrophels’
Who deal in destiny’s dark counsels,
And sage opinions of the moon sells,
To whom all people far and near
On deep importances repair
He had announced his celebrity in resolving all questions appertaining to future events in a hand-bill, addressed to the ladies only, in which he acquainted them he attended at his Evening Planetarium, No. 5 Exeter Street, Strand, where he would answer any lawful questions he was asked.
Sarah Hall, an elderly woman, about fifty (don’t judge, it was regarded as old at that time), had heard of his great fame and was determined to visit him and that through the medium of the stars she would find out about her destiny. She had never been married and wanted to know whether she would remain celibate for the rest of her life.
She parted with the usual ‘symbol’ which in this case was half a crown (about £5 in today’s money), he proceeded to assess her horoscope, he traced the planets through their several houses and discovered by mystic lore who was lord of the ascendant at her birth. He systematically arranged their several aspects and exclaimed, with the inspiration of the Cumaean Sybil, that the fates were favourable to her wishes.
That Mars and Venus were in conjunction; Virgo and Gemini, Sextile and Mercury, lord of the seventh house, the very hour she was born and consequently that these appearances denoted marriage.
Having lived a single life until now, he said was due to negative influence of Saturn, but that this was no longer to be case. He told her to go home and assure herself of approaching happiness.
He informed her that she would first be courted by a dark man with broad shoulders, dark hair, large dark eyes, bushy eyebrows and thin legs – but he was not the man for her.
The husband for whom the stars intended was a fair man, with light hair and blue eyes and that he was very wealthy and that she would meet him in the next few days. He also advised her to invest in the lottery as she might gain a considerable sum of money. The old lady was ecstatic about this forthcoming good fortune. She left the venue and returned home and told all her friends about her approaching wedding and about the money.
She waited for the dark gentleman to appear – of course he didn’t, she waited longer for the fair gentleman – and as you guessed he failed to appear too. She invested in the lottery as she had been instructed to do. You’ve guessed, it she lost her money. She told a friend of her about what had happened, and he advised her to apply to the magistrate – she had, of course been conned.
John Rowe was arrested, his magical apparatus and books were seized, and he was sent to gaol. Once all the facts had been established Rowe said he was a poor man, a carpenter by trade and with his earnings he had managed to support a wife and large family, but such were the pressures of the times, though he worked as hard as ever he did, he could not support them. His wife had been brought to bed and he was unable to provide her with the comforts her situation required, he had seen others doing similar deceptions and earning money from this sort of public credulity that he decided he could do the same thing.
Needless to say he was found guilty and sentenced to one month imprisonment.
The second story concerns a Mary Deverell, a fortune teller who was brought before the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street, charged with defrauding Susannah Foresight, under the pretence of telling her fortune.
Susannah, servant to Mrs Westall in New Road, Marylebone told the magistrate that she knew that women in London found wealth in strange ways and that she wanted to know more about it from the prisoner, Mary Deverell.
Susannah parted with all her money – ten shillings, with a view to finding some good fortune that she was told she would have. Needless to say she was also deceived. Instead of finding the palace she was promised, instead she found the workhouse.
As with John Rowe, Mary Deverell was sent to gaol. I really want to believe the name of this gullible woman, but no luck as yet with tracing such a person!
Hampshire Chronicle 13 April 1801
Morning Post 11 April 1801
Oxford University and City Herald 06 February 1808
Abraham Billson, a pig farmer, married Ann Tibbs at Broughton Astley on 24th November 1812. The couple went on to have four children, the eldest Jonathan Tibbs (taking his mother’s maiden name) was born nearly a year after their marriage, but who died aged just two; a second child named simply Jonathan this time in 1815 just down the road at Leire.
A third child, Richard Tibbs in 1820 and their youngest child named Abraham, after his father, who was baptised on 20th January 1825. A date which becomes significant once we tell you this story.
On the 28th March 1825, Abraham was charged with the brutal murder of his wife Ann, who, by all accounts he had been badly treating throughout their marriage due to his jealous nature.
As well as being a farmer, in the mid 1810’s Abraham added to his portfolio and bought a bakehouse which occupied a small piece of land at Sutton-in-the-Elms. He was the son of a farmer and of respectable circumstances, by the time of this event his father, a farmer had already died leaving him a reasonable inheritance.
Apparently, Abraham and Ann’s marriage was not all plain sailing and the couple had regular fall-outs and Ann had previously sworn before the magistrate about her husband’s behaviour, but it was on the 6th December 1824 that things were to finally come to a head. Abraham had apparently been drinking, and, afraid for her safety Ann left the house to seek the help of a neighbour. Abraham just swore at the neighbour and told him to go home.
The couple continued to argue all day until seven in the evening when another neighbour heard screams and cries of ‘murder’ coming from her neighbour’s house. She looked through the window and there she saw Anne laying on the floor covered in blood. Despite this, somehow Anne managed to get up, still grasping at her throat and dragged herself out of the house. She somehow managed to stagger along the street, where she was spotted and taken in by a neighbour who described her as having been ‘covered with gore from her bosom to her feet‘.
A stream of blood still rushing from her throat, which had been cut in such a dreadful manner that she now was no longer able to speak and within a few minutes she was dead. Her throat had been cut six or seven inches in length and two inches deep and the windpipe had been completely severed from the root of the tongue.
What added to the horrific event was that the couple’s eldest child was witness to the carnage. Abraham fled the house but was soon caught a few fields away from the house.
When he appeared in court he claimed mental derangement, but no proof of this was found, and the jury, after only a few minutes found him guilty. Sentence was passed. Abraham just shook his head and claimed that all the witnesses were lying.
Abraham was described as, a ferocious but ill-looking man and that Ann was an excellent woman, beautiful and of good character and that there were no grounds for suspecting any infidelity on her part i.e. no obvious justification for the murder.
After only a few days Abraham was hanged, confessing to his sins only minutes before meeting his maker.
The curious part to this story can be found in the parish register for 20th January 1825, so after the death of Anne. Someone took the couples youngest child, Abraham Tibbs Billson to be baptised. The child’s father is clearly named as Abraham, against the mother’s name it say Anne – murdered.
So, who presented this child for baptism? It can’t have been Abraham as he was in prison awaiting trial? Perhaps the child’s grandparents, we’ll never know. By June 1825, there were 3 orphans, the youngest a mere baby, what a sad start to life for them.
Morland, George. The Cottage Door. Royal Holloway, University of London
On the bitterly cold morning of Saturday 22nd March 1828, a twenty two year old woman sat in her prison cell at Lancaster Castle, awaiting the hangman’s noose, with just the long standing prison chaplain, Reverend Mr Joseph Rowley to comfort her before her final journey. Outside, waiting to witness this event was one of the largest crowds ever seen at the castle, with many travelling from far afield to witness this spectacle.
So how did this unfortunate young woman find herself in this most desperate of all situations? To find out we return to the beginning of this story, and to a John Scott, a Methodist preacher and shop keeper on Bridge Street, Preston and his wife Mary. The couple were well respected in their local community and further afield, as John Scott travelled to local fairs and markets selling his wares.
The couple had three daughters – Mary, Jane and Maria, who died in aged eight.
It was the very year Maria died that Jane, aged just 15, found herself unmarried and pregnant as the parish register of April 13th, 1821 confirms, Jane presented her first illegitimate child, a daughter, Anne, for baptism at the local parish church, not at the non-conformist church her parents attended.
Jane’s behaviour began to deteriorate, becoming rebellious, stealing from her parents and drinking. As to what became of Anne can only be speculated upon, but in all likelihood she died in infancy.
On 29th January 1824, aged 18, still unmarried and living with her parents, Jane presented a second child, for baptism, a son named John, but just three years later she would return to the church, this time to bury him.
Questions were raised at the time about the death of this child, but there was nothing tangible to suspect that anything untoward had happened to him. Perhaps her daughter Anne had in fact died, leading people to question Jane’s untoward lifestyle and her ability to care for children. She now frequented the local public house, ‘The Three Tars’ and continued stealing from her parents.
History has a habit of repeating itself, this time on 6th May 1825, Jane presented another illegitimate child, Harriet, for baptism. Then, only a few months later this child’s name too was to appear in the parish burial register.
Mortality rates in this parish were high and the parish registers showed many children dying young, well over fifty percent of the entries were for under-fives, so the deaths of Jane’s children, although tragic, might not have appeared that unusual.
June 1825, just one month later, there was another baptism, for a Robert Scott (illegitimate), this time the child belonged to Jane’s elder, unmarried sister, Mary.
Eighteen months later, on 13th January 1827, Mary married James Woods with her father, John, present as a witness, perhaps given the girls’ history he was glad to have one safely married off.
Flicking through the pages of the parish register two more Scott names jump out – burials which took place on the same day at Holy Trinity church, Preston on May 17th, 1827. The names were John and Mary Scott, the parents of these girls, so how did they die and why were they buried on the same day?
The answer to that lurked in the numerous newspaper reports of the time, which provided somewhat grisly accounts of their deaths and the coroner’s inquest which led to the subsequent trial of their daughter, Jane ‘a short, thick set woman’, at the Lancashire Assizes on August 29th, 1827.
On the 13th May 1827 John Scott was alive and in good health but died just one day later. The first witness called was Mrs Hannah Cragg, who was well acquainted with the couple and confirmed that Jane still lived with her parents. Mrs Cragg said that she had taken tea with them on Sunday and that Mrs Scott took her home a little after eight. The couple were both well and appeared on good terms with their daughter.
She stated that on the following evening, just after nine, Jane had run to her home, asking her to ‘come to our house, my mother is dead’. She appeared to be very alarmed. She told Jane to go straight home and that she would follow her.
On arriving, she saw Mrs Scott in the kitchen.
‘I had a conversation with her, but Jane was not present. I saw John Scott afterwards in the yard, vomiting. He went into the kitchen with me; Mrs Scott was still there. Jane came in and was going about the kitchen but could hear what was said.’
Mrs Scott said, ‘I am poisoned by the porridge’. So did Mr Scott. Jane said she would get rid of the porridge and that nothing more should be said of it.
