London Metropolitan Police Man : Armed & Accoutred.



Here he is – the new London Metropolitan Police Man – dressed to impress and fully armed to defend the citizens of London and its environs. Well that was the plan, a new uniformed, united corps of armed police officers, the brainchild of Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary under two prime minsters, The Earl of Liverpool and the Duke of Wellington from 1822 to 1830. The New Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 was the climax of his determination to provide England with a new and armed police force.


New Metropolitan Police Act June 1829

In the event, the originally proposed armaments of Roman sword and pistols were replaced by a twenty-inch wooden truncheon and access to a flintlock pistol in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Armed police were regarded as far too politically and socially contentious and could lead to serious conflict and public disorder.

Nevertheless, the use of the term ‘Accoutred’ was deliberately chosen to market them as clearly uniformed, highly trained and beyond bribery, favours and back-handers, particularly the ‘favours’ of the public house! When the New Metropolitan Police Act passed into law on June 19th, 1929, a best-selling twopenny publication was released to the public so those who wished could be fully prepared for this revolutionary new force of  law and order

It says something about the previous views of the police and their relationship with the local ale houses when it makes a promise to the reader on the front cover to tell them not only what will happen to them if they obstruct this new, dynamic metropolitan police man but how the Act will  punish publicans for ‘harbouring’ him!


Second edition: W. Percival: Strand: London

Now, in many respects, the new order and morally upstanding intention that, policemen on duty should not be offered nor accept alcohol in a public house, is now standard practice but ironically was to have a direct connection with a subsequent serious decline in crime detection.

This new generation of officers were to become so highly regimented and deeply embroiled in their rule books which gave them them almost unlimited ‘stop and search powers’ – it was thought crime would be swept away. The new police man was instructed that he may, “apprehend all lose, idle and disorderly persons whom he shall find disturbing the public peace.‘ But not only this, he was further instructed that if he suspected anyone of ‘having evil designs‘ – he could arrest them and take them to the watch-house:

POLICE_act_1There was for Peel’s new men, no need to drink in alehouses, having the ear of the landlord, paying informers and turning a blind-eye to certain rogues who were more usefully encouraged in their criminal ways than put in prison. Sir Robert Peel’s intentions were to ensure his new brand of police men would totally usurp the operational style of their individualistic and sometimes highly eccentric predecessors, The Bow Street Runners who would be totally disbanded within ten years and the new metropolitan area under this Act included all parishes, townships, precincts and places within twelve miles of Charing Cross.

Compare the new with the old.

Below is George Ruthven, one of the most revered Bow Street Runners with his trademark yellow silk waistcoat and elegant city attire (apologies for print quality – if anyone has the original or better picture of George please share)



George had no need for a government issue uniform, the reputation of the runners as highly successful detectives, sometimes armed only with a tipstaff (a truncheon that also held warrant papers inside) was enough for most occasions although such weapons as swords and pistols were of course available as needed such as in the famous Cato Street conspiracy seige of 1820 [1]  Indeed George was a crack-shot with the Bow Street issue William Lacey pistol and an excellent swordsman.


George III fruitwood truncheon or tipstaff



Bow Street  issue Lacey Flintlock pistol

The hub of informers for the Runners was the alehouse – the need to drink, bribe and turn a blind-eye were cornerstones of detection and the Bow Street Runners can be credited with being Britain’s first true detectives. As I already discussed in an earlier blog entitled, The Roehampton Monster. Morbid Curiosity and The Metropolitan Police – ′Peel’s confused and ill-equipped police force let go of its specialist detective department when they disbanded the Bow Street Runners in 1839. So, devoid of the informers and sneaks that used to be paid by the Bow Street system in the ‘old days’ – their concerns to end this so-called corruption and claim a new police morality totally lost them their network of detection.’
Source :

Cartoonists had a field-day poking fun at  the high moral tone Peel was accrediting to his new police men.


With a daily rate of three shillings pay, ‘The men are to provide themselves out of their pay with a plain blue uniform of a fixed pattern at contract prices.” Recruits had to have a ‘vigorous constitution’  be over thirty-five years of age and be at least five foot seven inches in height. Thirty-five years old in the 1830’s was pretty much proof of a vigorous constitution, for according to Professor Martin Daughton’s BBC article entitled, ‘London’s ‘Great Stink’ and Victorian Urban Planning’,

 “A baby born in a large town with a population of more than 100,000 in the 1820s might expect to live to 35 – in the 1830s, life expectancy was down to a miserable 29.”

In the event, recruits under 35 were accepted, otherwise the recruitment drive would fall short. Not only were the new police men also going to be trained as fire-fighters, the ultimate plan was to create a ‘united core’, with a dedication to police work second to none – no more rag-bag watchmen and idiosyncratic, individualistic Bow Street Runners undertaking detective work involving infiltration into gangs and plotters and sharing out the reward money.


New Metropolitan Police Act June 1829

Just over a year later amongst a great deal of public disquiet concerning the new police and their heavy-handed enforcement of law and order and the stark realization how much the new police rate was costing local parishes – meetings took place all over London to try and have the new police act repealed. Here is but one example from Mr. Leech at a meeting held for St. Saviour’s Parish in Southwark and reported in The Times;


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 11, 1830; pg. 3;

Then a week later came a criminal case that seemed almost welcome by the public.



The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Sep 22, 1830; pg. 4

Indeed when John Barrett (PC No, 58) and William Liddiard (PC No. 29) both stationed with the brand new H-division of the Metropolitan police were sent for trial for robbery in September 1830 for taking money and a penknife from an slightly inebriated but innocent member of the public who they pulled into a  back alley – the moral indication of the public was aroused and a song was popularized to point out the moral duplicity of these new policemen. Here is the first verse and chorus:


The final, 5th verse, serves to remind the public of Peel’s role in the creation of our so-called protectors and very cleverly sums up the irony of his moralising crusade.


These two new policemen were found guilty and ‘transported beyond the seas for seven years,’ to appease public anger.
Okay, the Runner’s were no angels but they ‘did deals, not steals‘, as the saying goes!

The opening image of the new London Metropolitan Police Man had, within a matter of months, undergone somewhat of a transformation!



[1] For George Ruthven’s exciting adventures, see my book : The Cato Conundrum:



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The Monster



The Monster going to take his Afternoons Luncheon etching  by J. Gillray, published  by H. Humphrey, no.18 Old Bond Street London, May 10th 1790.

Public panic, well and truly assisted by caricaturists of the time such as James Gillray, called for the police to urgently end the so-called Monster’s reign of terror in London during 1788-90.

It had to be stopped but how? Who was he and what terror was he bringing to the women of London? Well he certainly wasn’t attempting to eat them for lunch as satirically depicted by Gillray, but rather acting in an obscene and violent manner, seemingly at random, amongst women in the more fashionable streets of the West-End.

‘The Monster’ publicity had been relentless during 1789 and early 1790 as depicting a savage creature, ‘infecting the streets of London and a terror to all the female race.’ *

The terror referred to began with him accosting young women in the street out shopping or merely walking casually past, possibly in parks or theatrical events. He would upset them with the most foul language that would describe horrific acts of barbarity he intended to inflict upon them. After terrifying them, he would melt away into the background leaving them very distressed.

It was reported as, “A man accosting them in a shivering sort of voice, expressing some thing that is unintelligible, and when he speaks, speaks a most horrid language to them, talks of drowning them in their blood, and of blasting their eyes.”
SourceOld Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 04 October 2017), December 1790.)

At this stage, this anonymous, creepy man had attracted the name of ‘The Wretch,’ and small localised reports were made about him. Reports then began to be received of women not only being accosted in this frightening and obscene manner but being stalked in the street and even struck on the back, head or shoulders and then in some cases, the victims discovering he had used a sharp pointed implement to cut and tear their clothes as well as wound their flesh. For example, Elizabeth Baughan reported:

“I remember being with my sister Frances on Westminster-bridge, on the 6th of December, 1789, about a quarter past seven at night; I was coming towards Parliament-street; I observed a man following us pretty close in Bridge-street; he kept grumbling in a low tone; I could not hear what he said; he came to the side of me, and walked almost to the end of Bridge-street; I saw him very clearly; he endeavoured to push himself between my sister and the rails; he hit my sister about the small of her back, and then he struck me just at the small of my back; he struck me only once; my clothes were cut to pieces, and a streak on my back; it must have been with some sharp instrument.”
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)

Elizabeth’s sister Frances, however, stating in her report that she had actually encountered this man at least two years previously and did know what he looked like:

“I was in Bridge-street with my sister. I heard him say (with his mouth close to my ear) ‘blast you, is it you?’ He swore bitterly all the way. The blow on my back threw me forward, and I turned round and observed him strike my sister, and he kneeled nearly on one knee when he struck my sister, which was with great violence, and he swore at the time; I saw his face very plain, but not at first; and it came to my recollection, that I thought I had seen him, and knew his voice before; I did not know him so much by seeing him that night, as two years before, when he insulted me from the King’s Palace to May’s buildings, and never from that time did I forget him; he insulted me very grossly, in so much that I slapped his face in the park; I cannot positively say it was the same man; but I think it was from his voice and person.
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)

As these reports increased, the media turned ‘The Wretch’  into ‘The Monster’ and the hunt was on to identify him. It was certainly not a time when women would feel confident to report such experiences, even to their family, so it was only when a brave and forthright woman  – Miss Ann Porter  – reported his serious assault on her, that a charge was able to be levied against him once he was formerly identified:

On January 18th 1790, Miss Porter had gone with her sister Sarah and an elderly friend, Mrs. Miele, to watch a grand ballroom dance at St. James’s, celebrating Queen Charlotte’s birthday. They had arranged to be collected by their father at midnight.

However, Queen Charlotte left at 11 o’clock and the ball finished early, so the ladies decided to walk home as it was not too far away. They had not gone very far along St. James’s Street when Sarah suddenly turned to her sister Ann and said they should make haste and go as fast as they can. The panic in her eyes was enough for Ann not to question why, and shepherding Mrs, Miele along, they quickly got to their house at the far end of the street.

Sarah ran up the steps reaching the front door followed by Mrs. Miele assisted by Ann. Just as Ann had mounted the first step, she felt a violent blow on her hip. She turned around and saw a man staring at her. She quickly turned back, climbed the stairs in haste and went inside, the maid shutting the door immediately.

They all gathered around Ann and saw that her gown and other clothes had been slashed and there was some blood on her hip. This was a man Sarah had encountered before who had used abusive language to her in the street. Both sisters now knew what he looked like. Ann collapsed in a faint, the doctor discovering she had a nine inch long wound on her right thigh running to a depth of four inches and for a time her life was in danger from serious infection.

John Julius Angerstein, a London businessman and Lloyd’s under-writer, was a friend of the Porter family and offered a reward of one hundred pounds for information leading to The Monster’s arrest.

