Detective Caminada and the New Kent Road Murder

Detective Jerome Caminada courtesy of Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

Detective Jerome Caminada
© Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives

Just before Christmas in 1871, Detective Jerome Caminada of the Manchester City Police Force, received instructions to track four thieves wanted in Sheffield for robbery with violence. One member of this notorious gang had garrotted the victim, whilst his accomplices had stolen the man’s gold watch and chain. Following a tip-off that the gang had been spotted in Leeds, Caminada set out immediately for the city on Christmas Eve. He traced the suspects to York Street, a disreputable quarter where, after disguising himself as a labourer, he set up surveillance.

Whilst undercover, Detective Caminada recognised John Roberts, aged 24, who was wanted for murder in London. Trailing Roberts and his dubious companions to the George Hotel, he staked out the building and spied on the suspect through a bedroom window, as he was sitting at a dressing table. Once he had confirmed Roberts’s identity, Caminada summoned the assistance of local police officers, who arrested the fugitive. His shocking crime had been reported in the London Daily News earlier that month.

Renowned gambler, William Collett, also known as Welsh, had been living with Emma Thomas in New Kent Road, Southwark. He earned his living from betting on horses and keeping a refreshment booth at the races. A jealous man, he kept a cavalry sword in his house, threatening to use it if he found his girlfriend talking to another man, particularly John Roberts, an acquaintance of the couple. Trouble flared on 26 November when Roberts, a ‘powerfully built man’, came to Collett’s house after a race, expecting to find Emma alone. Roberts flew into a violent rage, seizing a leg of mutton from the table and throwing it onto the floor. Collett grabbed his sword, which was two and a half feet long, but before he could unsheathe it, Roberts had snatched it from him. He struck Collett about the head with the sword several times until he fell to the ground unconscious. Collett died later from his injuries. In the meantime Roberts escaped, only to be arrested by Detective Caminada in Leeds. On 8 January 1872, John Roberts was tried on a charge of manslaughter at the Old Bailey.

In court the witnesses, who had been present during the fight, gave their account of the fateful evening and a different version of events emerged. The deceased’s girlfriend, Emma Thomas, was the first to take the stand. She testified that Roberts had arrived at the property with John Turner, a drinking companion, at about 10.30 pm whilst Collett was absent. Both men were drinking heavily and Roberts started to throw his weight around by demanding food and ale. Towards midnight Collett returned, also drunk, and when Roberts tried to steal his cigar, the two men had ‘a few words’. What happened next is unclear but it would seem that a scuffle ensued. Collett went to the fireplace to grab the poker, whilst Roberts reached for the cavalry sword, which was hanging on the wall. Emma Thomas, John Turner and another woman, Elizabeth Kelly, all tried to prise the men apart who, by now, were fighting. Turner later stated that it was Collett who had the sword first and that he had run at Roberts with it, catching him on the arm. No one seemed to see the fatal blows, but at the end of the tussle, 27-year-old William Collett had sustained a deep cut to the head that would end his life.

Under cross-examination all the witnesses agreed that the victim, William Collett, was ‘a very violent man when he was the worse for liquor’, and he had used his sword on others. Collett and Roberts had known each other for years and regularly went out drinking together. That evening they had clearly drunk too much gin and the general concensus was that the nature of the fight was ‘sparring’, without any serious intentions of injuring one other. The detective who escorted Roberts to London from Leeds recalled that the prisoner had said, ‘No one regrets more than I do this occurrence. Is it likely I should kill the young man?’

Thomas Jones, house surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, described Collett’s injuries at the trial. He had a clean cut on the top of his head, about three inches long and down to the bone. Although the wound healed well, he died of blood poisoning three weeks later.

John Roberts was acquitted of manslaughter and Detective Caminada received a message from Sir William Henderson of the Metropolitan Police, commending him for his part in Roberts’s arrest, ‘The merit of the arrest of John Roberts is entirely due to him, and we fully appreciate his conduct on the occasion.’

The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley is published by Pen and Sword Books. For more details, see her blog at or follow Angela on twitter @amebuckley

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From the Bailey to Broadmoor

Not everyone sentenced by the Old Bailey ended up hanged or in prison.  For over two hundred years there has been the option of sending defendants to a special hospital instead.  This guest post by Mark Stevens of the Berkshire Record Office explores the history of probably the best known of those hospitals: Broadmoor.

