A Gypsy Romance

Major Boswell was a gypsy – he was born in 1780, and baptized on the 6th August, in the Oxfordshire village of Bloxham where he was recorded as the son of John Boswell.

A noted fiddler, as a young man he earned his living by playing at different venues and one day he arrived at Longton in the Staffordshire Potteries – where ‘he was engaged to play for the dancing classes held at a young ladies’ academy’. This episode of Major’s life dates to the very end of the eighteenth- or the dawning of the nineteenth-century, as it must have occurred between 1798 and 1801.

The first and the second of these [classes] at which he was present passed without incident, but at the third or fourth a big bouncing girl answering to the name of Mary Linyon persisted in treading on his toes. She did it on purpose quite clearly, and Major recognising this, and attracted no doubt by her handsome face and wilful demeanour, was not slow to take the cue she afforded him. He spoke to her afterwards, ostensibly about her behaviour, but what the really said to one another is better judged from the fact that a night or two later Mary, who was no more than fifteen, jumped from a bedroom window into his cart drawn up beneath it, on to a thick pile of straw surmounted by blankets and a feather bed.

A Dancing Colleen in a Landscape by John Joseph (c) National Trust, Sunnycroft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Sunnycroft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The couple eloped together and stayed hidden in the countryside whilst, it is said, a hue and cry was raised and a reward offered for any information which led to Major Boswell’s arrest. Perhaps this inducement worked because, supposedly, Major was eventually arrested and charged with Mary’s abduction, although he protested his innocence. The story as it was told around the campfires of their descendants places Major in a courtroom to answer the charges against him and there Mary took to the witness box, telling the judge loud and clear that it was she who had insisted on the elopement. Because of her testimony Major was acquitted and the spirited and determined Mary chose to remain by his side rather than return home to her parents.

Some say she was a gamekeeper’s daughter, and others that her father was a farm bailiff or steward. No matter, she was, by all accounts, a woman of strong character, as Major, her children and more particularly her daughters-in-law, seem to have discovered when they crossed her will; a great lover of order and cleanliness, of fine clothes, old china, and shining silver; an expert needlewoman, who taught the craft to her daughters and granddaughters with considerable success…

We have yet to turn up any information which confirms that Major Boswell did indeed elope with Mary, or that he was charged in a court of law with her abduction. But Mary had certainly received an education somewhere, so perhaps the story that she trod on poor Major’s toes in the dancing class where they first met is true, and she did indeed run away with him. In 1837 Mary (as Mary Linion and recorded as 55 years of age) was arrested for ‘fraudulently obtaining half-a-dozen silver teaspoons, the property of Mr Thomas Shepherd, of Barrow-upon-Soar, on the 1st April 1835’ along with Major Boswell (aged 60 years), their 16 year old son Alfred and daughter Edingal, 21 years of age. The case was never brought into court but, in the calendar of prisoners for trial, it was recorded that while Major, Alfred and Edingal Boswell could neither read nor write, Mary could do both well.

A Gypsy Encampment by William Shayer (c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Gypsy Encampment by William Shayer
(c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary took to her new way of life with gusto, providing Major with seventeen children, becoming expert at telling fortunes and described as the ‘best Gypsy of the lot of ‘em’. They stayed mainly in the Staffordshire area but travelled into other parts of the country too. A daughter named Tieni (or Teany) was baptized at Beoley in Worcestershire on the 8th March 1801. They were in Lincolnshire during the first two decades of the nineteenth-century for the baptism of Charles Augustus, son of Major and Mary Smith at Stamford St Michael on the 27th June 1803 is likely to be them, with Major described as a tin plate worker. The next year Mary daughter of Major and Mary Boswell was baptized at Ewerby near Sleaford on the 7th October 1804 (a William and Mary Lovil, ‘traveller & gipsy’ baptized a son, William, on the 28th of the same month at Digby, less than ten miles away from Ewerby, and perhaps they were travelling in company with Major Boswell and Mary Linyon). And then on the 7th March 1819, at Rauceby again near to Sleaford, we find the baptism of Alfred, son of Major and Mary Boswell, traveller. The couple also had a daughter whose name is transcribed as ‘Elopeh’ on the baptism records for Quainton in Buckinghamshire (she was baptized on the 22nd October 1802) – does her name refer to her parent’s reputed elopement, and provide some confirmation of it?

The Gypsies by William Simpson (c) Dumfries and Galloway Council (Kirkcudbright); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Gypsies by William Simpson
(c) Dumfries and Galloway Council (Kirkcudbright); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Major Boswell had married in 1798 at Breedon on the Hill in Leicestershire, to Lucy Boswell (a short lived son had been the product of that marriage), and if this was the same man it may explain why Mary continued to use her maiden name (as at her 1837 arrest), and could not legally marry her husband although they lived as man and wife. The couple are to be found at Willenhall near to Wolverhampton in Staffordshire in the 1861 census, living in a caravan parked in a field on the High Street; Major Boswell was aged 87 years, a tinman born at Bloxham in Oxfordshire and Mary, his wife, was 82 years of age and gave her birthplace as Gravesend in Kent.

Major Boswell ended his long life in Longton in Staffordshire, the village where he reputedly met his wife, his age exaggerated by a good few years at his death.

