Robert Hallam: The Devil in Disguise

On January 14th, 1732, Robert Hallam, a 34-year old man from St. Ann’s Middlesex, stood on trial at the Old Bailey because he was charged with the gruesome murder of his wife Jane Hallam, and unborn child. On December 9th, 1732 Hallam pushed his then pregnant wife out of a window of their house, where she fell to her death. Hallam was evidently found guilty of both murders, and was sentenced to death for committing such a hateful crime. However, Hallam insists that Jane attempted suicide by throwing herself out of the window because she was possessed with the fear of the devil, and was convinced that the devil was coming for her. Hallum swore that he was innocent until the very end.
The trial of Robert Hallam is rather quite interesting as it tells a story of a couple that seemed to have loved each other so much, but they could just not be together because of Robert’s jealousy, and rage. The relationship between Robert and Jane began to decay over time. According to many witnesses Robert and Jane had an abusive relationship, and they were frequently heard fighting. This abusive relationship unfortunately took two innocent lives at the end. My argument is that this crime could have easily been prevented if people were just willing to intervene. There were tons of witnesses that heard Jane’s cries that night. There were also people that knew that Robert repeatedly abused Jane on a regular basis, but unfortunately because of the social pressures to stay out of martial matters at this time, it was too late.
The first witness of the crime was Charles Bird, who was Robert’s apprentice. He states that he was woken up by a noise somewhere between 12:00-1:00, and heard Jane cry “Murder! For God’s sake don’t murder me! For the Lord’s sake, Robin, don’t murder me! Pity me! for Christ’s sake! — For my poor Family’s sake!”, then Charles said that Jane was calling for him, where Robert exclaimed “God damn you, what do you want with Charles”? After this, Charles was scared for his life, and contemplated escaping out of the window of the house to protect himself. However, there was a ten year old child with him that begged him to stay. While laying in bed, Charles said that he heard many violent blows, that he believed were given by Tongs, or a Fire-Shovel. The next morning Charles found out that Jane had died.
The next witness was Ann Anderson, who was the Hallam’s next door neighbour. Anderson had similar accounts that Bird had about the noises, and blows that they heard. The quotes that Bird said that he heard were almost exactly the same quotes that Anderson describes. Anderson states that she heard “struggling and rustling toward the window” then she heard a loud shriek followed by something rushing through the window with great violence, that she believed the window frame had followed. Anderson got out of bed, to look out of her window, and saw Robert out on the street. She said that Robert damn’d Jane for a Bitch, and said that she was drunk. Robert then took Jane by the arms, and hauled her into their house. Anderson believes that she heard groans from inside their house, and believed that Jane could possibly be in labour, as she was close to her due date. Anderson’s husband Swan also spoke, and his testimony was the exact same.
Two testimonies that I found were very fascinating was James Furnell and Richard Horseford’s. Both men were outside walking that night, and they happened to be in front of the Hallam’s residence. Flemming explained that he heard Hallam say “I’ll send you, and your infant to the Devil together! I’ll split your skull, and dash your Brains against the Back of the Chimney — I know I shall come to be hang’d at Tyburn for ye.” Furnell even looked at Horseford, and said “This fellow will kill his wife” where Horseford turned around and said “No, ‘tis only a Family Quarrel, and they’ll be good friends again by and by.” They heard the argument going on so clearly yet they did nothing. They chose not to do anything because they thought that they would get no thanks for meddling between a man and his wife.
John Fleming and Elizabeth Emerson also had an interesting testimony. Fleming stated that Hallum was before a judge before, eight or ten months earlier for abusing Jane. Robert threw Jane on their bed while he had a knife in his mouth, threatening to rip her apart. Hallum was found innocent of this crime, and was let go. Elizabeth Emerson, who met with Jane on the day before her death said that Jane told her that she was going to be murdered that night. When Emerson asked why? Jane said her husband will come home drunk, and murder her. Jane also stated that her husband Robert told her that “he wish’d the Devil might appear to us both in a great Flame of Fire, and carry him away before my Face if he did not Murder me when he came Home at Night.” Emerson attempted to help Jane by leaving her cellar door open so Jane could leave her house and hide there, however she never showed.
There are six people that are stated above that easily could have helped Jane in some way, yet they chose to do nothing. People did not want to pry into other peoples business, and chose to keep to themselves. This unfortunate crime could have easily been prevented in some way, if not prevented — postponed. People knew that Robert had a violent streak from his past trial before for threatening Jane with a knife. People heard them arguing, and had awareness of the constant abuse. The worst of it all is that Jane stated to a friend that she felt like she was going to be murdered that night, and still nothing was done. There were also a few other witnesses to this trial that just stated that they just assumed that Jane Hallam was in labour, and that is why they thought she was screaming. I find it fascinating that no one would help. Nowadays, I believe that most people would help if faced like a situation like this. If people today hear any kind of domestic abuse, they will usually call the local authorities. Also, if one of my friends told me that he/she was going to be murdered that night, I definitely would not let them go home, and then the authorities would be alerted. Yes, people still like to mind their own business today, but not to this extent. I believe that people are much more willing to help one another in cases such as this.
There were fewer people that testified for Robert Hallam’s defence. Some of the witnesses stated that they saw Jane alive the next morning, and mostly all of them stated that she was scared of the devil. Elizabeth Wilkinson stated that on the day before the murder she asked Mrs. Hallam what was wrong? Where Jane replied “I am thinking when the Devil will come for me.” Another woman named Hannah Radbourne also asked her how Jane was morning of her death. Radbourne states that Jane was in a melancholic mood, and when asked what was wrong with her Jane said “The Devil’s got into me, and I believe he will never leave me till I have made away with myself.” Radbourne told Jane not to have such thoughts in her head, and Jane told her it was none of her business, and not to worry.

