Mustapha Pochowachett 24 May, 1694

by Margaret Lockyer

 

Summary

Mustapha Pochowachett was a Turkish man who was arrested, tried, and charged the committing Buggery. The event occurred on May 11, 1964 and he was seen in court on May 24, 1964. He did not speak English and was therefore given a translator in order to communicate with the court. He was accused of committing Buggery upon a boy named Anthony Bassa who was approximately 14 years old. Bassa was not present during the trail as he was sick. Bassa said that Pochowachett had “used him in a very unnatural manner”. There was only one other person consulted on the case during the trial, a Surgeon. The Surgeon swore that Pochowachett gave Bassa a sexually transmitted disease, and the Surgeon had seen the sores for himself. Pochowachett claimed he personally had no such sores, but a search on his body was never conducted. He was found guilty of Buggery and sentenced to death.

Discussion

By using this case to explore the 18th Century, I have given myself the opportunity to explore issues directly related to topics that I am interested. I did not want to choose a murder or a robbery because the concept of these crimes is so over saturated in all forms of media that I normally encounter, that I was worried that most viewpoints on the topics are more heavily explored than probably the crimes of sexual assault.

I chose the trial of Mustapha Pochowachett from the Old Bailey database because I believed that it would provide interesting and informative insight into the 18th Century. While technically it takes place in the 1600’s it is still informative about the 1700’s. This is true because cultural and social trends, morals, and ideals do not fit neatly into patterned timelines. There are plenty of examples of fuzzy timelines in History as era’s are defined by events and actions, not by equally patterned dates. This trial is helpful in better understanding in two key areas. The first is the relationships with people of a foreign race in England. The second is the issue of sexual offences and how they are not only perceived but handled.

Relationships Between Races

While doing some background reading on this topic, I found interesting information about Mustapha Pochowachett. He served in the court of King George. During this time period there was a large range of ways the Turkish people were perceived by the English. On one end of the scale they were seen as adversaries to the Christian lifestyle, and on the other end they were looked to as economic partners (Aljenfawi 36). In fact it is largely believed that Catholics were actually hated more than Muslims during this time. Pochowachett was serving in the court with one other Turkish man named Mahomet. While at the time the Turks were not England’s primary adversaries, there still existed much controversy surrounding their positions.  During this time it was believed that anyone who was not from England, or White, or Christian was assigned to being an “other”. There was a perpetuation that the “other” was so different that that the differences were exploded within the mainstream society.

Also during this time there was an abundance of over the top stereotypes about groups that fall into the idea of the “other”. A stereotype that existed about Turkish people was that within that culture there was a prevalent inclination for men to perform sodomy, and therefore a high concentration of acts of sodomy. Since this exploded stereotype existed, it is safe to entertain the notion that Pochowachett was targeted for this particular crime. He was a man in a political position, and he belonged to a sub group of the “other” which had a particularly damning stereotype. It is almost the perfect storm for a sabotage or set up. This is going back to the point that Pochowachett was in a controversial political position, he was so clearly an “other” and he held a political position that it is not outrageous to assume that he might actually be as innocent as he claims. This is a major factor that helped to lead me to question the validity of the charge.

Sexual Offenses

I was particularly interested in taking a closer look at a case that involved a sexual offense. While looking through the database, there was certainly no shortage of this type of offenses. I was looking through a couple different cases of rape, and sodomy or buggery, when I noticed a type of trend. What I noticed was that there seemed to be the tone that sodomy was significantly worse, and less Christian than rape. I find that this phenomenon is really telling about social issues and practices of the 18th Century, particularly issues surrounding the treatment of beliefs about women.

I did some research into the treatment of gay men, and women during this time period. One of the most common facts that I encountered was that in the 17th Century, male sodomites were given a very similar status to female prostitutes. Needless to say this social status was not high. According to the readings I did, this was to reinforce and maintain the assigned gender roles within society. This idea of rigidly enforced gender roles is a major reason why sodomy was considered to be such an awful and unforgivable offense.

