Jack Sheppard: Housebreaker & Escape Artist Extraordinaire

Sheppard was a thief, a romantic hero, a highwayman of the urban proletariat, a Houdini whom no prison could hold.

ImageOn November 16th, 1724, after four successful escapes from prison, Jack Sheppard was captured for the last time and hanged at the gallows at Tyburn for his crimes of theft. Despite being only twenty-two years of age at the time of his execution and an active criminal for less than two years, he became a notorious figure across the classes for his cunning abilities as an escape artist.

To understand Sheppard’s case fully we need to start at the beginning.

Jack Sheppard was born in 1702 into the lower working class; his father was a carpenter as his grandfather was before him. While Sheppard and his only surviving sibling, Thomas, were still young their father died, leaving their mother to raise them. He spent two years at a school at Bishopsgate Street before beginning his apprenticeship as a carpenter.

His career as a carpenter seemed promising, but before he had completed his six-year apprenticeship, he fell into the company of “abandoned women” in his frequenting of the tavern, Black Lion. One of the most prominent women in his acquaintance was Elizabeth Lyon or “Edgworth Bess” as she was known. And this became the beginning of Jack Sheppard’s criminal career.

Taking advantage of his work as a carpenter, Sheppard frequently robbed the houses he was working on and brought his newly acquired possessions to Edgworth Bess. He decided to make a career out of housebreaking when he realized his success in the act.

The Arrests & Subsequent Escapes:

1. Tom Sheppard was also a carpenter and a thief, and in August of 1773 “he was indicted at the Old Bailey for two petty offences, and being convicted was burned in the hand.” He sought out his brother after his discharge to borrow forty shillings and for Jack to take him on as a partner in crime. Jack agreed and the brothers set out with Edgworth Bess and robbed the shop of linen-draper, Mrs. Cook, as well as the home of Mr. Phillips. Tom was caught and brought into custody when he went to sell some of the stolen goods to Mrs. Cook. In hopes to save himself he offered up the names of his brother and Edgworth Bess, but the two were not found.

A companion of Jack Sheppard’s, James Sykes or “Hell and Fury” betrayed his friend by calling a constable in hopes of receiving a reward upon his conviction. Sheppard was taken into custody, sent before the magistrate, and, upon his orders, was taken to St. Giles Roundhouse. But during the night he broke through the timber roof of the building and made his first escape.

2. Sheppard’s second arrest came on May 19th 1774, when he was crossing Leicester Fields with an acquaintance named Benson. Benson attempted to pickpocket a man out of his watch, but failed and the man cried out, “A pickpocket!” Sheppard was caught and spent the night at St. Ann’s Roadhouse, and was visited by Edgworth Bess who was then taken into custody “on suspicion of being one of his accomplices.” The next day they were seen before a magistrate, charged with felonies and sent to New Prison. They were believed to be husband and wife, and therefore were permitted to lodge together in the room known as Newgate Ward. Within a few days of his stay at New Prison, Sheppard launched his escape. After procuring the required instruments for his escapes from a number of visitors, “he filed off his fetters and, having made a hole in the wall, he took an iron bar and a wooden one out of the window; but as the height from which he was to descend was twenty-five feet he tied a blanket and sheet together, and, making one of them fast to a bar in the window.” The two descended down the rope of blankets, and then proceeded to climb over the twenty-two foot surrounding wall by using the locks and bolts of the gate to pull themselves over it.

3. Joseph “Blueskin” Blake was another notorious thief of the 18th Century who was executed just days before Sheppard’s execution. “Blueskin” became the associate of Jack Sheppard and in their time together they committed countless bold robberies. The two men sometimes entrusted their ill-gotten gains to William Field who promised to find a buyer for their goods. Field betrayed Sheppard and “Blueskin” by stealing their goods and turning information of the two thieves over to Jonathan Wild. Sheppard had made an enemy of Wild when he refused to work with him, and when he heard of Sheppard’s latest robberies he turned him and his accomplice in, which led to their arrest. Wild was otherwise called “Thief-Taker General,” and he was known for playing both sides of the law; he was seen as both a crime fighter and a prominent gang leader.

“On Monday, the 30th of August, 1724, a warrant was sent to Newgate for the execution of Sheppard.”

On the evening of the warrant, two ladies went to Newgate to visit Sheppard. Before their arrival, he had cut into one of the spikes that separated himself from visitors in order to weaken it. When the women arrived he broke the spike free, pulled through the opening and the women helped him down. It is said that some of the guards had been drinking on this night, allowing Sheppard to easily make his escape.

4. By his fourth arrest Jack Sheppard was a household name and he was considered a working class hero.

After his last escape he met up with a friend known only by Page. The men decided to travel to Northamptonshire to visit with Page’s family, but returned to London in under a week. Sheppard, after they returned, spotted a watchmaker’s shop attended by only a boy. He took advantage and made away with three watches. Friends informed Sheppard that serious efforts were being made to bring him back into custody, so it was decided that they would go to Finchley to wait until the efforts of the search died down. But information of Sheppard’s whereabouts reached the “jail-keepers” and he was brought into custody again.

Having been fooled so many times before by Jack Sheppard, strict steps were taken to prevent another escape. “He was put into a strong-room called the ‘Castle,’ (…) loaded with a heavy pair of irons, and chained to a staple fixed in the floor.” This did not deter the great Jack Sheppard. From the statement of Sheppard himself, it is known that visitors were watched allowing him no assistance, but he spied a nail on the floor of his room. He got himself out of his chains, but was unable to flee his cell. When he was found, he was also given handcuffs.

Sheppard attempted a second time to escape his sinister fate. First he released himself from his handcuffs and shackles, and then proceeded to create a hole in the chimney, which led him to the Red Room that had long been abandoned. About the room Sheppard said: “the door had not been unlocked for seven years; but I intended not to be seven years in opening it.” Not long after he opened the door, and made his way into the chapel. He then made his way through a series of rooms and hallways and made his final escape over the wall with the whole escape taking him approximately five hours. Image

Final Capture & Execution:

The fate of Jack Sheppard was secured in his fifth and final arrest due to his decision to indulge himself in the hard stuff. He spent the early evening drinking with his mother, and left her to drink about the neighbourhood visiting with many friends and acquaintances. His companions attempted to warn him about his inebriated state, but he ended the night by being taken into custody and was unable to resist.

He was visited by a countless number of people from all ranks of society during his final days. Sheppard told the visitors stories of his robberies and escapes, and pled with noblemen to intercede. He also frequented the chapel during his time before execution. “Having been already convicted, he was carried to the bar of the Court of King’s Bench on the 10th of November, and the record of the conviction being read, and an affidavit being made that he was the same John Sheppard mentioned in the record, sentence of death was passed upon him by Mr. Justice Powis, and a rule of court was made for his execution on the Monday following.”

Although his fate lay before him, Sheppard did not yet give up. He brought with him a penknife in an attempt to cut away the ropes that held his arms and flee into the crowd, but an officer found it in his pocket (he also cut himself in the process).

Sheppard also asked that his friends place him in a warm bed after his execution and to open a vein. He had been told that this act would revive him.

The attending crowd was sorrowful as Jack Sheppard accepted his fate with decency. It is said that he died with great difficulty. His body was given to his companions and taken to Long Acre to a public-house, and he was later buried in the cemetery of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields.

This is an excerpt from the sermon following his death:

“Oh, that ye were all like Jack Sheppard! — Mistake me not, my brethren, I don’t mean in a carnal but in a spiritual sense, for I mean to spiritualize these things. — What a shame it would be if we should not think it worth our while to take as much pains and employ as many deep thoughts to save our souls, as he has done to preserve his body.”


Final Thoughts:

Jack Sheppard can be said to be the real life version of Robin Hood (although there is speculation that Robin Hood was initially based off of a real man); both were outlaws known for their clever and cunning ways, but, despite their criminal behaviour, they both became known as heroes among the lower class. The two men also dealt with corrupt lawmen in Jonathan Wild and the Sheriff of Nottingham respectively. While Robin Hood is regarded as a philanthropist, stealing from the rich to give to the poor, this is a relatively recent adaptation that was used to appeal to young children.

Despite Sheppard’s criminal behaviour, he remained non-violent throughout his life. He also reached out a hand to his fellow companions (although his help was illegal). During his first robbery with his brother he allowed Tom to keep all of their goods. He also never turned in any of his companions or sought revenge on those that betrayed him.