Major Boswell, who for the last seven years has made a tent on the Stone-road, Longton, his principal place of abode, died on Sunday, at the advanced age of 108 years. The body is ‘laid out’ in characteristic gipsy style. He ‘lies in state’ on a bed on the ground, covered with a white sheet, and a tuft of grass on the chest. The part of the tent where the body lies is lined with white, decorated with flowers, a picture of the Saviour, and wax candles on either side. The old man has not a wrinkle on his face, had only lost three teeth, and never consulted a doctor during his long earthly pilgrimage. He was twice married, and had by his second wife seventeen children, amongst whom he numbered fifty-nine grandchildren. His remains will be interred in Dresden churchyard to-day, and will no doubt be followed to the grave by an unusually large number of relatives.

 

Sources:

Leicester Chronicle, 11th March 1837

Staffordshire Advertiser, 21st May 1870

Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Third Series, Vol III, 1924

 

Header Picture:

Potteries Landscape by Henry Lark I Pratt from The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery via Your Paintings

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A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson; Perth & Kinross Council

Opium Eating: The Lincolnshire Fens in the early nineteenth-century

Today’s blog is going to be a sad little tale of a family destroyed by opium in late Georgian England. It perhaps struck us so much because the family lived not in an inner city slum but instead in the flat and open agricultural landscape of the Lincolnshire Fens, a marshland close to the Wash, an estuary on the eastern coastline of England.

We’ll turn first to a newspaper report on the inquest of a child belonging to this family, poor little Rebecca Eason who was actually younger than mentioned; she had not yet reached her fifth birthday.

An inquest was held at Whaplode on the 21st inst., by Samuel Edwards, Gent. coroner, on view of the body of Rebecca Eason, a child aged 5 years, who had been diseased from its birth and was unable to walk or to articulate, and from its size did not appear to be more than a few weeks old:- The mother had been for many years in the habit of taking opium in very large quantities, (nearly a quarter of an ounce in the day), and it is supposed from that circumstance had entailed a disease on her child which caused its death:- it was reduced to a mere skeleton, and had been in that emaciated state nearly from its birth. – Verdict, “Died by the visitation of God, but that from the great quantity of opium taken by the mother during her pregnancy of the said child and of her suckling it, she had greatly injured its health.” – It appeared in evidence that the mother of the deceased had had five children – that she began to take opium after the birth and weaning of her first child, which was and is remarkably healthy – and that her four younger children have all lingered and died in the same emaciated state as the child which was the subject of this investigation. – The mother is under 30 years of age: she was severely censured by the coroner for indulging in so pernicious a practice.

Stamford Mercury, 30th September 1825

For reasons that will perhaps become clear, we’re not going to judge poor addicted Mary Eason. She was quite clearly continuing to take opium despite knowing the effect it was having on her children but we cannot, at this remove, know what induced her first to use the drug, and once addicted very little help would be available to her.

Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier (c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier
(c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We were surprised to find that the consumption of opium in the Fenland was extremely high in comparison to other areas. Even now large areas of the Fenland appear quite isolated and in the early nineteenth-century there was limited medical assistance for the inhabitants who suffered badly from the ague (malarial fever, often leading to rheumatism), brought on by living in a marshy and largely unhealthy district. In 1867 Dr Hawkins of King’s Lynn informed the readers of the British Medical Journal that Lincolnshire and Norfolk consumed more than half of the opium which was imported into the country.[i]

The fact that these conditions had led to a noticeably high consumption of opium was commented on at the time. `There was not a labourer’s house… without its penny stick or pill of opium, and not a child that did not have it in some form.’ According to an analysis made in 1862, more opium was sold in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Manchester than in other parts of the country.’ As elsewhere, poppy-head tea had been used as a remedy long before other narcotics were commercially available. Charles Lucas, a Fenland physician, recalled the widespread use of the remedy. `A patch of white poppies was usually found in most of the Fen gardens. Poppy-head tea was in frequent use, and was taken as a remedy for ague… To the children during the teething period the poppy-head tea was often given. Poppies had been grown in the area for the London drug market, where they were used to produce syrup of white poppies; and there had even been attempts made in Norfolk to produce opium on a commercial scale.[ii]

Mary married young, very young given that she was stated (erroneously) to be under the age of thirty years in the September of 1825. Mary was, in fact, probably just on the other side of thirty as she married on the 9th September 1810 at the church of St Mary’s in Whaplode. Her maiden name was Egan and her husband, a labourer (given the location he’d be an agricultural labour), was named Thomas Eason. Mary made her mark on the register of her marriage and the two men who witnessed the ceremony were possibly two of the Church Wardens as they witnessed many marriages in the parish. Their names were Robert Collins and Robert Cook Collins.

So Mary was likely to have been little more than sixteen years of age and the marriage was a hasty one, possibly conducted with encouragement from the parish officials for Mary was heavily pregnant at the time of her wedding. Her child, a daughter named Ann, was born less than two months after she had walked up the aisle and was baptised in the same church on the 4th November 1810.

On the face of it, purely from the records available, things do not look too bad for the couple despite the unpromising start. They lived on Cobgate in Whaplode and, from the account given at the inquest, little Ann was a healthy baby and Mary initially a good mother. But the records belie the true facts. It was after Ann had been weaned that Mary Eason began to take opium.

We can’t know if her hastily made marriage was a happy one (for as the old saying goes, marry in haste and repent at leisure) nor if she was suffering from what would now be diagnosed as postnatal depression after the birth of her child. But begin to take opium she did which was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in the area in which she lived and where the drug was widely available. It was not unknown for working class women to dose their infant with poppy-head tea to keep them quiet or to soothe them. Sometimes their own addiction began because they ‘tasted’ the opiates which they gave to their children. Perhaps this is how Mary’s sad story of addiction began? However it came about, now the tragic procession of the baptisms and burials of her children begins to stalk the pages of the parish register.