The identity of The Monster occupied a lot of people once the reward of £100 was announced. In particular, a certain German gentleman who worked as as boiler-man in the sugar-house at College Hill in Thames Street had what he thought was a bright idea to capture The Monster and claim the one hundred pounds from Mr. Angerstein. Unfortunately his idea spectacularly misfired as reported in the Chester Chronicle under the headline,  The Petticoat Monster. 


The Petticoat Monster . Chester Chronicle (Chester, England), Friday, May 28, 1790;p.4

Yes, it is difficult to read, but it really was his idea “to dress himself as a woman and parade the streets in hopes of being stabbed,” So it explains how he asked his master’s cook for her assistance in passing himself off as a modest and beautiful woman and, “render him a delectable object in the eyes of the monster.

On his first outing as this ‘desirable woman’ he became confused with the etiquette of passing others correctly on the narrow pavement and when a gentleman and his wife approached, he stepped to the road side rather than the wall – or as the paper put it in parenthesis (“notwithstanding his character, as a beautiful and modest lady, should have secured him the wall”) – consequently, he became tangled up in his petticoats and fell heavily to the ground knocking into the gentleman’s wife.

“You damn drunken old whore, can’t you see?’ cried the man.
Our German gentleman in a very heavy and foreign-sounding masculine accent replied, “I beg your pardon, damn the narrow pavement.” At this exclamation, the wife shouted out, “Oh that’s the wretch who cuts the women!” The husband seized him by the throat and soon others joined him in dragging the man to the police watch house. He was beaten badly and the borrowed clothes were ripped and torn. “I knew The Monster could not be an Englishman,” someone had shouted from the crowd.

He was released and sent home the worse for wear once he explained his plan and now how much poorer he had become having to purchase his master’s cook a new set of silk clothes.

The only published description of ‘The Monster’ to date was that reported in The Times newspaper where they had recounted an attack on two ladies in Leadenhall Street at the beginning of May when he had cut one of them across her shoulder. They said he is, “Tall, dressed in black and has a large nose, rather curved.”
Source: The Times (London, England), Monday May 3rd, 1790. p3.

Isaac Cruikshanks, provided this sketch during May 1790, apparently ignoring The Time’s nose clue!


The breakthrough on identification came shortly afterwards when Miss Ann Porter was walking in St. James’s Park with another lady and a gentleman friend called Mr. Coleman. It was July 18th, 1790.

Ann suddenly became very agitated, much to Mr. Coleman’s concern. She told him they had just walked past the man who accosted and wounded her. Mr. Coleman insisted she must point him out so he could follow him home and have him identified and arrested. She did so and leaving Ann with the lady friend, Mr. Coleman set off to shadow ‘The Monster.’

It seems the man suspected he was being followed and went to different houses, knocking on the door, speaking briefly, then setting off again. Mr. Coleman confronted him but he said he was certainly not ‘The Monster’ and lived in Jermyn Street, St. James’s, fluently giving his full address to Coleman and strode off indignant at such an accusation.

Coleman called at the address he had given and it was false, Coleman had lost him and had let him go.
Then, as luck would have it, he saw the man again very close to the the Porter family’s house in St. James’s Street, so grabbed him quickly and insisted that he accompanied him into the house. He knocked and when the maid opened the door, Coleman pushed the man in with him. The sisters began screaming at the sight of him.

Officers from Bow Street were sent for and they arrested him. Within no time, the police had rounded up a number of women who claimed they had been assaulted and verbally abused by this man and all were able to identify him in a line-up of assorted men.

Indeed it was his mother that lodged at the Jermyn Street address, so that was how he gave that so confidently as his own. The police found he was staying in what they termed a despicable public house in Bury Street where six men, including him, slept top-to-tail in three disgustingly filthy beds.

This middle-sized, sallow featured, long-faced man as described by The British Chronicle, claimed to be a musician working in theatres, but currently in business making artificial flowers. An occupation that did not sit as well as they would have wished for the media portrayal of a monster!


The British Chronicle, or, Pugh’s Hereford Journal (Hereford, England), Wednesday, June 23, 1790; pg. 4.

He was identified as Mr. Renwick Williams from Wales and remained in custody awaiting an appearance at the Old Bailey courthouse on July 7th.


Given the previous depictions of ‘The Monster’, you may feel the gentleman pictured above looks a little disappointing. Mr. Nixon’s courtroom sketch, ‘drawn from life’, published on July 9th 1790 was eagerly awaited by the public at large, especially women who lived in fear of him and desperately needed to see what he really looked like.

Below is the original Times newspaper’s listing of those women who were now able to be brought forward as victims of ‘The Monster’ alongside Miss Ann Porter who would be the main thrust of the case against him with all the others listed to be counted as victims into the final sentencing. It’s worth the small struggle with the old-English reporting style to understand the months of panic Williams had caused to so many women out walking in London and not always alone, but some with companions.


The Times (London, England),Thursday, July 8th, 1790; pg. 3

However, it was the following day on Thursday July 8th, that the trial began using Miss Porter as the main victim for the process of gaining a secure conviction as this case had clear and convincing witnesses to identify the man and his methods of assault.

This was the charge that was read out:

“RHYNWICK, otherwise RENWICK WILLIAMS , was indicted, for that he, on the 18th of January last, with force and arms, at the parish of St. James, Westminster, in the king’s highway, in a certain public street there, called St. James’s-street , unlawfully, wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously, did make an assault on Ann Porter, spinster, with an intent to tear, spoil, cut, and deface her garments and clothes; and on the same day, with force and arms, in the same public street, wilfully, maliciously, and feloniously, did tear, spoil, cut, and deface her garments: to wit, one silk gown, value 20 s. a pair of stays, value 5 s. a silk petticoat, value 5 s. one other petticoat, value 5 s. a linen petticoat, value 5 s. and a shift, value 5 s. her property, part of her apparel which she had on her person, against the form of the statute, and against the king’s peace, &c”
Source: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 06 October 2017), July 1790

Remarkable, even for the flowery language of self-indulgent lawyers of the period, the opening statement by Mr. Piggott for the prosecution, played with the two extremes of despicable depravity and innocent beauty. First, the depraved Renwick Williams:

” It is an unpleasant task to call your minds to a scene so new in the annals of mankind; a scene so unaccountable: a scene so unnatural to the honour of human nature, that it could not have been believed ever to have existed, unless it had been demonstrated by that proof which the senses cannot resist: but while we are trying the prisoner at the bar, for this unnatural, unaccountable, and until now, unknown offence, we should not forget that he is our fellow being, and give him an attentive hearing. Indeed this case affords a melancholy lesson to our nature, and teaches us not to be too confident of the impossibility of any event, on the principle of its appearing to us to be out of nature.”


Renwick Williams

Then the contrasting innocent beauty of the victim Miss Ann Porter:

“The prisoner at the bar has made a wanton, wilful, cruel, and inhuman attack upon the most beautiful! the most innocent! the most lovely! and perhaps I shall not trespass upon the truth, when I say the best work of nature!”


Miss Ann Porter, who was so Barbarously treated by the Monster (The New Lady’s Magazine, 1790)

The stories of verbal and physical attacks and the many witnesses giving a clear identification of the man at the bar as the so-called monster, made the verdict of guilty inevitable, but to the very end Renwick Williams denied any guilt and even managed to produce witnesses who confirmed he was elsewhere at the time of such assaults so it could not be him but someone who looked like him. He had been working as an artificial flower maker in Dover Street and on the night of the Queen’s birthday ball had not left the workplace at all was the claim, as they had a special order to complete so he was not anywhere near St. James Street and the Porter’s residence.

The Jury chose to disagree and found him guilty. However, it was decided that his sentence should be deferred until the Winter assizes. This meant that all witness would need to appear all over again in a virtual re-run of the trial in December  – over four and a half months later – and meanwhile Renwick Williams would be held in custody.

On Monday 13th December, at Hicks Hall Session House in Clerkenwell, London, Williams had a sixteen hour trial with another opportunity to provide alibis for his movements at the times of the attacks in support of his claims not to be the so-called monster.  Also this time he was charged with three counts the first being, assaulting with intent to kill, the second, assaulting and wounding, and third, common assault.

His employers, Miss Amet and Mr. Mitchell once more supported his alibis to declare he had been at work during the time of the assault on Miss Porter, but in the end the jury chose not to believe this and he was once more declared guilty.

He returned to the session house the next morning for sentencing with regard to all the offences he had been charged with.

The Chairman made the following declaration of sentence:

“The sentence of the Court on you, therefore, is, that for the assault on Miss Ann Porter, you be confined in Newgate for the space of Two Years. For the assault on Elizabeth Davis, that you be also confined Two Years, to commence from the expiration of the former sentence: and that, for the assault on Miss Elizabeth Baughan,  you be also confined for Two Years, to commence from the expiration of the former four : that at the end of the Six Years, you shall find bail for your good behaviour for Seven Years, yourself in the sum of two hundred pounds, and two sureties in one hundred pounds each, and to return in the custody in which you came.”
(ibid: Old Bailey Proceedings Online)

That is exactly what happened, Renwick Williams served six years to the day in Newgate prison, and in December 1796 was released on bail for his final year. It appears he did behave himself but he was forever labelled as ‘The Monster’ – the broadsides continuing to sell for many years afterwards



* Broadside published on July 8th 1790


Pubd by W.Dent July 12 1790

In Mr. Dent’s sketch above, he includes Williams hanging on the gallows with the caption ‘The way the Monster ought to be framed.’

Fast-forward ninety-eight years, to 1888, and Williams makes the headlines once more  as “The Woman Stabber, Renwick Williams” as the media become frantic with the Whitechapel Murders and Jack the Ripper.

Some referred to him as a ‘The Former Ripper‘ whilst most went back to ‘The Monster’ personae but with one marked difference – in comparison to what was happening to women in Whitechapel, ‘The Former Ripper’ was seen as ..”mild, bland and to all appearance, quite inoffensive”  – it’s a strange world when so-called ‘Rippers’ are given a comparative status. Even Williams’s period of offending which was well over twelve months, has been reduced to six in the inaccurate reporting these ninety-eight years later.


The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, October 6, 1888

The Daily Mail, a year later in 1900, refers to him as a celebrity of sorts commenting, He was a strikingly handsome man and his portrait forms the frontispiece of Vol III of The Newgate Calendar .” Source:The Daily Mail: Tuesday December 4th, 1900.  

Infamy is a strange mantle.




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The Steddy Hole Murders & The Tragic Letters of Dedea Redanies


This is the true and tragic story of how a distorted and misaligned passion – masquerading as deep and everlasting love – can twist and turn into the horror, torture and despair of a murderous deed.

A deed beyond understanding, its devastating destruction of the families concerned unimaginable as they are left with no tangible sense of why it happened, or indeed, if they were somehow unwittingly complicit in its ugly performance.

