What an ass: Goodyer Long, who had sex with a donkey and lived to tell the tale

donkeyPoor Goodyer Long. Not just saddled with that name, but also saddled (appropriately) with a rather unpleasant conviction – that of bestiality with a female ass.

Bestiality was not that unusual an offence in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with criminal records detailing many cases, but usually involving boys in their teens or early twenties, trying to find an outlet for pent-up sexual desires. However, in the 1830s, there seems to have been several cases involving older men that were viewed less sympathetically than those involving the young – one 57-year-old man was executed in Bodmin in 1834 for the offence, and several other men were convicted at Exeter around the same time.

Goodyer was not a young man with no other way of dealing with his sexuality; he was a married man in his late 50s. But still, he was convicted of this capital offence “on the clearest evidence” at the Lent Assizes in Norfolk on 8 April 1837, and duly sentenced to death. The judge stated that he held out “no hopes of mercy”. He was due to be executed on 29 April, but instead was sent to the prison hulk York where, with the “exception of one indifferent muster”, he conducted himself well.

One would think that his offence would quickly alienate him from his local community – who would want to stick up for a man who stuck… well, never mind the rest of that sentence.

Yet the community DID rally round Goodyer. 29 inhabitants of the villages of Fundenhall and Tacolneston (listed as Tawlnestone) – including the rector and churchwardens, as well as the delightfully named Righteous Reeve – signed a petition to argue that he should not be executed. His wife, listed as Mary Long (actually Maria, nee Andrews), and sister, Mary Filby, also signed the petition and stuck by him.

Why did they think he deserved clemency? They actually tried several tacks. He was “usually” of good character; he was a drunk who, after a few, didn’t know what he was doing (even when an ass of any kind was involved); there was nobody at his trial to support him; his age was a mitigating factor… and lastly, the killer tack – he “may” have been suffering from insanity.

The prison ship, or hulk, York, where Goodyer Long was sent.

The prison ship, or hulk, York, where Goodyer Long was sent.

The petition, and the varied reasons for mitigation worked. On 21 April, a week before he was due to be hanged, Goodyer’s sentence was reduced to transportation for life. But again, he was sent back to the prison hulks.

He was received on the Leviathan – which had previously seen battle at Trafalgar – at Portsmouth on 1 June 1837, and then, on 14 April 1840, he was transferred to the hulk York, in Gosport, where it seems he served three years, living alongside some 500 other convicts on the ageing ship.

He was never transported. Perhaps surprisingly to modern eyes, on being discharged from the hulk, Goodyer returned to Norfolk. With few resources and a criminal record, he may have had little alternative. In 1851, he was in his home parish of Fundenhall, aged 72 and in receipt of parish relief, living with his wife. He died there two years later.

 

Sources: The National Archives (TNA) HO 17/75/58, 18 April 1837; 6 December 1843; The Bury & Norwich Post, 12 April 1837; 1851 census for Mill Road, Fundenhall, Norfolk (via The Genealogist); BMD Deaths, Norwich, 1853 (first quarter), 4b 203.

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The Condemned Criminal Tolerates Consolation

“The Home Secretary has issued orders for the execution of Bucknell, convicted at the late Somerset Assizes of the brutal murder of his aged grandfather and grandmother, at Creech St Michael’s, to take place at Taunton Gaol, on Thursday morning next, the 26th instant.

“The wretched criminal, it is said, appears extremely callous, and to have no conception of the enormity of his guilt.

“He is respectful to the reverend chaplain, but seems rather to tolerate than wish for his spiritual consolation and assistance.”

Liverpool Mercury, 23 August 1858

21-year-old John Baker Bucknell was executed at Taunton on 26 August. He had been convicted of housebreaking in March 1857 and given a 10 month gaol sentence.

The following year, he was convicted of murdering innkeeper John Bucknell, aged 72, and his wife Betsy, 74. He was described by the Taunton Courier of 11 August 1858 as an “unfortunate young man”.

Seduction in Stevenage: sex, marriage and keeping it in the family

Székely_Woman_StretchingWilliam Swaine was a Hertfordshire farmer, who had grown accustomed to the help of his young niece around his Stevenage farm.

She had been living with his family since she was two and a half, and he looked on her as his own child. This young girl, Matilda Winters, spent her days looking after the farmhouse whilst her uncle farmed.