Jack Sheppard was educated, and he was also viewed as witty and handsome, and became a hero among many. He was immortalized in a number of plays, poems and books after his death, and he was even mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

“He is safe now, at any rate. Jack Sheppard himself couldn’t get free from the strait waistcoat that keeps him restrained, and he’s chained to the wall in the padded room.”

So what does Jack Sheppard’s account say about the 18th Century? First, theft was treated a lot differently than it is today. I can hardly imagine someone receiving the death penalty for Sheppard’s crimes. We do not even have the death penalty in Canada. Second, I think that Sheppard’s case says more about us than it does about him. Why was he so popular, why did masses of people celebrate him and his exploits?

I think it is because of his social status. Jack Sheppard was a man of the working class, and in his robberies and escapes he was seen as rebelling against authority as well as the social structures of his time. We can still see this idea today. Think of Bonnie and Clyde who are still celebrated in books, songs, and movies. While many would view the murders they were responsible for as wrong, people are more forgiving about the bank robberies. Maybe this is partly due to the way society feels about banks. Especially in light of recent events in America, the working class views the banks as “robbers.”

The gap between the rich and poor is constantly growing, especially with the vanishing of the middle class. While class structure now seems different than in the 18th century, we do not speak in terms of noblemen and aristocracy, but the vast divide remains – and may be seen to be all the more frivolous today. Think of Beyonce reportedly buying her toddler an $80,000 diamond-encrusted doll, while a woman down the street is unable to provide basic nutritional requirements for her own children. How does this make you feel?

People are working three jobs, looking to food banks for support, and are still straddling the poverty line. And for those of us at the bottom of the economic ladder it seems we’ve also got the most hands in our pockets. People are responding to this gap – think of movements like Occupy Wall Street. Peaceful protest is often quickly shut down, and usually by force. People are not being heard, and situations hardly seem any better than in Sheppard’s day. Think of the wildly popular series, Breaking Bad; a show about a working class man who learns he has lung cancer. He then turns to a life of crime to ensure his family is financially secure after his death. Walter White is tattooed on arms, and displayed on t-shirts for the same reasons that Jack Sheppard has been written about in plays and novels: they both stick up a middle finger to authority and refuse to accept the hand that’s been dealt to them.

Charles MacKay had this to say about the notoriety of thieves in his book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds:

“Whether it be that the multitude, feeling the pangs of poverty, sympathise with the daring and ingenious depredators who take away the rich man’s superfluity, or whether it be the interest that mankind in general feel for the records of perilous adventure, it is certain that the populace of all countries look with admiration upon great and successful thieves.” 

What are your thoughts on Jack Sheppard and his case?

Sources and further study of Jack Sheppard:




And a song that reminded me of Sheppard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOQ4pkUAFbA


Changing Paradigms: The John Hunter Trial

“You keep the title of ‘president’ even if you only served one term.  The same goes for rapists.”

Christy Leigh Stewart

Today, if you asked how many people would agree with this quote, it can be estimated that only a small percentage would not.  This is because in the 21st century, we live in a society that believes in safety, freedom of choice, and justice.  Unfortunately for ten year-old Grace Pitts, she was born three centuries too soon.  The reason Grace Pitts’ case sparked my interest was because of how extremely unjust it was.  I went through numerous cases from both the 17th and 18th centuries before deciding that I wanted to focus on a case involving rape.  I made this decision because while scrolling through the Old Bailey Online, I recognized a pattern.  A pattern that consisted of far too many rape cases ending in the phrase, “The Prisoner was acquitted.”  Because I certainly fall into the category of people who would agree with the quote mentioned above, it enraged me to see how many rapists were getting off scot-free, and being released back into society.  Grace Pitts’ case was especially alarming due to the reasoning behind the final verdict.

The trial took place on April 29, 1747.  It began with the council introducing the case to the courtroom.  The defendant, John Hunter, was being charged with the rape of ten-year-old Grace Pitts.  The first witness called to the stand was Hannah Wilkinson, whom Pitts lived with at the time.  She stated that she realized something had been done to the child when she noticed that her clothes were soiled.  She was also questioned about Pitts’ demeanor, her health, and her relation to the Prisoner.  Following Hannah Wilkinson’s testimony, the Council for the Prisoner asked that Grace Pitts not be used as evidence because of her young age.  However, in the end, it was decided that the victim would be allowed to testify.

The council asked Pitts to tell the story of what happened to her.  She explained that she went to John Hunter’s house to speak with one of his maids.  Hunter told the child that they were not around, but if she would go into the back room with him he would give her an orange.  Pitts explained that she did not see any harm in taking the orange, so she followed him.


When they were in the room, Pitts tells the court, “He shut the Door and used me ill; he set himself down in the Chair, and pulled something out of his Breeches, and pulled me to him.”  Pitts was asked multiple times if the act had hurt her, to which she replied that it did.  She was also asked multiple times if she cried for help, to which she replied that she would have had she not been threatened by Hunter and told not to do so.  After the act was complete and she had returned home, Pitts said that she did not tell anyone what had happened because she was afraid.  It was not until Hannah Wilkinson inquired about the condition of her linens that she shared the story.

The other witness called upon in support of Grace Pitts was Surgeon Dove.  The surgeon had examined Pitts the day before, and explained that her parts were “very much distended, much enlarged and soul.”  Following the surgeon’s short testimony, those there to speak on John Hunter’s behalf stepped up.  (Important Note: Hunter himself did not speak at the trial).  Hunter had four witnesses, all of whom spoke highly of him.  He was described as modest, sober, honest, and a man of good character.  Very few questions were asked to Hunter’s witnesses, therefore we are not provided with further information from them.

The ending to the trial is what really grasped my attention, and provoked me to do further research on the subject of the trial.  We learn that because Pitts had turned ten four months before the act had been committed, she had to be tried as a mature woman in this case.


The court considers any child under the age of ten to have been drawn in (whether by force, delusion, or deceit), which means the act was done without consent, making it illegal.  However, in Pitts’ case, because she is over ten years of age, the rules change.  The rape of a mature woman means a carnal knowledge of the body of the person, happening by force, without the consent of the individual.  In short, the difference is that delusion and deceit are no longer considered factors in the act when the victim is over ten.  Going back to Pitts’ story, Hunter had lured her into the back room with bribery, which would normally be categorized as deceit.  Instead, the court says that Pitts, being of mature age, gave some consent of her will because she chose to follow him.  Therefore, Hunter did not commit the act using any force (as far as we know).  Because of this, John Hunter cannot be found guilty of raping Grace Pitts.


If this makes you wonder how many other people may have been released on similar terms, you are not alone.  London Lives tells us that between 1690 and 1800, 38% of all defendants were acquitted, with an additional 20% convicted on a reduced charge.  This means that only 42% of all defendants were ruled guilty on the full charge originally put against them.  The good news is that this number rose to 72% in the 19th century.  However, for victims like Grace Pitts in the 18th century, it meant living in the midst of your abuser.

To begin my analysis of the case, I feel it is necessary to remind you how far women have come since the 18th century.  Women’s rights were not even up for debate until the late 19th century (early 20th century in many places), so our expectations of justice for Grace Pitts are about 150 years off.  At this time, men and women were thought to have been made up of different characteristics both physically and mentally, and were not viewed as equals because of this.  Gender roles were very specific.  Men were the stronger, more powerful, and more intelligent sex, while women were chaste, weak, and modest.  These stereotypes were pretty much universal, meaning all men and all women fell into their respective categories.  Can you imagine how difficult it would be to plead your case, accusing a man of an unlawful act, as a woman with all these strikes already against you?

It is crucial to discuss the process by which trials took place in the 18th century.  The initial action taken upon the case being presented to the law was a meeting between the members of the grand jury.  A grand jury was made up of men from the middle to upper classes.  Given that this case was Man vs. Woman, we can begin to see how the odds stacked up in Hunter’s case before the trial even began.  Even a group of the most astute men would have found it difficult to side with a petty little girl, rather than a fellow businessman.  It was simply unjust.


The grand jury would meet to decide whether or not there was sufficient evidence against the accused to bring the trial in front of a jury.  If the grand jury approved the case, it was then referred to as a “true bill”.  If they rejected the case, it was pronounced “ignoramus” and forgotten from then on.  If the grand jury found they were able to directly place charges on individuals, the case was a “presentment” and immediate action was taken.  Grace Pitts’ case was approved; therefore, it was a true bill and was taken to court.  The actual trial in court was a direct confrontation between the prosecutor (who was typically the victim), and the defendant.  Following the trial, the jury would reveal their verdict.  The entire process typically took less than thirty minutes.