"Poor child's nurse", child with opium, Punch, 1849 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
“Poor child’s nurse”, child with opium, Punch, 1849
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

First was William, baptized on the 15th April 1813 and buried just a few months later on the 30th September. He was followed by another girl, Susanna, baptized on the 2nd January 1815 and who lived to see only her first birthday. She was buried on the 13th May 1816. Then comes Sarah, baptized on the 1st November 1816 and possibly, contrary to the inquest, a further child who did survive Mary’s addiction for we have as yet found no corresponding burial for her.

Sarah’s birth was followed by another sister, Elisabeth who was baptized on the 6th December 1818 and buried just over a month later on the 10th January 1819. Then a son named Thomas, baptized on the 4th December 1819 and buried five days later. And next came poor Rebecca, baptized on the 29th December 1820, who somehow miraculously clung to life but failed to grow or develop. Finally the last child we have managed to trace, another son named John who was baptized on the 6th July 1823 and buried on Christmas Eve later that same year.

We’ll be honest here, when we first went hunting through the records for Mary Eason and her children we half expected to see a trail of illegitimate children. But no, Thomas Eason is named on all the baptisms and burials as the father, the address is always Cobgate and his profession does not change. For anyone reading through the Whaplode registers the household looks to be a completely stable one, albeit tinged with tragedy. As we have not judged Mary, neither will we judge Thomas Eason. Again, we have no way of knowing whether he was a kind or a cruel husband or even if he was an opium eater himself, but the mere fact that he had stuck by Mary and that their eldest child was reported, in 1825, to still be healthy, points to him trying his best to hold his troubled home together. Possibly he just got by and did what he could, not knowing what else to do or where to turn to for help?

The Church of St Mary, Whaplode. The east end of the church. © Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Church of St Mary, Whaplode.
The east end of the church.
© Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

At least five infant children belonging to Thomas and Mary Eason now lay in the churchyard at St Mary’s and it seems that they had passed as mere statistics of high infant mortality without the cause of death raising any suspicions, or at least no suspicions which reached the authorities. In the Fenland the rates of infant mortality were even higher than elsewhere, with the use of opium being one of the main causes. But Rebecca’s death in 1825 was different, because of her deformities, leading to the inquest.

After Rebecca’s burial on the 22nd September 1825 when she joined her five siblings in the churchyard Thomas and Mary Eason vanish from the pages of the parish register. We’ve looked for them in later records, hoping to put a happy ending to their lives, but we can find no trace of them or their daughter Ann (and Sarah if she did live). A sad ending for a sad tale of a Fenland family in the early nineteenth-century.

Endnotes:

[i] Beccles and Bungay Weekly News, 1st October 1867

[ii] Opium in the Fens

Header image: A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson; Perth & Kinross Council

A gypsy named James Venus

The Boss family, notorious gypsy horse thieves and dealers, plied their dubious trade across throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, into Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire and further afield into Yorkshire.

The family used various aliases, including Heron (Hearne) and Jones.  The best known was Riley Boss who had three wives, Charlotte Hammond, Lucy Boswell and Shurensi (sometimes Susannah) Smith.  Also of the travelling party was Riley’s reputed half-brother, James Venus, who had taken for a wife Trinity Boswell (sister of Elijah Boswell, a notorious rogue) along with her children by George Boyling, her previous husband.

James Venus and Riley Boss had a sister named Clara.  In the latter half of the 1820s, the party met Samuel Roberts (1763-1848) of Park Grange in Sheffield, the son of a local manufacturer.  It is likely that this was during the summer of 1827.  James and Trinity Venus had baptised a son, named Newcombe Venus, in Bowdon Cheshire on the 22nd April 1827 as James and Traineth Venus of Dunham (a neighbouring village) with James’s occupation being described as cutler, a traditional gypsy occupation; he would have travelled with a grinding machine sharpening blades.

Gypsy Camp by James Edward Meadows (1826-1888)
Gypsy Camp by James Edward Meadows (1826-1888)

In the summer of 1827, the party were on their way back to Lincolnshire where young Newcombe Venus was buried at Mablethorpe on the 5th August 1827, the burial register recording him as the son of James and Trinity Venus, gypsies, aged about nine months.  At some point between these two dates, whilst travelling from Cheshire to Lincolnshire via the Sheffield road, the gypsy party met with Samuel Roberts.  In his own words:

In taking my accustomed ride into the country, I met with a tribe, or rather family, of Gypsies, consisting, as I then supposed, of the father, mother, and five children; it, however, proved, that the older of the children, a girl apparently about thirteen, was an orphan, and sister to the man, though probably nearly twenty years younger than he.  I saw them several times and at length asked the man if he would have any objections to leaving his sister with my family, at any rate till he called again, which I understood to be in about eight days . . . The man said his name was James Vanis.  His sister’s Clara Vanis.  I have since heard that it was Hearn and not Vanis.