Mrs Cragg said she saw it whilst she was holding Mrs Scott’s head. Mrs Scott told Jane not to dispose of it, but, Jane, who was close enough to hear completely ignored her and disposed of it. Dr Brown, the surgeon, was immediately sent for and instructed Jane to put the tin pan used to make the porridge to one side, but not to wash it out.
Jane and a Mrs Bilsborough went to fetch Jane’s half-brother, David Graham, as she feared her parents were dying. On arriving at the house, David found the doctor busily using a stomach pump on his mother and immediately accused Jane of causing them to be unwell.
David also told the court that Jane had been prone to violent convulsions over the past 3 years, which left her feeling weak for the next few hours, but he didn’t think it had impaired her mind. Mrs Bilsborough also confirmed that they had become more frequent, occasionally they were so bad that Jane would fall over in the street.
Just before midnight, Mrs Cragg went home, leaving Mr and Mrs Scott in bed being cared for by David who continued his vigil until, about three when his mother died.
His stepfather was still alive, but extremely unwell. David said that his stepfather told him that he feared he didn’t have much longer to live, he believed Jane had put poison in the porridge. At half- past five in the morning John Scott also died.
At the trial, Thomas Emmett, the druggist confirmed that Jane had visited his shop to purchase quarter of a pound of arsenic to use at her parents house in Bridge Street, as they had rats in the shop that she needed to kill and that two weeks later she returned for a further supply as she hadn’t managed to kill all of them. She returned for a third time, just days before the Scott’s died, saying that on this occasion she needed some to kill bugs around the bedstead.
The next witness was George Richardson, who said he had known Jane for a couple of months and that he saw her on the Sunday night whilst on his way home for tea and that Jane called him to come in. Jane then asked him, ‘When do you intend to marry me?.’ George said that he had already told her that he had no intention of marrying her yet as he wasn’t ready for marriage, he had no money or possessions.
Jane then told him that her father had signed over all his goods to her, but George didn’t believe her, so she produced a paper to prove it. George though, was semi-literate, but recalled that there was both writing and printing on the paper with her name at the bottom of it. He returned it to Jane saying he didn’t understand it, but that he had seen the words ‘tobacco and snuff’ on it. Jane said that snuff was there, along with a list of other goods meant for her. It later transpired that this was merely a snuff licence.
Next, was James Shorrock, who confirmed that he knew Jane and George Richardson. He said that he had seen Jane on the Sunday evening and Jane told him that her mother was very ill. He said that he saw her again on the Monday night about eight o’clock near a factory on Bridge Street when she said to him:
‘Here, Jem, I want thee’, I have just been watching George go into the dandy shop, Betty Watsons. George thinks to make a fool of me. I’ll make a bigger fool of him. He’ll be here after a while. My father and mother are very badly. I’ll go in to my supper, stop here till I come back’.
Jane disappeared and returned after about twenty minutes and said, ‘Oh Jem my father and mother are sure to die’. He replied:
‘we are all sure to die,’ Jane’s response was ‘we’re all sure to die, but not so soon as them. Next week I’m going to Manchester. I owe you two shillings. Come tomorrow night and I’ll pay thee’.
She went on to say, that on her return she would be married, but didn’t say to whom. She told him that her parents had signed over everything to her, they had three houses and when she returned she would sell one, which would set them up in some kind of business, and then they would go to Liverpool to her sister, Mary.
The surgeon, Dr Robert Brown was next to be called to give his testimony. He confirmed that when he arrived at the house about half past nine on the Monday evening, Mrs Scott was sitting in a chair in the kitchen, supported by Mrs Cragg and was vomiting violently. Dr Brown concluded that she had been poisoned. He called for a quantity of warm water and applied the stomach pump to Mrs Scott. He stated that he took care of the contents of her stomach and that Mr Scott’s condition was very similar to that of his wife. He then used the stomach pump on Mr Scott and the couple were then put to bed.
Mr Scott was sick and complained of pains in the bowels. Mrs Scott was still being violently sick and complained of great cramp in her legs. Dr Brown confirmed that he had some conversations with Jane and asked to see the pan in which the porridge was made and confirmed that Jane had told him when she fetched him that her parents had eaten porridge and that caused them to become ill.
He asked for the bowl to be left for examination, he then gave it to his apprentice for safe keeping.
After he had finished administering the pump he asked Jane for the pan used to make the porridge. When Jane produced it, he noted that it had already been washed. He said he was somewhat surprised that she had not understood his earlier instructions to leave it, but her response was that she needed to use the pan to boil the water for the pump. He said that the pan in question had not been used, as he had watched her boil the water in a different pan. She made no reply.
The following day Dr Brown carried out a post mortem on John Scott’s body. He believed from the original symptoms which were borne out in the post mortem, showed that the death was caused by arsenic. Vomiting, purging and cramp in the legs were indicative of having ingested arsenic.
The judge was concerned that no tests had been carried out by Dr Brown as they might have yielded a different or conclusive outcome. He addressed the jury advising them that without conclusive proof of poisoning it was difficult for them to find Jane guilty. The case so far had only related to Jane’s father and the judge advised the jury that they should make their decision about this one count, as it was the fault of the prosecutor that necessary evidence was not available.
The judge confirmed that the case against her of murdering her mother would need to wait to allow the prosecutors the necessary time to supply further evidence and that a verdict on the case against Jane of murdering her father should be given.
Mary, now Mrs James Woods (Jane’s sister) was called to give her statement. She confirmed that the household regularly used arsenic and that they mixed it with oatmeal and sugar to kill rats and to eliminate bugs around the bedstead. Mary said that her father sold bread in his shop and that rats were abundant in the property, so she often made up a solution for use as an when required and that a solution was always kept at hand, so it was more than likely that there would have been some in the house on the day her parents died.
She said that she had seen some arsenic a few days before she went home to Liverpool, and that it was in the drawer of a wash-stand, wrapped up in blue paper, without any string and warned her mother about leaving it about the house.
Mary also confirmed that Jane on occasion, had as many as fifty fits in one day and could be ill for a week afterwards. Mary was sure that her mind had become afflicted as a result of them. She told the court that Jane was on good terms with her parents, in fact, that they thought more of Jane than they did of her.
Mrs Alice Berchell was called next. She described herself as being Mrs Scott’s neighbour for over seven years and that they were very close. She corroborated Mary’s evidence. She too confirmed that Jane suffered from fits and that on occasion she had held Jane whilst she had been fitting. She said that Jane had been in the Dispensary at Preston and in Manchester Infirmary and that Mr and Mrs Scott were always kind and affectionate toward Jane, but were extremely worried that Jane would never be well enough to work for her living due to these fits.
The judge summed up the case for the jury who retired and returned with their verdict of:
Not Guilty due to weak intellect
Jane was however, returned to the prison to await trial for the murder of her mother. During this time, she ate very little and became weaker by the day.
On 20th March 1828, Jane was brought before the court again, some ten months after the death of her mother, having already been acquitted of the murder of her father and feeling convinced she would receive the same outcome. This time the jury took a mere five minutes to reach their conclusion and found her:
Jane sat quietly and calmly throughout the trial until the verdict of hanging was delivered, she sobbed and pleaded for mercy, asking to be transported instead. This request was declined, she was returned to her cell where she became agitated and unable to support herself so much so, that she had to be put to bed by the castle matron.
Finally, when time was running out for Jane she confessed her crimes. She stated that she had been well brought up, but from the age of fourteen she had led a dissolute life and had been seduced by a local man when she was just fifteen. She said her mother and father had always been kind to her and tried to keep her on the straight and narrow, but it was too late, ‘the devil got possession of her’. She confessed to robbing her parents of their property and money before they died.
The day before her parents were poisoned she said that she had met up with George Richardson, who she wished to marry. The couple went to ‘TheThree Tars’ public house for a few drinks then went their separate ways, meeting up later when Richardson tried to persuade her to get money from her father. She refused. Richardson goaded her until eventually she went home and made up a porridge containing arsenic which she gave to her parents. Shortly after this she felt guilty and ran to fetch help from a Mrs Cragg. She said that she was convinced that she could get away with it.
Two days before her death her sister, Mary visited her, accompanied by the prison matron. When asked by her sister whether there was anything she wished to confess. Jane, presumably realising that she now had nothing to lose, confessed to having killed Mary’s child as an act of revenge following an argument that they had had. Jane said that she had taken the baby out for a walk, it was then that she gave it laudanum. Jane said that everyone believed the child died from a fit, but that was not true.
Jane also confessed to having killed her son, as she had hoped the child’s father would marry her, but he wouldn’t, so she bought an ounce of white powder from the local doctor and when the child was sitting at the table, she gave him a kiss, mixed the arsenic with treacle, spread it on some bread and gave it to him. As she watched, the child’s eyes glaze over and he died shortly after. Jane confirmed that there had been questions raised about the child’s death, but these weren’t pursued.
At 10 o’clock on Saturday 22nd March 1828, Jane was helped to the chapel where the sacrament was administered by Rev. Mr Rowley. She was so weak that it took two people to support her, having refused food since sentence was passed and only drank one cup of tea.
A few minutes after midday, the door from which culprits passed on to the scaffold was opened, a deathly silence instantly fell amongst the crowd. Jane was so weak so weak that she had to be wheeled to the gallows using this chair.
The executioner then turned her to face toward the prison, put a cap over her head, hooked the halter around her neck and to the chain that was suspended to the fatal beam and retired. Many places report the hangman as Ned (Edward) Barlow, but this was not true as he died in 1812. The most likely candidate was Samuel Haywood, from Leicestershire, who was hired by several assizes as he was highly regarded for his skills.
The two women supported her for a moment, one quickly left in a state of distress, the other gave Jane a kiss, pulled the cap over Jane’s eyes and left. The rope swung round leaving Jane facing the crowd and she was immediately launched into eternity in less than two minutes. An hour later her body was removed to be dissected and anatomized.