One of the most obvious differences today is that we have lawyers.  A lawyer’s duty is to professionally defend either side of the case, depending on whom they are hired by.  This makes the courtroom a more controlled environment for trials.  The other major difference is the formation of the jury.  In Grace Pitts’ case, because she was both young and a female, she had to have felt intimidated pleading her case to a jury of upper class males.  Today’s juries are much less biased, as they are selected randomly.  A jury will never be made up solely of women or solely of men, and they often have multi-racial members (when in a multi-racial community).  This ascertains that the verdict of the trial will not be decided for any reason beyond pure justice.  The jury is given as much time as they require to deliberate until they reach a unanimous verdict and announce it to the court.  Juries today would be much more sure of their decision than in the past, simply based on the time they take to come up with their verdict.  This is obviously a positive thing when people’s lives are on the line.

In order to showcase the differences in the justice system over the past 300 years, I had to find out how someone would be charged in a similar case today.  I chose to base my research on Canadian law so I am better able to relate to what I find.  In Canada today, John Hunter would be brought up on four offences, leading to an overall verdict.  The offences would be as follows:  Sexual assault, sexual assault causing bodily harm, sexual interference, and luring a child.  During my research, I found a story involving a P.E.I. man who was charged with several accounts of sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching.  Shane Douglas Doucette was convicted earlier this month when his pre-teen victim came forward after years of abuse.  Doucette was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison.  Although this case was more extreme than the one between Hunter and Pitts, it provides a comparable over the course of three centuries.  The general amount of jail time for a man like Hunter would be between two and five years in modern Canada, depending on his location and sentences given in similar cases before him.


The most interesting thing about this process was narrowing down a case that demonstrated how differently justice was served in the 18th century to how it is now.  It was astounding how many cases there were that ended with the prisoner being wrongfully acquitted.  In many cases, this was simply because the alternative was sentencing them to death, and many felt that the punishment did not fit the crime.  That is important to note because it proves how far we have come since then in assuring that there is a fair punishment for every crime committed.  Evidently we can see that there are less people like Grace Pitts in the world today, dealing with resentment and fear, and we live in a better world because of that.

Please follow the links I have included throughout to find more information on the John Hunter Trial, the court process in the 18th century, sexual assault laws in our country, as well as a few similar cases happening around us today!

Also, leave a comment below to let me know what you think … I would love to hear your arguments and assertions!

Guilty For Being A Woman : The Trial of Elizabeth Roberts

The 18th Century was a difficult time for women, and the legal system was no exception.  Women were deemed the property of their fathers, brothers, and husbands and considered to be the “lesser” being. Because of these perceptions, if a woman murdered the dominant male figure in her life there were grave implications.  This type of murder could even be considered petty treason, which was punishable by being burned at the stake. This notion of male-hierarchy placed women at an even further disadvantage in an already questionable legal system.  There are countless trials that exhibit this inequality, where women were condemned simply because of the perceptions surrounding them as a woman.

Today we have the ability to look at many of these legal events because of the Old Bailey site that has electronically recorded the proceedings that occurred in the Old Bailey Courthouse.  Let’s explore one of these trials and get a better understanding of the difficulties women faced, as well as get a better sense as to how the legal system functioned in the 18th century.


Trial Summary

The trial of Elizabeth Roberts (Bostock) is of particular interestElizabeth Roberts was accused of petty treason and killing her husband, Richard Bostock on the 22nd of May, 1725.  Richard died of stab wound to the left side of his body. Elizabeth’s trial was held at the Old Bailey on the 30th of June, 1725.  There were a number of witnesses who spoke at the trial, as well as Elizabeth’s own defence statement.  I will provide a detailed summary of what happened during that fateful trial.

Watchman Ball was the first to speak.  Ball described hearing a jumble in the Bostock household between 11 and 12 at night.  Perusing the noise, Ball said he went to the door and Elizabeth answered.  Ball said that Elizabeth requested the Watchman to call for her husband at the Cock Alehouse.  Ball noted that he was surprised of their marital status and commented on how “they lived an abominable life together”.  Ball said he did not fulfill her request, but came back at the end of his round to find Richard standing with the door ajar.  According to Ball, when he approached the door Elizabeth came running down the stairs completely nude and proceeded to slam the door, pushing Richard unto the street.  Ball said he heard quarrelling after that, but did not bother to investigate further as his shift was ending.   Later, Ball told the court he heard someone yelling for the watchman and sent for the constable.  Ball then stated the constable found Richard dead on the floor and drenched in blood. 

Nicholas Cooper was the next to speak.  Cooper’s social status and relation to Elizabeth and Richard is not shared in the trial notes.  Cooper remembered hearing Elizabeth calling for the watchmen and asking Cooper to come inside to help her husband.  In this statement, Cooper said that Elizabeth believes Richard passed out drunkenly; however, Cooper said he told her that he was very much dead.  Cooper then stated that Elizabeth said, “I am afraid I have given him an unhappy Blow. – For God’s Sake call a Surgeon”.

The constable, Nathaniel West spoke after Cooper.  West said that he went to the residence around 1 in the morning and found Elizabeth sitting in a melancholic state with the deceased body sitting at her feet and his head draped on her lap.  West presented Richard’s bloody clothing to the courtroom as evidence from the scene.  The constable then concluded his statement by saying on several previous occasions he has heard Elizabeth screaming “murder!”, suggesting a history of quarrelling

Swarton, who was another watchman, proceeded next.  Swarton said he was on duty around 11 at night near the Bostock residence.  He said he saw Richard standing outside his house waiting to get in for a considerable amount of time.  Swarton said that another woman who lived in the house came to let him in.  Swarton recalled there being cries of “murder!” and presumed that Richard was beating Elizabeth.  Swarton stated that Richard then came outside to talk to him and told Swarton that he had given Elizabeth a good beating.  Swarton said that when he told Richard not to beat his wife Richard replied, “My Wife! says he, Damn her, a Bitch, she’s none of my Wife, and I’ll turn her a-drift to-morrow.”  Swarton then concluded that he left and came back only after Richard had died and that Elizabeth stated Richard had done it to himself.

Joseph Barker was a neighbour of Elizabeth and Richard and  spoke after Swarton.  He recalled that he and his wife were lying in bed when they heard a ruckus below.  Barker stated that they did not think much of it, as it was a common occurrence.  Barker said that when he was called down after Richard had died Elizabeth said that Richard had inflicted it on himself. 

After all of the testimonies, the surgeon gave his statement that Richard’s cause of death was indeed a stab wound that pierced his lung through his 7th and 8th rib.

 Finally, Elizabeth gave her defence.  Elizabeth stated that she had been working late and retired to bed, as she was very tired.  Elizabeth said that Richard then came up and beat her “barbarously” and pulled her out of bed and pulled off all her clothes.  Elizabeth stated that this was a frequent occurrence and she would usually go downstairs in an attempt to calm him down and coax him to bed.  Elizabeth also stated that she was never married to Richard.  However, Elizabeth said that she did not go down as soon as she would have normally and believed that Richard stabbed himself out of drunken vexation.  She stressed that his intent was most likely not to kill himself, but an attempt to terrify her.  Elizabeth supposed that when he realized the wound was deep he went to clean himself and then fainted, which is where she claimed to have found him.  Elizabeth also refuted Mr. Cooper’s statement and said, “as to what Mr. Cooper swore about my saying I had given the Deceased an unhappy Blow, he mistook my Words; for I said, that the Deceased had given me many an unhappy Blow.”


The jury acquitted Elizabeth for charges of petty treason, but convicted her of the murder of Richard Bostock and sentenced her to death.

For more interesting information on the trial check out these links to the original texts!



What Does This Mean?

As you can tell from reading this summary, it is a very complex and disturbing situation surrounding Elizabeth Roberts.  I did not want to leave many details out, as I believe Elizabeth’s innocence is found in those details.  This detailed summary allows us in the 21st century to look at the extremely detrimental perceptions and predicaments women faced in the 18th Century courtroom and society in general.

One of the most prevalent and intriguing aspects of this case is the reference to Richard’s abusive behaviour towards Elizabeth.  Every one of the courtroom speakers mentioned witnessing Richard’s violent behaviour towards Elizabeth either the night of his murder or previously.  Despite all of these accounts of both physical and verbal abuse, Elizabeth’s guilt is not questioned in the end.  This shows how little consideration was given to Elizabeth’s living conditions with Richard.  It also allows us to understand what it meant for a women to be considered  “property” and how many women were treated as property by the dominant males in their life.

