The Bank of England (on the left) and the Royal Exchange.

To commit a fraud… leave your hat off!

August 1750

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?

South view of the church of St Andrew Undershaft, on Leadenhall Street.
South view of the church of St Andrew Undershaft, on Leadenhall Street. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

The Bank of England (on the left) and the Royal Exchange.
The Bank of England (on the left) and the Royal Exchange. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

January 1761

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).

A later depiction of the Bull Inn on Leadenhall Street by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.
A later depiction of the Bull Inn on Leadenhall Street by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. © The Trustees of the British Museum

“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.

Sources:

Derby Mercury, 17 August 1750

Newcastle Courant, 18 August 1750

Sussex Advertiser, 12 January 1761

The Last Days of Mary Ann Burdock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Bristol Mirror, 2 May 1835.

 

Murder in Bedfordshire

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

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

A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

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

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

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

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

St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington
St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington

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

18th century crime and punishment

For what were regarded as the most heinous crimes the penalty was death, in some cases, this was commuted to transportation. Prison was another option, in the case of some women, the ‘shrew’s fiddle’ was used as a way of punishing women who were caught fighting in public.

Today, however, we thought we would take a look at what in modern society could possibly be regarded as ‘naming and shaming’ – the public use of either the stocks or the pillory.

Eyam Stocks Britiain express
The stocks in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, courtesy of Britain Express

Stocks and pillory’s date back centuries, but even as late on as the Georgian era their use was still extremely evident as at least several days a week there was mention of them being used in the newspapers. The stocks were mainly a mechanism used to confine the prisoner by their ankles and usually accommodated two people at once. The pillory was a similar mechanism however, it had three holes, one for the neck and two smaller ones either side to secure the wrists. Again these were often designed to take two prisoners at once.

Here in Britain, the use of the pillory as a method of punishment was not abolished until 1837 despite several attempts to have it scrapped much earlier in the 1780’s, but the stocks remained for a few more decades.

We’ll leave you to decide whether the punishment fitted the crime.

London Evening Post, June 9, 1750 – June 12, 1750

On Saturday last two women stood on the pillory at St Margaret’s Hill, Southwark, for keeping a bawdy house and being instrumental in debauching several young girls.

The pillory at Charing Cross This engraving was published as Plate 62 of Microcosm of London 1809
The pillory at Charing Cross This engraving was published as Plate 62 of Microcosm of London 1809

Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, March 9, 1756

Yesterday two of the thief-takers stood in the pillory in Smithfield, and as soon as they were fixed the mob began to use them very severely, which usage continued near 40 minutes during which time Eagan, otherwise Gahagan was killed, and then the mob desisted from throwing anything at them for the remaining part of the hour. They were both carried back in the cart to Newgate, but as Eagan was dead, his body was put into a place called the Pump room and the Coroner has issued

Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser, Thursday, May 6, 1756

Gloucester, May 1

This week was held here the general quarter sessions of the peace for this country, when John James, for felony was ordered to be transported for seven years and Mary Morris for keeping a bawdy house, was ordered to stand in the pillory at Cirencester, fined 5l. and to be imprisoned till the same be paid, and then to give security for her good behaviour for three years, and also to remain in goal till such security be found.

Strutt, William; Stocks Closed Firmly with an Upward Tendency; Kirklees Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/stocks-closed-firmly-with-an-upward-tendency-21598
Strutt, William; Stocks Closed Firmly with an Upward Tendency; Kirklees Museums and Galleries;

London Evening Post, April 1, 1760 – April 3, 1760

Francis Hayes was tried on two indictments, the first for violently assaulting Anne Lemman, an infant aged seven years with an intent to commit rape and thereby giving her the foul disease; and the second indictment was for violently assaulting and abusing Mary Swan, an infant aged eight years, with an intent also to commit rape, and thereby giving her the foul disease. On the first, he was sentenced to imprisonment for six months, to stand in the pillory and to give 100l security for his good behaviour for three years; and on the second he was sentenced to six months imprisonment after the former time was expired, to stand once in the pillory and to give 100l security for his good behaviour for three years.

Public Ledger or The Daily Register of Commerce and Intelligence, Thursday, January 8, 1761

Yesterday a man and a woman stood on the pillory on the south side of St Paul’s, opposite the Sun tavern, for keeping a disorderly house, notwithstanding, they behaved with the utmost assurance, they met with no ill-treatment from the populace.

