Thomas Erskine – Georgian Animal Rights Activist

“They are created indeed for our use, but not for our abuse.”

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A young Thomas

After 1815, the British were much more likely to condemn animal cruelty, especially towards horses and dogs, who were very much their favourites. Dogs were pets and horses were visible in the streets being clearly overburdened. Donkeys received some sympathy, especially when they were yoked to carts to avoid paying fees when going through toll gates.

Opposition to animal cruelty had a few roots; a new emphasis on human feeling ; religion; and social prejudice. The barbaric sports of the vicious lower orders needed to be eliminated. As this article from the Bath Chronicle ( 1810) shows, motives were mixed

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“Throwing at Cocks” did what it said. A cock was tethered to a post and people threw stones at it. The winner was the one who finally killed it. Mayor of Bath John Palmer- the man who also invented Britain’s first efficient Post Office- opposed for humanitarian reasons, but one that has its basis in religion. There was no licence to treat even the meanest of God’s creatures in this way. It made you insensible to the sufferings of humanity. Both arguments resonate today and most people’s opposition to animal cruelty derive from one or both of these propositions.
Palmer fails to mention that many of the ruling class were worried by orchestrated examples of the lower orders enjoying themselves in this manner; but there is some indication here of a slight reformation in manners that was evident in the late Georgian period. It is also interesting that there was no assault on hare coursing or fox-hunting in the early nineteenth century; both as barbaric as cock throwing, but enjoyed exclusively by the upper classes.

Thomas, Lord Erskine was the “morning star” of the new movement to be kind to animals. He deserves much of the credit for changing deep-seated traditional views. It was he who tried to push  “A bill to prevent cruelty to brute animals”  through the House of Lords  in 1809.  His speech on the 15 May 1809 was perhaps the first speech in a British Parliament to put the intellectual case against animal  cruelty.

Like John Palmer and the leading citizens of Bath, part of Erskine’s argument was that prevention of cruelty was needed to redeem the lower orders- they, in their unthinking state, were responsible for much of the cruelty and were the hardest to reform- the law was needed as they would not be capable of doing it themselves. Erskine was referring to the mistreatment of dogs and horses; he deliberately omitted bull-baiting and cock throwing from his bill because he knew that too many Lords believed that these activities encouraged manly vigour.

These unmanly and disgusting outrages are most frequently perpetrated by the basest and most worthless; incapable, for the most part, of any reproof which can reach the mind, and who know no more of the law, than that it suffers them to indulge their savage dispositions with impunity.”

When animal abusers were challenged, according to Lord Erskine- “ what is it to you?”- was their answer. In order to refute this argument, Erskine had to reject two key Georgian beliefs; the immunity of the servant when ordered to do something  by a master; and that owning a creature was a justification for any kind of treatment. His denial of the absolute right of a property was radical for the time. His 1809 speech called it a “stupid defence”

Erskine used theological arguments too. Mankind, despite his “ God- like qualities” would be helpless without the contribution of animals. They were creatures created by God, and the dominion over the animals that is declared in Genesis is not a carte blanche to do anything. The very usefulness of the lower creatures was perfect evidence that they were a gift from God’s creation; looking after them was a trust and abusing them was a sin- there was already a Georgian society called the Society against the Sin of Cruelty to Dumb Animals

Animals had rights because they were created with similar features to humans. This did not imply equality, but inequality was no justification for abuse”

Almost every sense bestowed upon man is equally bestowed upon them; seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking; the sense of pain and pleasure; the passions of love and anger; sensibility to kindness, and pangs from unkindness and neglect, are inseparable characteristics of their natures as much as of our own”

Erskine was not a vegetarian. He did not imbue animals with the same characteristics of man, but did not see this a justification for their suffering;

They have, besides, no knowledge of the future, and their end, when appropriated fitly for our food, is without prolonged suffering.”

Although Erskine had intellectual agreements in favour of kindness to animals, he also liked them to an extent that modern readers would recognise. In 1811, he rescued a dog from the street that was about to be killed by some boys. He had his own adored Newfoundland dog, Toss, who he taught to do tricks. He had a macaw, a goose that followed him around and two leeches who he believed had saved his life in a medical procedure. He gave the leeches names, could distinguish between them and believed that they knew and liked him. So he was “guilty” of anthropomorphism way before it became popular.

Erskine’s Bill failed in the Commons on two occasions in 1809 and 1810. It was lost very narrowly in the Commons, because too many members were worried that horse racing and fox hunting would be next on the list.

Despite the defeat, Erskine predicted that future generations would treat the lower orders of animals with more respect. He did not have to wait long. The first animal protection law ( for cattle) was passed in 1821; an organisation for the protection of animals, the forerunner of the RSPCA, was formed in 1824. The crude Georgian attitudes to living creatures were passing.