From this description, we seem to have James and Trinity Venus, together with his sister Clara, the baby Newcombe and three of Trinity’s children from her previous marriage.  Samuel Roberts was a religious man, a keen slavery abolitionist and he published several books, some on the subject of the gypsies and their culture and he was also known as the ‘Pauper’s Advocate’. His reason for wanting Clara to stay with him and his family was to become better acquainted with the language and habits of the gypsy people.  With both James Venus and Clara being agreeable to this she returned to Park Grange with Roberts.  Clara was, from Roberts’ description, a slight, well-formed girl, not strongly gypsy looking and not handsome but strikingly intelligent.

She spent the eight days with the Roberts family and they seem to have been as delighted with her as she was with them, becoming a firm favourite with two of Roberts’ daughters.  She and the Roberts wished to extend the visit but James Venus came at the appointed time and insisted that Clara leave with him immediately. Clara was in tears but agreed to go with her brother, even though Samuel Roberts entreated her to remain.  James Venus had told Samuel Roberts that Clara was needed as his wife and one of the children was ill, but after Clara had quit his house Roberts encountered the wife, Trinity, who told him that she was as well as usual and did not wish for Clara’s return.  No further mention is made of the sickly child but seeing as the infant Newcombe Venus was buried shortly after this, James Venus was probably right to be concerned and to want his sister to help.

Gipsy Encampment by George Morland, c.1790-1795 (c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Gipsy Encampment by George Morland, c.1790-1795
(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Victorian gypsiologist, Rev. George Hall (1863-1918), so well known to the Lincolnshire gypsy fraternity, later talked with Clara’s family.  Hall knew her as a full sister to Riley Boss and a half-sister to the slightly shadier James Venus, whose identity has always been unsure.  Indeed, many authorities have decided that James Venus was simply an alias used by Riley Boss and that the two men were one and the same.  George Hall had this to say, referencing the opinion of another, earlier, gypsiologist, George Borrow.

Concerning the dramatic termination of the Sheffield episode, two versions are extant.  According to Mr. Roberts, it is James Vanis, otherwise Hearn, who comes of Clara with a lying pretext on his lips.  In Borrow’s statement it is Ryley who snatches his young sister away in a characteristic spirit of violence.  It is true, the girl had a half-brother named James, yet seeing that Borrow obtained his facts during lengthy conversations with Clara herself, it may be presumed that ‘James Vanis’ was after all only one more of Ryley’s many aliases.

However, it seems unlikely that James Venus was purely an alias; certainly Trinity, after leaving George Boyling and taking up with her second husband, consistently uses the surname Venus, or a variant thereof, as does James during several court appearances for vagrancy and theft, and not once do they use differing forenames or surnames.

The year after this Sheffield episode, in Burton by Lincoln, the name Newcombe was given to a son of Riley Boss and Shurensi (as an adult he would be transported to Australia under the name of Barthey Jones for the crime of horse stealing).

28th September 1828, Burton by Lincoln, baptism of Newcome son of William and Susan Boss, at Burton, gypsey.

A month later James Venus (as James Vanus) was sentenced to a week in prison for the crime of larceny at the Doncaster Sessions, possibly tried alongside an Abraham Herring, but he was back in Lincolnshire in November for the baptism of a child named Aswerly at Upon cum Kexby near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, the register there recording the parents as James and Trinity Venus, travelling tinker.

Newcombe Boss (aka Newton Boss and Barthey Jones), born in 1828 - photo taken in Tasmania (to where he was transported) c.1896). Image from the Special Collections and Archives at Liverpool University
Newcombe Boss (aka Newton Boss and Barthey Jones), born in 1828 – photo taken in Tasmania (to where he was transported) c.1896).
Image from the Special Collections and Archives at Liverpool University

Riley at least remained in the Lincolnshire area as a double baptism of his children took place at the end of 1832, one which was not all that it seemed.  For Riley had a son named Adness with Shurensi and a daughter named Naomi with Lucy; polygamy was common amongst these people, and it so happened that Riley had two children born within days of each other by two of his wives.  Not wanting to shock the local vicar by proclaiming himself as the father of both children, a relative stood in as the father of Lucy’s daughter. The baptisms took place in the village of Wootton.

30th Dec 1832 – Agnes daughter of Ryley and Susannah Bos, of Wootton, a gipsy

30th Dec 1832 – Naomi daughter of Thomas and Lucy Bos, of Wootton, a gipsy

The Vicar then added a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register, “N.B. I was afterwards informed by report only, after their departure, that the child whom they named Agnes was a boy.  The persons who call themselves Bos are probably Boswells”.  The child was not only a boy but was Adness rather than Agness, but he also, in later life, used the names Isaac and Haggi.

James Venus made a further appearance in the dock, this time in Derbyshire for stealing an ass, along with his stepson Absalom Boyling, the two men were recorded as James Vanass aged 50 and Absalom Vanass aged 16, both gypsies.  James received four months imprisonment.

At Attercliffe, Sheffield, on the 20th February 1844, Trinity Venus, wife of James Venus, brazier, died of typhus fever aged 54 years.  Her death was registered by Hesilla Venus, possibly her daughter Asella by her first husband George Boyling, who had been present at the death; we can find no other trace of Hesilla/Asella.  Trinity’s son Absalom, or ‘Appy Boswell, was known for his ‘Lying Tales’.  Perhaps though there was more truth in them than has yet been supposed?

The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society Journal (1925) has this on ‘Appy.