First we need to meet the man at the centre of this emotional tragedy – his name is Dedea Redanies. He was born in Belgrade in 1831 and we meet him in 1856 at twenty-five years old. He is private soldier number 2520, 2nd battalion, 4th company British Swiss Legion stationed at Shorncliff in Kent, England.

He appears to be a well-travelled young man having also served in the Turkish army and then spending some time with the Italian army in Milan before joining the Swiss regiment stationed near Dover in England. I have been unable to locate a clear sketch or image of Redanies, merely a crude self-portrait – the context of which will become clear later in the story;


He was a skilled linguist and was able to offer his services as an interpreter, assisting at the military hospital in Dover and other general duties such as portering.


One night on a visit to the local theatre, he met seventeen year old Maria Back and her eighteen year old sister Caroline. They got on well and he visited their home to meet the sisters’ parents Mary and James.

The parents ran a local laundry and the nearby army base were good customers so it was not long before they kindly added in Dedea’s laundry – much to his gratitude – and it soon became clear that Dedea had fallen in love with Caroline and it seemed to be mutual. James and Mary had no problems and began to regard Redanies as a possible son-in-law.

As Redanies’s fixation on Caroline grew, he became very concerned about a forthcoming period of transfer to Aldershot and whether he would lose Caroline to another as there were plenty of admirers for both sisters. Whilst away, he wrote to Caroline and it was clear in his letters with 6000 kisses he was very seriously in love.


There is no indication his passion was diminishing, but he only offers 4,000 kisses in his next letter at the end of June, 1856. As a translator, his spelling leaves a lot to be desired!


He was soon to be transferred back to Shorncliff and just before leaving he wrote his last letter to Caroline dated Sunday 13th July 1856: Aldershot Camp letting her know he intended to visit her the following Sunday which would be July 20th:

DEDEA_ 3rd letter

The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 18, 1856; pg. 7

When they did meet up once more, Redanies’s controlling nature made him demand to see she had his letters and that she treasured them. We cannot know exactly, but it seems Caroline was less than responsive to his obsessive love for her and she accidently gave him sight of another admirer’s letter rather than his. According to Martin Easdown in his book, Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths: Folkstone (2006), Redanies had managed to glimpse the words, ‘My Dear Caroline‘ and ‘looking forward to meeting you again in Woolwich.’ (ibid: p.17)

This triggered a whole series of suspicious thoughts in Dedea’s head and when Caroline mentioned she was going to visit another sister who was married and lived in Woolwich, and, moreover, she would be staying with her, he immediately made a connection between the glimpsed letter and an imagined affair she must be having with another soldier. He also persuaded himself that Caroline was pregnant from being with another man.

It was Saturday August 2nd and that morning they argued about his accusations and after demanding his framed photo back from Caroline, Dedea smashed it on the front-room hearth, throwing his photo into the fire-place and storming out.

It is at this point the evidence remains a little confused. All accounts researched are unclear whether Dedea’s eventual return to see Caroline at her house around 7.30pm that same evening resulted in him staying the night with her or not.

James Back, her father, has said he did, but on other occasions that he did not – but there is no mistaking the fact that James Back met up with Dedea Redanies together with his daughters, Maria and Caroline, at breakfast in the Back household at number 5, Albion Place, Dover on Sunday August 3rd.



However, this was no ordinary breakfast, this was at around 3.30am in the morning. During the previous evening, Dedea had insisted that Caroline set off early with him to walk nine miles to meet his sister in Shorncliff and make a day of it. Caroline’s mother, Mary, was against this idea because Caroline was feeling unwell and she felt her daughter was not capable of such an earlier and long walk.

Dedea’s persuasive insistence caused Mary to relent and she agreed as long as Caroline’s sister Maria went with them. So it was, that Dedea Redanies, dressed in his full military uniform, was seated at breakfast with his potential father-in-law, Caroline and Maria with Mary serving them breakfast for their early start.

Waving goodbye, Dedea Redanies set off arm-in-arm with Maria and Caroline for Shorncliff. Given that they were young, they might have managed three miles an hour but given the twists, turns and slopes of the road and the restrictions of their clothing, probably nearer four hours than three, especially with a break – so possibly a planned eight-o’clock arrival at Dedea’s sister’s house. Well as you’ve probably guessed – that did not happen.

They were certainly all seen together still walking arm-in-arm past the Royal Oak public house in Capel Le Ferne. George Marsh, a local labourer, was sitting outside on the verge and they waved. Deadea asked George the time, to which he replied, “Five o’clock.”  This was approximately the halfway point on their journey, with around 4.5 miles left to Shorncliff.


Postcard: Circa 1910: This is little changed from when labourer George Marsh saw Dedea Redanies walking past arm-in-arm with Caroline and Maria Back on Sunday August 3rd at 5am

They continued their dawn walk for another thirty minutes or so arriving close to a pub called The Valiant Sailor. It was almost opposite this public house in a shallow grassy dip known as Steddy Hole, that the next sighting was made by Thomas Girling.

He was a visitor to the area who was searching for a local pathway down to the beach, except this search led to the bodies of two young women who had been attacked and stabbed to death. Girling ran to The Valiant Sailor and fetched the landlord Richard Kipharn and then Girling ran on into Folkstone to the police station returning later with a police superintendent.

When Girling got back, Richard Kipharn and helpers had taken the girls’ bodies to Mr. Burvill’s cottage nearby and they were waiting for the surgeon, Mr. Bateman who arrived at nine o’clock.


The Times (London, England), Friday, Aug 08, 1856; pg. 8

This shocking discovery stunned all involved, it was so brutal and calculated and there was an immediate alert to find Dedea Redanies at all costs. James and Mary Back had the heart-breaking task of identifying their daughters at the cottage. It was during that identification that James Back said that both his daughters’ black capes were missing. A search of  Steddy Hole revealed nothing so it was assumed Redanies had taken them with him.

It was also discovered that on the Saturday evening before he had returned to the Back’s house at 7.30pm with his plan for a walk with Caroline, he had called into John Green’s Cutlers Shop in Dover at around 6pm and purchased what he termed a poniard, which is a narrow, very sharp dagger.


This is a poniard – but not the actual murder weapon

So now there is a major man-hunt underway in an era where the only form of direct communication is word of mouth – but at least the man in the frame is still likely to be wearing his military uniform, such was his character.Word was received that he had been spotted by someone just after 6am alone and passing through an area in Barham Downs known as Black Robin’s Camp.*

*(This area was well-known since Roman times as a troop encampment coastline location to defend invasion threats and also it was the haunt of a local highwayman called Black Robin earlier in the century).

Despite all eyes peeled, Redanies evaded any capture or further positive sightings that day until Monday afternoon when the whole tragic saga took another twist and turn.

Canterbury Police Constable George Frier’s local inquiries had yielded information of Redanies’s movements. Being a foreigner with a distinctive accent and appearance, he was remembered by two women who had served him in their respective shops.

Firstly he had called into Elizabeth Attward’s general store in Lower Hardres – around 9am. He was wearing a red military jacket with a woman’s black cape around his shoulders and another tied around his waist. He purchased two sheets of paper and envelopes and asked if he could sit down and write some letters and, indeed, borrowed a pen to do so. He stayed for around ninety minutes writing two letters. Mrs. Attward noticed one was in a foreign language. He asked where he could get stamps and she directed him to the post office nearby. It was now around 10.30am.

Lower Hardres Postmistress, Mrs. Barwood, sold him two stamps which he stuck to the letters and posted in the box. As a result of her information, the letters were recovered from the post box by the police.

So it was that police constable George Frier caught up with Redanies on the Ashford Road railway viaduct. He recounted how some other people shouted at him and when he saw there was a police office approaching him – Redanies took the poniard and stabbed himself in the breast. George Frier, grabbed him and restrained him, and seeing he was badly wounded held him still and waited for assistance, sending off witnesses to fetch others.

Redanies was wearing two black capes – one turned inside out over his shoulders and the other around his waist with his arms through the sleeve-holes. He was now a good twenty miles from Steddy Hole and the horrors perpetrated there. He was taken to Kent and Canterbury hospital with serious injuries to his chest and in a critical condition.

There are occasions when a murder case becomes so overwhelmingly tragic to research you really have to wonder how in this world anyone could have possibly foreseen it coming. The ‘blame-game’ that the parents of the victims must have endured in this double murder is beyond my abilities to comprehend and the only way to illustrate this is to reproduce the tragic letters of Dedea Redanies so you can judge if any of this could have been predicted. Here are the letters he had posted that morning.

To Caroline and Maria’s mother, Redanies had written:



The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

I find the selfishness of his approach to his own barbarous act the most difficult aspect to deal with and this is from a distance of over one hundred and sixty years. The premeditated purchase of the poniard for this ultimate outrage on two innocent women, I find unforgivable. It was said by some, that Mary Back forgave Redanies but I cannot confirm this from my research to date.

His other letter was written in poor German to an officer in his unit – Lieutenant Schmidt;


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

This letter was seemingly written before his deceptive luring of Caroline to take that Sunday dawn-walk on the pretence of visiting his sister in Shorncliff, involving a ‘watch story’ we know nothing about and, it seems, he’s unaware at this stage that Maria would be tragically included in his murderous intentions given his instructions to Schmidt to contact Maria about his watch!

Redanies remained critically ill for some time and I am not going to detail all of the media stories that began to emerge in the interim – suffice it to say that public outrage towards his actions was palpable and unless proved insane – his execution seemed inevitable. The media were ‘chomping at the bit’ to report the trial as soon as he was deemed fit enough and their first opportunity came on  Saturday, August 16th at a special session of the county justices of the Home Division, held in the grand jury room of the St.Augustine Session House in Canterbury. A charge of Wilful Murder had been preferred against Dedea Redanies by the coroner’s jury and this now had to be investigated by the said justices before a trial could be declared.



The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 18, 1856; pg. 7

Redanies was committed to trial at the next assize and in the meanwhile taken from court, while still sitting in his chair, to the county prison at St.Augustine’s.

The trial at the Winter Assizes was on Friday December 19th at Maidstone. Suffice it to say, it ended with the judge ceremoniously putting on the black cap and delivering the sentence of death on the prisoner through an interpreter so there was no misunderstanding the nature of Redanies’s terrible deed. Redanies knew this fate was coming and had no concerns as it was his wish to die.


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 20, 1856; pg. 11

Now a convicted murderer, Redanies was considered a suicide risk and was constantly watched over by a prison official. However, rather than seeking a way to end his life as he realised that was going to happen anyway, he created what he called “a little memento for the man watching over him.

This was a pencil drawing split into two scenes, each scene depicting the murder of each of his victims. The first scene is the figure of a woman lying on the ground under a tree and she has blood gushing from two incisions to her breasts. Above this figure, Redanies has depicted an angel collecting her soul to take to Heaven. The sun rising in the background depicts dawn-break when the murder took place. He has written an inscription saying, ‘Farewell by dear Maria – Dedea Redanies.