Cocking the Greeks courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
‘Cocking the Greeks’ courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, October 23, 1765

Worcester, Oct 17

On Saturday last, one Elizabeth Hollington stood in the pillory in our corn market being convicted at the quarter sessions last week, of being a cheat and imposter and endeavouring to extort money from a gentleman of the parish on pretence of being with child by him.

Public Advertiser, Monday, August 16, 1790

Saturday two footmen for an unnatural crime underwent their sentence by standing in the pillory at Hay-Hill, Mayfair, for one hour, between one and two. Their reception was extremely warm, by a very numerous, but we cannot add a brilliant spectatory; the women especially treated them with an abundance of eggs, apples and turnips.

A curious case of child stealing in nineteenth-century London

At the beginning of March 1821 a gentleman naming himself as Mr Probus, a minister of the Episcopal Church, took lodgings at the house of an undertaker, no. 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. Mr Probus was around 35 years of age, slender with a sallow complexion marked by small-pox scars, dark haired and with, as was realised too late, an ‘insinuating’ manner of address. He applied for a smart and genteel looking boy to wait on and be a companion to a young gentleman at a fine boarding-school (nearly equal to a college, he claimed) in the city of Lincoln. The boy would be brought up in a most respectable manner and given a first-class education, in return for doing little more than fetching fruit and pastries for the young gentlemen from a nearby village. He was inundated with applications.

JMW Turner's birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. © The Trustees of the British Museum
JMW Turner’s birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Mrs Mary Ann Hurrell was the wife of a somewhat impoverished boot and shoemaker who lived at no. 27 Upper Ogle Street, Foley-lace, and at 36 Goodge Street, Marylebone. (Perhaps one address was her home and one her husband’s business premises?) She had two children from a previous marriage, a son named Benjamin Hawthorn aged 13 years and his sister, Georgiana, aged 11. Benjamin, a fine looking lad, had a good singing voice and Georgiana, every bit as charming as her brother, was articled to Mr Warburton, a professor of dancing in Burton Crescent. Mrs Hurrell saw Mr Probus’ advertisement and thought it would be an ideal opportunity for Benjamin. Accordingly, mother and son waited upon the minister on the 3rd March.

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
At the shoemakers shop, British School, c.1825. (c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr Probus was especially taken with Benjamin and put his mother’s apprehensions at rest, saying that his own son was a pupil at the Lincoln academy. A Dr Nutall was to give young Benjamin a character reference but Mr Probus called on the Hurrell’s a few days later to say that he had met with a gentleman who knew Dr Nutall, who had given him every satisfaction concerning Benjamin, and there was no longer any need to call on him. The next day Mrs Hurrell took her son to Mr Probus’ lodgings where the young lad was fitted out with a new suit of clothes provided by Probus, who asked if Benjamin might stay with him that night (he had taken a bed for him at the next house). If any alarm bells were ringing for Mrs Hurrell, she ignored them.

The next day Benjamin told his mother that Mr Probus’ son was not at the Lincoln academy but had in fact died six months earlier, of water on the brain. Mr Probus now proposed to adopt Benjamin as a replacement for his own son and to bring him up as a gentleman, and also confessed that it was he who owned the boarding-school. He then asked if Mrs Hurrell would bring Georgiana to his house as he wished to ‘make her a present of a handsome dress’. The gullible woman duly did as she was bid, despite the ever-changing story, and left her two children alone with Probus. On her return, little Georgiana was so richly attired that her mother hardly recognised her.

Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Paintings Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/innocence-head-of-a-young-girl-32746
Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Victoria and Albert Museum

Probus now wanted to take both children with him to Lincoln, promising to care for them as if they were his own and to place Georgiana with a friend of his in Lincoln who kept a school. To this the Hurrell’s consented, believing that they were giving the two children a chance to be brought up in a genteel fashion, and the little party left London for Lincoln the next day with promises to write at every opportunity. The first letter Mrs Hurrell received was dated the 17th March but written from York, not Lincoln.

Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-ouse-bridge-york-9734
Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House

Mr Probus had swiftly abandoned any attempt at maintaining his deception. Signing himself as F[rederick] Williams, he told the wretched mother that her daughter, now renamed Caroline, was dancing on the York stage and that he ‘could sooner part with my life than with [the children]’. Georgiana added a few lines to the letter from her new ‘dear papa’ and said that they were happy. She signed herself Caroline.