Living down the road was the Brown family. Young master Brown lived with his parents, and they all got on well with Farmer Swaine.

The farmer noticed that Brown got on particularly well with Matilda, but thought nothing of it; he supposed “that a man at his time of life was not likely to take advantage of the confidence that was placed in him.”

Unfortunately for William Swaine, his faith was misplaced. Matilda was a good looking girl, who looked younger than her age. Although Brown had known her since she was a child, he now professed the “greatest affection” for her.

610px-Antique_Die_Cut_ValentineAt Christmas time in 1867, when Matilda was just 16, Brown seduced her in the farm stable. Her wrote her letters, addressing her as his “dear little sweetheart”, and on Valentine’s Day, 1868, he sent her a romantic poem.

The relationship continued, in secret, until February 1870, when Matilda realised she was pregnant.

She asked Brown was she was to do, and he gave her a prescription for an abortifacent, accompanying her to a chemist in Hitchin, where the prescription was made up – but the “medicine” tasted so horrid that Matilda was unable to drink more than one bottle of it.

Brown asked her for the one unopened bottle back; when she refused and asked why he wanted it, he replied, “it might be useful to some other girl.”

The pregnancy continued. Matilda’s uncle grew suspicious only when she reached seven or eight months pregnant, and when questioning her, she at first refused to say who the father was. Eventually she admitted it was their neighbour – to her uncle’s shock.

Swaine immediately called Brown to him, and told him he knew that Matilda was pregnant. Brown admitted that he had slept with Matilda, but attempted to blacken the young woman’s name, stating  that “others had done the same”.

Swaine saaid that the only way for Brown to “restore his niece’s character” was to marry her. Brown refused but said he would be willing to give her an allowance of 10 shillings a week as long as he did not have to live with her.

Swaine, horrified at Brown’s allegations of Matilda’s sexual misconduct with other boys, ordered Brown to leave his house.

Matilda gave birth to her daughter  on 15 November 1870. She named her Cecilia Angelina Brown Winters, her child’s second name being her seducer’s surname. Her friends approached Brown and asked him to marry her, as he had previously promised to do, but he continued to refuse.

Accordingly, William Swaine took him to the Hertford Assizes in March 1871, ostensibly to “recover damages for the loss of the services of his niece, on account of her seduction”.

This was as a seduced woman could not bring a case herself – William brought one as Matilda’s de facto father, with this “parent/child” relationship being seen as akin to a master/servant one. This was unlike a breach of promise case, where the injured party was required to bring the action herself.

William sought £2,000 (the equivalent of over £90,000 today) from Brown.

UntitledMatilda stood in court and claimed that Brown had bought her presents, including a watch, a locket, and a work-box. She thought he had intended to marry her, and denied that she had ever “been guilty of any impropriety” with some other local boys named in court.

Swaine was told that he could not prove that he had lost Matilda’s services as a result of her seduction, as he had instigated the case before she had given birth.

The Lord Chief Justice then criticised Swaine for bringing a case prematurely, suggesting that the farmer and Brown could have come to “some arrangement” that would have removed the need of further litigation.

But after debate between the defence and the prosecution counsels, Brown stated that he would agree to pay Sweyne compensation of £750 (just under £3,500 today), and the verdict was accordingly recorded.

Four years after the court case, Matilda wed a Luton-born butcher named George Ellerd Davis. George had not had a straightforward start to his sexual life either. He had become a husband at 21, on marrying Phoebe Horley, and a widower at 22.

Matilda and George lived  in various places in Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Bedfordshire, having several sons together.

But there was a twist in this tale. Matilda died in 1898, aged 46. Her widower, George, had, within weeks, remarried.

The speed with which he remarried was one thing. But his choice of wife was even more unexpected – he wed his illegitimate stepdaughter, Cecilia, who was 18 years his junior.

Cecilia and George's marriage entry - the space for Cecilia's father's name is, of course, blank (via Ancestry).

Cecilia and George’s marriage entry – the space for Cecilia’s father’s name is, of course, blank (via Ancestry).

They married on 2 November 1898 in Islington, a place where they had no links, presumably to avoid gossip from those they knew. Yet in 1901, they were living at Moorfield House, Fishers Green – back in Stevenage.

Perhaps they thought nobody there would remember the circumstances of Cecilia’s birth 30 years earlier, but one person would have. William Swaine was still alive and lived in Stevenage for another eight years until he died aged 88.

