Untold lives blog

106 posts categorized "Crime"

23 November 2022

The Attempted Assassination of Lord Lytton: A Letter’s Story

Archivists respect ‘provenance’ and ‘original order’, which means that documents created by the same person, organisation, or institution stay together, and you don’t mix or rearrange them because you think it might make material more ‘useable’.  But documents often have their own story to tell.  I recently came across one such letter in the India Office records from Viceroy Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird.

Photographic portrait of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton - bearded, seated, dressed in long frock coat. Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 1876 NPG x197471 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl Lytton was Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880.  It was a controversial term of office.  On the domestic front, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) provoked public protests against the Government’s attempts to control a critical Indian Press.  The Second Anglo-Afghan War was underway, absorbing considerable political and economic resources.  And famine raged across large swathes of India for the first three years of Lytton’s tenure, the disaster of drought exacerbated by a poor Government response to famine relief and the continued export of grain.  Estimates vary, but 10 million people may have died of starvation and its associated diseases.  James Caird was part of the Indian Famine Commission set up to look at ways to prevent and avoid future famines.

Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879 Page of letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 12 December 1879, f2v & f3r  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Our letter, dated 12 December 1879, was a private rather than official piece of correspondence, sent from Government House Calcutta to Caird’s London address.  It remained in the Caird family until gifted to the India Office in 1924 as part of a larger collection of correspondence to and from James Caird, which also included material relating to the Famine Commission.  The material was gratefully received, given the shelf-mark Home Miscellaneous 796 (IOR/H/796), and catalogued.  But this particular letter was deliberately removed and placed in the care of the Political and Secret Department.

Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department in 1924Document recording transfer of letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird to Political and Secret Department, 1924  -IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Amongst other business, the letter describes an assassination attempt against Lytton.  Arriving in Calcutta, Lytton tells Caird: ‘I daresay you will see it stated in the newspapers that I was twice fired at on my way from the Station to Government House’.  He is dismissive, both of the assassination attempt, and of the person making it, saying ‘But the shots were fired by a lunatic Eurasian; and I can assure you that they had not the smallest political significance’.  Lytton’s language is distasteful, not only towards his would-be assassin, but also towards the wider Indian inhabitants of Bengal (‘Bengalee Baboos’) who he describes as ‘disloyal’, including those belonging to the British Indian Association.  Lytton does not name his attacker, but he is identified in the press as George Dessa or De Sa. The newspapers state that his shots had ‘…created indignation but no excitement…it seems doubtful as to whether the man was mad or only drunk’.  His motive is not deemed to be political, but rather that he acted because he had been dismissed from his job.

Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880Report of the assassination attempt on Lytton in Homeward Mail 5 January 1880 British Newspaper Archive


India Office staff in 1924 do not explicitly state the reason for the letter’s removal, but we can surmise that as it refers to an assassination attempt against the Viceroy, it was deemed to be too politically sensitive to remain with the other items.  Lytton’s provocative language may also have been an issue, given the context of rising Indian nationalism within the sub-continent, and the political instabilities in Britain in the 1920s.  Whatever the reasons behind its original removal, improved cataloguing of our records enables us to intellectually link our letter back to its original collection, telling its history along the way.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/19/570: Letter from James Caird to Lord Lytton, 1879.
IOR/H/796: Correspondence of Sir James Caird, Member of the Indian Famine Commission. 1878-1881.
IOR/L/PS/11/247, P 2688/1924: Letter from Lord Lytton to Sir James Caird, transferred to Political and Secret Department.
The Times of India 16 December 1879 & The Homeward Mail 5 January 1880, accessed via British Newspaper Archive.
IOR/L/PARL/2/173/2: Condition of India. Report by James Caird, C.B. (C.2732). 1880.
Various correspondence between James Caird and the India Office in relation to his Condition of India report can be found at IOR/L/E/6/13, File 705; IOR/L/E/6/11, File 538; IOR/L/E/6/26, File 424; IOR/L/E/6/2, File 59; and IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1164.
Papers of 1st Earl of Lytton, Viceroy of India, Mss Eur F595 and Mss Eur E218.