Mr Hurrell replied to the letter and asked for the two children to be returned to their home but the only answer was another letter dated the 10th April, briefly saying they were too busy to write more than once a month, were all well but leaving York and asking the Hurrell’s to address any future letters to the Rev. F. Williams at Mr Smith’s, shoemaker, Stonegate, York. On the 3rd May the Hurrell’s received another letter, in the handwriting of Mr Probus aka Williams but signed by ‘Benjamin and Georgiana Frederick Jameson’ (the trio’s new surname) and written from Hull where they were performing and making a great deal of money. Their ‘father’ performed slight-of-hand tricks, Georgiana danced and Benjamin sang, to the admiration of all. They enclosed a paragraph from a Hull newspaper.

There is now performing at the Music Hall, Albion-street, in this town, a Miss Jameson, only nine years of age, a most beautiful and interesting child, In dancing she is, for her age, unrivalled, and her singing is admirable; Mr. Jameson’s slight-of-hand performance gives the greatest satisfaction; and Master Jameson, as a singer, though only 13 years old, is a second Braham. Mr. J. and his interesting young family will perform in Leeds this present Saturday evening, and on Monday and Tuesday next, when they will quit Leeds for Wakefield.

Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.

The Hurrell’s received no further communication and, worried that their children might be carried out of the country, scraped together enough money to allow Mr Hurrell to travel north in search of his stepchildren. He set off on the 1st July, heading first to York where he found that the ‘Reverend Williams’ had made a large sum of money from their exploits upon the stage before absconding the city, leaving behind a quantity of unpaid debts with the local tradesmen. Mr Hurrell tracked them to Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Lincoln, Boston and Stamford where the ‘Reverend Williams’ had become Munro Ridgway, then to Coventry, Leicester, Doncaster and Birmingham. The imposter frequently changed his name and his supposed character, defrauding shopkeepers as he went. The trail went cold and a heartbroken Mr Hurrell returned to London and his wife. They applied to the Magistrates, who asked that the case might receive some publicity in the hope that the children could be traced, but could offer little else in the way of assistance. Mrs Hurrell, it was recorded, left the office in tears.

Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.
Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.

But the publicity had the desired effect!  On the 12th August the little troop were recognised in Billesdon, Leicestershire and the imposter was soon safely in custody in Leicester gaol. Mr Hurrell hurried there to a tearful but joyful reunion with his two step-children. Money was found for Georgiana to return to London by coach but Benjamin and his step-father had to walk the distance. But eventually they were all home and reunited. Mr Probus, alias Williams had been convicted under the Vagrant Act and, unless anyone he had defrauded acted to prosecute him, he stood to get clean away with his crime as the Hurrell’s were too poor to afford to prosecute him, much as they wished to do so. With no further mention of the fraudster in the newspapers, it would appear that is exactly what happened.

N.B. Joseph Hurrell married the widowed (and pregnant) Mary Ann Hawthorne on 18th February 1817 at St James’s in Westminster. At least three children were born to the couple, William Flower Hurrell on the 5th June 1817 and Oscar and Maria who both seemed to have died as infants. Benjamin may be the Benjamin Workman Hawthorn who was born c.1809. He grew up to be a piano forte tuner and maker and also a professor of music, relocating to Doncaster where he died in 1869.

Sources:

Stamford Mercury, 17th August 1821

Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821

 

Header image: ‘The Wellington Coach’ (The Newcastle-York-London Mail) by John Cordrey, c.1818. Ferens Art Gallery.

Castle Bow, Taunton. Somerset Museums

George Lowman Tuckett

Today, we would like to welcome a return visitor to our blog – Naomi Clifford whose book The Disappearance of Maria Glenn: A True Life Regency Mystery has just been published by Pen and Sword, and we can’t wait to read it.

We will now hand you over to Naomi to introduce you to an intriguing character, George Lowman Tuckett.

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In the middle of a September night in 1817 Maria Glenn, aged 16, vanished from her uncle’s house in Taunton, Somerset. She had been taken by the Bowditches, a local yeoman farming family who wanted to marry her off to the second son. George Lowman Tuckett, Maria’s uncle, immediately suspected that the Bowditches knew that she was the probable future heiress of her grandfather’s valuable sugar plantations in St Vincent.

Maria had spent the summer at their farm just outside Taunton where she and two of her young cousins had been sent to recover from whooping cough. There was ample opportunity for the family to find out what she was worth. Of course, in 1817, once a girl was married, all her possessions, now and in the future, would belong to her husband.

When I was writing the book, I had to build a picture of Tuckett from the bare bones of his biography and from glimpses of him in the lives of other people. Apart from two publications about his niece’s case and one letter in the county archives at Dorchester, he left a surprisingly small footprint. There are no surviving images of him, which is surprising given that he went on to be, if only for a short time, a Lord Chief Justice of Jamaica (but we’ll come to that later).

