Before she was famous. Jane Austen in the newspapers, 1813-1833

 

Jane makes one of her first appearances in the newspapers in on 6th September 1813. In an event only publicised in the local newspaper   the Hampshire Chronicle   Jane donated one of the lower amounts- half a guinea (10 shilling and sixpence, a week’s average wage for a urban worker ) to the newly established Basingstoke and Alton branch of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge- an organisation which did what it said on the tin. It produced cheap Bibles and tried to encourage moral reformation. To subscribe to it   meant a desire to be respectable. To have your money accepted and publicised in the newspaper was an acknowledgement of your social position.

Jane’s position in   local society can be inferred from the details in the newspaper. All the committee members were male; Jane, like the other women on the list, were not committee members but additional subscribers, who made a donation rather than purchasing a yearly membership. It is highly unlikely that   Jane attended the meeting at the Bolton Arms Inn- and this was an age when many respectable women did attend meetings of charities. Her letters to Cassandra  around that time suggest that she may not have even been in the county

There are two references; a Miss Austen and a Miss Jane Austin. This may or may not be the same person

Jane had to wait until death to become newsworthy again. Once again, it was a   local event. This notice appeared on the last page of the Hampshire Chronicle as news from July 19th 1817, the day after her death

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Perhaps interestingly, this was not a paid for obituary but a piece of local news; her late father was previously a local cleric and it is unlikely that Jane would have received a mention if she had been a daughter of a local shoe maker.

On July 30th, a more or less identical notice appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, with the omission of her home address.

The newspapers are quiet until 1832; on Christmas Day 1832 the national newspaper the Morning Post made a reference to Jane. This was an advertisement- with the heading “Miss Jane Austen’s novels” ( in the plural, so there must have been some understanding that there was more than one.) Richard  Bentley, the publisher was presenting Sense and Sensibility as part of a series called The Standard Novels and Romances; there were two more identical advertisements, both in London papers, in the week before publication.

The Spectator magazine must have got hold of an early copy, as it has reviewed it by December 31st. The Morning Post reported on its findings. The paper noted their length of time since her death  “  the public took time to make up its mind”. It also hints that the general reader was engaged before the critics

The response to Sense and Sensibility meant that 1833 was Jane’s best year in the papers. By January the Hampshire Chronicle was rediscovering one of their own; “the novel affords diversified scenery of real life, and abounds in moral sentiment, conveyed in the most amusing incidents”.

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By March the Morning Post had reached its own, mostly favourable opinion. It took a few pages of reading, but the paper was impressed by her “natural fluency and unsophisticated earnestness”   Her novels rang true- they had “vraisemblance” and knowledge of human character. The was, the reviewer suggested, the ”new novelist of domestic truth”.

In April 1833, Volume 25 of Standard Novels and Romances included Emma. In July, Volume 27 included Mansfield Park and Bentley had sold over 100,000 copies of his series and Austen was clearly his star. The Scotsman liked Mansfield Park – “an admirable domestic tale…at which Miss Austen was has been long acknowledge as unrivalled”-clearly her books were being read in the 1820s by the public before the reviewers in the newspapers.

By August, Pride and Prejudice was the published in Volume 30. In October, all six novels were published in a cheap edition by Bentley, placing Jane on a par with some very well know Regency writers and poets….

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My book on the reality of Jane Austen’s  Britain is out on November 30

 

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“The Dark Days of Georgian  Britain” Pen and Sword

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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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                                     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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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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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”

 

Who shot Edward Vyse in the head? The Corn Law Riots, 1815

In 1815 the soldiers and sailors won the war against Napoleon but the government handed the victory to the landlords. They had profited from the high price of   grain during the war blockade, and so the government passed the Corn Law to forbid the import of Wheat until it reached 80 shilling a bushel. This was a de facto ban; it meant that the aristocrats could continue to benefit from high prices and the high rents that they supported.  It was passed by the Commons and Lords with the building surrounded by bayonets. The poor of London rioted because they knew that, having had 20 years of high food prices and poverty, the end of the war was not going to make their life easier.