Broadmoor is – and always has been – a very special hospital.  It is the oldest of these English institutions; the men’s wards opened 150 years ago this month.  Throughout its history it has operated in the no man’s land between the trenches of law and medicine: a place where guilt might be seen clearly but where responsibility is somewhat harder to determine.

The hospital was built as Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, and its function has always been the same.  It provides highly-secure psychiatric care for patients referred by the justice system.  It has become synonymous with this function; so much so that its name alone is enough to describe the complex work that it does.

The story of Broadmoor is one that is closely linked to the courts.  Many of its patients have been the subject of celebrated hearings.  Seldom have these hearings influenced the direction of the law, but they have had a profound effect on the way that society responds to people with mental illness.

James Hadfield shoots at George III, 15 May 1800

James Hadfield shoots at George III, 15 May 1800

Broadmoor’s genesis is usually traced to a similar hearing that took place in London in June 1800: not before the Old Bailey, but at the court of King’s Bench.  This was the trial of James Hadfield, a twenty-nine year-old Westminster silver worker, husband, and father.

Hadfield was charged with high treason. The month before he had purchased two pistols, stood on a bench at the Theatre Royal and then fired his weapons at King George III.  While chaos and pandemonium raged around him, Hadfield was tossed into the orchestra pit, sat upon and arrested.

For Hadfield, this was part of a larger plan.  He believed that his own death would usher in the return of Christ.  However, considering himself to be damned by sin if he committed suicide or murder, he had decided it would be preferable to engineer his execution.  Shooting at the King seemed a foolproof way to bring about this outcome.

But Hadfield had not bargained with the state’s reluctance to kill him.  No one wished this would-be assassin dead.  He was a war hero who had fought beside the King’s brother in France, who had suffered terrible head injuries in battle and who was clearly unwell.  The court of King’s Bench was instructed to let Hadfield plead insanity instead.

This presented a problem.  At the time, a successful insanity defence led to acquittal and a full discharge.  Hadfield would go free, potentially to shoot at the King again.  That was a risk that no responsible government could take. So Parliament simply changed the law to accommodate him. Hadfield was given a new status as a ‘criminal lunatic’ and a new, indefinite sentence was applied to him: he was ‘to be detained until His Majesty’s pleasure be known’.  Forty years later he ended his days in Bethlem, London’s ancient home for those with mental maladies.

Meanwhile, Hadfield’s sentencing option was applied occasionally by other English criminal courts.  The Old Bailey was amongst them.  And with the population of London standing in 1801 at over one million, it was inevitable that the capital’s central court would create a high proportion of the country’s growing number of ‘pleasure’ men and women.

Some of these pleasure patients became part of Broadmoor’s earliest cohort.  After a number of decades when criminal lunatics were housed in different institutions, it was decided to bring them together in one national asylum.  Broadmoor opened as this asylum on Wednesday, 27 May 1863.  Eight women were discharged from Bethlem, escorted to Waterloo and sent out by train into the Berkshire countryside.  They were met at Wokingham Station and then driven on by horse and carriage.

Sarah Allen was one of these women.  She was a Chelsea housewife who was married to a steamboat messenger.  In 1855, she became convinced that she had infected her three boys with a fatal skin disease.  Agonised by the hurt that she was sure she had caused them, one foggy autumn evening she took the boys down to the Thames embankment and threw them in.  Hearing screams in the water, two river bargemen managed to rescue the youngest children but the body of six year-old William was found downstream three days later.

On the same carriage bench sat Mary Hamilton.  She was a tailor’s wife from Hammersmith.  Two years earlier she had been living with her husband, baby son and four year-old daughter in a single room.  ‘It was a poor, miserable place’, said a policeman at her trial, ‘the worst place I was ever in for a dwelling’.  Her husband had been finding work difficult to come by and now the family was starving.   Mary tied a piece of braid tight round the baby’s neck and waited for him to suffocate. She explained that ‘I could not see it want for bread any longer’.

One of the women's dormitories in Broadmoor, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

One of the women’s dormitories in Broadmoor, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

Sarah and Mary were typical female admissions to Victorian Broadmoor.  Roughly 40% of the nineteenth century intake had killed their children.  ‘Over lactation’ was blamed in the case of Mrs Allen, while ‘destitution’ was the cause of Mrs Hamilton’s crisis.