The final twist to this tale was, that Jane’s body was sold for dissection and was purchased by a respected local doctor, Dr Thomas Monk, who ultimately found himself jailed for ten years hard labour. Sometime during this time Jane’s skeleton was sold by public auction. The purchaser in the 1870’s, was reputed to run an herbal shop on Walker Street, Preston, who decided to put Jane’s skeleton to profitable use, by displaying it to the public, charging one half penny to view it. So, there really was no rest for the wicked, but hopefully now the victims have been named and can rest in peace.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 2 June 1823
The Examiner, Sunday, May 27, 1827
Evening Mail 10 September 1827
Evening Mail 24 March 1828
The Times 25th March 1828
Chester Courant 1 April 1828
Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser 1 April 1828
Lancaster Gazette 21 August 1875
Fleury. C. Time-honoured Lancaster
Hurren. Elizabeth T. Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England
Mary Biggadike was born May 1801 and baptised in the parish church, of Whaplode, a village in Lincolnshire, by the somewhat forthright vicar, Samuel Oliver.
In early 1818 she found herself pregnant and so, doing the right thing, James Cawthorn, a labourer of Whaplode walked her up the aisle her in August of that year. In due course, she gave birth to a daughter, Marian, who tragically survived for only a few months.
Two years later the couple had another child, a son, James, but by this time their marriage was well and truly ‘on the rocks’ and in March 1821, James clearly needed to find a way of extricating himself from the marriage as he had found a new love.
James found his means of escaping the relationship – but it was to come at the highest price of all, for in August 1821, he found himself indicted for the wilful murder of his wife on 23rd March 1821.
The indictment was that he
wilfully, feloniously, and of malice aforethought, did secretly mix and mingle with milk, flour and sugar, a certain deadly poison, viz. one drachm of arsenic, which he knowing it to be poison, did give to his wife of the 19th March 1821, intending that she should drink it.
He was also charged with assaulting Mary on the day of her death by strangling her.
Mr Franklin representing James wanted him to be charged on only one count, which eventually the prosecution agreed to and it was the charge of poisoning that they proceeded with. The first witness, John Smith who lived close by and knew the family well, he confirmed that he had seen Mary on Monday 19th and she appeared fit and well. He then saw her on Thursday 22nd, when she appeared extremely unwell, her face was swollen and her eyes black and bulging. His wife who also saw her said she thought that Mary had been beaten. At six o’clock the next day he heard that she had died in great agony.
Mary’s mother lived a mere 200 yards from her daughter and when called to give evidence, she said that the young couple had not been getting along well for six months prior to her daughter’s death. She also confirmed that she saw her daughter every day from Sunday 18th March to Thursday 22nd March and that her daughter had been taken ill on the Monday. Mary’s sister Elizabeth had called upon her on Tuesday and at which time Mary was very sick and complaining of stomach pains.
Mary was convinced she was dying and told Mrs Smith that when her husband returned on the Monday he told her that he felt unwell and asked her to make him some ‘thickened milk’ and having eaten part of it, he asked her to go to the public-house and fetch him a pint of ale, leaving him alone in the house. On her return, he said he had eaten enough and that she should finish the remainder, which she did, and it was then that she was taken ill.
Next to be called to give evidence was Mr Franklin, a surgeon, of Holbeach, who said that Mary had a purple hue on her face, purple spots on her body and a small wound on her leg and internally she showed signs of inflammation. Franklin attempted to carry out tests on her body but was unable to prove conclusively that she had been poisoned.
Mary Sindall was called in to lay out the deceased and she confirmed that the prisoner had followed her upstairs and taking hold of Mary’s cold hand, said ‘Bless you! I little thought your death so nigh’.
Robert Collins, the constable of Whaplode, received James into his custody to take him to Lincoln Castle on the Coroner’s warrant, but just before setting out from Whaplode, James, who up to this point had remained calm, asked to hold his son before they left, at which point he broke down in tears at leaving his only child and as if he knew he would never be returning.
The carriage took them on to Spalding and when they arrived at the White Lion, James asked permission to write a letter. This letter was to the love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson, a girl from the same village. James asked the constable to deliver the letter to her, but instead, Collins kept it as evidence. James continually declared himself innocent of the crime and said in court that he was forced to write the letter, which was vehemently denied by the constable.
The letter was produced in court.
March 26th, 1821
Dear Charlotte – I for the love of you a desolate death must go through. I hope you will have a good Christian heart in you for to come up this afternoon, my dear, and let me bid you adieu. Love don’t feel yourself unhappy, I pay the debt for you. Come up today, love, for I am sure to be put to death. O! Charlotte, what must I go through.
It took the jury just minutes to find James guilty of murder and Mr Justice Park pronounced the sentence of death. He confirmed that James was to be executed on Thursday at midday and his body was to be delivered for dissection. James remained unmoved.
The night before his sentence was to be carried out he made a full confession saying that he could not suffer enough for what he had done. He acknowledged that her murder was carried out by putting poison in the milk. Having been used to church music, at his request, a psalm was sung at the preaching of the condemned sermon, and he took a part in the melody.
Mary was buried March 26th, 1821 at Whaplode church, aged just 20. Samuel Oliver, who baptised and married her, now buried her, with a note in the register (as he frequently did!) stating that she was
murdered by her husband in the night in a most deliberate manner! The inquest continued for three days!
The love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson went on to marry in Whaplode, three years later. The child James went on to have three children of his own who were baptised at Spalding – John, Elizabeth and Mary Ann Biggadike Cawthorn.
Following questions raised by one of our lovely readers I did some more digging and have just discovered this letter which James sent to Charlotte two days after the previous one above, which, it could be argued raises some doubt as to his guilt.
Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman. Yale Center for British Art. Paul Mellon Collection.
The breathless but smartly dressed clerk had clearly left the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street in a hurry, not even bothering to stop and put his hat on in his haste, nor to remove the pen which was stuck clumsily in his wig. When, on Leadenhall Street, a short distance away, he caught up with the lady who had just received a 50l. note from the bank, she had no reason to doubt the clerk’s words: that he had been sent to chase after her as it was thought there had been a mistake made in issuing the note. Could he, the clerk asked, see it?
The absence of a hat as well as the pen stuck in his wig clearly backed up his story. What else could he be but a bank clerk who had been dispatched post haste after the bank’s customer? The lady had no hesitation in handing over the note which the clerk checked and, with a look of relief, confirmed it was all correct and in order; the clerk handed the note back to the grateful woman before hurrying back to his desk.
By the time the lady opened the note, and found herself staring at a piece of white paper with a few handwritten lines on it, the conman and her 50l. note had both vanished into thin air.
A naval gentleman was preparing to travel from London to Portsmouth, and a trunk containing his clothes, a set of silver spoons and eight guineas was to be sent separately; the night before his intended departure, a porter was sent with the trunk from the naval officer’s lodgings in Aldersgate Street to Leadenhall Street’s Black Bull Inn, to get it on the next coach.
At the gate of the inn the porter was met by a man who introduced himself as a book-keeper employed at the inn; the book-keeper asked the porter what his business was.
The porter had no reason to doubt the book-keeper, for the man appeared to be exactly that, right down to the pen stuck in his wig (the book-keeper wasn’t wearing a hat).
“You came too late, Friend,” said the book-keeper, “the coach is just set out, but I’ll take care of [the trunk]; it shall remain safe in the warehouse, and go by Monday’s coach”. The book-keeper patted his pockets before exclaiming in annoyance, “Ha! That foolish blockhead, our porter, has taken the key with him”. He asked the porter to “step over to that alehouse over the way” and ask the inn’s porter to give him the key to the warehouse, while he, the book-keeper, kept guard over the trunk.
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that when the naval gentleman’s porter returned with the key, both the book-keeper and the trunk had disappeared into London’s dark streets.
Both frauds occurred in Leadenhall Street and, even though there is almost eleven years between the two, it’s tempting to think that it was the same brazen and perhaps opportunistic conman who committed both crimes, his disguise merely the lack of a hat and a pen, stuck carelessly in his wig.
In the eighteenth century a woman had few, if any, rights and was effectively a possession of her husband. I came across the term ‘the rule of thumb’ which had been quoted in the film ‘The Duchess‘ by Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster when Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire saw the bruising on Bess’s neck, caused by her husband and of course, I wanted to find out a little more about its origin.
I found what would appear to be the case in question, but unfortunately it contains no names, so it’s not been possible to track it down further and there doesn’t seem to be anything to confirm it as being a genuine case.
Judge Buller’s quote, IF the newspaper reports of September 1782, are correct and accurately reported, was :
At the last Assizes at W_____r, a man was tried for having beat his wife, so that she was supposed to die of the contusions and bruises. The prisoner was allowed counsel; and in defence of the man it was alleged, that a husband had the legal power of chastening his wife.
The judge objected to the pertinence of the allegation, because the prisoner used a faggot. It is allowed that a husband may correct his wife, but not with a faggot.
The council asked what size the stick should be, which might be so applied?
Judge Buller put out his hand and said,
‘Of the size of my thumb’.
All the Ladies of W_____r sent messages to his lodgings, to obtain the exact measure of his Lordships thumb; and the lawyers have given their opinion, that if a husband should use a stick differing in dimension the breadth of a hair from Judge Buller’s thumb, an action will lie, and heavy damages be recoverable by the wife.
This newspaper article, if correctly quoted, we would take to mean literally the size of Judge Buller’s thumb i.e about 6cm in length and around 7cm circumference and not a stick the thickness of his thumb as became part of folklore.
There had apparently been a case of a man beating his wife to death with a pestle*, this however would have been considerably larger than a thumb and capable of inflicting severe damage due to its weight.
In the 18th century a mortar and pestle was often made from metal or wood and could be considerably larger than the size of a thumb as can be seen in this image in which the pestle is metal and some 20cm in length and so would have been capable of inflicting serious injury, or in that particular case death.
If he didn’t literally mean his thumb, then it could be argued that what he was actually saying was that no man had the right to beat his wife.