 

23 August 2022

Robert Hubert and the Great Fire of London

Shortly after midnight on Sunday 2nd September 1666, a fire broke out at a bakery in Pudding Lane. In the days that followed, the fire proceeded to destroy around 80 percent of the old City of London. 

Etching and aquatint with hand-colouring showing the destruction of buildings by the Fire of London in 1666THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON IN THE YEAR 1666, W Birch, 1792, Maps K.Top.21.65.b, via BL Flickr CommonsPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Robert Hubert (c. 1640-1666), the son of a Rouen watchmaker, later confessed to starting the fire. He was indicted at the Middlesex sessions on 16 September 1666 and imprisoned at the White Lion prison in Southwark. Just over a month later, he would be executed for a crime that he did not commit.

Alongside his alleged accomplice, Stephen Peidloe, Hubert claimed to have created a crude fire grenade by placing gunpowder, brimstone and other flammable material onto the end of a pole and pushing it through the open window of the bakery on Pudding Lane. The only supporting evidence for Hubert's confession lay in his ability to go to the site of the bakery and to describe its appearance. His claim that he pushed a fireball through a window was entirely falsified, as even the owner of the bakery maintained that it had no windows. Later, the testimony of the captain of the ship on which Hubert sailed from Sweden would further prove his innocence, by confirming that Hubert had not arrived in England until two days after the fire started.

Evelyn's annotation on Hubert's letter: 'I thinke this was the Father of the villain [that] was hanged for setting fire on London 1666'. Evelyn's annotation on Hubert's letter, Add MS 78316, f 8v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Yet in the Evelyn papers held at the British Library, we see that contemporary writer, diarist and horticulturalist John Evelyn possibly still held Hubert responsible for the conflagration. Evelyn made copious annotations of his letters in later life, and on the reverse of a letter written to him by one Estienne Hubert, written in 1650, Evelyn noted

'I thinke this was the Father of the villain [that] was hanged for setting fire on London 1666'. 

Evelyn was not  alone in his belief that Hubert had deliberately and maliciously started the fire. As a foreigner, Hubert became an easy target for those seeking to explain away the many misfortunes that befell the city in the mid-17th century. Despite the fact that both he and his family were known to be Protestant, Hubert can be seen depicted on the frontispiece to Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works (1667), an anonymous work suggested that the Fire had been deliberately started by Catholic arsonists, acting on the instructions of the Pope.

Frontispiece to 'Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works - Hubert exchanges a hand grenade with a Jesuit priestFrontispiece to 'Pyrotechnica Loyalana, Ignatian Fire-Works' (1667), British Museum 1868,0808.13197, © The Trustees of the British Museum. [Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0]

In the etching above, Hubert exchanges a hand grenade with a Jesuit priest labelled 'Pa.H'. It has been suggested that this may refer to Harcourt, a notable Jesuit priest who would later be arrested and committed to Newgate Prison on the charge of complicity in the fictitious Titus Oates plot to kill the king. A gallows is depicted behind the pair, indicative of Hubert's fate.

Although Hubert's confession was fraught with contradictions and the authorities largely accepted that the fire was an accident, Hubert had confessed to the crime and was therefore hanged at Tyburn on 27 October 1666. Hubert's motives for confessing remain as mysterious today as they were to the authorities present at his trial, although there is some evidence to suggest that the young man was suffering from mental illness. Several witnesses remarked on Hubert's state of mind during his trial, and it was Lord Chancellor Clarendon's opinion that he was a 'poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it this way'.

Rachel Clamp
PhD Placement Student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading
Stephen Porter, ‘Farriner, Thomas (1615/16?-1670), baker’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 
Tinniswood, Adrian, By Permission of Heaven (London, 2011)

 

14 June 2022

Mary Day: Pardoning of a Poisoner

In April 1777 Mary Day was indicted, arraigned and convicted of petty treason and murder at Madras.  She was found guilty of administering a poisoned drink to her husband Thomas Day, a sergeant with the East India Company, who had subsequently become ill and died.  Two accomplices - John Pybus, a cooper in the Company’s employ and Sheik Mucktoom - were also found guilty of murder as they were said to have both procured the poison or caused it to be procured.  This was a capital crime, and all three were sentenced to death by hanging.  For Mary Day, worse could have befallen her – the sentence on the statute book for a woman convicted of killing her husband was to be burned at the stake.

