Category Archives: Body Snatchers

My 2015 Blogging Year in Review: A San Francisco Cable Car

Promise, this really is my last post for 2015. But as a bit of a stats geek I couldn’t resist sharing the WordPress.com 2015 annual report for my family history blog. Momentous for me, because 2015 marked its birth!

The report includes useful information such as:

  • posting patterns;
  • top referring sites; and
  • most viewed posts

And on the subject of my most popular posts, I’ve added links to some of my favourites from 2015 which didn’t make the official “hit” list. These are:

As ever I’d welcome any feedback about which of my posts you particularly enjoyed in 2015; and what you would like to see more of in 2016.

So thank you for reading. And I hope to share more posts in 2016.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Robert and the Resurrectionists, a tale of Yorkshire body snatchers – Part 2

I left my last post with four men in custody on 10 November 1831, pending investigations into the discovery of an unidentified body on its way to Edinburgh via the Newcastle-bound Leeds coach. The suspicion was the youth had been murdered as part of the underground trade to supply medical schools with dead bodies for dissection. On display in Leeds Court House, the body remained unidentified despite extensive publicity and being viewed by thousands.

The tale took a new twist on Saturday 12 November. A friend recognised the body as that of Robert Hudson, a collier from East Ardsley. Other friends and family were summoned to corroborate the identification. Brothers Joseph and John[1] confirmed it, even explaining that the damaged missing fourth fingernail on the right hand resulted from him trapping his finger a fortnight before. John’s wife Permelia[2] also identified her brother-in-law.

Immediately after this identification a party was despatched to open Robert’s grave at East Ardsley. They found holes born into the coffin to allow the use of a saw. The lid was sawn open from head to breast. The coffin contained only a glove and an iron bludgeon which had been left behind by the body snatching gang. The body had gone.

Robert Hudson was born in around 1814 and baptised on 31 July 1814 at St Michaels, East Ardsley. He was the youngest child of miner Matthew Hudson and his wife Grace. At the time of his baptism the family lived at Outwood, just over two miles from East Ardsley. When Matthew died in December 1827 the family address was given as near-by Lawns, in the Township of Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe in Wakefield Parish.

On Sunday 30 October 1831, 17-year-old Robert left his widowed mother’s home in Lawns at around 11am. His body was discovered between 3-4pm that day. He had hung himself by a his neck handkerchief from a spar in a coal pit cabin belonging to his employers, Messrs Charlesworth. The inquest on 31 October recorded a verdict “that the deceased hung himself when in a state of unsound mind”.

Robert’s burial took place at St Michael’s East Ardsley on 1 November. The burial register notes he “hung himself in the coal pit cabin”. Burial in a churchyard of someone who had committed suicide had been legalised by the 1823 Burial of Suicide Act. However the burial of the body of a suicide was conducted without Church rites and at nighttime between the hours of 9pm and 12pm. If the inquest verdict was that the suicide had been committed whilst the individual was of unsound mind, then a churchyard burial was permissible.

St Michael's, East Ardsley

St Michael’s, East Ardsley

In the light of this new information the Leeds inquest jury, suspended the previous Thursday, was reconvened first thing on Monday morning, 14 November. It found that the body was indeed that of Robert Hudson, who had hanged himself on 30 October, and afterwards was brought to Leeds and discovered in a box on the Courier coach.

This at least removed any potential murder charges against those rounded up in connection with the case.

Within an hour of the inquest jury reaching its decision, the Magistrates examined the case against those charged: in addition to Hodgson, Pickering, Norman and Wood four other men were now in custody. William Germain, packer; William Henry Bradley, joiner; Thomas Pearson, cloth weaver; and Henry Teale, gentleman’s servant. All were from the Leeds area. The latter broke ranks, providing full details of events.

The lengthy examination involving statements from Teale and numerous witnesses lasted from around 10.30am on 14 November until 2.30pm on 16 November.

It revealed Hodgson as the ringleader. Obviously undeterred by his previous sentence, less than three months ago, he recruited his gang over a period of several weeks. For instance he made initial contact with Teale on 22 September.