Further reading
International Vegetarian Union
https://ivu.org/history/england19a/erskine.html

My book (Out November 2017, Pen and Sword Books)

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Anti-Semitism in the Regency

In 1782, the German tourist, Karl Philipp Moritz toured England on foot and by stagecoach. He was a liberal Anglophile clergyman who loved the countryside and architecture of England but had mixed feeling about some of the English people he met. After his visit to London he decided to take the coach the village of Richmond and, en route, the coach stopped at Kensington to pick up more passengers and fill the pockets of the driver with extra money. A Jew applied for a place and wished to have one for the more comfortable seats inside the vehicle. This would not have bothered the passengers on the inside, as it was perfectly possible to go for miles without talking to anybody on English stagecoach journey if the company was disagreeable.

What bothered Moritz’s fellow travellers was the fact that there were places free on the more dangerous and uncomfortable outside seats, but the Jew decided not to bother. “They could not help thinking it somewhat preposterous that a Jew should be ashamed to ride on the outside, or on any side, and in any way; since as they added, he was nothing more than a Jew”. Moritz noted that antipathy towards Jews was as bad, if not slightly worse than his native Prussia, and that it was prejudice rather than discrimination. A Jew with money could ride in whatever part of the vehicle he wanted – this was not the segregated public transport of 1950s USA – but they had no right to have even a moderate opinion of themselves.

Anti-Semitism in England was of the unthinking, religiously inspired, casual variety, not the farrago of conspiracy and racial theory that we see today. It went deep into all social classes. Moritz left his coach and tramped all over the country on foot and therefore could only gain access to the Inns and public houses of the lower classes. He met a lot of casual racism there too; he remembers one throw away conversation

The one that sat next to him now began to talk about the Jews of the Old Testament, and assured us that the present race were all descended from those old ones. “Ay, and they are all damned to all eternity!” said his companion, as coolly and as confidently as if at that moment he had seen them burning in the bottomless pit.

So taking a random month and year of the Regency – September 1816- the Jews are seen in various ways. On September 1, The Scots’ Magazine produced a disturbing image of Tangier. This primitive and dangerous “piratical emporium” was the home of Turks, Moors, Jews, Renegades (Pirates and criminals) and Christians held as slaves- all of the bad things it was possible to be, and all in the same place

On September 2 , Patrick Colquhoun, the legal reformer was questioned by a parliamentary committee about the explosion in the incidents of petty crime since the war with France. Colquhoun noted that there were 8000 places in central London where stolen goods could be fenced, and this did not include the iterant Jews who dealt in second hand clothes and other goods- it is easy to see where the Fagin image came from; Jews who were rootless were a threat; some form of licensing and identification was desirable to identify them
There was a strong belief in what the Nazis would later call “rootless cosmopolitanism”- the idea that the Jews could thrive anywhere while remaining loyal to nobody but themselves. On 5 September, the Derby Mercury admitted that the brutal treatment of Jews in Spain and Portugal had forced them to become refugees in Morocco. However, their sympathy was quickly expended.

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It goes on to list of the appalling treatment of the Jews and to list their activities- they farmed revenues, they coined money, “ furnished and fabricated jewellery” and generally acted as intermediaries in finance and government. In exchange this they were hated by both the elite and the rabble. While they article did not approve of the barbaric treatment of the Jews ( it was being done by Muslim Moors-an even more barbaric group and therefore this made sense) there was little sympathy either.

Jews were always identified. On September 1816, Andrew Davis was in court, accused of being an insolvent debtor while seeming to have a large number of businesses on the go. The prosecution asked him if he was a Jew; he replied that yes he was, and would die one, but he was “ not a Jew in all the principles of these people” ….meaning that he was honest. Davis didn’t take the court very seriously; when asked if he had ever run an establishment for virtuous ladies in Covent Garden, replied “I was never that fortunate”. As he left the court, the Morning Chronicle reported that “gave one of his uncircumcised creditors a blow to the eye, saying that he would never have a shilling. In a similar case that month, the “Jew Cohen”, another bankrupt, was accused of creating fictional debts to others Jews and paying them before his genuine Christian creditors.