The Norfolk Chronicle a month later on 12 October 1782, helpfully clarified the legal position as set down by Judge Blackstone:
As many laughable allusions have been introduced into the papers relative to a late judicial decision respecting an assault tried at ‘Nisi Prius’ in the country, and what a husband is legal warranted to chastise his wife with. The following is the Law relative to that matter, as laid down by the late Judge Blackstone:
The husband by the old Law might give his wife moderate correction; for as he is to answer for her misbehaviour, the law thought it reasonable to entrust him with this power of restraining her by domestic chastisement, in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his servants or children, for whom the master, or parent, is also liable in some cases to answer. But this power of correction was confined within reasonable bounds, and the husband was prohibited from using any violence to his wife.
The Civil Law gave the husband the same, or a larger authority, over his wife, allowing him for some misdemeanours to beat his wife soundly with whips and cudgels. But with us, in the politer reign of Charles the Second, this power of correction began to be doubted, and a wife may now have the security of the peace against her husband, or in return husband against his wife. Yet the lower ranks of people, who were always fond of the old common law, still claim and exert their ancient privileges; and the courts of law will permit a husband to restrain a wife of her liberty, in case of any misbehaviour. (Blackstone, Volume 1, p.444).
If you look at this caricature of Judge Buller, who became known as ‘Judge Thumb‘ holding a bundle of long sticks(faggots) with a thumb on the end it is dated 7th November,1782, so just after the case above had been heard, you will see the wording in the bubble, being shouted by the man ‘murder hey, it’s law you bitch, it’s not bigger than my thumb’.
This ruling apparently led to the placement of orders at several cane shops in London for sticks of exactly the size of Judge Buller’s thumb.
In a case of 1796 Lord Buller’s ruling was cited, but wrongly so, perhaps perpetuating this misquote.
A dashing lady of the ton is suing for a separation in consequence of ill-usage from her husband. Besides confining her and obliging the lady to live on water-gruel for a week, he has used a stick, it is said, and thicker than Judge Buller’s thumb!
The Port Folio, Volume 6 of 1811 reported the case in question, but being some 30 years later the quote had been changed again stating that the case had been heard at Exeter Assizes, but so far I have found no evidence to support this.
The earliest reference I have come across to Rule of Thumb being used as a term was in 1717 but it was used in the context of accounting procedures, but there is apparently another reference in Sir William Hope’s The Compleat Fencing Master, 1692, but I couldn’t trace this citation to determine as to what it was referring, but to be honest that seems unlikely to be a reference to wife beating.
Derby Mercury 19 September 1782
Hampshire Chronicle23 September 1782
Caledonian Mercury 07 October 1782
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette01 December 1796
An enquiry into the state of the union of Great Britain, and the past and present state of the trade and publick revenues thereof. By the Wednesday club in Friday Street.
Online Library of Liberty: Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 1.. Chapter XV.: Of Husband and Wife.
Dennie, Joseph. The Port Folio page 239
Jacob, Giles. The Laws and Appeal of Murder of Lincolns Inn. 1719 *
Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Baronet of Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was many things, and chief among them was the fact that he was a bully. For a few short months, Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’.
On 1 May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, Dixie married 24-year-old Anna Frere, the wealthy eldest daughter of John Frere of Barbados (Anna had been born on the island in 1711 and was also one of the heiresses of her grandfather, Tobias Frere). Anna’s mother had died just weeks before. It’s tempting to speculate that Dixie saw his chance and pursued solely Anna for her money (she had ‘upwards of 20,000l.), and probably that’s pretty close to the mark. Along with his bride, Sir Wolstan also took on the employment of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barker, who had worked as housekeeper and head servant for Anna’s mother, Elizabeth, for twelve years until Madam Frere’s death in March 1735, and then for Anna until her marriage. The Frere’s London house was in Bloomsbury, on Great Russell Street; John Frere had been acting Governor of Barbados just before his death on the island in 1721, after which his widow and children had returned to England. Betty Barker had worked for the family since that time.
Betty was utterly trustworthy. When, straight after the wedding, she was ordered to quickly pack up all the household belongings, close up the London house and head to the Dixie’s Leicestershire mansion, Bosworth Hall, she followed the instructions implicitly. There just wasn’t enough time, however, to pack properly and Betty ended up opening drawers and throwing armfuls of the contents into packing trunks which she left with trusted friends. She was honest about their contents, saying to her friends as she deposited the trunks with them that she knew some of the Freres’ belongings had got mixed up with her own, and that she would sort them out and return everything to its rightful owner when she was next in London. It was to prove a disastrous mistake, one compounded by the fact that Betty had been gifted so many of the Freres’ cast-offs. (The Frere family quite obviously viewed Betty with great affection; she had cared for them during all their time in London and they held her in high regard.) Betty had also pretty much worked for nothing except the gifts that the family had bestowed on her; by the end of 1735, Betty was owed five years wages. It’s clear that she viewed the cast-offs she’d received from the family as a form of recompense for her labour.
Reading between the lines of what happened next, it looks like Sir Wolstan had been snooping on his wife’s letters in the interim. He had intercepted one from Betty to Anna, Lady Dixie, in which Betty ‘mentioned the names of Capt ___ and a Baronet; and told [Anna] it was unfortunate she married so soon, for she might have had such, or such a Gentleman’. Betty, it seems, already had the measure of Sir Wolstan. He saw his chance in the Frere and Dixie belongings found in poor Betty’s possession, dismissed her and, after Betty had returned to London, had her charged with theft. Declaring he would have Betty hanged before Christmas, if it cost him a thousand pounds, he saw his wife’s servant incarcerated in Newgate prison.
It must have been an horrendous ordeal for Betty who caught gaol fever and nearly died before she even got to court to be tried for theft, on 10 December 1735.
Prisoner: I lived twelve Years with my Old Lady Madam Freer. I kept all the Keys, and was entrusted with every thing that was of Value in the House. After my Old Lady dyed, my Young Lady Married to Sir Wolstan Dixie. In a little time we left off House-keeping in Town, and the Goods were all pack’d up in great haste, to go to Sir Wolstan’s Country-Seat in Leicester shire. And its very likely that I might, when we were in such a hurry and Confusion, put some of my old Lady’s things among my own. The Night before we went away, I would have settled with Madam Freer (my old Lady’s Sister and Executrix) but she said she had not leisure then, and she would settle with me when the Family came to Town again – Sir Wolstan turn’d me away suddenly, and I return’d to London in August last, but Mrs. Freer has never yet called in to settle the Account, and the Five Year Wages and other Money is yet due to mes.
Mrs. Freer: Tis true the Account is not-yet settled and I believe there is five Years Wages due to her
Witness after witness took the stand to testify to Betty’s honesty, and the fact that the numerous items she was supposed to have stolen had been either freely gifted to her, or had been among the ones thrown into the packing cases to be sorted out at a later date.
Mrs. Bainton: I knew her twelve Years when she lived with Old Madam Freer, and, she always behaved in the best Manner and so much to her Mistress’s satisfaction that she left her a Legacy of Ten Pound. Madam Freer dyed the 13th of March and on the first of May her Daughter was married to Sir Wolstan Dixy and they went directly to Lewisham. Sir Wolstan and his Lady came to Town again on Friday the rest of the Familiy came on Saturday. And on Sunday the Goods were pack’d up in a great hurry and Confusion, in order to set out the next Morning for Bosworth in Leicester-shire. The Room was strewed all over with Goods, and the Prisoner was putting them up in Trunks and Boxes, she said she scarce knew where to put things, and believed that by mistake she had put up some of her Lady’s Goods with her own.
Mrs. Collins: I have known her eleven or twelve Years, she was House-keeper and Head-servant , and had the best of Characters from the Family.
When I heard she was in Newgate, I was amazed, and should as soon have thought of hearing the King was there – I live at the Colour Shop. in King’s Gate Street.
Cornelius Maddox, Porter: I assisted her in cording up the Boxes, and Trunks. I said, Here is a great many Things, what must I do with them. Aye, says she, Here is a great many things of my Ladies, as well as mine, I think I will send them to Lewisham. But Mrs. Bingham, and Mrs. Smith, told her she might leave them at their Houses, and accordingly, the Boxes were carried to their Houses publickly.
Mrs. Wright: The Day Sir Wolstan went out of Town, the Prisoner said to Mrs. Freer, Mam, there is a great many things put up, but if in this hurry there should be any thing of my Lady’s intermixt with mine, here are my Boxes, we shall not stay for ever in the Country, and when we return we will put all to rights.
Also among the witnesses were Elizabeth and Rebecca Frere, Lady Dixie’s sister and aunt respectively. Mrs Smith, the Freres’ dressmaker, was also called and asked about a scarlet silk night gown, which was held up in the court.
Mrs. Smith. I believe I made this for my Lady; I have made her three, four, or five such in a Winter.
Prisoner. Would not you have bought that Gown of me when I was going into Mourning for my old Lady?
Smith. She offered to sell me a scarlet Gown before they went into mourning, which was about eight Months ago; and she said, her Lady gave it her – This may be the same for ought I know.
Next, a yellow silk gown and petticoat was held up for the jury to see.
Smith: I made such a Coat and Gown for my Lady.
Question: How many new Gowns might you make the Lady in a Year?
Smith: A great many – I believe a Dozen in a Year.
Question: And what could she do with so many, if she did not give some of them to her Maids?
Smith: The Lady used to give the Prisoner a great many Clothes, and she never denied or concealed them, but wore them in publick – She told me when her Lady married, she had given her all her Clothes.
Question: Is it not usual for single Ladies of great Fortunes to give away their Maiden Clothes when they marry?
Smith: Yes, it is usual – And all these Clothes in Court were made before my Lady married, for when she married she was in Mourning.
Finally, the bombastic Sir Wolstan Dixie took to the stand. He stuck to his story that the goods had been stolen, and also that his wife had become ‘sick of the Prisoner’. Lady Dixie had been called to appear at the trial, but wasn’t present.
Sir Wolstan: She is at my Country Seat in Leicestershire – She is with Child, and in her Condition, and the badness of the Roads, it might endanger her Life to come up.
Council: Have you not said that you had prevented her coming to Town?
Sir Wolstan: No.