Cecilia also died, on 18 June 1908, after less than ten years of marriage, and aged only 37. She and her mother Matilda both had children by George Davis; Cecilia’s son Hector was left without a mother at the age of six.

George again lost little time in finding another wife – his fourth – although at least this time, she does not appear to have been a member of the Winters family.

But there appears to have been doubt, after Cecilia’s death, as to whether she and George were even legally married.

Probate was not issued until 21 years after her death, which found her effects to be worth over £2,000. Her name was listed in the probate calendar as “Cecilia Angelina Brown Winters, otherwise Cecilia Davis”.

An 1846 Isle of Man case had argued that marriage between another stepfather and stepfather was “incestuous intercourse”, and stated that canon law prohibited a man from marrying his late wife’s daughter – this was ruled to be “affinity”.

However, in the Isle of Man case, because the man and woman had been lawfully married under licence, the marriage could not be “put aside”.

Cecilia and George had also been married legally, by licence. It seems that when probate was finally granted to George, in 1929, long after he had married for the fourth time, that a similar conclusion was reached as in the 1846 case.

The decision closed the door on one family’s complex relationships – a teenage seduction, illegitimate child, multiple marriages and that contested, secret marriage to a stepchild. Who knew Stevenage’s history was so interesting?!

 

Sources: The Morning Post, 3 March 1871, page 7, “Promises Broken: Courtship, Class, and Gender in Victorian England” by Ginger S. Frost (University of Virginia Press, 1995), Ancestry.co.uk.

The Trials of Selina Wadge

A post inspired by a recent trip I made to Bodmin Jail.

image2Selina Wadge is commemorated in Bodmin Jail by a rather strange, blank faced, waxwork depiction of her in an old jail cell. She is shown throwing a child into a well while an older child looks on, equally blankly (see photo).

The waxwork display fails to bring to life the sheer poverty and desperation of Selina’s life – the trials and tribulations she underwent in her fairly short life.

She was born in the first quarter of 1852 in Altarnun, a village some eight miles from Launceston in Cornwall, the daughter of Thomas Wadge and his wife Mary. Thomas worked, like many local men, in the local mines; at the time of Selina’s birth, he was a tin streamer; ten years later, he was a copper mine labourer. Selina was baptised on 18 June 1852 at the village church of St Nonna.

1861 census entry for the Wadge family in Altarnun (via Ancestry)

1861 census entry for the Wadge family in Altarnun (via Ancestry)

In 1878, she was 26, single, and the mother of two illegitimate sons – John, aged six, and Harry, a crippled child of two whose disability meant he was unable to walk.

She looked after her boys as best she could, but on more than one occasion, had to be admitted to Launceston Workhouse as a pauper.

After her last admission to the workhouse, she left there on 8 June 1878, and returned to Altarnun to stay with her parents. When living at home, she occasionally went out to work in order to try and maintain her boys, with her mother helping out with childcare.

At some point in the previous couple of weeks, Selina had met a former soldier, James Westwood, and started a relationship with him. They had arranged to meet on 22 June 1878 in Launceston.

The day before, Selina hitched a ride into the town with her sons with a local farmer, William Holman, telling him she was going to meet Westwood – ‘I am going to meet my man’ – apparently unaware that Westwood had written to Selina to cancel their meeting, due to work commitments.

Holman dropped Selina and the boys off at Orchard’s coal stores, which was just outside Launceston, with Selina saying that she would walk the rest of the way.

But when she reached Launceston, at around 11am according to her own testimony, Selina had only one son, John, with her.

She went to visit her older sister, Mary Ann Boundy – then 28, but already widowed – who was an inmate in the workhouse, reaching there at about 12.30pm.

She told Mary Ann, without being asked, that Harry had died from a head abscess and throat complaint and had been buried ‘near the church door at Altarnun’, his coffin made by John Trehane in the village.

Selina only spoke to Mary Ann for around half an hour before leaving at 1pm. She told her sister that she was going to stay in Launceston that night, and return to Altarnun the next day.

That evening, Selina was met by neighbours from Altarnun at the Pennygillam turnpike road, with John by her side. On being asked where Harry was, Selina said that he was at Launceston; she then said goodbye and continued on the road to Launceston, while the neighbours went in the opposite direction towards Altarnun.

