Untold lives blog

55 posts categorized "Crime"

24 March 2017

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours

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The East India Company knew that it was dangerous to employ overseas servants who were xenophobic, lazy, or dishonest.  Indeed the Company was so concerned that it created a ‘Black Book’ to record errors and misdemeanours. 

  Black Book IOR/H/29 Noc

The book which survives in the India Office Records covers the years 1624-1698.  It copies in complaints made in letters received from Company servants in Asia.  Most reports of wrongdoing relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

Company servants had to be careful that in obeying rules set by the directors in London they did not risk alienating the local society hosting them.  Merchants were generally keen to avoid giving offence and tried to discover local protocol before trying to gain access to powerful men. The reports tell us where things went wrong.

Here are a few examples of reported misconduct which affected the Company’s relations with local people in Asia:
• In January 1626/27 Robert Hackwell, master of the Charles,  put two black men to death at Jambi and was discharged from East India Company service for ever.
• Nathaniel Mountney and Thomas Joyce were involved in a fight in 1632: ‘theire heads full fraught with wyne fell out with the Moors & in the fray a moore was slaine’.  Joyce was put in irons for ten days for the offence and only released after a large sum was paid.
• Thomas Nelson, gunner of the Swan, was charged 500 rupees in 1635 for killing a man at Macassar by a bullet carelessly shot into the town.
• In 1642 Humphrey Weston left all the Company’s property at Japara and ran away in fear of his life because he had been consorting with a Javan married woman.
• Richard Hudson’s ‘ill behaviour’ at Masulipatam aroused the local people’s hatred, especially the ‘great ones’.  Hudson had dealt in their grains and taken government duties upon himself.

  IOR H 29IOR/H/29 Noc

Here is the entry in the ‘Black Book’ taken from a letter from Surat in 1686 concerning the conduct of Roger Davis, Captain of the ship East India Merchant. Davis had arrived in Bombay at the time of Richard Keigwin’s rebellion against the Company and had established friendly relations with the rebels. He then fell ill and died, thus removing the problem: ‘Had that naughty man Davis lived, we had for certain protested against him, and should have used the East India Merchant worse than we did’.  Death often did solve disciplinary difficulties for the Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/H/29 East India Company book of servants’ errors and misdemeanours.

21 March 2017

Mary Dorothea Shore – a life brought out of the shadows

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Mary Dorothea Shore was the first wife of East India Company supercargo Thomas Shore whom we met in a recent post. She has been overlooked in narratives of the Shore family and so I should like to bring her out of the shadows.

Mary Dorothea was the daughter of Robert Hawthorn and his wife Dorothy, baptised in London at St Sepulchre Holborn in August 1709. Robert was an apothecary who had served as a surgeon’s mate on HMS Ranelagh.  He died when Mary Dorothea was a baby – his widow was granted probate of his estate in October 1710.

  St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre 1737 - from George Walter Thornbury, Old and New London, London  (1887)   Noc

Dorothy Hawthorn then married an officer in the East India Company’s maritime service named John Shepheard (d.1734). I have found baptisms for two children born to John and Dorothy Shepheard.  Son John was baptised in 1716 at St Alphage London Wall and appears to have died in childhood. Daughter Dorothy was baptised on 13 June 1725 and the register of  St Mary Whitechapel  records that her mother was dead – the burial took place on 17 June.  I wonder who cared for half-sisters Mary Dorothea and Dorothy whilst John Shepheard sailed on long voyages to Asia?

The next event for the family which I have traced is the marriage in 1732 of Mary Dorothea to John Edgell, an officer at Custom House.  John Shepheard gave his step-daughter a marriage portion of £1,000. The Edgells had six children baptised at St Mary Whitechapel: Mary, Priscilla, William, Amelia, and two sons called John who died in infancy. But in 1740 Mary Dorothea and John agreed to separate because of ‘some unhappy differences’. 

On 11 July 1741 John Edgell was admitted to Bethlem Hospital which cared for mental ill health.  He died there on 7 August 1741. His will provided for his children William, Mary, Priscilla and Amelia, but left only one shilling to his wife together with the income from her marriage jointure.  John died owing considerable debts and Mary Dorothea entered into Chancery proceedings to settle her husband’s estate.