Both women were placed within Broadmoor’s version of the moral regime.  The new asylum adhered to the same principles as other public hospitals.  Patients were provided with healthy surroundings, fresh air and regular occupation.  And because neither Sarah or Mary exhibited signs of active illness, they were placed in the women’s convalescent ward, allowed a needle and encouraged to sew clothes for asylum issue.

In due course Sarah was discharged, recovered: not to her husband – who did not wish to have her back – but to the care of her prosperous sister in Bristol.  Mary might also have been discharged, but she had no family to receive her.  Her poverty-stricken husband had died alone, while her daughter had died in the local workhouse.  So Mary remained in Broadmoor until she died at the age of 85.

Men's dayroom at Broadmoor, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

Men’s dayroom at Broadmoor, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

Similar stories can be found amongst those of the first male patients, whose transfer began on Saturday 27 February 1864.  These men also arrived from Bethlem, and amongst their number were patients whose tales are well-known, including Edward Oxford, Daniel McNaughten and Richard Dadd.

More so than the women, the men of Victorian Broadmoor demonstrate the breadth of cases that were referred to it.  Not only did the new asylum receive cases from across England and Wales – and the wider British Empire – but it also housed patients whose ages ranged from ten to eighty, and whose backgrounds spanned the social spectrum.

It is this breadth of status that makes Broadmoor such a unique hospital.  For while working men and women looked to the poor law asylums for relief, the middle class would usually opt for private care or nursing at home.  The nature of Broadmoor’s admissions did not allow for such distinction.

At one end of the class hierarchy are cases such as George Hennem.  Here is London’s working poor: George lodged with his wife Jane in east London and took stone-cutting work when he could.  Like Mary Hamilton, George’s fear of privation led him to acute depression.  He had always been a loving husband, but now he felt that Jane might be better off without him.  He contemplated suicide.  Then, fearful for Jane’s future as a pauper’s widow, George resolved to let her suffer no longer: he took a hatchet and bludgeoned his wife’s head as she slept.  He took off to the Thames to drown himself but was rescued and ended up in Broadmoor instead.

George shared his new accommodation with the Honourable William Ross Thicknesse Tuchet, third son of the twentieth Baron Audley.  The Audley family had fallen lately on hard times – the result of some dubious land deals and a disputed inheritance – and William had been obliged to take a flat in London with his elder brother.  There was little hope of an improvement in circumstances and the avenues to comfort were slowly closing to him.  On a summer’s day he walked into a Holborn gunsmiths, loaded a pistol and shot the proprietor.  Like James Hadfield, William expressed a desire to be hanged.  He felt that he ‘had been treated very badly’.

William was almost certainly suffering from a form of progressive dementia.  At Broadmoor, he gradually lost the powers of speech and movement, so that he had to be helped to wash and dress.  In his later years he entered a catatonic stupor.  His existence was discreetly removed from Burke’s Peerage and he was ignored by the Audley men.  Instead his sister, niece, and great-nieces organised a relay of visits and an annual Christmas hamper to the relative they knew only as ‘the boy in the shed’.

The extent of Broadmoor as seen from the south, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

The extent of Broadmoor as seen from the south, 1867 (courtesy of Reading Libraries)

These two men were part of a group who met Broadmoor’s initial capacity of 500 patients, which was filled in a ratio of four men for every one woman.  It was a sizeable space, but even this was soon replete.  Broadmoor was expanded twice in the Victorian period: first in 1887 and again in 1902. By the early years of the twentieth century, this Berkshire plot was home to some eight hundred patients.  And as even this enlarged hospital approached capacity, plans were put in place to build a branch of Broadmoor in the midlands.  That branch would become Rampton Hospital, opened in 1912.

The reason Broadmoor expanded so quickly was because it worked.  It delivered the public protection demanded by Victorian society, and it delivered the medical care that was required by its new patients.  Its success made the special hospitals an established part of the medical and legal landscapes, and allowed courts like the Old Bailey to continue to make hospital orders.

But Broadmoor is a much smaller place today.  The women have moved to Rampton; Ashworth is available for the men of north England; while a number of medium secure facilities now exist to provide care beyond the walls of the special hospitals. The result is that the old asylum has become an expensive monument to a previous age.  It is too big for its current patient numbers and too costly to maintain.  So it is to be rebuilt.  By 2017 a new hospital will be open on the site of the old women’s wards, while those buildings that remain on the men’s side will be redeveloped for other uses.