The Nightmare, by J. Henry Fuseli, 1781 Oil on Canvas

Two interesting accounts in Robert’s defence was Lydia Stevens and Mary Carman. Both women state that Jane came to them begging to defend Robert if he went to trial. Stevens tells the court that Jane told her that she “drop’t herself out of the window” and that she begged her to speak on Roberts behalf because he is innocent for throwing her out the window. Carman had a similar statement where she said that Jane told her “if anything should happen to me extraordinary, those People at the next Door will swear my Husband’s life away.” All the other testimonies for Roberts defence were all similar to these. Jane was possessed by the fear of the devil, and was a lunatic so she killed herself in fear. They also all state that Robert was not in the room at the time when Jane apparently threw herself out of the window. They also all state that Robert was a good character, and non-violent.

Robert Hallam stated his innocence until the very end. Hallam was witty in his remarks, and questioned the witnesses, and implying that they were not telling the truth. Hallam also showed no remorse whatsoever. He continued to plead his innocence, but it was not enough since he was found guilty, and sentenced to death. Hallam’s last remarks to the court is as followed:
I can call 20 or 30 more to my character, but I will give the court no farther trouble: I had ten hours time to make my escape, which I should have done, if I had been guilty; but I rather chose to stay and take care of my children; and I am as innocent of her going out of the window, as the child in the womb.”

This is a subscript of the Ordinary’s Account of February 14th, 1732 that shows Hallam’s last words before he was put to death:
I therefore to comply with it, and fully to unburthen a Conscience, oppressed with the remembrance of my Sins, by an open Confession, as I hope I have already atoned for them, by a sincere Penitence, declare in the Presence of you, good People, and of that Almighty Being, before whose Judgment Seat I am instantly to appear, that I neither threw my deceased Wife out of the Window, nor was so much as in the Room when she threw herself out. I speak this merely out of Respect to Truth, and with no Design to make Reflections upon any. The God of Verity, who knoweth the Secrets of all Hearts, and from whom the Certainty of nothing can be hidden, knoweth that I was not the immediate Instrument of her dreadful End, yet do I acknowledge the Justice of his Providence, who for many great Sins, hath appointed me unto this ignominious Death, to which as to the Judgment of my Country, I willingly submit.”

Many questions about this trial seemed to fly through my head when I was done reading it. Questions like was Robert Hallam was in fact telling the truth about his wife? Was she really so terrified of the devil that she decided to commit suicide? Or was it just all a lie made up by Robert? Was Robert a cold-killer with jealousy issues? Or was his wife mentally unstable and depressed? We will probably never know what really happened on that December night, but in my opinion I believe that Robert did kill his wife because the evidence leads me to believe so. I also firmly believe that if people were willing to help Jane, she and her unborn child would not have been murdered that night. Maybe Jane was right, maybe the devil did in fact come for her that night. It just wasn’t the devil that she expected — it was a devil named Robert Hallam.

*All quotations from the Trial Transcript are taken from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers: Robert Hallam


2 comments on “Robert Hallam: The Devil in Disguise

  1. willjhoward says:

    Wow, this is a really interesting trial! Unlike a lot of the others on this blog, there seemed to be a lot of evidence and testimonies to support Robert Hallam in his defence, but like you, I am of the opinion that he was in fact guilty.

    I have a few suggestions to improve your post.

    The first is to go through the essay and look at your use of commas and dashes. In the second paragraph, for example, there should not be a comma when saying “Robert, and Jane,” and likewise, there should not be one after “My argument.” When using dashes, you should more or less follow the rules Dr. Magrath explained for the use of the colon and semi-colon.

    In terms of the overall argument, I think you make a strong case for how this reflects on 18th century society, but you don’t really explain it at the beginning of the post. When you state your argument in the second paragraph, I think it could be stronger if, instead of simply saying ‘this crime could have been prevented,’ you said something along the lines of “It could have been prevented except for the social pressure during that time to stay out of marital matters, even when it comes to spousal abuse.” It seems like this is what you argue throughout the post, and I think it would help to have an explicit spotlight placed on what it says about the 18th century. It would also help if you brought it back to that point in the final paragraph.

    Overall though, I think this is a really strong essay. My last point is just a suggestion, and I think your post is still strong without that extra focus on the 18th century implication, but I hope I have been of some use! Good job.

  2. lhandrahan says:

    Great essay! Extremely interesting! I have a couple small suggestions (take them as you will) that will hopefully be of some use to you.

    Firstly, I would reexamine your use of commas. The comment above mentioned the same thing so I suppose I don’t need to go into great detail. If you read your post out loud it may make it easier to catch a few unnecessary commas… I ALWAYS overuse commas in all of my papers and I find doing this helps me a lot!

    Secondly, and lastly, I find that the word “states” is highly repeated throughout many paragraphs. I know when I was reading it it really is the most appropriate word to use but I feel like if it is possible to find another word in a thesaurus (perhaps “described” or “expressed” or simply “said” ) could make your post that much stronger.

    Overall a great read and well written! I really enjoyed reading it beginning to end!

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