Because of 18th century perceptions, Elizabeth was essentially doomed from the beginning.  Being a female immediately placed her at lower social power during this era in general, let alone the patriarchal courtroom.  There is also the issue concerning the reveal that Elizabeth and Richard had been living together when they were not in fact married.  Because this era demanded either virginal or marital chastity, it was a big problem that Elizabeth was living with a man out of wedlock.  Not only is Elizabeth a female, but she is considered a “tarnished” woman, because of her presumed sexual relations with a man she is not married to.  If Elizabeth had any chance at all going into this trial, that information would have almost without a doubt persuaded the court away from her innocence.

Elizabeth’s court defence is very interesting as well.  Elizabeth is extremely well spoken in her final plea of life.  She remains calm in her language and presents a logical alibi for Richard’s death.  Acknowledging Richard’s abuse to her was both brave of Elizabeth and aligned to what every witness stated.  There is some evidence that perhaps Richard had also raped her, as he had ripped off her clothes; however, she never mentions sexual abuse specifically.  This could relate to the modesty issue of the 18th century.  Perhaps Elizabeth purposely left that out to better her position of the court.  It could also represent the blurred lines surrounding what was considered sexual abuse during this time.  Elizabeth also makes an intelligent refute to Mr. Cooper’s statement that she had given Richard an “unhappy Blow.”  This shows that Elizabeth was able minded and also understood how to provide a good courtroom argument.  Yet, even with these tools and intelligence, Elizabeth was not able to persuade the court.

The trial setup itself comments on the issues that Elizabeth faced as a woman in this situation.  Everyone that testified was male (even though the neighbour’s wife also heard what happened the night of Richard’s death).  Even with multiple testimonies that supported Elizabeth’s defence, it was all discredited in the end.   The Old Bailey jury was also completely male, which left Elizabeth alone to fight for herself in the courtroom as a female.  Despite the petty treason charges being dropped, Elizabeth was still convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

For more info on gender and crime during this era check this out! http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Gender.jsp#genderjustice


Did She Do It?!

So, was Elizabeth innocent?  Did Elizabeth kill Richard?  Or did he kill himself in a drunken rampage?  Although we can never know for sure, that will not stop me from theorizing!  I believe Elizabeth is innocent.  Elizabeth’s account matches the multiple descriptions of Richard’s drunken, abusive behavior.  It is very plausible that a disturbed and drunken man like Bostock would accidentally stab himself. However, I believe Elizabeth is innocent regardless of whether or not she killed Richard Bostock.  Even if she killed Richard, I would deem her the right of self-defense.  If this trial  happened in the 21st Century Elizabeth’s case would definitely be implicated with rights to self-defense.  But, this sadly did not apply to Elizabeth. Because of her situation as a female in the 18th century and because of the 18th century law concepts, the court did not acknowledge her right to self-defense.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I found this trial to be quite disturbing.  Elizabeth faced a life of abuse and ultimately paid for it with her own life.  This societal construct is something that women in general would have to face during the 18th century.  On relative terms, I am personal thankful that Elizabeth was acquitted for petty treason and did not have to face the stake.  Perhaps acquitting Elizabeth of petty treason was some minuscule way of the court acknowledging Elizabeth’s abusive situation, but that is probably a generous stretch and still does not make me feel any better about Elizabeth’s tragic fate.  Overall,  Elizabeth’s trial is an excellent window for us in the 21st century to look into the 18th century courtroom.  This trial allows us to analyze the very serious societal and legal implications for women during this era.  I would say that in the 21st Century we can rely on a more unbiased legal system than the 18th century.  I also believe that there is a better understanding  of abuse victim’s rights.  Unfortunately, it is definitely not eradicated and we still  see these legal injustices happen in tragic cases like the recent Steubenville rape trial.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and I hope you have gained some valuable insight into the societal and legal structure of the 18th century!

Your Turn!

What do you think about this trial?  Do you think about Elizabeth’s verdict?  Was this a fair trial? What does this say about the 18th Century? And how far do you think the 21st century legal system and women’s rights have come since the 18th century?

Let’s get some discussion going! Leave a comment below & take the poll! :)

Perjury: Sinners Are Worse Than Liars; Julian Brown’s Confession

Have you ever wondered God’s opinion on you? Whether you would go to heaven or be sent to hell? Experiencing yourself in life threatening situation will escalate these wonders. For Julian Brown, being wrongful in the eyes of God is worse than being guilty of a crime.

Perjury, bribery, framing, and most importantly, repentance caused Julian Brown to bring the names of six other men involved in the previous trial of Thomas Maccray to the attention of Dr. Lancaster, and the court.

In a previous trial, Thomas Maccray was found the only guilty member of a highway robbery act against Dr. Lancaster on King’s Road near Bloody Bridge. Months later, Julian Brown decides to confess his wrong doings to clear his conscience, but in doing so the court finds William Wreathock , Peter Chamberlain, James Russet, George Bird, and Gilbert Campbell all guilty of both highway robbery and perjury.

On the evening of the 11th of June 1735 (Day of the year, which George I died) a holyday, William Wreathock gathered men to rob the coach that Dr. Lancaster was riding in. Though seven men set out to accompany one another, only Maccray approached the coach by hurtling out of the hedges and remaining unseen. Dr. Lancaster confessed that he never seen the man that robbed him, and was slow to get out of the coach because it was too slow coming to a halt. However, he recalls seeing three, four, or five men in the distance heading towards London, but the burglar was headed the opposite way towards Fulham.

A coach similar to the one Dr. Lancaster traveled in:

The date of the robbery is important because as Wreathock says, it is a Holyday. He uses this claim, along with witnesses: William Ray, Abraham Brookshank, John Totteridge, and company at King’s Head (still remains today). Nonetheless, Wreathock had documents passed to gain a second mortgage that couldn’t be interfered with by the first mortgagee because of the Holyday; he also had Totteridge remove some goods from the property. Along with this statement, Wreathock also had men at the court to claim he was “a good man.”

Other men involved in the robbery also had men state their good character. The accused men all had people stating they were good men. This leads me to believe that it would have been considered testimonial evidence. But as we see and hear about news stories today, good people are capable of doing awful things.

Brown however, told a different story of the location of Wreathock and company around nine in the evening on the 11th of June. He claimed Wreathock was the “general” of robbery because he was the one who had assigned everyone their tasks. Maccray was to interrogate the coach at gunpoint.He was able to steal from Dr. Lancaster: a gold-watch, two iron keys, six pieces of foreign silver-coin, three pieces of foreign gold-coin, and one shilling and six pence. Brown claimed that Maccray then went towards London as to give the stolen goods to Wreathock, whom pocketed them. But, Lancaster argued previous, and acted as if the robber going the other way. During this time Chamberlain is raged that Maccray didn’t kill the doctor. Chamberlain’s rage hints to me that he had different motives and desires than Worthock.

The men split up once Wreathock receive the goods. Bird, Campbell, and Maccray all went with him towards London (likely the group of men Lancaster seen, but did not help him). Chamberlain and Russet went another way to leave the scene. Most importantly, Brown was ordered to go “that way”, which is unclear in the trial, but I suggest he passes the coach and heads towards Fulham and took a left on the turnpike to head back to London, since he arrived there about an hour later than the robbery.

Google Maps suggests it would take approximately 50 minutes to travel (by bicycle) between London and Fulham; his horse “missed no gallop,” so Brown would have been traveling at a faster speed. He also had to travel further than the direct route given. It seems logical that it would have taken Brown about an hour to travel this distance.

Though a young boy saw the man that robbed Dr. Lancaster, he had only fallowed him to Bloody-Bridge (going the opposite way than to London) because that is where he lived. The Doctor then offered two men to pursue the man on horse that had fled the scene of the robbery, but he was never caught. The thief was never found that night.

Brown had not received his share of money from the stolen goods because Wreathock had yet to sell them. Upon discovering Maccray was accused of the robbery, Wreathock gathered Brown and others at the tavern; offering five genius to swear Maccrays innocence, and threatened to murder Brown if he failed to do so. Later in the trial, it’s discovered that Chamberlain perjured Maccray guilty at his trial (the previous one) by claiming he still had the keys, leading me to believe that he had alternative motives at the scene of the robbery. Along with Brown’s confession, Chamberlain provided another source to prove Maccray was only one of a group of guilty men.

Now that the gist of the trial is laid out, I would like to address the importance of perjury, bribery, framing, and repentance in 18th Century England.