The_Hospital_of_Bethlem_(Bedlam)_at_Moorfields _London;_seen_Wellcome_V0013185

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London Wellcome Images

However provision was made for Mary Dorothea by John Shore, East India Company warehouse-keeper and father to supercargo Thomas Shore. It seems that the Shore and Shepheard families had become friends through their Company connection.  John Shore died in October 1741 and his will gave Mary Dorothea £40 a year and possession of his house in Alie Street, Goodman’s Fields, with all the contents, until his ‘beloved’ son Thomas returned to England.

Thomas Shore returned from China in the late summer of 1743.  He was granted probate of his father’s will on 15 August and married Mary Dorothea on 29 August.

In 1745 Mary Dorothea and her half-sister Dorothy Shepheard were living together in Wanstead, Essex, whilst Thomas set off on another voyage to China.  They gave evidence at the Chelmsford trial of Jonathan Byerly who was convicted of breaking into the Shore house at night and stealing a quantity of silver items.  Byerly was sentenced to be hanged.

Mary Dorothea must have died within the next five years, because on 6 September 1750 Thomas Shore married Dorothy Shepheard. Was Mary Dorothea excluded from the Shore family story to avoid drawing attention to the blood relationship between Thomas’s first and second wives?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/L/MAR/B Ship journals for the voyages of John Shepheard and Thomas Shore, and IOR/B East India Company Court of Directors Minutes for the careers of John Shepheard and John and Thomas Shore.
Will of John Shore 1741 - The National Archives  PROB  11/713
Legal papers for the Edgell family - The National Archives C 11/2085/7
Case of Jonathan Byerley - The National Archives  ASSI 94/726

16 October 2016

A Cornish smuggler

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For those of you eagerly awaiting the next episode of Poldark, here is the story of a real Cornish smuggler.



'Smugglers' from Clara L Matéaux, Round and about Old England (London,1876) BL flickr


In June 1801 the Revenue gun-ship Hecate had taken possession of a smuggling lugger laden with spirits which had been run ashore at Mullions in Mounts Bay on the coast of Cornwall.  A boat crew belonging to Hecate was on the lugger when a large party of men began firing muskets at them from the cliff.  Fearing for their lives, the sailors were forced to leave the lugger and take to their boat. The armed men continued to fire, in particular one William Richards alias Payow.  Richards, thought to be part-owner of the lugger or her cargo, absconded afterwards.

The Admiralty in Whitehall issued a notice on 27 October 1801 offering £100 to anyone apprehending or informing against Richard and his accomplices.  The reward was payable on the conviction of the offenders. If any of the smugglers informed against their fellows, they were to be given a royal pardon.  This offer was not extended to Richards, a notorious offender.

A description of Richards’ appearance was circulated to aid his capture. 

‘The said Richards, alias Payow, is about 52 years of age, five feet seven inches high, stout made, dark hair, straight and short; dark complexion, dark grey full eyes, with reddish eye lashes and eye brows: his beard also red, and remarkably thick and large, large mouth, and teeth discoloured; voice sharp and shrill.’

Nothing to rival the charms of Ross Poldark there then.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive Royal Cornwall Gazette 21 November 1801


06 September 2016

Female Felons in the 18th Century

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Calendars of prisoners are ephemeral broadsides that tell us something about individual convicts within the criminal justice system, and we’ve just acquired two fascinating examples from the 18th century.  Essentially these calendars are lists of prisoners who were awaiting regional trials, with a description of the charges against them.  Some were also printed after the trial, recording the sentences given.  The earliest calendars are manuscript records in a mix of Latin and English.  They were printed from the 1730s onwards in English to satisfy local public interest, prevent clandestine imprisonments and forewarn judges of the workload awaiting them at each trial. They continued to be printed until the 1970s.

The first calendar lists prisoners held at Wakefield House of Correction, which was essentially a workhouse.  At the time of printing, these prisoners were awaiting trial at the quarterly sessions (court for petty crimes) in January 1779.  Amongst the men charged with various thefts, assaults, desertions and, memorably, the sale of unstamped almanacs in the case of one Thomas Mosley, the few female convicts stand out.

