Was The Assassin Disarmed By A Smile? The Truth Revealed.


The Assassin Disarmed by a Smile”  (Illustration by Phiz) 

Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882), a well known painter, famous for his illustrative work for Charles Dickens also provided much needed imagery for the popular “The New Newgate Calendar ” (1841). You might have come across his pseudonym of Phiz (you can see his famous scrawly Phiz trademark signature at the foot of the print above).
Here’s the man himself and his other signature.
PHIZFor those who like a worthwhile diversion – you can stop reading my blog at this point and go on an amazing journey courtesy of David Croal Thompson, but one hundred and thirty illustrations later, I’ll hope you’ll rejoin me!
The New Newgate Calendar itself was a series of brilliantly researched and written volumes, the full title of which explains it’s purpose

SCANLAN_NEWGATE Author, Camden Pelham, a barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple during the second half of the 19th century, saw his efforts as providing, “a catalogue of human weakness and at times downright atrocity.

Consequently the combination of Pelham’s incisive and no-holds barred writing, and Phiz’s illustrations, provided a heady and what many saw as an” X-rated” read not suitable for those of a delicate disposition!

This, of course, meant everyone wanted to read the gory details, if only in secret. I now have first-hand experience of how such concerns about the explicit nature of these volumes was sometimes dealt with.

For example – look again at the opening illustration by Phiz.
Okay what happened next?  Has she disarmed the assassin with a smile?

Well, I happily purchased this original 1841 copy of Vol.II, (published by Thomas Tegg, 73, Cheapside) in which this wonderful (tissue-paper protected) Phiz illustration rests. When I reveal I only parted with a ten pound note offering a rather indifferent picture of Charles Darwin in exchange for the promised fifty-two engravings by Phiz – you’ll understand what a joyous bargain this was.

 I was advised, however, that the price reflected a certain degree of censorship!

As if dealing in selling some illegal goods in the street, the book-dealer whispered that the original donor of both volumes had decided that before they were gifted to the Abington Free Library in Oxford,in 1845, they needed to take a razor to it – removing offending pages and – crime of crimes –  taking out some of the original Phiz drawings. B********!

(The middle building below was designated as the Abingdon Free Library in 1845)
SCANLAN_LIBRARY BUILDINGBelow is the full and selfish reasoning by someone called J.H. who, in their best writing left readers with a detailed note.
I bought the book, of course and today thought it would be an enlightening exercise to fill in some of the missing details to discover what J.H, thought was ‘Unfit for young people to peruse.’  Right at the foot of page fifty, there is an introduction to the case of JOHN SCANLAN ESQ; AND STEVEN SULLIVAN ESQ; that begins:
The case of these offenders exhibits the most reckless and horrible depravity.” 
But J.H.’s razor has garroted pages fifty-one and two, fortunately leaving Phiz’s “The Assassin Disarmed by a Smile” (also numbered page 52) – then, The End?
What? A blank page follows (i.e.’back of Phiz’), then page fifty-three begins a new case, that of James Nesbett executed for the murder of Mr. Parker and his housekeeper in 1820.

We don’t want that one, we want the assassin story. Was he really disarmed by a woman’s smile? Who is she? Why is she smiling at a man about to club her round the head? Did he throw the club in the water? What happened next?  Did he strike her after all? Did he hit himself over the head? Why is he referred to as an assassin? Did he molest her rather than kill her – for goodness sake – what is the ‘reckless and horrible depravity‘ you are saving me from knowing about J.H?  I need to know why you took the razor to this one to save young minds so my old mind can perhaps understand.A LIBRARIAN_2So this blog will complete the puzzle and now I do have the full story, you can decide whether J.H. should have your support for trying to protect the teenagers of the 1840’s? (although I cannot forgive anyone snipping out any original Phiz illustrations –  luckily J.H. did leave most of them intact)

The story is set in Ireland in the year 1819, and the lady with the disarming smile in the boat is Mrs. Ellen Scanlan. The man brandishing the club is Steven Sullivan.

Before he met and married Ellen, who hails from Dublin, Mr. John Scanlan, from the county of Limerick, had served in the military, leaving with a sinecure as a respected lieutenant. One of the men under his command was Steven Sullivan and so it was that Sullivan was also discharged on a pension and went to live with John Scanlan as his manservant. Scanlan was twenty-five and Sullivan thirty-two years of age.

Scanlan was on his way to Limerick when he stayed briefly in Dublin where he met fifteen year old Ellen, who lived with her uncle Conery, a rope-maker. Scanlan declared it was love at first sight and he wooed her constantly wishing to do more than she was prepared to – unless he married her, insisted Ellen. He hesitated about going as far as making Ellen his wife but she stood firm and demanded what she called ‘honourable terms’ for his love-making.

He agreed to marry her on condition she kept the marriage absolutely secret from her uncle and any of his own acquaintances. He was concerned about losing face with others who thought of him as a lady’s man but not a married man.

On an agreed night, Ellen fled from her uncle’s hospitality, stealing one hundred pound notes and twelve guineas in gold and disappeared into the night with John Scanlan.
Scalan had arranged for an ex-communicated priest to ‘marry’ them, thinking  it was not legally binding.

Pelham describes what happens next:

“When the fugitive lovers quitted Dublin, they took up their abode in the romantic village of Glin, situated on the banks of the river Shannon on the Limerick side. Scarcely, however, had the honeymoon passed over their heads, when Scanlan formed the dreaded resolution of getting rid of his wife.”

Scanlan had discovered that his marriage was legal after all, ex-communication did not bar the priest from declaring a legal marriage between them in Irish law. Pelham again:

 “Her beauty, her love, her innocence, appealed to him in vain; he persisted in his resolution and to fatally carry it into effect.”

What drove him to continue with his plan to get rid of Ellen was the discovery that his sister, who had married a very wealthy nobleman, had told him about an extremely wealthy heiress, who was also very beautiful and she said it was a match that would be accepted should he wish it.

He now saw Ellen as a block on his ambitions to advance his rank and opulence, so he hatched a plan with his manservant Steven Sullivan.

“Scanlan had purchased a pleasure-boat, in which they used to take excursions on the Shannon. Of this amusement, his wife was very fond; and it was during one of these moments of recreation, while she should be impressed with the beauty of the scenery, that the monsters resolved to rob her of that life which bloomed so exquisitely on her youthful and animated cheek.”

 In July 1819, Scanlan made excuses to Ellen that he had to work but John Sullivan would be only too happy to escort her on their planned river trip that evening. Sullivan, of course, was under strict orders to return alone after clubbing Ellen Scanlan to death. Scanlan had already prepared a rope tied to a large stone and secreted it in the boat so Sullivan could sink her unconscious body. Okay – now we now know why the word assassin was used because clearly he was ordered to assassinate her.

When the boat containing a very chatty and charming Ellen reached a small inlet that had already been decided as an ideally secluded part of the river for the clubbing frenzy ordered by Scanlan, Pelham brings Phiz’s illustration to life:

“When the boat had drifted to a secluded inlet, Sullivan prepared to execute his purpose; he raised the club in a menacing position, and was about to strike,when the lovely creature, thinking he was only intending to frighten her, gave him a smile of such innocence, sweetness and simplicity, that the assassin was disarmed. He dropped the instrument of destruction, conducted his mistress home, and told his unfeeling master that he had not strength to execute his commands.”

Scanlan – broody, unhappy and scowling at the disappointment that his manservant had let him down, said little more to Sullivan leaving Sullivan hoping his master had seen sense.

However, the next river trip along the river Shannon was to be a holiday and was taken by all three, but it was one year later before the truth was discovered. John Scanlan had, once more, left Sullivan, his failed assassin – alone to brutally kill his wife. He needed an alibi so told Ellen he was going ashore to seek comfortable lodgings for her for the night, leaving Sullivan once more to confront that ‘innocent’ smile.

 Scanlan had concocted a strange story to make out he was such a master of his house, that he was so frustrated with his wife’s misbehaviour and lack of attention in caring for him that, under the chaperon of a ship’s captain, he’d arranged to ship his wife into some form of exile overseas – but could not name the captain, the vessel nor the destination.

The corpse of Ellen washed ashore a few days later exposing his ridiculous lies.


River Shannon to the west of Glin where Ellen’s body was discovered: photograph by Philip Halling

“The corpse of Ellen was washed ashore mutilated in the most shocking manner. The legs were broken in several places, one arm had been knocked off entirely, and a rope was tied round her neck. Her skull was fractured in a thousand pieces, her eyes knocked out of her head and nearly all her teeth forced from her mouth. Horrid and deformed as was her once lovely person, still it was instantly recognized, when the murderers endeavoured to fly from justice. Of their guilt there could be no doubt; they were seen together in the boat; Sullivan had sold the murdered girl’s clothes; and he and his master had quarrelled about some money, in the course of which quarrell, Scalan had been accused of the murder.”

Sullivan ran for it but Scanlan was arrested and despite much legal maneuvering from his wealthy family was found guilty and executed. Twelve months later, Sullivan was discovered, arrested, tried and also executed. It was Sullivan who provide the full details of this tale used by Camden Pelham. Here is The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury report of August 11th, 1820 – it’s fortunate that J.H had no editorial control over their report on page 3:


So – Ellen Scanlan did indeed, disarm her assassin Sullivan but only to have this pathetically weak and morally deficient individual make another, successful attempt to savagely murder her purely for monetary greed and fear of ‘his master.’
Was J.H. right to omit the details I’ve taken back from Camden Pelham’s account? The newspaper held many more detailed reports of a similar nature.

I think not – next time when I’m in the market for another volume or two, I’ll look out for Phil Lindsay’s copies of the Newgate Calendar – he seems more relaxed about owning all of the book’s contents –  unabridged!

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The Unsolved Murder of Mr. Westwood


Artist’s impression of the murder of ‘Royal’ watch & clock maker Mr. Richard Westwood on Monday June 4th 1839 at his premises in Soho, London by person(s) unknown

When such violent murders occurred in nineteenth century England (and this one is particularly violent as we’ll see) – the print media vied for the most powerful way to announce this evil deed.

Also, the public then, as now, played the most crucial role in fingering the suspect(s) and reporting their suspicions or events they claim to have actually witnessed, to the police, consequently, the print media tried to attract them to their  story with strong descriptions. This was  particularly true of street-literature such as broadsides.


J. Catnach: Printer : 7 Dials  London 5th June :1839

A common headline was, for example, “Murder at” then just add the location eg OxfordMaryleboneWhitechapel,  etc, but as the editors tried to work out the reactions they wished to trigger in their readers, there was a graduation of descriptions used. The broadsides, however, needed immediate attention drawn to the nature of the crime and its location as they were sold around the streets in the near vicinity.


Press media editors had to decide, do we go for, ′Dreadful Murder′; ′Another Dreadful Murder′; ′A Murder Most Dreadful′ ? Or perhaps ′Horrible Murder’ instead of ′Dreadful′ using the same technique to build up its severity?  Others are ′Barbarous′ ; ′Awful′ ; ′Diabolical′; ′Shocking′; ′Appalling′ ; ′Savage′– a key one being ′A Cruel and Diabolical Murder′.

