John Thurtell

 BORN 21 December 1793 in England.
 BAPTISED 22 December 1793 in England.
 DIED 9 January 1824 at Hertford — public hanging.
 FATHER Thomas Thurtell (1765-1846)
 MOTHER Susanna Browne (1764-1848)
 LINKS An account of Thurtell’s execution (1)
An account of Thurtell’s execution (2)
Other notes
Wikipedia article
Condensed version of Watson’s book
A modern account of the crime — including audio.

John Thurtell, son of Thomas and Susanna Browne Thurtell and nephew of John and Anne Browne Thurtell (his mother was Anne’s younger sister and his father was John’s younger brother), was convicted and executed for the murder of William Weare, a notorious swindler. The Thurtell name was blackened, notwithstanding some public sympathy for the murderer, and as a result other members of his family changed their names to Turner, Murray or Manfred. The adverse publicity may also have been a factor in the emigration of many members of the family to North America, South Africa and Australia.

[The miscreants in the Thurtell family were not limited to the infamous murderer. A James Thurtell was transported to Australia and is the ancestor of most of the Thurtells in Australia. He was born in 1811 in Norfolk. His trial was heard by the above-mentioned Thomas Thurtell, Mayor of Norwich, father of the murderer. Exactly where he fits into the picture is not clear.]

John (alias Jack) Thurtell, born 21 December 1794, in England, and hanged 9 January 1824, at Hertford, was the black sheep of the Thurtell family. He was the second surviving son of Thomas Thurtell, a prominent member of Norwich City Council, Norfolk, and (from 1828) Mayor of Norwich, and Susanna Browne.

The notorious Jack Thurtell became the subject of numerous books, articles, and plays. Much of what follows is taken from the 1987 book by Albert Borowitz, The Thurtell-Hunt Murder Case, Dark Mirror to Regency England.

Naval Record
On 8 May 1809, at the age of 15, John Thurtell received a commission in Company 99 of the Royal Marines, based at Chatham, and was transferred a month later to HMS Adamant, the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle. After a few cruises in the eastern approaches to the Channel, Adamant was ordered to the Forth and lay moored in Leith Roads for several years, doing nothing.

On 16 July 1811 Lieutenant Thurtell was peremptorally discharged at the personal order of Nagle’s successor, Rear Admiral William Otway, for some misconduct the nature of which is unknown. However, he can’t have been discharged absolutely from the service, as on 7 November 1811, he joined the 74-gun HMS Bellona (presumably still as a Marine). Despite its warlike name, the Bellona saw little more action than the Adamant. In early 1813 the ship proceeded to St Helena to pick up a convoy of East Indiamen returning from the Orient.

When Thurtell’s name became notorious a decade later, it was often asserted that he and his shipmates of the Bellona participated in the storming of the port of San Sebastian [on the north coast of Spain]. Eric Watson, however, found that on 1 August 1813, when San Sebastian fell, a muster of the ship was called at St Helen’s on the Isle of Wight and that it cruised near San Sebastian a few days after hostilities had ended.

In early September the Bellona chased a brig of war and a schooner; the brig escaped, but the unarmed schooner was captured as a prize of war. These bloodless encounters with the enemy were apparently the only basis for Thurtell’s later claims of gallantry under fire.

Thurtell resigned his commission in June 1814 (when peace was signed). His captain gave him a good character witness at his trial.

The Young Businessman
In the following year, when he reached the age of 21, his father set him up in business as a manufacturer of bombazine, a twilled silk dress fabric, in partnership with one John Giddings (or Giddens). At this point he became interested in prize-fighting and formed a friendship with a prize-fighter who had moved to Norwich from London. When Jack himself, probably still living with his parents, went to London he hung out amongst other sporting characters (according to Pierce Egan) at the various houses in London, kept by persons attached to the sports of the field, horse-racing, and the old English practice of boxing. He was well known to be the son of Alderman Thurtell, of Norwich, a man of great respectability, of considerable property, and likewise possessing superior talents. John Thurtell was … viewed as a young man of integrity.