There are two separate reasons for the prisoners to commit perjury. Firstly, the more obvious reason, Wreathock wanted to free his friend, Maccray from going to prison and facing execution. Brown confesses that he, along with five others accepted Wreathocks bribe of five guineas to help Maccray. He also notifies us that Wreathock violently threating him to death. The second account of perjury happened later in the trial, when Chamberlain confessed he perjured against Maccray. During the Maccray trial, the court, surprisingly, accepted this as valid evidence. Even though Chamberlain said there was three keys, not two, and had no explanation for the use, the court accepted it. Recalling from Brown’s explanation, Chamberlain was upset that Maccray didn’t murder Dr. Lancaster. Chamberlain didn’t seem as interested in the stolen goods as he did about Lancaster life. He wanted him dead.

Perjury was common in the 1730s. Some used it to get themselves out of trouble; others used it to get other people in trouble. Courts did not want to leave trials open-ended, so someone had to be to blame for the injustice. Therefor, the rule of thumb, “Innocent until proven guilty” didn’t apply to trials in the 1700s. Society seemed to be more pleased by having “a guilty prisoner” than “the guilty prisoner.”

If Wreathock wanted either money, or the two keys as I would suggest, and Chamberlain wanted him dead, the rest of the men must have been bribed to contribute to the robbery. Though Wreathock claimed he was doing legal business on the 11th of June, it is in his nature to bribe and threaten people to do as he wishes. Along with Brown’s experience at the tavern after Maccray was arrested, Wreathock used bribery to get himself out of jail (here and here).

Wreathock likely had the men lie about Wreathock’s whereabouts on the evening of June 11th. It is quite possible he bribed them. Some details the witnesses gave did not line up. For example, it is unclear if it were Tollridge or Whitman that came into King’s Head Tavern dirty. Though it is possible the witness forgot which one, or did know who was who, but in every case there is only one man, not two. The men all say the supped together, so one would assume they would have at least introduce themselves; known one another. Brown also confesses that Wreathock bribed him 100 guineas to kill Lancaster. However, he does not have Brown directly involved in the robbery.

I would argue that Wreathock was planning to frame Brown for the murder and thievery of Mr. Lancaster. Brown was given two pistols, and was told to run the other way after the robbery. More importantly, Wreathock had just met Brown recently. His friend, Campbell had introduced them. Brown had earlier been found guilty in court for rape, so he has a criminal history. He also seems to be in need of money to accept the bribe offered from Wreathock, leading me to assume he does not have any financial support, as most common folks didn’t at the time. From the trial transcript his words read as if he has a strong foreign accent. All of these shape Brown to be an ideal scapegoat.

Brown was not the one to commit the robbery because Wreathock didn’t have trust in him. Since Wreathock only promised Brown a portion of the stolen goods, he didn’t want him to have possession of all the goods at anytime. Brown did not say whether the pistols were loaded or not, but if they were he was to fire the shots to kill the Doctor. If they weren’t, remembering that Maccray also had a gun, he would still be able to be framed. Wreathock was aware that people were near by, and the gun-sound would alarm them. This is why the coachman was asked to travel  slowly by Maccray.

Repentance is the true reason this trial exists because Dr. Lancaster believed Maccray to be the only man involved, until Brown’s confession. It is interesting how the fear of death changes Brown’s loyalty to Wreathock to seeking salvation. The idea still lasts today that one needs to repent to reach salvation.

Article on the debate

The remaining question still stands: Why did Wreathock want to rob Dr. Lancaster? Was it a personal reason? Does Lancaster have connections to either mortgage? And, what were the two keys for? My theory is the keys are what Wreathock wanted, Chamberlain wanted him dead, the other men were there to reinforce Maccrays efforts, and Brown was to be framed for all of it.

The Canningnites V.S. The Egyptians and How No One Ended up Dancing the Tyburn Jig

Alright readers, prepare to get your thinking caps on. You should be SO glad that you’ve stumbled across this blog today! I have quite a special treat for those interested in discrimination, justice, and (somewhat) happy endings…Well at least not a terrible ending, since no one is hanged!

The baffling case of Elizabeth Canning is not only one of the most notably famous cases of the eighteenth-century, it is also one of those intriguing, unsolved mysteries. It’s a case that tore the communities of London apart; half in favor of the alleged victim of the story, Canning, and half in favor of the accused gypsie, Mary Squires. It is up to you to read on through Canning’s account, through the details of both sides of the trial, and refer to the sources listed to make up your mind about who the real victim is in this fascinating 18th century law case. Let’s begin.

Bet’s story:


Elizabeth Canning  (pictured above, and here) was an eighteen year old woman, working as a servant and living in  Aldermanbury, London in the eighteenth century. One day Elizabeth, who also went by the name Bet, disappeared from her village after a visit with her uncle. She returned a month later with a story of abduction and maltreatment.

In Bet’s legal account of the story, she was robbed of her money, gown and hat and she  abducted by two men in Moorfields on Janurary 1st, 1753. The men threatened to kill her if she screamed for help, hit her over the head, and took Bet to the house of Susannah Wells in Enfield Wash.  Once they arrived the people in the house told Bet she would have to do as they commanded, and she would receive fine clothes in return. (this is interpreted to mean Bet would become a prostitute)

“It was said she must do as they did; and if so, she should have fine clothes; she said, she would not, but would go home”

When Bet would not cooperate, she was forced by a woman with a knife upstairs to a room. Bet claimed this woman stripped her of her stays (term for fully boned lace bodice worn in the 18th century), then told Bet that there was water and bread in the room for her to survive on, and finally threatened that if she made any noise she would slit her throat. Bet claims that she never saw this woman again while being trapped in the room. According to Bet, she spent a total of twenty-eight days locked up in the room with only a quarter loaf of bread, and three quarters of a gallon of water. She also said she had a penny minced pye in her pocket at the time, but that along with the pitiful amount of bread and water, was all she survived on for nearly a month.

Bet Canning was severely constipated in this room as well, only finding herself able to urinate. On the 29th of January, Canning could not withstand the entrapping any longer, so she made a hole through a board over the window, climbed through and slid out, finally jumping down behind the back of the house. She walked to the road and continued to walk all the way back to her mother’s house. She was found  to be very thin, in terrible condition, and unable to even manage to swallow wine or water. The apothecary arrived and confirmed that Bet had suffered at Wells house. He granted a warrant for Susannah Wells to be apprehended for her cruelty. Canning’s story resulted in her family, the townsmen, and the magistrate coming together to have an investigation of Wells’ home. Canning identified a gypsie, Mary squires, as the same lady who drove her upstairs with a knife after refusing prostitution.  Wells and Squires were taken in custody for the trial.

A Little History on Gypsies

To break up this story a bit, allow me to give you an important back-story on gypsies during the 18th century. Gypsies were believed to have originated from India, traveling to East and Western Europe, and Scotland in the early sixteenth century. In family packs, they migrated and were associated with professions such as “hawking and pedling, acting as tinkers and street performers, and most common of all, as fortune-tellers”. By the eighteenth century, London and its surrounding areas had a high population of gypsies during the winter months. Gyspies were considered to be ugly and accused of dishonesty, craftiness and theft. There was also a negative racial connotation with gypsies because they had swarthy (dark) skin.( more info on this found here)

The Trial:

The trial was held at the Old Bailey in 1753. Elizabeth’s swore to telling the truth with her testimony of the happenings and she gave a description of the room in Well’s house and of various objects within the room that matched when investigated. At this time, the public was outraged at the thought of a hideous gypsie capturing a poor young servant and threatening her with prostitution and knives. People wanted Bet’s safety from the vile gypsie and for Squires to be punished for her crimes.

Curiously enough however, Mary Squires maintained to her claim of never seeing Canning before, but when Elizabeth saw Squires she confirmed it was her who robbed and trapped her.

“Madam, do you say I robbed you? Look at this face, and if you have seen it before, you must have remembered that God Almighty never made such another”- Squires

When Canning told her when it was; she continued,

“Lord madam! I was 120 miles off at that time”.

When asked where she was she said, she was at Abbotsbury in Dorshetshire. Upon seeing Mary Squire’s son George, Bet also accused him of being one of the men who abducted her (hmmmm…), but he was not involved in the trial. George Squires testified to being out of town with his mother and sister during the time of these events.

