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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Inquiring readers, Susannah Fullerton lives in Australia, a land Down Under, which at this moment is experiencing spring, that blessed season. Recent articles on this blog have referred to her book, “Jane Austen & Crime,” first published in 2004. Susannah presents yet more historical information from her knowledge of this era. Much of the information in this post was new to me.

On a hot Australian summer morning in February, 1844, a man was led forth, closely guarded, from the impressive gates of Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney. It was 9 o’clock in the morning, but already 10,000 people had gathered in the public square in front of the prison, eager to watch the last moments of the condemned man. He was praying as he walked and “appeared to be deeply sensible of the awful position in which he stood. A dark and frowning eternity began to press itself with fearful force upon his mind, while his apparently sincere cries for mercy became more and more earnest as the tragic scene drew on.” He was given a chance to speak some last words to the two clergymen who were present, and then he mounted the scaffold. The noose was placed around his neck, and the man “was launched into another world”.  Church bells tolled his passing nearby. The huge crowd, which included women and children, watched silently, awed by the solemnity of the spectacle and, after the body was cut down and removed to within the prison, they quietly walked away. The event was widely reported the next day in Sydney newspapers, so those who had been unable to attend, could read all about it there.

Image of A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

A hanging outside Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney

Jane Austen had died more than 25 years before this horrid event. What possible connection could there be between this man, and the great novelist? Well, his name was John Knatchbull and he was the half-brother of the Edward Knatchbull who married Jane Austen’s favourite niece Fanny Austen Knight. Edward and John’s father, Sir Edward Knatchbull, had twenty children by his three different wives.  Fanny’s family and the Knatchbull family, also from Kent, had known each other for some years before her marriage with Edward united them, and it is quite possible that Jane could have heard something of the ‘difficult’ son of the family. 

John Knatchbull was probably born in 1793 (he was baptized in January of that year) in Kent. As a schoolboy he displayed “vicious inclinations” and when he joined the Navy, he soon found himself treated with contempt by fellow officers, and in financial difficulties. To pay what he owed, he indulged in petty frauds and in 1824 he was tried for the theft of two sovereigns and a blank cheque form. That was enough in value to see him hanged in England, but the judge was lenient on the young man and instead sent him to Botany Bay, the dumping ground for England’s unwanted criminals. John Knatchbull was sentenced to remain in Australia for 14 years before being permitted to return to England. His Kentish family was relieved to be rid of him.

Image of John Knatchbull

The family black sheep failed to behave any better once he was in Australia. In 1831 he was sentenced to death for forgery. But once more the sentence was commuted, this time to seven years of penal servitude on Norfolk Island, about the grimmest place a convict could be sent. In his time on Norfolk Island John took part in two mutinies and tried to poison with arsenic the food prepared for the guards. However, by 1839 he was back in Sydney. In 1844 John Knatchbull was planning to marry, but he needed money. Returning to his brutal ways, he stole from a shopkeeper Ellen Jamieson, then killed her by hacking at her skull with a tomahawk. Her two children were left orphaned and her murderer, who tried to make a plea of insanity, was described by the judge as “a wretch of the most abominable description”.  This time there was no leniency and John Knatchbull was sentenced to hang. Darlinghurst Gaol is still there today (though an art college, not a prison, now does business behind its high stone walls). The square where the 1844 hanging occurred is named Green Square, not for the colour of the grass that grows there but because Mr Green was the name of the hangman.

Image of the Gates of Darlinghurst Gaol

Had Jane Austen still been alive, no doubt she and Fanny would have discussed the shameful story and its horrific outcome. Both women were aware that another member of their family could also have ended up in the Antipodes. Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot had been at serious risk of a trip to Botany Bay, when she was accused of shop-lifting in Bath in 1799. Incarcerated for some months in Ilchester Gaol, Mrs Leigh Perrot had defended herself vigorously and, at her trial, she was acquitted. However, she knew a journey to Australia was highly probable and made plans that her husband James would accompany her if she was sent there. The entire Austen family must, at this worrying time, have speculated about what life in the colony would be like for their relations.