The rioters were politically literate and aimed for the houses of those MPs who had actively supported the Corn Law. None of them died but their property was severely damaged. Two innocent bystanders did outside the house of Frederick John Robinson MP in Old Burlington Street. From earlier evening on a Tuesday his house was surrounded by a mob of about 60 throwing .Robinson was paying the price of introducing the Corn Bill to Parliament. However, his price was less than that of nineteen year old midshipman Edward Vyse, who was walking past the house and was hit with a shot from the pistol that was designed to scare the mob of boys outside. He died immediately at the scene.

Although this was a partisan class based piece of legislation, the rule of law meant that there would be an inquest, and an attempt to find the killer. One witness at the inquest was an Edward Howe, a messenger at the Board of Trade who asked one of the mob if he feared the soldiers shooting at them-“No, they dare not fire ball” he replied. It is clear that the rioters did not think they were living in a despotic state where the military fired at civilians.  Perhaps he also though that the firing of lethal shot was not part of the traditional choreography of the urban riot.

On the second day of the inquest a Corporal   Richard Burton gave evidence about the action of the six soldiers stationed there. The officer himself stressed that he was taking the advice of the constable, the civil power, and they both agreed to fire powder only. At eight thirty, when most of the Right Honourable member’s windows had been broken and his shutters were under attack, the soldiers opened fire, bit the balls of their cartridges so they were only producing smoke, and the young “rioters” cheered.

In this case, the cheerful rioters were wrong. About 10pm Edward Vyse, aged about 18, a navy midshipman, was shot in the head by persons unknown who were defending the Robinson house. Edward had been walking past the house, not towards it, in full uniform; there was no rioting or disturbances at that time-lots of witnessed attested to this. He had been killed instantly by a single cartridge ball from a pistol. A witness saw a soldier in the parlour wearing a foraging cap, who seemed to be responsible for the death. There were two other shots.

Corporal Burton admitted that there was at least one soldier with a foraging cap in the parlour at the time of Vyse’s death. There seemed to have been a real contradiction in evidence here; a soldier had fired under duress from the mobs attack at 8.30- but Edward Vyse had been killed at ten while he was merely passing the house, not trying to enter it. He father, a respectable artisan printer appeared as a sorrowful witness, backing up this narrative of events. The jury, clearly knowledgeable about these inquests, asked the coroner to keep the soldiers separate from Burton until the inquest continued. The Coroner regretted that he had no such power to do so.

Evidence from the Butler, James Ripley, suggested it seems that the fatal shot had not come from a military weapon but from rifles belonging to the household that had been loaded with the day before. Around 9pm an unidentified soldier had borrowed the rifle from Ripley and it was this that had been discharged into the street at about 10pm at Edward Vyse.

Corporal Burton could not offer any information about which of the six privates had fired the shot, so they we questioned individually. The witness George Ulph, private in the third regiment of Guards, was issued with 21 rounds of ball which he returned the next morning. He had not even fired shot. William Graves had returned all but one of his cartridges; he still had the balls he had bitten off in his pocket at home.

 With four soldiers left, the coroner separated those who had been nearest to the shooting from those who had been further way, and those further away were interrogated. These two could account for their ammunition, had never seen the man in the foraging cap, and were dismissed. Mathews and Herbert were clearly in the frame.

It proved impossible to prove who did the shooting. The Jury’s verdict was that Vyse was unlawfully murdered by persons unknown, and that the actions of the military were unconstitutional, as they had permission neither to enter   the house nor fire on the civilians outside.

James Ripley, the butler who provided pistols, Mathews and Herbert who were nearest the parlour and Richard Burton the corporal in charge must have breathed a sigh of guilty relief.

 

 

Let them eat stale bread. The diet of the poor in the Regency

Britain was running out of bread in 1800.The Napoleonic blockade was beginning to have an effect and British domestic production had not yet started to increase. Bread filled the bellies of the poor; children had dry bread for breakfast; workers had bread and cheese for their lunch; the workers wife’s had bread and lard ; drinkers had a salted herring and a slice of bread in the pub; everybody had  bread was the main accompaniment for scraps of bacon. Only on Sunday afternoon did bread not rule the house.