My research also led me to the idea that the victim of sodomy was taken more seriously than victims of rape. The different tones in the reports also led me to that assumption. In the reports of rape, it was often specifically mentioned that the victim’s husband, father, or brother even, were upset, or involved, or in some cases even spoke for the woman. There was an effort to draw attention to how the rape affected the men in the woman’s life. This not only shows the society’s compete preoccupation with men at the expense of women, but it also shows why these people thought rape was so bad. My understanding is that rape was considered so bad because it was an offense and a crime against another man. This directly leads to why

In this case the reporter describes Buggery as something “which is so detestable, and not fit to be named among Christians,” (Mustapha Pochowachett, 24th May, 1964). I believe that if this case was tried in court today, the charge would be rape. The charge of rape obviously existed in the 18th Century, so it really got me thinking about how people in the 18th Century viewed sexual assaults. Buggery was considered worse than rape because rape was an indirect offense against another man, but buggery was a direct offense against another man. I think that this fact is really telling about the nature of gender and the treatment of women in the 18th Century in England.

Conclusions

Based on the information I discovered from secondary sources, and class lectures, I was able to draw a few conclusions about the facts of this trial. The conclusions that I have drawn from the case help to convey information about the 18th Century.

The first major conclusion that I made about this trial is that the facts of the case seem unreliable. There is a feeling of suspicion surrounding the facts presented that condemned Pochowachett. The first thing that seems suspicious to me is the fact that the accuser does not appear to be directly involved in the proceedings. He seems to have spoken to someone and had that person relay the information. While this conclusion I have drawn may not be correct, I think that the fact that it is even a strong possibility is enough to call into question the overall validity of the case.

The second thing that seemed suspicious was that the Surgeon did not perform a search of Pochowachett for signs of sores that are a consequence of the sexually transmitted disease he supposedly gave to Bossa. I find it very strange because if the presence of these sores on Bossa were so clearly evidence of the Buggery act, than should they therefore also be present on Pochowachett? The act of a search, to which Pochowachett consented, would have been a clear and simple determinant of his guilt or innocence.

I am not trying to imply that Pochowachett is absolutely innocent, it’s just that the entire time I was reading and looking into the facts of this case, there was just something that did not sit right with me. I have tried to look for specific examples (as seen above) to support this feeling. However, not all feelings can be directly supported. This may be one of those instances where I am looking for a problem that is actually there. I would like to stress that I am not calling Bassa a liar, nor am I claiming that Pochowachett is a saint. I am just saying that the nature of the evidence leaves room for doubt which is in a way quite unsettling when studying this case as factual history. Pochowachett was sentenced to death for his crime, and I cannot help but wonder if it was entirely deserved.

Piracy, Eighteenth-Century Style

When we think of 18th century pirates, we cannot help but picture the same clichés Hollywood has ingrained in our heads over the many years: lawless, ruthless, squash-buckling adventurers on the high seas. Common sense tells us that we must draw the line somewhere and be open to a more realistic interpretation of the 18th century pirate. Perhaps we can ignore the images of the peg-legged, eye patch wearing, buccaneer with the parrot on his shoulder. Interestingly enough, we do not have to ignore all that Hollywood has given us. Indeed; what took place on September 7th 1736 on the cargo ship Dove Brigantine plays out as if it were a scene in a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with fighting, stowaways, conspiracy, looted booty, gunfire, drama, murder and as a little added bonus, a chase scene. And much like a Hollywood fantasy, this event goes through the 5 stages of plot development: Introduction, raising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

On the 24 of February 1737, 6 men were brought to trial, not only for the murder of Captain Benjamin Hawes of the cargo ship Dove Brigantine, but also of plundering the cargo held within. The six in question were as follows: Edward Johnson, Nicholas Williams, Lawrence Senett, Nicholas Wolf, Pierce Butler, and John Bryan (aka O’Bryan). The murder took place off the coast of Leghorn in the captain’s cabin on board the Dove Brigantine – a cargo ship that has for year’s carried merchandise from Harwich, London to the Mediterranean – among many other places. And, as they take the stand, their tale begins to unfold.

During the introduction phase of a story, the audience is first introduced to the characters in which the story will revolve, and what better place to begin than on the ship.