Jane Austen was interested in prisons. In 1813 she visited Canterbury Gaol with her brother Edward, who had to visit the institution as part of his duties as a magistrate. This was a most unusual thing for a Regency lady to do. My book Jane Austen and Crime explains what sort of institution she saw there. Jane Austen’s interest in punishment and imprisonment went into her next novel, Mansfield Park, a novel that is rich in prison imagery and a book that examines various types of imprisonment in its themes.

 

 

Photo of the gaol in Canterbury visited by Jane AustenThe gaol in Canterbury, visited by Jane Austen

Anyone who lived in Britain’s Georgian era must have had a strong awareness of crimes and punishments. Hangings, time in the pillory, and other punishments were very public events. Trials were short and brutal, prisons were being much discussed and were undergoing huge changes, and yet some crimes such as smuggling and poaching were regarded much more leniently by the general public. I started to write my book on crimes in Jane Austen’s world and fiction when a bus on which I was travelling stopped by Darlinghurst Gaol and I began to reflect on the Knatchbull story and to wonder what actually constituted a crime in Austen’s day? Was elopement to Gretna Green a crime? What about Maria’s adultery with Henry Crawford – how did the law regard such behaviour? Which of Jane Austen’s characters commit hanging offences, and how does her juvenilia reflect her interest in criminal activity? Which of her characters work as magistrates, who are the lawyers in her fiction, and how did she regard such crimes as duelling and gambling? The result of that moment on a bus was, some years later, my book. Claire Tomalin was kind enough to describe it as “essential reading for every Janeite”. I found it fascinating to see Jane Austen’s world and fiction through the lens of crime – I hope you enjoy and learn from it too.

Photo of Susannah FullertonAbout Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia: Susannah Fullerton is a Canadian-born Australian author and literary historian. She has been president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia since 1996, which is the largest literary society in Australia.

Image of the book cover of Jane Austen & Crime by Susannah FullertonIf you would like to buy Jane Austen and Crime, it is available from https://susannahfullerton.com.au/bookshop/ (signed copies on request) 

 

You are welcome to sign up to Susannah’s free monthly newsletter, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’. To sign up, email susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au and

your name will be entered in a draw ON DECEMBER 20TH to win one of the following prizes:
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullterton.
  • An additional copy of the book from Vic Sanborn for U.S. and Canadian citizens.
  • A 1-year subscription to ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, an exciting programme of zoom / video talks which will take you around the world with 12 fabulous novels.
  •  1 video talk of your choice from Susannah’s website
Please quote the password KNATCHBULL to have your name entered in the draw for prizes.
To join in the fun with ‘Tea with a Book Addict’, visit https://susannahfullerton.com.au/tea-with-a-book-addict/ 

Image of Tea with a Book Addict and travel the world with great books with Susannah Fullerton

Other posts by Susannah Fullerton on this blog:

Readers: all other posts by Susannah on this blog and her writings about Jane Austen can be found at this link that tag her name: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/susannah-fullerton/

 

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, has contributed a post for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character. He has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Arrest of a woman at night, 1800. Thomas Rowlandson. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Apart from the Bow Street Runners in London there was no organised police force in 18th Century England. The capture and prosecution of criminals was largely left to their victims to deal with. Every parish was obliged to have one or two constables, but they were unpaid volunteers working only in their spare time. A victim of crime who wanted a constable to track down and arrest the perpetrator was expected to pay the expenses of their doing so.

Sometimes victims of crime hired a thief-taker to pursue the wrong-doer. Again, they were private individuals working much like latter day bounty hunters. Sometimes, thief-takers would act as go-betweens, negotiating the return of stolen goods for a fee. Many though were corrupt, actually initiating and organising the original theft in order to claim the reward for the return of goods, or extorting protection money from the criminals they were supposed to catch.

Covent Garden watchhouse. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

For the most part, unless a criminal was “caught in the act” (probably) by their intended victim it was unlikely they would be brought to justice. In the absence of a police force, the maintenance of “Law and Order” therefore came to depend more on deterrence rather than apprehension and the harshest penalty of all came to cover more and more crimes. In 1799 there were 200 offences that carried the death penalty, including the theft of items with a monetary value that exceeded five shillings.

In practice, judges and juries often recognised the barbarity of the punishment in relation to the crime. Juries might determine that goods were over-priced and bring their value down below the five shilling threshold. Defendants might claim “benefit of clergy” which by virtue of stating religious belief and reading out an oath allowed the judge to exercise leniency. In other cases the Government could review the sentence. Between 1770 and 1830, 35,000 death sentences were handed down in England and Wales, but only 7000 executions were actually carried out.