Well, the case for this week  – that of the murder of  Mr. Westwood, watch and clock maker to the King in Princess Street, Soho, managed to attract all of these descriptions as it was clearly becoming an unsolved murder that really needed public assistance and, over time, the press felt obliged to ring the changes in case “Cruel” might yield a response that “Appalling failed to trigger and so on.

I do hope that you might take on this task and let me know who you think the murderer or murderers were of this unsolved crime.
I’ll provide all the clues I can find (given the parameters of this blog) but I have rarely come across a genuine unsolved murder that is so much like a fictional murder/mystery event contrived as a party game except this was violently real and remains unsolved.

As I want to explore the attempts to find the murderer or murderers and examine the clues, rather than spend too long on the initial details of the case – below is the very first and well-written broadside describing the case we are to consider. It was printed on the actual day of the murder by a very enterprising London printer BIRT (for more information see http://www.sevendials.com/history/broadsheet-printing-seven-dials)


BIRT London broadside published on June 4th 1839

Here is another broadside image published the following day by Catnach showing the police, the victim Mr. Westwood, and the grieving  household servant girl who found him –  Elizabeth Pretty.


The Times newspaper, the following day, did not hold back on the grisly details reporting that, “Mr. Westwood  had been most brutally murdered” (note: I  forgot ‘brutally‘ in my list above!) .”and his mangled remains partially consumed by the fire.
Source: The Times: (London) June 5th, 1839, p.6.

We learn from this early (and therefore possibly inaccurate report) that the front door was locked that night by Elizabeth Pretty, female servant to the various lodgers’ rooms within the building and that the last person to enter the house was an elderly French gentleman, Monsieur Gerard who lived on the upper floor. We also know that Mrs. Westwood heard scuffles and cries of pain and called for the servant who raced down to confront a scene of thick smoke but no fire.

It was around midnight as the servant flung open the street door just as a gentleman was passing by and requested he shout “Fire” and assist her. Various parish fire-engines were quickly on the scene and discovered it was Mr. Westwood’s bed that was on fire. He had tumbled to the floor – his throat cut and was now partly enveloped in flames.

Mr. Smith, a nearby surgeon from Soho’s Dean-street, was sent for and reported that Mr. Westwood’s death appeared to be instantaneous caused by a severe blow to the head with a blunt instrument, followed by a deep gash from the middle of his throat to the back of his neck that divided the principal arteries. Superintendent Baker and Inspector Jarvis of C Division arrived to search for clues.

They discovered a sash window weight made of lead, around fourteen inches long and weighing about six pounds lying in the hall and with matted hair stuck in congealed blood at one end. The servant confirmed that this object must have been brought into the house by the murderer. They also found a white-handled table-knife in a drawer in the sideboard with a blood-stained blade, smeared as if carelessly wiped.

Baker and Jarvis suspected the murderer had hidden themselves in the building earlier in the day to wait for the opportunity to rob Mr. Westwood of valuable watches and clocks but it had gone very wrong when Mr. Westward disturbed him (or her? or them?) The servant had found the front door on the latch, yet she had locked it after letting in Monsieur Gerard.

A careful examination of the stock-book revealed that upwards of sixty – apparently carefully selected – valuable watches (worth between ten and forty guineas each) were now missing together with a box of sovereigns and assorted silver. They concluded the murderer had seemed well-acquainted with the premises and stock locations.

At eight o’clock that evening – the inquest was held on the body of Mr. Westwood at The Plough public house under Mr. Higgs, coroner for Westminster, and the body then moved to rest in the chapel of St. James’s workhouse where various witness were also questioned by the Coroner and his jury, the pub becoming far too crowded to continue.

Elizabeth Pretty, the servant girl who had worked there only two months (but with good references) was summoned to give evidence to the inquest. She explained that Mr. Westwood, aged around fifty-two or possibly fifty-five, had no family but his wife and they had let their two back rooms on the first floor to a cabinet-maker called Stevenson and his wife. This couple quarrelled a great deal over the accusation by Stevenson that his wife was visited by different gentlemen at all hours and Mr. Westwood himself was very vexed and upset by this behaviour.

Stevenson had disappeared, apparently his face badly scratched by his wife, and his wife had also gone and both had taken a street door key each with them.
Elizabeth Pretty had let in the elderly Monsieur Gerard at around ten o’clock that evening. He had been Mr and Mrs. Westwoods’  lodger for about ten years. She confirmed she had locked and bolted the street door and put the security chain across. She said it was just after twelve o’clock in the morning when her mistress called to her “and wished her to go downstairs because she feared her master was murdered“.

She said she smelt fire and heard a violent scuffle in the passage. Elizabeth found that the parlour door was open but Mr. Westwood always locked it before retiring to bed. She then saw Mr. Westwood lying in a pool of blood amidst the smoke and fire was coming from one side of his body.
Elizabeth explained to the inquest, that there was  another person called Bannister, a journeyman in her master’s service, who worked over the back-kitchen during the day, leaving the house around eight or nine o’clock in the evening. She had seen him at around six o’clock that evening but not afterwards. She had closed a ‘trap-door’ which led from a basement working area through to the kitchen at around half-past eight o’clock. When she rushed to open the street door because of the fire, she had kicked against the window sash iron lying on the floor of the passage.

Lastly, the inquest heard from Timothy Gimlet of ‘C’ Division who had heard the cry of ‘Fire‘ and ‘Police’ at around ten minutes past twelve o’clock and ran to the house, meeting with Mrs. Westwood who exclaimed, “For God’s sake policeman, go to my husband, he’s murdered, he’s murdered!” The inquest adjourned at eleven o’clock that night.
The inquest resumed on Tuesday 5th, covering, in great detail, the injuries to Mr Westwood. I will not gratuitously repeat these but you need know, in summary, that the burning of the poor man’s body had consumed approximately one-fourth of his being and “The burning took place before life was extinct. There was a large quantity of blood on the floor near where the deceased was lying…the burns were almost in every part of the body, and they were surrounded by red lines, which showed there was a vital action going on at the time.”
(Source: The Times (London) June 6th, 1839, p.6)

So in essence, Mr. Westwood had been stunned with a lead sash weight; his throat cut with a kitchen knife and then he was left to be burned alive. The surgeon also said there were no knife wounds to the deceased’s hands so he had not been in any position to try and defend himself after the blows to the head. It was also stated that Mrs. Mary Westwood, an elderly, somewhat frail woman of almost eighty years of age, was not mobile enough to use the stairs and had to be carried to the scene of the crime whilst still in her chair. Her evidence told of how she heard a scuffle whilst she was in bed, knowing her husband was still downstairs and “..it confused me because I could not imagine what it was. I lay awake for some time, and in about a quarter of an hour afterwards, heard the street door shut.” (Times, ibid, p.6)
Mrs. Westwood continued to explain that she thought the noise might be her husband turning the cat out of the parlour but when she heard the door shut, she thought there must be thieves in the house and they had been murdering her husband. She said she had also called into Monsieur Gerard’s room but he was asleep, so she went to Elizabeth Pretty’s room to ask her to investigate. She could not remember if the servant was dressed or undressed “..it was too dark.”
You’ll note a lot of artistic licence in Catnach’s next verse as he has Mrs. Westwood discovering her husband’s body – far more of an emotional tug for his readers than the servant finding him.
A Juror: “Have you had any reason to suspect any persons of committing this murder?”

Witness (Mrs. Westwood) “Why, I can hardly say: We certainly have had some unpleasantness with some lodgers, who left about a fortnight ago.”

Coroner: “What were their names?”

Witness: – “Stevenson. I believe Mrs. Stevenson, as she was called, to be of the most venomous, spiteful disposition, but he was a harmless, inoffensive man.”

A Juror: “Why did they leave?”

Witness: “Because we were not at all satisfied with the conduct of Mrs. Stevenson, and therefore, my husband gave them notice to leave.”

Coroner: “What had you to complain of in their conduct?”

Witness: “One of our shop men saw two female friends of Mrs. Stevenson go into a brothel and consequently we considered if that was the case, she could not be very respectable. My husband consequently called Mr. Stevenson into the shop one day and gave him notice to leave. WESTWOOD_TALKINGMr. Stevenson, on communicating the news of their eviction to his wife, was most violently assailed by her and she tore his face very much.”

Further questioning revealed that Mrs. Stevenson had lots of male and female visitors and she had not returned her key after being evicted, and there were many hiding places for a thief (now murderer) to secrete themselves on the premises. Her conclusion was that she suspected Mrs. Stevenson of being involved as she had threatened ‘to do for the deceased’,  when they left.”


Mr. Stevenson was most violently assailed by his wife.

During their report on the inquest, The Times newspaper also revealed that Mr. Westwood, “....it is said, was of an obstinate and irritable temper, and it was not a long time since Mrs. Westwood was compelled to apply to the Magistrates at Marlborough -street police-office for protection from his violence, on which occasion he was held to bail.
Source: The Times (London) June 7th, 1839, p.6

Alfred Bannister, was first to be questioned at the resumed inquest:

“I live at twenty Euston-street, Seymour-square, I am a watch-maker. I saw the deceased on the night of the murder. The deceased went out after tea, between five and six o’clock; he returned about ten minutes before eight o’clock. I saw him when he returned and after I had wound up the watches and washed my hands, I went away.

The workshop was secure when I left. I know nothing of the lead weight that was found, I never saw it before – it is a sash weight not a clock weight. There is a trap-door near the staircase which leads to a cellar. The reason why the foreman La Roche ceased to lodge at the deceased’s was in consequence of the situation being unhealthy. La Roche was not at the deceased’s for the whole of Monday.

I never heard that Mr. or Mrs. Stevenson threatened ‘to do for the deceased‘ after they left. Mr. Westwood generally closed his shop about nine o’clock. When I left on Monday night, the deceased bade me goodnight; he was then sitting in the parlour with Mrs. Westwood and another lady.”

Important evidence was then received from one Mr. Frederick John Owen of thirty-eight, Silver-street, Golden-square who told the inquest:

“On Monday evening about quarter-past twelve o’clock, I was passing down
Prince’s-street, when I saw two men, one of whom was standing at Mr. Westwood’s door, and the other came out of the door; my attention was particularly called to the parties, because I thought I knew one of them, and was about to speak to him, when he appeared to shun me.
I however, found out he was not the person I supposed. They went away towards Charing-cross. They were dressed in dark frock-coats and appeared to be from thirty to thirty-five  years of age. One of them appeared to be about feet eight inches in height  and the other about five feet five.”

Coroner: “Are you quite sure that one of the men came out of Mr. Westwood’s house?”

Witness: “I am quite sure, for I distinctly saw him shut the door after him.”

A Juror: “Should you know either of the men again!”

Witness: “Yes I should.”

A Juror: “Did they appear to be respectable-looking men?

Witness: “They did not.”

WESTWOOD_CHARACTERSCoroner: “Are you quite sure you are correct as to the time?”

Witness: ” It was very near the time I have stated.”

Inspector Jarvis gave clear statements as to the evidence he had found, which included the knife with marks of blood on it in the sideboard drawer; a lighted candle had been placed underneath Mr. Westwood’s bed; the deceased’s spectacles had one lens broken; there no blood in the passage nor the entrance to the parlour, and no signs of forced entry.