Something needed to be done, so in 1801 the government passed the Stale Bread Act. This did not, as the name may suggest, ban the sale of bread that was old and hard. Indeed it was the opposite; it was fresh bread that was banned. Bakers had to keep all loaves for 24 hours before selling them. This logic here was sound, but brutal. Stale bread did fill people up more, and added about 20% to the stomach filling capacity of the loaf. The government believed that up to 50% of all bread sold in the streets of London was hot, and eaten immediately as a snack. This indulgence by the poor could no longer be allowed

Bread consumption fell. Stale bread was also less pleasant to eat, so the government was also able to stop poor people being greedy. However, the Act lasted less than a year. Like many governmental panic measures through the ages, it turned out to be impossible to enforce. The government did try; they had draconian punishments for bakers and offered rewards to people offered fresh bread. They would receive half of the 5 shilling fine; the other half would be given to the poor. A second offence would mean that the bailiffs would take all   of the baker’ property. Many criminals made a living entrapping bakers into breaking the law.  

News of the arrest of bakers was always popular. People were very suspicious of them throughout the eighteenth century.  They were accused of   giving short weights (hence the bakers dozen being 13). Local city authorities, not usually ready to interfere in business, were more than happy to raid bakers and check their weights and measures. Some towns like Derby insisted that the bakers put their initials into each loaf so the bakers could be tracked down if necessary.

People did not, as a rule bake their own bread, so the bakers had a near monopoly. Most fireplaces in Britain were calamitously   inefficient   and it made no economic   sense to use fuel to bake at home. By 1800 poor people could no longer buy small amounts of flour at a reasonable price, as it was more profitable for millers, who were as unpopular as the bakers, to sell it to middlemen.

Bread consumption was reduced by people starving and living off other staples. The potato was unpopular; some people still believed that it was poisonous   and many resented the link with the Catholic Irish. It was regarded as watery and tasteless; outside of Lancashire, it was merely boiled to death. The North West had the advantage of a potato   industry in from the early eighteenth century, and then later on, am Irish diaspora which knew slight more about the tuber through regular and monotonous contact.

 By 1812, large numbers of farmers in Scotland were saved from death by the potato, and the working classes of Manchester were living off potatoes, bread, bacon, gruel, tea and beer- a similar diet to the Irish farmer, who had the same but probably a little more milk.

 Millers and bakers were still the scapegoats after 1815, when the government artificially maintained the price of wheat by banning imports until the price reached a level that could maintain aristocratic rents and profits. Most   rural riots in the period 1815-1817 would converge on the millers. Armed with sharpened agricultural implements, they would demand that prices returned to an earlier level. In towns, sellers in the markets would have their food stolen as a protest at the price. The normal cry was   “Bread or Blood” , often with a loaf on a stick as a symbol of the problem and a way of breaking windows.

 

Killed by Beer; the Meux brewery flood of 1814

meux

 

At about 5.30 pm on Monday October 17th 1814, a clerk inspected the huge vat of Porter- a strong black beer- at Meux’s Brewery, near the Tottenham Court Road in London. A large iron hoop supporting the outsize barrel had fallen off an hour earlier; however, there was no real concern- this had happened before. The barrel was huge – the size of a two storey building. And, as it turned out later, rotting away.

The huge fermenting barrel then exploded, and a million pints of beer, mixed with bricks and timber, streamed through the brewery at waist height and spread into the nearby streets of New Street and George Street. The lethal stream of beer, beer fumes, bricks and wood filled the basement cellars of New Street where people where having their tea, and destroyed three houses in George Street. Bricks from the brew house also rained down on New Street. The explosion weakened the facades if the houses and the inundation destroyed the walls, partitions and roof supports.

Eleanor Cooper, aged about 14 was working in the Tavistock Arms public house at 22 George Street. She was scouring pots and pans at a water pump when she was drowned by the incoming wave or crushed by a collapsing 25 foot wall. The beer wave filled the cellar first and then smashed into the yard where she was working. She was found at 8.20, clinging to a water-butt. The Surgeon Ogle was present to help but Eleanor was quite dead.