Trading ships, like the Dove Brigantine were an ideal choice for pirates to seize due to the fact that these ships carried cargo worth selling (the ship itself would fetch a high price). Like many trading ships during the time, the Dove Brigantine would at times employ workers who would were only hired for an indefinite amount of time, creating a revolving-door employment policy. If that weren’t bad enough, background checks were not needed for a mariner to be hired on board a ship, making it easier for pirates to join a crew with little to no suspicion, this is how Edward Johnson came to be one of the ships foremast men. Nicholas Williams himself used to be a prisoner before he took his position as captain’s mate on board the Dove Brigantine. In fact the only person Hawes kept for a long period of time was his apprentice Richard Walker who has been with Hawes for a total of nine years, who also happen to be on board on the night of the murder and also conveniently can play the role of our protagonist.

But there’s more than one way to get one board a ship. Unbeknownst to the good captain, Bryan, Wolf, and Butler boarded the ship the night before the murder (perhaps being a stowaway was easier in the 18th century). Senett was the only pirate that had been on the ship the longest (a total of six weeks). With the six men in place their plan could finally begin, which will lead us to the second stage of plot development:  The rising action.

On that night, around 10 o’clock Walker retired to his cabin only to be awoken 30 minutes later by the sound of a shriek and a groan coming from the captain’s cabin. Hearing these sounds Walker decides to investigate. Immediately after leaving his cabin, walker runs into Johnson holding a bloody knife in his right hand. Best judgement dictates that probing Johnson for answers would probably not be the best idea. And after calling Williams three times to get a better grasp of the situation, Walker was given the explanation that the captain must be dreaming. Still unsure about the incident, Walker confronts the others on the ship only to find them heaving up the anchor and trying to set sail. The night (according to Walker) was too calm to set sail, but this did not stop the crew from trying, after all, captain Hawes did order to set sail on the 7th of September. Walker being obliged to help set sail went down in the cabins for his shoes and did finally see the severity of the situation. Captain Hawes laid dead, half on the bad and half on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Frightened by what he saw, Walker went up on deck and confronted Williams. Expecting Williams to chain Johnson to ring-bolts, Walker was astonished to see that Williams took no action against Johnson. In an unfortunate turn of events, Johnson grabbed a hold of Walker and said “G**D*** you, you dog, I’ll kill you too”. At this point we become worried that this will be the end of our hero. Luckily for us we are now entering the third stage of plot development: the climax.

With a swift strike to Johnson’s arm Walker is able to make his daring escape by jumping overboard as Johnson yells “damn the Dog, kill him, kill him, don’t let him go”. And as our Hollywood villains prove – Bad guys have poor aim. Upon jumping into the sea, Walker is nicked in the buttocks by a flying dagger (this incident can also serve as the comic relief that breaks up moments of seriousness). Luckily for Walker, the dagger is only able to cut through his trousers but not his flesh. Nonetheless, the chase ensues, with Johnson and Butler jumping into a smaller boat and making their way towards Walker. The chase ends some 800 yards later when Walker swims towards and Italian vessel seeking refuge. Johnson and Butler end their chase thinking Walker has been injured and in no condition to swim. Amazingly, the Italian vessel that took Walker in was not the only vessel near the coast. After explaining the situation to the Italians, Walker also speaks with one John Legard who is the Chief Mate of the Lavent. In a fortunate turn of events no less than five armed vessels sought out the Dove Brigantine in hopes of apprehending the pirates. With Walker out of harm’s way, Legard (along with many others) boards the ship to find Wolf hidden under buffalo hides and O’Bryan throwing himself over board only to be met with awaiting vessels. At this point our protagonist has successfully foiled the plans of the evil pirates which means that we now begin the fourth stage of plot development: Falling action.

Legard confronts Williams about the whereabouts of the captain, and after a long silence Williams admits “he’s a dead man, and not a man for this world”. Along with Legard, a man known only as Mr. Rogers also boards the Dove Brigantine in search of the culprits. After finding a lantern, Rogers makes his way down into the cargo bay, and there, underneath a pile of hides lay Johnson, Butler, and Senett, who after refusing to come out, had no choice but to comply or be shot. Thus the ordeal finally ends with the apprehension of all six pirates. Now we enter the final stage of plot development: the resolution.

The narrative has begun with a trail taking place months after the incident occurs and so this is how it must end (the trail being the narrative framework in which the story is told). On the 24th of February  1737 Edward Johnson and Nicholas Williams were found guilty for the murder of Captain Hawes and of conspiring to steal the Dove Brigantine, Lawrence Senett, Nicholas Wolf, Pierce Butler, and John Bryan (aka O’Bryan) were also found guilty. Those that received a death sentence were, Edward Johnson, Nicholas Williams and Lawrence Senett. Giving this tale a happy ending.