There was a hat lying besides the deceased’s bed with two handkerchiefs inside which did not belong to the deceased but he suspected it belonged to a young man who came to assist when the alarm was raised. He had also found a large canvas pocket in the shop for carrying away goods – no one associated with the house had seen it before.
The man suspected of leaving the hat was George Robinson of Crown-street, Soho who did report his loss to the police and attended the inquest to explain why he had Mr. Westwood’s hat instead of his own.

However, when questioned about why he was there at that time of the morning Robinson’s replies were confused and hesitant – so much so that the coroner called Mr. Frederick John Owen back to ask him if Mr. Robinson was one of the two men he had seen at Mr. Westwood’s street door that night. Owen said he was one of the men but was now dressed differently.

Robinson admitted to the Coroner, he generally wore a frock-coat as described by Mr. Owen. Robinson also had a wound on his cheek he claimed he received as he assisted at the fire. A surgeon was then called to look at his wound and he told the inquest it was merely a graze and had no connection with the fire. Robinson persisted that it was a burn. He also said his shirt had since been washed after he assisted with the fire  and was at his mother’s house with his other laundry. Robinson was ordered to remain in custody while other evidence was heard.

Now, very interesting indeed, was the evidence of the chief fireman, George Spendlow, here’s his evidence in full:

I am the engine-keeper of the parish of St. Ann, Westminster. I was called to a fire at the deceased’s house, shortly after 11 o’clock on Monday night…I heard Robinson say that he had got a wrong hat and, at the same time, remark that it was a better one than his own. I then asked him what sort of hat was his, and he replied that it was an old one with a handkerchief in it. I afterwards found a hat lying near the deceased which I showed to Robinson, but he said it was not his. He then said he knew Mr. Westwood very well and identified his body.”

It was decided that Superintendent Baker should go with Robinson to his lodgings and should he find anything suspicious there, detain him in custody as a suspect, otherwise discharge him. The inquest was then adjourned.

By eight o’clock the following morning, a parish reward of one hundred pounds was offered for the apprehension and conviction of the murderer and recovery of the property now fixed at sixty-three gold watches; twenty-three silver watches; six gold guard chains with seals attached; one gold swivel; five pounds in gold and one pound in silver.

Interestingly, one of the jurymen at the inquest reported that he lived next door to Mr. Westwood and Stevenson the lodger had called the day before the fire (Sunday) to offer his key back – to be given to Mr. Westwood which the juror agreed to do.

It also appears that a certain Mr. Le Roche, who worked at Mr. Westwood’s premises on watch and clock repairs, had previously had angry words with Mr. Westwood who complained  about him coming late to work and on then on Monday the day of the murder, he had failed to come at all and had not been seen all day.

The resumed inquest then heard a report about the visit to Robinson’s mother’s house at thirty-six Crown-street, Soho and then on to Robinson’s own lodgings.  Superintendent Baker had gone with his Inspector Henry Beresford. They found nothing suspicious at either place and in fact Robinson’s shirt was still at his mother’s, yet to be washed, and bore no blood or other marks to associate him with the murder.

There were also some puzzled jurors back at the parish workhouse who wondered about Mrs. Westwood’s recent evidence to them, i.e.:

A Juror : “When the elderly woman said her husband was murdered, I asked her how she knew?  She replied, “Oh, I know he is, I heard him groan.”

The Coroner dismissed the juror’s concerns.

It was at this resumed inquest on Tuesday 5th June, that ex-lodger Stevenson arrived anxious to clear his name. He was now living at thirty-nine Vauxhall-road and said he only ever had two keys to the property and had returned one to the neighbour as described and when he saw the report of the murder went to his wife’s lodgings (as they are now parted) and got the key from her which he has brought to the inquest.
He also said that the new servant girl had been very careless about locking the street door, unlike the old servant and he had often found it open way past nine o’clock at night. He also claimed his wife and Mrs. Westwood got on well and they had never threatened Mr. Westwood.

Mrs. Stevenson had also been persuaded by her estranged husband to give evidence and was asked why she had not returned the other key to Mr. Westwood when she had been evicted. She claimed she had not been asked to do so but also said: ” I did not find the key until last Saturday.”

Coroner: “How was that Madam?”

Mrs. Stevenson: “I had not unpacked all the things.”

Juror: “Did you not state at the workhouse, that you had no things, that your husband had taken them all away?”

Mrs. Stevenson: “Yes I did say so; but I had some dirty clothes and a basket with knives in it. My mother found the key on Saturday.

Mrs. Stevenson was then questioned at length about who else might have taken or borrowed the key from her and she was firm that no-one had access to that key and she had forgotten about it. She was also questioned at length about who had been visiting her at Mr. Westwood’s house. She claimed it was her brother and her sister that used to visit her up the stairs. This seemed to satisfy the jury. Her mother, Sarah Appason, also gave evidence to confirm her daughter’s explanation.

The jury were then told that the lock had been carefully examined by an expert locksmith on the street door and it had not been forced nor interfered with. The police had thoroughly searched the premises and could not find any additional clues as to the culprit.

Charles Lewis Le Roche, who worked as a watchmaker for Mr. Westwood, was clearly distressed at his employer’s death and the police were satisfied he had an alibi as he was moving house on that Monday and spent all day with others helping him do so. His theory which he told the inquest, was that it was a carefully planned robbery that had gone wrong as they knew exactly what to take and how to possibly get the loot out of the country to Holland.

The thieves, he explained, had worked systematically from one end of the shop to the other knowing exactly what to select. They also would have known that they could not easily dispose of such a haul locally, so, on that basis they would probably also know that to avoid The Customs House, they could use a person taking a trunk destined for Holland as no checks are ever made on this particular route and Holland is the place to sell this kind of merchandise. La Roche said:

I feel certain that the robbery must have been committed by some persons who had a knowledge of the watch-trade and were acquainted with the premises.

He would mention one fact which convinced him that the party had a knowledge of the trade.

One of the trays had three rows of watches in it – a middle row which contained valuable ones with gold faces were stolen, and the inferior watches were left.

He explained that Mr. Westwood did not want him and his wife to leave their lodgings with him but his wife had not got on with the former servant and they had decided they needed to move elsewhere. He said that the new servant has no ‘followers‘ (boyfriends) that he was aware of and described her as “a steady, inoffensive woman.” Apparently, the servant girl was in the habit of going out for a ‘supper beer’ around nine o’clock and then came back to lock up – if she did so on the night in question, possibly it was when she went for her beer, that someone got into the house, he surmised.

Monsieur Gerard confirmed he came home at eleven thirty that evening and went straight to bed. He claimed that as the clock struck midnight, Mrs Mary Westwood came and disturbed him and the smell of smoke was very strong. He was not asleep as reported, but assisted.

Despite their best efforts to settle on a definite suspect, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of  “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.
So – do you think it was persons unknown, or possibly do you have a ‘gut-feeling’ that one or more of the characters above had knowledge of the murder they are keeping secret?
There is no final answer as this was a real murder that was never solved.

Peel’s new police force came under great criticism for its inefficiency having now lost many of the informers that used to work for bribes under the old Bow Street Runner system and I have no doubt the Runners would have produced a name to follow up and solve this crime.
(See my early blogs London Metropolitan Police Man : Armed & Accoutred.
https://wp.me/p8yqmi-3Lc  and  The Roehampton Monster, morbid curiosity and the Metropolitan Police.
Here are some further particulars supplied from the Observer, via The Times newspaper that will assist the detective in you………….


PAPER_1_RESIZE.jpgSource The Times (London) June 10th 1839 p. 3

It is now 1841 – with no progress made in discovering who murdered Mr. Westwood.
On January 22nd, 1841 – the following intriguing article appeared in The Times newspaper but was soon dismissed. However, I think there is something about it that makes me think maybe, just maybe, it can link back to that night of June 4th 1839 and possibly with a certain female I have in mind!

Enjoy your detection and please leave a reply with your findings – I’d love to know what you think.
PAPER_2          Source: The Times (London) January 22nd 1841 p. 6

It is now December 2017 – so whodunnit one hundred and seventy-eight years ago? 




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Adult sketch circa 1820’s/30’s

I want to go exploring again, so rather than delve deeply into a single case of deadly deeds and doings, I began a ‘what if’ train of thought.
What if, texting and tweeting had been around in early nineteenth century England?

What eccentric, tricky, devious and humorous events might have been tweeted about? What would make a twitter moment?  What content would be in the WhatsApp world of that time? The illustration above is actually called ‘A Very Unexpected Appearance‘  and typical of adult sketch humour in early nineteenth century England – a great source of tweeting would surely have been built on this?

This ’embryo’ blog could go very wrong, because as I write this, I have no particular material to hand and literally want to pick one date at random to see if there were/are potential  ‘going viral’ events although of course most tweets we all wade through are uninspiring tosh (except our own!)

Okay, so given that I am writing this on Friday November 24th 2017, I’ll pick the same date and month and, also, given its sparkling new foundation in the year 1822, opt for the  Sunday Times of November 24th 1822At least this should give the roundup of news for the week but as I’ve never read it – who knows? So the only ‘cheat’ is I’m using a single dated newspaper but events will be reported from different dates that week. 

Also, as issue number one was only out on October 20th,1822, this has given the editor just over a month to settle in and create a style and, being a Sunday, hopefully we can look back at that November week one hundred and ninety-five years ago for some interesting glimpses of Georgian life that would have been fodder for the tweeters had they existed. It’s claimed that the first tweet was written by co-founder Jack Dorsey on March 21st 2006, one hundred and eighty-four years after our random date, so let’s see what’s out there for our time-travel experiment.

I am now literally setting off into the virtual world to locate the Sunday Times for Sunday November 24th 1822 so I can have a detailed read and hope my ‘what if’  game yields some interesting tweeting fodder!

I know before I start that we are talking about a large black and white broadsheet (you are now thinking of that old verbal chestnut “what’s black and white and ‘read’ [red] all over?”- A  Newspaper – boom boom!) . It will carrying no illustrations, have a very small font and often smudged print. Lots of adverts, often tedious editorials, but can surprise with a lively, ironic and humorous style when confronting silliness and slyness in all its forms, and only around four pages of paper to wade through – see you shortly.SUNDAY_READING_4_resize

OKAY  I’m back with the paper,  my best zooming finger plus magnifying glass and wine glass! red wine (p.s. I don’t smoke – only my illustration does)



I cannot possibly leave you with no more  illustrations to savor, so my ground rules for this blog are to keep to the Sunday Times’s spellings and ironic journalistic style. For example streets are always written with hyphens and small ‘s‘ i.e. Oxford-street and Magistrates (capital ‘M‘) often made sarcastic comments when sentencing  – plus I’ll source lots of unusual and occasionally ‘rare’  illustrations depicting that precise period to liven up the presentation for our twenty-first century expectations – they couldn’t do it then, I can – so I will – especially given it’s a ‘what-if‘ exercise.

Before we get to the nub of the first tweet fodder for the 24th November 1822, we just need remind ourselves that page one of a newspaper then did not look like page one of a contemporary paper today, as you can see above.  Bold large type headlines are not yet invented and it tends to be a whole miscellaneous, often incoherent jumble of adverts, legal decrees and a chunk of  editorial bumph  – in this case one about George Canning which we’ll leave well alone with its introspection. First choice from page one reflects our contemporary  ‘Disgruntled from Tumbridge Wells’ category.


