Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Marvin Bradley and Rex Morgan – Doctors Without Borders.

Sketch of Rex Morgan – It seemed strange that someone who must have drawn the face of Dr Morgan thousands of times, needed to go to his studio and (I never saw) light-box? trace? pencil and erase? a simple head-shot…

By Rick Marschall

I was named Comics Editor of Publishers Newspaper Syndicate in the mid-1970s after similar stints at United Feature Syndicate and Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. In fact I was offered the job to be Sylvan Byck’s assistant at King Features Syndicate, a position created for me, by KFS General Manager Neal Freeman; and the job at Publishers (of Field Enterprises, as it had been known).

The choice was excruciating, because William Randolph Hearst (founder of King Features) had been a hero; but the chance to be comics chief at the Number Two syndicate in the field won out over the offer to be Number Two comics guy at the Number One syndicate. In a holding pattern behind Sylvan.

Publishers / Field, in Chicago, was attractive enough. Some of the great strips, many by friends, awaited – Johnny Hart’s BC and Wizard of Id; Hank Ketcham’s Dennis; Mell Lazarus’ Miss Peach and Momma; Pogo had just wound down; Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk; VIP’s Big George; childhood favorites Freddy by Rupe, and The Girls by Franklin Folger. Jules Feiffer, Bill Mauldin, Herblock. What a playground!

It was also known as the Syndicate of the Soapssoap-opera and continuity strips. It was a kick to work with Milton Caniff on Steve Canyon. No “work” was needed, but I had an excuse to call and pay visits. Otherwise the story strips included Mary Worth, Steve Roper, Kerry Drake, Rex Morgan MD, Judge Parker, Apartment 3-G, Mark Trail…

It was a time when story strips were dying, and the reasons seemed clear. Shorter stories and quicker resolutions on TV series. More action on movie screens. A newsprint shortage that forced papers to save space and shrink the comics – less detail, shorter dialog. And so forth… at least as the defense raised by cartoonists, editors, and syndicate salesmen.

In my analysis, the chief culprit was simply that strips had grown dull; cartoonists were being lazy; and in a new age, story strips were inexplicably prissy. I will recall in a future column the many fights and few allies I had in my efforts to make these story strips exciting and inviting. I fought like crazy to the (resistant) Nick Dallis, writer of Rex Morgan, Judge Parker, and Apt 3-G, but when I got bounced he was the most vocal supporter of mine, wanting to start a petition among the cartoonists to bring me back.

But this visit will be with Marvin Bradley – Brad – who had drawn Rex Morgan, MD from the first cough, in 1948. Dr Dallis, a psychiatrist in Arizona, had created the strip (as “Dal Curtis”); and the “background artist” was Frank Edgington. The trio had a very strange working relationship and one whose creative process I frankly never believed.  When I asked to see work in middle stages, or we needed artwork for articles or exhibitions, they would show the script, partially inked backgrounds with white silhouettes like ghosts in a room, then as the last step with inked figures and faces.

When Rex began, there were interesting storylines, even controversial subjects. But when I became the editor and wanted to shake things up, in my fervor I finally and undiplomatically told Nick that a typical Rex daily was: 1. Closeup of phone ringing, Rex or Nurse June in background. 2: Closeup of hand reaching for phone. 3: Closeup of Rex or June; “Hello?” I said that if the strip were ever optioned to Hollywood, it would have to be a slide show and not a movie…

Nick Dallis and I wrangled. But Brad only drew what he was asked, and was a leaf in the stream. In fact, he was the most genial of guys. We became social friends, and my wife and I visited the Bradleys in suburban Barrington many times, even after I left the syndicate.

Earlier in Brad’s career he was one of the better Caniff clones (as many tried to be in newspaper strips and comic books). He had assisted on strips like Kerry Drake and Mary Worth, and signed his own Speed Spaulding. Bradley and Edgington, and the anonymous Dr Dallis, collaborated on the cult comic book Teen Age Dope Slaves, now a hot collectible. I am sure that dope played no role with the characters, but as Brad settled into his comfort zone, I noted that they all had glassy stares, seldom making eye contact with readers or other figures.

He and Frank were the first and long-time artists; followed by a succession of anonymous and credited cartoonists, including two I had recruited to draw the next available “straight” feature: Fran Matera, a friend from Connecticut; and Fred daSilva, from nearby Lincolnshire. Otherwise, Frank Springer, André LeBlanc, Alex Kotsky, Woody Wilson, Tony diPreta, Graham Nolan, and Terry Beatty have written and / or drawn the strip.

Brad had an outside interest, a parallel career really. In fact I think it was literally a cottage industry, something he and his wife concocted in their spacious home. It was a medicinal type of product – more a folk remedy, certainly not certified, and quite possibly a snake oil – that he called Berba. It was a thick sludge, chocolately-brown, awful smelling, that the Bradleys put up in bottles.

“It is made from the root of the barberry bush,” Brad explained, pronouncing “root” in his Midwestern way, “rutt.”

He made fantastic claims for Berba, and was such an enthusiastic pusher that after one visit to him, he sent Nancy and me back to New Jersey, where we had moved, with several bottles. I think I am correct in recalling his claims – but whether he was correct about the claims I was, and am, dubious – that Berba was not only efficacious but a virtual miracle-product for diabetes, ringworm, eczema, bad breath, chilblains, laryngitis, burns, catarrh, and vaginal yeast infections. It could be used, he said (not W C Fields, understand, but Marvin Bradley) as a mosquito repellent and a mouthwash.

Actually, and if any reader thinks I seem skeptical, let me explain that it is because I was and am a skeptic. But the herbal preparation has a reasonably active commercial life. The barks and berries are used as well as the rutts, so they would share whatever blame might be assigned. According to Dr. Wikipedia, there are even more health crises met than Brad claimed – diarrhea, jumpy nerves, indigestion, epilepsy, and incipient cancers. My late wife was diabetic, but she never yielded to the comprehensive but yet amateur recommendations of Marvin Bradley.

Where we lived in New Jersey, for a while thereafter, was at a large estate (on a road where Bruce Springsteen now lives) with a very large lawn. One day on the rider-mower my arm touched an exposed part of the motor and I sustained a large and severe burn on my forearm. Nancy was pregnant and I didn’t want a mad dash to the not-so-local hospital. “Why don’t you try some of Brad’s Berba?” she cried; and it seemed like the time, at last, to test it.

We poured the miracle cure on the burn and, like a miracle, it started to sizzle and bubble. Rather an odd sensation, apart from the intense pain and strange odor. Burning flesh? I wondered. I remember these things well because the burn-mark, or Berba-stain, took about five years to grow out. But lo and behold there is no trace today of either. A miracle!

This is not an endorsement of the product. But then the prep-master, Marvin Bradley, was not a doctor. He just drew one in the comics.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Thieves’ Literature: Three centuries of Penny Bloods, Sensational Literature & Popular Melodrama — Chapter 1

Portrait of Moll Cut-Purse, "Female Humerrist and Kickshaw messe," from a 1793 book. She was an active criminal in 1610. She was infamous as a pipe-smoking prostitute and procuress, a fortune-teller, a pick-pocket, a thief, and a receiver of stolen goods, who dressed and acted like a man.