Government House Madras 1795Government House, Fort St George, Madras by Thomas Daniell, 1795 (shelfmark P944) - Plate nine from the second set of Thomas and William Daniell's Oriental Scenery.

However, records show that the Justices weren’t convinced of the trio’s guilt.  The execution was postponed while the Madras Government wrote to the Directors of the East India Company giving the facts in the case, in the hope that they would petition the King for a pardon.  The copy of the petition to His Majesty is full of the details.  It wasn’t clear that Thomas Day had actually been poisoned at all.  The surgeon who attended him during his illness stated that Day's symptoms could have been caused by ‘acrid bile’.  He also tasted a white powder which had been given to the deceased but could not be certain that it was ‘mineral poison'.  The main evidence against Mary Day was apparently her own confession, obtained 'under an implied promise that if she confessed she should be most favourably dealt with'.  Sheik Mucktoom (sometimes given as Muktoon) was convicted after having allegedly confessed to an unnamed person that he had procured the poison - a confession which he vehemently denied in Court.  There was even less evidence again John Pybus: it was said that there was 'no legal Evidence given upon the said Tryal to charge him'.

Extract from the minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors, 16 September 1778 approving the draft of a petition to the King about the three found guilty of murder.Extract from the minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors, 16 September 1778 IOR/B/94 p.227 

The wheels of justice certainly moved slowly for the convicted.  A letter was not sent to the Directors until 5 February 1778, the delay no doubt influenced by the various political and administrative machinations in Madras in 1776-77, which included the Governor Lord Pigot being deposed and his successor and colleagues accused of murder.  The letter urged haste, as 'the unhappy Convicts… have already been several Months lingering in Confinement'.  It took six months for the letter to arrive in London; it was finally received on 6 August 1778.   The East India Company Court of Directors approved a draft of a petition on 16 September 1778, which was sent to the King on 23 September 1778.  Finally, a free pardon was approved at the Court of St James’s on 24 October 1778.  Almost two years after being found guilty by a jury in Madras, the pardon was finally dispatched from London on 18 February 1779.  It can only be assumed that during that time Mary Day, John Pybus and Sheik Mucktoom remained in prison.

And there the story ends. I have not yet been able to trace any further reference to the three convicted ‘poisoners’ in the records.  Perhaps evidence will emerge that proves that they were freed and went on to live long and happy lives.  If anyone knows more, we would love you to get in touch.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading
IOR/E/4/308, f.7: Letters Received from Madras. 7 December 1777-21 January 1780: Letter to Court of Directors, 5 February 1778, requesting pardon.
IOR/B/94, p.227: Court Minutes. 8 April 1778-14 April 1779: Minutes of 16 September 1778. 'The Draught of a Petition to his Majesty for the Pardon of Mary Day, John Pybus and Shief Mucktoom who were capitally convicted at Fort St George in April 1777 was read and approved'.
IOR/H/141, ff.407-409: East Indies Series 49 (Home papers): Copy of the Company’s petition to the King, 23 September 1778.
India Office Private Papers Mack Gen 67/13, pp.267-268: Book of Abstract Letters from England No. 2 Public Department: 'The King’s free pardon to Mary Day, widow of Sergeant Thomas Day, John Pybus and Sheikh Muktoon, a native of India, from the sentence of death passed on them for poisoning Thomas Day'. Court of St James’s, 24 October 1778.
IOR/E/4/868, p.348: Despatches to Madras (Original Drafts). 1778-1779: Letter from Court of Directors to Madras dated 18 February 1779, answering letter of 5 February 1778 above and enclosing pardon.