So we begin gently with a first page letter in our Sunday Times to the editor headed, Barber’s Clients sent by a writer calling themselves, POSTHUMUS CROCKERY.
This, in my humble opinion, is what I like to call a “Stephen Fry Letter”.
As one of the pioneers of the art of tweeting, Mr. Fry’s distinctive, cultured voice is reading this letter out to me. If you can, it’s well worth making that connection.

He’s possibly quipping with Alan Davis on the renown quiz show QI about ‘posthumus crockery’ said by some to be an old Saxon pottery urn with an everted neck and pedestal base? Or is it Roman or perhaps from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline’s character  POSTHUMUS? Stephen would certainly know the answer or maybe it’s just a typo for posthumous? Anyway, I digress here’s the letter.


Author Stephen Fry: Creative Commons Attribution

The letter begins:
“Mr. Editor – Musing on “the sorrows of the time,” as Mr. Wordsworth says, I observed yesterday in a barber’s shop in a great thoroughfare, an announcement of the occupier in which he describes a certain set of persons as, “his clients.”
As I have had the misfortune to be engaged for twenty-nine years in a Chancery suit and have heard the term client, applied to persons in my unhappy situation. I have had the curiosity to know whether in these horrible and revolutionary times any new class of miserables, as the French have it, have made their appearance under the name of “Barber’s Clients.”  I have indeed known the term “barber’s clerk” applied by the more emphatic part of society to persons engaged in any ill-defined or effeminate occupation, but of a barber’s client, in my younger days, I never heard.
Whether it be meant to insinuate that as lawyers ‘shave’ their clients, the customers of barbers, standing or sitting, also in the situation of “shavees” are entitled to the same name, I cannot determine and I should protest against a common appellation being applied to persons, who,though both suffering, are suffering under inflictions of very different intensity and duration. But in these unhappy times everything is changed even “those gorgeous pillars” of our Constitution, as the Courier some time ago called them, “the poor laws, the game laws and the criminal code,” are not secure from innovation
signed             POSTHUMUS CROCKERY.


Well, saucy is a good word for the next item that took my attention on the front page mainly because I’ve seen tweets today talking about Christmas adverts and whether people have seen the John Lewis one or the Sainsbury one etc and they are being critiqued like mini-movies might be.

Well, we are not talking Christmas here – the frenzy we see today did not happen back then, but a certain Mr. Robert Warren had a similar following for his innovative advertisements for ‘blacking’ – the liquid used for cleaning and shining up the many thousands of leather black boots walking and riding all over the Kingdom. He would certainly have merited a tweet or two and his use of cats would have certainly gone viral on youtube.  Here is a typical example:

But, for the November advert contained on page one of our Sunday Times for the 24th of November 1822, he became very controversial in a sexually explicit way with an advert supposedly depicting an Irish Wedding. He ditched the cat and went for another limerick of a risque hue. It’s five verses long but I’m cutting to the chase and we’ll stick with the first three sung to the air called “Mrs. Flinn and the Bold Dragoon”  Take a careful look at verses two and three – apologies for print quality.SUNDAY TIMES_HASHTAG_small

Irish Wedding

Such a wonderful jet-black shiny surface as the cat found out is also – on the wedding night – able to reflect “Their glossy hue reflected true
Her form in each, her fancy raking.”
Well beats the stereotypical mirrored ceiling and as a bonus you have the Devil and his horns channeling ‘her fancy raking’. Not sure if this marketing ploy would pass advertising standards today, “Arrah, Lady, see his horns now that sprout in Warren’s Blacking.” Suffice it to say once word got on Facebook and WhatsApp about the power of Mr.Warren’s shiny blacking – well, the rest is history!


I do not intend to dwell on page two given this is turning out to be a longer blog than anticipated given its organic agenda and I’ve spotted some amazing items on page four!
So what’s on page two that could interest us?  There is a rather tedious editorial on Spain and her Enemies, for the political tweeters, the other contents being Multiple Classified Advertising; Bankrupts (plenty of unsympathetic tweeting possibilities here); Price of Stocks;  ‘Abuse of Freedom of the Press’ (very tweetable but not very readable), so I opted for the fact they spent some considerable thought on the ‘Scottish Novels’ of Sir Walter Scott under a pleasing section headed Literature with a great debate on the competition between artists, engravers and publishers to bring Scott’s characters to life with their illustrations and portraitures. Does the above pencil drawing do Scott justice? You might have been tweeting on that had it been possible.

Here is their review of Archbishop Sharp’s illustrative appearance
from the novel Old Mortality.
I hunted high and low but cannot (as yet) locate the illustration referred to – so if you can please tweet it to me!



One hundred and ninety-five years later, this has encouraged me to finally read Old Mortality – just a second – this is live!
Okay –  just timed it, fifteen seconds on-line –  a few clicks and for a total cost (including delivery) I just paid £2.59  for : Title: Old Mortality Publisher: COLLINS CLEAR-TYPE PRESS Binding:  Hardcover Book Condition: Good : Delivery standard post.
(the digital age is incredible, but how much more exciting to have been able to visit a London bookshop in 1822?)
p.s. Just checked value of £2.59 (2017) compared with  (1822) on the Historical UK Inflation Calculator and I’ve just clicked away an 1820’s equivalent of £261.59. Wonder what I could have bought with sum then?


MONDAY NOVEMBER 18TH  1822 : YANDALL .V. REED: PRIZE PURSE 20 SOVEREIGNS. STARTS 2PM ON WIMBLEDON COMMON (Couch is the Second for Reeves & Stockman ‘bottleholder‘ Perry is the Second for favourite Yandall. Weight ten stone eight pounds each man


Page three on November 24th, 1822 is an intriguing mix of theatre, poetry, sport and crime. As I’m looking at court and police reports on page four and we’ve already had some limericks and literary themes, let’s  look at sport  and boxing in particular.
The hashtag above is pretty much what spectators would have been discussing as the Sunday Times commentary of the match commented how “Yandall’s head was hideously disfigured” Most press references to boxers’ heads uses the term ‘nob‘ rather than head and chanceryfied is, in this case, “hideously disfigured”, but always means very badly beaten about.
The Sunday Times became very adept at providing a round-by-round commentary, that read almost as if they were meant as tweets:

Round 1: The attitude of both was good: A short rally took place without much  mischief……………
Round 2: Yandall made play again, but so fine was the stopping of Reeves, that  Yandall found he was opposed to as good a man as himself………….Reeves placed some chattering hits upon the mug of Yandall…………
Rounds 3/4/5/6:  Principally stopping and closing…………..
Round 7:  Yandall again made play, and succeeded in planting two good hits on his opponent which drew blood from the mouth and left ear of Reeves……………
Round 8: Some desperate fighting in this round. Reeves placed such a smashing hit on the nose of Yandall, that he was floored as if shot.
Round 9:  Randall’s nob was chancerfied and bled so profusely that it was evident that he had no chance of winning. Yandall was again knocked down.
Rounds 10/12/13/14/15:  and up to the 20th round – fighting on the defensive.
Rounds 21/22 : In these rounds, Yandall began to try his luck again. Yandall tried  dexterously to get into the wind market, but Reeves appeared not to relish it, most admirably stopped his attempts, and placed a dreadful crack over the left eye of Yandall, so blood poured down his whole frame.
Round 23 : Yandall’s head was seriously disfigured. Reeves planted two hits on his confused nob, and floored him.
Round 24 & last:  Reeves, quite gay, placed a lugger under the left ear of Yandall and he was deaf to time.

Summing up :  It was a fight of more than ordinary science.
Reeves was little hit. Yandall is a good fighter and a game man, but he was opposed to a better fighter and surer hitter. Reeves after dressing himself, crossed the water to Swan-stairs, where he was received with three cheers. The fight lasted one hour and four minutes.
Source: Sunday Times (London) Sunday November 24th 1822,  p.3


At a time when gay had absolutely no currency other than being happy or joyful and so being ‘outed’ as a homosexual, accused of engaging in the ‘cover all’ offence of Unnatural Crime, was more than likely to mean death by hanging – it was not surprising that blackmail and extortion were rife – its extent absolutely impossible to ever know.

Page four of our Sunday Times under the heading Police Reports: Bow Street, covered such a story of extortion that involved two young lads and a Member of Parliament from Wales up in London to take his seat in the House of Commons. This form of press coverage remains very familiar territory today except now it would also involve an abundance of tweeting from all directions about guilt, injustices, persecution or otherwise. Here is the Sunday Times story:

On Monday, November 18th, in the afternoon, just as the Chief Magistrate, Colonel Clitheroe was about to leave the Bench at Bow Street Police Court, there was a great bustle in the avenues and at the door of the office, and a young fellow completely soaked in thick slimy mud from head to foot, was lugged in by the collar by a waterman and one of the Thames Police, who were followed by a crowd of people. The young lad was put to the bar and gave his name as William Baker. He appeared to be about eighteen years of age.

Henry Goldsmid, Esq. of Crick Howell, Brecknockshire, stated that he had been in London from his seat in Wales, a few days only and was residing at present at No. 8 Norfolk -street in the Strand. That morning he had been out with two young ladies of his family, and on his return home, had scarcely entered the house when he was informed that he was wanted at the door.

He found a young man on the threshold who said, “Mr. Goldsmid, there is a young man around the corner, in Howard Street who wants to speak with you most particularly.” Mr. Goldsmid went into Howard Street, which was only a few yards off, and there saw the prisoner, who said upon seeing him, “Mr. Goldsmid, you must give money or I will charge you with an unnatural crime!”

“Me!” exclaimed Mr. Goldsmid in perfect amazement, “you filthy wretch, what do you mean?”

“Yes,” replied the prisoner, “you were in a coach with me on Wednesday night, and I must have money,”

The other fellow who came to the door said at the same moment, “if you don’t give him money, you will have plenty more of this sort.” This was all the work of a moment, and Goldsmid having recovered from his astonishment said, “By∗∗∗∗∗∗, you rascal, I’ll have you,” and made a rush at the prisoner, but he got away from him and ran away (as did his companion in a different direction) into Surrey-Street and down towards the Thames.

Mr. Goldsmid pursued calling “Stop thief!” but no-one seemed to regard him until he called out, “He has charged me with an infamous crime,” and then several joined in the pursuit and he was taken half-buried in the mud of the river.

George Heath, a waterman, said he heard the cry and saw the prisoner jump into the river from the Surrey-street steps and crawl under the archway of a gentleman’s house. He pursued and dragged him out. Several witnesses deposed that when the prisoner was asked if he had any charge of the nature mentioned to prefer against Mr. Goldsmid? said he had not and declared he had never made such a charge.

The prisoner, when questioned by Sir Richard Birnie,denied that he had attempted to charge Mr. Goldsmid with any crime and said he’d seen Mr.Goldsmid a few days before and asked him to procure a situation for him and he sent for him that morning only to know if he had done so?

Mr. Goldsmid denied the whole of this story. He remarked how strange it was that the prisoner and his companion should be so well acquainted with his name. Sir Richard Birnie said it was an easy matter to obtain the name of a gentleman.