Council: Have you not commanded that your Coach should not go above four Miles from home?
Sir Wolstan: I am not to answer all Questions.
Unfortunately for Sir Wolstan, all his endeavours to lock his wife away at Bosworth Hall proved fruitless, as two men took the stand who had talked with Lady Dixie in the meantime.
Thomas Weaver: This Subpoena I served Lady Dixy at Market Bosworth, on Day last. I told her I came from Mr. Nelson, who desired she would come to Town to clear her Servant. She said, she was nevermore surprized; that she believed the Maid was very innocent; and that she would come with all her heart, but that Sir Wolstan had sent her down a Letter, and threatened it should cost her her Life if she came – she said she had been served with one Subpoena before by Mr. Street – I set out on Saturday Night last at half an Hour past eight. I took post at Littleworth, and rid a-cross the Country with the Post-boy.
Robert Nelson: The Prisoner sent for me to Newgate, and I knowing how she had been trusted, and what Character she bore, I took Horse this [Satur] day was a Fort-night, and arrived at Bosworth on Sunday. I told Lady Dixy, that Sir Wolstan had sent her Maid to Newgate. She said I am surprised that Sir Wolstan should offer such a thing, I believe she is as innocent as the Child unborn. He must know that she had a great many things of mine which I gave her. I told her among other Things, that she was charged with stealing a Locket and some China. She answered I gave her the China, and as for the Locket it was but a paultry Thing, that Sir Wolstan gave me, and I bid her lay it by among her other odd Things till I came to Town, and then I would settle with her, for I owe her a hundred Pound, I told her, when I came to London I would send her a Subpoena. She cryed, and said she would come with all her Heart, and would pack up her Things to be ready against next Friday
We said at the beginning that Sir Wolstan was a bully; he had told his wife that if she went to London for the trial he would ‘throw her off, and she shall never live with me again’. Lady Dixie was, effectively, a prisoner in her own home.
It took the jury no time at all to find Betty Barker not guilty on all the charges.
…after a long trial, she was acquitted, with the greatest honour that ever woman was, the jury not going out of Court about the verdict; after he acquittal, her Counsel mov’d for a Copy of her Indictment; which was directly order’d her by the Court, without any Debate.
There was one more prisoner at the Old Bailey that day, and Betty Barker acted as a witness for him. Richard Paine had been Sir Wolstan’s butler, and he too had been committed to Newgate on a charge of stealing two shirts and a bob-wig belonging to Dixie.
Prisoner: I lived with Sir Wolstan from May the first, to June the twenty second. And when I went into his service, I agreed to have his old Cloaths. One day as I was puting on his Shirt, he asked me why I gave him a torn Shirt, Sir, says I, they are all so bad the Maids can’t mend them. Well, says he, I have got some new Cloth, and I’ll have Caps made of the best of these, and do you see that the Maids do not make Aprons of the rest. I told him I would take care of that for my own sake; but Sir, says I. you have got several old mouldy Wigs, what shall I do with them? He bid me take ’em, and do what I would with them.
Sir Wolstan: I never said so.
Elizabeth Barker, (the last Person that was try’d.): He was my Fellow-servant, at Sr. Wolstan’s, where he behaved in a very civil honest manner – Two Weeks before he was discharged, I heard him say publickly, that Sir Wolstan had given him two old Shirts, and an old Wig.
Richard Paine was also acquitted. For the gutsy Betty though, the story didn’t end quite there. She brought a civil action against Sir Wolstan Dixie for false imprisonment and for a malicious prosecution, seeking damages of 2,000l. and, while she won, she was only awarded damages of five shillings. Sir Wolstan was better prepared for this fight; he turned up with his wife (and no doubt she had little option but to reinforce her husband’s words) and managed to persuade the jury that Betty Barker didn’t quite merit the good character she’d been given at her trial. (It’s worth remembering here that not one person other than Sir Wolstan said anything to Betty’s detriment during her trial at the Old Bailey, and their were numerous witnesses.) Betty was outraged and did try to take things further and bring about another action, but Sir Wolstan had taken enough and pulled his weight to halt the proceedings.
Thereafter, Betty Barker fades from sight; we know she was living on Great Winchester Street in the City of London during 1736. Unfortunately, there were many women with the same name in London and it’s nigh on impossible to track her further.
Old Bailey Online
National Archives, C 11/321/32
Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975
London Evening Post, 29 April-1 May 1735
Daily Journal, 11 June 1736
Old Whig, or The Consistent Protestant, 8 July 1736
In our latest book, All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, we recount the adventures of Sarah Wilson, aka Lady Wilbrahammon… amongst other aliases! Sarah was a very convincing impostress and her life is one of those cases when fact proves to be far stranger than fiction. But, although rare, Sarah was certainly not unique. She was perhaps inspired to commit her grand fraud after reading of a girl named Mary Ramsay in the broadsheets. Mary’s story dated to April 1738, but it was widely reported in 1764 just before Sarah’s own antics.
* * *
In a ditch, between St Albans and Colney Heath in Hertfordshire, lay a poor starving girl, half-naked and too weak to move. Two bakers were travelling along the road, and they heard the girl’s groans and rescued her, taking her to an alehouse near the turnpike. The surgeon and apothecary, Mr Humphries, was sent for and under his care, the girl recovered.
Then the girl told her story. She was Mary Ramsay, nineteen years of age and from Hull in East Yorkshire. Her father had been an eminent surgeon and man-midwife who, when he died, had left Mary, his younger daughter, a fortune of £7,000 and trusted her to the care of his brother (there was an elder daughter living in London who was married to a wealthy Suffolk gentleman named Mr Cooke). Mary’s uncle was kindness itself to his young charge and so Mary suspected nothing when he sent her to London to board with a gentlewoman who kept a school in order that she could learn the manners required for a young lady of fashion. Dressed in a new riding habit and jockey cap, Mary was placed in a stagecoach and given a letter of introduction addressed to the schoolmistress. At the coaching inn at Stamford in Lincolnshire, where Mary had stopped to dine, she accidentally dropped the letter; it was found by a fellow passenger, a sea captain whose name Mary had forgotten. Upon hearing Mary’s story, the sea captain persuaded her to open it. The note – signed by her uncle – was brief and to the point.
The person who brings you this is the young woman I told you of. I acknowledge receipt of half the money agreed on, and expect the remainder as soon as convenient.
Mary had been effectively sold, to a man she did not know. With no-one looking she made her escape, slipped away and travelled on foot for a couple of days. In need of funds, she sold her jockey cap to an old woman and then exchanged her riding habit for a gown and some money, enough to get her to London to find her sister. It proved a fruitless search and so she set out once again, penniless now, resolving to return to Hull. Mary managed to trek as far as St Albans where – in her distressed state – she had been found.
She was the very picture of innocence and the good townsfolk of St Albans rallied around Mary, raising a subscription to clothe her and pay for her journey back to Hull. In the meantime, she lived in the mayor’s house with his family. All was going very well for young Mary until one voice of dissent was heard. A man recently returned from London cast doubt on her story, to the fury of the mayor and the inhabitants of St Albans. This man remembered that he had an acquaintance in Hull and so he wrote to him, to establish the truth of the matter. The reply was unfortunate for Mary. The acquaintance in Hull stated that:
… a surgeon of the name of Ramsay had formerly lived in the neighbourhood of Hull, who was very poor all his life-time, and who was confined for debt in the castle of Lincoln, and died there about ten years before; that he had two daughters, abandoned wretches and common prostitutes, who strolled about the country under various and fallacious pretences; that upon the strictest enquiry, he could not find that Ramsay had a brother; and that if the people of St Albans would pass her to Hull, [Mary] would there meet with her dessert.
Mary protested; the man who had written the letter was a particular friend of her uncle and had colluded in the deception practised upon her. The mayor – not knowing who to believe – directed two letters to gentlemen in Hull, asking for clarification. The answers came back, confirming that Mary was lying. The mayor wasted no time and Mary found herself in the Bridewell where she confessed all. She was a dupe, an impostor, and she was whipped at the cross as a vagrant on the next market day before being packed off back to Hull.
That Mary received her comeuppance didn’t deter Sarah Wilson who, just two years after this tale had been published, embarked on her own fantastical adventures. In fact, we suspect the tall-tale about Mary Ramsay to be a complete work of fiction as we can find no proof to substantiate any of it, but that probably doesn’t matter. It was reported as fact and the tale took on a life of its own in the imagination of Sarah Wilson, alias Lady Wilbrahammon, whose story is most definitely true, even though it is not quite as has been reported over the centuries. But, to discover the amazing adventures of ‘Lady Wilbrahammon’, you’ll have to read our book, All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century.
The Beauties of all the Magazines, selected for the year 1764, vol. iii
The Nottingham born artist, Paul Sandby, painted and drew many scenes in and around Windsor and also informal portraits of some of the inhabitants. One of his drawings, held in the Royal Collection, caught our eye: the Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, c.1770-1780. Isherwood is an uncommon surname, and with the father’s occupation, surely it would be possible to track down the forenames of these two young women and complete the attribution?
The father of these two young women was Henry Isherwood who owned an ale brewery which traded from premises on Datchet Lane/Lower Thames Street in Windsor (around where St George’s School now stands on Datchet Road). From the brewhouse yard, you had an excellent view of Windsor Castle.
Henry Isherwood was reputed to be ‘a poor lad’ from Yorkshire who had made his way to Eton in Berkshire where he found work at the Christopher Inn. He married well, to Sarah Kendal (on 5 May 1737 at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire) whose money helped her husband establish his brewery at Windsor (the town had a thriving brewing industry).
The couple had three known children, a son, Henry (baptized 9 February 1739) and two daughters, the two young ladies in the drawing above, Sarah (born c.1743) and Christiana Maria (born c.1745). The family prospered and grew wealthy on their business’s profits.