Milliners shop, after Henry Kingsbury

On the 8th August 1799, Jane Leigh-Perrot was accused of stealing a card of white lace from a millinery shop in Bath. The Leigh-Perrots, a wealthy couple, were Jane Austen’s mother’s brother and sister-in-law (Jane’s Uncle and Aunt). The white lace valued at £1 was found in Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s possession together with a card of black lace that she had bought and paid for from the same shop. Mrs Leigh-Perrot denied stealing the lace, saying that the sales clerk must have given it her by mistake when he handed over her purchase. She was nevertheless arrested on a charge of “grand theft” and the lace she was said to have stolen was worth four times the five shillings that carried the death sentence.

Jane Cholmeley Perrot, aka Jane Austen’s Aunt Perrot

In practice it was unlikely (given her standing) that if she had been found guilty she would have been sentenced to death. The alternatives, however, included branding or transportation to the Australian Colonies with the prospect of forced labour for 14 years. Jane Leigh-Perrot was refused bail and committed to prison on the sworn depositions of the shopkeeper. Due to her wealth, social standing and age she was allowed to stay in the house of the prison keeper, Mr Scadding, at the Somerset County Gaol in Ilchester, rather than being kept in a cell. Mrs Leigh-Perrot still wrote though that she suffered ‘Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from morning till night’. James Leigh-Perrot insisted on remaining with her in prison.

Mr James Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

During her trial Jane Leigh-Perrot spoke eloquently for herself. Several testimonials as to her character were also read out to the court. At the conclusion of the trial the jury took only 10 minutes to find her “Not Guilty.” It does, however, make you wonder how someone less well refined, less well-connected, less eloquent, less educated, less wealthy might have fared. The evidence of her guilt, might have been quite sufficient to send someone else to the gallows, or transported, or branded with a hot iron. She was after all caught in possession of the item and identified by the shop-keeper. In “Persuasion” Captain Harville asks Anne Elliot, ‘But how shall we prove anything?’ Anne replies, ‘We never shall.’

Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

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Vendors set up their carts and booths hours before execution time, doing a roaring trade selling food, drink, souvenirs, even pornographic material, to a frenzied crowd. Minstrels and jugglers entertained the crowd. With the advent of cheap printing in the 16th and 17th centuries, touts created lurid “broadsheets” detailing the supposed history and scandalous crimes of the victim, the precursors to modern day tabloids. These “broadsheets” sold like hotcakes to an excited audience. – The History of Executions in Olde London Towne– Roy Stevenson

Detail of an execution broadside purchased March 5, 1817. Image @Harvard Law School Library


Life was cheap in Georgian England as this 1817 broadside attests. Five criminals were executed in March 1817 for forgery, burglary, and robbery. Poor Elizabeth Fricker protested her innocence, but to no avail.  Executions were public events, even during Jane Austen’s day, and one wonders if she ever saw a body left to rot on a gibbet, or if she cautiously avoided such sights and averted her eyes.  In any event, crowds would gather early at the execution spot to witness the hanging. They came in droves especially if the execution was of a notorious person.

Vendors set up stalls, selling drinks and refreshments to the large crowd, which, as the Hogarth illustration shows, were stacked on top of each other. The atmosphere must have been festive and somber at the same time, for even though there were jugglers and entertainers to amuse the crowd, a certain “execution” protocol was followed. Criminals were expected to speak to the crowd and to die well.

Broadsides, which were purchased for a pittance (in this instance a penny) described the crimes in detail, and were purchased much like programs to sporting events are purchased today.  Read the entire broadside here. This particular broadside was printed by J. Pitts of Seven Dials. Like other broadsides, it featured an illustration of the execution. Someone (the purchaser?) carefully penned in the date below the image.