Jews were often seen as undermining the legal system. So it is unsurprising that a case of a Jewish bankrupt behaving badly should make the national newspapers. Patrick Colquhoun, who had linked Jews to receivers of stolen goods earlier in the month, complained on 8 September that prisoners were avoiding justice by Jews swearing that they were financially able to honour a bail bond and then running off after taking a payment from the prisoner, who likewise would not be seen again. However, all the blame was heaped on only one of the two criminals for this “Jew Bail”
A conversion was news in newspapers all over the country. George Gerfon “ a respectable Jew” aged about 40, converted to Christianity when he realised he was dying. Rather than doubt his motives, the Bath Chronicle of September 12 believed that he was under pressure from his religious community “in a way not consistent with liberty of conscience or the delicacy due to a dying man”
In late 1816 there was a currency crisis in Britain; small denomination coins were in short supply and at the same time the old defaced silver coins were being replaced by new ones. The old coins were still legal, but it was reported that “Moses” – the stereotypical cunning Jew -was presenting themselves outside coaching in and telling more credulous incoming passengers that the old coins “ would not pass” and offered to buy them at a discount. This story, mentioned only once, is hard to believe; the whole country knew the status of the coins; and those travelling on the stage coach were an elite who would certainly not be fooled by anybody trying this ruse.

Remember this was only one month…….

 

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The Last Luddite Executions; April 17th 1817.

The Luddite were victims of press vilification two hundred years ago, and the tradition continues. They were much more than mindless machine breakers, although they did attack both property and people. These machines were destroying skilled jobs and emboldening the master manufacturers to treat their workers with contempt. The Luddites may have been wrong in their belief that they could hold back technological change, but they were organised and principled people who were trying to restore some social justice.

“Luddite” is used here as a badge of honour rather than a term of abuse.

With the help of the excellent ludditebicentenary.blogspot.co.uk I have written a brief history of the events leading to the last executions. It is here;

http://ludditebicentenary.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/james-hobson-last-luddite-executions.html

The primary sources, covering the whole period, are highly recommended!

Child Dropping in the Regency

 

Child Dropping

Child dropping was one way that unmarried women in the Regency   dealt with the consequences of an unplanned   or socially unacceptable pregnancy. A child would be abandoned; it would either perish outside, or much more likely, be found and mostly looked after in the workhouse. Then the authorities would react; sometimes harshly, but sometimes with a degree of compassion that the Regency is not particularly known for

By our period 1810-1820, attitudes were softening a little to child dropping, as it was increasingly seen as a desperate act. It is clear that the children were, in the vast majority of cases, meant to be found before they died. In September 1811 some labourers working in a brick field at first light found a three month old girl carefully placed in a place where the workers would be bound to find her. A genteel, well dressed woman had been 15 minutes earlier in the fields and the child was thought to be hers. The child was then sent to the St Pancras workhouse to be cared for.

 In February 1813, a nine month old child was left in the East India Docks, Blackwall and put next to a large consignment of timber on the quayside. This may seem to be a highly irresponsible place to leave a child; but the truth of the matter is that, just like the Hampstead brick field, it was a place of work were there was a time when it would be deserted, but another time when it was equally certain that it would fill up with people who would find the child. The baby was well “clothed and in a thriving state”; it had not been mistreated until the moment of its abandonment and it was not left there to die. These babies were made to be found; for those who wanted their children dead, the River Thames was a few yards away. Newspaper reports would make indirect judgement on the mother through the clues it had.

 Timing and location were crucial for success. These two examples were babies dropped in the early morning outside a busy work place. The other possibility is to place them outside a busy doorway which would be opened regularly. On a busy Saturday night in New Cut, Canterbury  in July 1813 unknown women left her four month old child ( “respectable clothed” )on the doorstep of a large house and she was found almost immediately by a maidservant. The gentlemen who owned the house took the child in, looked after it and made plans for its future at his own expense. It is very likely that this was exactly what the poor mother would have wished for, and may well have planned it.

In November 1813, another female infant, a new born, was found, once again on a Saturday evening and once again at the front of a gentlemen’s house in Bath. She was well clothed, wrapped in something that looked like her mother’s petticoat. She was placed in a hat box with a hole pierced in the front to allow the child to breathe. The box was not new; there had been a name written on the outside that had been deliberately erased. The child, like others, ended up in the local workhouse and the   Poor Law officers offered 10 guineas for information about the identity of the mother, or the people who planted the baby- their determination of “make a signal   example of all such offenders”. However, they also suggested that if the women came forward and had an adequate appalling story to tell, then “they may depend on being treated with every degree of tenderness and delicacy”. The Overseers of the poor finished their newspaper advertisement with news for the mother

NB The Child is alive in the Walcot Poor-House, and is likely to do well

It was a message to the parent. No serious crime had been committed yet. There was a way out.

