On December 9th, 1731, Robert Hallam viciously beat his wife, and threw her from their bedroom window. An act that resulted not only in her death, but the death of their unborn child, who was by various accounts due to be born any day. In today’s society abortion is illegal after a certain period of time as the fetus is then considered – a living – human being. That fact in mind, with Hallam’s wife Jane being due any day, her child would without a doubt be considered alive; especially since it could have survived outside of the womb at this stage. However, Hallam was indicted and put on trial for the murder of his wife, but not for that of his viable, although unborn infant. To bring even more force behind Hallam’s murder of his wife is that there appears to be evidence that the murder was preconceived in some manner. My argument therefore is that Robert Hallam should have been tried and held accountable for a double murder – for taking both his wife’s and his unborn child’s life knowingly.
According the Old Bailey transcripts and the Ordinary’s Account, Robert Hallam had an often tumultuous relationship with his wife; an uneasiness which began shortly after they started up a “Publick house” together. This pub was primarily run by Hallam’s wife, however, he accounts that she often drank on the job or frequently about their home. He also calls attention to the prospect that during this time Jane was participating in various affairs with other men – a fact he became privy to by word of mouth and then at some later date by his wife’s own confession. It was a result of these factors that seem to have initially caused Hallam to begin beating his wife, an act that happened so frequently that his neighbor Ann Anderson says it was “custom1”. While the facts Hallam gave about his late wife Jane are denied and found unbelievable by those who were familiar to her and the family, Robert Hallam repeatedly states them as fact.
The beatings that Hallam’s wife underwent were not simply private affairs in their family home.
Ann Anderson claims that “His Wife shew’d me her Arms twice, a good while ago, and they were as black as your Lordship’s Gown”, with a similar story being told by a Mary Carman. Another woman named Elizabeth Emerson says that two to three times a week she heard Jane cry out murder and had often gone to help Jane escape by holding back her husband. It was also repeatedly said by their neighbors during the trial that there was only a “deal partition” in between their rooms, which meant that they could very easily hear the arguments and the beatings in the Hallam household taking place. A Mr. John Fleming states that having lived next to the Hallam’s for a number of years, he has overheard cries of murder – particularly in the three weeks leading up to the death of Hallam’s wife.
On that particular note, I want to finally introduce you to the idea that Robert Hallam preconceived the idea of murdering his wife. It is not such an unfounded notion as one might think, for Mr. Fleming and an Ann Brewit both tell the court of a prior attack Robert Hallam made on his wife Jane about half a year prior; where he assaulted her, threw her upon the bed and with a knife in his mouth swore that he would “rip her up”. Mr. Fleming further lends weight to this idea as in accordance to his previous statement said that in the three weeks before her death Mr. Hallam “came home in a jealous fit, and beat her, and swore he’d murder her, if he was hang’d for it”. This was not all that Mr. Fleming overheard that night, he relays Robert Hallam’s harrowing words: “Damn ye, for a Bitch…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”.
With these graphic overheard descriptions that Mr.Fleming shares with the court it is easy to say that the tension between Robert and Jane was palpable, and through Elizabeth Emerson and Mary Carman’s testimonies we learn that Jane suspected very strongly that she was in some immediate kind of danger. Carman states that two weeks prior to her death Jane had stayed with her Saturday through to Sunday, where she confided that “If anything should happen to me extraordinary, those People at the next Door will swear my Husband’s Life away” and again in Elizabeth Emerson’s testimony we hear an eerily similar forewarning in which Jane fears for her life so much that she asks Emerson to leave her cellar door open so she might run and hide herself inside when her husband comes home. This request that Jane made was to be on the eve of her soon to be murder.
Now, the manner of Jane falling from the window was not something that was easily covered up and there are some discrepancies within witness statements that point to two very different outcomes of her fall. However, before I continue that particular notion I would like to call attention to the words Robert Hallam spoke immediately after coming outside to collect Jane’s body, “Goddamn the Bitch, she’s drunk, and has thrown herself out of the window”. Dead or alive at this point, it really doesn’t matter. By these words alone we can surmise that Robert Hallam was not overly concerned, if at all, by his pregnant wife lying prostrate in the street having fallen two stories. With various accounts stating that he pushed her out of the window this seems at best a botched cover story to explain matters away to the growing crowd and keep the ordeal as contained and private as possible.
