View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.

A Murder at Fleet Prison

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.

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

A Plan of Fleet Prison. British Museum
A Plan of Fleet Prison. British Museum

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.

1729. The Representations of the several Fetters, Irons, & Ingines of Torture that were taken from the Marshalsea Prison. Item F shows the strong room at Fleet. British Museum
T1729. The Representations of the several Fetters, Irons, & Ingines of Torture that were taken from the Marshalsea Prison. Item F shows the strong room at Fleet. British Museum

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.