When did the women become “unnatural mothers”?  They would normally have to do more than leave their child on the door step. They would have to be flagrant or ungrateful. In another example from Canterbury in October 1813, a nine month old boy was left at the door of  a Mr Hutchinson at the Cattle Market. So far, so good; but it was wrapped in an “old cloak “-that was a judgement- and a reward was put out for the identification of the mother. Any such reward would be cost effective, as otherwise the child would be a burden on the parish. The next day a women called Fitzgerald (“Wife of a sailor”, whose husband may have sailed away somewhere during conception) She came back to claim the child and seemed to be given some money to go away (she would have no right to claim money from the parish, but the child may have been entitled). Instead she took the money, got drunk and broke a window and the child ended up back in the workhouse, this time for good.

It may have been a coincidence, but the use of the expression “unnatural mother” or “inhuman wretch” seems to have been more prevalent in the provincial papers; London papers seem to have been more pragmatic. In November 1816, one child   was left outside the Foundling Hospital, a charitable institution which   would have been the ideal placement for such a child. He was covered in green baize, with a sign saying “ live lumber “ The “fine boy” was wearing a fine great coat with silk cuffs on his shirt. Somebody had written a poem to the officials of the Foundling Hospital perhaps in order to charm the boy’s way through the Hospitals admission system

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It didn’t work. The child was dispatched to the St Pancras workhouse. A reward was offered for the mother; whose poetry and  ability to buy nice clothes meant that she was spared the epithet “ unnatural”

 

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“Your Grace cannot be admitted in trousers” Almack’s in the Regency

 

Almack’s, a set of assembly rooms in King Street, St James, was the very centre of the fashionable and beautiful Regency world. It consisted on two large and two smaller rooms for dancing and facilities for music and a place for some rather unprepossessing food. During the summer season, finishing in mid July, there would be balls with music, with the occasional concert and masque.

Almack’s could hold about 800 people when completely and intolerably full, but most balls would attract about 400 people. This was a similar number to the other balls organised by the aristocracy, but there were none more important than Almack’s. To gain admittance to Almack’s  was to have made it to the very top of Regency society. The Morning Post would publish a weekly list of the upcoming social occasions dancing, music, tea and cards, conversazione and routs ( drinks receptions). There would be many each day, but people mostly avoided Wednesday as that when Almack’s would be open during the season. The top 400 people would be there, no matter what sumptuous brilliance was on offer at your James Street address.

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Almack’s membership  was mostly by annual subscription. You asked to join; or to be more precise, you asked for a licence, priced around £10 a year and waited. You would not be contacted by the aristocratic women who ran it. You would sent your servant around to see if there was a ticket for you or a curt refusal and no reason given or correspondence entered into. Most people would not even bother to apply; those who gained a licence would  live in fear of it being withdrawn. The £10 licence was designed to be so low to prove that this was not about the money .

Merely being rich and famous was not enough to guarantee you entry. Despite being the target audience being those who made the laws, nobody could gain entrance after 11pm. This was a time when parties started late, opening   at ten with supper and one in the morning   and calling your carriage to go home at 6am was normal.

In March 1819,  the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh and the victor of Waterloo, Wellington failed to gain entry into the establishment at 11.05 pm, despite Castlereagh’s own wife Emily being one of the phalanx of society ladies who decided who got in and who didn’t. The aristocratic ladies in charge would meet every Wednesday afternoon to revise the list of who was going in this week.

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What did this elite establishment provide? There were two large rooms roped off for dancing and before 1812, rustic   Scottish country dances and reels   were  most common. In 1813 the waltz was introduced, causing some moral consternation at first and later there was an emphasis on the quadrille. Rooms would be very brightly illuminated to allow people to see each other carefully in the place that was almost the bon ton tindr of its day. There would be artificial flowers in great number and perhaps an exotic foreign theme depending on the fashion of the time. Other balls were just as lavish, and the food was often better, but they were not Almacks. Dancing would start at 11.30 with supper at 1.30 and home time would be a relatively early   3.30 am.

 The Duke of Wellington was refused entry on another occasional when he arrived in trousers rather than knee breeches, even though he was wearing the required white cravat and three pointed  silk chapeau bras. He walked away without protest; he did not hold a grudge against the club as her later suggested that the hold a ball in fancy dress without masks of any time. In June 1817, 800 people turned up to a fancy dress with the themes of the “costumes of all nations”. Wellingtom may have invented the English fancy dress ball.

It was a marriage market to some extent, although less so than other gatherings as the bar was so high. Nobody was allowed to bring a friend everybody had to be vetted. This mock serious poem of the time describes a woman trying to break into society.