John seems to have formed an attachment for a pretty Quakeress about this time, of which his parents disapproved, but his affection, though apparently reciprocated, cooled, and he formed a liaison with a local beauty (a native, perhaps, of Yarmouth), of no antecedents or education, named Mary Dodson.

Unfortunately, Jack then blotted his copybook by going into London to collect several thousand pounds for goods sold to a firm there, which he owed to creditors of the partnership in Norwich, and claiming on his return that he had been robbed of the money by footpads. The creditors didn’t believe him, despite his displaying bruises, a black eye and a cut on the head, and the Thurtell-Giddings partnership went bankrupt in February 1821, being unable to obtain any more credit.

That same year, his brother Tom Thurtell, who had started out as a farmer, also went bankrupt. He owed £4000, but half of it was to his father. He attributed his bankruptcy to the poor state of the land he took on, bad crops and excessive taxation.

The Swell Yokel
Around this time, the brothers, both undischarged bankrupts, moved to London, though much of what they did seems to have been done by Jack alone, often using Tom’s name, so, apart from his stint in prison, Tom may never actually have lived in London. He went back to Lakenham as soon as he could.

In March 1822, Jack arranged for Tom to be thrown into the King’s Bench prison for a debt of £17. This appears to have been an attempt to get Tom’s bankruptcy discharged by taking advantage of the act for the relief of insolvent debtors; it was an unsuccessful move, so Jack withdrew the complaint and Tom was released in April 1823 after 14 months in jail.

In the meantime, Jack had taken the lease of the Cock tavern in the Haymarket in Tom’s name, but seems to have run it himself. Tom’s credit may have been better than Jack’s because he only really owed money to his father. In fact, Tom seems to have been pretty much a pawn in Jack’s plans.

Jack Thurtell had an interest in several gambling houses and a tavern called The Black Boy. Being himself an excellent amateur boxer, he trained and managed prizefighters.

As a sideline the Thurtells decided to embark on a method of fraud, the long firm scheme, in which goods are bought for credit and sold for cash and then the promissory notes given to the suppliers are dishonoured at maturity. It looks as if the whole point of leasing the Cock Tavern was to raise about £450 for the original investment in bombazine for the warehouse by selling off the contents of the cellar.

At the end of 1822 they insured a warehouse full of their bombazine goods with the County Fire Office for £1900, swiftly transferred the stock elsewhere and sold it at a discount. The warehouse was then completely destroyed by fire on 26 January 1823, Jack Thurtell having arranged for alterations to be made to it beforehand so that no-one could see the fire inside until it was too late. Various people noticed that the remains of the warehouse seemed to contain no burned bales of silk and the joinery work he had commissioned shortly before, which seemed to have no purpose other than to prevent the fire from being seen by the nightwatchman, struck people as very suspicious. The County Fire Office refused to pay the claim, and Tom Thurtell sued them. He won his case in June 1823, but Barber Beaumont, managing director of the County Fire Office, refused to pay out and procured an indictment against the Thurtells for conspiracy to defraud the insurance company. [Tom Thurtell apparently went to prison for fraud in 1824, after Jack was hanged, and served 3 years.]

A number of reports as to the fraud case appeared in The Times.

On the Run
At this point (for lack of the expected £1900) the finances of the Thurtell brothers collapsed yet again and they had to abscond from the Cock Tavern not only to escape its final collapse under a mountain of unpaid bills but to avoid arrest on the conspiracy charge, which appeared imminent because of their inability to raise bail. They went into hiding at the Coach and Horses in Conduit Street.