— by John Adcock —♠



The condition of an Author, is much like that of a Strumpet (…) and if Reason be required, Why we betake ourselves to so Scandalous a Profession as Whoring or Pamphleteering, the same exclusive Answer will serve us both, viz. That the unhappy circumstances of a Narrow Fortune, hath forc’d us to do that for our Subsistence, which we are much asham’d of. A Trip to Jamaica, Ned Ward, 1698

The records of the Old Bailey and the Accounts of the Ordinary of Newgate, which contain the “great criminal history of England,” had a lasting influence on English literature.  The influence of the Accounts can be found in the works of Daniel Defoe, John Gay, Henry Fielding, and the visual novelist William Hogarth. In the nineteenth century, the Newgate Accounts supplied the plots of innumerable works of literature in 3-volume novels and penny parts, as well as in the fierce melodramas of the popular stage. In a fascinating book, Ernest Bernbaum suggested that the origins of the British novel could be found in the criminal biographies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[1]

Criminal literature in England began with the Ordinary of Newgate, the chaplain of Newgate prison, who recorded the confessions of the condemned and was given free license to publish accounts of prisoner’s lives, crimes and last dying speeches. Single broadsheets sold at prices varying between three and six pence. Over time the format changed from single broadsheets to six, and finally twenty-eight-page pamphlets.[2] 

Occasionally felons refused to confess to the Ordinary and arranged publication through private printers. Opportunistic publishers rushed into print their own, mostly fabulous, last dying confessions in cheap broadsheet, pamphlet, or ballad form. Hawkers sold these penny sheets to crowds directly under the scaffold on hanging day, oftentimes before the Ordinary’s accounts were available.[3] 

Long-winded titles of dying speeches were bawled through the streets of London and its suburbs. The day after John Rice was hung for forgery in 1763, as the hawkers of broadsides and ballads made their perambulations, the good people of Newington “gave the poor people money not to cry the speeches near her (Rice’s mother’s) house.”[4]

Criminal biographies of men and women were published throughout the seventeenth century but the earliest extant example of “highwayman literature” dated back to 1605. A pamphlet was published shortly after Elizabethan highwayman Gamaliel Ratsey’s execution and entered on the books of the Stationers Company on May 2, 1605 by “the celebrated ballad-bookseller John Trundle.” It contained The Life and death of Gamaliel Ratsey, a famous theefe of England, executed at Bedford the 26. of March last past, 1605, and a poem titled Ratseis Ghost, or, the second Part of his madde Prankes and Robberies. This was printed by V.S. to be sold by John Hodgets in Paules Church-yard. The inside first page of the second part corrected the title to “Ratsey’s Ghost.” 

There were two contemporary ballads, or “ballets,” as well — songs of praise to Gamaliel Ratsey. George Steevens, commenting on Shakespeare’s plays, mentions once having in his possession “a pamphlet containing his (Ratsey’s) life and exploits. In the title-page of it he is represented with this ugly vizor on his face.”

Thomas Frognall Dibdin wrote that “Ratsey appears to have been a mad, harum-scarum fellow—in drinking, thieving, and cheating, &c.; having two comrades, of like propensities, in Snell and Shorthose.”[5] Gamaliel, as his biographer painted him, was a light-hearted, theatrical gentleman highwayman (sometimes called highway-lawyers), who, it was claimed, wore a hideous feathered owl-mask to terrify his victims into compliance. 

Ratsey’s legend passed into the nineteenth century when similar characters turned up in penny numbers in Newgate, a Romance (1846), Blueskin: A Romance of the Last Century (1863), Tales of Highwaymen; or, Life on the Road (1865), and Owlet the Robber Prince; or, the Unknown Highwayman (1871). The Life and death of Gamaliel Ratsey was reprinted in Collier’s Green Series No. 18, sold by subscription, on March 1866, with an introduction by the antiquarian John Payne Collier.

Fifty years after Ratsey’s hanging a highway-woman called Jenny Fox was riding on the King’s highways waylaying night-coaches by moonlight. She was the subject of The Highway-Woman; or, a True and Perfect Narrative of the Wicked Life and Deplorable Death of Marcy Clay, Otherwise called Jenny Fox, Who being Condemned to be Hanged, with other Malefactors, at Tyburn, on Wednesday, the 12th of April, Instant, did on the Tuesday fore-going, Poyson herself, to avoid the Shame of that kind of Death. The Highway-Woman was printed by T.L. in 1665, and went through several editions. A portrait of Jenny Fox was sold separately. 

Fox was the daughter of a chapman and his wife, who followed the fairs around the kingdom selling their stock of books. At fifteen she went to London and became a practiced shoplifter, as an adult she took on highway-robbery, switching between male and female attire to remain undetected. One evening, well mounted and in men’s apparel, she met a man with his sword drawn and a pistol in his hand, crying Deliver, Deliver, as he approached her.

She being well acquainted with that language, though she knew not him, drew her sword, saying, If thou canst beat me, take all I am worth: Whereupon discharging their pistols at each other, without much hurt on either side, they both handling their swords, fell fiercely to it; but the Captain being somewhat in drink before he met her, and receiving a violent blow on his hand, tumbled to the ground: whereupon she alighted, and only took from him one half of what he had in his pocket ( …) Whereupon, with an undaunted spirit, she invited him to drink with her, and made herself known to him, and continued with him, as a half-sharer, for the space of two Months, because he was better acquainted with the Road, than she was: during which time, there was many Robberies committed, but no Hue and Crys could ever overtake them.[6]

A book was registered in the Stationers’ registers in 1610 called The Mad Prankes of Mery Mall of the Bankside, with her Walkes in Mans Apparill and to what purpose, written by John Day. This “notorious baggage” was the subject of a play by Middleton and Dekker called The Roaring Girle, Or Moll Cut-Purse, acted onstage at The Fortune in 1611. The frontispiece to the latter “contains a full length of her in man’s clothes, smoking tobacco.”[7] A writer in the Universal Magazine of Knowledge wrote in 1775 that it was at that time “almost as rare a sight to see a woman with a pipe as to see one of the sex in male apparel.”

Mary Frith, or Moll Cut-Purse, a woman of a masculine spirit and make, who was commonly supposed to have been a hermaphrodite, practised, or was instrumental to, almost every crime, and wild frolick, which is notorious in the most abandoned, and eccentric of both sexes. She was infamous as a prostitute and procuress, a fortune-teller, a pick-pocket, a thief, and a receiver of stolen goods; she was also concerned with a dexterous scribe in forging hands. Her most signal exploit was robbing General Fairfax, upon Hounslow Heath, for which she was sent to Newgate; but was, by the proper application of a large sum of money, soon set at liberty.[8]

The year 1621, in the reign of Charles the First, a work was published which novelist Henry Fielding, writing in The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great, called “that excellent book.” John Reynolds, a merchant of Exeter, was the author of The Triumphs of God’s Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murder. “There were five subsequent parts; all six were printed together in folio in 1635; and there was a reprint, with additions, in 1679.”[9]  

The 1679 edition was published by J. Bennett for Thomas Lee, and was the first to add the portion God’s Revenge Against Adultery, by Sam. Pordage, to the text. Reynolds wrote another title on the same subject in 1661, with Blood for Blood, or Murthers Revenged; to which are added K. Charles the Martyr, &c. by T.M.