07 June 2022

Sensationalism on steroids: The London Monster

Between 1788 and 1790, a sensational news story hit the headlines: a monster was stalking the streets of London.  The mysterious culprit picked women at random and stabbed them in the thigh or buttocks with a plethora of sharp objects, from knives to pins.  Sometimes he invited his victim to smell a small bunch of flowers and stabbed her with a weapon hidden in the blooms.  He always escaped before help arrived.  The press soon gave him the notorious nickname ‘The Monster’.

Coloured print of a man stabbing a woman entitled A Representation of Rhynick alias Renwick Williams  commonly called The MonsterA Representation of Rhynick alias Renwick Williams, commonly called The Monster, coloured print collected by Sarah Sophia Banks, 1790 [BL L.R.301.h.3] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The attacks mounted up but the authorities had no leads.  The press reports grew more and more hysterical and, soon, it became a full-on public scare.

Sarah Sophia Banks, sister of botanist Sir Joseph Banks, was as swept up in the Monster hysteria as anyone.  She hoarded newspaper cuttings, prints, posters and notices about the attacks and stuck them in one of her many scrapbooks.

The London press refused to let the case drop, covering each sensational incident in gory detail.  They dropped heavy hints that the culprit must be an outsider – no doubt a foreigner – whipping up outrage and hostility despite having no evidence or proof of any kind.  Sensationalism of this kind has a tendency to drive sales.

The panic-stricken public formed vigilante groups to roam the streets of London and hunt for the Monster.  Rich businessmen and merchants promised hefty records for his capture.  They pasted up sensational posters across London alerting the public that a ‘bloodthirsty’, ‘dangerous’ monster was on the prowl and attacking young women.  One poster even suggested there might be more than one suspect: 'there is great reason to fear that more than one of those wretches infest the streets'.

The mass hysteria got so crazy that satirical posters sprung up across London in response.  Sarah Sophia Banks collected one with the over-the-top claim that the Monster 'attempted to cut up his own children' and was back in London to 'devour all editors of newspapers, book-sellers, engravers and publishers of satiric prints'.

Proto-police force The Bow Street Runners soon joined in the poster craze in their desperation to make an arrest.  Printed in red for maximum impact, one such poster encouraged servants 'to take notice if any man has staid at home without apparent cause, within these few days, during day light.  All washerwomen and servants should take notice of any blood on a man’s handkerchief'.

Poster printed in red offering one hundred pounds reward to anyone apprehending the Monster or providing information leading to his arrest.One Hundred Pounds Reward, poster collected by Sarah Sophia Banks, 1790 [BL LR.301.h.3] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The attacks continued for months before the Bow Street Runners finally made an arrest in 1790.

Their suspect was Rhynick Williams, a young unemployed man from Wales.  The mob threatened to lynch him when the Bow Street Runners brought him in for questioning.  Williams was eventually charged – although the judges struggled to pinpoint (excuse the pun) what exactly he should be charged with – and sentenced to six years in Newgate Prison.

Print and poster about The London Monster on display in the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibitionPrint and poster about The London Monster on display in the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibition Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The attacks stopped after this.  Coincidence?  Who knows.

Historians today question whether Rhynick Williams really was the Monster.  Descriptions of the culprit varied wildly and Williams had an alibi for at least one of the attacks.  The case was further complicated by some reports of attacks being faked, and it was suggested at the time that there might be more than one person carrying out the attacks.

Some historians go even further: was there ever a Monster at all?  Or was the entire scare a case of mass hysteria and sensationalism on steroids?  We’ll probably never know.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

See these original posters about the London Monster in our Breaking the News exhibition, open until 21 August 2022. Explore 500 years of the news in Britain and discover more era-defining headlines and news stories.

Breaking the News exhibition advert

 

10 March 2022

Mary Broad's origins in Cornwall

The extraordinary escape from Botany Bay of nine transportees in an open boat has been narrated many times.  Mary Broad was the only woman who escaped on this boat in March 1791, travelling for 69 days, before reaching Kupang in Timor, with her two children and husband, William Bryant, who led and organised their escape.