Whatever form Broadmoor takes in the future, the criminal law will continue to have need of it.  Cases will still be heard where the responsibility of defendants is either diminished or obscured by mental illness.  The successors to Sarah Allen and George Hennem will continue to impact on our understanding of mental illness.  Broadmoor’s pioneering work became the model for our response to such cases; it remains the standard by which the no man’s land of law and medicine is judged.

Mark’s book Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum is available in bookshops and online.

Follow Mark on twitter @markoria

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The Strange Case of James Carse and Horatio Nelson


“JAMES CARSE is indicted, for that he, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 2nd day of December1787, in and upon Sarah Hayes , single woman, in the peace of God and our Lord the King, feloniously did make an assault, and with a certain clasp knife, of the value of 2 pennies… did wilfully and maliciously strike and thrust, giving her one mortal wound of the length of eight inches, and of the depth of two inches, of which she instantly died.”

Indictments for murder in the 19th century did not mince their words. They were emotional in tone and  gory in their description of the alleged crime and must have put the defendant at a disadvantage from the outset. The phrases “not having the fear of god,” and “seduced…

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Beyond the Old Bailey Online: Archival Sources for Trials

We’re often asked how to find out more about defendants than is contained in the digitised Proceedings. This guest post by Chris Barnes explores some of the most significant related records (particularly from the late 18th century onwards) held by The National Archives, London.

On the 10th June 1840 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took their customary early evening drive up Constitution Hill in an open carriage. The Queen was four months pregnant with their first child and was fond of taking the air. As the carriage made its way around Green Park a young man stepped forward and fired two pistols at the Queen, neither hitting Victoria. The man was immediately disarmed and put up no fight stating ‘It was I, it was me that did it’.

This man was named Edward Oxford. On the 9th July 1840, at the age of 18, he was put on trial for treason at the Old Bailey; he was eventually to be judged not guilty on the grounds of insanity and spent twenty seven years of his life at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in both Bedlam and Broadmoor. You can read the proceedings of Edward’s trial on Old Bailey Online but it is the records of the Central Criminal Court which are held at The National Archives that I will be presenting today. These records can really help to flesh out the story of any proceedings you find on The Old Bailey Online. Using Edward’s case I’m going to show you how you can navigate through the different sets of records that we hold at the archives to gain the whole story.

Before Trial

HO 16-7

The first sets of records are the pre-trial lists ‘Returns of Committals for Trial at the Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court’ in record series HO 16 and the ‘Newgate Prison Calendar’ in HO 77. The lists of prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Bailey in HO 16 are arranged by month and list those from ‘London’, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Surrey and those facing trial at the High Court of Admiralty. They give the name, age, charge, verdict and sentence.

The lists in HO 77 are similar, but pre printed, and they also have the advantage of being indexed. These records are lovely to look at as the verdict and sentence are hand written in at a later date. The HO 77 volumes also give monthly summaries of sentences handed out and the crimes which were heard that month.

CRIM 4-143

The indictments (formal statements of the charge against the accused) for the Old Bailey are in record series CRIM 4. These are again arranged chronologically not only by year and month but also by whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanour. These records are typically filthy bundles of parchment and great if you want to look at a stereotypical ‘record’. The details included on the indictments are usually sparse but you can get information on the names of jurors and sometimes, as in this instance, the indictment is annotated with a list of witnesses.

For serious cases (including murder, treason and sedition) you may also find a set of depositions (testimony of witnesses
taken before trial) in record series CRIM 1. These records are name searchable on Discovery, our catalogue, so a quick check will reveal if any depositions survive which they do in this case in CRIM 1/1/15. The depositions include witness statements and affidavits which were produced prior to the trial and you may find details of some evidence or witnesses which were not presented to the court. Looking at these records may, therefore, reveal details of interest not found in the proceedings on Old Bailey Online.

CRIM 1-1-15

In this instance, for example, there is the sworn evidence of Lord Colchester who witnessed the attack on Constitution Hill but who was not called to testify in court. There are also affidavits produced by Mr Pelham, acting as attorney for the defence, who produced the text of a speech by the infamous Irish MP Daniel O’Connell which Pelham claimed would prejudice the mind of the jury against Oxford.

Similarly if the case was of some repute you may find either a Home Office (HO) or Metropolitan Police (MEPO) case file on any investigation undertaken prior to the trial. Edward later asserted that the pistols did not contain any bullets, only powder, and that the ‘assassination attempt’ had been nothing more than an attempt at notoriety. This may have gone some way to explain why neither the Queen nor Prince Albert was hit. Again a keyword search in Discovery returns a result for Metropolitan Police file MEPO 3/17  which includes a great deal of correspondence into the details of the criminal investigation, including the search for the elusive ‘missing bullets’.