The Testimonies

There were four people who also confirmed that they saw Squires, not in Enfield Wash, but elsewhere during this time. There were some inconsistencies that came up with Canning’s account of the story. First off, she was  unable to remember specific items, saddles and drawers, in the room.  Secondly, a claim of Judith Natus, a woman living in Well’s house, said she had lain in the room Canning was in for eleven weeks. Natus stated Elizabeth “had been there but a very little time”. This evidence was just left behind by the investigator, who happened to be a close friend of Canning’s (wow, note on bias in 18th Century law!). He thought within himself Canning had given false evidence and he said that he

“quite dropt his opinion of Canning”.

A final important piece of this trial that should be mentioned is the confession of another gypsie of Well’s house, Virtue Hall. First, Hall agreed with Squires claims of being away and stated she had never seen Canning during this alleged abduction and confinement. After a break in court and a discussion with an investigator, Hall changed her testimony to go in accordance with Canning’s story. (Think: was Virtue coming through with the truth after feeling guilty for trying to cover for her  gypsie mate, or was she forced into lying for Canning because it was what society wanted?)

After Virtue’s interrogation : On Mr. deputy Mollineaux’s cross-examination he was asked whether he heard anything of Virtue Hall? he said,

“He had heard she had recanted.”

The Verdict

Mary Squires was convicted with the assault and theft of Elizabeth Canning, and was sentenced to be hanged. Susannah Wells was charged with the knowledge of her accomplice’s crimes and being in charge of a disorderly house. For her punishment, she was humiliatingly branded on the thumb.

(photo source)

“For God’s sake do not swear my life away; look in my face, and be sure of what you say” -Mary squires to Elizabeth Canning.

The aftermath

After the trial, some people in town were not satisfied with the verdict. In particular, Sir Crisp Gascoyn the Lord Mayor of London favored Squire’s alibi that she was in another town at the time of the crime. Because Squires had reliable witnesses such as a clergyman, Gascoyn decided to appeal to King George II who pardoned Squires. Elizabeth was suddenly to have her own trial in the matter, indicted for perjury and imprisoned. Communities in London were outraged by this and  Gascoyne was referred to as “The King of the Gypsies”. There were printed issues in coffeehouses at this time with an image of a gypsie on a broomstick, but there were also theories floating around of Canning hiding an illegitimate baby or abortion. (Wow, 18th century coffeehouses did start up some gossip!)

There were also a rise in pamphlets, some in defense of Canning and some in defense of the gypsie. With these came anti-Canning pamphlets (and I’m sure anti-gypsie pamphlets as well).Communities around London complained that Bet had her justice stolen from her. Some people considered Bet to be a heroine. The people who heard of the happenings split up into two support groups, the Canningites in favor of Elizabeth and the Egyptians, in favor of Squires. They kept up the debate about the case within Wells’ house and who was innocent.

“Elizabeth Canning [and] Mary Squires the gypsy were such universal topics in 1752 [1753-54] that you would have supposed it the business of mankind, to talk only of them…” –Tate Wilkinson, actor and manager in 18th century

Bet’s Trial and Sentence

Elizabeth Canning was found guilty under the claim of perjury and she was sentenced to imprisonment and deportation to America. She married there, had children and died in 1773.

What does this tell us about the 18th Century?

The nice part of all of this: someone who would have ordinarily been hanged for such accusations was acquitted of her alleged crime. Hooray! Gypsies – one point, Upper class London supremacists – zero. The dispiriting part about this case is that from this story alone we can see a lot wrong with 18th century society prejudice and its law system.

Due to the overt negative connotations with women’s sexual freedom, the discrimination and maltreatment of gypsies, and the poor rulings of the law system at this time, I firmly believe Mary Squires was wrongly accused and sentenced to an unjust punishment.

Alright, check out the reasoning behind my first of my accusations against 18th century society.

Prostitution in 18 Century

Prostitution was basically for the poor unemployable, sometimes orphaned, lower class of London during this time. The idea of prostitution also became associated with a need for money rather than desire for sex. While prostitutes were tolerated and accepted by some of society, there were of course those who condemned this behavior, considered it immoral and the prostitutes were still associated with the rest of the urban, lower class citizens. They also of course had police control to worry about, though the laws of prostitution were not completely clear at this time. (more info on this here).

So, now knowing this was the societal impression of this occupation, we can understand that if Bet had a sexual desire she wished to fulfill, she might have felt as though she had no choice but to hide it. While she was a servant and probably did not need to take up this occupation for more money, there is the possibility that it was something she wanted the freedom to do.  Society would not be accepting of this, especially because she was not from the conventional lower class that primarily took this job upon themselves. Because Bet felt the need to hide her sexuality due to the oppression of women during this time, she would have to devise a story for living in Wells’ house. She was clever enough to know that blaming gypsies for threatening and trapping a helpless, servant girl would keep her from having her possible double life exposed.

Don’t buy that theory? Okay, well it leads into my next point.


There are many examples of discrimination in my objective report of this trial. Whether Bet actually was the victim of this story, it is clear she tried to accuse gypsies of her maltreatment because she knew society would be quick to incriminate these people along with her. Again, Gypsies were considered ugly and unwanted, there was even anti-gypsie laws and an attempt to get rid of them altogether in the 18th century. Gypsies were even rejected from the churches,

“The priest shall not concern himself with the Gypsies. He shall neither bury their corpses nor christen their children.”

(photo source)

Ouch… With this abundance of cruelty towards people like Squires during this time it is not hard to see how Bet would have thought she could be a way out of this tricky situation if she did indeed have something to hide. However, no matter what actually went on with Bet in Well’s house, Squires produced many legitimate alibis and should not have been found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. What the heck is up with the judicial system at this time? Even with Squires clearly not having anything to do with this alleged abduction, Bet still would accuse her immediately after seeing her (Squires clearly represented a gypsie, so appearances did matter at this time!). And, don’t forget, Bet also accused the gypsie’s son George, upon seeing him as one of the men who kidnapped her.

Okay… this all seems suspicious, considering George was with his mother and sister traveling and not anywhere near Enfield Wash during the alleged abduction. Lastly, Canning insisted through her recount of the story to put emphasis on the cruelty she endured all because of the gypsie, rather than explaining why there were some inconsistencies to her story. Also other people who testified for Canning added supplementary details of cruelty such as the gypsie swearing “ d – n you, you b – h, I’ll give it to you” and slapping Canning across the face. These points that were not brought up earlier in the trial are important to note because we can see the faults in this society. They were accustomed to despising the gypsies, so this story of their wrongdoing would be so much more well-received than one of a middle class servant hiding a life of prostitution. Society just believed what they wanted to believe, rather than the truth laid before their eyes.

Lastly, we have to look at how the court proceedings were handled.

The 18th Century Courtroom

Along with those additional details blaming Squires for such abuse, when she apparently wasn’t even present at Enfield Wash during these accusations, consider how Bet’s friend and  investigator let go of case evidence. How is this fair? Even though he admitted to believing Canning gave false evidence he still backed out of the case. Was it because he cowardly did not want to challenge society and support the hated gypsies? He chose not to go against the girl that society clearly favored, probably for fear that he would deal with that hate and discrimination that Gascoyne had to deal with for sticking up for the gyspie. Also, remember the probable bullying another gypsie, Virtue Hall, had to endure after her testimony to change her story and confess. Having to go back on her word, possibly lie for Canning, and work against her gypsie family is a horrifying reality of the law system at this time. The corruption we can assume that was going n behind the scenes is notable through the text of the Old Bailey court proceedings. Where is the justice when there is bias and possible threatening in the only place gypsies would expect to receive honesty and fairness?

Thankfully With Lord Gascoyne’s work he was able to free Squires, but that is also confusing. How can a Lord just override a ordered hanging so easily? While I agree Squires alibi was powerful and convincing, The 18th century legal system was clearly a unfair mess if a Lord can just appeal to the king and have someone  with a death sentence pardoned!

(picture source)

So what do you think of it all? Do you agree with my criticisms of repressed sexuality of women, discrimination agaisnt gypsies and the unfairness of the 18th century courtroom? Leave me a comment if you think Bet is innocent, leave a comment if you think Bet was hiding something OR if you have your own theories, I’d love to hear them.

Also, please check out these great sources, I found all of my information for this blog post with the abundance of research posted online. With some investigation you may discover something new.