By this time, Jack Thurtell appeared to be suffering from ’an observable disintegration of his personality’ (although he had always had a spectacularly explosive temper) and spent most of his time brooding on his wrongs and his grievances against all the people he felt had done him an injury, most particularly (according to Joseph Hunt) the ex-waiter and cardsharp William Weare, ’who in cheating him at cards had not only stolen his money [£200] but had made him the laughingstock of London’s gamblers’.

Jack decided to exact revenge. On 24 October 1823 he lured Weare out of London to spend a shooting weekend at the house of a friend, Bill Probert, at Radlett in Hertfordshire. Another friend, Joe Hunt, had agreed to help to murder Weare, and he and Probert were supposed to be following close behind Jack and his victim. In the event, however, they got cold feet and delayed so long on the road from London that, by the time they finally arrived in Radlett late in the evening, Jack had already committed the murder. At the bottom of Gills Hill Lane, after firing a shot that apparently missed, he had killed Weare by smashing in his skull with the muzzle of his pistol. Probert and Hunt merely had to help him to get rid of the body. Having dumped it overnight in a pond in the grounds of Probert’s house, Gills Hill Cottage, they finally disposed of it in another pond beside the road to Elstree.

Unfortunately for the success of his project, Jack had not covered his tracks very well. Firstly, Weare’s associates in London knew that he had intended to spend the weekend in the company of Jack Thurtell and raised the alarm when he failed to reappear. Secondly, on the night of the murder Jack had stashed the murder weapon in a hedge and was not able to find it the next morning before it was discovered by some roadmenders and handed to the authorities. When enquiries were made about the disappearance of Weare, the matching pistol of the pair (which he had recently bought) was found in Jack’s lodgings. Thirdly, for his trip to Radlett, Jack had made the mistake of hiring a gig drawn by a very distinctive iron-grey horse with a white face, which meant that several people remembered seeing it and it was possible to establish who the occupants had been. Finally, the fact that Probert and Hunt had not actually been involved in the murder itself meant that as soon as they realised that they were coming under suspicion they both turned King’s Evidence and told the authorities everything they knew.

Probert was granted a pardon but Hunt, who had told lies in an attempt to conceal the fact that he had originally agreed to help in the murder, was refused a pardon, found guilty of being an accessory after the fact and transported to Australia. In fact, until the last moment, he was convinced he was going to share Thurtell’s fate and wrote a farewell letter to his mother, as reported in The Times of 13 Jan 1824. In the event, he survived until 1861 in Bathurst, NSW, where he married a doctor’s widow, had two children and became a pillar of the local community. His descendants in Australia are now numerous.

Trial and Dispatch
Jack Thurtell, as described in the Borowitz book, was intelligent and very well spoken and always described his mother as very loving. At the time of the trial (see interview with Pierce Egan, published in The Times of Tuesday 9 Dec 1823), he swore that he was innocent, but he later stated, I am quite satisfied, I forgive the world; I die in peace and charity with all mankind … I admit that justice has been done me. (This is from the 1824 book by Pierce Egan Account of the Trial of John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt and Recollections of John Thurtell quoted in the Borowitz book). The Egan piece elicited an irate response, published 12 January 1823, from John Barber Beaumont, the managing director of the County Fire Office who was pursuing the fraud allegation regarding the Thurtell brothers’ warehouse fire.

Thurtell’s Execution:1. The Under Turnkey 2. The Executioner 3. John Thurtell 4. Mr Wilson, the Gaoler 5. Mr Nicholson, the Under Sheriff 6. Dr Burnett, the Phrenologist 7. One of the Reporters to the Morning Chronicle 8. A Javelin Man beating down an indecorous Reporter 9. A person well known in the Sporting circles.

Thurtell seems to have expected his trial to be delayed so that he could call three more witnesses who had been intimidated, he claimed, by prejudicial press reports. In the end, his side of the story was never fully told and has largely to be reconstructed from the evidence of Probert and Hunt. In the Albert Borowitz book, there is a pencil sketch of Thurtell’s profile made during the trial by W. A. Mulready; it is reproduced here.