DEDEA_DRAW_1The second scene depicts his murder of Caroline and it is here where he has provided a self-portrait. He is the soldier upon who she is leaning as he holds her around the waist with his left arm, his right hand in hers, the dagger fallen to the ground as blood gushes from the wounds to her breasts. Again there is an angel and he has captioned it,
Death of Caroline Back from Dedea Redanies of August 3rd, 1856.
He explained to the prison watch to whom he presented it as a memento, that it represented himself “bidding her an eternal farewell.

DEDEA_DRAWIn a bizarre editorial, The Times newspaper engaged in a brief art review of his work, actually commenting, “Both drawings are extremely well done considering the unfavourable nature of materials at the prisoner’s command; while there is quite a pre-Raphaelite minuteness of detail.” The Times  (London, England), Monday, Dec 22, 1856; pg. 7

The final part of this tragedy was played out on New Year’s day 1857, The Times headline concerning Redanies execution was sandwiched between “The Southampton Election” and ” Sporting Intelligence” on page ten. Their last paragraph is a sober reminder that you never know what tragedy might be next in line!


The Times (London, England), Friday, Jan 02, 1857; pg. 10;



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The Tyrannical Impatience Of Captain Moir.

MOIR_resizeNo need for a spoiler alert – there you have it in glorious colour  – Captain Moir shooting his victim William Malcolm.

When I came across this image of what appears to be a clear-cut case of murderous assault that occurred on Wednesday March 17th 1830 in the English county of Essex, I was immediately curious about motive. Was this cold-blooded attack on a fisherman in such a brutal and direct manner really as depicted in the lithograph or merely artistic licence?

Why would an ex-military Captain be so full of venom and hatred as to mount a charge upon a poor unarmed fisherman and shoot at him at such close range, and what future faced the Captain for engaging in such insanity?

Indeed had he perhaps lost his reasoning? Also was there really a witness as depicted – what appears to be a young man holding up his hands in sheer horror at what he is seeing?

Interestingly, in our modern times when the claims of false news are rife, the publisher of this so-called same-day little imprint depicting the murderous image, wishes all his readers to be wary of the very same issue – false news.

This publisher is one Mr. Chubb of number 2, Tottenham Court Road just on the corner of London’s famous Oxford Street. Here are Mr. Chubb’s personal assurances that he is the real deal:


CHUBB’S EVENTS OF THE DAY: dated Wednesday 24th March 1830:  W.P.Chubb : Printer, 2, Tottenham Court Rd, corner of Oxford Street. London, England

With Mr. Chubb as our guide to protect us from a ’tissue of falsehoods’ and other ‘trash’ reporting on this event – I hope you’ll accompany me in my quest to find out more about this case and the answer to why Captain Moir shot William Malcolm in what Mr.Chubb declares to be an ‘inhuman murder.’ Was it really a direct, brutal murder as claimed?


Unfortunately Chubb has not got off to a very good start as I soon discovered the attack on Mr. Malcolm by Captain Moir took place on Wednesday March 17th 1830 – a week earlier than Chubb’s report – so much for the falsehoods promise. You’ll also notice he condemns the ‘catch-penny publications’, for he happens to charges threepence for his, however to give Chubb his due, he has produced an enticing publication so here’s true story of what Chubb chose to label an ‘inhuman murder.’ 

It begins with the simple pleasure of a day’s fishing expedition in the vicinity of the picturesque village of Hordon-on-the-Hill in rural Essex in the parish of Little Warley.
(If you’d like to explore old Essex a little more – here’s a useful link.)


Horndon on the Hill – Cary’s New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

William Malcolm, aged thirty-five, lived in Hammersmith, London with his wife and six children, (soon to be seven). He worked hard as a fisherman to keep his family housed and fed. On occasions, William Duke, a young lad from Wandsworth, Surrey would join him for a fishing expedition.

Duke had known Malcolm for some seven years now and on this day – Wednesday March 17th, 1830 – they set off down the river Thames in Malcolm’s boat towards Holy Haven on the Essex side of the river – they also had Malcolm’s oldest son and an apprentice named Goddard with them to look after the boat. All four set off and docked the boat at Borley House. Here Malcolm and Duke left the boat in the care of Malcolm’s son and apprentice and they set off with their net and long boat hook pole across some meadow land towards Shelhaven Creek.

They reached the creek close to the sea wall and laid out their net.

Before long, an irate gentleman accompanied by his manservant, strode over to them demanding to know what they thought they were doing on his property. This was Captain William Moir – at thirty-six – a year old than Malcolm, together with his servant, William Raven.

(You will have noticed that all involved  are christened Willam – this was a very common situation).

Malcolm had replied; “We have a right to lay a net here.”

Moir snapped, “If you do not take it up, I will cut it all to pieces.”

Malcolm was alleged to have said by Moir’s manservant, “Damn your eyes, I’ll take them up,” but according to Duke, Malcolm had merely said, “Pray sir, don’t cut it up, we will remove it.” Either way there is no dispute as to Moir’s reply to Malcolm:

“If you were a man, I’d give you a good thrashing,” and he called Malcolm , “a bloody saucy blackguard.”

Moir claimed Malcolm raised the stakes somewhat by pulling off his jacket telling him to do it if he could and called him “a bloody Scotch bastard.”  It was later claimed by the manservant that Malcolm had also said to his master, “You are a great paunch-gutted bastard or you would have fought me.”

Moir immediately told Malcolm and Duke to leave his property by the sea wall route and not to cross his land ever again. Malcolm had replied that he did not mind a walk and together with Duke, they parted making their way to Mrs. Baker’s cottage to trade their fish for potatoes. They stayed with widow Baker for a while, and as they left, they stopped briefly to speak to an acquaintance, William Grubb.
(Yes – another William!)

As Malcolm, followed by young Duke, set off back the way they had come along a beaten footpath across the meadow, he saw Moir on horseback galloping at speed towards him. They were no more than around one hundred yards from the cottage.

Moir shouted, “I thought I told you not to come across those meadows again.”

Malcolm called back, “I will go.”

Moir however rode around him, turning to aim and shot his pistol.

Malcolm dropped the boat hook pole, and basket of potatoes, and clutching his arm shouted, “Oh sir, you’ve broke my arm – you’ve broke my arm.”

Moir immediately turned to Duke and said he’d get the same treatment if he did not get off his land. Moir then rode away shouting he would send for a doctor.

Duke helped Malcolm back to the cottage and widow Baker tried to stem the blood flow from his arm with flour and herbs. Around forty-five minutes later, James Dodd the local surgeon from Stanford-le-Hope, arrived at the cottage. Duke took that opportunity to set off back to the boat to fetch Malcolm’s shoes, hat and warm jacket.

Now having checked and double-checked, Mr. Chubb’s account of this event, we can certainly trust this version of what the Stanford-le-Hope surgeon, James B. Dodd, had to say about exactly what happened next.  Here is his statement that was later provided to the authorities about the incident he was called to by Captain Moir that afternoon:


CHUBB’S EVENTS OF THE DAY: dated Wednesday 24th March 1830:  W.P.Chubb : Printer, 2, Tottenham Court Rd, corner of Oxford Street. London, England pp 8/9

The doctor admitted that one of the reasons for calling on Moir was to check if he was sober and he agreed that he was. The other was to borrow a horse and cart to take Malcolm to hospital in Stanford-le-Hope. Moir showed no regrets for his action and boasted:


This might be the very moment to learn a little more about William Moir, for as soon as this event was reported, Captain Moir surrendered himself to the local magistrate, Dr. Hogarth and was committed to Barking Gaol to await investigation.

Captain William Moir was a native of Angusshire (more commonly called Forfarshire at this time – nowadays Forfar is the capital of Angus council area in Scotland). Right from the start of this saga, the press seemed  strangely ‘seduced’ by Moir’s good looks and constantly reported less on Malcolm’s condition and more on Moir’s appealing appearance, referring to him as a very handsome man, thirty-six years of age, six feet tall and of gentlemanly manners with good connexions, and has always been much respected.  

They reported how he had served seventeen years in the 14th, 37th and 40th regiments of foot and had seen much service. They told their readers how he had been in France, Spain and in America where – at twenty-six – he met and married his wife (then aged only fourteen years old) and she was now twenty-eight.

Moir, they reported, has three children, the oldest fourteen, and the youngest seven. The papers even gave away the information that he owns a town residence at No.13 York Place, in Pentonville and is only renting  Shelhaven Farm, consisting of about four hundred acres which unfortunately for William Malcolm included that small patch of land that, for Moir, was declared to be “his castle” (albeit a rented castle!)

We have already established William Malcolm, thirty-five, as a family man, with six children and one on the way. He was also equally well-known in his area of Hammersmith as a keen sailor, winning many local sailing contests. The press described him as a ‘fine young man’ who was ‘greatly esteemed by aquatic amateurs.’

Malcolm’s shattered arm wound was tended and examined by several doctors over the next few days and they were satisfied it would heal but then Malcolm began to exhibit signs of lockjaw – a fatal condition, and the diagnosis changed dramatically to one of certain death.

(Note: nowadays we mainly refer to this as Tetanus, it is still a very serious condition that can lead to death but not certain death as in the 1800’s)

Malcolm lingered until Thursday March 25th and with his death that afternoon, this also changed the outlook for Captain Moir who was now likely to be charged at least with manslaughter, if not murder.

Moir, however, expressed his view, with great confidence, that such a case would have to terminate in an acquittal, as he never intended to take away the life of Malcolm, and that the act of firing the pistol was unaccompanied by any malice.

Saturday, March 27th, 1830 saw the inquest being held in Stanford-le-Hope at the George Inn and Captain Moir was brought in custody from Barking Gaol. He was kept in an adjoining room, while the Coroner took witness statements.

Again the media were at pains to remark on his height and good looks, The Morning Chronicle commenting “He is a fine looking man, about six feet high, and of a most determined aspect”
(Source: Morning Chronicle, Monday March 29th, 1830)

The whole saga of the fishing expedition was retold to the Chelmsford Coroner, Robert Bartlett and, in particular, the evidence from Mr. Dodd, the surgeon was critical. For it was in his evidence that Moir had quite clearly expressed ‘malice aforethought,’ telling Dodd, “The man got no more than he richly deserved”, alongside his comments about how he’d do exactly the same again given the chance.

There was no question that Moir had deliberately set out with his pistols to take premeditated action against Malcolm whose wounds from the pistol ball shattering his arm allowed lockjaw to take hold of him from which there is no possibility of recovery.

The Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Moir and he was now committed to Chelmsford Gaol to await trial.

chelmsford gaol from an old postcard

Chelmsford Gaol. Springfield:  Postcard (date unknown)

The question left hanging in the air was whether William Malcolm’s death was a direct consequence of the pistol ball wound or not?

Moir’s strategy was twofold. One was to challenge the quality of care administered by Mr. Dodd the surgeon and his colleagues, in effect saying that it was their fault Malcolm went on to develop lockjaw and to insist on a further medical examination by an independent medical man (friend!) paid for by Moir.