However, at around 9pm, she was calling at a lodging house in Tower Street, Launceston, having previously slept there on a couple of occasions. The lodging house keeper, Harriet Parker, therefore knew the family, and spotted that Harry was not with his mother. She asked where it was, and Selina answered, ‘it died out at mother’s’.

The next evening, she returned to the workhouse, this time with an order from the parish to be admitted. She was put in the receiving ward to sleep.

The following morning, a Sunday, the workhouse master, Daniel Downing, and his wife, the matron, Louisa, asked for more information from Selina.

Putting the blame squarely on James Westwood, she stated, ‘The man took it away from me, threw it in the water, and drowned it’.

Extract from registers of prisoners tried at the Assizes at Bodmin - Selina's entry is at the bottom (via Ancestry)

Extract from registers of prisoners tried at the Assizes at Bodmin – Selina’s entry is at the bottom (via Ancestry)

Despite it being later argued that Selina was a loving mother to her son Harry, her use of ‘it’ rather than ‘him’ suggests either that she saw him as an object rather than a boy, or that she was already distancing herself from her son, talking about him as an ‘it’ so that she would not have to think too deeply about what had happened.

Superintendent Barrett from Launceston was called, and he came and asked Selina where Harry had been when she went to the lodging house.

Selina answered that she had been walking with a man on the Tresmarrow road (where she had lived six years earlier) together on the Friday afternoon, and,

‘he took away my little boy, went into a field, and came back and told me he had thrown it in a pit where there were railings, and had drowned it. He came after us, saying he would drown us too.’

She then gave the policeman Westwood’s name and address.

But after he left, Selina turned to the matron and said,

‘Oh, Mrs Downing, I did it. I drowned the child; I put Harry into the water. There was no man with me; no one but my little Johnny, and he began to cry.’

An investigation had, by this time, been launched, and soon Harry’s body was found at the bottom of a 13-foot deep well shaft in Mowhay Park. The lid had been replaced on the well, suggesting that this was no accidental death.

The body was identified by the next door neighbour of Selina’s parents, a Mary Wakeham, who described Harry, when alive, as ‘a fine, healthy child’. A post-mortem suggested that he had died of suffocation, although this might have been due to drowning rather than violence beforehand.

Selina had confessed, and now she was charged with murder, and was taken to Launceston police station, telling the constables that Westwood had promised to marry her if she got rid of her disabled son.

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin Jail

The trial of Selina Wadge took place at the Cornwall Assizes held at Bodmin on 26 July 1878. She was found guilty of murder, the jury taking just three minutes to make their decision. She was held in the condemned cell at Bodmin Jail, guarded by female prison officers.

On 15 August, at 8am, Selina Wadge was hanged by William Marwood – hers being the first private execution at Bodmin. Her last words were ‘Lord deliver me from this miserable world.’

Selina’s trials in life were over, but those for her remaining son, John, may not have been. He was not looked after by family members after his mother’s death (his grandparents were still living in 1901), and may have continued to be an inmate of the Launceston workhouse until he was old enough to work.

The 1911 census records a John Wadge of the right place and date of birth, a former carpenter, listed as an inmate of the Plymouth workhouse. If this was Selina’s son, poverty continued to be an issue into the next generation – no doubt not helped by John’s inauspicious early years, and the witnessing of the death of his little brother at the hands of his mother.

Sources: Bodmin Jail, Ancestry, and the Cornwall Gazette, 28 June 1878, page 5.

 

Kill the witch!: murder and superstition in a Victorian village

Balai_sorcière_admin

An appropriate post for Hallowe’en…

Witchcraft is most commonly associated with the seventeenth century – the era of James II and his obsession with witches, and Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder-General. Yet in rural areas, even in the late nineteenth century, the association of elderly women with witchcraft persisted, and could – and did – result in murder.

It is 15 September 1875 in the village of Long Compton, which is, as its name suggests, a linear village, between Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire and Chipping Norton over the border into Oxfordshire.

It is, even today, a quiet place; there is one gastro-pub, the Red Lion, and one village shop, and a church and primary school. If you time it right, you can catch the infrequent bus service to Stratford; or else you can explore the lovely countryside on all sides of the village.

It’s a short journey from the Rollright Stones – Neolithic and Bronze Age stones that, folklore says, was a group of men turned into stone by a local witch.

But in 1875, the village had a closer link to witchcraft. One newspaper commented that “there is a general belief in witchcraft at Long Compton and in other villages of South Warwickshire, among a certain class of the agricultural population.”