Mr. Goldsmid said, that within that last few days he had been accosted by two or three different men in the street, one of whom said, “How do you do Mr. Goldsmid – how long have you been from the country?” He attributed this,at the time, to mere impertinence, but now he thought differently. The prisoner was fully committed to trial for the misdemeanor in attempting to extort money.



Also under the Police Reports: Bow Street, heading was a story that I found quite unexpected with its distinct Clockwork Orange* character and quite surreal literary connections.
It follows the Goldsmid story above under the sub- heading More “Life“,


I need to add the crucial and amazingly influential literary connection at this point to explain what the paper means by reference to “rambles and sprees” and “the new system of Corinthianism,” or the rest of the report will not be so clear as it should be.

Two years earlier in September 1820, legendary cartoonists Robert and George Cruikshank, created a pictorial adventure series called “of Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis.”

Historian Roy Porter explains it very succinctly:

“Corinthian Tom, Jerry Hawthorn and Bob Logic, set out to ‘see life’, from Westminster to Wapping. They mingle with the swells at the  St. James’s clubs and rode in the ‘Show-stop of the Metropolis – HYDE PARK.’ But they also ogled the girls in Burlington Arcade, resorted to fisticuffs in a brawl and visited ‘All Max’ (Max, like ‘partiality’, ‘blue-ruin’, and ‘flashes of lightening’, was cant for gin) a Whitechapel backstreet gin shop where the ‘charleys’ (the watch) did not go.”
Source: Porter, R., London: A Social History, Penguin Books, 2000.

Also crucial for the strong Clockwork Orange link, was the same idea of creating new linguistic forms for their somewhat rampaging exploits – here is an extract from the original source (also cited by Roy Porter) and you’re on your own to make sense of it all:

Lascars, blacks,jack tars, coal-heavers, dustman, women of colour, old and young, and a sprinkling of the remnants of once fine girls, &c., were all jigging together, provided the teazer of the catgut was not bilked out of his duce. Gloves might have been laughed at, as dirty hands produced no squeamishness on the heroines in the dance, and the scene changed as often as the pantomime from the continual introduction of new characters. Heavy Wet was the cooling beverage, but frequently overtaken by flashes of lightening.  The covey was no scholar, as he asserted, and, therefore, he held the pot in one hand and took the blunt with the other, to prevent the trouble of chalking, or making mistakes.

On the sudden appearance of our ‘swell TRIO’, and the CORINTHIAN’ S friend, among these unsophisticated sons and daughters of Nature, their ogles were on the roll, under an apprehension that the beaks were out on the nose, but was soon made ‘all right’ , by one of the mollishers whispering lough enough to be heard by most of the party, that she understood as how the genmen had only dropped in for to have a bit of a spree,and there was no doubt they voud stand a drap of summut  to make them all comfurable,  and likewise prove good customers to the crib. On the office being given, the stand-still was instantly removed,; and the kidwys and kiddiesses were footing the double-shuffle against each other with as much gig  as the ‘We we-e-ps’ exert themselves on the first of May.  (quoted from the original by (Porter, R. ibid.)

All of the above had apparently been taken very seriously by Messrs. Whitby, Gee, Davis and Russell, who had treated the fictional risque adventures as more of a handbook to instruct their own version of how life should be lived when young.
I suspect they may have enjoyed seeing the controversial theatrical production at the Adelphi Theatre in London which was still running since its debut on November 26th 1821 and which seems to have been responsible for a number of such copy-cat”clubs” being created by enthusiastic, dedicated young gentlemen.TOM & JERRY_HEADINGThe police officers, Avis and Baker, stated to the Bench, that these young gentlemen, the eldest of who is not more than seventeen, belong to “the Tom, Jerry and Bob Club of young Corinthians. held regularly at the Cock and Magpie flash gin shop in Drury Lane and that every night, after the breaking up of the club, they and ten or twelve others of the same sort, amuse themselves by breaking the peace – strutting about in gangs with straw segars (cigars) in their mouths and their hats cocked aside, sweeping the pavement;* starring the glaze, and shifting fogies as time and chance may serve.
{Note: ‘starring the glaze‘ is breaking shop windows and shifting fogies is stealing handkerchiefs – see my early blog called “Spanking The Glaze.” https://wp.me/p8yqmi-1iP

* sweeping the pavement – see next item on ‘pavement rage’


Young Corinthians ‘Out on a Spree’: tipping over a watch-man’s hut

It further appeared that Master Russell whose daily occupation is hawking lemons about the streets, presides at The Tom Jerry and Bob Club aforesaid, and a number of invitation cards were found in his breeches pocket were produced before the Magistrate. The following is a copy of one of them.

SUNDAY_GENTLEMEN“Sir the favour of your company is requested on
Monday evening next, at Mr. Seager’s. The Cock
and Magpie, Drury Lane. “John Russell: President”
“John Ward: Vice-President”
“NB: The Chair to be taken at eight o’clock precisely.”

The Sunday Times continued:

“As to the others, Master Davis has several times “been in trouble” for transferring handkerchiefs. Master Gee has more than once been in trouble for “starring the glaze”, and Master Whitby, though a constant companion of thieves, has never,till now, been in trouble at all. Russell’s mother was in attendance and informed his Worship, that her son was, “As good a lad as ever lived till Tom, Jerry and Bobbing came up, and since then he has neglected his lemons, stayed out whole nights, robbed her and pawned her clothes for money to spend in coffee-shops and at the club and whenever she remonstrated with him told her that “Life” was all the go now-a-days, and he should do as others did.”SUNDAY TIMES_LEMONS_STEALING HANDKERCHIEF

The young gentlemen said nothing for themselves and the Magistrate ordered them a month’s amusement at the Corinthian Finish, alias the Treading-Mill in the House of Correction, with a hint that if this was not sufficient he would accommodate them with three months on the next occasion.


Tread-Mill at Brixton London (invented by Mr. Cubitt of Ipswich) Each man covers 731 yards per hour with 12 minutes rest every hour. Published on  Saturday  November  2nd 1822 by The Mirror of Literature, Amusement & Instruction


This particular dispute was announced in court as; Prosser . v. Dignam.
Mr. James Dignam had been kept in the watch-house overnight and was brought to court on Thursday, November 21st charged with having wantonly assaulted Mr. and Mrs. Prosser, of Number 42 Grosvenor-place. Here is the Sunday Times report:

“It appeared by the evidence of the complainant, that the prisoner and two other gentlemen were walking along Tavistock-street, on Wednesday evening, in a very gentlemanly manner  – that is to say – arm-in-arm, a-breast, so as to occupy the whole breadth of the pavement.
Mr. and Mrs. Prosser were behind them, and in order to pass, were under the necessity of turning out into the carriage-way, when, Mrs. Prosser in the act of stepping back on the pavement, received a violent kick on the heel from the prisoner. Feeling intense pain from the blow, she turned round to ask why it was inflicted, and the prisoner, instead of answering, seized her rudely by the arm and began pushing her about.


Mr. Prosser now interfered – observing that the lady was his wife -and desired the prisoner to loose his hold to which the gentlemanly prisoner replied by asking Mr. P. if he would swear whether she was his wife or his whore? at the same time giving him a severe blow on the side of the face.
By this time a crowd had collected, and the prisoner was conducted to the watch-house. In his defence, he denied having kicked the lady intentionally,and declared he only held her arm to prevent her from striking him, and moreover, that he did not inflict the blow on her husband until after that person had struck him repeatedly with his umbrella.
Sir Richard Birnie, severely censured the practice so common amongst a certain class of useless idlers of obstructing the pavement by sauntering about arm-in-am and held Mr. Dignam to bail on both assaults.



At Marlborough-street Court there was a virtual soap-opera playing out.
Mrs. Sarah Otley had laid a charge of assault against her husband, Timothy. He was also accused of taking scissors and cutting up some of her clothes, in particular a red shawl for which she had paid “eighteen honest shillings.” However, Timothy then accused his wife of bigamy hence the assault on her was justified. Here is how the Sunday Times reported the case – it really is a lesson in a reporting style that was absolutely made for the twitter generation: I promise you all is reproduced as written by the Sunday Times’s  court reporter (unnamed)

“Sarah was arrayed in a blushing stuff gown, over her shoulders was thrown a kind of scarf, not unlike a decayed hearth-rug. Her bonnet was adorned with a profusion of pink ribbons, and so adjusted as to display a cluster of wanton ringlets which shaded a countenance by no means unattractive.
Sarah – like a device in heraldry – was supported by her husbands – one on each side of her. Timothy, her original husband (we say original, for the other seemed but a copy of one), acting in the double capacity of a gentleman’s groom and as a furbisher of quadrupeds” (I’ve added this definition i.e. an animal which has four feet, especially an ungulate mammal)


“Having a little money from his wages, and prerequisites, he resolved to enjoy the fruits of his industry in the happy state of marriage. After a long search he saw Sarah and was smitten. He loved and was beloved, he adored and was worshipped.

Sarah was coy, Tim was pressing and at length after a gentle resistance she yielded her charms to the enraptured groom. Two years had flown over their heads, winged with joy; and although their union was not blessed with a chubby-faced boy, yet did not Tim’s love for Sarah abate. Fate, envious of their joy had so adorned that Timothy should take a journey to the country. A few chaste kisses were exchanged and Timothy rode off.

Love will sometimes abate, even though a groom be its object. Sarah saw John Dooley, Minister of Bacchus in a certain comfortable inn in Clerkenwell. Now, though John Dooley was by no means as likely to gain a woman’s love as Tim Otley, yet Sarah felt her allegiance for her absent lord much decrease, whether from a love of certain cordials, we cannot say, and gave her hand to John.
Mr. Otley returned and, discovering Sarah’s perfidy, gave himself up a prey to jealously and revenge.

The Magistrate asked John Dooley (who remained in a kind of amazement with his arms pinioned to his sides like a skewered spatch cock) if he would prosecute Sarah to which he replied in the negative. The Magistrate then turned to Mr. Otley and said as Sarah was a widow when he married her he could not prosecute. At this, Tim’s choler (anger or irascibility) rose,

“What am I to do your Vorship’ this here voman is not my vife!”

“You can have your remedy at the Doctor’s Commons,(1) ” said the Magistrate.

“I know nothing of that there place,” said Tim, buttoning his coat with a hurried action,expressive of considerable irritation.

The Magistrate then told the parties to withdraw. Sarah led the way, according to his Worship’s advice who seemed apprehensive of a smashing match, and Tim followed.”

The End

What’s yours? @Writer.David1

Please let me know.


(1) Doctors’ Commons, also called the College of Civilians, was a society of lawyers practising civil law in London


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Punch & Judy : Royalty & Marmite: A Disturbing Tale.


I had never really thought too deeply about the array of serious crimes I witnessed as a young child until very recently.

Multiple beatings, most leading to grievous bodily harm and death; possibly six violent deaths or more including a baby being murdered and dashed to the ground, its mother subsequently beaten to death for daring to be concerned over the murderous loss of her baby killed by her male partner.