Jack Thurtell was hanged at Hertford jail on 9 January 1824 (see report in The Times of Saturday 10 Jan 1824). His partner in crime, Joe Hunt, also gave his own account of Thurtell’s last days, which was published in The Times.

There is a great deal of information on John Thurtell, including various books. There were also Broadside Ballads written about him as a Caution to the Youth of Great Britain. William Makepeace Thackeray, was quoted as referring to the case as a godsend to journalists. Murder was rare in Regency England, and this was an extremely brutal murder committed by the son of a prominent merchant and Mayor of Norwich. The crime was also used as a cautionary tale of the story of a respectable young man who had gone to London and become involved with boxing and gambling, which were two of the unlawful pleasures of England at that time. The case has been called England’s most literary murder, with wide coverage in the press, poetry, plays, stories, books, and even the internet from 1823 to the present. Lurid scenes such as the use of a ghost-faced horse to drive the gig on the night of the murder, a double water burial, an uncanny nocturnal disinterment, and a suspicious wife spying on the division of the criminals’ spoils (quotation from the Borowitz book) gave the murder concrete visual images.

Some details of Jack Thurtell’s life are given in the Dictionary of National Biography. A wax figure of him was displayed in Madame Tussaud’s for about 150 years (see image above). It is said that Thurtell’s features were modelled by Madame Tussaud herself, so the figure has not been melted down but put into storage.

There are two more accounts of Thurtell’s execution:

John Thurtell–The Elstree Murder

According to the above-mentioned interview in The Times, Jack was fully expecting that the process of dissection would be carried out after his death — indeed the law required it — and hoped that what was left of him would be interred in a tomb over which his mother could shed a tear. The Times of 13 Jan 1824 carried a report of the public viewing of his corpse. His skeleton, so far as we know, is still at the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

In the old days in England, it was customary after some of the more spectacular executions for the criminals not only to be publicly dissected but for their skins to be flayed from their corpses and tanned like cowhide. Two famous murderers who received this treatment were William Burke, the body snatcher, and Corder of the Red Barn. Corder’s skin, or part of it at least, was used to bind a two-volume account of his trial. His skin was sold at private auction, and someone bought a big enough piece to have a tobacco pouch made. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 17).

Burke’s skeleton is still standing in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University, while those of Corder, Jonathan Wild, and Eugene Aram are kept along with that of John Thurtell at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

R. Thurston Hopkins says:
Probably the murder of Mr. William Weare by John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt near Elstree, Middlesex, on 24 October 1823, is richer in literary associations than any other crime of modern days. It supplied Lord Lytton with material for a sensational sketch in Pelham; attracted the attention of our reincarnation of Omar, the recluse FitzGerald; invaded the mind of Charles Lamb; inspired a wonderful set of stanzas that have been likened to the Dream of Eugene Aram, and gave Carlyle a new synonym for the word respectability. I propose to sketch briefly the story of this crime, and shall draw upon facts taken from Mr. Shorter’s George Borrow and his Circle and an article by John O’London.

John Thurtell and his brother Thomas were the sons of a Norwich alderman, who lived in a good style at a big house on the Ipswich Road. But owing, no doubt, to his father’s wild enthusiasm over his political opinions, the welfare of his sons must have been neglected, for we find that George, a gardener at Eaton, spent his last days in jail, while Thomas was a confirmed gambler, and spent much of his time in the Brown Bear, a tavern in Bow Street, London, which was frequented by sports and all the wild mob which followed the fancy. The two brothers, Tom and John, also carried on a business at some premises at Watling Street that were eventually burnt down under suspicious circumstances which pointed to incendiarism, so it was natural that people should look with distrust upon John Thurtell since he had defrauded his creditors at Norwich to the extent of £400 before he came to London.