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One major beneficiary of Almack’s was the orchestra leader James Paine.  He capitalised on the fame of Almack’s by publishing the music for the quadrilles, but also producing fans that were illustrated with the moves needed to perform the quadrille for those whose dancing skills did not match their social ambitions. Whether you could look at your fan and dance at the same time is a moot point. Mr Paine’’ Band ( “Paine’s of Almacks”) also rented themselves out to add lustre to less prestigious events. Paine advertised in London but also in Taunton and Worcester so it seems clear that you were meant to buy the music and the fans and produce your own Almack’s- style entertainment in your own more modest residence.   

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A Regency Abortion

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Procuring an abortion was a serious crime in the Regency period and when illegal abortionists were caught, the newspapers were relatively free with the details.

The papers were full of reports in the regency period and they followed a pattern with some variations; a servant, away from home and  without any family support is seduced and made pregnant by a gentlemen   or cleric; often a relationship is started but the asymmetry of   power between the two parties makes the relationship fail, even if success was ever part of the plan. Sometimes the man would procure and abortion or even attempt it themselves; if the women were expelled from the house when they became pregnant they would try to poison   themselves. Sometimes they would keep the pregnancy a secret, leave their employ at the last moment and then have the child in a dismal lodging house.

Liza Ann Layton was a servant who found herself away from home in Ipswich working for a James Robertson or Roberton . She was seduced   by Robertson   during the course of her employment   and Robertson suggested to her, according to Layton, that he would procure an abortion   “by the application of surgical instruments which, he stated, would not produce as much pain as a day’s illness”. There were two failed attempts one afternoon in 1816 when Layton was about four or five months pregnant, leaving Liza desperately weak and bleeding in bed. A few days later   Liza’s mother saw Robertson in the bedroom with her daughter with his hands under the blankets and later smuggled a bundle out of the room in his greatcoat.

This was not the only time Robertson procured an abortion for Liza, and of course himself. The relationship continued after the first termination but the details are hazy; Robertson moved to London and Layton followed him and there was at least one more abortion when she became pregnant again. There was  another period of estrangement when Layton was addicted to laudanum, but this was a relationship of sorts and Liza was not abandoned by Robertson when she became pregnant.

When the law caught up with Robertson he was charged   under the 1803 “Ellenborough Act” which   had made abortion after about 20 weeks   a felony which carried a maximum life imprisonment. This new law  was first specific English law that made abortion an illegal act; earlier the procedure had been covered by common law and the belief that the soul came into the foetus at about 16- 20 weeks and banned abortion after that date. It seems that women had regularly used methods of abortion in the first months of pregnancy for centuries and this was deemed as merely regularizing the menstrual system, not destroying a life.

Robertson’s alleged attempt had been made at “ four or five months” into the pregnancy     and   was therefore illegal under the new Act and the previous common law. Robertson strongly protested his innocence and so impressed the onlookers that four individuals offered sureties of £1000 to add to Robertson’s own bail of £2000.

He absconded before his trial at the Old Bailey, running away to Holland via Gravesend. The story goes cold at this point; it would be hard for Robertson to continue his trade in Holland after the publicity; the most shocking part of this story was that  he was a medical doctor, a surgeon to the   Middlesex Militia, a member of the Royal College of Physicians and lecturer in Midwifery.

Not all women had the benefit of a medical man to botch an abortion for them. In 1811, Rebecca Holden, in the curious wording of the newspaper report “poisoning herself with a   poisonous drug” to end her pregnancy.   This may have been arsenic or a quack medicine that coyly promised to cure   “female obstructions”. (See above)

 Widow Welch’s Pills were a well known abortion inducer well into the twentieth century and would have contained a natural abortifacient  such as pennyroyal.  The advertisement hides its main aim with a torrent of other ailments, but it is particularly good for “female obstruction” which could be interpreted as inducing the onset of menstruation in a young woman or moderating the menopause, but actually meant abortion

Other methods were available. In February 1812, Eliza   Counter was accused of libelling the Honourable Basil Cochrane by saying that he organised a steam bath for his mistress to procure an abortion.

The Reverend William Jennings was accused in 1812 of administering calomel to his maid  Sarah Weeks  in an attempt to poison her with mercury. Sarah then gave birth to a dead child while suffering from symptoms that sounded exactly like mercury poisoning, including excessive salivation and an immense swollen tongue that were  symptoms of toxic amounts of calomel.

On 12 January 1813, in Bushley Park, Worcestershire, the servant   Judith Beale  ( “Spinster , 17”) took advantage of her mistress’s absence by inviting her boyfriend James Foster over for the night. She subsequently became violently ill in the mornings afterwards, and James, fearing the worst, procured mercury for Judith, assuring her that he knew of several people who had taken it without a problem. Judith believed him, took three- fourths of the mercury and died.

