Poor old James Holt, a man who went to the scaffold not entirely convinced that the death sentence was the proper punishment for a teensy bit of smuggling (although it’s perhaps more justified than “being out at night with a blackened face” or “stealing from a rabbit warren”, which also warranted capital punishment in the late eighteenth century).
If in doubt, of course, blame the lewd women and their unreasonable demands!
- Derby Mercury, Friday 10th July 1752
“Yesterday the Eleven Malefactors, under sentence of Death were executed at Tyburn; they all behaved with more Decency and seeming Concern than is usual when a Number of Felons are executed together. It is remarkable, that of the eleven who suffered Yesterday, seven of them ascribe their Ruin to the Association of Lewd Women, who drove them to unlawful Courses, in order to support the Extravagancies of those Daughters of Plunder. James Holt the Smuggler, behaved very penitently, but did not seem convinced that his Sentence was just, or that Smuggling merited Death. Amongst his last Words, were: It is very hard to be hanged for Smuggling.”
“EXPLANATION.– In the fore-ground are three Seamen playing at cards, one of whom, by the archness of his countenance, appears to have an advantage, and seems desirous of betting with his Antagonist, who, by his clenched fist, is evidently losing: the third, from his gravity, seems to be doubtful of the result.
The Group to the right consists of two, apparently, Messmates, the one reading a letter with much satisfaction; while a Female is slily looking over the gun, listening to the contents, and seems, by her smiling, to enter into the full enjoyment of it. In the middle Group are represented two Seamen and their Girls dancing a reel; the Fiddler, supposed to be the Ship’s Cook by his wooden leg, is evidently groggy, from his having one eye closed, while the other is significantly employed: the principal Male Figure, who set to his Partner, has had more than his usual allowance of grog, being in the act of snapping his fingers, and literally reeling towards her: the younger Female and her Partner are no less interesting from their attitude.
On the left is a Sailor-Boy with a can of grog in his hand; his attention being wholly taken up with the Group dancing, occasions him to spill the liquor, which a Seaman underneath is eagerly catching. Near these figures, to the right, is seen a fair Damsel descending the ladders, and is received into the arms of her Admirer. Next to them appears a Sailor handing down a box, supposed to contain the wares of an Israelite, brought on board for sale, who, from his attitude and countenance, appears most anxious for their safety. The two figures behind the Jew are seemingly a Brother and Sister joyously meeting.
The Group near the quarter-deck-ladder represents an affray between two Females, who are jealous of each other, to the no small delight of the surrounding Seamen. On the quarter-deck-ladder is seen the flowing robe of a Female descending.”
In eighteenth-century London, it seems it was not only the living who were disturbing the peace – the city also echoed with the cries of the dead.
Despite the march of scientific thought, superstitious and supernatural beliefs were still widely held by the general public. The folks of St Margaret’s parish in Westminster seem to have been particularly susceptible to fears about ghostly goings-on, as this account of Long Margery ‘the squeaking Woman’ attests.
Hearing loud shrieks while a women lies in childbirth? Unfathomable!
“The Parish of St. Margaret in Westminster.
The people here, it seems, are extreme cautious of being out too late at Night because of the squeaking Woman, call’d Long Margery, who is a great Haunter of this Parish. This Apparition (as the Tradition saith) appears in various Shapes and Forms, and has been seen and heard by many of the Women in this Part of the Town. The particular Office of this Ghost being to visit the Doors of Women in Child-bed only, and if they are not for this Life, to give them fair Warning by three loud Shrieks; and if a Midwife or a Nurse do but report they have heard anything like this, though the Woman shall be in the most happy Way of Recovery, the Husband would be thought worse than an Infidel, if Preparations are not immediately made for his Wife’s Funeral.
I have heard it would be as difficult to persuade these People out of this Notion, as it would be the Foot Guards out of their Tobacco and Geneva, so strongly are they confirm’d in it.”
- A View of London and Westminster, or, The Town Spy (1728)
- A gown, metamorphose’d into a ghost!!, Isaac Cruikshank
“Observe how I step in the Line,
Though eight Quarts I have carried away;
O Bet! you will never be mine
If thus you get drunk every Day.
As drunk as a Piper thou art;
O tell me how could’st thou do so;
Thou wilt ne’er from the Ale-house depart
Till unable to walk, stand, or go.”
- Drunken Lovers by Thomas Rowlandson (1798)
On a visit to Scotland, a ‘Lady’ (recorded as being the renowned beauty and novelist Lady Charlotte Campbell) was startled by the appearance and conduct of a poor mad woman. This poem, published around 1800, tells the sad tale of heart-broken ‘Crazy Jane’, who lost her wits when she was deserted by her false lover, Henry.
Why, fair maid, in ev’ry feature,
Are such signs of fear express’d?
Can a wandering wretched creature,
With such terrors fill thy breast?
Do my frenzied looks alarm thee?
Trust me, sweet, thy fears are vain;
Not for kingdoms would I harm thee;
Shun not then poor Crazy Jane.
Dost thou weep to see my anguish?
Mark me, and avoid my woe,
When men flatter, sigh and languish,
Think them false – I found them so.
For I lov’d – Oh, so sincerely,
None could ever love again,
But the youth I lov’d so dearly,
Stole the wits of Crazy Jane.
