Infatuation, or love as it is sometimes mistaken for, can lead any man or woman into a state of madness. Perhaps, it is not in fact love that causes the madness, it may have always been there and the love brought it out for the world to see. In the 18th century there were of course many trials (like there are in any century) that led to executions at the fatal tree in Tyburn. Many cases were corrupt and those are the ones that are most commonly discussed, but what about the ones that proceeded just fine?
James Hackman grew up as a fairly normal child and joined the army, where he was quickly promoted. This promotion allowed him to become friends, I guess that’s what you would call it , with John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich, also known as Lord Sandwich.(Fun fact: Allegedly the inventor of the sandwich). Hackman would frequently be invited to dinner with Lord Sandwich; there he met the Lord’s mistress Miss Ray. She was the mother of nine children and almost double Hackman’s age, none of this seemed to matter to him. He fell completely in love with her. Before I continue, I should point out that there is no real answer for if Hackman and Miss Ray did or did not have some kind of relationship outside of their acquaintanceship. This makes the murderous tale of Wednesday, April 7th, 1779 even more odd.
Mr. Hackman became a Reverend a mere few weeks before he murdered the lovely Miss Ray, this does not exactly remind a person of the actions of a newly appointed man of God. Miss Ray was a lover of music and theatre; due to her status as the mistress of a Lord she had the financial means to attend many concerts and plays. Of course on the day of her death she had just come from attending a play.
Some people are the jealous and possessive type whether they are in a relationship or not with the person of their interest. James Hackman was this type; in fact he should be the definition of this type. When he discovered Miss Ray at a local play house, the Covent Garden Theater, with a friend he jumped to conclusions thinking that his beloved Miss Ray was possibly seeing someone else. He was enraged. That’s putting it lightly. He then promptly returned to his home and gather two pistols. He was going to end it as soon as the play was over, he waited. One account I found said that Hackman waited inside a local coffee house, which would make sense due to their popularity at the time and place. Outside she came after the performance had finished, being led by another man. Hackman, in his crazed state whipped out his pistols and shot Miss Ray in the head, supposedly killing her almost instantly. At the same time putting the other to his own head in an attempt to kill himself. His attempt failed and he was left with a wound. He proceeded to beat himself in the head with the butt end of the pistols, trying to finish the job of killing himself. This did not work for him, he was quickly apprehended. This is where the justice system in the 18th century comes into the picture.
It does not take long for Hackman to have his day in court and to be sentenced to, spoiler alert, death. The actual trial account on the Old Bailey was interesting to read because once I got used to the way it was written it was like I was sitting right there in court and was listening to the personal accounts of the people who witnessed the murder of Miss Ray or those who attended to her body after the incident. In a way I kind of felt like the judge of the trial.
First witness was a man named John Macnamara who at the time of the shooting was helping Miss Ray from the playhouse to her carriage. He, in fact, was hit in the arm with the bullet as it left Miss Ray’s head and it startled him. Mr. Macnamara tried to help Miss Ray up when she fell but he quickly realised that she was covered in blood. He and another man took Miss Ray’s body into a local tavern, not sure if she was dead or still clinging to a bit of life. He waited with the body and told the court that it was Mr. Hackman who had shot the fatal bullet.
The next witness brought to the stand was Mary Anderson a local fruit vendor. She was selling her fruit very close to the carriage that Miss Ray was headed for. She describes Miss Ray being led by Mr. Macnamara from the playhouse and suddenly this man in black, as she describes him comes up behind the man and woman and shot the woman. Ms. Anderson proceeded to point to the man in court who shot Miss Ray and it was Rev. James Hackman, the prisoner.
The constable who was the first authority figure on the scene of the crime was Richard Blandy, he was also called to testify. The records show that he heard the guns go off and went to the scene, only to be handed the gun and the murderer. He would later see the body of Miss Ray.
The final two people to testify against Hackman were James Mahan, the apothecary, and Dennis O’Bryan, the surgeon. James Mahan was headed home at the time of the crime but when he heard the pistols go off he went to see what had happened, there he saw James Hackman beating himself on the ground with his gun. He apprehended him and when Richard Blandy showed up he gave the gun and Mr. Hackman to the Constable, telling him to take Hackman to his own home and he would soon be there to treat his wounds. Unaware of what he had done. The final witness against the murderer was Dennis O’Bryan who examined the body of Miss Ray and pronounced her dead. All of the witnesses’ stories were in line at this point so there was not much question on who has killed Miss Ray.
Rev. James Hackman went on the stand but he had already pleaded guilty but tried to blame his actions on a sort of temporary insanity and hopes it would get him out of death. It did not. There was too much solid evidence against him for the court to even try to think about not sentencing him to death. On the 19th of April in 1779 Rev. James Hackman, this man of God, was carted off to the fatal tree at Tyburn and was hanged for the murder of his beloved Miss Ray.
This trial stuck in mind because it has an interesting story behind it. Also, it was so clear and easy to get through and understand. I think even today there are a lot of these so called love murders, this sense of if I cannot have her, no one can. This makes no sense to those of us with a stable mind. I like this trial because it did not suffer from any corruption that is usually seen during this point in history. The crime was committed and much like the trials today the accused what given a seemingly fair trial and given the proper sentencing. However, this trial shows exactly how little power women had. They were not even allowed to go out in public with a man without being accused of dating them.
When I first began to read it I thought that because he was a man of God that the court may have been easier with his sentencing. But not once was it brought up; no one seemed to care that he was a religious leader which I thought was kind of interesting. I thought that he may have used it more in his defence but he did not. This is interesting because many times throughout history religious leaders are set high above other people, but I suppose if you kill someone then you are most certainly not better than any other murderer the world has seen.
For once I think it’s interesting to research or just plain learn about a murder case where justice is actually severed and severed well. Perhaps, because this is happening during the late 18th century, the trials were beginning to become fairer and with more of a distinct set of rules that were to be followed. I simply enjoy how everything at the end was tied up nicely, no pun intended.
If anyone reading this has any more interest in this case there was even a book written about it exploring it further titled “A Sentimental Murder” it looks really interesting and honestly if I find it someday I will read it no question asked. Also apparently this case greatly impacted the people around it and there are many stories and poems written about it. Unfortunately I could not find any but I may not have been looking in the right paces. All of this information was found in the Old Bailey or the Newgate Calendar unless otherwise linked. Links for these two can be found below if someone is looking for a little more detail.