George Lowman Tuckett was born in 1771 at Bridgwater in Somerset, the second of his father William’s sons by his first wife Martha Lowman. William was appointed Stamp Act distributor on St Kitts in the West Indies but by 1770 he was back in England, living in Bridgwater, where he was at various times a solicitor, Recorder of the Corporation, Stamp Duty Distributor for Somerset and mayor of Bridgwater.

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Copyright Ken Grainger

In 1789, after boarding at Exeter School George went up to St John’s College, Cambridge. He followed his father into the law, taking his pupillage with the brilliant but notoriously grumpy Vicary Gibbs, who specialised in the laws of evidence.

Vicary Gibbs
Vicary Gibbs

It is not known how Tuckett made the acquaintance of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived at Ottery St Mary in Devon, but the two young men were close enough for Tuckett to take action when Coleridge, impoverished and suffering from depression, disappeared from Cambridge University in late 1793. While Coleridge’s family anxiously tried to track him down, it was Tuckett who guessed that he would have told his old Christ’s Hospital school friends where he was. He persuaded them to break their confidence, after which Coleridge, who had joined the Royal Dragoons under the name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache, wrote Tuckett an angry letter criticising his love for truth-telling. It is not known whether they communicated again. Truth-telling was important to Tuckett.

coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tuckett was admitted to the Middle Temple in London in 1796, after which he completed two years’ practice in England. Two years after that, he sailed to Grenada in the West Indies. On 11 July 1800, aged 30, he married his 17-year-old first cousin, Martha Lowman, daughter of his mother’s brother George Lowman, on St Vincent. The following year he was appointed Solicitor-General of Grenada but his career was seriously affected when Martha became ill and they were forced to come to England. With the exception of a couple of years in Jamaica, where Tuckett practised at the bar, they stayed in England for the next two decades, settling initially in Taunton.

While they were living in Taunton, 11-year-old Maria Glenn, Tuckett’s wife’s sister’s daughter (and his own his second cousin – they intermarried quite a lot) joined them. By now George and Martha had five children (they went on to have another), a remarkable achievement given that Martha had an unknown but debilitating illness. Tuckett and Martha adored Maria – she was everything a genteel Regency girl was meant to be. Shy, bashful, obedient and, above all, innocent about men.

St Mary, Taunton
St Mary Magdalen, Taunton

After Maria’s disappearance, in order to build evidence against the family he believed abducted her, Tuckett became a detective. There was no police force to do this work, of course, and although he could have hired an investigator, the work required sensitivity and attention to detail. Also, Tuckett has time on his hands: from what I can tell, his career as a jobbing barrister on the Western circuit was not very taxing.

He travelled extensively around Dorset and to London to interview witnesses and sometimes to conduct an impromptu identity parade. It was his practice to ask someone to describe the person they had seen at a particular time. Then he would present Maria and ask if this was who they meant. When they failed to recognise her, he concluded that Maria had been deliberately impersonated by her enemies. Of course, it’s not a technique that would be acceptable in a court of law now. What happened when the case came to court, and subsequently when the Bowditches sought revenge, is detailed in my book.

He was thorough and determined. He sometimes presented as severe and cold-hearted but underneath he was loving, generous and loyal, with a fundamental commitment to Maria and an acute sense that it was his Christian duty to tell the truth.

Many years later, when Tuckett had managed to resume his West Indian career, he showed the same compassion and adherence to the truth. By 1827, he was appointed Judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court of Jamaica and then in October 1831, with the death of William Anglin Scarlett, the acting Lord Chief Justice of Jamaica. Earl Belmore, the Governor of Jamaica, told Tuckett that it was his intention to appoint him to the post, but after the Christmas rebellion of 1831 (the Baptist War) he was ejected from office and forced to return to London. Although his actions had been approved by the Jamaican Privy Council, Sir Joshua Rowe was given the post of Lord Chief Justice. Tuckett’s brief period of service has all been but forgotten. The Jamaican historical archives have no portrait of him and no information about his role.

It was the end of Tuckett’s legal career and afterwards, he lived in retirement, supporting his four surviving children, none of whom married. Martha died in 1837. On 4 November 1851, he died from heart disease, aged 80, at his home in Ilfracombe, Devon.

If you want to read more, The Disappearance of Maria Glenn: A True Life Regency Mystery is available now from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops.

You can also visit Naomi’s excellent website by clicking here.