The Painter, the Laundress and the Murders at the Inns of Court

The Painter, the Laundress and the Murders at the Inns of Court

Language: English

Pages: 274

ISBN: 1453710477

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


On the morning of February 4th 1733, the bodies of three women were discovered at Number 3 Tanfield Court a few yards from the Temple Church at the Inns of Court. The following day, a young laundress, Sarah Malcolm, was arrested and charged with their murder. The gruesome nature of the crime allied to her youth and beauty shocked London society. William Hogarth painted her portrait in the condemned hold of Newgate gaol shortly before her execution. This account of her life, trial and death offers an intriguing insight into the workings of the law in eighteenth century London. It is based on contemporary records and includes Charles Dickens' account of the whole affair. She died still protesting her innocence.

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court, and her confessional letter to Rev. Piddington lecturer of St Bartholomew the Great, written the night before she died, Sarah was exceptionally literate and articulate. Her father had an estate worth about £100 a year. Through failed business dealings, overspending and possibly gambling, described as ‘extravagance’ in the Calendar, he lost his property and the estate became mortgaged except for his wife’s jointure. She being Irish, the family then set out for Dublin where they procured a

Garret (the poor poet’s fate) in Alton where I am endeavouring to pass the Relict of my days in Piety, Purity, Peace, and an Old Maid.’ The popular conception of servant maids as found in diaries, journals, memoirs and autobiographies, suggest an unsavoury gang of conniving, unscrupulous, immoral, unreliable and dishonest women who came into the house just long enough to steal the silver, seduce the males, get pregnant and move on with a pocketful of wages in lieu of notice; a monstrous

hands, she suddenly started and threw her head back. Johnson grabbed at her hair, and feeling something hard, pulled off her cap. In it he found a bag of money. He asked her how she came by it and got the reply, ‘It is some of Mrs Duncomb’s money.’ This was the first bald admission that she had taken the old lady’s property. The tankard and shifts she had so far claimed were hers. Why suddenly make this admission of guilt? Was she tired of lying; or did she feel the need to confide in a fellow

chambers, is a circumstance so strong as amounts to a proof. Here Sarah was moved to interrupt again: ‘Yes I own’d part of the money to be hers, but not that I took it out of her chambers; and it was Johnson that instigated me to burn the bag.’ The jury must have wondered why she was so insistent on these points. By now she must have realised it was all up with her. The murders aside, to steal such a large amount from a dwelling house was a hangable offence; she could neither plead benefit of

horrible transactions evinced an uncommon proportion of both, and proved her a Lady Macbeth in low life.’ It is an intriguing theory. The art or science of proving criminal tendencies by studying the face has long been a central concern of literature. Most famously, Shakespeare’s Duncan failed on this account when judging the loyalty of not one, but two Thanes of Cawdor. On the day of the portrait, the seven other convicts sentenced to death along with Sarah at the end of the Sessions were

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