Among them was Trenit Boswell, a daughter of the Absolom or Appy Boswell who is famous all over the North Midlands and the northern counties for his Lying Tales, and about whose origin and ‘breedipen’ there has been as deep and seemingly impenetrable a mystery as any in Gypsy genealogy.  Appy himself would declare that he was born at Wickersley, near Rotherham, of respectable gorgio parents, his father being a small farmer and dealer. As a boy he attended Sunday School, where he learned to read and write; after which, he said, his parents apprenticed him to Rogers of Sheffield, ‘to have him put in the way of the grinding business.’ The workmen, however, used him harshly, so he ran away, and ‘listed as a sailor’; and was shipwrecked, and lived for a week at the bottom of the sea — ‘ a beautiful tem in no mistake, only vittles wasn’t to say plentiful there, and it took you all your time to get a bit of fire going.’ Various adventures followed, bringing him back at last to England, where one day he fell in with a widow who had five children, and was so sorry for her that he married her forthwith. But, as will be seen, this is one of Appy’s Munchausen-like efforts, not sober autobiography; and so, having indicated its nature, I must pass it by now, hoping that on some future occasion I may be able to tell it, and one or two more Appy Boswell tales not printed as yet, in something approaching their original form. Here I can only add that Appy once took a sceptical listener to Wickersley, and convinced him of his parents’ residence there, for no sooner had they set down their grinding-barrows in front of the kicema than the door of a house opposite flew open, and a voice inquired : ‘ Is that you, Absolom? Your mother wants to see you. She’s bin took badly, poor old lady.’ This is what Appy said, at all events; and I know of Booths and Claytons nearly related to him who believe that things happened so — by previous arrangement or otherwise.

It seems plausible, having seen Trinity’s death certificate, that the story about his sick mother at Wickersley which is close by Sheffield may have some truth in it after all and relate to Trinity Venus.  Incidentally, Absalom (or ‘Appy) was baptised at Scawby in Lincolnshire in 1821 as the son of George and Trinity Boyling, wandering gypsies.

James Venus was buried at Harewood in Yorkshire, as James Veanas, under coroner’s orders.

Venus - burial

 

Leeds Intelligencer newspaper, 24th Agusut 1850
Leeds Intelligencer newspaper, 24th August 1850

 

Header image: The Gipsy Camp by Walter Tyndale

Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie

Roll Up! Roll Up! Today we invite our readers to visit Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change and also touring the country, so all can join in.  All manner of incredible and rare animals, some never seen before. And all for just one shilling.

Come on in, and prepare to be amazed . . .

Courtesy of the British Museum, 1799
Courtesy of the British Museum, 1799

TO THE CURIOUS

Whatever deserves the Epithet of RARE, must certainly be worthy the Attention of the Curious.

JUST Arriv’d from the ISLAND of JAVA, in the East-Indies, and ALIVE, one of the greatest Rarities ever brought to Europe in the Age or Memory of Man,

The GRAND CASSOWAR.

It is described by the late Dr. Goldsmith as follows, viz. The Head inspires some Degree of Terror like a Warrior; it has the Eye of a Lion, the Defence of a Porcupine, and the Swiftness of a Courser; but has neither Tongue, Wing nor Tail. Its Legs are stout like the Elephant, Heel as the Human Species, and three Toes before; it is upwards of six Feet high, and weighs above 200lb. Its Head and Neck is adorned with a Variety of beautiful Colours, the Top a Sky Blue, the Back Part Orange, the Front Purple, adorned on each side with Crimson, curiously beaded, and its Feathers resemble the Mane of a Horse – and what is more extraordinary, each Quill produces two Feathers.

The Dutch assert that it can devour Glass, Iron, Stones, and even burning Coals, without Fear or Injury.

This Bird laid a large Egg at Warwick, on the 14th of January last, which is of a green Colour, spotted with white.

Ladies and Gentlemen One shilling each.

PIDCOCK, the Proprietor of this BIRD, will be at Sheffield Fair the 28th Instant; and will visit all the other principal Towns in Yorkshire.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 16th November, 1779)

Engraving, THE LION, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.
Engraving, THE LION, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.

G. PIDCOCK’s

GRAND MENAGERIE of WILD BEASTS and BIRDS, all alive, is just arrived, and now exhibiting at the White Lion, Corn-Market, DERBY. This invaluable Collection consists of two Mountain Lion Tygers, Male and Female – two Satyrs, or Ætheopian Savages, ditto – a He Bengal Tyger – a Porcupine – an Ape – a Coata Munda – a Jackall – four Macaws – two Cockatoos, one of which will converse with any Person in Company; with a Number of other Curiosities not inserted.

N.B. The large Beasts are well secured, so that the most timorous may approach them with the greatest Safety.

Admittance 1s. each – a Price by no means adequate to the Variety of Curiosities exhibited.

(Derby Mercury, 31st December, 1789)

Engraving, THE TIGER, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, made for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.
Engraving, THE TIGER, by Thomas Bewick, 1753-1828, one of a series of large cuts, 1799-1800, made for Gilbert Pidcock, proprietor of a travelling menagerie. Courtesy of the National Trust.