After Trial

Of course, conviction does not mean the end of our quest for records. There are several series of registers, or calendars of prisoners, which confirm the sentences handed out by the court. The most easily accessible of these are the criminal registers in HO 26 or HO 27 which have been digitised by the website Ancestry. However, these records will not usually give you any further details than you will already have discovered in the proceedings.

Also, we must remember that those in prison do usually get released at some point. We have two sets of important records relating to those in prison seeking the revocation or reduction, or a remittance of a portion, of their sentences.

These records can be found in HO 17 or HO 18 (depending on the date of the petition) which is accessed via a chronological index in HO 19, available in hard copy at The National Archives. There is a bit of trial and error when searching for a petition as an application could be made at any point during the sentence. The index in HO 19/9 shows an entry for Edward Oxford dated 15th July 1840. You would use the date, along with a number code found in the index, to find the petition itself in the correct volume of HO 17 or HO 18.

HO 12-42-10963

HO 12/42/10963

In this case, the petition itself would usually have be found in HO 18/27 however as Edward’s was a case which generated lots of correspondence the petition has been extracted and can now be found in the papers of the Criminal Department of the Home Office in HO 12/42/10963.

If Edward had been held in a regular prison (instead of at Bedlam and Broadmoor) you may find a record of an early release amongst the records of prisoners released on license. These records are in series PCOM 3, which can be name searched from 1853-1863, otherwise available via a chronological index in series PCOM 6.

You will not find a record for Edward in this series of licences as he was eventually discharged under the opinion of the Doctors of Broadmoor that he was of a sound mind. Details of the deliberations surrounding Edward’s release can be found in the file HO 12/42/10963.

Edward was eventually released in October 1867 whereupon passage was found for him on the ship Suffolk departing London on the 20th November 1867. The Suffolk would take him to Melbourne where Edward lived out the remained of his days in peace under an assumed name.

The details relating to all the record series I have mentioned are described in some detail in our research guides Trials in the Old Bailey and the Central Criminal Court and Criminals and convicts.

If you feel inspired to make a visit to The National Archives to research a Criminal Ancestor please do read our Visit Us page specifically for details of our opening times and the identification requirements to obtain a Reader’s Ticket.

Chris Barnes has worked at The National Archives for over three years and is a Modern Domestic records specialist. He has an interest in a variety of topics including crime, disease and local politics.

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Gaol Fever

A guest post by Adrian Teal, who will be well known to some readers as a caricaturist with leanings towards the 18th century…

When you’re spending three years hunting down scandalous true stories for a spoof Georgian tabloid called The Gin Lane Gazette, it’s inevitable that crime and punishment will feature prominently in your endeavours. The Old Bailey itself certainly crops up regularly in a host of my favourite tales of 18th-century lawbreaking, and its rich history supplied me with many juicy headlines for my compendium of hack reportage.

The Monster

Renwick Williams, ‘The Monster’ © Adrian Teal

One of these favourites, and also one of the most discussed Old Bailey cases of the 1790s, was that concerning a knife-wielding maniac dubbed ‘The Monster’ by the gentlemen of the Georgian press. In December of 1790, one Renwick Williams was found guilty of bloody assaults on upwards of fifty women in London. The attacks began in May of 1788. An unidentified man was said to follow his victims, rant remarks of a lewd nature at them, and then stab them in the thighs or buttocks with a small knife. It was often reported that he also had blades fastened to his knees. As news and rumour spread, general panic ensued, during which armed vigilantes roamed the city’s streets, and ladies took to wearing copper pots against their backsides as protection. A group of men established a No Monster Club, and sported emblems on their coats to signify that they were not the feared felon. A theatrical number entitled The MONSTER, Or, The Wounded Ladies, was put on at Astley’s Theatre, and became hugely popular. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming caricaturist James Gillray used the furore surrounding the attacks as the basis for two of his brilliant engravings. One of these was a political satire showing the Whig Charles James Fox as the Monster standing in the dock at Bow Street.

Bow Street’s constables were hindered in their efforts to apprehend the Monster by the many different descriptions of him they were given, no two accounts of his appearance being the same. A fellow called Angerstein offered a reward of £100 for his capture, with the unhappy result of many blameless men being apprehended by avaricious citizens.