Cultural Stigma Not So Different From Our Own: The Thomas Andrews Trial

“Unnatural”! “Sinful”! “Fag”! These are words I have heard– directly and overheard– being said to people who happen to be attracted to the same sex as themselves. Said to human beings, and in the 21st century at that. It’s hard to believe that offensive words such as these are still being hurled from the mouths of the humans that we all share planet Earth with. For some, it’s as if homophobic slang is a relatively new phenomena– the last century or so– but hate of this magnitude didn’t just appear, it roots from centuries of the same non-accepting behaviour. While perusing http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ I found myself searching for something grand, something unbelievable. It was only when I came across Thomas Andrews’ trial (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?ref=t17610506-23) purely by accident– from one wrong click of the mouse– that I realized that the most interesting 18th century story to read is not one that is completely unique and never to be repeated again, but one that is still relevant to issues we face in the 21st century. That is what Thomas Andrews’ trial is; relevant, 300 years later.

The indictment against Thomas Andrews was as follows: “for committing the detestable crime of sodomy, on the body of John Finimore”. Finimore takes the Old Bailey through his account of what had transpired on April 19th, 1761. He was examined extensively, asked for specific times of each event that he mentioned in his account and then cross-examined with the same questions, in a different order. Finimore seemed sure of his prosecution of the prisoner, sharing the exact times that he awoke in the night– “about four o’clock. . . I awoke with a violent pain and agony, which I was in, and found his y – d in my body”. John Finimore was looking for lodging, as there was no longer room with his most recent mistress. He had previously lived with Mrs. Mead, and it so happens that Finimore was acquainted with Thomas Andrews during his time with her, so she suggested Andrews’ as a place to lodge. Conveniently, Andrews’ wife was out of town (classic affair circumstance, but that’s beside the point), so he offered Finimore a place to stay, although that place was in the same bed as himself. The first offering was declined because Mrs.Mead gave Finimore permission to stay at her house for a night, but the following day when Mrs. Mead’s offer had expired, Andrews’ second offer was accepted.

The night progressed as what could be expected from any two men passing the time together. Beers were had until it was time to hit the hay, though it is described that the two were “…rather sober than otherwise”. Now, what came next in the trial wasn’t so much strange to the Old Bailey jury as it may seem to the 21st century reader. Social stigma tells us that it is acceptable for women to share a bed, and even have the infamous party we know as a slumber party,

but also tells us that men sharing a bed is strange. Finimore and Andrews would have been fine and dandy sharing a bed if Andrews didn’t have to go and ruin the party by raping his bunk-mate. But hang on, their situation only gets weirder. One would think that after Finimore woke up to agonizing pain located in his rectal area (he must be a pretty heavy sleeper) that he would, I don’t know, leave? But no, he stayed. He turned the other cheek, didn’t say much more than “what are you doing” then falling back asleep, only to be woken up by Andrews attempting the same thing. Stigma or not, it can’t be denied that that whole ordeal was a little weird. Nonetheless, the trial carried on with the cross-examination of everything John Finimore had told the jury, followed by statements from William Pierce; a drawer for Andrews, Sarah Andrews; Thomas Andrews’ daughter, James Leage; the constable that took Finimore and Andrews in, Samuel Johnson; who had been a waiter at Andrews’ for five weeks. All of whom confirmed that Finimore’s recall of the events that occurred on the 19th of April was true, but also stated that Andrews had never done anything like this before, or at least been accused of it before. So did Thomas– a seemingly regular guy– get curious? Or did Finimore fabricate the entire story to hide the fact that maybe it wasn’t as shocking of a wake up call as he lead on it was. It is nearly impossible to decide whether Finimore was simply naive or if there is more to the story that suggests he knew what was happening, and allowed it to continue a second time. Most of the trial is a matter of he-said-she-said, or in this case he-said-he-said, once that bedroom door shut, regardless of the “facts”. Any timeline of events can be accurate until there are no longer witnesses, and only the two on trial against each other were there.

This is especially apparent after two surgeons recalled the conclusions that they came to after examining John Finimore’s body. They both had completely different diagnoses. WHAT? Aren’t doctors supposed to be the ones who bring everything to light and decipher between the he-said-he-said in order to prove fact. I suppose not. Doctor Blagden said he “. . . could see no injury; there was a little excavation of the flesh, what [he] apprehended to be the effect of a pile”. Really? Doctor Jones (no relation to the Doctor Jones in Aqua’s 90′s hit single– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qQurWUCnzs) thought otherwise– “it appeared to [him] to be lacerated; there was an appearance as if there had been violence offered”. Now, instead of offering clarity, the two doctors create more confusion; who is telling the truth? Trials are held in hope of finding truth and therefore providing justice to those who have been wronged. In this instance though, it seems as though those who gave statements all provided a different “truth”. Between the two doctors, Finimore, and Andrews, how was the jury- never mind us, the readers of the trial hundreds of years later- supposed to draw a definitive conclusion as to who, if anyone, was guilty? The jury came to the conclusion that Thomas Andrews was guilty. Guilty of what though? Sodomy. Whether Finimore was lying or not, rape wasn’t the issue that landed him on trial anyway– Andrews wasn’t sentenced to death because he raped John Finimore, but because he performed a sexual act upon another man, which was far worse.

Society couldn’t have their masculine culture destroyed, so they destroyed those that they thought were doing so– the gays. Finimore provided a clear account of the actions taken against him (whether they were true or not) and all those who heard agreed whole-heartedly that Andrews was guilty, but perhaps for the wrong reason. The gay subculture in the 18th century was limited and suppressed, so of course taking part in any way was punishable by death. Although we have come a long way since then, society is still suppressing members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in many parts of the world. Both subtly and overtly, those who are LGBT are being targeted through mental and physical abuse. According to the 2009 Canadian Climate Survey on Homophobia: (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/bullying-and-sexual-orientation-by-the-numbers-1.909444)

25 per cent of LGBTQ students indicated being physically harassed due to their sexual orientation, compared to eight per cent of non-LGBTQ students.

59 per cent of LGBTQ high school students reported they were verbally harassed, compared to seven per cent of non-LGBTQ students.

73 per cent of LGBTQ students reported they felt unsafe at school, compared to 20 per cent who did not.

This type of behaviour is what leads to more serious circumstances such as suicide or even murder. The fact that people are still dying because of their sexual orientation is staggering. The word “rape” wasn’t even acknowledged once throughout the entire Thomas Andrews trial, so he was sentenced purely on the basis of sodomy. Because of the outlook that people had about homosexuals or homosexual actions, the notion of same sex rape culture was completely ignored. Rape didn’t exist unless it was between a man and a woman. Men who “entered the body” of another man immediately feminized whoever was being penetrated and therefore destroyed any notion of masculinity in that man. This was such a frightening issue to the 18th century society because when a man lost his masculinity any sense of a power dynamic (supposed to be shared between a man and a woman) was also lost. Men couldn’t have women thinking that they were weak, that could have compromised the power they held. Although culture has shifted and begun to recognize the existence of gay people, they are still often discriminated against. For example, institutions like the church that are supposed to give people faith, often do just the opposite; in regard to the lack of equality that it shows homosexuals. Gay marriage is still illegal in most states in America, which in turn, creates a stigma around the “rightness” of being gay. This type of attitude was amplified in the 18th century– death was a common punishment given to those who were caught practicing homosexuality.

I suppose that although Thomas Andrews was sentenced for sodomy, and the rape was ignored, his sentence of death gave John Finimore the justice he was seeking. Justice was given for only a brief moment though– Andrews was given a reprieve and pardoned for the crimes he committed. He was released from the Newgate in July of 1761, only two months after the jury found him guilty. Perhaps it was divine justice that he was let go, because he wasn’t punished for the “right” thing, or perhaps because Finimore falsely accused him in the first place. Again, it is almost impossible to know the truth, but it just goes to show how flawed the justice system was- finding Andrews guilty, only to release him. After reading the trial of Thomas Andrews I can’t help but think about how much society still has to evolve in order for there to be equal rights for all members of society, not just those who comprise the norm. What is normal anyway? It doesn’t exist. Until marriage is legal all over the world for every human being, until I stop overhearing the word “faggot” being spit at human beings, I won’t believe the world has evolved into what it needs to be. Maybe in another 300 years the next generations will be discussing how non-accepting the 21st century was. We can only hope.

Learn more about the Thomas Andrews trial:



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“I am innocent of it all, for it was not me that did it” – Henrietta Radbourne

On July 11th 1787, Henrietta Radbourne stood at Old Bailey Court in front of Mr. Justice Wilson, witnesses, and twelve jurors on her case of murder and petit treason. Henrietta’s case was remarkable as she was charged with both murder and petit treason combined in one account, later found guilty of murder but was acquitted of petit treason. [1] The two charges Henrietta was indicted for were serious crimes in the eighteenth century. The more serious of the two crimes Henrietta was charged for at the time would have been petit treason. Back in the eighteenth century petit treason was considered an aggravated form of murder which involved the killing of a master by a servant, a husband by his wife, or any other type of superior killed by his inferior. The punishment for petit treason was much more severe than the punishment for murder, which is the only account Henrietta got convicted for, and for women convicted of petit treason they were burned at the stake, a tradition that remained until 1790.