The newspapers added to the distress by lamenting that 60 pans were smashed beyond recognition. Early newspaper reports gave Eleanor’s age as 10; while this turned out to be incorrect, it did not seem implausible to the press that ten-year old would be working as a servant in the pub. Other reports suggest she was nearer 16; once again the lack of knowledge shows how important a young woman like this was to Regency Society. Her body was sent to the local workhouse and her aged was settled at a guess of 14.

At the partially demolished 3 New Street, the body of the child Sarah Bates was discovered at 1 am in the morning. She was between 3 and four years old .This was part of a heroic campaign by the locals and the brewery servants to locate bodies in the rubble. As today, there were constant calls for silence as people listened to noises from the destroyed buildings. The local working class poor behaved well throughout.

In another part of the house, a Mary Banfield, wife of a coal heaver, her daughter and another child was   having tea and the wave of beer washed the mother out of a tenement window and pushed the daughter into another room, where she was smashed into a partition and killed. Her name was Hannah Banfield and she was about 4 years old; the other child was found nearly suffocated but alive; the mother was sent to the Middlesex Hospital in a serious state but eventually recovered.

Most of the deaths were in New Street.  This was the home of many poor, predominantly Irish families, many of whom lived in cellar dwellings.  At midnight, the corpse of Elizabeth Smith was found on the first floor of one of the two houses in New Street that was completely destroyed.  Elizabeth was a 27 year old bricklayer’s wife. Elizabeth had been in the cellar of No 2 New Street with other local Irish at a wake for a child who had died 2 days before. He was John Saville and his mother Ann Saville was one of the victims. Ann was found floating but drowned in the actual brew house itself at 7.30 on the first evening; her house was immediately behind the brewery.

She was placed with her son in one of the 5 black coffins put in the open air to solicit donations for the funeral of these victims who were drowned in the cellar-   Mary Mulvey (30), her son by an earlier marriage, Thomas Murray (3) and Catherine Butler , a widow(65) . There were no adult men in the cellar for the wake of John Saville; however, if the explosion had happened two hours later, the men would have  been back from work. However, John Saville, wife of Ann, John Bates, father of Sarah and Thomas Smith, husband of Elizabeth, were present at the coffins of their loved ones. They formed, according to the papers “a doleful group”

Anne and her child were buried at St Giles Churchyard on 21 October and the other coffins lay a bit longer at the Ship Inn, Banbury Street, were £33 was raised for their burial.

This was more than enough money for pauper funerals; however the money was more or less extorted from the crowd rather than being a charitable donation. It was more of an entrance fee; two police offers were stationed at the door with a plate in hand to collect sixpences and shillings.  The money was to be used for the general welfare of the local poor too, who had lost an estimated £3000 in property- which puts the £33 into some perspective.

The local working poor who survived were soon forgotten; and the backlash began a little. On October 25th the Bury and Norwich Post reported that the “lower class of Irish” that lived in the area were seen by Wednesday “busy employed putting their claim to their share…every vessel from kettle to cask were used…many were seen enjoying their share at the expense of the proprietor”

However, there was, on the whole a lack of victim blaming in this case. Many of the reports of drunkenness and beer looting do not originate from the primary descriptions and I was unable to find the claims of about the Irish repeated in any other papers. The newspaper could-shock horror- have invented the story to pander to the prejudices of its readership.

By November, the emphasis continued to turn away from the victims. The inquest jury at St Giles workhouse had taken only a few moments to declare that the eight were killed “accidently, and by misfortune”   The newspapers reported with relief that the Horseshoe Brewery of Henry Meux was insured, and that in November 1814 the company successfully asked the Treasury for the rebate of £7664   of excise duties that had already been paid for the beer

Another £800 in aid was raised in the next two months from local people, including a substantial donation from the Young Brewery at Wandsworth. Meux’s brewery made no contribution. The victims were, after all, merely the poor, and the Irish poor at that.