The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Apr 07, 1830; pg. 6;

The clear indignation of the Coroner, towards an accusation by a friend of Moir that Malcom had been the victim of “unskillful treatment” by Dodd and his colleagues misfired dramatically.

The second of Moir’s strategies, was to claim that in his trespass on Moir’s land, Malcolm had acted threateningly with his long, curved hook, boat pole, sufficiently so, to cause Moir to fire his pistol in his own defence.

Both tactics quickly collapsed given the indignation aroused in the doctors who cared for Malcolm and the request was refused by the Coroner. Also, Malcolm’s body was now being cared for by his brother in Hammersmith in preparation for the funeral and no such permission would be given by him.

The second tactic of a perceived threat to Moir from the boat hook pole being pointed threateningly by Malcolm, only had Moir’s manservant as testimony to this. You may recall William Grubb who spoke with Malcolm and Duke as they left widow Bakers’s cottage. He saw everything that happened on that fateful day and was able, together with Duke, to counter that accusation head-on.

Consquently, Captain Moir’s trial at Chelmsford Assizes on July 30th,1830 became a much sought after seat for what had been a mere argument in a meadow in Essex over a minor trespass. This had now become a murder trial of extreme local significance with a likely execution of an important local figurehead in the offing.

Again – right from the word go – the celebrity-style reporting of Moir’s looks became paramount. What really intrigues me about this was how the paper’s usual, over-long clumsy, rambling sentences suddenly – in his case – became uncharacteristically short and dramatic. I have re-produced below exactly how the Leicester Chronicle began their piece about Moir’s appearance in court:

“The trial excited great interest in the town and neighbourhood.
The Court was entirely filled.
Captain Moir’s countenance is open and manly.
He was dressed in black.
He is about six feet high and well proportioned.
He was charged with the wilful murder of  William Malcolm by shooting at him with a pistol.
He pleaded Not Guilty.”
(Source: The Leicester Chronicle, or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Saturday, August 7th, 1830)

The trial re-lived all that we have recounted so far, if anything, the many witness for the prosecution were more vigorous in their horror of what they had seen happen to an unarmed man carrying a basket of potatoes with one arm and his boat hook pole with the other.

There could be no defence for a close-range pistol shot from a determined and experienced army Captain on horseback who had deliberately planned his ambush of a mere fisherman and his lad with the assistance of his manservant.

Again, Moir did himself no favours by offering the following observation to the jury:

“Of the unfortunate deceased, I had no knowledge; and nothing but his improper conduct could have led to the result which originated the present proceedings. I was in the habit of carrying pistols from the first. This place was so lawless, I was obliged to do so in my own defence. The rest I leave to my Counsel, to your Lordship and a British jury.” (ibid. p.3)

Lord Tenterden in his summing up, reminded the Jury that no man had a right to attack another with a pistol, even if he were trespassing on his ground. Such a weapon was only to be used in self-defence and here the prisoner was clearly not attacked by Malcolm.

Twenty minutes later, the jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.” Below are the comments of the Judge to the condemned man, but even The Times, had to succumb in the end to this bewildering, magnetic attraction of this military man:


THE TIMES: Saturday, July 31st, 1830 p3

Moir may not have been visibly moved, but his solicitor burst into tears along with many others at this verdict, particularly the many women who packed the public seats, and within minutes, arrangements were in place for an appeal to the King for clemency.

A petition was begun to be taken to his neighbours as well as his old regiments and London contacts to raise as many signatures as possible before the early August deadline.

The Petition failed and the execution went ahead as scheduled for 9am on August 2nd 1830, at Chelmsford Goal – his new media image in death now that of a ‘stout, heavy man.’


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Aug 03, 1830; pg. 3

Chubb is not around to vouch for the veracity of that declared annuity of one shilling a week said to have been bequeathed to Malcolm’s widow, as he did not follow this story beyond that of the coroner’s inquest, let alone the trial. We’ve left our seeker of falsehoods way behind at this stage.

Returning to my initial curiosity about Moir’s motive that began this blog.

After the execution, The Times newspaper did some reflective journalism on Moir’s mental condition, discovering that while posted in Gibraltar he had suffered from yellow fever and his brain had been severely affected.

The pains in his head were sometimes so severe, that apparently, while posted in Canada, he made blows to his head with a hatchet in frustration, leaving scars on his forehead. When he drank he became – according to his acquaintances – like a madman you could not reason with. So the procession of character witnesses in court that had testified to his patience and good nature,were really accustomed to prolonged episodes of exactly the opposite.

The most interesting psychological aspect – before any such diagnosis was possible – was that at the highest point of excitement, Captain Moir imagined himself to be the most calm and collected individual according to their investigations, and a very severe case of sunburn whilst posted in France, led to a further inflammation of the brain when he returned to Canterbury. Consequently, his reason for retiring so young from the army and living in a remote rural area, now becomes clear. Here is the final part of The Times report on their reasons for what they termed,  Moir’s “tyrannical impatience,” (The Times,(London, England), Tuesday, Aug 03, 1830; pg. 3)


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Aug 03, 1830; pg. 3

A concluding comment from The Times that says it all – albeit rather bluntly is:

The ill-fated William Moir is no more.” (ibid, p.3)

Finally, here is another version of that enticing lithographic depiction of the scene of what, in the event, became a murder charge (Courtesy of Harvard University library), and is perhaps a little more illustrative of what we now know to be Moir’s “tyrannical impatience,” rather than Chubb’s “inhuman murder.” Although, of course, the end result was exactly the same.


I’ll leave you with a tribute to Malcolm’s ordeal at the hands of Captain Moir, courtesy of Chubbs, ‘catch-penny’ rival James Catnach, also a London Printer from 7 Dials. Here are his ‘Solemn Verses’ that truly capture the arrogance and rage of the late Captain Moir and his tyrannical impatience:











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Linguistic Escape Routes


Old-time American Song lyric

Last night to Dan O’Hara’s house a lot of good boys went,
We had a splendid supper, and a pleasant time we spent But
in every company there’s a fool who makes a lot of fuss,
And upsets all the harmony – ’twas just the same with us.
First we mopped the floor with him, dragged him up and down the stairs.
Then we had another go under tables, over chairs;
Such a sight you never saw-before he’d time to say his prayers.
Rags and bones were all we left of the man that struck O’Hara

You never saw such value, boys, there never was such fun,
He wanted to apologize before we’d half begun;
We wanted no apology, for that would do no good,
But to wipe out that gross insult, we meant to have his blood. (Chorus)

At first we played with him, like a cat will with a mouse,
We chased him in the corners, and, in fact, all ’round the house;
He shouted, mercy and police, it’s time that you were done!
But when he shouted murder! oh, ’twas then we had the fun.’ (Chorus)

The humour of what is almost a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon style of violence is so well-crafted in these lyrics by popular nineteenth century Irish balladist, J.F.Mitchell, that we can enjoy, without guilt, what is basically an extremely vicious attack on a man who dared to land a punch on the landlord in his own tavern – unforgivable. We are also treated to a magnificent lithographic print gracing the music-sheet cover.

This idea of venting grievous bodily harm and possibly death through linguistic escape routes such as songs, poems and slang constructs, is a fascinating area which is too often passed over.

I did visit some  linguistic escape routes in a recent blog about Jack the Ripper – which looked at such lyrics as providing much needed poetic release of taking back control from his horrendous violence – particularly for women – and allowing them to turn such gross bodily attacks back on him and making him the victim,  ie: Give Him To The Women, They’ll Spoil His Pretty Fizz  (  

However, it is true to say, that many of the Ripper rhymes were not like this and rather than offer light relief via the escape of a tuneful song – many would use this genre to release dire details of gore and violence: For example to the tune of a Victorian melody called “The Miser“, the lyrics are clearly designed to shock:

These women have been murdered
not for the sake of gain,
They were destitute and fallen,
Suffering poverty and pain;
Their bowels were ripped open
What a terrible death to die,
So cruel to behold, they lay dead and cold
‘Neath the dawn of the morning sky.

From each one blood was streaming,
When their bodies they were found;
Each eye in death was gleaming,
Their lips gave forth no sound.
They must have all be murdered
By the one same cowardly hand,
Such barbarous crimes in our times,
Has never disgraced the land.’
(Anon: Published Nov 8th or 9th 1888)

This type of song provides a socially acceptable means of uttering aloud the sheer horror and nature of the injuries and perhaps allows some form of linguistic escape route. Indeed, one common thread through such lyrics, apart from referring to the grievous bodily harm inflicted upon innocent women, is that of indignation and apology that these terrible events are taking place in London, England of all places in the world, thereby ‘disgracing the land.’

eg: To the tune of “Captain with his Whiskers” the opening lines are:

The Indignation in London had not passed away,
When another shocking murder in the middle of the day
Has frightened all the people that in Whitechapel did dwell
This being the eighth victim in this manner has fell

Or of a song called Teddy O’Neil:

‘In the great town of London, it is almost absurd,
No clue to the murderer as yet has been given
Not one cry for help, alas has been heard.
If this had occurred in some foreign country
Where ’tis supposed that Christians dwell.
We should think that in this nineteenth century,
Such terrible crimes we could not hear tell.’

There is a fascinating publication connected to this area of interest written by Jonanthan Goodman, called Bloody Versicles: The Rhymes of Crime (Kent State University Press, Ohio, 1993). He begins by citing one of the most famous American rhymes dating from 1892 following the horrific murder of Mr. and Mrs. Borden by their daughter Lizzie.

Several versions exist, I’d like to cite the one Jonathan himself remembers chanting as a child of nine or ten when he lived in New York. Apparently you need to do this to the tune of ‘Ta-Ra-Ra-Boomdeeay’:

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
Then she stood behind the door
And gave her father forty more.’
[Goodman, J., ibid,  p.5]

Innocent fun – of course it was – but once you drill down to the real event it claims to depict, Lizzie Borden is not a role model you wish your children to admire, yet there is subtle hint of admiration in the fact she first committed matricide, followed (in fun?) by patricide.

Lizzie Borden


Children’s rhymes feature a great deal in connection with serious criminal acts and in the famous Scottish case of serial killers Burke and Hare, a skipping chant was very popular in Edinburgh, depicting these infamous characters taking yet another murder victim’s body from their lodgings to the dissection doctor who would pay them handsomely for such specimens.

First, here is a typical report from the Edinburgh Evening Courant about one of  Burke and Hare’s murders (a double murder in this case). The reference to, “murdered her in the same way” refers to suffocation, sometimes after plying the victim with alcohol. Last June refers to June of 1828. They murdered sixteen people altogether between 12th February and November 1st 1828.