On 2 November Hodgson gave Teale a list of graveyards to check for recent burials: Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury and East Ardsley. There was also a list for Bradley. His too included the East Ardsley one. So, that afternoon, the pair went there together and discovered two fresh graves, one large and one small.

Robert’s was the large grave. The small one belonged to four-year-old Joseph Longley Fielding of Churwell, who died on 31 October and was buried on the day Teale and Bradley visited the churchyard.

After reporting their finds to Hodgson, arrangements were made for Hodgson, Bradley, Germain & Teal to set off for East Ardsley in two hired gigs late that night, between 9-10pm. Hodgson was armed with two pistols which he produced upon hearing a noise when at the church yard, an indication as to the high stakes at play. All four took it in turns to stand watch or dig.

IMG_0121

Once the coffins were reached and entries made, the bodies were drawn out of by means of a rope around the neck. The corpses were stripped, and all linen thrown back – the gang did not wish to run the risk of more serious theft charges. The graves were re-filled. The bodies were put in separate sacks, placed on the gigs and driven back into town, arriving back in Leeds in the pre-dawn hours.

The bodies were stored in an out-building belonging to Norman’s father. Early on the morning of 3 November, at around 5.30am, a failed attempt was made by Germain, Bradley and Teale to dispatch Robert’s body on the Times coach. Too late, they missed it and were forced to return the package to Norman’s garden-house.

As a result of a comment made by Norman’s father, on Saturday 5 November the gang were forced into making hasty, new arrangements. The child’s body was successfully dispatched to Edinburgh via the Rose and Crown evening Courier coach[3]. Robert’s was taken to the White House being rented by Pickering on Tobacco-Mill-Lane.

A second early-morning attempt, on 7 November, was made to send Robert’s body on its way via the Times coach[4]. The coach would not take the package. Back it went to Tobacco-Mill-Lane, where it was locked in the closet due to the scheduled house viewing.

On the evening of 7 November the foiled Rose and Crown Courier coach attempt occurred, resulting in the discovery of the body and subsequent arrests.

After hearing the evidence the Magistrates found no case against Pearson and Wood on this particular charge and discharged them, although they remained in custody. The other six, (Hodgson, Pickering, Germain, Bradley, Norman and Teale), were ordered to appear before the next Yorkshire Assizes.

At the Yorkshire Lent Assizes 1832, held in York, they were indicted with “severally, wickedly, willingly, and unlawfully conspire, combine, confederate and agree together to disinter a dead body, and afterwards, to wit, in the night of the 2nd of November aforesaid, in pursuance of such conspiracy and agreement, severally enter a church yard, situate at East Ardsley, in the West Riding, and did then and there unlawfully dig up, and disinter from and out of a grave the body of one Robert Hudson”[5] and Joseph Longley Fielding, with intent to sell and dispose of the same.

After hearing the evidence and consulting for a full two minutes the jury found Hodgson, Germain, Norman and Bradley guilty. Pickering was acquitted, as no proof existed that he was connected with the body prior to its exhumation. Hodgson was jailed for one year; Bradley, Germain and Norman received three month sentences; Teale, who turned King’s evidence, was discharged.

Those convicted were sent to Wakefield House of Correction to serve their sentences, much to the annoyance of Hodgson who wished to remain in York Castle which was more conducive to the pursuit of his studies.

I mentioned the sympathy with which body snatching could be viewed by the judiciary, given the acknowledged need to further medical science. This, accompanied by petitioning from anatomists and medical schools and the public revulsion at the work of body snatchers, led to the 1832 Anatomy Act, effectively ending the trade in stolen corpses. The Act allowed licensed anatomists and medical schools to use for dissection unclaimed bodies from institutions such as workhouses and prisons.

At around the time the Act was passed, in July-August 1832 Hodgson launched an unsuccessful petition for clemency. The National Archives Discovery summary describes his crime as:

“Disinterring the dead body of a male pauper for the purposes of dissection in churchyard near Leeds, together with four others, anatomy students from Edinburgh”.