There was even a “wise man” living near Banbury, whom the local residents visited to try and get rid of witchcraft affecting them.

There was suspicion of several aged women, in particular, in the village, and the area on one side of the pub was even known as Witch End. Often, witchcraft was associated with widows; but here, ordinary married women were also viewed with suspicion.

But I digress.

It was around 7.30 on Wednesday evening, and 79-year-old Ann Tennant was returning from the village baker with a loaf of bread for her and her husband’s supper. She was married to John, who had had a varied career history working as a butcher, agricultural labourer and small dealer.

They had had several children, but although all had moved out of the family home now, several still lived on the same road with their own families, including sons James and John and daughter Elizabeth.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

Coming the other way was James Hayward, a local farm labourer, then aged around 44. He was accompanied by his stepfather, and close to them was a 16 year old farm labourer named John Ivens, all returning home from work.

Ivens saw Ann coming down the road on the footpath, carrying her loaf of bread. He then looked at Hayward, with a pitchfork over one shoulder, from which hung a basket and a bottle – his lunch from earlier.

With no warning, on seeing Ann, Ivens saw Hayward throw his bottle and basket into the road before walking calmly up to the elderly women. He thrust his pitchfork into her, stabbing her several time in both legs, then hitting her over the head with the fork’s handle.

The shock of the attack seems to have paralysed those who witnessed it, but James Taylor, a nearby farmer, heard Ann’s terrified screams and ran to her aid. He grabbed Hayward and held him while the village constable, John Simpson, was called.

Meanwhile, others who heard the screams picked Ann off the floor and carried her to her daughter Elizabeth’s house, which was only a few yards away.

The Chipping Norton doctor, George Wright Hutchinson, was called and saw Ann lying on the floor of her daughter’s cottage, mumbling incoherently. She had wounds to her left temple, right ear, and both legs. Ann died 15 minutes after the doctor’s arrival, and he gave the cause of death as loss of blood and shock.

PC Simpson arrived and told James he had to lock him up, as he looked like he had killed Mrs Tennant. James replied:

“There are no odds about it, I hope she will die – there are fifteen more of them in the village that I will serve the same. I will kill them all.”

James was taken to the nearest prison cell, which was the Shipston-on-Stour lock-up, but by the time he was taken out of Long Compton, a crowd had gathered, and he was hooted with derision and anger as he left.

Once at the lock-up, James showed no remorse. He said,

“I hope she’s dead, she was an old witch: there are fifteen more in the village I’ll serve the same. I mean to kill them all.”

He then said that earlier in the week, he had been trying to work in a bean field for hours, and had been unable to be productive – “as they had witched me.”

The following morning, at about 11am, Superintendent Thompson informed James Hayward that he was to be charged with murder, as Ann had died of her injuries. “Dead?” asked James. “Yes.” Answered Thompson. “Well, I didn’t kill her outright,” was the strange reply.

The next day, James continued to act strangely. From his cell, he called the superintendent, James Thompson, to him, thrusting out a jug of water and saying, “the water I have is full of witches!” He then added,

“It is only those that have witches about them that can see them, and no-one can work, only when the witches will let them.”

For the rest of that day, he continued to ramble incoherently about witches and witchcraft. He said the Banbury wise man had told him he was possessed, and that James believed it was his duty to kill the witch who had possessed him.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

Once transported to gaol, Hayward marked passages in the bible that he thought showed he was justified in his acts; and finally, he tried to bribe the prison governor with a sovereign to let him off the murder charge, arguing that he had killed her only to “avenge” the injury she had done him in possessing him.

At Ann’s inquest, which was held at the Red Lion on 17 September, several witnesses deposed that James, although appearing “quite rational” and having worked since his youth as a farm labourer, “was under the delusion that he was haunted with witches”.

Young John Ivens was called to give evidence, and related what he had seen. He had been working with Hayward all day in the harvest fields, and had seen him threaten Ivens’ grandfather and some other local women. He said that these women – Ann Tennant, Betty Ford, and Betty Hughes – were all witches, that they had been haunting him, and that he would kill them all.

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against James, and he was duly sent for trial at Warwick Assizes. His trial was held on Wednesday 15 December 1875, when he was indicted for murdering Ann Tennant. It was reported that,

“the prisoner entertained most astounding delusions and superstituons respecting witches and witchcraft, which had haunted him for years, impelling him to murder the deceased, and which still held his mind in thraldom [sic].”