Like a modern day movie, this tale has everything an audience could want (or at least what an audience is used to). While comparing this trail to a Hollywood movie may not be the most conventional method of understanding 18th century piracy, there is an upside – knowing that by slightly altering the narrative one can absorb information more easily and readily, as well as increase the entertainment factor for those not used to reading trail transcripts.

Sarah Malcolm

In 1733, Sarah Malcolm stood in the Old Bailey, surrounded by male judges, and defended herself by arguing that it was not the blood of the woman she had allegedly murdered but rather her own menstrual blood that stained her clothing.  However, the court (mis)read her blood as proof of her guilt, and Sarah Malcolm was hanged.

This 22-year-old charwoman was charged with the brutal murders of 80-year-old Lydia Duncomb, 60-year-old Elizabeth Harrison, and 17-year-old Ann Price.  The two older women had been strangled, Price’s throat had been slit, and the apartment had been burgled.  Sarah admitted to having been part of a group of 4 that plotted the robbery, but she doggedly maintained her innocence of the murders.

Sarah Malcolm’s narrative is the sensational story of a female criminal who figured large in the salacious public imagination of the time.  Her notoriety resulted not only from the awfulness of her crime, but also from the fact that she remained steadfast in her Catholicism and her innocence until the end.    She was infamous enough for William Hogarth to paint her portrait as she sat in Newgate awaiting execution and to sell prints of that portrait to the public for 6 pence. “I see by this woman’s features,” Hogarth is reputed to have said, “that she is capable of any wickedness.”1

Her story is one of a handful of sensational tales of 18th-century wicked women; but it is also the story of a body  — a private body, publicly misread.  My argument, here, is that Sarah Malcolm’s gender was more significant than her actions – that she was hanged for murder both because of and despite her female body.

According to the Old Bailey Sessions Papers, Sarah worked as a laundress for Mr. Kerrel who lived close to Lydia Duncomb – an elderly, infirm woman who shared lodgings with an elderly companion and a young servant.  On the morning of February 4, a friend discovered the bodies of the three women and evidence of robbery; and the alarm was sounded.  When Kerrel returned to his lodging, he found a quantity of bloody linen and a silver tankard with a bloody handle hidden in his apartment.  He turned Sarah over to the officials, who found money hidden on her person; she was charged with the murders and taken to Newgate.

Sarah was a quick and convenient scapegoat for the murders that appalled London.  She was poor, female, Roman Catholic, and although she seems to have been born in Durham, she had spent enough time with her family in Dublin for The London Magazine to refer to her as “the Irish Laundress” (Feb. 23, 1732/3).  There was also considerable evidence against her.  The stolen money and tankard could be used to prove robbery, but the bloodied linen could (and ultimately would) mark her as a murderess.  Once Sarah admitted that the linen was hers, the blood became a shifting signifier that was read by the court as the mark of an unnatural act – even though Sarah tried to persuade them to read it as the mark of a natural one.

Throughout the trial, Sarah was plucky and assertive.  She interrupted the witnesses; she questioned them; and she complained when they could not (or would not) answer her questions to her satisfaction.  Although all witnesses were certain that the clothing found under Mr. Kerrel’s bed was Sarah’s and that it was bloody, details about the blood and the clothes she was wearing when apprehended seem to have escaped them.  Sarah constantly demanded of people whether the blood on the linen was wet or dry when it was discovered, a question that perplexed the court, and which does seem to be less important than the specific location of the blood stains, but a question that did serve to constantly complicate the fact of the blood.

When Sarah finally addressed the court herself, she spoke at length, prefacing her account of the crime with an analysis of the blood on her clothing.  This persuasive analysis foregrounds her gendered body, and it is worth quoting at length:

Modesty might compel a Woman to conceal her own Secrets if necessity did not oblige her to the contrary; and ‘tis Necessity that obliges me to say, that what has been taken for the Blood of the murdered Person is nothing but the free Gift of Nature.

