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


“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

Robert Hallam: The Devil in Disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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