Just arrived from the Lyceum, and Exeter Exchange, Strand, London, and to be seen during the fair, in the market-place, two of the grandest assemblages of living rarities in all Europe: consisting of two stupendous and royal OSTRICHES, male and female. These birds exceed in magnitude and texture of plumage all the feathered TRIBE in the CREATION. They already measure upwards of NINE FEET high, although very young! – Also a BENGAL TYGER, a young LIONESS, a real spotted HYÆNA, a ravenous WOLF, two ring-tailed PORCUPINES; an AFRICAN RAM, with four circular horns; and twenty other animals and birds, too numerous to insert. – Admittance, 1s. – Servants, half-price. – Likewise in the other exhibition is the ROYAL HEIFER with TWO HEADS, a beautiful COLT, of the race kind, foaled with only THREE LEGS, got by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed, out of Barcelli, which was the dam of Marcia, now the property of Lord Derby; also a RAM with SIX LEGS. – In addition to the animal curiosities one of the most extraordinary productions of the human species will be shewn, namely the double-jointed IRISH DWARF, who will engage to carry two of the largest men now existing, both at the same time. – Admittance, as above. – Birds and beasts bought, sold, or exchanged, by G. Pidcock. – The above collection will proceed to Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester, &c.

(Chester Chronicle, 14th October, 1791)

Courtesy of the V&A.
Courtesy of the V&A.

Things did not always go to plan though. In 1792, Friday the 13th really lived up to its reputation as a day for disaster, as least as far as Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie was concerned while travelling through Lincolnshire . . .

On Friday the 13th inst. as Mr Pidcock was proceeding from Gainsborough to Brigg, with his exhibition of birds and beasts, a terrible clap of thunder, attended with lightning, took place, which frightened the horses, and they set off on full gallop, threw the ostrich carriage over, broke it to pieces, broke the back of the female ostrich which died the next day, and the male ostrich was bruised in so terrible a manner, that it died at Newark, on Wednesday the 25th. The Irish dwarf had his collar bone broke, and was otherwise much hurt, but is now in a fair way of recovery.

(Stamford Mercury, 27th April, 1792)

Exeter Exchange, courtesy of the British Museum.
Exeter Exchange, courtesy of the British Museum.

The Murderous Tale behind Tom Otter’s Lane

A rural, country lane in Lincolnshire, between the villages of Drinsey Nook and Saxilby and close to the county border with Nottinghamshire, bears the name of a murderer who was gibbeted there for his crime.

Tom Otter's Lane, showing the site of the gibbet.
Tom Otter’s Lane, showing the site of the gibbet.

Tom Otter was the culprit: hanged on Saxilby Moor close to the scene of his awful crime, his name still resonates over two hundred years later.

He was a twenty-eight year old labouring banker (navvy) from Treswell in Nottinghamshire who had travelled across the border into Lincolnshire seeking work, leaving his young wife and infant daughter behind in Southwell. Described as a stout but handsome man, he stood five feet nine inches in height.

He had married Martha Rawlinson at Eakring in Nottinghamshire on the 22nd November, 1804; their daughter was born just a month later, baptized at Hockerton near Southwell two days before Christmas.

St Michael and All Angels Church, South Hykeham © Copyright Julian P Guffogg
St Michael and All Angels Church, South Hykeham
© Copyright Julian P Guffogg

In Lincolnshire, passing himself off as a widower and using his mother’s maiden name of Temporal, he seduced young Mary Kirkham, a local girl between twenty-one and twenty-four years of age, and got her pregnant.  Forced by the parish authorities into marriage, the couple duly obtained a marriage licence and presented themselves, accompanied by the parish constables, at the parish church in South Hykeham to say their vows, Tom Otter naming himself as Thomas Temple [sic], a widower on the marriage licence if not in the marriage register, of St. Mary Wigford in Lincoln. Mary, eight months pregnant at her wedding, was a spinster from North Hykeham.

Tom Otter - marriage to Mary Kirkham

The marriage took place on Sunday, 3rd November 1805, and that same evening the couple found themselves near to Drinsey Nook, about nine miles distant from South Hykeham, after having stopped at The Sun Inn at Saxilby for a drink and a bite to eat. On the road between Saxilby and Drinsey Nook, Tom brutally murdered his pregnant bride only hours after their wedding, battering her skull with a wooden club and throwing her lifeless body into a ditch close to a bridge passing over the Ox Pasture Drain.

There poor Mary was discovered the next morning, her head almost beaten from her body, with the wooden club and one of her patterns located 40 yards away. She was carried back to The Sun Inn for an inquest to take place, following which she was buried in Saxilby on the 5th November 1805.

Tom Otter - burial of Mary Kirkham

The burial register reads:

Nov 5th – Mary Kirkham, alias Temporel, aged 24, found murdered on the Moor. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against her husband, Thomas Temporel, or Otter.

Having been observed walking with a wooden club on the day of the murder, Tom was taken up at The Packhorse Inn in Lincoln as the prime suspect and stood trial at the Lincoln Assizes as Thomas Temporell, otherwise Thomas Otter, in March 1806. After a trial lasting five hours he was sentenced to death and to have his body dissected, but this was changed to rule that his body should be hung in chains on Saxilby Moor, at the scene of his crime. Tom had made no defence to the charge of willful murder, but twenty witnesses appeared against him, all giving circumstantial evidence but it appeared so plain and clear that after the five hour trial the jury took but a few minutes to consider their verdict.

Tom carried himself with indifference at his trial, but on the day of his execution, 14th March 1806, he was measured for the irons in which his body was to rot, and at this point his fortitude forsook him and he approached the gallows adjacent to Lincoln Castle with his head bowed.

The Sun Inn at Saxilby (© John Spooner, Flickr)
The Sun Inn at Saxilby (© John Spooner, Flickr)

The Reverend George Hall, a friend of the gypsies and known as The Gypsy’s Parson, recounted in his book of the same name how his grandfather attended the gibbetting.