I witnessed similar deaths meted out to a doctor, lawyer, policeman and other professional people who came within clubbing distance of this same psychopathic character. The clumping sounds of a severe beating were even being timed in a counting rhythm, the murderer inviting me and other young witnesses to these events to join in every blow – one, two, three, four – up to twenty-one blows I recall given to the doctor’s head in retaliation for his bill of twenty-one shillings. ‘That’ll teach him,” said the murderer in his shrill voice, “that’s the way to do it.”

It was Louise Peacock who reminded me of my misspent youth in her recent book entitled, Slapstick and Comic Performance: Comedy and Pain  (Palgrave, Macmillan 2014) and she triggered a very true observation, i.e. that as kids, accompanied by a random array of adults, watching a Punch and Judy puppet show:
The audience may also experience a vicarious pleasure in witnessing all of Punch’s wrong doings and seeing him get away with everything.”(Peacock, L., ibid, p.136)

We did feel pleasure at watching an odd-looking ‘man’ with no dress sense and an improbably high squeaky voice, literally beat the living daylights out of all who crossed him whether infant, adult, male or female and then we also laughed when he got certain comeuppances such as being bitten on his long nose by a crocodile or Toby the (real) dog – especially trained in the art of puppet biting!

It was a crazy, surreal spectacle of violence that has been slowly weaned from the live, outdoor entertainment circuit as being totally and utterly unrepresentative of how people should behave and despite it’s overt surrealism – became regarded as an unwelcome invitation to copycats, providing too much of a wicked spectacle, especially to impressionable children.PUNCH_OPENING

I never totally went along with this but was respective of the belief that perhaps it did glorify domestic violence and provide terrible images of mistreatment and grievous acts to others who were innocently drawn into Punch’s lair. I need to thank Louise for returning me to a particular default position that seemed to have been totally lost.

The violence found in a Punch and Judy show, unlike many high quality digital images witnessed by children across a range of presentation outlets nowadays, i.e.high definition movies to games etc. – involves no blood, no gore, no body parts being crushed, no pain (given everyone’s made of wood or plaster) and contains just a silly, curse-free catch phrase, ‘That’s the way to do it.’ Maybe it was the catch-phrase that was the real villain!

In fact, when I watch Power Rangers with my grandchildren – I see a rather poorer, lack-luster, twenty-first century version of a Punch and Judy show – but then that’s just  me! (I was surprised to learn that, in one form or another, Power Rangers in fact dates from the 20th century, i.e.1993:

But what Louise Peacock made me think about – and this connects to my recent blog about Halloween. https://wp.me/p8yqmi-42l
Terror As Fun: The Lure of Halloween, is what she refers to as ‘The Distancing Effect.’

That blog focused on concerns that real, violent spectacles of hanging and beheading for example, were witnessed by young and old in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries almost as a matter of course and families would take a morning out to witness such gory ‘entertainment’. Yet somehow they were able to  mentally distance themselves from the bloody depths of what they had seen first-hand and even take away a repentant moral tale on a broadside to study or have read to them later.


Here we are talking of real people being maimed and killed in agonizing ways, so when we are talking about puppets – distancing should be no problem.
So, was it all a fuss about nothing to condemn Punch’s violence and gradually make Punch & Judy shows a rare species of live entertainment? Louise Peacock comments:

Given the distancing effect of one puppet beating another, it seems unconvincing that laughter at such a performance might have an impact on behavioir in the real world – tempting as it is to see the Punch Professors as early combatants against domestic violence.”  (Peacock, L., ibid. p. 135).

So, here I am relatively comfortable with the distancing effect and its sensible conclusions re-stated by Louise. Then I discover a certain advertisement for a Punch and Judy Puppet Show playing for the 1938 season at The Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate. London.PUNCH_NOTTINGHILL

This particular presentation is being sponsored by a well-known consumer product still famous today for being hated or loved and its very name is often used nowadays for that definitive purpose, i.e. Marmite.

MARMITE_ORIGINAL                                                                       ©Paul Venter

If you look at the label of the modern jar you will be familiar with – you’ll see the original Marmite pot above, still features as an essential trademark:

PUNCH_MARMITE                                                                     ©Malcolm Farmer

Now there might be some confusion at this point because of the war between Australia’s Vegemite and the UK’s Marmite and the rest of the world who have no idea what this is all about and quite frankly couldn’t care less. Please stick with me, this will all come together! (Incidently I’m in the ‘love Marmite’ category).

Quick definition of Marmite needed (I’ll leave the Aussies to fight their corner elsewhere). If you are reading this in America then here’s company web-site and please check out the Guardian newspaper link.
Marmite is a thick, sticky paste made from concentrated yeast extract, a byproduct from brewing beer. German scientist Justus Liebig accidently discovered the concoction in 1902″(https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/13/)

Now for the denouement

Given the long tradition of marionette shows originating centuries ago in Italy, with violent and satirical plots, they were more likely to be watched by adults rather than children (you might have noticed in my very first illustration that there were no children in that audience). Here is another example from the home of this iconic puppet show taking place in Rome in 1815 and with a mixed audience and spectacle that we are more familiar with:PUNCH_ROME

This has gradually been honed down to the British version, often more associated with the seaside, beach holidays and hordes of enthralled children cheering, booing and trying to warn Punch’s intended victims of their forthcoming demise to be executed by a large club wielded with a pleasing, rhythmic wood on wood thud and, as usual, Judy becomes an early victim of Punch’s murderous assault.PUNCH_LONDON

Distancing ourselves from the spectacle above surely is not a difficult task – they are clearly wooden puppets being manipulated by an unseen figure hiding in a cheaply constructed, canvas-clad sentry box with the ‘trade-secret’ metal and silk swazzle in his mouth, disorting his own voice into that of Mr. Punch – “That’s the way to do it.”

But for me, the recent, and I would add, shocking revelation of the contents contained within a typical traditional Punch and Judy show script, was disquieting to say the least.

My discovery began by looking at the illustrated Marmite sponsored story book provided to enthralled children so they could have a colourful souvenir of their visit to the Mercury Theatre in 1938 and to make sure that they had no misgivings about the powerful, peace- inducing, absolutely essential consumption of Marmite for a happy and contented life.

Time for a cup of tea and a slice of toast spread with Marmite as you read the following first act summary of the Notting Hill production


Poor old Punch – this hard done by psychopath had no choice but to ditch the baby out the window and batter his wife to death because of the lack of Marmite to sooth the baby’s crying distress. Note – this was because Punch was initially ‘worried‘, then ‘annoyed‘ – God knows what he’d do if he was really angry!

My distancing skills are being seriously tested here so I went to another script source. This was Alfred Thomas Story (1842-1934), journalist for the Strand Magazine, who was an authority on Punch and Judy miniature theatre productions and in particular what was seen to be the ‘gold-standard’ script written and performed for the Royal children by Mr. Jesson at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Malborough House, Frogmore and Sandringham.

Consider Mr. Story’s optimism for the future growth of a Punch and Judy enterprise as a money-making career for sons of the aristocracy and ‘enjoy’ the royal version of Punch’s fatherly ways with his daughter:


‘Punch and Judy’ by Alfred Thomas Story, Strand, Vol.10, Oct. 1895 p.444

Apart from rolling the baby around to the amusement of the Prince of Wales, the script also has Punch playing ball with the child – throwing it, forcing Judy to catch it before it’s injured which surprisingly makes it cry. So once we get to the crying baby scene and Judy has left Punch alone with his daughter, the audience knows the first death is imminent. The ‘Royal Appointment’ version expands the Marmite summary thus:


‘Punch and Judy’ by Alfred Thomas Story, Strand, Vol.10, Oct. 1895 p. 466

Back to the Marmite book  the baby’s been thrown out of the window and Judy is clubbed to death for caring but hey ho! the seaside sky is blue, and the children gaze in joy at Judy’s corpse while a mother looks on approvingly. Is the lad, bottom left, being taught a new skill for his seaside spade? Distancing has now become somewhat of a tricky concept for me given the carefully crafted illustrations for the Marmite version.


In the 19th century ‘By Royal  Appoinment’ version – Judy is at least given an attempt at revenge and chases Punch with his own club hitting him for throwing the baby out of the window. But Judy’s dominance is short lived as Punch snatches the club and turns on her:


‘Punch and Judy’ by Alfred Thomas Story, Strand, Vol.10, Oct. 1895 p. 467

I should add that the photo caption is ‘Punch “settles” Judy

So what happens next at Notting Hill Gate in 1938?PUNCH_3

It’s not surprising Punch has such immediate access to a lawyer given his reputation but really the profession should have boycotted him by now as their numbers dwindle through his murderous deeds, and of course, the Marmite deaths are mounting up. The Royal version provides a chilling reminder of the patriarchal arrogance of the time.


‘Punch and Judy’ by Alfred Thomas Story, Strand, Vol.10, Oct. 1895 p. 468

Whatever version you consult, the bodies soon multiply and Mr. Punch’s gleeful, sing-song manner become progressively excitable, encouraging the audience to grant him adulation rather than disapproval.


‘Punch and Judy’ by Alfred Thomas Story, Strand, Vol.10, Oct. 1895 p. 471

 I need to bring this ‘miniature theatrical tour’ to its Marmite conclusion and you’ll notice in the picture above for the 1895 account, two final ‘actors’ are left – Punch and the Clown. Here is where the crass marketing strategy of the Marmite producers waves its peace-building credentials – first they need to entertain the children in the Mercury Theatre, London with one more death ….PUNCH_4
Now get ready for the commercial break and the final touching scene of friendship and repentance thanks to “..a thick, sticky paste made from concentrated yeast extract”  (with a very high profit margin)

That ending is clearly set up for a Marmite sequel when two-timing Joey hunts Punch down to blackmail him into a regular supply of the magic dark yeasty paste but Punch is always one step ahead and… (well I wouldn’t want to spoil it but let’s just say Joey should not have accepted Punch’s invitation to go clubbing with him)

Okay – a quick commercial break follows then in view of all we have read and the images we have now seen, perhaps a reminder is required that it is all pretend but there is still something that does not sit well despite the fact we know they are only puppets and no one is physically injured except the occasional puppeteer who swallows his swazzle*PUNCH_MARMITE AD

‘Seething Lane’ seems an appropriate address in the circumstances! Here is my new ending

PUNCH_FLIRTp.s. the baby is safe with Joey – as we know all children love clowns, no issues there then.


* http://pennyplain.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/swazzle-story.html



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In fact, I have two confessions.

The first one being that occasionally I am nagged by a poem forming itself in my head. There’s no prior warning and it has to be released so I can continue this blog unimpeded and meet my self-imposed Monday morning, weekly deadline.

The second confession is contained in the poem, so please forgive me for inflicting it upon you between blogs, (it is very short), and it does have a criminal flavour to suit – as you’ll see.

Normal service will be resumed this Monday morning as usual, so please stay tuned!


I stole a book today.
They saw me do it.
It was high on a shelf
with a title to tempt
– and I was – tempted that is.

Slim, nutty-brown cover
‘The Back Chamber’ it said.
Never thumbed, nor read, shelved
too high for most passing curiosity
– but I was – curious that is.

It’s for decoration they said.
“The lobby needs a cultural theme.”
“It’s poetry,” I said.
The concierge spoke without looking up.
“Exactly – for decoration that is.”