James made no friends at his trial by repeatedly refering to poor Ann as “a wicked old wretch”. John Tennant gave evidence, and stated that Hayward’s parents had also been firm believers in witchcraft, and frequently said that witches were “at” their son – “they won’t leave him alone”. They therefore brought James up to believe that when anything went wrong in his life, or with his work, it was not his fault but that of witches.

Although John Tennant said James was seen by others as being “not quite right” in the head, and that “he would drink any quantity of gin or liquor that could be put before him, and then he would go mad after”, another witness estimated that a third of the village believed in witchcraft.

James Taylor, the farmer who intervened in Ann’s attack, said that although he didn’t believe in witches himself,

“There were many persons in the village whom he knew to be popularly regarded as witches. They were all old women, and mostly widows. He did not know an instance of a young woman or a sick old woman being suspected of being a witch.”

PC Simpson added to this, stating, “I feel sure there are many people in Long Compton who believe in witchcraft.”

To a rural labourer, such as James, brought up in a family with these beliefs, blaming witches for poor work was a reasonable thing to do; but the more modern, urban jury saw it clearly as irrational and madness. They found James to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge commented,

“I do really think something should be done towards putting a stop to this unhappy state of things. Such ignorance and superstition is most criminal and lamentable.”

James was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure; one source states that he starved himself to death a few months later.

 

Sources: The York Herald, 20 September 1875, p.3; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 25 September 1875, p.6; The Bradford Observer, 16 December, 1875, p.5; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 18 December 1875, p.3; Reynold’s Newspaper, 19 December 1875.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Four: The Criminality of William Hope

The penultimate part of my story of the Ullingswick Murder. Catch up on Parts One, Two and Three by clicking the links.

William Hope's entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope’s entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope was not a character with a blameless record, and so it was perhaps inevitable that he would be the first person on whom blame for Mary’s death would fall.

He was a local – born in Ullingswick in 1833 to agricultural labourer George and his wife Ann, at their house at New Bridge, Ullingswick. He was well-known to the other villagers, evne lodging for a while with Mary and John Bevans.

But although he was known by name, face and family, this did not stop him abusing his neighbours. In 1850, he had broken into Mrs Skerrick’s house in the village, this being before her husband had died. He stole fowls from the house and was duly tried at the Hereford County Sessions of 30 December 1850.

He was found guilty of housbreaking and robbery, and was sentenced on the first offence to a week’s imprisonment, but for the second, was sentenced to be transported for seven years.

He never made it to Australia, but instead was sent to Millbank prison in Pimlico, London, which was designed as a ‘holding’ prison where prisoners would be kept before they were transported.

William, though, served a whole three years of his sentence at Millbank. This was usual by the 1860s, as transportation had greatly reduced, with most people being sentenced in this way simply serving a prison sentence.

He then obtained a ‘ticket-of-leave’ and returned to Herefordshire, but ‘resumed his old habits and associations’.

Millbank Prison, 1867

Millbank Prison, 1867

The press reported that he had since been convicted twice for various misdemeanours, including the use of threatening language, and had been twice imprisoned for 14 days. However, the records of the Trinity Quarter Sessions held at Hereford in July 1861 also show that a William Hope was convicted of assault on that date and sentenced to six months in prison.

By 1861, he had found lodgings with a sawyer, Mr Proper, at Ullingswick, but was dependent on occasional labouring odd jobs to maintain himself. He was well known for his regular drinking in the Ship Inn.

He was a stout, thick-necked, burly man, and the Victorian press, in its usual way, decided that ‘his physiognomy tends to a low estimate of his moral character.’ He was also described as ‘a man of known bad character’.

The press also noted that he had previously been in the army and the Herefordshire Militia, clearly associating his criminal nature with his involvement in the armed forces. [The Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863].

This was not a new association; as Clive Emsley has noted, the armed forces in England have long had a negative image, being associated with complex images of masculinity relating to aggressiveness, drink and violence [Clive Emsley, ‘Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914’, Oxford, 2013, p.11]

In short, William Hope had all the characteristics of a Victorian baddie. He was working-class, a drifter, with a long criminal record. He was just as much a stereotype, as he was depicted in the press, as any Dickensian character.