Painting of The Hamoaze and Dock, Plymouth Devon Hamoaze, Plymouth where Mary Broad was held in the Dunkirk prison hulk before being transported with the First Fleet. 

Painting of The Hamoaze and Dock, Plymouth, Devon by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde. Image courtesy of Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.

Mary’s husband and children died before she was returned to London in 1792.  James Boswell took up the case of the five returned transportees, and advocated their release from prison.  It is thanks to Boswell that Mary Broad’s family origins in Cornwall can be identified here.

Boswell's papers noted that Mary Broad’s ‘aged’ father was living in Cornwall.  He met Mary's younger sister Dolly Broad.  Boswell corresponded with Mary's married sister Elizabeth Puckey.  And her husband, Edward Puckey, a tailor in Fowey, who wrote to Boswell about an anticipated Broad family inheritance, which was a Pope family legacy.

Using this information, Mary Broad can be historically identified as the granddaughter of Prudence Pope, who married Josiah Broad.  Mary’s father was their eldest son William Broad, who was aged 84 in 1793, when Mary was aged 28.  Mary’s mother was William’s wife Dorothy Guilleff, who died aged 50 in 1778, when Mary was aged 13.  And William and Dorothy Broad’s daughters were Elizabeth (baptised 1756), Mary (baptised 1765), and Dorothy (baptised 1769).

Josiah and Prudence Broad, and most of their adult children, lived in the neighbouring Cornish parishes of St Neot or Braddock.  William and his brother Matthew Broad described themselves as ‘colliers’, and obtained leases to coppice woodland.  It may have been the profits from this trade which enabled William Broad to obtain a farm.  In the 1760s, William Broad moved his family between parishes within a few miles of Fowey.  Mary’s christening in 1765 was at Lanlivery, and Dorothy’s in 1769 was at St Veep.  By the late 1770s, some family members were present in Fowey, where the elder Dorothy Broad died in 1778, and Elizabeth married Edward Puckey in 1779.

Map of Fowey, Cornwall1805 Map of Fowey river and parishes by Robert Dawson British Library Online Gallery Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1930s, the Boswell scholar Frederick A. Pottle sought to identify Mary Broad's family origins.  Through the assistance of members of the Old Cornwall Society, the Fowey and Lostwithiel parish registers were searched for her baptism.  This led to the suggestion that her parents had been a mariner William and his wife Grace Broad, who also had a daughter named Mary.  Judith Cook later acknowledged that there were many inconsistencies and gaps between the evidence related to this family and Boswell’s account.  William and Grace Broad did not have daughters named Dorothy or Elizabeth, and they had left Cornwall before Mary Broad returned home in 1794.

Members of Mary Broad's extended family as identified here can be found in other historical records, including the Clift family letters.  She was not the only member of her family to be accused or convicted of assault.  And it is possible to see her influence and legacy in the decisions of James and William Puckey, the nephews of Edward Puckey, to travel from Cornwall to Tahiti, New South Wales, and New Zealand.

Dr Charlotte MacKenzie
Independent researcher
@HistoryCornwall

Further reading
Tim Causer (ed), Memorandoms by James Martin (2017)
Charlotte MacKenzie, Mary Broad the documentary (2021)

 

17 December 2021

One theft too many?

In the late 1760s Charles Eyloe ran a boarding house at his home Orchard House in Blackwall, London.  One of his contracts was with the East India Company to provide lodgings for the Asiatic sailors, known as lascars, who came to England as part of the Company's ship crews. The sailors needed somewhere to stay until they could return home.

In August and September 1767 Eyloe suffered a string of break-ins and robberies at his house.  The first was on 2 August when his house was broken into and 50 shillings in silver was taken.  The second occurred on 6 August when his cellar window was broken and a 12lb shoulder of veal and a bushel of flour were stolen.

