On this date in 1715, a longtime petty thief named Ann Wright — or was it Martha Wright? or Ann Hutchins? or Elizabeth Jolly? — hanged at Tyburn.
In the absence of modern trappings like a standing police force, criminal dossiers, and systematic record-keeping — innovations that lay decades into the future — small-time criminals could float at the margins for the duration of many years and many offenses by relying on the forgetfulness of the legal apparatus: with nothing but a casual alias, one might hope to appear over and over again as a new offender.
Here we see Ordinary of Newgate Paul Lorrain deploy his own investigative acumen to trace for us one woman’s career, a very much more penetrating biography of an Early Modern commoner than we can usually access. We can see from his account of offenses — for how many crimes must Lorrain be omitting in this register? — that he was greatly aided by Wright’s own body which bore the mark of our Old Offender’s repeated brandings. That included scars earned during the brief period from 1699 to 1707 when brands could be applied to an offender’s cheeks, a fate which apparently befell Ann Wright on no fewer than five occasions.*
By the time he came to Wright’s terminal adventure, Rev. Lorrain had held the post of ministering to convicts for fifteen years and could probably boast as expert an acquaintance with London’s criminal underworld as any square; whether he knew Ann Wright on sight or knew her by reputation, he knew her.
Ann Wright, condemn’d for breaking the Lock of Eliz. Barrot’s Chamber-Door, with an intent to rob her, on the 30th of October last. She was about 38 Years of age, and liv’d in the Parish of St. Dunstan, Stepney. She would hardly confess her self guilty of the Crime for which she was justly Condemn’d; neither did she readily acknowledge, that she had done several other Facts of the like heinous nature, and was an old Offender: But when I laid before her, and charg’d her with diverse Burglaries and Robberies, which I knew she had committed, then she could not deny her being Guilty of them.
Here I shall give the Reader a Particular of some of those wicked Facts of hers, and the several Punishments she receiv’d for them, the Time when, and the various Names she went by.
1st, She was (under the Name of Martha Wright) Burnt in the Cheek at the Old-Baily, on the 10th of July, 1702, for entring the House of Mr. James Gee, and taking thence 4 Muslin-Neckcloths, 2 Holland-Aprons, a Hol-Smock, a Cloth-coat, Wastcoat and Breeches, with diverse other Goods, on the 2d of the said Month of July.
2dly, She was (under the Name of Ann Rebel alias Ann Hutchins, which latter, as she said, was her Maiden-Name) also Burnt in the Chek at the Old-Baily, on the 11th of September, 1702, for Robbing the House of Mr. Joseph Lineum, on the 7th of August before, and taking thence 6 Hempen-Aprons, 6 Dowlas-Shirts, 6 Smocks, &c.
3dly, She was again (under the same Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 9th of July, 1703, for stealing 5 ounces of China-Silk from Mr. John Sheppard, and other Silks from Mr. Nathanael Wichel, on the 19th of May before.
4thly, She was in like manner (under the Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 2d of June, 1704, for stealing 4 Buck-Skins from Mr. Tho. Boddington, on the 4th of May preceding.
5thly, She was (under the Name of Elizabeth Jolly alias Hodges, which latter she said was her Husband’s Name) again Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 17th of January, 1704/1705, for stealing 16 yards of Silk, a Stuff-Gown and Petticoat, 12 ells of Holland, 26 yards of Lace, and diverse other Goods of Mr. Edward Kenworthy’s, on the 14th of June, 1704.
6thly, She was (under the Name of Eliza. Wright) on the 6th of July, try’d at the Old-Baily, and order’d to be whipt, for stealing a Silver-Spoon and a Cambrick-Handkerchief, from Mr. Anthony Moreing, on the 17th of June before.
7thly, She was (under the Name of Ann Hicken) Burnt in the Hand, at the Old-Baily, on the 26th of February, 1707/1708, for stealing 10 ounces of Silver Orrice-Lace, and 12 ounces of Gold-Lace, from Mrs. Margaret Tiplady, on the 3d Day of the same Month.
8thly, She was again (under the Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 9th of July, 1708, for Robbing Mrs. Mary Collier’s House, and taking from thence 1 pound 15 ounces of Raw-Silk, on the 26th of the preceding June.
9thly, She did (under the Name of Ann Hodges alias Hodgkins) receive Sentence of Death, at the Old-Baily, on the 6th of May, 1709, for Breaking the House of Mr. John Marsh, and taking from thence a Psalm-book, two Cloth-Coats, a Diaper Table-cloth, 10 Napkins, and several other things, on the 11th of April before; for which having obtain’d a Reprieve, and afterwards a Pardon, which she pleaded in Court at the Old-Baily, on the 8th of December, 1710, (at which time she was order’d to the Bridewell of Clerkenwell for 2 Years) she no sooner had her Liberty (which she got by breaking out of that House of Correction) but she return’d to her former wicked Way of Robbing. So that,
10thly, She was again (under the Name of Ann Hutchens) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 12th of April, 1711, for stealing 4 Holland-Smocks that hung up a drying in the Yard of Mr. William Baker, on the 28th of March preceding.