Hannah Pagett had a one month sentence for “false reeling”.  She produced yarn with a deficient number of threads.  Mary Parker was committed in July 1778.   She served a one year sentence as a “lewd woman, having had three bastard children”.  Ann Ainley was accused of being “an idle and disorderly woman”.  These roughly defined offences were common charges against women in the 18th century.  At least the names of these women have survived; there are two on the list who are, sadly, identified only as “an unknown woman”.  One “cannot give any account of herself” and the other is accused of being “a vagrant, and an idiot”.  It is possible that up to two thirds of prisoners in houses of correction like the one at Wakefield were female.  Beating hemp was the usual form of hard labour.  Whippings and beatings were also commonplace, particularly for those convicted of vagrancy, lewd conduct and night walking (prostitution). 

The second calendar records prisoners in the Castle of York who were trialled at the assizes (court for more serious crimes) in March 1736.  One entry in particular caught my eye.  It says “Walker Margaret, Sutton Katharin, otherwise Mason Katharin, to be transported for seven years”.  The Transportation Act, passed in 1717, established a seven year convict bond service and penal transportation to North America as punishment for minor crimes.  Approximately 50,000 convicts (men, women and children) were transported to North America, an influx that was only plugged by the American Revolution beginning in 1765.  From then on, convicts were transported to Australia.


The Atlantic crossing was perilous; the convicts endured cramped conditions on merchant ships, often in chains.  As on slave ships disease was rife.  If they survived the crossing, and many didn’t, they were forced into hard labour on the tobacco fields.  After serving their sentence some returned to England but many established a new life for themselves in the vast anonymity of North America.  Did Margaret Walker and Katharin Sutton stay in, or even reach, America?  As with the fate of all these women, we’ll probably never know.

These new items will join the three other 18th century calendars of prisoners in the British Library.  We acquire ephemera like these to represent regional printing, the historical experience of the lower and criminal classes, and the diversity of English culture as a whole. 

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
18th century crime and punishment


21 June 2016

‘A Violent Pauper’

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Today we continue our sad story of poverty and destitution in Victorian London by focusing on the Chivers family of Marylebone.

Robert Chivers was working as a painter when he married Elizabeth Moulder at Christ Church Marylebone on 20 August 1865. They lived in Duke Street, a small turning off Lisson Grove in a poor area.  Their son Robert was born in October 1865 and they went on to have three more children: Ann/Annie, William/Willie, and Thomas.

On 21 July 1868 Robert and Elizabeth were admitted to Marylebone Workhouse with Robert aged 3 and Ann aged 9 months. Little Robert was moved to the workhouse school at Southall in Middlesex on 14 August 1868.


  Dore London poor 075459
Inhabitants of London. Image taken from London :a pilgrimage, illustrations by G. Dore Images Online


In January 1869 newspaper articles about Robert Chivers appeared under the headlines ‘A Violent Pauper’ and, with more than a hint of sarcasm, ‘A Model Pauper’.  Robert been taken to court for assaulting workhouse officer James Lockwood who had reprimanded him for not picking oakum properly. Robert complained that he had been insulted when he asked for an additional quantity of oakum to pick.  He had wanted to increase his earnings from 6d for a day’s work in order to support his wife and three small children. Having been unemployed since July 1868, he had asked the parish officers to grant him a few clothes to make him decent to apply for work outside.  His request was turned down because the Chivers family had been in and out of the workhouse for a long time and the overseer thought Robert lazy and sullen.  The jury found Robert guilty but recommended him to mercy because of his family.  He was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction.

Elizabeth Chivers also came into conflict with the workhouse authorities on more than one occasion  In April 1871 she was imprisoned for 21 days for disorderly conduct and using threatening language in the workhouse. The 1871 census shows Robert, Annie and William living at the workhouse school in Southall, and Elizabeth in the workhouse with four-month-old Thomas.  Robert senior seems to have disappeared and I have been unable to discover his whereabouts.

In July 1874 Elizabeth and her children were discharged from the workhouse so they could emigrate to Australia. Their ‘most distressing case of poverty’ was heard before the Melbourne City Bench in December 1874. Elizabeth said her husband had deserted her about four years earlier.  Her sister’s husband had been helping, but he could no longer afford to do so. Elizabeth applied to have her children admitted to the industrial schools but the bench was sympathetic and keen to keep the family together. Thomas was suffering from spinal disease and so he was remanded to the industrial schools for a month for medical treatment.  Elizabeth received £1 for her immediate wants, a charitable subscription was started with a £5 donation by the magistrate, and she was promised that ‘benevolent ladies’ would help her obtain a livelihood.

Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending. Robert, William and Thomas were all living in the industrial schools by April 1875 when Elizabeth was summoned to pay towards their upkeep. The case was dismissed as it was shown that she was unable to contribute anything.  Thomas died in 1878 aged seven.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Post 19 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 19 January 1869; Bell’s Weekly Messenger 23 January 1869; Marylebone Mercury 8 April 1871.
TroveThe Age (Melbourne) 18 December 1874.

Poverty and destitution in Victorian London


01 April 2016

The curious tale of the pigeons in the workhouse

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It’s April Fools’ Day but here on Untold Lives we find it difficult to plant a spoof.  Many of our stories from real life are so strange that readers couldn’t be expected to notice any difference.  So this is the true but curious tale of the pigeons at Marylebone Workhouse.

At a meeting of the Board of Poor Law Guardians for St Marylebone in October 1850, Mr Michie enquired if pigeons were being kept at the workhouse.  Secretary Mr Thorne replied that a number of pigeons had made their home in the workhouse, causing a great nuisance, but they were no longer there.  After the death of James Jones the workhouse master, a member of the parish vestry had asked who owned the pigeons and was told that they belonged to no-one.  The vestryman then sent someone to catch the birds and take them away.  Michie said that the pigeons were valuable and demanded that the vestryman be named.  Thorne revealed him to be Samuel Steele, who was present sitting amongst the ratepayers. 



 L Wright, The Illustrated Book of Pigeons (London, 1874-76) 7295.h.1 p.288 detail Images Online  Noc


Mr Walters observed that the birds removed were carrier pigeons.  Betting and racing books were kept at the workhouse, and gambling took place.  The late master Jones had kept the pigeons to send to the races to bring back speedy news of which horses had won so that safe bets could be made accordingly.  It was claimed that Jones actually died with a racing and betting book in his hand –‘Sensation’ amongst those present!

It was also suggested that, if the pigeons were valuable, that they should have been sold for the benefit of the parish.  The subject was then dropped and the Board dispersed ‘thunderstruck at the extraordinary revelations that had taken place’.

However this was not the end of the story.  At a vestry meeting it was alleged that Samuel Steele had netted 40-50 pigeons at the workhouse and made pies of them for himself and his family.  The inmates of the workhouse, who had fed the pigeons each day and treated them as pets, were very upset when they were removed.  John Wilson was one of the vestrymen who denounced the whole affair as shameful.  He needled Steele by drawing pictures of birds at vestry meetings, with one caricature entitled ‘Sam Steele’s pigeons’. 

Steele vehemently denied the allegations.  He retaliated by going up behind Wilson in the street and inflicting a severe blow to the back of his tormentor’s head.  Wilson struck back hard in defence before the two men were separated. Wilson offered to forget the attack if Steele apologised and put a guinea into the poor box. When Steele declined, Wilson brought a charge of assault against him. 

At Marylebone Police Court Steele offered to make an apology to the public and bench (but not to Wilson) for having committed the first breach of the peace.  Magistrate Robert Broughton decided that Steele must be punished since he had taken the law into his own hands.  He imposed a fine of 40s and costs which Steele paid forthwith. And thus the Marylebone Workhouse ‘pigeon affair’ was brought to a conclusion.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

British Newspaper Archive e.g. London Daily News 8 October 1850; Cheltenham Chronicle 10 October 1850; Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 3 November 1850

27 March 2016

Daddy’s Easter egg – fatal if eaten before a meal

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Happy Easter!  Are you enjoying tucking into those chocolate eggs?  Do you know who gave them to you?  After reading this, you might want to check…



 Easter Eggs courtesy of Clip Art

Our story begins with a dispute over the estate of Annie Holmes of Huntington near York who died on 13 April 1919. A will dated 7 April 1919 named the executor as Mrs Holmes’s brother Thomas Liddle, a farmer of Shiptonthorpe. Francis Holmes, her husband, alleged that the will was a forgery, producing a will dated 2 April 1919 of which he was the executor.  A court ruled in favour of Mr Holmes, and Liddle was referred for trial before York magistrates on a charge of conspiring to forge a will. Peter Oliver and Joseph Dawson, the witnesses to the will, were also prosecuted.