Also in the Royal Collection is a drawing by Sandby which features another of the Isherwood family, although the name of the man depicted seems to have got muddled over time. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, the man stood on the far left was just denoted as ‘Isherwood the brewer’, a later mount now attached to the picture claims the man to be J. Isherwood and the notes on the RCT website mark the man out as Henry Isherwood senior. However, this drawing dates to 1760 and the man depicted looks to be very young; we believe that it is more likely the man shown is Henry Isherwood junior, who would have been around 21 years of age in 1760.
The four men are standing on Windsor Terrace; in the middle is Davis, Windsor Castle’s smith and to the right a man identified as Captain Archibald Campbell (the RCT notes suggest that he is possibly the same man who married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the painter Allan Ramsay, but as Amelia Ramsay’s future husband saw action in the Seven Years’ War, we’re not totally sure about this).
Then tragedy struck the family. Henry Isherwood senior died suddenly in 1773… and it was hinted that he had been poisoned.
Henry Isherwood’s will left his family well provided for. His son took over the running of the brewery and also later – for just a short time – became New Windsor’s MP. Henry junior’s death, on 22 January 1797, cut short his parliamentary career. Sarah and Christiana Isherwood were both left financially secure by their father, each receiving 8,000l. They never married. Around 1790, the Isherwood family built a substantial mansion-house, situated in large grounds, at Bushey in Hertfordshire and named Laurel Lodge. There Sarah and Christiana lived in their old age, often visited by their brother’s children. (Laurel Lodge was remodelled in the late 1800s and has now been converted into flats known as Herne Mansions (formerly Sparrows Herne House); it stands in Bushey Heath down Fuller Close, a short distance from the junction of Little Bushey Lane and Elstree Road.) Sarah died in 1820 aged 77 and Christiana in 1827, aged 81. Both women are buried in the churchyard at New Windsor.
We’ve already mentioned Henry Isherwood senior’s melancholy end. We’ll relate the events leading up to his death and leave you to decide if he was indeed poisoned.
Henry was a member of the Colnbrook Turnpike Commission and on 29 March 1773, he and the other members dined at an inn named The Castle, at Salt Hill outside Slough. The men present were the Hon Mr O’Brien, the Hon Captain Thomas Needham (aged 33 and the eldest son of ‘Jack’, 10th Viscount Kilmorey), Edward Mason Esq, Major Mayne, Mr Cheshire, Walpole Eyre Esq (aged 38 and whose godfather was Sir Robert Walpole, hence his name), Captain Salter, Henry Isherwood, Mr Joseph Benwell, a draper from Eton who was the Commission’s treasure, Mr Pote senior (on business) and Mr Burcombe, the Commission’s surveyor. Over the course of the next two weeks, all but one of the gentlemen were taken seriously ill. At first, the wine was suspected to be the cause; Captain Salter had preferred to drink punch instead, and Mr Cheshire had drunk very little. Both men were only mildly ill. It was initially believed that Mrs Partridge, the landlady, had added a little arsenic to the wine, to ‘refine’ it.
The dinner was turtle soup, followed by fish, jack, perch and eel, spatchcock fowls, bacon and greens, veal cutlets, a ragout of pigs ears, a chine of mutton and salad, a course of lamb and cucumbers, crayfish and, as if you needed more after that feast, pastry and jellies. All was described as:
…plain and innocent, nothing high-seasoned, or that could give cause of suspicion of any bad consequence; the wine, Madeira and Port, of the best sorts. In both articles of meat and drink, the company were moderate, and no excess appeared.
After their dinner, some people were brought in to be examined before the members of the commission, among them a poor man, in a ‘distressed, miserable condition’. He seems to have been in ill-health. Mr Pote, perhaps wisely it seems, had gone out to the gardens of the inn to stretch his legs; he was there on other business relating to the commission but had no need to be present during the examinations. Mr Pote was the only one of the company not to suffer any ill effects, all the others fell ill to varying degrees. Four of the men died: Captain Needham, Joseph Benwell, Walpole Eyre and Henry Isherwood.
Mrs Partridge was horrified and willingly allowed her kitchen and cellar to be fully inspected. Major Mayne’s doctor, Dr James, was of the opinion that his patient’s illness was due to an infection; if it had been poison, he assured the public, the men would have fallen ill within hours, not days. There were reports that a Clerk of the Justices, a Mr Mason who had dined on beefsteaks in a private room in the inn (confusingly, an Edward Mason Esq was said to be present at the commission’s dinner too), was also dangerously ill; the Justices had examined a poor man, brought before them in a ‘dying condition’ from Taplow to be passed to his own parish. This man later died, as did the farmer at whose house he lodged on his journey. Local gossip also claimed that several prisoners had travelled from Reading gaol on their way to London, to be transported for their crimes, and stopped at the inn. Gaol fever could have been the cause.
In short, it appears from the newspapers of the day that there was certainly an outbreak of a contagious fever in the area, but nevertheless, with all the talk of poison, trade at the Castle Inn dropped dramatically and Mrs Partridge struggled for a good twelve months afterwards. And, rumours abounded years later. Years later, Queen Charlotte’s Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe, Charlotte Papendick, in her memoirs recounted the tale and claimed that Mrs Partridge, on her deathbed, confessed.
…she considered it right to disclose the secret of the poisoning now it could no longer hurt any individual, and was at the time purely accidental, she would confess that it arose from the turtle having been left in the stewpans cold, and then heated afresh for the dinner. The cook, renowned for the dressing of this favorite luxury, came down from London late the evening before, expressly for this purpose. He said that as the turtle was better for long stewing, he should do it through the night, during which time he would be preparing various other dainties. He didn’t keep to his word. He slept, let the fire out, and heated the turtle soup up again without removing it from the pan… From the acids used in dressing the turtle, the pan was covered with verdigris. When she showed it to the cook he said he wasn’t aware of harm…
In fairness, Mrs Papendick’s account contains many errors, so we’re not at all sure of her accuracy. Another account also blames the soup, however, again attributing the poisoning to an accidental cause. The soup had been allowed to stand in a copper vessel, and the gentlemen died of mineral poisoning. So, arsenic in the wine, mineral poisoning, a bad batch of turtle soup or an infectious pauper? Sadly, we’ll never know the true cause, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sources not mentioned above:
The Bath Road: History, Fashion & Frivolity on an Old Highway by Charles G. Harper, 1899
Royal Academy: 1934 – Exhibition of British Art c.1000-1860, 6 January 1934 to 17 March 1934
Northampton Mercury, 26 April 1773
Reading Mercury, 26 April 1773
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 5 February 1820
The Scots Magazine, vol 35, 1773
Collectanea topographica et genealogica, 1837
Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte; Being the Journals of Mrs Papendick, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and Reader to Her Majesty, 1887
Known as the ‘rock houses’ they are a well-known feature of the town of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands and only a few miles away from Newstead Abbey, home of Lord Byron.
Rumour has it that Robin Hood and his Merry Men had used the rock houses as hiding places – true or not we will never know (it’s a great legend though), but either way, they were extremely old, cut into the local sandstone and were used as homes until the beginning of the 1900s.
Robert Watson (1779-1839) and his wife Elizabeth née Moor, were one such couple who lived there in the early part of the 19th century. As Robert died prior to the first census taken in 1841, unfortunately, there is no information about his early life, occupation etc, we do however know that they had six children – William, Robert, Mary, John, Elizabeth and their youngest Sarah, who was born in 1810.
Their lives would not have been easy, all eight of them living in such a small dwelling, trying to make ends meet to avoid the poor house. It was often thought that these houses were the modern equivalent of squats, however, this was not the case as confirmed in a letter of 1843 from the Poor Law Commission Office, which stated
In an 1813 newspaper report, we learn that whilst those rock houses had probably been there for a long time they were by no means safe and the newspaper article reported that
a melancholy accident happened at one of the rock houses – as Robert Watson with his family were partaking of breakfast the roof suddenly fell in and completely buried one of his children, about three years of age, it was dug out of the ruins dreadfully bruised and dead – the rest of the family escaped unhurt.
That child was their youngest daughter, Sarah. By 1841, Elizabeth Watson was widowed but remained in the family dwelling, after all, where else could she have gone?
By this time the small community numbered just under 100 people, many were stone masons, framework knitters and chimney sweeps. One of the main occupations prior to 1841 was that of besom maker (a broom made from twigs, tied with a stick), but by 1841 only two remained – John Cheesman and Joseph Freeman.
One of the framework knitters (an occupation we have looked at previously) was George Gilbert (1779-1853), who lived there with his wife Sarah and their grandson a John Day, aged 12, according to the 1841 census, their son had died in childhood and their daughter Roseanna had married the son of the neighbouring family, Robert, son of Robert and Elizabeth Watson who we mentioned earlier.
Sarah’s marriage to Robert took place at St Peter and St Paul church, Mansfield on March 1st, 1826, so, a long and happy life ahead of them, or so you might think, but this marriage was to be very short-lived.
At the end of August 1826, Robert Watson appears to have moved from Mansfield to Uppingham, Rutland, (with or without his new bride is unclear) at which time he was arrested for robbery along with a companion Henry Jones. It was alleged that they broke into the slaughter-house of a Mr Fludyer and stole a butcher’s frock, an apron and a piece of venison which was discovered wrapped in the frock. Both Robert and Henry were committed to trial at Oakham at the following session. GUILTY AS CHARGED.
Robert, a stonemason, was sentenced to transportation, despite petitions from his parents Robert and Elizabeth, of Mansfield, who stressed that he was of good character, from a large family and that he had never been in trouble before and how distressed the family would be if he were to be imprisoned.
The court was having none of it and Robert was sent to The York, a hulk or prison ship to await transportation, where he remained until April 1827 when he boarded TheMarquis of Hastings and began the long voyage that was to take him to New South Wales where his sentence of seven years was to take place. The convict register of New South Wales described Robert as 5 feet 9 inches, brown hair, ruddy complexion, grey eyes, missing one of his upper front teeth.
Quite how good his conduct was we may never know, but it can’t have exactly been exemplary, as six years into his sentence in 1833, he was sent to Norfolk Island, for life. This was however rescinded at the beginning of 1841 and he was given a Certificate of Freedom.