That is how I met Mr. Hall today.
Consigned to decorate a lobby.
The irony was lost on them.
Conjured colours with passionate depths
crafted by Mr. Hall – Donald that is.

Blue snow, yellow rooms and green rocking chairs,
entrees to deeper emotional shades.
Pulsating with life-lived
no facade of fashion here.
I rescued a book today – ‘The Back Chamber’ that is.

                                                                 © David Kidd-Hewitt:14th November 2017



Hall, Donald.,’The Back Chamber,’ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (New York) 2011.


 Donald Hall, 14th Poet Laureate 

Source: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/more_hall.html






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Ingenious Fraud

FRAUD_ARRESTI am not always sure that I am on safe ethical or moral ground to refer to certain forms of fraudulent behavior as being ingenious. Nowadays, the very technology I am using for this blog is frighteningly adaptable to such nefarious use, leaving tens of thousands of innocent victims in its wake.

I’ve even heard the expression of such technology being ‘re-purposed’ as if innocently re-cycling it for the common good, which for the fraudster community is certainly the case until (or if ever) caught.

Historically, however, the print-media loved an ‘ingenious fraud,’ and had no difficulties in appraising the qualities of its ingenuity.
Here is The Times newspaper headline from Tuesday September 27th, one hundred and ninety-two years ago in 1825.


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 27, 1825; pg. 2;

So, ‘ingenious fraud’ number one is as old as the hills but I did not immediately spot the correct ending for poor Mrs. Bellow. Anyway this story gives me a good excuse to post a picture of the wonderful Catherine Wheel Inn in Southwark , sadly I have no image of the landlady but I suspect you have conjured one up in your mind’s eye.

FRAUD_catherine wheel

Catherine Wheel Inn Southwark, London

It was a Saturday evening, September 24th, 1825, around 6.30pm, when a respectable looking man came bustling into the busy public house anxious to see the landlady who he appeared to know by name. Indeed, as soon as he saw her he came rushing over in a great hurry to speak to her as she sat by the bar.

“How do you do, Mrs. Bellow?” he said in a very familiar manner. “I have just come up from the country and intend remaining in your house until my business is arranged in town.”

Mrs. Bellow could not place him but his manner was so earnest, she assumed he had been a customer before, as many business people from the countryside stay at her inn and she cannot recall all of them. She thanked him for choosing the Catherine Wheel for his stay.

The gentleman then said, “Let a bed be prepared for me tonight, and Mrs. Bellow, I am anxious to be present at the opening of my favourite theatre, Drury Lane, and as I observe by the newspapers, there are a great many pick-pockets about, I shall leave my gold watch in your care.”

“Very well sir,” said Mrs. Bellow, “it will be safer here than in the theatre,”

The gentleman then drew from his waistcoat fob-pocket a splendid-looking engine-turned gold watch, chain and seals and desired that the utmost care was taken of it.

Mrs. Bellow, in order to let him see how careful she was of the property of others entrusted to her charge, immediately deposited the watch etc. in a bureau in his presence, which she observed was as safe as the Bank of England.

The country gentleman, much obliged to Mrs. Bellow, then left the Inn.

In a matter of moments he returned to the bar, saying, “Mrs. Bellow, I have not gold enough about me, and as the bank is closed now would you be so kind as to let me have three sovereigns until tomorrow?”

Mrs. Bellow did not hesitate to advance the sum, nor would she had been if he had asked for double the number of sovereigns, realising that the watch locked up in her bureau was sufficient security against a loss of between seventy to eighty guineas at least.

He then left and has never been near the Catherine Wheel again.

Mrs. Bellow thought it extraordinary that the owner of such a valuable watch would not have arranged to collect it, even if he was indisposed himself. She asked a jeweller she knew if he would call by to value it.

“Mrs. Bellow, you have been completely humbugged,” he said. “This fine-looking watch with its chain and seals is not worth ten shillings.”

She was very shocked and called to the police station at Union Hall who were very familiar with this ‘country-gentleman’s’ scam. They explained that this watch was indeed a very fine-looking watch with the appearance of being made of gold and an expensively engine-turned case that matches those high quality pocket watches. They are not sure how he obtains such a skillful replicas, but apart from its appearance, there is no more to it – no innards at all.

Once more the police issued a description of the man to all taverns and inns but he was never caught. Forty years of age, five feet ten inches tall, fair complexion, and red whiskers. He favours a blue-frock coat, a coloured  waistcoat and light kerseymere trousers – so be warned.


Ingenious fraud number two involved a woman described by The Times newspaper as, “a simple-looking young female named Elizabeth Davis.” Well this seems a contradiction given they then reported how she practiced “a most ingenious fraud on several pawnbrokers.”

 [The Times (London, England), Thursday, Jun 18, 1829; pg. 3]

It was pawnbroker Samuel Sheppy who marched her to the police station and explained to the officers what had occurred. On Tuesday June 16th around ten o’clock in the morning, Elizabeth Davis had called into his shop to pledge two silk handkerchiefs for which she was given three shillings. Now three shillings at this time was a goodly sum of money as silk handkerchiefs were valuable commodities and three shillings was enough money for a couple of weeks rent for a furnished room for example.

Elizabeth Davis returned that same evening to redeem her handkerchiefs, but not with three shillings in cash, but with a shawl she wished to pledge instead and take the handkerchiefs back. Mr. Sheppy said the shawl was only worth a shilling or so which meant he could not make the exchange she requested.  So reluctantly, the woman left the shop taking her shawl with her and having to leave the handkerchiefs as security until she found the money to buy them back.

Fortunately for Mr. Sheppy, when he put the newspaper-wrapped handkerchiefs back into storage, he noticed it did not feel quite right and on checking discovered it was a cluster of old rags instead. He chased after Elizabeth Davis and confronted her with this theft, taking her to Bow Street station.

The police then debated whether she should be charged with stealing the handkerchiefs or the money which she had been given to her for pledging the handkerchiefs. They had experience of this quandary before and rather than proceed at court level, it seems judges were inclined to acquit the offender with a stern warning.

However it was known by one officer that several pawnbrokers had recently been duped in this exact manner, so with other pawnbrokers able to produce similar bundles of rags for exactly the same two handkerchiefs pledged by Elizabeth Davis, they could proceed to charge her with fraud.

Thomas Race from Townsend and Page Pawnbrokers in Little-Russell Street gave evidence that he had been offered these same two parcelled -up handkerchiefs for which she demanded four shillings, but he only offered her three shillings and sixpence. She was not prepared to accept that and took her parcel back as he went to serve another customer. She then quickly changed her mind, pushed the parcel over to his side of the counter and he parted with three shillings and sixpence for what turned out to be a parcel of dirty old rags.

The final part to Elizabeth’s plan had been to sell the tickets to others who had very little money to part with but she sold the tickets for around sixpence so they could make a profit by redeeming the ‘handkerchiefs’ to re-pawn elsewhere or sell. As she reminded these other victims she befriended with her generous offer, if the pawnbroker gave her three shillings and sixpence, they’ve got be worth at least four or five shillings which would be his profit. So, in several cases, the pawnbroker concerned did not know about the switch until an ‘innocent’ pawn ticket purchaser came for their bargain deal sold to them by Elizabeth.

Now, when I began this blog. I briefly mentioned that nowadays with the internet we have increased the scope for fraudulent activity many times over. It’s impossible to calculate.
Interestingly, however, little has changed when it comes to the familiar scam emails that use some tale of woe to try and elicit some funds for a good cause where someone claims to have fallen on hard times or needs modest assistance in some way to escape a dire situation. Please send money to etc. etc.

A well-known, kind and sympathetic reverent, William Weldon Champneys, was a very active community man in his parish of Whitechapel where he was responsible, as he put it – “For 34,000 souls.” He soon discovered he was not alone in London when he received a very heart-rending letter asking for assistance.

The letter  he received was from America with a Philadelphia postmark recounting a distressful situation encountered by one Fanny M. Jackson and her need for money to save the family from ruin. The actual story Fanny relates in this letter received by the Rev. Champneys is, unfortunately, not known but if you are reading this blog then you will know exactly the kind of letters your spam box collects – so just re-jig to fit the surprise value of receiving a distraught ‘disguised’ begging letter nearly one hundred and fifty years ago in 1869 – from America – arriving through the letter-box of a kindly vicar in the east end of London, with a cleverly planted inducement to do more. i.e. the misdirected letter lure, which he (nearly) fell for as you’ll see below.

Champneys wrote to The Times newspaper. I’ve reproduced his letter in full. Please be patient with it and you will see how nothing is new when it comes to this chestnut of a scam.


The Times (London, England), Saturday, May 08, 1869; pg. 12;


Church & Chapel Good Saviors

I began this blog by wondering about whether calling certain frauds ingenious might be morally suspect. I would like to leave you with one that seems – given Mr (or rather Herr) Bartholl’s background – less of a fraud and more of a celebration.


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Aug 11, 1934;


Bon Appétit



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Homicide By Natural Necessity : The Mignonette Tragedy.



The Yacht Mignonette : Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, September 20, 1884; pg. 268; Issue 2370

This is a true and dramatic story of survival against the might of the ocean. It is also a true and dramatic story of a highly controversial legal minefield about what actions can be deemed legal in your personal fight for survival.

I hope you have never had (nor will need to have) resort to such desperate survival tactics that you decide to grievously threaten others around you despite their innocence of any reciprocal harm to yourself.

The law is pretty indifferent to self-harm, so self-amputation with a pen-knife to free your arm from a trapped rock fall and other acts that cause yourself grievous bodily harm are your choice – Hobson’s or otherwise [1]

Things are somewhat different, however, if you only survive by climbing over others – so to speak – harming them in ways that could have been avoided. It is the ‘could have been avoided‘ part that is so explosive. So without delaying confronting the key question contained in the title of this blog , “Homicide By Natural Necessity” – are you entitled to murder others for your own survival?

Rather than relate this story as totally my take on what is claimed to have happened in this case, I’d like us all to be readers of The Times newspaper (London) in the year 1884 and follow their unraveling of “The Mignonette Case” in the same way Times readers in England would have done so. For it is these such readers from the middle and upper-classes; lawyers, vicars, politicians, and gentleman (and some ladies) who would continue to orchestrate and conduct the socio-legal and political-ethical debates around this legal landmark.

So, it’s Monday morning on September 8th 1884, and having finished your poached eggs and possibly a finny haddock, maybe a Yarmouth bloater with some Crosse and Blackwell anchovy paste and preserved tongue, you reach page nine of your carefully folded Times newspaper and realise that your breakfast is in danger of paying you a return visit as you reach the last line about the tragic sea disaster that befell the yacht Mignonette.


The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 08, 1884; pg. 9

The crew forced to eat the cabin boy to stay alive! What an awful plight for the crew and such a tragic loss of life for the young boy – well, needs must I suppose!


Crew in the thirteen foot open boat used to escape the wrecked Yacht Mignonette.  Source: Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, September 20, 1884; pg. 268; Issue 2370

With sails made from their shirts they gallantly crewed this cramped vessel, with absolutely no provisions of any kind, eventually having to nurse the seventeen year old lad who had succumbed to drinking seawater and had become exceeding ill.
However, the next morning, The Times revealed that a charge of murder had been proffered against the Captain and crew for killing the cabin boy in order for them to survive by drinking his blood and eating parts of his flesh and internal organs.