For some time, John’s hazards at the card tables of the Brown Bear had been very unlucky and caused him serious embarrassment. There can be little doubt that he was the dupe of a circle of card-sharpers, and for some time his relations with one of his associates, a Mr. William Weare, were rather strained. In fact, he always asserted that Weare was the chief plunderer. Anyway, Thurtell might have washed his hands of the company and proceedings at the Brown Bear for ever at this point, for he was utterly disheartened and penniless. But Nemesis decreed that his degradation was not yet complete. The company at the tavern as John O’London has aptly put it added to their cruel depredations their yet more cruel kindness by putting up a wager for him on a sold prize-fight by which he benefited to the extent of £600. After this success, he madly plunged into the vortex of gaming and drinking which he had always more or less dallied with. He was a man of violent temper, vindictive nature, also extravagant tastes, and it may be guessed this mode of living did not tend to curb the hatred he felt towards Weare. Finally, he planned how he might murder his despoiler, obtain revenge, and incidentally acquire the contents of the fat purse that Weare was known to carry in the leather-lined pocket of his yellow sporting waistcoat. Contemporary writers have told us that robbery had little part in the crime, and that Thurtell’s main object was revenge, coupled with the recovery of the money of which he had been fleeced. Even so, to what dark depths had this man fallen, who, it must be remembered, at one time served his country honourably. It is indeed a far cry from the storming of San Sebastian to the gallows in front of Hertford Gaol.

When Thurtell addressed the court in his own defence, he referred to his military service abroad as follows: The few days of my late misfortunes have thrown a livid shadow over the glories of days long past. The actions of my life have been misrepresented every kind of engagement or connection which I might have formed, has been ransacked to supply the magazine of slander. You have been informed, that even in the day of glory, when the battle’s rage had ceased, and the peril of the conflict was over, the vanquished, inoffending, yielding, nay supplicating foe (at this point Thurtell was deeply affected and burst into tears) has fallen in cold blood beneath my cowardly steel; that not satisfied with the blood of my victim, I coolly set to plunder his person.

This allusion has a bearing on a certain story which it is asserted that Thurtell recounted to Hunt after they had been committed to Hertford Goal, charged with the murder. It has been recorded in the following terms: He (Thurtell) was with the English at the storming of St. Sebastian, and when they entered that town, he saw a Polish officer in the French service, leaning against a wall, seemingly done up with wounds and exertion. I thought by the look of him that he was a nob, with plenty of blunt about him, so I just stuck my sword into his ribs and settled him; and I found a hundred and forty doubloons in the swell yokel’s pocket!

And good booty wasn’t it, Joe? This remark to Hunt, who assented with a loud laugh.

It is as well to point out that Thurtell made use of many expressions peculiar to the flash and sporting character of this period. George Borrow suggests that this mysterious speech, formed of metaphorical terms and words, is derived from various ancient languages.

It is asserted that Thurtell concocted a plan by which he hoped to be able to commit wholesale murder, and that he included among his intended victims Mr. Barber Beaumont, who was at that time making himself rather obnoxious by inquiring into the cause of the Watling Street fire.

Having previously been a frequenter of a cottage in Gill’s Hill Lane, near Elstree, owned by a friend of his and used for shooting and gambling, Thurtell fixed upon this spot as suitable for carrying out his villainous design. One evening, towards the end of October, Thurtell and his friend Hunt met Weare at a tavern and persuaded him to come down to the cottage at Elstree for a few days’ sport with the gun. On the next day, Weare, who rented chambers at Lyons Inn, threw some clothes and a back-gammon board into a green carpet bag and made ready for the departure. Meanwhile Hunt and Thurtell had visited a pawnbroker’s shop in Marylebone, and had left it equipped with a brace of pistols. They afterwards made their way to The Coach and Horses in Conduit Street, where they encountered Probert, a spirit dealer and the lessee of the cottage in Gill’s Hill Lane, who, as I have mentioned, was Thurtell’s trusted friend. The murder was again discussed here, and it was arranged that Thurtell should drive Weare down to the cottage in a gig that night and that Hunt and Probert should follow after them in another gig. Thurtell hoped to dispose of his victim on the way down and the other two were instructed to wait for him at a certain point close to Gill’s Hill Lane. Many people have been impressed by the free and easy way that the plotters set about their horrible task. They regarded the murder of Weare as a mere piece of side play in a day’s outing. In this manner, Hunt had purchased a loin of pork in Oxford Street, of which he hoped to partake of heartily for his supper at Elstree, and a sack to carry away the body was also stowed away in the bottom of the gig. As a matter of fact, Probert’s gig somehow managed to take the lead in the first stage of the journey, but they were overtaken by Thurtell. After this, the two gigs did not meet again. Hunt and Probert pulled up at the Artichoke Inn, which is a little way past Edgware, where they delayed for an hour drinking brandy. There is this day a new structure which has taken the place of this inn, but its name remains unchanged.