The two different accounts on how Jane fell from the window differ in whether or not she threw herself out of the window or was shoved; and by whether or not she was able to, with Hallam’s assistance, go back inside their home. Think about that for a minute, a pregnant woman in her final trimester falling two stories onto the stone ground below having enough strength – being alive enough to get up and walk with some assistance back into the house. It is ridiculous; Swan Anderson himself states “Walk! No, it was impossible she should”. I myself believe that Robert Hallam threw her from their bedroom window as the discrepancies in what happened take place after he tells a Lydia Stevens “Have you heard this Unhappy Fate? My Wife has thrown herself out of the Window”. This Lydia Stevens goes on to report talking to Jane who says “I unfortunately drop’d myself out of the window”, and accounts for a pain in her abdomen but otherwise gives absolutely no mention to her unborn child and begs Stevens to stand as a witness should her husband go to trial. Jane allegedly tells the same thing to her brother Andrew Radbourn and makes the same effort to gain a defence for her husband. This is the same woman who, while being attacked, begged for her life and for that of her unborn child. I read this as an attempt by Robert to build a falsehood about the events and as a direct hint toward his unconcerned nature, as his contempt towards the baby come through all too clear in “Jane’s” recounting of events. These accountings of what happened that night are easily read as a falsehood also due to the testimony by George Taylor, who was subpoenaed by both the prosecution and the prisoner, Robert Hallam. Taylor said that he will speak the truth on both sides, and then reveals that Hallam said “If he could raise 10 Guineas, there was one who would raise Evidences to confront the King’s Evidence, and prove his Wife was Lunatick, and confirm any thing that his own Witnesses would swear to”. This certainly does not lend much weight to any of Hallam’s witnesses’ testimonies and by extension Hallam’s innocence.
I briefly mentioned above that Robert Hallam held some contempt towards the unborn child. I say this because of the account he made of Jane committing adultery, and that while unproven there is a chance that the child was not his, and while that itself is a chance, I think very strongly that Hallam believed the child was not from him. When Jane was talking to Elizabeth Emerson the day before her murder, she says that her husband had kept account of her reckoning and wants her to lay her child to a man in the country. If Robert Hallam believed strong enough that the baby was not his – even wanted it to be sent away, then his unconcerned nature towards the baby’s life is perhaps then justified in his eyes.
Hallam was an educated man, and it is easy to assume that he would have understood the fragile nature of a pregnancy – that any amount of severe trauma would endanger the infant and also that delayed action in the death of his wife would kill the infant inside of her. Within the transcript of the trial it is stated that Hallam retrieved their midwife before eight o’clock on Thursday morning, and by different accounts Jane was reported dead between six and seven. That means that Hallam let his wife lie dying since about twelve or one o’clock after he pulled her back inside from the street after her fall, and waited longer still before calling the midwife in to deal with the pregnancy. Sarah Lane, the midwife, reports that Jane’s face, hands and feet were quite cold but her body retained some warmth at the time that she arrived into the room. Lane here believed that Hallam’s wife was dead but that she had “no great skill in the dead” and so bade Hallam to get a Doctor.
Joseph Woodward the doctor, who came to oversee the body, stated that Jane had been dead for quite some time. He did not undertake an examination of her body until that Saturday, upon doing so he stated that “the abdomen was full of contused blood, the womb was rent 7 inches, and the infant, which was dead, but full grown, was forced out of the womb, all but its feet” and conclude that the fall from the window was the immediate cause of both Jane and her child’s death. Lane, the midwife further states that the child was full grown and “black from head to foot”. Throughout the entire transcript of the trial witnesses state that Jane was so close to giving birth that they initially upon hearing her shouts thought that she was in labor and even thought the same thing after her fall due to groans and outcries they heard through the deal partition.
What we have learned here is that Robert Hallam had a grievous hatred towards this unborn child either by extension of his turbulent relationship with his wife or by the possibility that the child was not his. In either case we see a gross negligent attitude towards the preservation of his wife Jane and to that of the unborn child’s life so much so that he ignores how close to giving birth his wife was and picked a fight with her so heinous that he ultimately shoved her from their bedroom window, and then delayed by hours seeking any kind of assistance to prevent the double loss of life that night. While Robert Hallam was only tried for the murder of his wife, he so too was guilty of the death of the unborn child inside her womb. He should have therefore been held guilty of a double homicide by the justice system. A system which seemingly overlooked an innocent infant’s life.
All quotations from the Trial Transcription are taken from the Old Bailey Session Papers: Robert Hallam