Savin- an extract of the poisonous tips of juniper – was used   by Phoebe Sparrow, 22   of Dudley in 1813 by her cohabitating partner after four months of pregnancy. Phoebe took no more poison after that, perhaps she was pressurized into taking the original dose, but delivered her baby dead after eight months due to the weaknesses caused by this juniper based poison. It was this active ingredient that gave gin the reputation   as an abortion inducer. It was “ mother’s ruin” in more ways than one.

Many thousands of abortions were arranged successfully but anonymously in this period by trusted local women who only ever  appeared in the newspapers when the process was unsuccessful. Occasionally, women away from home with no contacts fell into the hands of what we could call quack doctors. Dolly Rosthorn used the services of a John Buckley of Bolton  in 1814 to abort a child that many papers suggested he was the father of. He botched the abortion so badly and caused so much pain that the jury considered this to the capital crime of murder; he was doing it deliberately, so was hanged at Lancaster gaol on March 19th, 1814.

 

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The Reverend Isaac Williamson – did Jane Austen know him?

The Reverend Isaac Williamson died on November 15th 1816, and a lot of jobs became available, because he had more than one. It was no scandal; it was money and connections that decided whether you made it in the Regency world of the Church of England. Some qualified people never gained a parish; others had more than one. It was just tough.

Isaac was not a historically important figure. This blog may be the first time his name is mentioned in a hundred years , but how his life developed tells us a great deal about a world we have mostly lost. He may have had some lasting literary influence, however!

He was the rector of Estrop, near Basingstoke   in Hampshire and Master of the Free School there. In an age of absentee and plural tenancies, he was also a   Chaplain, licensed for the instruction of men and boys at the Chapel of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke.  He had other jobs. They are all listed in the C of E clergy database. He   was curate at Winslade, Tadley and Pamber in Hampshire .His salary as curate of Winslade was £25 a year and more than £ 40 from Estrop.  He received £35 for not being present at Pamber, due to the “shortage of accommodation” at Pamber. He was also “unable to find anywhere” to live in Tadley, but was able to pick up the stipend of £50 per year “plus Easter offerings”   Records seem to suggest that he did not provide a curate as a substitute for the places he could not be. Even for an age of pluralist and absentee clergy, this was “pushing it”.

How had Isaac become a Church of England   cleric?  He did a degree in Theology and either Cambridge or Oxford University; this is not stated anywhere; it was simply impossible to do so without this qualification.

 He had been educating young men for most of his career. This comes from 1795.image002

Lots of Church of England clerics had a private school as part of their income- Jane Austen’s father   George Austen had a school at Steventon. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by teaching three or four boys at a time, who boarded at his home. Isaac may have done the same.

He died of a “severe affliction” in November and in March all of his possessions were sold over two days by Tolfree and Sons   the Auctioneers. The list tells us so much about the life of the gentlemen-farmer –vicar.

 His Alderney cow was auctioned; it was five and was having a calf in April; his other horse, his donkey, his other cow, his heifer   and his donkey cart. He had a carriage for sale, hopefully to get to all the places where he was in charge of people’s spiritual welfare. His brewing equipment, storage for beer and his drinking vessels; all   open to offers. His three beds and seven sets of bed sheets were up for sale ( It was common for the very wealthy to have many spare set of sheets so they could all be washed together and stored for future use). He had goose and down bed linen, so he had feathered his nest in the literal sense of the word. Isaac had dining and gaming tables, expensive carpets and   had just bought an eight day clock in a wainscot oak case produced by the desirable James Staples of Odiham. The whole inventory took half a column of the Hampshire Chronicle.   

Isaac had a wife and children but his belongings were sold from under them. The details are hard to fathom, but it is clear that Isaac was bankrupt and all of his money went to pay his debts. It could have been his severe affliction that caused the bankruptcy; the number of respectable people who helped the family suggests it was not a moral weakness. I have not been able to find out.

 Mrs Williamson was incurably   blind and had been so for several years. Now she was a pauper; and the Church of England did absolutely nothing officially to help. It was all left to charity.

On the 17th July 1817, as Jane Austen was having her last day on earth   , this advertisement appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle. Despite the apparent ” J Williamson”, it is our Isaac.

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The clergy of Hampshire rallied around, including the Reverend James Austen, Jane’s older brother. If James   knew Isaac, then it is very likely that Jane had met him as well. Williamson had been a Hampshire cleric in the same decade as Jane was at Steventon, and it was a small world.

All three of her main fictional clergy- Elton, Grant and Collins- had strengths and weaknesses, but did Isaac have any influence on her characterisations? It would help if we knew more; we know that Williamson was rich; liked nice things and had a blind wife who he seemed to have made no consideration for. Is it   possible that Isaac Williamson is Mr Collins, interested in money more than anything? Or were there just so many clergy like this in   late Georgian era. We do not know what severe affliction killed the Reverend Williamson-perhaps it was similar to the digestive complaints that kept the Rev James from attending his own sister’s funeral- but the misery for the widow continued.