By the time the two men drew near to Probert’s cottage, Thurtell was awaiting them on foot, and he informed them he had done the trick The terrible Thurtell, lord of the concourse, as Borrow has styled him, had shown little mercy. Poor Weare had pleaded with him, then turned and fled from the madman, who had turned on him. We may well drop a curtain over this terrible part of the story. The pursuit by Thurtell along the narrow lane, thick with autumn leaves; the overtaking of his victim; the still limp body thrust into the hedge amid the damp, clinging grass and under-growth. The deed has been perpetuated in a unique and most unpleasant stanza, which runs:

He cut his throat from ear to ear,
His brains he battered in;
His name was Mr. William Weare,
He lived in Lyon’s Inn.

Such is the outline of the crime that created such a sensation all over the country. Perhaps it was intensified by the circumstances which followed the murder, for it was afterwards affirmed that they sat down to a supper of roast pork after having cast the body into a pond near by. A witness during the trial of Thurtell attained some notoriety by answering an inquiry, Was supper postponed? with the reply, No, sir, it was roast pork.

It needs little imagination to picture Thurtell and his accomplices, inflamed with brandy, discussing the crime at supper, nay, even jesting about it. We see the three close-cropped heads bending over the division of the crisp bank-notes. We hear again the whisperings that gradually became open boastings, which were overheard by Probert’s wife and led her to peep from her window at midnight, where she beheld them at part of their gruesome task.

De Quincey, in his essay On Murder as One of the Fine Arts, in which he discourses on crime from the time of Cain up to Thurtell’s deed, whimsically argues that the affair at Gill's Hill Lane was a very crude and reckless performance; its style, he points out, was as harsh as Albert Dürer and as coarse as Fuseli. One thing is certain. The clumsy and foolhardy way in which the whole thing was carried out could not have ended in any other way but discovery. Next day the body was dragged from the pond by the now terrified band, for the neighbours had heard shots and strange noises in the night. Its next resting place was a marsh, where it was conveyed in a gig by Hunt. But Nemesis was close on their track. The pistol that was used for the deed, and which Thurtell had failed to find in spite of a long search with a lamp, was found by some workmen, who also reported blood and signs of a struggle on the highway.

The breath of suspicion insisted that a stranger had been seen in Thurtell's trap and had since been seen no more. Every hour the suspicion grew more intense, and the crisis was reached upon the arrest of Thurtell and his two friends as a precaution while inquiries were being made both near and far.

Hunt and Probert, both filled with terror, at once made an open statement of the facts of the crime. The trial took place at Hertford Assizes, where Thurtell and Hunt were found guilty and received sentence of death. Probert was called as the principal witness against his friends; in other words, Probert turned King’s informer.