Hogarth, 1747. Image @Wikimedia

Persistent Link to the Broadside:
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HLS.Libr:1087957
Description:
Executions of criminals: more generally known by the uninviting name of “Dying speeches.”. Execution broadside (Andrew Savage, Ben Savage, Thomas Cann, William Kelly, Elizabeth Fricker, James Baker, James Gates)
Page:
(seq. 11)
Repository:
Harvard Law School Library
Institution:
Harvard University
Accessed:
09 June 2011

Other related links:

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Inquiring Readers: Lynn Shepherd, author of  Murder at Mansfield Park, has written this guest post. She lives in in Berkshire, England, with her husband Simon. Murder at Mansfield Park is her first novel, but she’s been a professional copywriter for the last ten years. Going freelance in 2000 gave her the time she needed to see if she could make a dream into a reality. Ten years and two and a half unpublished novels later, it’s finally happened…

There were two big challenges in writing Murder at Mansfield Park, and they’re summed up in the title of the book. The first was creating an accurate and convincing version of Jane Austen’s own language and idiom, and the second (and in many ways the most fun) was producing an authentic Regency murder mystery.

When I started writing, I didn’t know very much about how a violent (and extremely aristocratic) killing would have been investigated in 1811, when the novel is set. I knew there was nothing we would now recognise as a police force –London didn’t get its first ‘bobbies’ until 1829, and the provinces were much later. But as I did more and more research, I realised that people who’d been the victims of a violent crime had precious few alternatives open to them – as one historian has said, the system at the time was extraordinarily ‘fragmented and inept’. There were the parish constables, of course, but this was often little more than an honorary position, and the elderly men who invariably performed the role would have been little or no use faced with a serious crime like rape or murder. So if you didn’t catch the perpetrator red-handed, your only real options were to post a reward for information in the local newspaper, or pay – very handsomely – for someone to conduct an investigation on your behalf.

This is where the ‘thief takers’ came in: private citizens functioning, in effect, as licensed bounty hunters. The profession – if we can call it that – dates back to the 17th century, when Parliament set a scale of ‘no win, no fee’ rewards for the apprehension of ‘most wanted’ criminals, such as coiners or highwaymen. At that time catching a highwayman was worth £40, and you also got to keep his money, weapons, and horse. Thief takers operated in the shadowy world between the criminals and the law, negotiating between thieves and their victims to return stolen goods for a fee (hence the name). The most famous and infamous of them all was the self-styled ‘Thief Taker General of England and Ireland’, Jonathan Wild, who dominated London’s criminal underworld in the early 1720s. He set up an office where victims of robbery could register the details of their lost possessions, which Wild would then undertake to recover. But what many of his clients didn’t realise was that Wild was also running a very lucrative sideline as a receiver of stolen goods, so more often than not he either had their missing property himself already, or knew who did.

It may sound like nice work if you can get it, but thief taking was a notoriously dangerous undertaking – by the time he was hanged in 1725, Wild had two skull fractures and a plate in his head, and had survived having his throat cut. Wild’s notorious career was one of the main reasons why the thief taking system became so unpopular with more law-abiding citizenry – many people felt it caused more crime than it solved, and some thief takers even became ‘thief makers’ by encouraging gullible men to commit crimes, and then informing on them and claiming the reward. But the bald fact was that English criminal justice couldn’t function without them – they got results even if their methods didn’t bear too much scrutiny.

It was this growing public dissatisfaction with the whole thief taking system that led directly to the founding of the Bow Street Runners in 1748. If Tom Jones is Henry Fielding’s great achievement as a novelist, the Runners were the equivalent for his career as a magistrate. Fielding started out as a group of half a dozen ‘official’ thief takers, who he would send out to track down and arrest culprits when a crime was reported. They would often travel across the country in pursuit of their quarries, and some occasionally got involved in solving crimes on the outskirts of London – in the 1780s half a dozen Runners were involved in arrests in Essex, and a Runner called Patrick McManus made £24 from 4 arrests (up to £2,500 in today’s money).

Lynn Shepherd, Author

Thanks largely to the establishment of the Runners, detection became a lot more professional in the second half of the 18th century. By the 1780s they had developed the sort of techniques we would recognize today, including interrogating witnesses, examining crime scenes, and checking alibis. They’re also known to have used ID parades, and to have traced offenders through lodging house receipts, or vehicle registration numbers! One of the more celebrated Runners, Charles Jealous, was even said to be able to tell country mud from city mud on a highwayman’s boots.