Mrs Williamson was now poor and blind. She became a widow of Morley’s College, Winchester, which despite its name was an alms house for ten widows of Church of England whose husbands died in post working for the Winchester diocese.  By 1818 £430 had been raised, of which £161 had been paid out to pay for “ H Williamson” to be apprenticed to a surgeon in Winchester-presumably a son. This was a prestigious appointment; Williamson was a great man; we just don’t know whether he was a good man or if he has appeared in any Regency novels…

Life didn’t improve for Mrs Williamson. In 1819 further advertisement in the paper raised a subscription for her to be lodged in a “ cheap lunatic asylum” That was another £138. Life was all about the money, even more than now, perhaps

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Women’s rights and rape; a breakthrough in 1811 and a lesson for 2016?

Two hundred years ago, rape was a capital crime and dealt with very severely. However, convictions were rare because of the nature of the questions that the women could be asked and the likelihood, as in other cases, that witnesses would be paid to defame those giving evidence.
There was a case in 1811. William Hodgson was found guilty of the “ravishment” of nineteen year old Harriet Halliday. Her evidence was strong; witnesses had seen her dragged into a stable by Hodgson; a local surgeon had heard her screams, rescued her afterwards and financed the prosecution against Hodgson. Halliday was a servant, and would not have the money to prosecute Hodgson herself; another weakness of  the regency justice system.

After Harriet had given her evidence in support of the prosecution she was cross examined by the prisoner’s counsel. In the face of such strong evidence, Hodgson’s defence became aggressive. They called Halliday’s former employer and were about to ask why she had discharged the servant after a mere two weeks work, they were stopped by Baron Wood. The judge ruled this and told it was not relevant to the case. Then the defence asked her whether she had had any “connection” with any boy in the past. Judge Baron Wood then made a novel and important ruling;

The learned judge allowed the objection on the ground that witness was not bound to answer these questions as they to criminate and disgrace herself and said that he there was not any exception to the rule in the case  of  rape

The prisoner’s counsel called witnesses and among others a witness to prove that the girl had been caught in bed a year before this charge with a young man
This second piece of evidence was ruled inadmissible and Harriet’s evidence stood. The new rule (called Hodgson) was extended in 1817 to attempted rape and although it did not ban general questions about the women’s lifestyle, it did rule inadmissible specific ones, such as were asked in this case.

The court was utterly aghast at these comments. One lawyer commented that his main method of attack in these cases had been taken away from him. It turned out to be a turning point in women’s legal rights in cases of sexual assault.

Until now?

Toying with Clarissa Acton- a failed rape prosecution, 1818.

On trial at the Middlesex Sessions, Gilbert Kerr; on the charges of 1) Intention to rape with violence 2) Common Assault

 

Clarissa Acton was a fourteen year old charity student at the St John’s charity school in Wapping. Having no home to go to at Christmas, she lodged at the school, sleeping in the same bed as the school servant Ann Thomas.

On 26th December, Ann got up at 7.15 to start work and left Clarissa sleeping. Clarissa was wakened by a voice next to her bed, asking if he could get into bed with her. It was Gilbert Kerr, the master of the school and he was wearing his shirt and nothing else.  He  said   “Acton, can I get into bed with you?” and she replied with a loud NO!. However, he pulled back the bedclothes and put one arm around her neck and another round her arm and tried to turn her over. She screamed so loudly that Kerr took fright and left the room; Clarissa locked the room behind him and he shouted out   “ For God’s sake Acton, don’t tell anybody, it will be the ruin of me!”. At first she threatened to tell the mistress of the house, Mr Kerr’s wife, although she was away for the holidays. She had to promise to tell nobody to stop Kerr knocking on her door, but she ignored this by telling her roommate Ann Thomas later the same evening.

Later that day, Kerr took hold of Ann Thomas’s hand and asked her if Clarissa had said anything to her about what happened, and she replied that she had not. Kerr claimed that he had only come into the room to give them both a Christmas kiss; Ann was surprised at this as Kerr would have heard her moving noisily around the house and was clearly not in her room; and for the servant, it was no longer Christmas. Ann also stated that the master knew they the door was looked if both girls were asleep in it, and would only be open if one of them had left.