[He] was among the crowd of citizens who, starting from Lincoln Castle one March morning in the year 1806, followed the murderer’s corpse until it was hanged in irons on a post thirty feet high on Saxilby Moor. For several days after the event, the vicinity of the gibbet resembled a country fair with drinking booths, ballad singers, Gypsy fiddlers, and fortune-tellers.

The gypsies used to camp close to the gibbet, near Tom Otter’s mouldering bones; the local folk kept their distance from the place after dark and the gypsies knew they would be left in peace.  Although it occurred a decade on from the Georgian era, we must recount the birth of one gypsy boy, as given in The Gypsy’s Parson.

Old Tom, whose patronymic was Petulengro, the Gypsy equivalent of Smith, was known as Tom o’ the Gibbet (he was also known as Sneezing Tommy because of his predilection for a pinch of snuff, but we’ll concentrate on the former nickname). His married sister, Ashena Brown, when an elderly lady, told the story to the Gypsy’s Parson.

The old lady, bowed and with long jet black curls, began her tale:

Wonderful fond o’ the County o’ Nottingham was my people. They know’d every stick and stone along the Trentside and in the Shirewood (Sherwood), and many’s the time we’ve stopped at Five Lane Ends nigh Drinsey Nook . . . Ay, and I minds how my daddy used to make teeny horseshoes, knife handles, and netting needles, outen the bits o’ wood he tshin’d (cut) off the gibbet post, and wery good oak it was. Mebbe you’s heard o’ Tom Otter’s post nigh to the woods? Ah, but p’raps you’s never been tell’d that our Tom was born’d under it? The night my mammy were took bad, our tents was a’most blown to bits. The wind banged the old irons agen the post all night long, as I’ve heard her say. And when they wanted to name the boy, they couldn’t think of no other name but Tom, for sure as they tried to get away from it, the name kept coming back again – Tom, Tom, Tom – till it sort o’ dinned itself into their heads. So at last my daddy says, “Let’s call him Tom and done with it,” and i’ time, folks got a-calling him Tom o’ the Gibbet, and it stuck to him, it did.

Her brother, Thomas Smith, was baptized at St. Botolph’s in Saxilby, the same church where poor Mary Kirkham lay buried, on the 1st November 1840, the baptism register recording that the boy, the son of Moses and Eldred (otherwise Eldri) Smith, gypsies, was born in Otter’s Lane.

Tom Otter - gipsy bapt

Ashena Brown carried on her recollection of the gibbet and Tom Otter’s bones.

And whenever uncle and aunt used to pass by Tom Otter’s gibbet, they’d stop and look up at the poor man hanging there, and they allus wuser’d (threw) him a bit o’ hawben (food). They couldn’t let theirselves go by wi’out doing that. And there was a baker from Harby, and whenever he passed by the place he would put a bread loaf on to the pointed end of a long rod and shove it into that part o’ the irons where poor Tom’s head was, and sure enough the bread allus went. The baker got hisself into trouble for doing that, as I’ve heard our old people say.

The gibbet, with what was left of Tom inside, stood in its lonely spot, with only the occasional gypsy camp for company, until 1850, when a gale brought it crashing down.

Tom Otter - gibbet

 

 

Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 8th November, 1805

Stamford Mercury, 14th March, 1806

Bury and Norwich Post, 19th March, 1806

Northampton Mercury, 22nd March, 1806

Northampton Mercury, 29th March, 1806

The Gypsy’s Parson by the Reverend George Hall

Murder at the Inn: A Criminal History of Britain’s Pubs and Hotels, James Moore

http://www.familysearch.org

 

The Lincoln Magna Carta in the early 19th Century

In the first decade of the 1800s a centuries old copy of the Magna Carta was rediscovered in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral.

Cathedral Church at Lincoln exhibited 1795 by Joseph Mallord William Turner, exhibited 1795. (www.tate.org.uk)
Cathedral Church at Lincoln exhibited 1795 by Joseph Mallord William Turner, exhibited 1795. (www.tate.org.uk)

Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, was ‘signed’ by King John in 1215 at Runnymede near Windsor (his seal was affixed to the document by the royal chancery). It is one of the most famous documents in the world, a ‘peace treaty’ and established the principle that everybody, including the King, was subject to the law. It was signed by twenty-five Barons, and also by various Bishops and Abbots, and one of those who signed was Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln who attended alongside Lincolnshire’s Cardinal Archbishop Stephen Langton. It is thought that Bishop Hugh, who was named in the document as one of King John’s advisors, probably brought this copy back with him to his Cathedral on his return from Runnymede, and that it had been lodged there ever since.

The Record Commission gave preference to the Lincoln Magna Carta in their ‘Statutes of the Realm’ published in 1810, inserting this copy in its publication.

Lincoln Cathedral from the Holmes, Brayford circa 1802-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner. (www.tate.org.uk)
Lincoln Cathedral from the Holmes, Brayford circa 1802-3 Joseph Mallord William Turner. (www.tate.org.uk)

The Lincoln Magna Carta is widely travelled, having made quite a few trips ‘over the pond’ to America for displays there, most recently to Boston, Williamstown and Washington during 2014. During the 2nd World War, whilst the document was on show at the Library of Congress when America entered the war, it was stored for security in Fort Knox in Kentucky alongside America’s gold reserves, not returning home until 1947.