Henrietta’s case was different for the eighteenth century because Henrietta was charged with both murder and petit treason for the murder of Hannah Morgan, who was Henrietta’s mistress.  Hannah Morgan was struck, cut, stabbed, beat and penetrated by a stick with a bayonet attached to it.

Type of stick Henrietta Radbourne allegedly used against Hannah Morgan. Attached a bayonet to the end.

Hannah Morgan’s injures consisted of a mortal wound to the top of her head, length of one inch and a depth of one inch, as well as four other stab wounds to head, bruising on her right hand and her left hip. Hannah Morgan survived her initial attack and held onto her life for several weeks until she succumbed to her wounds. However the case was not so clear cut as it seemed. Much of the evidence was circumstantial or hearsay but considered strong enough to see Henrietta guilty of murder. I plan to argue that Henrietta was convicted due to being part of the lower class.

Henrietta Radbourne was told by some neighbours, Henry and Rebecca Holmes, to apply through a town agency to look for a job as the stigma that had been put on Radbourne would not be of help in finding her a job. Henrietta’s stigma was that she lived in a home with John Radbourne; they were not married, and she had a child with him. The child did not survive and John left Henrietta. Those events lead to the stigma put onto Henrietta which required her to seek a job through an agency. Henrietta was set up to be a servant for Hannah Morgan and stayed at Hannah’s house for the duration of her employment.  Within a few days Hannah Morgan began to experience unsatisfactory service with Henrietta and some strange feelings about Henrietta and asked her to quit.

This is the particular door lock common for the eighteenth-century and would have most likely been the type of lock on Hannah Morgan’s bedroom door.

On the 31stof May Henrietta had entered Hannah’s room and asked her mistress if she had said her prayers that night; Hannah did not like this comment and quickly told Henrietta to remove herself from the room and go and say her own prayers. After this comment Hannah then got up to secure the house including the door lock on her own bedroom door, which was much tougher to lock than usual. At approximately three o’clock on the morning of the 31st, neighbours and watchmen heard screams of fire and murder. Watchmen and neighbors arrived at Hannah’s home and could not get the front door open as it was secured. Both the watchmen and neighbors entered the home through the front parlor window.  The first witness brought to the stand was William Cranfield who stated that when they had entered the home they had all seen Henrietta on the staircase. Cranfield went to go and unlock all the doors in the home Henrietta stated to him: “for God’s sake, come, and help my mistress, she is murdered.” Cranfield responded to Henrietta: “do not frighten yourself, I will open the back door, and let some people in.” Cranfield then stated to the jury that this was all that passed between him and Henrietta and they did not speak anymore afterwards. This conversation was also overheard by Edward MacDonald, who was one of the watchmen on the scene.

All that found Hannah Morgan in her bedroom all saw the same sight; blood running down her head, blood all over the floor, blood on the doors and windows. Sometime after everyone began to gather around Hannah’s home and the surgeon had been called, Constable William Brown arrived on the scene. Brown searched the home for anything suspicious and did not notice anything then went upstairs to speak with Hannah. Brown was lead to Hannah who was put onto the bed and tried to get Henrietta out of the room for some privacy. Brown alleged that Henrietta would not remove herself from the room, she continuing to wash cups and saucers, and that he had to take her by the arm and remove her. Brown, based on Old Bailey Session’s papers, is unable to tell the court what passed between him and Hannah but afterwards went to search Henrietta’s room and upon examining the bed believe there to have been another person in the bed with her. Brown was the one who found the alleged murder weapon in Hannah’s room next to her fireplace. The weapon contained traces of grey hair and from seeing those hairs perceived this as the murder weapon.

Unfortunately for Henrietta none of the witnesses called came to her defence. Henry and Rebecca Holmes, who recommended Henrietta to the town agency in search of the job, both testified against Henrietta. Rebecca Holmes claimed that Henrietta told her that she, Henrietta, would soon come into some money from a recently deceased aunt and uncle. Henrietta enlisted the help of Rebecca to get Henry to tell John Radbourne that she would be coming into money and if he would marry her then it would be both of theirs. Both Rebecca and Henry stuck to this story. Henrietta came to her own defence upon hearing this and stated:

“Mrs. Holmes has told a great many infamous stories already, I did not say any such thing to her; it is through them that I am brought here, and the last time that I was before the Justice, I was persuaded by Holmes himself not to say anything at all about it.”

Henrietta wanted to stress to the Judge and jurors that it was the Holmes that brought her to this situation and it was they would had went into Hannah Morgan’s home and killed her. Henry Holmes responded to Henrietta’s statement by telling the Judge and jurors that he and his wife only brought Henrietta there, in reference to the job, by helping her receive the job. Henry also stated that he and his wife never once urged Henrietta to do anything wrong, only to do well at her new job. Even Henrietta’s ex John Radbourne did not help Henrietta. John Radbourne called her a liar, he did not know if she was lying about the inheritance but that he did perceive her to be a liar. Henrietta stated to the jurors that the inheritance was real and that it was from her brother she would receive her share from her deceased aunt and uncle:

“I told him before I left him, that when my brother came of age, I should have twenty or thirty pounds if he pleased to marry me, because he did not like we should live together in that way of life; my brother has got another estate left him lately, which is by my uncle and aunt, who are both dead, and this last estate my brother designs to give me.”

After all the previous witnesses were called, a final and crucial witness was called to the stand. Surgeon John Heavyside was the attending doctor to Hannah Morgan. Heavyside was the doctor who determined that Hannah’s death was attributed to the blunt force trauma and the cut wounds she received on the night of the 31st. Heavyside was also the only one present at the time of when he asked Henrietta what had happened that night. Heavyside stated that he told Henrietta to try and save herself. Heavyside expressed that Henrietta  tell the truth to which she told him that she allowed Henry and Rebecca Holmes into Hannah Morgan’s home that night and they were the ones who committed the attack. Heavyside then presented the court with a letter signed by Hannah Morgan. The letter, read by James Crofts the magistrate for the county of Middlesex, retells the tale of how Hannah was attacked by an unknown assailant and that Hannah believes that it could only have been Henrietta. Hannah Morgan’s letter stated that:

“She verily believes no other person was in her house but the person now present who calls herself Henrietta Radbourne; and this informant says that she did maliciously assault her in her dwelling house as aforesaid, with intent to kill and murder her, and her goods and chattels being in the said dwelling house, feloniously to steal, take and carry away.”

Henrietta only has but one thing left to say to the jurors and Judge:

“I am innocent of it all, for it was not me that did it, I have no witnesses at all here or elsewhere, but here are two people that is here that did it, at this present time, and they persuaded me not to say any thing; and when I was at Litchfield-street, they told me not to say any thing, for if I did I should be done as well as them, and I, ignorant of the affair, never said a word about it.”

Henrietta stuck with the belief that Henry and Rebecca Holmes were the cause for Hannah’s attack and inevitable death. Throughout the case it is known that Henrietta is a poor woman who has a stigma of having a child while unwed. Both these traits led Henrietta to be perceived as capable of murder. The court perceived Henrietta’s motive was to gain the money, items and home from Hannah’s death in order to get out of a bad situation. It was shown through the case that Henrietta’s word was not accepted as they as a quick scapegoat for Hannah’s death. They did not have to look far for someone to have blame, and a poor maid that no one cares about. The eighteenth-century court system is also very much flawed compared to the twenty-first-century court system. Although the eighteenth-century did not have the same technology as we have today it should not have allowed them to be ignorant to the very non-circumstantial evidence against Henrietta. As stated earlier, much of the evidence given was passed down through word and not so much action. Being poorly perceived in the public eye as a maid, a women, a liar, and not married put a huge stigma on Henrietta. Henrietta’s case shows that even if you don’t have a lot of evidence to go by, be careful of what you say and do, because all of that can be used against you.

[1] Simpkin, W, and R Marshall. The Critical review, or, Annals of literature. 2. London: 1791. 38. Web. Retrieved on October 26, 2012 <https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=_usvAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA38>

all quotations from the Trial Transcript are taken from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers: Henrietta Radbourne