Masked burglar entering a house through a window‘The Burglary’, p. 47 of The Wild Boys of London; or, the Children of Night. A story of the present day, London 1866. British Library 12620.h.27.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following these break-ins, Eyloe had a new cellar door put in and a metal bar put across his wine cellar.  These precautions appear to have deterred the thief from the cellar for a time, however instead eight hens and a cock were taken on 11 September.  On 14 September the thief managed to rip the cellar door off its hinges and took four pieces of beef worth 5 shillings and Eyloe suspected wine, beer and brandy was taken although he couldn’t say for sure.

The thief turned out to be Thomas James, a lascar from Bengal, who had previously boarded at Eyloe’s house.   James had indeed taken bottles of brandy from Eyloe’s cellar on 14 September, and was caught after promising ten of the bottles to a fellow sailor who then reported the incident to Eyloe.

Newspaper summary of Old Bailey sentencings October 1767, including Thomas James.Derby Mercury, 30 Oct 1767: summary of Old Bailey sentencing October 1767, including Thomas James. British Newspaper Archive

James was tried at the Old Bailey on 21 October 1767 and was found guilty and sentenced to death.  However on 24 February 1768  he was granted a conditional pardon and on 12 July 1768 his sentence was changed to transportation for life.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Old Bailey Online – Trial of Thomas James 21 October 1767.
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury 30 October 1767.

 

01 July 2021

Theft from an East India Company London warehouse

On 30 November 1814, Truman Wood was convicted at the Old Bailey for stealing from the East India Company 24 lb of paper, value 6s, and 21 lb of tea, value £3.  He was sentenced to be transported for seven years but remained in England on prison hulks.

Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour Prison hulks in Portsmouth Harbour by Ambrose-Louis Garneray circa 1812-1814 © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 


Truman Wood had worked for the East India Company as a labourer for sixteen years.  His theft of Company goods from the Haydon Square tea warehouse was discovered when an officer searched an old woman in the Commercial Road on 27 October 1814.  Hidden underneath her petticoats were a bag containing a small amount of tea and some India paper.  After questioning her, the officer went with two colleagues to Wood’s home at 3 Trafalgar Square, Stepney.  There they found several jars, caddies and parcels containing tea. together with a quantity of India paper.  They also discovered £100 in notes, four guineas in gold, and some bags of silver.

Wood asked the officers if they could just take the money, paper and tea, and say nothing more about it.  It would be the ruin of him if the matter came to the Company’s ears.  He was taken before a magistrate and claimed that the paper was a perquisite of his job and that he had bought the tea from a man in the Commercial Road.  The Old Bailey jury found Wood guilty of theft.

Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816Petition of Truman Wood to the East India Company 16 August 1816 - British Library IOR/E/1/252 p.21 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 16 August 1816, Wood wrote to the directors of the East India Company from the Portland hulk moored at Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth, expressing his ‘sincere and unfeigned sorrow’ for his crime and begging their forgiveness.  He had always tried to conduct himself with the ‘greatest recititude’ in his warehouse duties and in his service with the Royal East India Volunteers.  Before his lamentable lapse, Wood had never been suspected of an illicit transaction.  He had suffered the 'greatest privations and heartfelt afflictions' during his imprisonment.  His wife Jane and two children were reduced to ‘most poignant distress’, which was aggravated by Jane having ‘a Complaint in her breast’ which prevented her from looking after the family.  Wood asked the directors to recommend him for a free pardon.

Wood IOR E 1 251Letter from East India Company to Viscount Sidmouth 17 September 1816 British Library IOR/E/1/251 p.509 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Company forwarded the petition to the Home Secretary, Viscount Sidmouth, with a covering letter expressing the hope that Wood might be pardoned.  The directors asked for Wood’s past good character to be taken into consideration, and suggested that the imprisonment he had suffered might be seen as a sufficient warning to others.  They believed that a continuation of his punishment would be the total ruin of his family who had borne the calamity ‘with becoming resignation and propriety’.

The Company’s intervention was not immediately successful. In October 1816, Wood was transferred to the Bellerophon hulk at Woolwich.  However on 10 July 1818 he was granted a free pardon by Sidmouth and released ten days later.

Sadly it appears that Jane did not recover her health.  The burial records of St Dunstan Stepney show a Jane Wood dying of cancer in February 1819.