Of all the volumes, those of popular entertainment are soonest injured. It would be difficult to find four folios that are oftener found in dirty and mutilated condition than this first assemblage of Shakespeare’s Plays, God’s Revenge against Murder, the Gentleman’s Recreation, and Johnson’s Lives of the Highwayman.[10]

Over many years the title was passed from publisher to publisher. The editions printed by Sarah Griffin for William Lee, “sold at this Shop in Fleet-street, at the sign of the Turks-Head, near the Mitre-Tavern,” began in 1656, retitled God's Revenge for Murder, The Triumphs of God's Revenge Against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Murther, Expressed in thirty several Tragicall Histories (digested into Six Books) which contain great variety of mournful and memorable Accidents, Amorous, Moral, and Divine. The third edition (1657), the first with plates, bore an “engraved title-page by Io: Payne, in compartments, depicting a hanging, execution, breaking on the wheel, burning, duel, etc., and upwards of 30 further engravings in compartments at the head of each history, representing murders, duels, etc. (…) whereunto are added the lively Pourtraictures of the several persons, etc.” 

Charles Lamb owned a copy of the third edition with handwritten notes by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These Griffin/Lee editions survived to posterity in large quantity, probably due to the popularity of its lurid illustrations. A critic of fine art described them in 1838 as “of the lowest grade (…) and at the same time prove the public taste to have been at a very low ebb.”[11]

The illustrations might have been inspired by the seminal sensational work Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The first folio edition was originally published in 1563 bearing the title Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Days &c. by John Foxe. It was chiefly remembered for the copious illustrated editions, some with as many as 150 horrific cuts. Dickens had his character David Copperfield sit mesmerized over a large quarto edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs found in Peggotty’s house. “This precious volume, of which I do not recollect one word, I immediately discovered and immediately applied myself to; and I never visited the house afterwards, but I kneeled on a chair, opened the casket where this gem was enshrined, spread my arms over the desk, and fell to devouring the book afresh. I was chiefly edified, I am afraid, by the pictures, which were numerous, and represented all kinds of dismal horrors.”

The popularity and influence of God’s Revenge against Murder, with its horrific pictures, was enormous. There were editions in 1621, 1635, 1656, 1657, 1667, 1670, 1679, 1704, 1753 and 1778. A Dutch translation, Tonneel der Wereldtse Rampsaligheden vertoonende Godts Wraake, was published in Amsterdam by G. Van Goedesburgh in 1677, each copperplate engraving showing eight scenes. God’s Revenge Against Murder and Adultery was serialized in John Wesley’s Arminian Magazine in twenty instalments between May 1787 and December 1788. As late as 1840 God’s Revenge against Murder was being published for T. Read with an engraved frontispiece by I. Carwitham and numerous plate representing murders, etc.

Next in popularity to criminal biographies were accounts of wonders, devils, monsters, and ghosts. An auction “catalogue of the choice, curious, and extensive library of the late George Nassau” was published in 1824. Item no 1176 was a pamphlet which bore the extraordinary title The WONDER of Suffolk; Being a TRUE RELATION; Of one that Reports he Made a League with the DEVIL for Three years to do Mischief; And now breaks open houses, robs people daily, destroys Cattel before the owners faces, strips women naked, &c. and can neither be Shot nor Taken; but leaps over walls fifteen foot high, runs five or six miles in a quarter of an hour, and sometimes vanishes in the midst of multitudes that go to take him. The manuscript was “Faithfully written in a Letter from a Sober person, dated not long since, to a friend in Ship yard near Temple Bar, and ready to be attested by hundreds that have been Spectators of, or Sufferers by his Exploits, in several parts of Suffolk, London: Printed for D.M. 1677.”

In 1837-38 London was startled by the appearance of a similar creature, dubbed Steel Jack by the penny-a-liners of the press, “disguised in a bear-skin, and wearing spring-shoes.” Steel Jack would evolve into Spring-Heeled Jack, the name we know him by today. Jack was another aspect of the Devil of folklore as we see in the title of another early tract printed by E. Mallet; A Strange, True, and Dreadful Relation of the Devil’s appearing to Thomas Cox, a Hackney Coach-Man; Who lives in Cradle Alley in Baldwin’s Garden, first in the habit of a Gentleman with a Roll of Parchment in his hand, and then in the shape of a Bear, which afterwards vanish’d away in a flash of Fire, at Eight of the Clock on Friday Night, October 31st, 1694.A pamphlet published about 1838, probably by B.D. Cousins, was titled The Apprehension and Examination of Spring-Heel’d Jack, who has appeared as a Ghost, Demon, Bear, Baboon, etc.

Another form of literature took root in the eighteenth century — criminal anthologies composed of short biographies of highwaymen, pirates, and footpads. The celebrated Captain Alexander Smith wrote The History of the Lives of the most Noted Highway-men, Foot-pads, House-breakers, Shop-lifts, and Cheats, of both Sexes, in and about London, and other Places of Great-Britain, for above Fifty Years last past

The first two volumes were printed for J. Morphew and Sons, near Stationers-Hall, by A. Dodd, without Temple-Bar, in 1714 and a third volume was added in 1720. A historical Captain Alexander Smith has never been traced but the Historical Register mentions one “Captain Alexander Smith try’d for killing Lieutenant Constantine, and found guilty of Manslaughter” on July 15, 1715. In addition, The Spectator announced the wedding of Agnes Smith, the eldest daughter of “the late Captain Alexander Smith, of Limehouse,” in 1838.

Captain Charles Johnson, a rival who pirated portions of Captain Smith’s work, wrote The Lives and Adventures of the most Famous Highwaymen and Pyrates &c. It was published in weekly and monthly parts throughout 1733, and circulated once again in 1734, each number carrying a “Curious Copper Plate.” News-carriers delivered the parts to subscribers who “live out of town.” William Jones wrote An Account of Highwaymen in 1774, and Charles Whitehead’s Lives and Exploits of English Highwaymen appeared in two volumes in 1823. 

For the educated classes, ample criminal material was found in The Newgate Calendar; or Malefactors’ Bloody Register, published about 1774 and running to five volumes. Between 1824 and 1826 Knapp and Baldwin, attorneys-at-law, issued four volumes of The Newgate Calendar comprising interesting memoirs of the most notorious characters, and followed up with six volumes of The New Newgate Calendar.