Mr Alley, Kerr’s expensive   lawyer, pointed out that no force had been applied at the time when Kerr left the room. He had sworn that he was wearing what he normally did in the morning, merely a long shirt that covered his top half which fell down onto his legs. This could not be rape; Kerr was guilty of no more than “toying” with Clarissa- somewhat reprehensible given the position of trust he was in, but what would happen in the court if all men who did this were prosecuted for a kiss? Surely, if this prosecution was allowed, every woman who had been toyed with would cry “ rape” and blackmail a good man into marriage?  If he had come into her room completely naked, that would have been, of course, a completely different matter! He had his shoes on….

Clarissa then repeated her story that Kerr had pulled back the covers of the bed and held her by the neck and waist wearing nothing but a shirt; later on the same day he had given her a shilling, something that had never happened before or since. However, there were many character references for Gilbert Kerr, who commented on the humane way that he ran the school. This included some women

The jury must have been in some doubt, as they conferred for an hour; it was common for juries to discuss among themselves in the box and not adjourn at all.

Kerr was found guilty of common assault. Men were now “safe”

 

“He was still bleeding when he was put in his coffin”. John Lees is killed, 1819.

peterloo

“Briton’s strike home”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He told me he was the Battle of Waterloo, but he was never in such danger as at this meeting, for at Waterloo it was man to man, but in Manchester it was downright murder”………..William Harrison, 27th September 1819, Inquest of John Lees

John Lees, born about 1797, was the son of a successful cotton master, Robert Lees, of Oldham. He started spinning for his father aged about 14, but in 1812 he suddenly enrolled into the army that was fighting Napoleon. We don’t know why, but the reasons was never good. It might have been a family problem; his father was a formidable figure; however, he fought in France and was at Waterloo, and at the age of 19 he was an “old soldier”, demobilised by the state who had no further need for him, and grudgingly accepted by his father in his former job as a cotton spinner. This was an unsentimental age about children’s work, and it is clear that John had to work. He also shared a bed with his half brother, Thomas Whittaker, and lived less than a hundred yards from his spinning machine.

On Monday 16th August, he did not appear at work until past six o’clock in the evening and his father was angry. John had been to the mass protest for the reform of Parliament at St Peter’s Field. His father was angry; the meeting, though legal, came with warnings from the authorities about the danger; he had done no work today and was clearly in no fit state to do any this evening. He send his son angrily to report to the overseer, as John held his bloodied head and injured arm. John decided to minimize his injuries to his father, who was in any case, not interested

John was to continue as normal for a few days. A few days later he was to be seen in the pub, neither drunk nor sober, but in the phrase of a friend  “ lightish”. He offered to show people the wound on his left arm. John, as normal, stuck to beer and brandy with water, he was never a big drinker and never took spirits.

It took a week before he started to refuse drinks and then he started throwing up his food. He was constantly hot; his wound was not healing and his left arm and leg were numb. His left foot went purple. By Thursday 2ndSeptember   he took to his bed and never got up again, dying in the early hours of the morning of 6th September, blind in one eye, lame, retching with a putrid wound on his left elbow and his lungs suffocated with fluid.

How had John Lees died? He was killed by the malice and incompetence of the magistrates of  Manchester, who ordered the amateur, angry and intoxicated Manchester Yeomanry cavalry to charge the 80,000 crowd  of which John was a member on Monday 16th August. He had travelled, walking stick in hand to negotiate the rough cobbles between Oldham and Manchester, and arrived just before the main speech at 1pm. He was surrounded by women and children, out for the day to support a cause they believed in. They were the weavers and factory workers of Manchester and surrounding towns whose standard of living had collapsed over the last two years and now believed that reform of political representation was part of the solution.

It was decided by the magistrates to arrest Henry Hunt, the main speaker, and that the army was needed to do this. Unfortunately for the 400 crushed and 11 killed, the first people to get the order where the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, who hated the protesters and were  hated back in return. They slashed their way through the crowd with the newly sharpened swords, and John was one of their victims. At his inquest, witnesses saw him sabred by the soldiers on the arm, then beaten by the special constables   and trampled by a horse. He was one of hundreds. He  limped away back to Oldham. He expected no sympathy from his father, but his worried mother watched him decline and die.  Betty Ireland, a servant, saw the bruises and festering wounds; he was bleeding internally when he died..” he was still bleeding when they put him in his coffin”

The government inquest was a farce. The assertion that John had died from wounds received at Peterloo were not believed; it was argued that his drinking and failure to see a doctor were the real cause. As the Inquest drew to an inevitable conclusion of deliberate killing, it was discovered that the Coroner had made procedural errors; he had not viewed the body at the same time as the jurors; he had not sworn in the jury himself , as he had not bothered to turn up for the first two days. The Inquest was cancelled and no verdict was reached. As it was a “mistake”, the government forgave the coronor, but it meant that there was no justice for John Lees, or any other victim of Peterloo.