BURKE_HARENow all this horror of suffocating, writhing, drunken bodies murdered and put into boxes of various kinds such as tea chests & herring barrels to be carried to Dr. Knox – transforms into the innocence of  a children’s skipping song, more concerned with the rhythm of the rope swing and the wonderful gift of a rhyme with Knox:

‘Burke and Hare
Fell down the stair
With a body in a box
Going to Dr. Knox’

For those of you not of Scottish origin, who wish to try this in a Scottish burr, here it is again:

‘Burke an’ Hare
Fell doun the stair,
Wi’ a body in a box,
Gaun to Doctor Knox.’
(19th century Edinburgh jumping-rope rhyme)

Other popular representations are sometimes claimed to be in the authorship of the villain themselves as in the celebrated case of The Murder in the Red Barn where on Saturday 18th May 1827, William Corder murdered his bride to be, Maria Marten.


William Corder awaiting trial (Anon: 1888)

Here is Corder’s confessional song of extraordinary detail from this Suffolk murder and now revered as a traditional folk song, leaving a warning for others not to follow in the footsteps of the perpetrator. As in this case,these representations are often wedded into folk traditions long after the details of the case are forgotten, the entertainment value of the song lives on:

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Murder of Maria Marten'

Source: Palmer, R (1979) Everyman’s Book of English Country Songs London, Dent & Sons

I suspect this song was actually written by the very clever and street-wise character James Catnach, famous for his Broadsides and street ballads and he then attributed it to Corder – claiming Corder wrote it on the night before his execution as his farewell message to the world. You will notice the first person changes to the third person in the fourth verse, ‘He murdered her all in the Barn.…’ etc. He may well have received Corder’s blessing to do so, it’s not known. [I’ve looked at Catnach’s tricks before in Fake News: The Sensational Murder That Never Was]  (

Its purpose to merely to recount a terrible tragedy with a strong moral tone is achieved but it has more cachet if thought to be written by the murderer himself. This sold over one and a half million copies very rapidly indeed and many plays have followed the theatrical gift of a plot that can have the title of The Murder in the Red Barn and everyone already knows what it is about.

I have a very rare copy of one play entitled ‘Maria Marten – or – The Murder in the Red Barn‘, published in 1928 – over one hundred years after the murder – by Gerald Howe in London, that purports to be ‘A traditional acting version for the first time’ – of course it probably isn’t, but the script provides exactly the melodrama of release that people sought at the time in such a theatrical production despite the sheer horror of the reality: For example, Corder has lured Maria to the Red Barn and ensured that no-one knows she is there with him. Maria has already been forced to bury her illegitimate child with Corder unaware that he had poisoned it.

CORDER   Now look what I have made here!  [He drags her to the grave.  Slow music]

MARIA     A grave. Oh William what do you mean?

CORDER   To kill you, bury your body there. You are a clog upon my actions, a chain that keeps me from reaching ambitious height. You are to die.

MARIA [Kneels] But not by your hand, the hand that I have clasped in love and confidence. Oh! think William how much I have sacrificed for you, think of our little child above, now in heaven pleading for it’s mother’s life . Oh spare me, oh spare me!

CORDER  ‘Tis useless, my mind is resolved, you die tonight [Thunder and lightning]

After he has done the dirty deed and the audience are enthusiastically hissing and booing, he shows remorse at what he has done and exclaims:

Oh may this crime for ever stand accurst
The last of murders, as it is the worst.’



Part of the fascination with the long history of people, young and old, using the rhythm and timbre or certain words and phrases to celebrate a moral story such as Corder’s or relate a terrible crime in a semi-comedic way such as Lizzie Bourden is when it is used as a form of communication rather than recitation.

I have already visited the world of  criminal argot often called cant and slang language in a couple of earliers blogs, ie: Spanking the Glaze and Other Tricks  (  and also Being Flash, (

Most of the examples cited tend to be from the nineteenth century, when publishers became interested in the entertainment value of revealing to their readers, the ‘secret language’ of the underworld.

I have recently discovered some 18th century examples of so-called ‘cant’  language in an original publication written by a trickster known as John Poulter, alias Baxter a notorious robber and fraudster. Take note of his full publication title and message of  reassurance to you – the public:  (Note: for  ƒ  substitute  s  where appropriate)POULTER

So, Poulter, the notorious robber, now becomes Poulter your savior so ‘every one who reads this book, may certainly know them (fraudsters etc) at any time and to be upon their guard against being cheated…’  

Here you have a variety of promised escape routes from the very many fraudsters & tricksters that Poulter identifies that are about to plague your eighteenth century everyday life!

We’ll maybe look at his advice in a later blog, but here’s a few cant phrases provided by Poulter that somehow make the horror of murder and serious assault seem less serious:


Mill the rattling gloke  translates as  Kill the coachman
Mill his nob                         ∼                   Break his head
Chive his muns                   ∼                   Cut his face

At the softer end of ‘cant communication’ we have:

Tis a rum darky and Oliver shows ∼ ‘Tis a good night and the moon shines.
Between her carriers       ∼                 Between her thighs


I think we’ll leave it there until the next time!















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Passion, Deceit, Lies and Love: The Fate of Henry Stent, The Butcher of Pimlico.


There are very few occasions in my research into violent and premeditated criminal behaviour, that I stumble across a case so packed with mixed emotions and tragedy as that pertaining to Mr. and Mrs. Stent.

There are some rare, heart-warming moments, albeit under the relentless gaze of the media and stern-faced judges, and I think that you might ponder this story for some time to come. I do hope so, I have a soft spot for these two characters.

Henry and Maria Stent’s apparently blissful seven years of domestic life in London’s Pimlico in the 1800’s was to take such a sudden turn, it seemed almost as if a malevolent spirit had invaded their world, intent on turning it into an evil and despicable hell.

Henry and Maria lived at number 3, Arabella Row in Pimlico, London. It was a smart area, being just a mile from fashionable Buckingham-gate and Grosvenor-place. Writers, artists and skilled tradesmen such as stone mansons, printers and produce traders of all kinds were their neighbours and Henry at twenty-nine was a renown slaughterman and butcher, and generally a very popular man.

However, the first bad turn in their life together was Maria’s decision to run away with her husband’s best friend Sam Sweeting – a market broker* – to America. Sam was a friend that Henry had supported through financial difficulties and virtually treated as his brother. Also, Sweeting, who only lived next door to Stent,was married with four children and his wife was pregnant with their fifth child.

*(market broker was someone who mediated between buyer and seller; a ‘middle-man’)

After the scandalous ‘elopement’ of  Sam and Maria at the end of August 1818, following a jovial and happy evening of eating, drinking and card playing at Sweeting’s home – during which Maria had slipped next door to finish her surreptitious packing – this treacherous ‘friend’, secretly returned in the dead of night around three weeks later and stripped his wife of her clothes, threatening her and searching for money which she had hidden in her corset bones.

He took her savings of sixty pounds and fled back to Liverpool and Maria to catch a ship to American and on to Philadelphia. This terrifying episode so traumatized Mrs. Sweeting that it triggered the birth of their fifth child and Mrs. Sweeting had to be restrained in sudden violent distress fits by use of  a ‘strait waistcoat’.

Henry Stent had assisted the doctor as a concerned neighbour and she had subsequently died in his arms whilst he consoled her. Her new born baby died shortly afterwards.  Sweeting’s four children were sent to the workhouse, one of them dying soon after admittance. Tragic does not even describe what this man caused to his best friend, and his family. The Times newspaper reported how Mr, Stent would walk the streets night after night, “Being unable to forget his wretchedness in sleep.” (The Times, London, England, 16th August, 1819, p.3)

Henry was devastated but had no option but to continue his trade to live and support his and Maria’s three young children. He had discovered that Maria had been secreting money for some considerable time by helping in the shop and had saved up enough for this ‘elopement’ and the prospect of a new life in America with Sam Sweeting. It was now early August 1819, almost a year after this devastating episode had left him bereft and his many friends had worried about his depression over this time.


However, unknown to Henry, Maria was beginning to seriously regret her impulsive actions. After leaving with her so- called ‘paramour’ initially to France, then returning with him some months later to Liverpool in preparation for eventually sailing on the S/S William to America, Maria had written to her sister Matilda about her anger with Sam Sweeting’s indifferent attitude towards her, and even recounted a recent dream that had worried her:


On arrival in Philadelphia, Sweeting soon deserted her leaving her in great distress in this foreign land. She eventually managed, with great difficultly, to obtain a passage back to England.

The journey was horrendous, with the ship almost wrecked in a storm but it managed to limp into Liverpool and she was extremely frightened but saw this as an omen that she was home and now had a chance to make amends to Henry and their children.

Maria Stent decided to throw herself on her husband’s mercy and on August 5th, the day after her arrival back in England, took a coach back to Pimlico, arriving at the Saracen’s Head Tavern in nearby Snow Hill.

It was from here on that same day of August 5th, that Henry received a letter from Maria hand-delivered by a porter: It read as follows:

“August 5th 1819

Henry,  you no doubt will be offended at my writing to you – one that I have used so ill; but, believe me, I have considered of my crimes, and will repent, if possible. Oh Henry, I have suffered more than I can tell you in crossing the seas; there was nothing but storms and trouble, and the ship was lost. But you, perhaps already know that I have put my trust in God for safety in crossing them again and have got safe to England once more to throw myself at your feet, and implore your pity, if you cannot pardon me.

But oh! for one moment consider before my doom is fixed. Indeed I am penitent and sorry for my sins, and hope you will hear my prayer, for mercy as well as that God which I have offended. But if my story was told by any other than me, you would see what a villain he was. If you find you cannot forgive – but oh! that thought makes me tremble; do not let my dear father and mother know you have heard of me, for that would bring their trouble afresh to their minds (that is, if their lives are spared), and I hope I have not got that to answer for.

All I wish is, to pass the remainder of my days in obscurity, or in the workhouse, if you think proper, or in any other place. Do not desert me – for God’s sake do not. I have come from America, landed on Tuesday morning, and at night left Liverpool and this morning got to the Saracen’s Head Snow-hill where I shall await your answer with the greatest distress.

If you please to let me have some of the clothes I left, as I have not a gown to wear. Oh! Henry, think well before you say what shall be my fate – only ask your heart -do not tell any body that you know of my being in England; but think what a journey for a lone woman to take.

I do not know when you will get this ; but if you can let me know tonight what is to be my lot:- indeed I will be content on bread and water if I can but obtain your forgiveness. Oh! Henry be not deaf to my prayers. I know it is a crime I have often heard you say you would never forgive – only write to say you will pardon me, and do what you like after, but do not let any of my friends know that I have wrote to you – grant me that request if you cannot grant any more – let me know for I had only two pounds five shillings to bring me to London

One O’clock                                                                                                          Maria Stent.”

Maria stayed in her room all that afternoon and early evening, taking some tea at around six-thirty. Henry arrived at the Tavern and inquired after Maria Stent. He was shown into the parlour where she sat alone.