So, what of his new bride? Did she await his return? Well, it appears that Roseanna continued to live in one of the rock houses but wasted little time finding a replacement for Robert, clearly, she felt he would never return.
A little over two years after Robert’s departure Roseanna presented her first child for baptism, at the same church in which they had married, so clearly the child was not Robert’s son and no father was named in the register, a performance which she repeated virtually every two years until 1844, on each occasion Roseanna gave her address as Rock House, so she had obviously remained there after husband had been transported. At some stage, she took up with a John Day, as to whether he was the unnamed father of her children, who knows, but her eldest son, named John, was with his grandparents on census day in 1841.
People continued living in the rock houses until the turn of the century, they are now sadly derelict and overgrown – such an interesting piece of local social history, all but disappeared.
Nottingham Gazette, 18 June 1813.
Draft letter from the Poor Law Commission to Richard Goulding. MH 12/9360/63
The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, Friday, September 01, 1826
New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867
Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.
We were busy researching something completely different about Jamaica and stumbled across this story. Whilst we’re unable to add anything much to it we thought it was worth sharing with you – a bit gruesome, but we do write about All Things Georgian, after all.
This story begins on 16th March 1773 in Spanish Town, Jamaica with the hanging of a Lewis Hutchinson, aka, Mad Master; but what warranted such a sentence?
Accounts of what led up to his hanging vary, and quite who he was, we’re unable to ascertain. Reports say he was from Scotland, but there’s no trace of a Lewis Hutchinson being born or having lived there, so far as we can tell. One newspaper report initially referred to him as James Hutchinson but then part way through changed his name to Lewis – so we’re none the wiser.
During the 1770s there were plenty of Scottish men who established sugar plantations in Jamaica, aiming to make their fortunes with the use of slaves to work the plantations. Hutchinson was no different. He owned the Edinburgh Castle plantation in the St Ann district of Jamaica and had around 24 slaves. (The Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project notes that after the time of Hutchinson, Edinburgh Castle had just under 100 slaves).
Hutchinson, it would seem had a penchant for shooting any white man who came anywhere close to his land. Now, Dr Jonathan Hutton, an English doctor owned the close by Bonne Ville plantation with around 60 slaves, 30 male and 30 females and spent his time between Jamaica and his home in Lincolnshire.
The story goes that Hutchinson had a dispute with Dr Hutton over land boundaries, as Hutchinson felt that Hutton had encroached onto his land and this angered him greatly; so one evening when Dr Hutton was riding home accompanied by one of his slaves who was carrying his sabre when Hutchinson took the sabre from the slave and told the slave to pass on his compliments to Dr Hutton and to tell him that he had taken his sabre. Hutton either ignored or didn’t realise what had taken place.
Sometime later, Hutton and his young daughter, Mary, aged about 8 years were out riding when they encountered Hutchinson who, without provocation, struck the doctor with the sabre which had previously taken.
Dr Hutton was severely injured and was carried back to the estate to recover, but his recovery was poor. He managed to travel to Kingston to make a formal complaint about Hutchinson, but nothing appeared to have been done about it, and as he was so ill, he gave up and decided to make the long journey back to England for treatment. Once there he had an operation for trepanning. He eventually returned to Jamaica a year or so later and sought to have Hutchinson arrested.
A soldier by the name of Callender and some other men were sent to Edinburgh Castle to arrest him, but Hutchinson realised what was about to happen; he fired a shot at Callender and killed him. He was eventually overpowered and arrested and taken to Spanish Town gaol. His castle was searched, where some 43 watches were found, along with a large quantity of clothing and other objects which proved that, as people had suspected, he had committed other murders.
If his slaves were to be believed, he murdered many people and threw their dead bodies down an extremely deep sink hole near the property. There were also rumours that he drank his victims’ blood and then dismembered them, true or just folklore?
Another story that circulated was that he had befriended a young white man who was taken ill. Rumours were that Hutchinson had aided the young man’s recovery and when recovered Hutchinson sent him on his way.
It seems that as the young man left the castle, Hutchinson waited, made his way to the rooftop of the castle, took aim and fired a shot which killed the young man. How true that story is no-one can confirm.
Hutchinson was, however, only tried for the one crime and as such was hanged only for that. Over time people have investigated the claims of the dead bodies being thrown down the sinkhole but after much searching, there seems to be no substantive evidence to support this claim, so arguably yet more folklore.
Young Mary Hutton, aged only eight at the time of her father’s attack, returned to London at some stage with her mother Christiana and on the 8th September 1778, although still a minor, was married at St Catherine Coleman church, London to a John Pottinger. The couple returned to Jamaica where Mary and her husband continued to run her father’s plantation, Bonne Ville; they had 45 enslaved people there in 1792 and after the abolition of slavery, Mary made two claims totalling £1,000.
A picturesque tour of the island of Jamaica
Caledonian Mercury 26 June 1773
Historic Jamaica by Frank Cundell
Legacies of British Slave owner database
View of Port Royal, Jamaica Richard Paton (1717–1791) National Maritime Museum
On the evening of the 3rd September 1783, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Thomas sat down and wrote his will.
London, Sept. 3, 1783
I am now called upon, and, by the rules of what is called honour, forced into a personal interview with Colonel Gordon. God only can know the event, and into his hands I commit my soul, conscious only of having done my duty. I therefore declare this to be my last will and testament and do hereby revoke all former will I have made at any time. In the first place I commit my soul to Almighty God, in hopes of his mercy and pardon. I leave 150l in bank notes to my dear brother, John Thomas Esq. I also bequeath unto him whatever sums may be due to me from the agent of the 1st Regiment of Guards, reserving a sufficient sum to pay my debts and bequeath to him all my books and household furniture and everything of which I am now possessed. I give and bequeath to Thomas Hobbs. My servant 50 which I request my brother will pay him. What debts may be now owing I request my brother will immediately discharge.
P.S. I commit this into the hands of my friend Captain Hill, of the first Regiment of Guards.
Why is this will significant? It’s not the most interesting or especially informative. Well, because the following day, Fred Thomas had an ‘interview’ with a Colonel Gordon, but not an interview for a job, or a chat or a disciplinary meeting. He was meeting a Colonel Cosmo Gordon for a duel and was clearly wanting to ‘put his house in order’ before the event. The postscript was added to his will after the event took place.
Fred’s opponent was Colonel Cosmo Gordon, the third son of William Gordon, 2nd Earl of Aberdeen (1679-1746) and his wife Anne, who was living in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square.
The two gentlemen in question had a long-standing military dispute and General Gordon accused Lieutenant Thomas of besmirching his good name and demanded satisfaction as you can see in this letter from Gordon to Thomas
Cosmo Gordon, Great Marlborough-street, 20th of June 1783, seven o’clock.
Having had a full and honourable acquittal of the charge you brought against me, I desire you will give me personal satisfaction, and meet me with a friend and two brace of pistols and a sword, at the Ring, in Hyde Park.
Your injured obedient servant,
Addressed to Colonel Thomas.
The duel went ahead on the morning of 4th September 1783:
At six in the morning, the pair met at the Ring in Hyde Park to fight the duel. It was agreed upon by their seconds, that, after receiving their pistols, they should advance (eight paces being the usual distance apart required), and fire when they pleased.
On arriving within about 8 yards of each other they presented and drew their triggers at virtually the same time, but only the Colonel’s pistol went off. Fred having adjusted his pistol, fired at the Colonel, who received a severe contusion on the thigh.
Their second pistols were fired without effect and their friends called to reload them. After which they advanced to almost the same distance and fired. Fred fell, having received a ball in his belly causing a wound one inch long but fourteen inches in depth. body. He received immediate assistance from the surgeon, who was in attendance.
Whilst the injury appeared severe it was not instantly fatal. From the said 4th to the 5th day of September, Frederick languished, but on the 5th day of September, the said Frederick Thomas died as a result of his injury. An inquest was held by Thomas Prickard on 6th September 1783.
Cosmo Gordon was charged with murder and appeared at the Old Bailey but was eventually found NOT GUILTY.
Frederick Thomas was buried a few days later, on the 10th of September 1783 and his name appears in the burial registers of St George’s Hanover Square, which covered St George’s Fields, Bayswater, at this date.
Stamford Mercury 25 September 1783
The Old Bailey Online, City of Westminster Coroners: Coroners’ Inquests into Suspicious Deaths
The History of Duelling by John Gideon Millingen
City of Westminster Archives provided confirmation of the entry in the burial register
A Military Encampment in Hyde Park, 1785. Inscribed in pen with brown ink, verso, center: “Drawn on July [1785?] | by | James Malton”, Signed and dated, verso, in pen with brown ink, “1875 | by | James Malton” Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Centre for British Art
We are delighted to welcome back to our blog fellow Pen and Sword author, Naomi Clifford who loves nothing better than nosing around old archives to find stories of forgotten people.
Today Naomi’s going to share with us some information about her latest book, so we’ll hand straight over to her.
In Ford Madox Brown’s painting The Last of England, painted in the middle of the 19th century, a young couple on the deck of a ship bound for Australia gaze grimly out to sea, the White Cliffs of Dover behind them. Perhaps they have left hunger and trauma behind them. Perhaps they are merely convinced that better fortunes lie overseas.
Emigration grew throughout the early part of the century: the Irish potato famine, changes in farming and industry, high taxes – all contributed to a great movement of people to dominions across the water. Many went to Australia and Canada but America was perennially popular.
Although there are no reliable statistics before about 1800, it has been estimated that in the first decade of the 19th century more than 20,000 people emigrated to America from the United Kingdom, most of them from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. A good proportion of them earned their passage by hiring themselves out as indentured servants, their labour sold on by the captain after landing. Some were veterans of the long wars with France, who had been unable to settle or find employment. Others simply found life in Britain and Ireland untenable: wages were low and food prices were high. The steerage of packet ships crossing the Atlantic was stuffed with the labouring poor and their families, who no doubt earnestly hoped for significantly better prospects overseas.
Abraham Thornton, who in the middle of September 1818 left the family farm at Shard End in Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire and travelled to Birmingham to catch the stagecoach to Liverpool, was not one of these.