The final part of the Ullingswick Murder: On trial for rape and murder, will be published tomorrow.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Three: How the press reported Mary Corbett’s murder

The third part of my series on the Ullingswick Murder of 1862. Catch up with Parts One and Two by clicking the links.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

The coverage of Mary Corbett’s death in the newspapers was unusual in one respect – the media all focused on her reputation as a ‘well conducted, modest young woman’. This was unusual because Mary came from a background that Victorian England disapproved of – she was an illegitimate child, one of five, drawn from the rural labouring class.

As far as I have been able to work out, Mary was probably the illegitimate daughter of Jane Corbett, variously described as an agricultural labourer and a servant, presumably meaning she was an agricultural servant.

She had been born when her mother was between 15 and 18 years old (Jane was baptised on 27 May 1832, but in the census returns is listed as being born between 1829 and 1832).

Jane was, in turn, the daughter of a mason’s labourer, Richard, and his wife Sarah. In 1851, Jane and her father, sibling and 6 month old son had all been paupers living in the Bromyard Union Workhouse. In 1861, Mary was living with her family at Stone House, Ullingswick.

Her family are recorded in a way to make them ‘respectable’ in the census; Sarah Corbett, a 66 year old widow, is listed as the mother of Elizabeth and Jane, aged 35 and 32 – but also mother of 14 year old Mary – with Jane’s other four children – Elizabeth, Emma, Vincent and Fanny, aged between 2 and 12 – listed as grandchildren.

By 1871, Jane was back in the workhouse, together with her 12 year old son Vincent and a younger child, eight year old Eliza.

Yet despite this very humble background, Mary was seen as a good girl, and a rarity – a loyal, hard-working servant, who instilled the compassion and respect of her employers.

Berrow’s Worcester Journal, reporting the trial, noted that “the atrocity of the crime caused great excitement throughout the county of Hereford at the time, which, judging from the crowded state of the court this morning, has not yet subsided.”

Part of this excitement was reflected in the press coverage. The violent sexual death of a pretty 16 year old girl; the offence allegedly committed by a prior offender, who met the Victorian stereotype of the callous labouring class man whose previous criminal convictions should have led to hanging rather than a transportation from which he could return and commit new offences; the bucolic rural setting – all helped make this a story that the newspapers could sell their copies on.

The innocuous nature of Mary Corbett’s errand that October evening – an innocent trip to buy candles that led to her death, and the fact that she had only walked yards to a local shop yet did not return – added to the drama of the story.

There was a reluctance from the press to report the details of Mary’s post-mortem, and this continued at the trial. The detailed evidence of rape was glossed over, apart from the fact that there was bruising to the right side of Mary’s groin.

Dr Bull, who carried out the post mortem, had found evidence of a violent rape on Mary’s body, but Berrow’s Worcester Journal simply commented that ‘The doctor then detailed the appearances presented by other parts of the body, from which it was evident that violation with much violence had taken place.’

Apparently, it was alright for Victorian readers to learn about Mary’s struggle with her attacker, and the exact mode of death – but sexual violence had to be glossed over.

As was usual with press reports of deaths, some details were wrong or the result of Chinese whispers, with some reports naming William Hope as his brother George, and others reporting that Mary had been strangled, not suffocated.

But Mary’s death – and the subsequent trial of William Hope – was also news because it was unusual. It was noted by the Bristol Mercury that it had been some 30 years since the last execution in Hereford. In that case, too, in 1832, a man – named Gammond – had been hanged after raping a young girl.

The fact that Hereford rarely saw offences that resulted in executions was newsworthy in itself – the city papers stressing the rural, bucolic nature of the county. Added to this was the fact that at this time, the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment had been established, and two years later would recommend the end of public hangings.

The last public hanging took place in 1868, six years after Mary’s death. The debate as to whether public hangings were an educational experience for onlookers, or simply a form of entertainment, is evident in some of the press coverage about this case. It was noted after Mary’s killer was hanged that:

‘the conduct of the occupants of the houses opposite the place of execution deserves a passing word of praise. They either went from home or closed their houses, neither viewing themselves nor permitting others to view the execution from their premises.’ [Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863]

It can be seen, then, that Mary’s murder was a chance for various issues to be explored in the press – and that it also demonstrate how the Victorian press reported violent crimes, depicting such events as a simplistic fight between good and evil and choosing the facts that best suited their chosen narrative.

Part Four of the Ullingswick Murder: The Criminality of William Hope, will be published tomorrow.