Fondly my young heart receiv’d him,
Which was doom’d to love but one,
He sigh’d – he vow’d – and I believed him
He was false – and I undone,
From that hour has reason never
Held her empire o’er my brain:
Henry fled – With him for ever
Fled the wits of Crazy Jane.
Now forlorn and broken-hearted,
And with frenzied thoughts beset,
On that spot where we last parted,
On that spot where first we met.
Still I sing my love-lorn ditty;
Still I slowly pace the plain,
Whilst each passer-by, in pity,
Cries – God help ye, Crazy Jane.
Images © Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Today’s announcement about the discovery of the bones of King Richard III has kept the media rather busy. Whatever the discovery may or may not lead to in terms of reappraising this notorious king, for over five hundred years the idea of Richard as a manipulative, murderous tyrant has been enduringly popular in the public imagination. It was certainly so in the Georgian era.
The following extract from the Cheltenham Chronicle illustrates one way in which Richard’s villainous deeds were brought back to public notice in 1813 – his name was allied to that of the modern-day evil-doer, Napoleon Bonaparte.
“A COMPARATIVE LIKENESS OF BONAPARTE AND RICHARD III.
There is a strong likeness in the persons of these tyrants, except the deformity of body in Richard. – In their bloody deeds their similitude is most striking – both savage and unrelenting! Richard planned, and merely effected, from political motives, a Marriage with a lady whose kindred he had butchered;– Bonaparte compelled his wife Josephine to a seperation [sic], under the like policy to make way for the daughter of his late enemy the Emperor of Austria, whose aunt he may be said to have been instrumental in bringing to the block: and who, from being only a Corsican adventurer, by the the most villainous arts usurped the throne of the late King of France.
We will still hope for a continuation of the resemblance of his actions with the bloody Richard; & that the catastrophe of this campaign on the fields of Germany, may resemble that of Bosworth field. Then we may congratulate Europe, and indeed the world, with having the portrait complete; and encourage a hope for another Richmond on the Gallic throne.”
–Cheltenham Chronicle, Thursday 20th May 1813
- David Garrick as Richard III by William Hogarth (1745)
…. Not the Elizabeth Bennet I know! Good Lord.
- Detail from ‘Arrest of a Woman at Night by Thomas Rowlandson (1800)
“Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 13th January 1796.
ELIZABETH BENNET was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 23d of October , three linen shirts, value 20s. a china plate, value 2s. and a brass skimmer, value 12d. the property of Nicholas Roberts .
NICHOLAS ROBERTS sworn.
I live in the Curtain-road : On the 20th of December last, I missed a pair of nankeen breeches, from off my drewers; the prisoner, I understand, came to assist my servant; upon missing this, it led me to a suspicion; and I examined my linen, and missed three shirts; the numbers of that class of shirts, if I may so say, ran from one to nine; I found all the intermediate numbers, except 1, 3, and 9, which were missing; search was made in the house, but to no purpose; they were not to be found; the servant had suspicion of this woman; she went out, and found her; some of the shirts were found at the pawnbrokers.
SARAH HARDY sworn.
I am servant to Mr. Roberts: the prisoner acted as charewoman in the house; I knew nothing of these things being gone, till my master missed the breeches; the next day my master missed some shirts; I went to the prisoner, and found her; she denied knowing any thing about it; I took her to the pawnbroker’s, and found one of the shirts; then she owned to it, and told us where she had sold the other two shirts.
JAMES BROOKS sworn.
I am servant to Mr. Francis, pawnbroker, Shoreditch, (produces a shirt); I took in this shirt of the prisoner, on the 23d of October.
John Stockman and Thomas Davies were called, but not appearing, their recognizances were ordered to be estreated.
Mr. Roberts. I am certain this is my shirt.
Prisoner’s defence. It was a case of necessity.(The Prosecutor and Jury recommended her to mercy, believing it to be her first offence).
Privately whipped and discharged.
Tried by the first Middlesex Jury, before Mr. COMMON SERGEANT.”
For the original trial record, see the Old Bailey Online.
In the eighteenth century as in any other, a trip to the local pub provided some escape from the monotony of working life, offering a chance for merriment and silliness, and – dangerously – the opportunity to take a cup too much and be persuaded into something a sober man wouldn’t entertain for a second.
One wintry weekend in 1791, this Manchester man was tempted to run over two miles completely naked in the pouring rain by the prospect of just five shillings – about £14 in today’s money – and, no doubt, the chance to prove his manfulness. As with many careless drunken wagers it had tragic consequences.
Lesson: don’t go running around nude in the snow tonight, folks!
“About eight o’clock on the stormy night of Saturday the 19th inst. a man was rash enough to undertake, for five shillings, to run naked, from a public house at Stayley-Bridge, near Manchester, to a mill in the neighbourhood, more than a mile distant, in consequence of another person in company observing that he would not go the distance, such a night as it was, for five guineas. Not returning in the course of two hours, some of the party went to search for him with a lanthorn, and found him perishing and speechless, about half a mile off, on his return, with a handful of meal husks, which were proof of his having been at the mill. Medical assistance was immediately procured, but he died presently afterwards. He was advised to stop all night at the mill, or to put on some cloaths that were offered to him, but refused, though he declared he had been nearly suffocated by the wind and rain. He has left a wife and five small children.”
- Derby Mercury, Thursday 1st December 1791