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 09, 1884; pg. 3;

The brief report made it clear that the three arrested crew members were making no attempts to do other than tell the truth. They were absolutely clear that the boy had been murdered and they expected to be in legal difficulties as a result.


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 09, 1884; pg. 3;

The next day you would in look in vain for more news.
The Times was silent on this tragedy and again on the Thursday – so it was Friday before the actual charge of murder had been confirmed by the court and the statement concerning cannibalism was much clearer, claiming that the remaining three crew members had dined on the flesh of seventeen year old Richard Parker.


The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 12, 1884; pg. 4

The report on that day was clear that the law might now find difficulty in deciding whether this could be a genuine case of justifiable homicide and readers were left with a legal conundrum quoted by The Times and taken from Mr. Justice Stephens’s “Commentaries of the Laws of England,” vol.IV p. 101: and quoted in court by the prisoner’s defence lawyer, Mr. Tilly, who was appealing for bail:

There is one species of justifiable homicide where the party slain is equally innocent as he who occasions his death, and yet homicide is also justifiable from the great universal principle of self-preservation which prompts every man to have his own life preferable to that of another where one of these must inevitably perish.”

The three men were in fact granted bail to much applause in court.


Sketch by Mr. Edward Stephens, The Yacht’s Mate, of the way in which they stowed themselves in the dinghy

Saturday’s Times brought their readers a gem of a report by ratcheting up the emotion and growing  public support for Captain Dudley’s actions by publishing a last letter he had written to his wife on the back of the boat’s chronometer which had now been recovered from the wreck of the Mignonette.


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 13, 1884; pg. 9

This is the  best likeness of Tom Dudley, the Captain, I can offer you.




Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, September 20, 1884; pg. 268; Issue 2370


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 13, 1884; pg. 9

It was that Saturday’s report that finally revealed the two most controversial issues. One was the reliability of each of the crew’s evidence, The three crew were starting to differ in what they saw or did not see, and what they took part in or claimed they had nothing to do with. It also revealed the desperate need for something to drink if they were to survive and the only option for such sustenance was blood. Here is Brook’s account:

YACHT_6_more text

The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 13, 1884; pg. 9

The Times was silent on the progress of the charge of murder against the surviving crew members until Friday September 19th when they were able to publish the result of Thursday’s court appearance of Thomas Dudley: Captain (age 31); Edward Stephens: Mate (aged 36) and Edmund Brooks: Seaman (aged 38) – all three being charged with the wilful murder of Richard Parker (aged 17) on the high seas on 20th July last. This was at Falmouth Police-court.

A charge of murder on the high seas is a very serious charge and the penalty is death explained The Times. Their readers already knew this and moves were afoot by some to make a fund available to assist the Captain and his crew to find justice other than death for their struggle to survive the high seas only to be killed on land by an over-zealous judiciary.

Was the line crossed from a struggle to survive to one of premeditated murder without any just cause merely to mitigate their hunger and thirst which applied to all including Parker? Why should Parker be their means of food and drink?


The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 19, 1884; pg. 5

Early in this Falmouth-court hearing, it was decided that no charges would, in fact, be levied against Brooks and he was acquitted as it was clear Dudley and Stephens did have a joint role in the killing of Parker. However the evidence against Dudley was not in doubt given what had already been gathered from his candid account on being rescued. Witnesses recalled:


The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 19, 1884; pg. 5

Some evidence had been unofficially gathered by the crew of the German boat that rescued them and that also was given in evidence to the court; for example:


The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 19, 1884; pg. 5


Survivors rescued by the German barque Montezuma [3]

After six hours of thorough investigation, the concluding evidence by Brooks – now out of the frame for prosecution – could lead to only one verdict:


The Times (London, England), Friday, Sep 19, 1884; pg. 5

Bail was allowed for Stephens and Dudley – but now they were to be committed for trial – the charge Murder of the High Seas. The penalty death. Brooks was freed.

Monday’s Times published a letter from Captain Dudley, still on bail, and now waiting for his murder trial while living at home with his wife and children in Sutton, Surrey:

YACHT_7_letter to times

The Times (London, England), Monday, Sep 22, 1884; pg. 7

By the end of the week, Times readers were being asked to assist with defence costs for Dudley and Stephens:


The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 27, 1884; pg. 10

The one thing readers of The Times seemed clear about was that the Captain of the Mignonette was not a murderer but a leader who had to make a desperate decision for the survival of the crew based on what he saw as the certain death of the lad Parker.

A controversial part of his decision-making, however, had been based on the fact that Richard Parker was a single lad and all the others had wives and children waiting at home. This moral and ethical dilemma was engaging much debate but could have no place in law for providing justifiable homicide. The lad’s mother and father were dead but he had a brother and step-father waiting for him at home – how can you rank such commitments and blood relationships as having different moral values that pertain to the right to live or die?

In the clearest terms possible, and to his credit, Thomas Dudley had provided consistent statements of his actions whilst at sea in that dinghy. This one cited by The Times, referring to the crew’s eighteenth day at sea, was by far the clearest and certainly not for breakfast reading;


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Nov 04, 1884; pg. 3

Before the trial could take place, the Judge, Mr. Baron Huddleston was obliged to explain the law to the Grand Jury and clearly cite to them the evidence concerning Dudley’s candid confession of killing Parker. Huddleston was very thorough in his attempts to find legal precedents for the actions of Dudley and Stephens. To his credit he carefully took the jury through those he was aware of but in each case, the vagaries of the law at the time, exact locations and precise details were inadequate to assist or apply to the Mignonette case.

For example he looked at an American case “Commonwealth v. Holmes” (March 1842)[2] in which sailors threw passengers overboard to lighten a boat and it was held that the sailors ought to have been thrown over first unless they were required to work the boat and that at all events, the passengers to be sacrificed should have been decided by drawing lots. The Judge then explained why this would not assist with the present case:


The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Nov 04, 1884; pg. 3

The Judge had also reminded the jury that Richard Parker, lying in the bow of the boat, posed no threat to the crew. There could be no question of self-defence by Dudley and Stephens – no need to kill for their own safety. Had the lad threatened them with a pistol or sword – things may have been different, consequently, Dudley’s actions by selecting him on the basis of family ties and then killing him were abhorrent and illegal and nothing less than murder. It could be that Parker, as a younger man, would have enjoyed a long life and become  a valuable citizen to his community and country but Captain Dudley together with Stephen’s assistance, took that opportunity from him.

There was really no choice for the Grand Jury but to return a true bill for wilful murder against Dudley and Stephens. The trial itself would now begin on Thursday November 6th.

Eager Times readers were greeted by the following editorial on Friday November 7th for their morning read:


The Times (London, England), Friday, Nov 07, 1884; pg. 10

After re-visiting the horror of murder, blood and cannibalism once more, their editorial conclusion was direct and some may think harsher than it needed to have been:


The Times (London, England), Friday, Nov 07, 1884; pg. 10

There was a spirited defence made by Mr. Collins on behalf of Dudley and Stephens, reminding the jury that his clients were both God-fearing men and he felt that no civilized society would put such survivors of a tragedy, such as this, on trial for murder. The judge however, said he had no choice but to direct the jury to find them guilty. He did, however, throw out a life-line of sorts by advising them to return a ‘special verdict‘ which would pass this case on to a higher interpretation and authority such as the Queen’s Bench.

All they needed to do was to recap all of the case details in terms of the terrible story of what happened on that boat to show they all knew what had occurred and it was an accurate reflection of the events as they understood them, but their conclusion after considering all the facts presented to them made it impossible for them to reach a verdict as they did not feel qualified enough – in other words ‘the jury are ignorant‘ and need assistance from the Court.

The jury obeyed and returned the words advised by the Judge which were:
But whether upon the whole matter, the prisoners are guilty, the jury are ignorant, and therefore refer it to the Court.” 

This automatically left the prisoners on bail to await the next assizes to be held at Cornwall if – after due consideration – the Queen’s Bench considered the crime of murder has been committed. The case would then become a Crown prosecution, ie: “The Queen.v. Dudley and Stephens.”

However, the prisoners Dudley and Stephens were summoned not to Cornwall for the next assizes but to this special Queen’s Bench hearing in London. Here, five Law Lords and the Attorney General were to consider the full implications of the ‘special verdict’ and what should be done with it.

Many legal arguments followed, the prisoners’ defence lawyer arguing vigorously that this was a clear case of “Homicide By Natural Necessity, ” whereas the Crown argued that the prisoners killed an innocent boy who presented no threat to them. This was a long and detailed argument back and forth with every possible analogy and prior case – however tenuously linked – being cited. The future of English law in this highly emotive area was clearly being crafted and whittled into a new legal precedent.

However, the Attorney General was getting impatient and urged the five Lord Justices to “Give judgement and pronounce sentence.

Then followed more debate about sending it to the assizes at Cornwall after all but the Attorney General make it very clear that now it had been referred to them at the Queen’s Bench, they were legally obliged to bring it to a termination here and now!

Lord Justice Denman asked the Attorney General on behalf of the other Lords if they could pass sentence in four days time. The Attorney General had no objection but insisted that they should give their judgement now not in four days but would allow them to ‘arrest’ the judgement for four days to give the prisoners a chance to make any representations. But in four days, the verdict given today will then be confirmed next Tuesday December 9th, while they are in prison. They will not be required to return to court to hear their sentences.

The final judgement of the Bench was that of death for murder on the high seas.


“The Mignonette Murder.” Sunday Times [London, England] 14 Dec. 1884: 7

On Tuesday December 9th, 1884, Dudley and Stephens were taken to the Governor’s office at Holloway prison where he informed them that they had been sentenced to death for wilful murder.


The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Dec 10, 1884; pg. 9

So here was a real chance for Dudley and Stephens – would the Queen be merciful and grant them a reprieve from death? The broadsides and street song-writers were having a storm of a sale with their lurid accounts of the trial and sentence of death on the two men:


T. Brooks, Song Publisher, 56, Great Anne Street, St. Jude’s Bristol

Thursday’s edition of The Times reported as follows:


The Times (London, England), Thursday, Dec 11, 1884; pg. 3

On a Monday morning, exactly two months from the breaking- news headline


Times readers were now reading the following report:


The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 15, 1884; pg. 6

If joyous Times readers felt like bursting into song, here’s another verse and the chorus of Mr. Brooks ditty, written especially for the occasion:


T. Brooks, Song Publisher, 56, Great Anne Street, St. Jude’s Bristol



[1] Hobson’s Choice: A choice of taking what is available or nothing at all:
Origin: Mid-17th century: named after Thomas Hobson (1554-1631), a Cambridge carrier who hired out horses, giving the customer the ‘choice’ of the nearest one to the door or none at all.
[2] United States v. Holmes (1842), 26 F. Cas. 360 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1842), a criminal trial relating to the sinking of the William Brown
Also: https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F.Cas/0026.f.cas/0026.f.cas.0360.pdf

[3] Barque: A sailing ship, typically with three masts, in which the foremast and mainmast are square-rigged and the mizzenmast is rigged fore and aft.

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