11thly, She was (under the Name of Ann Hodges) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 28th of February, 1711/1712, for Stealing a Coat, Wastcoat, and Breeches, Linnen, Gold-Rings, and other Goods, of Mrs. Susannah Butterwick, on the 12th of the same Month.
12thly, and Lastly, (to mention no more of these sad Particulars) She was again (under the Name of Ann Hodges, alias Jenkins, alias Jeatzin) Burnt in the Hand, at the Old-Baily, on the 2d of May, 1712, for a Felony, in stealing Pewter and other Goods out of the House of Mr. John Simmonds, on the 5th of the ‘foregoing March.
All these her notorious Facts, of which I had taken a particular Account, I laid before her, together with some others she had been try’d for, but acquitted of, for want of positive Evidence to convict her, tho’ there was no great reason to doubt her being guilty of ’em: And moreover, I put her in mind of her having frequently broke out of the Workhouse, to which she had several times been sent, for her Correction and Amendment; the former whereof she would not receive, nor bring her self to the practice of the latter, but plainly shew’d her ill Disposition and wicked Desire of returning (as she did so fast as she could) to her sinful Course of Life; of which I exhorted and press’d her to make a free Confession, and repent. Whereupon she acknowledg’d her Guilt in these Matters, saying, (in general) That she had done many ill things, but her discovering them in particular (were she able fully to do that) would be now of no use to the World. Having some just Suspicion that she had been concern’d in Facts committed in Surrey, and try’d for them in that County, I put the Question to her, which she answer’d in the Negative, thinking (I suppose) that those Facts could not so easily be known to me, being done not only at a distance, and in a County where I have nothing to do, but also under Names which she thought fit at times to take and shift, as suited best her Occasions of disguising her self, and concealing Who and What she was. I found her all along very stupid, and insensible both of her sad Condition, and the Cause of it. When I examin’d her in private, she was very sullen, spoke but few (and those angry) Words, and shed fewer Tears: What her inward Thoughts were, I can’t tell; but she gave little sign of true Repentance. As I observ’d her in that harden’d Temper, so I told her, That she behav’d her self just as I had seen others do, who were guilty of Murder, whom (above all other Sinners) the Devil does what he can to hinder from repenting; and therefore I must needs plainly say this to her, That I was afraid she had been concern’d in some Bl[oo]dy Fact or other; for she seem’d to me to be more than a common Sinner. To this she answer’d, That she never committed any Murder in her Life. No? said I to her; Did you never kill a Bastard-Child, to hide your Shame when you were in Service? (for I knew she had been a Servant in some Families in and about London.) At this Question she startled, and after a Pause (not without some discomposure) said, She was very clear of that Crime. However I gave her to understand I greatly suspected she was not, for she had been a very wicked, lewd, and debauch’d Woman; and so I offer’d her some ghostly Advice herein. Then I further ask’d her, Whether she knew any thing of the Murder of Esq. Hanson and Mr. Carlton, who (some Years ago) were found murder’d, viz. the first near the Vinegar-house beyond Moorfields, and the other between Rosemary-branch and Cambray-house, in Islington Parish. To which she reply’d, That she had indeed heard of those Murders, but was not in the least concern’d in ’em, nor knew who had committed them. This is all I could get from her, who (as I observ’d with great Concern) instead of making a right use of the long Time and good Instruction she had under this Condemnation, seem’d (all the while) to have nothing so much at Heart as getting a Reprieve, and avoiding this Death; tho’ I endeavour’d to make her sensible, there was no manner of ground for her Hope of Life in this World; and, that if she were wise she would (as ’twas infinitely better she should) seriously consider her sad and miserable Condition by reason of her Sins, and so by all the Acts of Repentance she was capable of exerting, prepare herself for her great Change that was approaching and inevitable. And this important Consideration I urg’d to her, to the very last.
At the Place of Execution (whither both she and George Hynes were this Day carried from Newgate in a Cart, and where I attended them for the last time) she seem’d to be much dejected and sorrowful; and no Wonder, for she had great Cause to be so. Hynes likewise cry’d bitterly, lamenting and bewailing his past sinful Life. Here I gave them proper Admonitions; and after I had pray’d, and sung some Penitential Psalms with them, and made ’em rehearse the Apostles Creed, I advis’d, that they would (and accordingly they did) desire the Spectators to pray for them, and take Warning by their Fall; To keep the Sabbath-day, serve God, and live honestly. Then I withdrew from them, recommending their Souls to God, and leaving them to their private Devotions, for which they had some Time allotted. After this the Cart drew away, and they were turn’d off, crying all the while to God for Mercy, Pardon, and Salvation.
* We’ve previously seen that London authorities didn’t mind applying the brand several times to a habitual offender.