In April 1920, Francis Holmes and six witnesses in the forgery case received packages of chocolates through the post wrapped in telegraph forms. There were messages such as ‘Daddy’s Easter egg; with love’, ‘Grandad’s Easter eggs’, ‘Eat your Easter egg’, and ‘Easter eggs; one for all’.  After dinner on 13 April, John Raper Thompson of Huntington ate one of the chocolates.  He became ill shortly afterwards and developed the symptoms of strychnine poisoning. Doctors said that if he had not consumed a meal just before he ate the sweet he was very likely to have died.  Analysis of the chocolates sent to others revealed half a grain of strychnine in each –potentially a fatal dose.

At the York Assizes in June 1920, Liddell, Oliver and Dawson were found guilty of forging a will and of perjury.  The court moved on immediately to the trial of Liddell for attempted murder by means of the poisoned chocolates.  The jury found him guilty of administering poison with intent to endanger life but acquitted him of attempted murder.  The judge described the chocolate case as ‘outrageous’ and sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude to run concurrently with a five year sentence for forgery and perjury.  Oliver and Dawson each received a sentence of eighteen months without hard labour.

Back to those eggs now. Bon appetit!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading :
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph  11 June 1920;  Gloucestershire Echo 24 June 1920 and 15 July 1920; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 16 July 1920  


21 March 2016

Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!

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In April 2012 I posted a piece about Eliza Armstrong, the young girl involved in W T Stead’s attempt to highlight the scandal of  child prostitution.  I tried to discover what happened to Eliza afterwards and appealed for help.  This is an update - Eliza is still proving to be elusive.

After the Old Bailey trial, Eliza was placed in the Princess Louise Home for the Protection of Young Girls in Wanstead Essex for good schooling and training before going into service. It was reported in the press that she did well at the Home and in June 1886 she was awarded a prize for general good conduct. By June 1889 she had been taken by the matron to ‘a situation with a good family in the country’.

I suggested that Eliza moved to North-East England and married Henry George West. Gavin Weightman has kindly sent me details of this marriage at the Register Office in Newcastle on 24 October 1893. Eliza Armstrong is aged 21 like our Eliza, but her father’s name is given as William Armstrong house carpenter, not Charles Armstrong chimney sweep.  However the 1901 census states that Eliza West was born in Edgware Road London – very close to Charles Street where our Armstrongs lived.  Is this just a coincidence? I have searched for an Eliza Armstrong born about 1872 to a William Armstrong in the Edgware Road area who could have married West in 1893 but have drawn a blank so far.  Can anyone do better?

Newspapers published a number of stories about Eliza’s family after she went away. In February1886 her father Charles was found guilty and fined for assaulting Ellen Jones a neighbour who appeared in court with ‘a fearfully discoloured eye and swollen cheek’. He claimed that her injuries were the result of her falling over his door mat when drunk. 

Armstrong Charles

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case, although the name plate says ‘W. ARMSTRONG SWEEP’ -  Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886. Taken from British Newspaper Archive.


Six months later Eliza’s 12 year-old brother John aged was arrested for begging in the Edgware Road. He said he wanted money to go to the music hall. His mother Elizabeth said he was a bad boy. She had beaten him, kept him without clothes and sometimes without food, but nothing made him behave. John was taken to Paddington workhouse.

Elizabeth Armstrong was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment in August 1888 for being drunk and disorderly and for assault. She had struck Ellen Tuley of Charles Street with a sweep’s broom and kicked Police Constable Nicholas. Her defence claimed the Armstrongs had been subjected to systematic annoyance ever since the Stead case. Charles was so affected that he had lost his reason and was in Marylebone Infirmary.  Workhouse records describe how Charles was hearing spirit voices and seeing imaginary objects. He was declared insane on 4 August 1888 and taken to Colney Hatch Asylum where he died in 1890.

In July1897, Elizabeth applied to Marylebone Police court for news of her 16 year-old son Charles whose period of five years’ detention at Macclesfield Industrial School had recently ended. Having corresponded regularly and affectionately, his letters had suddenly ceased the previous December when he had said was keen to come home to help her.  The magistrate promised to investigate. And so shall I – another Armstrong mystery!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Sheffield Independent 12 December 1885; Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886; Cardiff Times 14 August 1886;   London Evening Standard 4 June 1886; London Evening Standard  3 August 1888; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 9 Jun 1889; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 11 July 1897.

St Marylebone Workhouse papers relating to Charles Armstrong’s detention are held at London Metropolitan Archives.