His reason for quitting England was simple: he was hated, notorious throughout the country. In the opinion of most people, he had escaped his rightful fate: swinging on the gallows for the brutal rape and murder of Mary Ashford.
Thornton, the only suspect in Mary’s death, was tried at Warwick Assizes in August 1817, but to the surprise of many was acquitted. Rumours that witnesses and jurymen had been paid off by his father were rife and a few months later Mary’s brother started a civil prosecution in London. The case gripped the country, partly because early on in the proceedings Thornton challenged his accuser to hand-to-hand combat, and the rest of the case was devoted to deciding whether this could legally take place. The public was appalled when the case collapsed. Thornton seemed once more to have evaded justice.
Once in Liverpool, Thornton browsed the newspapers for a suitable passage. He booked a place on the American-owned packet ship The Independence which was scheduled to sail for New York on the 25th. Fixed sailing dates was a recent innovation, brought in by a group of New York Quaker businessmen who developed the idea of creating a ‘shipping line’ by contracting several vessels to sail on specific dates between established ports. In autumn 1817 they advertised the first service in the Black Ball line, using large three-masted square-rigged schooners. Sailings started in January 1818.
Soon two ships were travelling across the Atlantic each month each way. Rather than follow the trade winds across the Atlantic, the American captains preferred the most direct route – it was rougher but faster. Thompson incentivised his team: If an eastbound sailing was completed in under 22 days or westbound in under 35, the captain was given a new coat, and a dress for his wife.
The Independence was not one of the Black Ball ships (rival shippers were quick to copy Thompson). In the end, however, Thornton was prevented from boarding after he was recognised by a fellow passenger who objected to the prospect of being at close quarters for at least six weeks with a possible murderer.
Aged 25, and of average height, broad and beefy, with a square jaw and thinning dark hair swept forward over a bald patch, Thornton was easy to recognise. His portrait had appeared in numerous pamphlets while the case was in play and had been printed in The Observer.
It is quite possible that in Liverpool he wore the same black hat, black coat and beige leggings he had on at his numerous court appearances in London. There was also something less tangible but equally notable – an aloof confidence, which had so struck the newspaper journalists who saw him in court that they remarked on it in their reports.
A few days after failing to board The Independence, Thornton managed to leave England. He bought a place on The Shamrock which was aiming to leave ‘immediately’ for Baltimore, which probably meant ‘as soon as the agent had booked sufficient cargo and passengers’.
Most of those who disembarked The Shamrock would have moved on pretty swiftly – Baltimore was the primary gateway to the West. Thornton, however, apparently headed north to New York and into almost complete obscurity.
Back in England, there were rumours about what had happened to him but none can be verified. Like many a traveller before and after him, he found protection in the vastness and anonymity of the US.
Over the years, the Ashford-Thornton case became known primarily for its effect on the statute book – it led directly to the rescinding of two medieval laws, appeal of murder and trial by battle – rather than the question of Thornton’s guilt or innocence. His solicitor and others speculated that Mary had not been raped and murdered but had drowned herself in remorse for ‘transgressing’ with Thornton in a field on their walk home. Naomi Clifford has uncovered evidence to show that the truth about the events of that night has been hiding in plain sight for 200 years…
Frederick Calvert was born in the early 1730s, son of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore. His father was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber in the service of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, the son of King George II. Educated at Eton, Frederick Calvert was subsequently described as being ‘one of their less reputable pupils’ for reasons which will become clear.
In his early twenties upon the death of his father, Frederick inherited the title 6th Lord Baltimore and shortly after married Diana Egerton, the daughter of Scroop Egerton, 1st Duke of Bridgewater. This marriage was a disaster and the couple formally separated after only three years of marriage due to his obsession with other women. He was very much a young man of means, spending money like water, taking mistresses left, right and centre, with forging a career full of extravagance and licentiousness.
It is reputed that his obsession for sexual gratification was such that he converted his house into a something more akin to a seraglio and that it was most certainly not the sort of place that any respectable woman would consider visiting. He even used Elizabeth Griffenberg, wife of Dr Griffenberg and Anne Harvey otherwise known as Anne Darby to find suitable women for his pleasure.
It was in 1768 however, that he found fame, but for all the wrong reasons. In March 1768, he found himself on trial, accused of raping a young woman, Miss Sarah Woodcock. Also accused, as accessories to the fact, were Griffenberg and Harvey.
Sarah, the daughter of Joseph Woodcock was a milliner and lived near Tower Hill in London with her father and sister. It was in November 1767 that Mrs Harvey visited her shop, was impressed by her beauty and recommended her to Lord Baltimore as someone he might enjoy meeting. With that, he visited her shop twice on the pretext of buying articles from her. He then invited her to attend the theatre with him, but she said that due to her strict upbringing she refused to attend such a venue.
Baltimore, not one to accept failure, was alleged to have hatched a plan to get Sarah to his house by using Mrs Harvey, who was to visit Sarah and persuade Sarah to make up a pair of bespoke laced ruffles for a lady who, if she liked them would become a good customer. Harvey called the next day and paid for the ruffles and asked that they plus some other items be brought to her house in Shoreditch, to which Sarah duly complied. Sarah was then persuaded to travel with Harvey to meet the lady she had spoken of. On reaching the destination she was greeted by Baltimore and Dr Griffenberg and persuade to stay for tea. The evening drew on and Sarah explained that her absence would be noticed, and she needed to get home. Somehow, despite her anxiety, Baltimore persuaded Sarah to stay longer and to have supper with them.
At this stage, Baltimore began to behave improperly toward her with assistance from Harvey and Mrs Griffenberg. Sarah again attempted to leave but was told that no coach could be summoned to take her home and that she would have to stay. They all tried to persuade her to go to bed, but Sarah would not settle and walked about the entire night. In the morning Sarah spotted a young woman walking past the window, she tried to summon her to ask her to let her father know that she was being held there against her will. This attempt to free herself proved unsuccessful.
Baltimore and Dr Griffenberg appeared and were astonished at her behaviour as Baltimore had promised that she could go home at twelve o’clock. Sarah said she wished to leave immediately. Baltimore, on the other hand, had other ideas and declared his undying love for her and showed her a letter he had prepared to send to her father, along with two hundred pounds, reassuring him that his daughter was safe. Sarah disbelieved him, again she tried to reach the window to shout for help but in vain. Sarah by then realised that she could not escape and wept for hours. A letter, it appeared had been sent to her father to meet someone named Smith for Sarah received a reply not from her father, but from her sister.
Sarah was then to spend another night under the roof Baltimore, still distressed, she only calmed when talking to Harvey about a young man who she was very fond of and that they were to settle in business as soon as the marriage should take place.
The following morning Sarah again pleaded with Baltimore to let her go home. At this stage, he became angry and threatened to either throw her out of the window, or send her home in a wheelbarrow, with her petticoats tied over her head, but still, he would not let her leave. Sarah by this time was becoming ill and Baltimore insisted she drink some medicine. After supper he made six several attempts to ravish her within two hours; but she repulsed by him in such a determined manner, that it was impossible for him to accomplish his dishonourable purpose. The following day she was taken to his country estate at Epsom, where she experienced several more acts of indecency. They then returned to London, where Sarah hope to attract the attention of someone she knew in her bid for freedom.
Sarah’s friends, especially a Mr Davis worked out where she might be being held, so went to Baltimore’s house and briefly attracted her attention before Harvey stopped this dialogue. Mr Davis then informed her father of his discovery who immediately took advice from a friend who recommended he apply to Lord Mansfield for a writ of habeas corpus. In the meantime, Baltimore told her that she should see her father and he said he would make a settlement on her for life if she would acknowledge that she had been well treated. This she agreed to, in the hope of obtaining her freedom. She was then told that Mrs Harvey had been taken into custody. The attorney called at Lord Baltimore’s house with a writ of habeas corpus.
Eventually, he was permitted to speak to Sarah and seemingly ascertained that she was there by her own consent, but that she was anxious to see her father. With this he left, but all parties were summoned to Lord Mansfield’s house in Bloomsbury Square, where Sarah was examined by Lord Mansfield and she told him that she was willing to live with his lordship, but that she desperately wished to see her family and friends first until she realised that he had the power to free her from the situation.
Mrs Griffenberg and Harvey were arrested and taken into custody, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Baltimore. Having been apprehended Baltimore and the women were granted bail to appear at trial in Kingston, Surrey. The case with all its graphic detail was heard and somehow Baltimore appeared totally convincing. It took the jury just one hour and twenty minutes to reach their verdict – all three were found – not guilty.
Have escaped conviction he decided that there was nothing more for him in England, so sold his entire estate, packed his bags and left for Europe accompanied by an entourage of women. In 1770 he wrote his will, perhaps knowing that his life was to be short-lived. To give him his due, he tried to ensure that as many of his illegitimate children would benefit from his estate. Quite whether he made provision for all of them, remains unknown.
On 4th September 1771 Frederick, Lord Baltimore, proprietor and Governor of Maryland died in Naples from a fever.
His body was returned to London, where it lay in state at the Great Room of Exeter Exchange on the Strand. After mourners had retired, a mob broke into the room where the body lay, stripped the room of everything and were preparing to throw the corpse and coffin out of the window, but were prevented at the last minute by a guard who spotted them. Ultimately, he was taken for burial in the family vault.
That concludes the life the of Frederick Calvert, but what became of Sarah after her ordeal? Well, reader, you may well be relieved to know that she found happiness as just a few months later, on 2nd August 1768 Sarah’s name appeared in the marriage register at St Botolph Without Bishopsgate. She married the young man John Davis. If that name looks familiar it is because he was the gentleman referred to in the court case.
Manchester Mercury 15 October 1771
Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, January 23, 1772 – January 25, 1772
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.
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.
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.
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 sex workers 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 sex worker. 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
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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 the 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 of 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.
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.
George too had demonstrated good behaviour and had been appointed to the post of a 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.
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.
Old Bailey Online
Convict registers for Australia
A woman suffering the pain of colic. Etching after G Cruikshank. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.