J. Gillray, Charles James Fox as the Monster, 1790

Gillray satire of the Whig Charles James Fox as the Monster, 1790

Williams was arrested in June, 1790, with the assistance of John Coleman, an admirer of one Ann Porter, who had been attacked in January of that year. Porter identified Williams, who insisted he was innocent of the charge laid against him, which was one of assault against Porter and other victims. His first trial was held at the Sessions House of the Old Bailey on the 8th July, during which many witnesses affirmed that he had been at work at the time of the alleged attack on Porter. In spite of these character witnesses, and doubts voiced publicly by Angerstein concerning his culpability, Williams was found guilty. However, the judge proved reluctant to sentence him, and expressed reservations concerning the evidence. He referred the case to High Courts, which overturned the conviction on a technicality, but the offence was nonetheless deemed a High Misdemeanour. A retrial was ordered, and lasted thirteen hours, after which Williams was at last found guilty, and sentenced to serve a six-year stretch in Newgate Gaol.

Williams was a former lawyer’s clerk, who worked as an artificial-flower maker in Dover Street before his indictment. He was often visited in his cell by curious members of the public, to whom he sold his flowers, having resumed his trade within the gaol’s formidable walls. Speculation persists as to whether Williams was guilty, and indeed as to whether the Monster’s crimes ever truly happened in the first place. Mass hysteria might have played a prominent role in this particular legal drama.

By a degree or two of separation, The Gin Lane Gazette has a slightly glamorous link to an incarnation of the Georgian judicial system’s most famous venue. My editor on the book was Justin Pollard, who, in addition to being a publisher, author, and QI researcher, is also a historical adviser to the film and TV industries. He has worked with Bettany Hughes, and countless other telly historians. He was a consultant on the sexy drama series The Tudors, although he’d probably tell you the principal reason he was involved in this was because it annoyed David Starkey, which is a good enough reason for doing anything, I suppose. He was also an adviser on a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. If you enjoyed the exuberant ‘re-imagining’ of the 18th-century Old Bailey’s modus operandi in the sequel featuring Ian McShane as Blackbeard, you have Justin to thank.

Death at the Old Bailey

Death at the Old Bailey © Adrian Teal

When I was first discussing the 18th century and the general idea for my book over a pint with Justin, we realised we were thinking along similar lines when we both expressed our delight that a tradition begun at the Old Bailey courtrooms in the middle of the Georgian age is still observed to this day.

In May of 1750 an outbreak of ‘gaol fever’ at the Old Bailey claimed the lives of many people, including some prominent public figures. It is thought that the contagion was carried into the court by prisoners brought to trial at the City Quarter Sessions, and commentators later observed that the victims all seemed to have been seated near the accused on the court’s left-hand side. Most eminent amongst the sixty souls who died were Sir Samuel Pennant, the Lord Mayor; three justices, one of whom was Justice Abney; an Alderman called Sir Daniel Lambert; an Under-Sheriff; and eight members of the Middlesex jury.

Gaol fever is now known as typhus, and is caused by bacteria in the bites of fleas and lice. Symptoms include fever, headaches, and a red, spotty rash. As preventatives against this virulent disease, court-goers began carrying posies of flowers in the weeks that followed, and sweet-smelling herbs were spread about the benches in the hope of quelling further outbreaks. Pleasingly, this is the practice that continues today.

Adrian Teal is a freelance caricaturist, and the author and illustrator of The Gin Lane Gazette, published by Unbound, £12.99.

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Locating London’s Past wins BSECS digital prize!

bsecs_logoThe British Society for Eighteenth-century Studies has awarded its 2014 prize for the best digital resource supporting eighteenth- century studies to Locating London’s Past.

The judging panel said:

This is a superb new free resource, which applies the latest digital mapping techniques to the study of London. It brings together a range of existing datasets, which are particularly useful for the study of ‘history from below’ – but which will also be of tremendous interest to the full range of disciplines that work on the eighteenth century, including literature, politics, theatre and music, to name but a few. The panel were impressed with the technical advancements represented by the site, but also with how easy it is to use. By making issues of urban space and historical geography so accessible, it promises to change the way that we approach the study of the capital in the eighteenth century.

Locating London's Past logo

(London Lives also won this prize in 2011.)

The prize is sponsored by Adam Matthew Digital.