My Charles Maddox is a former Runner who’s set up a (very lucrative) business on his own account. He’s also a man very much after Jealous’s heart – more like a modern private investigator, than a thief taker in the strict sense of the term. All the same, he has a very different background and ethical code from the fine folk at Mansfield Park, and bursts upon the elegant Austen landscape with all the force of an asteroid hit…

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Giving alms to debtors in Fleet prison, Rowlandson

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Image Source, Georgian England, Richardson.

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George Barrington, Convicts Arriving at Botany Bay

In the Regency Underworld, written by Donald A. Low, there is a detailed and poignant description of the thousands of poor young boys and girls encouraged to thieve for a living by corrupt and older individuals. Many tiny, but hardened criminals that were caught were transported to penal servitude in Botany Bay in Australia, but many were sentenced to death while still in their teens. In some ways, today’s children in third world countries lead very similar lives.

Thomas Vance, a magistrate from the Union hall police office, whose district include Bermondsey, Brixton, Tooting, and Vauxhall, claimed that many children were deserted by their parents, or badly neglected; poverty was partly to blame, p. 59.

Philip Holdsworth, Marshal of London, responded to this question by Grey Bennet’s committee:

What are the offences that are principally committed by the children? —

Picking pockets; taking things off, on their hands and knees, from shops, such as haberdashers and linen-drapers,; in the winter-time, with a knife at the corner of the glass starring it, and taking things out, which has occasioned the tradespeople having so many guard irons; but still there are shops not so guarded, and they can find opportunities of continually robbing: Boys upon all occasions, when there is any thing which excites a crowd, are very active, and many of them extermely clever; they are short and active, and are generally attended by men, p 60.

To read more on the topic, go to:

Crime and Punishment in Durham, 1750-1900

The History of Crime in England, 1550-1914

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“The Bow Street Runners were the earliest form of detective force operating from the courts to enforce the decisions of magistrates… In 1763 John Fielding introduced the Bow Street horse patrol to make the highways around London safer. Funding lasted for only 18 months. He also became responsible for street lighting and lamp posts in an eighteenth century initiative similar to more modern moves to link street lighting with crime prevention.” Click here for more on this topic.

“One other action which brought about a reduction in crime was the revival in 1805 of the Bow Street Horse Patrol. This consisted of about sixty men whose duty it was to protect travellers on the principal roads whithin sixty miles of London. They were selected with care, and many had previously served in a cavalry regiment. On the main roads, as far out as Epsom, Romford, Enfield and Windsor they created confidence with their clearly spoken greeting, ‘Bow Street Patrol.’ Their single most successful achievement was to rid Houndslow Heath of highwaymen.” From The Regency Underworld, by Donald A. Low.

Quoted from: The Bow Street Runners, Devon and Constabulatory Site:

“When Henry Fielding retired, his half-brother Sir John Fielding took over at Bow Street Court. Sir John had been blind since birth and was known as ‘The Blind Beak’, but despite being blind he was reputed to have known over 3,000 criminals by the sound of their voices. Sir John formed the Bow Street Horse Patrol, men armed with truncheon, cutlass and pistol. These men patrolled London in an area within six miles of Charing Cross and became a familiar sight in their leather hats, blue coats with brass buttons, blue trousers and boots. They too were very successful at their job and eventually rid London of highwaymen. The government decided that they were no longer needed so the Horse Patrol was disbanded – with the result that the Highwaymen returned!”

More about Bow Street Runners

Book Reviews: High and Low in Regency England

Policing in London Before the Bobbies

The History of Policing: The Bow Street Runner

More about Bow Street Runners on the Jane Austen’s World site

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Bow Street Runners

According to The Proceedings of the Old Bailey,

In order to encourage victims to report crimes, magistrates in both the City of London and Middlesex established “rotation offices” in the 1730s where Londoners could be certain of finding a magistrate present at fixed hours. One of these was set up in Bow Street, near Covent Garden, by Sir Thomas De Veil in 1739. ”

In 1748, Henry and John Fieldings introduced a new practice of capturing thieves by

“employing thief-takers as “runners” who, when a crime was reported, could be sent out by the magistrates to detect and apprehend the culprit. Thief-takers, such as William Pentlow, made a living out of the fees they charged for their services and the rewards they obtained from victims for identifying suspects and from the state for successful convictions.”

Click here for The Proceedings of the Old Bailey. This impressive website is a”fully searchable online edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing accounts of over 100,000 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.”

Find more on Bow Street Runners here.

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