The most enduring hero of criminal literature stepped into history in 1724. His name would become familiar to the public from newspaper accounts, criminal biographies, chap-books, and, on the stage, in harlequinade and fierce melodrama. That was Jack Sheppard, who was born in 1702 and raised at Bishopsgate Workhouse before apprenticing to a carpenter where he learned to pick locks. The real Jack Sheppard looked longingly into the light from the barred window in the painting by Sir James Thornhill, R. A., painted from life in the condemned hold of Newgate Prison on the 13th of November 1724.[12] 

Sheppard had a large bullet-shaped head on a slight muscular body (he was five foot four) and a boyish face with enormous dark eyes. He was to be hung, at the tender age of twenty-two, not for murder or highway robbery, but for stealing “108 yards of woollen cloth, two silver spoons and other things.” His criminal career lasted eight short months. His posthumous fame rested not on his crimes, which were paltry enough, but on his miraculous escapes, first from St. Giles Round-House, then from Clerkenwell Prison, next the Condemned Hold in Newgate, and finally from the Castle in Newgate Prison. He had even planned an escape from the cart carrying him to Tyburn, and, when foiled, had hopes that his friends would cut him down in time to resuscitate him after the hanging. In this he was mistaken and the young thief was slowly strangled for a quarter of an hour, his light weight putting him to a disadvantage. He showed more courage than his sometime partner Blueskin who was hanged after weeping and trembling and “shewed all the signs of a timorous confusion.”[13]

John Applebee published a 40 page six-pence biography called The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the late Jonathan Wild; not made up of fiction and fable, but taken from his own mouth, and collected from papers of his own writing in 1725. There was an engraved plate illustrating Wild in the gaol-house and an advertisement at the back of the pamphlet promoting Applebee’s next work, a biography of the celebrated pirate Captain John Gow. Interestingly the first printing of Jonathan Wild appeared on 8 June 1725 and the Captain Gow pamphlet on 11 June, three days later. Both works have been attributed to “Applebee’s man,” Daniel Defoe.[14]

Before me is the accredited version of the hero’s Adventures: — “A Narrative of all the Robberies, Escapes, &c., of John Sheppard: giving an exact description of the manner of his wonderful escape from the CASTLE in Newgate, and of the methods he took afterward for his security. Written by himself during his Confinement in the Middle Stone-room, after his being re-taken in Drury Lane.  To which is prefixed a true Representation of his Escape from the Condemn’d Hold, curiously engraved on a Copper Plate. The whole publish’d at the particular request of the Prisoner. The Third Edition, London: Printed and sold by John Applebee, a little below Bridewell-Bridge, in Black-Fryers, 1724. (Price Six Pence.)” — This pamphlet, somewhat rare, and for which we have paid half-a-crown, is dated “Middle-Stone Room in Newgate, Novem. 10, 1724.[15]

There was something inevitable about Sheppard’s execution. After every marvellous escape Sheppard, instead of fleeing London, was drawn back to his old haunts like a moth to the flame. He was “oftentimes in Spittle-fields, Drury-lane, Lewkenor’s-lane, Parkers-lane, St. Thomas-Street, &c.” In A Narrative Sheppard recalls walking in the Hay-market where he “mixt with a Crowd about two Ballad-Singers; the Subject being about Sheppard. And I remember the Company was very merry about the Matter.” 

The penny dreadful illustrator Robert Prowse drew a woodcut of Sheppard joining a street crowd to buy an Account of his escape from Newgate for Blueskin: A Romance of the Last Century.[xvi] Jack Sheppard was also the hero of the earliest Newgate stage drama on record, The Prison-breaker, or the Adventures of John Shepherd, of 1725, a farce “intended to be acted at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln’s Inn Field.”[17]

Daniel Defoe had published several criminal novels: The King of Pirates in 1719, The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of Captain Singleton in 1720, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders in 1721, The History of the most remarkable Life and extraordinary Adventures of Colonel Jacque, vulgarly called Colonel Jack in 1722 and The Fortunate Mistress (Roxana) in 1724. William Hazlitt compared Defoe’s realism in Colonel Jack to Henry Fielding’s “most amusing but imaginary being, whom we have never met with” — the fictional Jonathan Wild.[18]

In like manner, ‘Colonel Jack’ is a common thief; one of the multitudes that infest the streets of the metropolis, and every session sees him hung at Tyburn. But ‘Jonathan Wild’ is a compound of elaborate villainy, whom nature never made; the materials, indeed, she furnished, but the workmanship is Fielding’s, and his alone. An acquaintance with one or two of the tribe, a slight study of the ‘Newgate Calendar,’ or an occasional visit to the office in Bow street, would suffice to enable the inventive genius of Defoe to delineate the features of an ordinary pickpocket; but the rogue of Fielding is the production of one who has made villainy his study and contemplated it in every possible variety.[19]

César de Saussure, a French visitor to London in 1726, noticed that “all Englishmen are great newsmongers. Workmen habitually begin the day by going to coffee-rooms to read the latest news. I have often seen shoe-blacks and other persons of that class club together to buy a paper. Nothing is more entertaining than hearing men of this class discussing politics and news about royalty.”[20]  

Already newspapers covered the sensational criminal cases of the day. The Daily Gazetteer, August 5, 1735, reported that “Joseph Emerson, the noted Highway-man and Horse-stealer, was removed by a habeas corpus from Worcester Jail to the New Jail in Southwark, in order to take his Trial at the ensuing Assizes for Surry, for several Robberies committed in that County.”

John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) was the foremost Newgate literature of the eighteenth century. His first play, The Mohocks, was acted at Covent Garden in 1712. The Beggar’s Opera was acted at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1728.

The novelist Henry Fielding set up a theatrical booth at Bartholomew Fair in 1725 and his production of The Beggar’s Opera was played there in George Yard in 1728.[21] William Howitt noticed the influence of the play on cheap literature in 1846 — “(…) the songs of The Beggar’s Opera have begun again to be sung, and a manifest tendency has been produced to exalt into this admiration of the multitude, highwaymen and women of the town. Neither can it be denied that it has given birth anew, in the shape of novels, to Newgate literature.”[22]

The word “hack” was in use from at least 1731 when The Gentleman’s Magazine described the semi-literate writing of a “Grubstreet hackney.” Daniel Defoe used the phrase “hackney author,” a word derived from hackney coach. The derogatory term denoted one in harness and was eventually shortened to “hack.” One resourceful hack told his story in a letter to The Connoisseur in 1755, signed “Orator Higgins.”

I was next promoted to the garret of a printer of bloody murders, where my business was to invent terrible stories, write Yorkshire tragedies, or Christmas carrols, and occasionally to put the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account of Dying Speeches into lamentable rhyme. I was afterwards concerned in works that required a greater fund of erudition, such as bog-house miscellanies, and little books for children; and I was once engaged as the principal compiler of a two-penny magazine. Since that I followed the occupation of an Eves-dropper, or Collector of News for the daily papers; in which I turned a good penny by hunting after marriages and deaths, and inventing lyes for the day. Once indeed, being out of other business, I descended to the mean office of a ballad-singer, and hawked my own verses; but not having a good ear for music, and the tone of my voice being rather inclined to whining, I converted my ballads into penitential hymns, and took up the vocation of Methodist Preacher.

One impecunious wretch who turned his hand to last dying speeches was poor Jack Funnel (possibly a fictional being), who became an author in 1707, and described his lifestyle in 1732.