Since 1993, the Lincoln Magna Carta has been on view in Lincoln Castle, but now, in 2015, to better preserve it and to mark 800 years since the Magna Carta was sealed, the document has a new home in a vault in the refurbished Lincoln Castle, which reopened to the public on the 1st April.  The Charter of the Forest, dating from 1217, will also be on display there. In honour of this, we have a couple of early references from the newspapers relating to the 19th Century rediscovery of the Lincoln Magna Carta.

A New Cure for Jackobinism or A Peep in the Tower, Charles Williams, 1810. © Trustees of the British Museum. Featuring Sir Francis Burdett who thought the actions of Parliament were an unconstitutional violation of Magna Carta.
A New Cure for Jackobinism or A Peep in the Tower, Charles Williams, 1810. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Featuring Sir Francis Burdett who thought the actions of Parliament were an unconstitutional violation of Magna Carta.

Stamford Mercury, 6th December, 1811

It has been lately discovered by the Commissioners of Public Records, that the most correct and authentic manuscript of Magna Charta, is that now in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral, which is supposed to be the charter transmitted by the hands of Hugh, the then Bishop of Lincoln, who is one of the Bishop’s named in the introductory clause. The parchment on which it is written measures about 18 inches square, but has no seal.

Stamford Mercury, 22nd August, 1823

CHARTERS OF ENGLAND – That there might be a complete edition of the Statutes (which is now in progress of printing, under the sanction of Parliament,) the Royal Commissioners of Public Records lately caused the most extensive examinations to be made. For the purpose of examining all charters, and authentic copies and entries thereof, two Sub-Commissioners have occupied one whole summer in making a progress through England and Ireland, to every place where it appeared such charters, copies, or entries might be preserved; and searches have been made successively at every Cathedral in England which was known to possess any such documents, also at the Universities, &c. They have made some most valuable and interesting discoveries. Besides the rare Chantularies or collections of charters found in Rochester, Exeter, Canterbury, and other Cathedrals, in Lincoln Cathedral they found also “An Original of the Great Charter of Liberties granted by King John in the 17th year of his reign,” in a perfect state. This charter appears to be of superior authority to either of the two charters of the same date preserved in the British Museum. From the contemporary endorsements of the word Lincolnia on two folds of the charter, this may be presumed to be the charter transmitted by the hands of Hugh, the then Bishop of Lincoln, who is one of the Bishops named in the introductory clause; and it is observable that several words and sentences are inserted in the body of this charter which in both the charters preserved in the British Museum are added by way of notes for amendment, at the bottom of the Instruments.

Liberty suspended! With the bulwark of the constitution! by George Cruikshank, 1817. © Trustees of the British Museum. Magna Carta used as condemnation for the government banning habeas corpos during the economic crisis following the Napoleonic Wars.
Liberty suspended! With the bulwark of the constitution! by George Cruikshank, 1817. © Trustees of the British Museum.
Magna Carta used as condemnation for the government banning habeas corpos during the economic crisis following the Napoleonic Wars.

And, incidentally, George Washington was descended from King John and twelve of the Barons who were involved in Magna Carta.

Magna Carta - George Washington

Sources not mentioned above:

Magna Carta: Through the Ages, Ralph V. Turner, 2003

Magna Charta Barons, Charles H, Browning, 1915

British Library website

 

Further reading:

http://www.lincstothepast.com/exhibitions/treasures/magna-carta-/-charter-of-the-forest/

http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-english-translation

http://lincolncathedral.com/library-education/magna-carta/

18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Tuesday 16th February 1790.

FEMALE BRUISING

Two of the fair sex last week actually fought a pitched battle at Waddington in Lincolnshire attended by their seconds. When it is considered that the object of their contention was a husband, it will not be wondered that the battle was long and violent, lasting not less than half an hour.  Two days after the heroine triumphantly led her happy man to the altar! – So that this may probably not be the last battle on the occasion.

Well, what a wonderful snippet of history!  But, remembering the distress we caused to some of our readers when we debunked the tale of the Petticoat Duellists, we approached our research into this story with caution.

Blog - Waddington boxing 1

Fortunately it seems that the two Lincolnshire feminine bruisers did exist and that the fight did take place; it was confirmed in several other newspapers which gave more details.

Mary Farmery and Susanna Locker were both servants and it was Mary who challenged her rival to the fight with the prize being the young man they both claimed the affections of.  The boxing match was conducted according to form and for some time the outcome seemed uncertain with both women delivering blows which felled their opponent.  But Mary Farmery must have been certain of her pugilistic abilities when she suggested the boxing match for she was named the victor.

The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London
The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London

The object of their affections was a young man who was servant to a farmer in the neighbourhood, and all the newspaper accounts agree that he ‘actually had the temerity to go to church with the victor.’ Sadly, it seems possible that there was no happy ending after all for the victorious Mary Farmery, for no marriage took place in the parish church at Waddington and we have, as yet, found no record of it ever taking place at all.

We don’t want to disappoint you this time so perhaps we’ll just picture Mary sweeping her beau off his feet and disappearing off into the sunset with him?

Blog - Waddington boxing

N.B. A Mary Farmery was baptized in Navenby, just a few miles away from Waddington, in June 1771, and a Susanna Locker married a man by the name of Richard Harmstone in Caythorpe, again not too far away, in June 1795.  Perhaps Susanna was luckier than Mary in finally getting up the aisle?

 

Sources used not mentioned above:

Derby Mercury, 28th January 1790

Stamford Mercury, 29th January 1790

Norfolk Chronicle, 6th February 1790