Thurtell in every way answers to Borrow’s description of him when he stood for trial. He stood grim and pale, and when he spoke every other voice was silent. He made a most impressive speech in his own defence, which it was certain greatly affected the jury, and it looked as if he was going to escape the interview with Jack Ketch. But the judge destroyed all his arguments and passed from one point to another, sweeping away all his fallacious reasoning and subtle quibbles with great skill. He pleaded his services as a soldier, which produced for him a good deal of sympathy. But it is said that he ruined his speech by reading to the jury long extracts from the Percy Anecdotes, displaying to them the fallacy of convicting a man on circumstantial evidence. He declared that he was the victim of Hunt and Probert and their devilry, who were the real murderers and now had joined hands to bear false witness against him. His lawyers had, it seems, provided him with much literature dealing with circumstantial evidence, and his defence showed a good deal of skill. Of course, he was a man with a sound education, and it is of interest to note that he was on the list of subscribers to Sorrow’s Romantic Ballads, which he was never to peruse, for they were not published till he had for two years lain in his burning winding-sheet. It will be recalled that these ballads were carried by Borrow to London in a strange, green box on 22 April 1824. Only a few months later he returned with them weary, depressed and penniless. George Thurtell, the murderer’s brother, who was a follower of the prize-fighters, also subscribed for a copy of the Ballads.

Although Thurtell was of such a vindictive nature, he showed a most astonishing trait in his character by his sublime. I use Edward FitzGerald’s word act of goodwill towards his friend Hunt. It must be remembered that this man, by giving information to the magistrates, had helped to deliver his one, true friend into the hands of the hangman. It was in consideration of his assistance in clearing up several points that the sentence of death was mitigated to that of transportation. But Thurtell’s lust for revenge, which had burned passionately for the man who had robbed him of his gold, did not extend to the man who played a conspicuous part in robbing him of his life. It was his final wish that Hunt should pass an hour or so with him in his cell on the eve of his execution. In all the realms of crime, was there ever before a behest like this! It was this action that warmed FitzGerald's heart towards the man, for we find this passage in a letter written to Fanny Kemble more than fifty years after Thurtell had been thrust into a dishonoured grave:

I like, you know, a good Murder; but in its place.

The charge is prepared; the Lawyers are met
The judges all ranged, a terrible Show.

Only the other night I could not help reverting to that sublime act yes! of Thurtell sending for his accomplice Hunt, who had saved himself by denouncing Thurtell sending for him to pass the night before Execution with perfect Forgiveness Handshaking and God bless you, God bless you, you couldn’t help it, I hope you’ll live to be a good man.

Nothing better illustrates the fact that all interest in this trial was not of a sordid nature than the extraordinary literary relic bestowed upon it by Thomas Carlyle. In several of his works, he introduces the word gig as a synonym of narrow-minded respectability. It delighted him to ridicule the supercilious, the purse proud, or the respectable, and with his bold and sardonic touches of humour this dialogue between council and a witness in Thurtell’s trial has for ever been perpetuated:

What sort of person was Mr. Weare?

He was always a respectable person.

What do you mean by respectable?

He kept a gig.

It is certain that Thurtell was theatrical both in his manner and his style of dress. He adopted a most pronounced sporting style in his clothes, which was doubtless a trick to emphasize his personality. Borrow described to emphasise his personality. Borrow described his somewhat extravagant taste in dress more than once in Lavengro. At one time, he was wearing a broad, slouching hat, a grey coat of the genuine Newmarket cut, a scarlet plush waistcoat, broad corduroy breeches, and white top boots.

With an eye to dramatic effect, the notorious rascal did not even forbear from jesting about the gallows’ drop. A contemporary report says that one day, while conversing with the governor of the gaol, he remarked: Why, I understand that when you round people here, you put them in a tumbler, and send ’em out of the world with a Gee-up, gee-ho, and I suppose my ears will be saluted with a crack of the whip; but this is rather an old-fashioned and ungentlemanly way of finishing a man. However, Thurtell took the step out of the world by the aid of an improved drop-gallows which the magistrate of the county had ordered to be especially erected.

Thurtell name       Go to Index web page made 22 January 2006; edited  ⬩⬩⬩