My first Appearance as an Author, says Jack, was in a horrid, barbarous, and bloody Murder. The Profits of that was just enough to turn me a Coat and mend my Shoes. The next was a strange and surprising Appearance of the Murder’d Person’s Apparition. This fetched my Waistcoat out of Pawn and payed my Laundry Woman. By writing accounts of Monstrous Fish, Last Dying Speeches, Robberies, Earthquakes and Blazing Stars, Last Wills and Testaments, Interpretations of Dreams, High-Winds, and Dreadful Fires, I keep my Cloaths in Repair, pay my Barber, Alehouse Scores, and Landlady, and buy Firing Pipes and Tobacco. When my Works go stale, I vamp them with a new Title Page; ransack old Novels and pals them for Secret History and Court Intrigues. Now and then I make a Song or an Ode, and am paid for letting others father it. With these and other Auxiliaries, as Epitaphs, Elegies, Epithalamiums, Ballads, Bellman’s verses, &c. I make a Shift to pick up a Livelihood; but am much chagrin’d to see writers of worse Parts supported in Ease and Affluence.[23]

At the same time Jack Funnel was lamenting his lot in life William Hogarth, the painter, published six prints by subscription in April 1732 titled The Harlot’s Progress, the first of Hogarth’s ‘Modern Moral Subjects.’ The prints sold by subscription for one guinea. The purchaser was supplied with a bonus in the shape of an illustrated ticket. Hogarth’s famous pictorial novels had a tremendous effect on the emergent novel, the drama, book illustration, single and sequential caricature, and even social reform.

The familiarity of the subject and the propriety of the execution made it tasted by all people. Every engraver let himself to copy it, and thousands of imitations were dispersed all over the kingdom. It was made into a Pantomime and performed on the stage.[24]

The public’s appetite for crime showed no signs of abating. By 1733 a theatrical critic lamented that “Genteel Comedy has now left the Stage, as well as the nobler Tragic Muse; and all our Heroes and Heroines of the Drama have been fetched from Newgate and Bridewell.”

But now the horrid Pantomime, and wicked Dumb Shew, the famous Harlequin-Mimickery, introduced only to shew how to cozen, to cheat, deceive and cuckold; together with the wretched Group of Rogues formed from the characters of Sheppard, Jonathan Wild, Blueskin and others, remarkable for their superlative Wickedness, are exhibited, not for the sake of Poetical Justice in their Execution, but to divert the Audience by their Tricks and Escapes.[25]

The famed highwayman Dick Turpin was “turned-off,” along with one John Stead, both for horse-stealing, on April 7, 1739. Turpin spoke a few parting words then launched himself into eternity, expiring in five minutes. “The Mob having got Scent that his Body was stole away to be anatomiz’d, went to the Place, and brought it away almost naked on Mens Shoulders, and filling the Coffin with Lime, buried it in the same Grave.”[26] The bodies of the condemned were usually conveyed to Surgeon’s Hall for dissection. The publisher’s Ward and Chandler supplied The Tryal of Richard Turpin, a criminal biography, for 6d.

A favourite of the Newgate Calendars, later resurrected for the penny bloods, was the pick-pocket Jenny Diver, also known as Mrs. Jane Jones, real name Mary Young, who was hanged at Tyburn on March 18, 1740. It was a shocking spectacle with over twenty persons publicly strangled in one day. During the commission of her crimes Jenny pretended pregnancy by wearing a false belly which she would fill with booty. She was twice transported and in her final captivity was kept in style at Newgate by her many admirers.

She appeared gaily dressed until the last, yet deeply affected by her approaching Fate. Her Concern was so sensibly expressed, when she took Leave of her little Child, a few days before her Execution, that (a weekly Writer says) it drew Tears into the Eyes of the Turnkey.[27]

A two-volume publication called The Adventures of William Bradshaw Commonly Stiled Devil Dick was issued in 1754. The publisher was Crowder and Woodgate, and the price was 9s. The Monthly Review’s notice was blunt, the “author must, certainly, be deeply read in the Newgate memoirs, and Tyburn history, a collection of these he has jumbled together, and published, to plague us, in the form of DEVIL DICK.” A work of 1824 says “None of our diurnal novelists or biographers have yet given us any real or imaginary memoirs of chimney-sweepers. But they have given us the lives of persons who, in the eyes of reason, were of a much lower rank. Devil Dick was, in the strictest propriety of speech, of a much blacker, and consequently a meaner character than any chimney-sweeper.”[28] 

It was remembered as a notorious book. Francis Place described the contents as consisting of “lying, cheating, robbery and debauchery.”[29] Another title noticed by the Monthly Review was The Adventures of Dick Hazard, “a history of the gaming table and its consequences,” whose chief merit was “that it exceeds not one volume.” The reviewer complained that it was necessary to read every publication printed, “submit to the whole drudgery of going through those loads of trash which are thrown upon us under the denomination of Lives, Adventures, Memoirs, Histories &c.”[30]

Sixteen String Jack, who wore breeches with eight strings at each knee, was a pickpocket turned highwayman. His Life was titled A Genuine Account of the Life of Jack Rann, Alias Sixteen-String Jack: Who was executed November 30th, 1774, for a Robbery on the Highway, near Brentford. Containing his Adventures and Enterprises, his numerous Escapes from Justice, and his Amours with several Ladies. Among which is introduced Some Curious Anecdotes of Miss Smith and Miss Roche, his favorite Dulcineas. To which there is added Some Strictures on the Penal Laws, and a particular Account of Lane and Trotman, now under sentence of Death for the Barbarous Robbery of Mr. Floyd, in a Coach, near Chelsea, printed by Bailey in 1774. Coloured portrait etchings of Sixteen-String Jack, together with Miss Roche, were produced and sold to the public. 

Another biography was The Genuine life of Jack Rann, otherwise Sixteen-strings Jack; Who is now under Sentence of Death for Robbing Dr. William Bell, Chaplain to R.H. the Princess Amelia. Containing a great number of interesting details of which it highly concerns the public to be informed. Together with Anecdotes of Miss Roche, and several other Persons connected with Rann, issued by E. Johnson, 1774. This one had a frontispiece portrait of Rann. In 1823 The life of Jack Rann: otherwise Sixteen-String Jack, the noted Highwayman: who was executed at Tyburn, November 30, 1774 was published as a chap-book by Hodgson and Co. with a hand-coloured frontispiece believed to be by Robert Cruikshank.

A Summary Account of the Life, Trial and Confession of John the Painter alias James Hill. Alias James Hind, alias James Actzen, alias James Aitken, tried at Winchester Assize, March 6, 1877, for setting fire to the Rope-House in Portsmouth Dock-Yard, December 7, 1776, and who was executed March 10, 1777 (With an accurate Likeness) was published under the masthead of The London Magazine in March 1777. This was a five-page magazine reprint of the officially sanctioned Trial, which had been published by permission of the Judges. James Hill, deserter, rapist, and thief was able to order his own Confessions printed up but it was said they differed in many particulars from the facts. A notice in the Monthly Review was admiring. “There was something so very extraordinary in the story of this wretch, and his desperate undertakings, that his trial (…) will in course, be perused, as a matter of singular curiosity, in its kind.”

Devil Dick publisher Crowder was still publishing in 1778 when he issued The Trial of James Boulter and James Caldwell, the two noted Flying Highwaymen, who have, for some time past, committed numerous Highway robberies in all parts of this Kingdom at 6d. At the back of the pamphlet was an advertisement for the Life of Boulter, a separate publication. James Boulter came from a thieving stock, his father had been transported and his uncle convicted for highway robbery. The speed with which he rode from place to place on his dashing steed earned him the sobriquet of the Flying Highwayman.