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Trial of the Day from the OldBaileyBot

You might have recently seen the Mechanical Curator from the British Library Labs project which posts not-quite-random images from BL’s digitised books collections at hourly intervals, and the TroveNewsBot does a similar thing for Trove’s newspaper illustrations.

These inspired me to have a bit of fun with the Old Bailey API. Of course, we don’t have pictures, but we do have plenty of trial reports! And so the #OldBaileyBot has been posting one randomly selected trial every day around lunchtime in the UK at our old Tumblr blog and on the OldBaileyOnline Twitter account.

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CitC Zotero Bibliography

At the Old Bailey Online we use Zotero a lot. We use it for all our site bibliographies, and there is an Old Bailey Online translator so you can gather references into Zotero with a single click. We like it so much we even wrote a guide on how to use it to organise your research.

Over recent months, I’ve also been using Zotero to save blog posts I find that discuss Old Bailey Online/London Lives or use material from the sites. There is so much high-quality blogging out there that I decided it was time to turn it into a Group Library as a sort of companion to this blog. Feel free to go and explore!

OBO Crime in the Community @ Zotero

Later I may add substantial news articles and other online writing that is not formally academic. If you have a Zotero account and would like to be a co-editor, do get in touch with me (

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‘A snake into your chimney-corner’: early modern crime and the extended family

One of the striking things about the crimes described in the Old Bailey cases is the frequency with which they involved violations of ‘family’ trust. Most socio-economic and political interactions still took place on a highly personal level during the long eighteenth century despite the expansion of institutions and mass communication. The lives of the majority of Old Bailey victims, from tradesmen to gentlemen, centered upon the individuals encompassed by ‘family’ as well as diverse social and commercial ‘friends’.

Early modern family was often considered to encompass all of the dependents living in a household, even if the various types of family members were still treated differently. The majority of the shops and workshops of London craftsmen and tradesmen of all stripes were still based in or near the home. Therefore family for many people included not only servants, relatives and long-term guests – but also apprentices and sometimes journeymen and employees. Business partners sometimes lived together as well, especially when one was younger and had married a relative and/or previously been an apprentice or employee of the elder. It was in fact grasping commercial partners about whom Daniel Defoe warned, ‘you bring in a snake into your chimney-corner, which, when it is warmed and grown vigorous… hisses you out of the house’ [Daniel Defoe, The complete English tradesman (1727), 213.].


‘A Family Piece’ after Henry William Bunbury, published by William Dickinson in 1781.

Many of these familial relationships were officially governed by written and oral agreements entered into by householders, including for marriage, the indenture of apprentices, the hiring of servants, and the boarding of relatives. These agreements required them to care for and to guide the individuals involved while receiving ritualized ‘Love and Submission’ in return [Samuel Richardson, The Apprentice’s Vade Mecum: or, Young Man’s Pocket-Companion (1734), 46]. This was of course the ideal rather than the constant reality. Sometimes early modern family members conflicted with each other or even severed their bonds, as when an apprentice ran away from his or her master.

Already in the 1720s, Defoe bemoaned the purported breakdown of the traditional paternalistic relationship between master and apprentice – much as adults of every era have bemoaned the waywardness of contemporary youths. The author described how proper masters should include their apprentices and other shop employees in family prayer, and oversee their leisure time and acquaintances, much as would a parent. He blamed the breakdown of this type of relationship, and the resulting lazy and boorish behaviour on the part of apprentices, on the payment of monetary ‘considerations’ to livery company masters at the time of binding the youths: ‘it gives the servant a kind of a different figure in the family, places him above the ordinary class of servants hired for wages, and exempts him from all the laws of family government [Daniel Defoe, The complete English tradesman (1727), 152].’


Christopher Gibson’s early eighteenth-century upholstery shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, with employees scurrying about; it was probably not so spacious nor so whimsical in real life.

Since an array of individuals beyond relatives by blood and marriage could be installed in the home – including apprentices, employees and servants – there was increased risk of crime there. This included crimes committed against the home or home-based shop by people living on the premises – but also by people who used to do so and were thus familiar with their layouts, contents and security measures. For a quick look at many such crimes, one only has to search for ‘apprentice’ in the court cases.

One heart-breaking aspect of crimes committed or thought to have been committed by apprentices, is that the accused could be very young. For example, a boy was tried on 14 April 1675 for having taken money from and set fires in the house of his master, a linen draper. ‘The Master affirmed that he did prosecute him to no other end but to get a discovery of what persons were accessaries with him, and that should put him upon the Design, as supposing it very unlikely that a young boy about 13 years of Age, should enterprize so mischievous an undertaking of himself’.