This was all that appeared on my Shift, and it was the same on my Apron, for I wore the Apron under me next to my Shift.  My Master going out of town desir’d me to lye in his Chamber, and that was the occasion of my foul Linen being found there.  The Woman that wash’d the Sheets I then lay in can testify that the same was upon them, and Mr. Johnson who search’d me in Newgate has sworn that he found my Linen in the like condition.  That this is the Case is plain; for how is it possible that it could be the Blood of the murder’d Person.

If it is supposed that I kill’d her with my Cloaths on, my Apron indeed might be bloody, but how should the Blood come upon my Shift?  If I did it in my Shift, how should my Apron be bloody, or the back part of my Shift?  And whether I did it dress’d or undress’d, why was not the Neck and Sleeves of my Shift bloody as well as the lower Parts?

The speech is eloquent and logical, and her final observation marks both a significant absence and a significant presence and deserves serious consideration.  Sarah notes the presence of blood on the back of her clothing – an odd place to find the blood of a victim, but a logical place for menstrual blood.  And she notes the absence of blood on the bodice and sleeves of her shift – here, she suggests that IF there was blood from a victim on the lower part of her clothing, there should certainly be blood spatters on the upper part.

Her defence is convincing, and – as she mentioned —  was supported by the testimony of a fellow prisoner, Roger Johnson.  Johnson searched Sarah when she was first imprisoned – possibly hoping to find money that she’d hidden on her person.  Indeed, he testified  in court that he DID find money hidden in her hair, and he also described the condition in which he found her body:

 . . .  I begun to feel about her Hips, and under her Petticoats.  She desired me to forbear searching under her Coats, because she was not in a Condition, and with that she shew’d me her Shift, upon which I desisted.

Because he was a fellow prisoner who probably hoped for some kind of pardon or reduction in his own sentence in return for testifying, the Court might have regarded Johnson’s account with a certain degree of suspicion.  However, in the Court’s summing up, just before Sarah spoke in her own defence, Johnson’s information about finding the money in her hair was accepted as “weighty” evidence; his description of the state of her clothing, though, was ignored.

Whether or not the blood on the linen was menstrual blood, it is highly probably that Sarah was menstruating at the time of the murders.  Johnson’s testimony suggests that she was menstruating on February 5th (the day after the crime), increasing the possibility that she was also menstruating the day before.  This fact, along with her fairly persuasive defence, would probably be enough –today – to put reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors.  In the Old Bailey in February 1733, though, there was no doubt.  The blood was read as the sign of murder not the sign of womanhood, and Sarah’s body was read as that which elicited rather than that which produced the blood.  Thus, it is possible to argue that if she had not been menstruating, and therefore had not been found with bloody linen, she might never have been charged with the murders in the first place.  It is also possible to imagine that if the Court had been more able/willing to read the specificity or this female body, she would not have been convicted of the murder.  However, as history records it, Sarah was both charged and convicted – the former because of her bleeding female body, the latter despite it.  Her female body, which had, in fact, precipitated the trial, was then disregarded throughout the proceedings.

Sarah’s story did not end with her subsequent hanging.  Although some contemporary accounts report that she was buried, the Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth asserts that her body was dissected by a Professor Martyn, who later donated her skeleton, in a glass case, to the Botanic Garden at Cambridge.  When I wrote to the Botanic Garden, asking about this assertion, the response to my letter affirmed that it is “highly probable” that Sarah’s body was one of those donated and later moved into the collections of the Museum of Biological Anthropology.  Unfortunately, this Museum holds several skeletons that can be identified as female, but not – with any certainty – as Sarah Malcolm.

This is an odd and eerie epilogue to the story of Sarah Malcolm.  But it is strangely fitting.  The female body, marginalized by the court almost 300 years ago, is preserved, stripped of its flesh, and now identifiable only by its gender.  If Sarah’s is one of the skeletons at the Museum, it is identifiable not as “Sarah Malcolm – the convicted murderess,” but merely as the remains of a woman.  Malcolm’s individual identity has been subsumed by the collectivity of her gender – a haunting reminder of what was ignored at her trial.

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A more extensive exploration of the trial of Sarah Malcolm can be found in Women’s Writing 11.2 (2004)

1 quoted in Anecdotes of William Hogarth 178

all quotations from the Trial Transcript are taken from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers: Sarah Malcolm