There was another type of criminal literature that sprang up about this time, strangers’ guides to London, which warned the country bumpkins, known as “flats” against the cons, tricks, and depredations of the sophisticated London “sharps.” The criminals had their own street-language known as Pedlar’s French or St. Giles Greek which was later adopted by the pugilistic “Fancy,” the Corinthians of Pierce Egan’s day. Flash language was common to France and Spain before migrating to England about the middle half of the sixteenth century.

As this expressive language was originally invented, and is still used, like the cipher of the diplomatists, for purposes of secrecy, and as a means of eluding the vigilance of a certain class of persons, called flashicè, Traps, or in common language Bow-street-Officers, it is subject of course to continual change, and is perpetually either altering the meaning of old words, or adding new ones, according as the great object, secrecy, renders it prudent to have recourse to such innovations.[31]

One of the earliest strangers’ guides, with something for every interest, was called Blackguardiana: or, A Dictionary of Rogues, Bawds, Pimps, Whores, Pickpockets, Shoplifters, Mail-robbers, Coiners, House-breakers, Murderers, Pirates, Gipsies, Mountebanks, &c., &c. Illustrated with eighteen portraits of the most remarkable professors in every species of villainy. Interspersed with many curious Anecdotes, Cant Terms, Flash Songs, &c., the whole Intended to put Society on their guard against Depredators; and was picked up by an Inhabitant of St. James's, who was a Spectator of a grand Scuffle, on a Birth-day night. Copied for the inspection of the Curious; and the Original ready to be returned (on describing the binding, &c.) to the loser, published by James Caulfield in 1793, printed for J. Shepherd.

Popular gothic novels, issued in three or four expensive volumes, were abridged, and stuffed into 36 pages at sixpence, sometimes 72 pages for a shilling, by the cheap press of Thomas Tegg and others. These popular piracies, linear descendants of chap books, were designated “bluebooks” for their flimsy blue covers. Most issues were given startling new titles but occasionally original titles like Fatherless Fanny or The Old English Baron were retained. Thousands of volumes of these little gothic bluebooks, with engraved frontispieces and catchpenny titles such as The Secret Oath; or, The Blood-stained Dagger, a Romance (1802), were published between 1799 and 1820. Several monthly magazines, The Marvellous Magazine, The Tell-Tale, and Radcliffe’s New Novelist’s Pocket Magazine published these compressed gothics as well. 

In 1881 Charles Henry Ross revived the bluebooks method in C. H. Ross’s Penny Library. For one penny, the buyer received a “cut and paste” version of popular works in 32-page pocket books. Titles included The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Confessions of Harry Lorrequor, The Mysteries of Paris and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens junior lambasted the productions, “of which the scissors of Charles H. Ross have been called into requisition,” in Household Words.

To publish a garbled version of a novel, and to let it go forth to the public with a title-page calling it “The Story of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens,” is nothing more or less than fraud. It should be enough for the publisher that he is able to lay hands on a story, owing to the expiration of the ridiculously short period of copyright with which the English Parliament rewards literary men. But, if we must have this sort of thing at all, the book ought at least to be honestly announced as “Oliver Twist, abridged by Charles H. Ross from the novel by Charles Dickens.”[32]

Henry Fielding, author of The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, was the first to publish crime news and advertisements for wanted felons and Navy deserters in a newspaper called The Public Advertiser. In 1786 the Bow Street magistrates, under Henry’s brother John Fielding, (known as “the blind beak,”) converted a weekly posted crime bulletin into a newspaper called the Public Hue and Cry. The Public Hue and Cry was later renamed The Hue and Cry and Police Gazette, under the printer T. Wright, then, in 1828 transformed into the Police Gazette, selling weekly 30,000. In 1828 new printing machines were purchased which could throw off 4000 impressions an hour, thus speeding the spreading of criminal alarms.[33]

Therefore, if the information of robberies, murders, horse-stealing, &c., were printed off every night, the Hue and Cry could be delivered with all the papers to taverns, public houses, pawnbrokers, horse dealers, and hung up in all the coach offices in London, and also be distributed by the mails to the post offices of the principal places in the country; the paper is not very large, and would be considerably reduced if the above plan were pursued.[34]

In the year 1802, “when immorality had spread all over Europe, owing to the demoralizing effects of the French Revolution,” The Society for the Suppression of Vice was formed. The objects to which the attention of the Society was directed were prevention of the profanation of the Lord’s day, blasphemous publications, obscene books, prints, etc., disorderly houses and fortune-tellers. The Seditious Publications Act was enacted in 1820, introducing a tax of fourpence on periodicals containing “news.” Utilitarian’s called it a “tax on knowledge.” Reading, writing, and self-improvement became part of the working-class struggle.

The radical publisher William Hone published several expensive criminal biographies and trials, in boards, in 1821. One, from a page advertising Works Published by William Hone, was The Trial of Eliz. Fenning, Charged with Administering Poison with Intent to Murder and the other was a follow-up, The Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning, which was written after her execution. Hone sold celebrity portraits as well as his scabrous political caricatures and tracts; portraits of Byron, Napoleon and Elizabeth Fenning. 

The most interesting portrait was that of William Norris, the Insane American, “riveted alive in iron” and confined in a cell at Bethlem “as he was seen there in 1815 by W. Hone and etched by Cruikshank.” George Cruikshank did a steady business in portraits of criminals, participants in trials for Crim. Con etc., for the publisher Fairburn. In his own library was a pamphlet entitled Bedworth (Thomas) Trial for Murder of Elizabeth Beesmore published in 1815. On the folding frontispiece, Cruikshank had written “Drawn and etched in two hours by Geo. Cruikshank.”

The Terrific Register; or, Record of Crimes, Judgements, Providences, and Calamities was taken in weekly numbers by precocious thirteen-year-old Charles Dickens in 1825. G.A. Sala said of Dickens that he liked to discuss “the latest new piece at the theatres, the latest exciting trial or police case, the latest social craze or social swindle, and especially the latest murder and the newest thing in ghosts.”[35] 

The Terrific Register had its origins in John Reynolds serially published 1656 work, God’s Revenge Against Murder. An illustration of a skeletal hand turning the pages of an open book with the title God’s Revenge Against Murder featured prominently on the volume covers of The Terrific Register. The contents revolved around tales of crime, murder, execution, torture, freaks of nature and disasters. Titles illustrated by ghastly engravings included Sawney Beane the Monster of Scotland and Horrible Murder of a Child.

The most celebrated criminal of 1824 was John Thurtell, who lured William Weare to Gill’s Hill Cottage, owned by William Probert, shot him once, beat his brains in with a pistol, then slit his throat. All this over a 300-pound debt. The body was weighted with stones and thrown into a pond. Thurtell and his two accomplices, Probert and Joseph Hunt, were taken in custody by the capable and celebrated Bow-street runner Thomas Joseph Ruthven and confined in St. Alban’s gaol. Thomas Abel Ward, a Watford surgeon, described the horrible injuries to the body of William Weare.