Violent shrieks told those outside that not all was well and that Henry was not in any mood for mercy, nor forgiveness. Armed with a large knife he had furiously began stabbing her in the neck and her left-side. A servant rushed into the room, crying out to his master, “Thomas, the man has a knife.” Maria called out at the same time, “Oh, he will kill me!”

Others rushed in to wrestle Henry to the ground and seize the murderous weapon but not before he had managed to stab her with great violence in the throat. Maria collapsed senseless to the floor, blood pouring from her gaping wounds.

Henry then said calmly, “I have accomplished my purpose; I wish for nothing but to suffer, I know I shall suffer.”

Maria, came around to semi-consciousness and murmured, “Yes you have, Henry, and I freely forgive you, come and kiss me.”

Henry knelt down and kissed his wife twice. She whispered, “I hope the law will not take hold of you, you are the best of husbands, and I am the very worst of wives, and I hope my fate will be a warning to all bad wives.”

People  began to flock into the tavern, hardly able to believe what they had either witnessed or been told by the agitated crowds. It became so confused, Henry could have made his escape but he stood still and waited for the police. When they came, he said immediately, “I am the man.”  He was hand-cuffed and taken to the local prison (known as a compter) in Giltspur Street.


Maria was covered with a tablecloth and taken on shutter to St. Bartholomew’s hospital for immediate surgical attention. On her way to hospital she still called for Henry and for him to kiss her – she was drifting in and out of consciousness and asked Henry to hold her hand unaware he was not there. One of the men carrying her held her hand, and Maria thinking it was Henry, murmured, “God bless you, I shall now die happy.”


The courtyard of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, early 19th century.

It was while in Giltspur Street Compter, awaiting his hearing before the Guildhall Magistrates, that Henry wrote to his sister Elizabeth:

Dear Eliza, I have been to the Saracen’s Head and seen Maria, and from what has passed between us, I am now in the Giltspur Street Compter. I must leave it to you to break the matter in the best way you can to our dear father and mother.


However, on the back of the letter he had written;

I have stabbed her but would not put that on the other side for fear of shocking you too suddenly. It is of no use to come tonight, as you cannot be admitted but I shall be glad to see some of you in the morning.”

It was Monday, August 9th, 1819 that Mr. Henry Stent appeared before Alderman Heygate, Magistrate at the Guildhall, to be questioned. However, given the nature of his crime, it was necessary for Mrs. Stent to be available to answer questions as she was still alive and Henry was not, as yet, subject to a charge of murder.

The knife Stent had used was shown to the court and was known in the butchering trade as a ‘sticking knife’ used for slaughtering calves. This one was covered up to the hilt in blood with its point now bent from the fierce stabbing to Maria’s rib bones. However, examination of Stent and the alleged weapon was not possible without Maria Stent present in court to answer the Alderman’s questions.

The magistrate had been handed the following note from the surgeon at St. Batholmew’s hospital dated that very day, it said:


Alderman Heygate  now needed to wait until the fate of Maria Stent was known so he had no option but to remand Henry Stent in custody back at Giltspur Street Compter.

Under what was known as Lord Ellenborough’s Act, if Mrs. Stent lived, Henry would need to be charged with ‘Cutting and Maiming, with Intent to Kill’ – this still carried the death penalty, just as if he had murdered her. Stent seemed resigned to his fate either way. He was remanded until the following Wednesday to appear once more at the Guildhall.



The Saturday, edition of the Caledonian Mercury, led with the simple headline, MR AND MRS STENT and attempted to update their readers on Mrs. Stent’s condition and Mr. Stent’s frame of mind: Regarding Mrs. Stent, they did not hold back on reporting her injuries:



The Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland) August 14th, 1819

They reported that Mr. Stent seemed resigned to his fate and somehow felt relief after his former despondency at his wife’s desertion. He found it hard to believe he had stabbed her more than once – he could not recall doing that.

Wednesday, August 18th, saw the re-examination of Mr. Stent at the Guildhall now that his wife, Maria was fit enough to attend the hearing and give her evidence as to the attack. By 10 o’clock in the morning, all roads, alleys and passages to the Court were blocked by crowds of people, so much so, it made it extremely difficult for the court personnel themselves to enter for the 11am hearing.

Mrs. Stent was worried about being further injured in the crush but with the assistance of her father and sister who accompanied her by coach from the hospital – they hurried her into the Magistrate’s parlour:

The Morning Chronicle reported the following description of her: “Her appearance is by no means interesting, She is short of stature, about twenty-six years old, light blue eyes, small nose and fair complexion. She looked remarkably pale and was more annoyed than fatigued by the curiosity of the surrounding spectators; her voice and manner is remarkably mild and fascinating.” Source: The Morning Chronicle: London, England, Thursday, August 19th, 1819.

They continued their fascination with Maria Stent’s appearance, the moment she was called for examination by Aldermen Smith, ie: “She was dressed in a blue spotted cotton gown, with a shawl over her shoulders, and wore a black poke bonnet nearly concealing her face from this circumstance, and her continually holding her head down, very few of the spectators were gratified by a view of her countenance.” Source: Ibid.



It was clear that Maria loved Henry and she was firm in her answers that she knew nothing about her husband’s attack, but found herself wounded and in hospital. The court accepted her answer that she had no recollection of anything that passed in the interview with her husband at the Saracen’s Head.

In contrast, her father, James Beecher, wished to see justice for the attack on his daughter, but clearly Maria wanted his insistence for that course of action to cease. Bursting into tears she laid her hand on her father’s arm and pleaded with him, “Don’t you father.” She begged the magistrates for an opportunity to speak with her husband but they could not grant this in view of the distress it might cause them both.

Henry Stent remained silent and composed. Described by the Morning Post  as respectably dressed in an olive brown coat, clean white waistcoat, grey trousers and shoes, he looked remarkably healthy. He had told the court that he holds no further resentment against his wife but desires never to see her or speak with her again and wished the officer to let him stand down when she was present so he would not see her. He said he was grateful for the kindly disposition of the public towards him as well as the magistrates. He was returned to the Compter to await the date of his trial. The magistrate really should have committed him to the notorious Newgate prison but kindly allowed him to remain in the small local prison he had become accustomed to.

Maria was so very anxious to see Henry that she persuaded the officials to let her visit him in prison Henry, despite his earlier comments, agreed to meet with her. Maria seized his hand and kissed him affectionately asking eagerly after his health. Henry tried not to return any affection but was very polite and calm with her. She asked to see him again and he said that would be fine. The very next day at 9 am, she returned to the Giltspur Street Compter for a short visit, again obtaining permission for a further visit and showing great affection for him. Henry remained unmoved but of a kindly disposition.

As time went by, waiting for his trial date, Henry Stent was the subject of many newspaper articles and published letters from those  supporting his release or at least a lesser sentence than death for his actions. He attracted so much public support that the Giltspur Street Compter was visited daily by well-wishers wanting to speak with him.

The trial date was set at the Old Bailey for Saturday September 18th and early that morning, immense crowds had gathered, anxious to catch a glimpse and hopefully grab a seat to watch the events unfold.


“The Old Bailey, Known Also as the Central Criminal Court” By Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stent pleaded “Not Guilty.”


THE MORNING POST, August  20th 1819

The appearance of Mrs. Stent as the first witness in a trial of her husband immediately threw the court into a lengthy debate about the legal minefield of a wife giving evidence when – in this case – she clearly wants to win him back and not see him suffer the death penality for, ‘Cutting and Maiming, with Intent to Kill’.

The judge ruled that Mrs. Stent’s evidence was admissible because, “The ends of public justice required the admissibility of her evidence, or how could the inquiry be adequately prosecuted?”

Justice Best apologized for giving any pain to her but it was her duty to answer his questions which ran as follows:

domestic_old bailey questions

HENRY STENT, Breaking Peace > wounding, 15th September 1819. Old Bailey, London.

Again Maria had told the court that the first time she knew she had a wound was in hospital. She claimed his appearance in the room at the Saracen’s Head had “...overpowered her and took away her recollection.” She also added, “He was one of the best of husbands – indeed he was!”

A long queue of witness testified as to the kindly, honest and steady character of Henry Stent. James Lee; James Baker; Caesar Underwood; Thomas Trentham; Thomas Mason; and eighteen other such friends and supporters of Henry Stent filed through the witness box, one after the other, testifying as to his excellent character. All were tradesmen of repute and all had known him for at least eight years.

But, in his summing up, Justice Best reminded the jury that, “Whatever weight the goodness of the Prisoner’s character might have elsewhere, in this place it could have no effect whatever. This was one of those melancholy cases in which a man, after sustaining a humane character for many years, forfeited it in a moment.”

He further reminded the jury that any person, stabbing another with an intent to kill or do some grievous bodily harm was subject to the penalty of death.

Could there be any doubt that the Prisoner at the bar had intended to take away the life of this woman?”

It took the jury twenty minutes to return a verdict of “Guilty.” The Foreman recommended mercy on account of the prisoner’s good character. The Judge agreed to forward that recommendation but as it stood, the only penalty available to the charge facing the prisoner was death by hanging.

While Maria wept and endured her anguish at her dear Henry’s fate and his unwillingness to truly forgive her, his many friends quickly organised letters and petitions to support the trial jury’s recommendations for mercy.

The newspapers were full of their story continually emphasizing the distraught wife who had sinned and then repented and the stalwart husband who had departed momentarily from his good nature in a situation of extreme provocation – almost claiming it was a justifiable rage at his wife’s actions.

This view alone generated many other debates about whether his actions, however provoked, should be excused from the death penalty. Had he caught Maria’ in flagrante delicto,’ literally translated and accepted in law as ‘in blazing offence‘ – the heat of such a discovery,  ie: witnessing his wife in actual sexual conduct with her paramour – who also happened to be his best friend – would allow the law to recognize this as temporary insanity fueled by the ultimate provocation and the Judge would have excused his actions of grievous bodily harm and even murder. His many friends’ testimonies as to his character would have certainly seen him released as a free man.

Henry, however, had brooded and then calculated and then attacked Maria, already viciously armed with that intention – it was truly a debate that went as viral as it could given the nature of media outlets in 1819.

There was also another ‘social media’ side to this. While the whole of Pimlico and beyond organised a petition of mercy to to lay before the Prince Regent through the offices of  Lord Sidmouth – the Home Secretary –  (not a man known for possessing a merciful temperament), Henry – too straight and honest for his own good – was actually dismissing some petitioners as being ‘over the top’ and exaggerating his right to be saved from the death penalty! Here is Henry’s note returning a petition that he felt was not acceptable in commiserating with his fate:

I do not like the petition at all; there are many things in it that I could not say, with any regard to truth: and as for the petition to Sir B. Bloomfield,* if I was in his place, I should say, ‘The fellow was a pitiful dog, and deserved to be hung out of the way.’ I am quite willing to suffer the sentence of the law, but will never consent to save my life by any means.”