Wood married widow Ann Blendall in May 1822 in Bethnal Green.  He was buried at Wycliffe Congregational Church in Mile End Old Town in July 1837.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Petition of Truman Wood - British Library, IOR/E/1/252 pp.21-23, IOR/E/1/251 p.509
Old Bailey Online - Trial of Truman Wood 
Home Office records of Newgate Prison and the hulks – The National Archives via Findmypast
Parish registers for East London via Ancestry and Findmypast

 

28 May 2021

Sadi, servant to the Sulivan family

On 11 July 1787 a young Indian servant named Sadi was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey after being convicted of stealing bank notes to the value of £400 from his employer Stephen Sulivan.  William Morris was tried for receiving the stolen notes and was defended by barrister William Garrow.  Morris was also found guilty by the jury, but sentencing was delayed in his case because of a legal uncertainty.

View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold  with gallows over platform.‘A Perspective View of the temporary Gallows in the Old Bailey’ 1794 © The Trustees of the British Museum Asset number 765670001 - View of the scaffold and gallows outside the north quad of Newgate Prison; a screen on the right leading up to entrance to scaffold, with gallows over platform.

Sadi, also known as George Horne, was a footboy in the Sulivan household in Harley Street, London.  Stephen Sulivan’s father Laurence had been a prominent East India Company director and politician.  Having served the East India Company in Madras and Calcutta, Stephen returned to England in the summer of 1785 with his wife Elizabeth and son Laurence.  The Sulivans brought Sadi with them as he had attended Laurence since his birth in January 1783 and was a favourite of the family.  They wished to preserve Sadi’s ‘simple manners’ and ‘innocent mind’ from corruption by their other servants so he stayed in the nursery, eating and sleeping with his charge.  He had unrestrained access to the private apartments of the house.

However in 1787, Sadi began behaving with ‘repeated irregularities’.  The Sulivans dismissed the young man, intending to send him back to India.  Whilst awaiting a passage in an East Indiaman, Sadi was sent to lodge with Thomas Saunders, the assistant keeper of the East India Company’s tea and drug warehouse.

It came to light that Sadi had been stealing from the Sulivans for two years – muslins, silks, calicos, linen, pearls, clothing, and a special shawl belonging to Elizabeth.  The stolen goods were passed on to other servants in the house who encouraged Sadi to continue with his thefts.  He stole four guineas without being detected and then one bank note for £1,000 and two for £200.  When Sadi showed the £1,000 note to two of his fellow servants, they told him it was too great a sum to pass on without detection.  After keeping it for some days, he threw it under the kitchen grate where it was found by the housekeeper who gave it to Elizabeth.  The notes for £200 were sold by Sadi for a guinea to William Morris, formerly butler to Stephen’s father.

Elizabeth called on Sadi at his lodgings.  He burst into tears and made a full confession, directing her to Morris’s home in Petticoat Lane.  She went there with a constable and Morris’s wife handed over the two bank notes.

Other servants of the Sulivans were also arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods: Thomas Absalom, his wife Martha, and Catherine Smith.  Martha Absalom was apprehended at Maidenhead in Berkshire and found to have property belonging to Elizabeth Sulivan.

On 24 August 1787, the King granted Sadi a reprieve from the death sentence passed on him.  The young Indian remained in Newgate prison but he died shortly afterwards on 9 December.  The death rate in Newgate was extremely high in the late 1780s because of severe overcrowding and an outbreak of ‘gaol fever’ (epidemic typhus).

A few days after Sadi’s death, the case of William Morris was finally settled. He was discharged because the judges agreed with his defence counsel that the bank notes he had received could not be classified as goods and chattels, the term used in the charge against him.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The case is reported in Old Bailey Online and in the British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast), for example Hampshire Chronicle 4 June 1787, Bury and Norwich Post 6 June 1787, Derby Mercury 7 June 1787 and 13 December 1787, Kentish Gazette 24 July 1787, Sheffield Register 1 September 1787.

 

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