Part of the skull was beaten into the brains. There was another wound under the protuberance of the right cheek-bone, which had the appearance of a common gun or pistol-shot wound, and the ball repelled by the cheek-bone. I am of the opinion that the wound on the right cheek was not of a nature to cause death; but that the deceased died from the beating on the skull with the pistol barrel. The injury was of that nature, that I conceive the pistol barrel must have been punched with desperate violence into the skull of the unfortunate man. — [Witness here produced a piece of deceased’s skull bone, which he had extracted from the brains of the deceased on opening the head.] I also observed a wound cut by a sharp instrument on each side of the throat; the jugular on the left side was divided, and the wound was sufficient to occasion death. The wound on the right side of the throat did not injure any parts of vitality, but merely severed the flesh under the ear.” Coroner: It seems that after the deceased was shot, he was able to struggle with his murderer, and that he received the blows on the head when resisting, and to make sure, as “dead men tell no tales,” his murderers completed their horrid work by cutting his throat.

In 1824 Thomas Kelly of Paternoster-row published The Fatal Effects of Gambling exemplified in the Murder of William Weare, and the Trial and fate of John Thurtell, the Murderer, and his Accomplices; with Biographical Sketches of the Parties Concerned, and a Comment on the Extraordinary Circumstances developed in the Narrative, in which Gambling is proved to be the source of Forgery, Robbery, Murder, and General Demoralization. To which is added, the Gambler’s Scourge; a Complete Expose of the Whole System of Gambling in the Metropolis; with Memoirs and Anecdotes of Notorious Blacklegs. This was illustrated by Portraits Drawn from Life, and other Copper-plate Engravings of Peculiar Interest. “Weare, Thurtell, Hunt and Probert,” the author relates, “were all sporting blades, ultra-flash men, and gamblers — preying alike upon each other, and upon society in general.” John Thurtell was an amateur pugilist.

(…) Hickman, the notorious fighting gasman was in training for one of his pitched battles, at Wade’s Mill, in Hertfordshire, Thurtell, in company with one Elliot, of sporting notoriety, spent a good deal both of time and money with him. The fate of these three men is at once singular and awful. In less than thirteen months, Elliot died by his own hand; Hickman, returning from a prize-fight, in a state of intoxication, was thrown from a chaise, and his head literally crushed to atoms — and Thurtell died by the hands of the common hangman for a cold-blooded and deliberate murder.

One of the mourners at Hickman’s funeral was the journalist Pierce Egan. An extraordinary feature of the trial was the defence delivered in person by John Thurtell, in which he read out “in a firm and distinct voice, and in a most impressive manner,” the whole contents of seven cases on wrongful convictions based on circumstantial evidence, from the Percy Anecdotes and the Newgate Calendar (possibly this was read from a recent Thomas Kelly publication of Theodore Wilkinson’s New Newgate Calendar Improved.) His protestation of innocence was of no avail, Thurtell was sentenced to death, and following a bow to a friend and a few final words with the governor of the gaol, he was hung. His body was removed to the Theatre of Anatomy where it remained on public view for three or four days. “Among the persons who availed themselves of this opportunity of viewing the remains of Thurtell, were about twenty persons belonging to the establishment of Mr. Kelly, the publisher of this work; with whom an eminent artist attended for the purpose of verifying to the extremest possible point of fidelity our portrait of the great criminal.” 

William Probert turned King’s Evidence and got off scot-free. Joseph Hunt was also sentenced to be hanged, fortunately for him this was commuted to transportation for life. One enterprising rogue went about London and environs exhibiting the purported head of Thurtell. “The flesh of the face was removed, probably to prevent detection by anyone who might chance to know Thurtell; the hair, ears, and teeth were still attached to the skull.”

Another of Thurtell’s biographers was Pierce Egan, the famous author of Life in London: or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, first issued in July 1821 in shilling numbers. Life in London introduced the characters of Tom and Jerry into popular culture. Corinthian Tom takes his country cousin, Jerry, on an illustrated tour of London gin houses, monkey and dog fights, street brawls, the Bow Street Police Court and finally to prison. 

The book was illustrated by Isaac Robert and George Cruikshank, sons of a Scottish artist who had settled in London. The first of many stage versions produced in London was a musical farce called Tom and Jerry; or, Life in London, dramatized by William T. Moncrieff. There were many sequels including Tom and Jerry in Paris, Nautical Tom and Jerry, and Tom and Jerry in New York. Another of Egan’s books, The Life of an Actor, was staged at the Adelphi Theatre on January 11, 1825.

Life in London inspired The English Spy, an illustrated book by notorious blackmailer, slanderer, and libeller Bernard Blackmantle (Charles Molloy Westmacott), illustrated by Isaac Robert Cruikshank. The illustrations in the original were colour copperplate aquatint etchings, all by Robert Cruikshank, excepting one plate contributed by the aging caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson.

The scenes were placed in real taverns, gambling hells, and London landmarks. Included were caricatures representing many of the famous men and women of the day from high and low society, such as Madame Vestris, Charles Kemble and Townshend the Bow Street Runner. Blackmantle and Robert Cruikshank (known as “Bob Transit” in the text) were depicted in most plates. Robert Cruikshank himself claimed (in Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic in their pursuits through Life in and out of London) that Life in London was a book originated by himself and not Egan. The vicious pastimes of the Mohocks were revived that same year, 1821, when Pierce Egan published his celebrated Life in London.

At that time the well-known farce of “Tom and Jerry” became the vogue in London; and, in imitation of the freaks of its personages, hundreds of young men enrolled themselves under the banners of the Mohocks and sallied forth at midnight in search of adventures. The prime achievement of that day was “boxing the Charlies,” — by which name we are to understand the watchmen, — and it was accounted the very acmeé of spirit, the height of gallantry and bravery among some young men, to carry off a watchman, and deposit, him box and all, in a neighbouring horse-pond. Of late years, however, headed by two aristocratic leaders, they have re-appeared in all their pristine splendour. Around them they have rallied honourables and right-honourables, barons, baronets, and knights, with no inconsiderable number of shop-men and apprentices, who make it their glory to resemble in their defects, those above them in their station. They principally confine their operations to one quarter of the town, occasionally sallying forth to the villages in the neighbourhood of London upon expeditions of mischief.[36]

Egan was a master printer, and self-described “scribbler,” held in high esteem by the sporting crowd for Boxiana: Sketches of Antient and Modern Pugilism by “One of the Fancy.” The first volume was published in parts by G. Smeeton in 1812 and the last series ended in 1829. Pierce Egan launched a newspaper (“For King and Country”) on February 1, 1824 called Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide. By 1826 Pierce Egan’s newspaper was in trouble and on December 19, 1827 was incorporated with Bell’s Life in London which began giving out inserted sheets of Cruikshank’s comicalities with each number, beginning the following week. In Pierce Egan’s role of a penny-a-liner he covered boxing and sports for other newspapers than his own, among them Bell’s Weekly Messenger. Egan’s wife Catherine also contributed to Bell’s Weekly.