*(Sir Benjamin Bloomfield (1768-1846) was Private Secretary to the Prince Regent)

However, the main ‘Pimlico Petition’ that began with an advertisement in The Times newspaper, eventually collected the unbelievable figure of fourteen thousand individuals pleading for Henry’s life and mercy from the Sovereign.


The Times (London, England), Wednesday,  Sep 22, 1819; pg. 3

Meanwhile Henry, resigned to his fate, had written to his mother:

Adieu my dear mother. That God may take you and my dear father into his holy keeping and grant you every blessing this world can bestow, till he thinks fit to remove you to everlasting happiness, is the fervent prayer of your affectionate son.

Well, dear reader, the Prince was touched by the passion of the ‘Pimlico Petition’ and its genuine signatories and he commuted Henry Stent’s sentence to a mere two years in the House of Correction.


The Times (London, England), Monday,  Nov 22, 1819; pg. 3

No betting tout would have given odds on such an outcome. It caused a storm and a strange trumpet-blowing gong-banging, moralizing tone from the media:

There was exhibited the sterling worth of character in a common British subject: then shone forth the glories of British sympathy, purified and brightened by the beams of Christian charity. A whole neighbourhood, accompanied by the cordial prayers of other districts, approached the throne of their Sovereign with petitions in the behalf of a poor offending (and much offended) fellow creature. The Ministers of their Prince, placed those petitions before the eyes of Majesty and the Fountain of Mercy was not approached in vain. A valuable life has been prolonged: and over it may the dread King of Kings and Lord of Lords and only Ruler of Princes, henceforth diffuse the effulgence of his acceptance, pardon and peace!” Source: The Morning Post, December 10th, 1819.

Mr and Mrs. Stent were a couple no more but their respective journeys through the vagaries of passion, deceit, lies and love is worthy of any playwright’s literary endeavours.

A small report hidden in the columns of The Times newspaper for November 20th, 1821 noted: “The imprisonment to which Stent, the butcher of Pimlico was sentenced for an attempt to kill his wife expired yesterday morning.” (p.3)

So Henry did his two years to the day and what of Maria?

I wish I could discover what happened next and will, no doubt, stumble across their subsequent fates and fortunes one day – please be sure to let me know if you do.

Meanwhile, with lessons learned, lives lived and real friends revealed in the extraordinary true tale of Mr. and Mrs. Stent of Pimlico, I would be interested to learn your views on this extraordinary case.



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The Edinburgh ‘Crime’ Fringe & The Caledonian Mercury of 1817.



Described as, “The single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet” (1), the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe for 2017, finished at the end of August. So given the nature of this blog – looking at all kinds and types of criminal, deviant and bizarre behaviour  – what was going on in Edinburgh not seventy years ago but 200 years ago as we enter the first week of September 2017?

I thought I’d pay a visit to the Police Court reports from the famous Edinburgh newspaper of that time, The Caledonian Mercury for this same time of the year. Intriguingly, it provides a local travelogue of Edinburgh as well as city events, some just as entertaining as the Fringe, even more so in some instances.

Founded in 1720 and published three times a week in Edinburgh, the Caledonian Mercury focused very much on local affairs. It finished publication in 1867 but now in the digital age of the twenty-first century, it has returned as an on-line publication. The site went live on 24 January 2010 as Scotland’s first web-only daily. []

So, given that I am publishing this blog on Monday, September 4th 2017, I located the Caledonian Mercury for two hundred years ago, ie: for  September 4th, 1817 which happened to be a Thursday then, but that means we get the news from Monday 1st September of that week down to Wednesday 3rd – so all in all, not a bad match! So what was the local entertainment in the Police Court that week?


CALEDONIAN MERCURY (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday Sept. 4th, 1817

It seems Edinburgh was going through a period of what used to be called ‘juvenile delinquency’, but the Caledonian Mercury preferred the use of a Spanish, particularly  Catalonian word, to describe their view on this, i.e. depredators which has a far more animalistic, predatory feel to it.

The editorial comment about this perceived spate of juvenile crime said;

So daring have the juvenile depredators of this city become that they actually scale the walls of Edinburgh castle in search of booty. A serjeant of the 75th regiment stated, that a quantity of clothes laid out by his wife to dry, near the Sally-port guard, had been carried off, and, upon giving information, seven boys were brought up and charged with being the depredators.


Old West Sally Port, Edinburgh Castle by Kim Traynor  (2012)

The Fort Major’s servant gave evidence that he saw two boys taking away clothes from the Sally-port, and, upon his calling to them, they hid themselves among some nettles, and, after descending the rock ran off in the direction of Frederick Street.  He thought two of the boys at the bar were thieves. There being no other evidence, the Sheriff declared he could not convict on the evidence of one witness; he ordered the boys therefore to be discharged, but one of them being from Glasgow and having no visible means of obtaining his livelihood was ordered beyond the bounds of the police.”

And I thought that the Glasgow lad was on his way to eliciting some sympathy but it turned into a local form of deportation!


View from the Castle, Edinburgh The junction of Princes Street and Frederick Street by Dave Hitchborne (2007)

This was Monday’s news, as was their report on a twelve year old girl, “who from motives of humanity, had been taken from the Work-house, into a gentleman’s family in Meadow Place.” Well, it seems she’s let everyone down for she was charged with stealing (although the Mercury preferred ‘purloining’), eight silver serving spoons from her master’s house and then attempting to pawn them. They record how the pawnbroker “properly detained her and the property” and sent for police. The lass was sent back to the Work-house by the Sheriff.

A couple more juvenile depredators then appeared  – two lads whose ages were not reported, were charged with stealing a quantity of twine from a rope-maker’s premises in Gilmore Park. Their defence was so understandable as far as I am concerned, that two hundred years later I am unhappy about their harsh treatment. They admitted stealing the twine so they could fly their homemade kites, it being a perfect, windy, kite-flying, September day.

Instead of a slap on the wrist and some acknowledgement that this was what boys did and at least they showed some sense of adventure in doing it – they were locked up in the police prison cells for forty-eight hours. However, given the fate of James Marshall (no age given) who was convicted of stealing a sack and a quantity of rope from a byre {cowshed} in Fountainbridge (2), of thirty days confinement in Bridewell, perhaps they got off lightly.

Construction_work_in_front_of_Bridewell_prison_and_the_jail_Wellcome_V0012571 (1)


On Tuesday, September 2nd 1817, the parade of youngsters into the Police Court continued. This time we have ten boys all under the age of thirteen and my goodness this is a crime with such a solid Scottish pedigree. They were charged with stealing forty-six gallons of whiskey. There was so much confusion and contradiction in their statements, they were all remanded for another hearing. Following the boys appearance the paper reported the following:


CALEDONIAN MERCURY (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday Sept. 4th, 1817 p.3

Then followed a case that the magistrate, Mr. Smellie, took a real interest in. A young man (no age given) was accused by the landlord of a public house in Greenside Place, of entering his house in a violent manner at 3am, and pretending to be a police sergeant, and ‘arresting’ two men who refused to go along with his pretence.


Greenside Place, Edinburgh

Consequently,  it was the young man who was taken to the local police station by the two men who discovered he was not a member of the police force at all so he was arrested and now in court that very same day to answer for his behaviour. However, this was not the case at all and it was turned on its head when the young man brought his witnesses to court to fully explain what had really happened. Here is the actual report in the Caledonian Mercury which does, admittedly, need a little concentration to follow the events they describe and I think you might manage this better than me!

Scotland_naked new

CALEDONIAN MERCURY (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday Sept. 4th, 1817 p.3

The prosecutor’s wife  no less – and it’s still only Tuesday – I predict a riot!

Wednesday 3rd of September, and three young men were accused of creating a riot in the auction room on South Bridge Street. One man was accused of slashing a man across the face with a knife. The young men claimed that the auctioneer had ‘irritated their feelings’ and insulted them as mere writers’ clerks and they became very angry with these ‘unpleasant jokes’ against them. Mr. Smellie, still on duty, found the riot proved and fined two of them one guinea each and half a guinea of damages for the auctioneer because of being forced to close early. The third man was remanded until the wounded man was able to attend court to provide his evidence.

scotland_ South bridge Street

South Bridge Street Edinburgh

Now getting a closer to a Fringe-type scenario, the very next case involved a man working as a slater who was charged with a serious assault. A blind fiddler and a young boy with a small dog were working their pitch in Foulis’s Close when this slater and his very large dog appeared and attacked the fiddler’s much smaller dog, refusing to release its deadly grip on the poor dog’s neck. While the fiddler’s boy tried to separate the dogs, the slater produced a very large cane and beat both the fiddler’s dog and the boy “most unmercifully.” Mr. Smellie ordered the slater to pay the costs of the prosecution and pay one guinea to the boy.


Now it was the turn of the whiskey gang to return – all ten of them under the age of thirteen. By this time,they had all agreed the “I am Spartacus” ploy and all ten claimed responsibility for the planning and execution of the whiskey heist valued at twenty- four Scottish pounds. Mr. Smellie was definitely less harsh with his comments to the wayward lads but had no option but to commit them to the Bridwell for twenty days (the least he could give for a theft of this magnitude). He also ordered that they find bail money to finance twelve months good behaviour. But without the whiskey to sell, that could be tricky. There’s a little bit of media moralising on this issue when the editor decided to add the following observation on ‘the youth of today’.

Scotland_flog new

CALEDONIAN MERCURY (Edinburgh, Scotland) Thursday Sept. 4th, 1817 p.3

The final case was that of a young girl under twelve years of age charged with wandering the streets at night with no fixed place of abode. Her father was there, described as a poor labouring man, who was distressed at his daughter’s behaviour. She did indeed have a home with him but would abscond at the earliest opportunity. He locked her in when possible but a recent errand for her to fetch water from the well saw her wandering the road between Canterbury and Dover, he claimed. She had been taken in care by a family in Dover but then set off again to be found in London. He had taken her home again but she had begged him to take her to church.  He did so but she used that as an opportunity to set off on her wandering once more. This was the first time he had seen her again since then and asked the magistrate to put her in the Bridewell for her own good.

Mr Smellie discovered that she had a mother who loved her and it was obvious from his distress that the father did too and he would be unwilling to send such “a young creature” to Bridewell. He promised he would find her a place in a free school and the parents must give her another chance to remain at home. Good on you Mr. Smellie Sir!

Well it’s still only Wednesday 3rd September 1817 and the Caldeonian Mercury will soon produce the Police Court reports for the rest of the week in its next edition.

Meanwhile, it’s been a glimpse of certain Edinburgh events one hundred and thirty years before the Fringe began in 1947 – I wonder what Mr. Smellie would have made of that, somehow I think he would have approved.


FRINGE ON THE MILE Marsupium Photography (2016)



(2) Incidently, Sir Sean Connery the actor  was born at 176 Fountainbridge on August 25, 1930. The oldest son of Joe and his wife Euphemia MacLean, he famously slept in the bottom drawer of a wardrobe in the two-bedroom top floor flat until the arrival of his brother Neil eight years later.

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