On 17 January of the following year, there was the ‘Tryal of a very Young Youth, who was Indicted for Stealing one quarter of a Yard of Silk-Lutestring, and a quarter of a yard of Mascarade from a Taylor, to whom he was a Probationary Apprentice: upon his Indictment he Childishly and Innocently pleaded Guilty to the Fellony: but the Court, by reason of his Youth, ordered him to be brought back to the Barr to plead to his Bill, and he pleaded not Guilty, and was quitted.’


A Troughton sextant of c. 1790, now at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

When it comes to my own research on the ‘scientific’ instrument trade of early modern London, there are a number of instances of current or former apprentices and employees violating the trust of their masters. As I discussed in my blog post for the tenth anniversary of the Old Bailey Online, this sometimes took the form of workmen skimming metal or even partial or whole instruments from the workshop. (This would have occurred even more frequently than is mentioned in the court records, since it usually did not seem worthwhile in terms of time and money for the master to try to pursue the matter in court.)

There are also instances of apprentices or employees having used their knowledge of the family home and shop to aid burglaries. As I first mentioned in the anniversary post, on 17 February 1802 the famed mathematical instrument maker Edward Troughton told an exciting tale of how tried to chase down and bayonet one of the men who broke into the family workshop in Fleet Street. Troughton’s statement lays bare the betrayal that he felt when 28 year-old William Bean made nefarious use of his recent employment with the family:

‘[A]bout this time they brought the prisoner to ask if I knew him; I found the watchman pushing up his face forcibly for me to see it; I called him inadvertently by a wrong name, but finding I knew him, he went down upon his knees, and begged I would forgive him; I would not hear him, but ordered them to carry him to the watch-house; he had been in my service five or six months, and had quitted it about a month or five weeks; he knew the house near as well as I did.’


The infamous thief Jack Sheppard before his fourth escape from Newgate Prison, from the frontispiece of the ‘Narrative’ of his life published in 1724.

One such case actually turned out surprisingly well for the criminal in the end. Anthony Lamb was apprenticed to the mathematical instrument maker Henry Carter near the Strand in 1720, but was convicted at the Old Bailey four years later of having apparently helped the infamous thief Jack Sheppard to burgle one of Carter’s lodgers. He was awaiting hanging at Tyburn with Sheppard when his sentence was commuted to transportation to Virginia for seven years.

Thereafter Lamb moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as an instrument maker and teacher of mathematical subjects – embarking upon what would become one of the most illustrious careers in the colonial American instrument trade. He highlighted his connections to the London trade in his advertisements and said that he made and sold ‘all Sorts of Instruments for Sea or Land, as Compasses, Quadrants, Forestaffs, Nocturnals, Sectors, Protractors, all sorts of Scales, Gauging Rods, and Rules, in Wood, Ivory, Brass, or Silver; also any other small Work by Wholesale or Resale’ [Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 December 1730]. Lamb moved on to New York by 1749, achieving such respectability that when he died 35 years later, The New York Packet called him ‘a steady friend to the liberties of America’ [Silvio Bedini, Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers (2012 ebook), 29].

Image credits: A Family Piece – National Portrait Gallery; Sextant – National Maritime Museum; Gibson shop & Jack Sheppard – Wikimedia Commons.

Alexi Baker, History & Philosophy of Science / CRASSH, University of Cambridge

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Bloody Code: reflecting on ten years of the Old Bailey Online and the digital futures of our criminal past

Early Modern Notes

Talk given at Our Criminal Past: Digitisation, Social Media and Crime History Workshop, London Metropolitan Archives, 17 May 2013

My academic apprenticeship, in Aberystwyth, was spent engrossed in two things: first, early modern Welsh and northern English crime archives, and second, the potential of the Internet for research and teaching and simply opening up early modern history to as many people as possible. That wasn’t a completely respectable interest back in 1999, and I’m still amazed sometimes that I’ve been able to spend I’ve spent the last 7 years indulging shamelessly in that obsession and get paid for it.

But what about the first of my obsessions? A couple of weeks ago, the Financial Times told us that more cranes have been erected in London in the past 3 years than everywhere else in the UK put together. I have a nagging worry that I’ve unwittingly contributed to a…

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