American author Otto Dix described Egan when he was near seventy years of age, when he was still eking out a living by his pen, “(…) feeble and shaky, as might be expected but there was a sort of jauntiness about the old gentleman still, his grey eye was quick and vivacious, and his brown wig had the old sporting “cock,” the eyebrows were large, the nose a little hooked, and the lower lip so projected as to give a rather severe expression to his countenance. The old boy was wrapped in a large camlet cloak with a red collar, and he hobbled with a stick.”[37]

Knight and Lacey, publishers at 24 Paternoster-row, provided Pierce Egan’s Account of the Trial of John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt, With an Appendix, Disclosing some Extraordinary Facts, Exclusively in Possession of the Editor with Portraits and other Illustrative Engravings. This was a straightforward account of the trials of Thurtell, Hunt and Probert taken verbatim from Pierce Egan’s Life in London newspaper columns. It was not half as entertaining or absorbing as The Fatal Effects of Gambling exemplified in the Murder of William Weare. However, the Appendix with its promised anecdotes was missing from the copy I consulted. The Appendix would have proved an interesting read because Pierce Egan happened know Thurtell personally, and interviewed him in prison. The Account carried only one illustration showing the heads of the murderous trio of blackguards. Mason Jackson, in The Pictorial Press, its Origin and Progress, 1885, pointed out the close relationship between criminals and their biographers.

In those days’ prize-fighting was in much favour, and a great fight was coming off between Spring and Langham, two noted pugilists. To show the ruffian and impenitent character of Thurtell, it is related that he said, a few hours before his execution, “It is perhaps wrong in my situation; but I own I should like to read Pierce Egan’s account of the great fight yesterday.”

The Fatal Effects of Gambling gives Hunt’s account of the last moments of Thurtell with a slightly different version of events.

After we had taken the sacrament, and about a quarter of an hour before he went out to suffer, Thurtell said to Mr. Wilson, ‘I have one more favour to request of you, if you can oblige me.’ Mr. Wilson asked what it was? Thurtell said, ‘It is to tell me how the great fight terminated?’ Mr. W. said he did not know, but he would go out and inquire; he did so, and on his return, he said, ‘It has been a hard-fought battle, it lasted for two hours and five minutes, and Spring was a great deal punished, but he has won it.’ On which Thurtell said, ‘I am glad of it; God bless him, he is an old friend of mine.

Pierce Egan’s Life in London newspaper for February 1, 1824 featured the following advertisement.

THURTELL’S HEAD. Special permission having been given to the Editor of the Medical Adviser to examine the body of Thurtell immediately after the Execution, the PECULIAR CRANIOLOGICAL appearances on his Head will be fully described in No. 7, accompanied by illustrative engravings, including a correct likeness of Thurtell taken after his decease.

The Medical Adviser was published by Knight and Lacey who also published Pierce Egan’s Account of the Trial of John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt. It must have been a curious magazine. The editor of the Medical Advisor, accompanied by publisher Kelly’s representatives and several phrenologists (a ‘science’ sneered at in Fatal Effects of Gambling) examined the body of Thurtell after the execution.

The visitors of each succeeding day were witnesses of the gradual dilapidation, if not the decay, of the body. On one day a finger, on another an eye, was missing; and as the surgeons, in the intervals of their admission of the public proceeded with their work, the body progressively presented such appearances as to render it both a matter of prudence and of public decency finally to close the door against further admission.[38]


Thieves’ Literature: Three centuries of Penny Bloods, Sensational Literature & Popular Melodrama — an Introduction HERE


[1] The Mary Carleton Narratives, 1663-1673, a Missing Chapter in the History of the English Novel, Ernest Bernbaum, 1915

[2] The Ordinary of Newgate and His Account, Crime in England 1550-1800, P. Linebaugh, p.247

[3] From 1698 to 1719 the Ordinary of Newgate was Paul Lorrain. His confessions were issued at eight oclock on the morning of executions.

[4] The New Newgate Calendar: or, Malefactor's Bloody Register, London: Alexander Hogg, c. 1773, p.256

[5] Bibliotheca Spenceriana, 1822, p.36

[6] The Highway-Woman

[7] The Plays of William Shakespeare, p. 173

[8] Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons, James Caulfield, 1813

[9] The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey. Vol. XIII, Tales and Prose Phantasies. By David Masson. London: A. & C. Black, Soho Square, 1897. Murder as one of the Fine Arts footnote page 56.

[10] The Shakespeare Folios, American Bibliopolist, June and July, 1870, p.180

[11] Arnold's Magazine of the Fine Arts Vol. 3, 1832. p.379

[12] Thornhills painting was reproduced as an etching and sold to the public through print-sellers. Jonathan Wilds Portrait in Newgate was another popular etching of the time. Sir James Thornhill was purportedly accompanied by William Hogarth and James Fig, first bareknuckle champion of England, when he drew the celebrated portrait of Jack Sheppard in the condemned cell. It has been suggested that Daniel Defoe interrogated Sheppard in prison, resulting in the pamphlet titled A Narrative of all the Robberies, Escapes, &c., of John Sheppard.

[13] History of the Lives and Actions of Jonathan Wild, Thief-taker, Joseph Blake , alias Blueskin, Footpad, and John Sheppard , Housebreaker, 1750

[14] The attribution remains contentious. According to Defoe De-Attributions: Critique of J.R. Moore's Checklist (1994), there is no evidence that Defoe wrote for Applebee.

[15] Jack Sheppard, The Literary World, Vol. 2 No. 32, 2 Nov 1839, p.66. The first Applebee edition was published 19 Oct 1724, the second 26 Oct 1724, the third 12 Nov 1724.

[16] Blueskin: A Romance of the Last Century, London: E. Harrison, 1863, Vol. 1, No. 35, p.273

[17] The Companion to the Play-House, David Erskine Baker, 1764

[18] The History of the Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great, Henry Fielding, 1743

[19] The Works of Daniel Defoe, with a memoir of his life and writings, William Hazlitt, London: John Clements, 1840, Vol. I,

[20] A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I & George II, César de Saussure., 1902

[21] The Old Showmen, and the Old London Fairs, Thomas Frost, 1874, p. 104

[22] Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets, William Howitt, 1849, p.143

[23] The Gentlemans Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer, Vol. II, April 1732, p. 713

[24] Memoirs of the Celebrated William Hogarth, The Universal Magazine, Nov 1780, p.225

[25] Weekly Miscellany No. 52, 8 Dec 1773

[26] Gentlemans Magazine, April, 1739, p.7

[27] The Gentlemans Magazine, Vol. XI. March 1741, p.100

[28] A Biographical History of England from Egbert the Great to the Revolution, Rev. J. Granger, 1824, p.174

[29] Francis Place quote from Victorian Prelude, Maurice James Quinlan, 1904

[30] The Monthly Review, Vol. XI, 1754, p.470

[31] Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress, Thomas Moore, Third Edition, 1819, Preface, p. xxvii

[32] The Editors Note Book, Household Words, Vol. 2, 1881, p.450

[33] Introduction, Patrick Pringle, Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Henry Goddard, Museum Press, 1956

[34] The Tocsin; or a Review of the London Police Establishments, with Hints for their Improvement and for the Prevention of Calamitous Fires &c., 1828, p.23

[35] Things That I Have Seen, G. A. Sala, Vol. I, 76.

[36] Ancient and Modern Mohocks, Charles Mackay, Bentleys Miscellany, Vol. VI, 1839, p. 357

[37] Lions: living and dead; or, Personal Recollections of the Great and Gifted, John Ross Dix, aka John Dix Ross and John Ross, London: Partridge and Oakey, 1852, p.289

[38] The Fatal Effects of Gambling Exemplified in the Murder of William Weare, 1824, P.333