The grounds for the petition were that the:

“…officers of the township who bore the expense of the burial refused to prosecute; the prisoner’s health is impaired by six months confinement and cholera is prevalent in the prison; he is willing to leave the country”.

Interestingly Hodgson focused on the pauper element at this time.

In 2015 York Dungeons featured John Hodgson in its Halloween show. It describes it as follows:

“The popular attraction’s new hair-raising show will see one of the most intimidating, darkest, characters ever introduced. John Hodgson, the local body snatcher is morbid, cruel and gruesome has no remorse for digging up the dead!”

 Sources:

  • Ancestry UK: Criminal Registers, Reference HO 27; Piece: 44; Page: 434
  • Find My Past: HO 13 Home Office Criminal Entry Books of out-letter, warrants and pardons; and HO 19 Home Office Registers of Criminal Petitions
  • Find My Past Newspapers: “Leeds Intelligencer” – 10 & 17 November 1831 and 5 April 1832; “Leeds Mercury” – 12 & 19 November 1831; “Leeds Patriot & Yorkshire Advertiser” – 9 July 1831, 12 & 19 November 1831 and 7 April 1832; “Yorkshire Gazette” – 7 April 1832
  • Pharos Tutors Course: Victorian Crime and Punishment, Courts, Police and Prisons http://www.pharostutors.com/
  • Photographs – taken by me
  • St Michael’s East Ardsley Parish Registers (also available via West Yorkshire Archives on Ancestry UK)
  • The National Archives Criminal Petitions Series I, Reference HO 17/36/159
  • York Dungeons: http://www.thedungeons.com/york/en/plan-your-visit/halloween.aspx

[1] Robert had brothers named both Joseph and John. Some reports named Joseph, others John. So they could both have played a part in identification and the law process. Or it could be a name confusion in reports.
[2] In reports she is named as Pamela.
[3] The 7 April 1832 “Yorkshire Gazette” trial report is at odds with other reports, indicating the child’s body was sent via the Golden Lion coach office.
[4] Some reports indicate this attempt was made on Sunday morning (6 November)
[5]Leeds Intelligencer” – 5 April 1832.

Robert and the Resurrectionists, a tale of Yorkshire body snatchers – Part 1

“A Young Man, about 18 Years of Age, Five Feet Six Inches high[1], Face slightly round, Brown Hair, cut short behind, and long before, slightly calf licked on the right side of the Head, very short down Beard, with scarcely any Whiskers; the left Incisor Tooth stands backward, and the left Canine Tooth forwards; Blue Eyes, of which the left is somewhat injected with Blood; rather fair Complexion, well made and somewhat muscular; the Nail of the ring Finger of the right Hand has been destroyed, and a new Nail partially formed; a slight graze on the right shin nearly healed; there is dirt on the Legs set into the Skin, and the Body exhibits no appearance of illness”.

So read the description of Robert Hudson, my 4x great grandad’s youngest brother, in the “Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser” of 12 November 1831. Great to have such an early description. More noteworthy perhaps is the fact it is post-mortem of an, at this point, unidentified body. The press circulated the description and the corpse was placed on public display in Leeds Court House in the hope of putting a name to it.

The discovery of the body in Leeds on 7 November 1831 was triggered by something as innocuous as the prospective sale of a house on Tobacco-Mill-Lane in the Sheepscar area.

In late October the house-owner, Mr William Peniston rented the property to school master James Crabtree Pickering. However at the beginning of November a permanent buyer came forward via a friend of Peniston, Mr William Myers. Viewing though proved problematical. Pickering, who was not occupying the property, procrastinated. He claimed not to have the keys. When they did finally materialise on 7 November Mrs Evans, the buyer’s wife, was available, but not her husband. A locked upstairs closet also proved a minor inconvenience.[2].

Arrangements were made for Pickering to show the house again at 7pm that evening. Peniston and Myers arrived first.[3] Yet again Pickering proved elusive. But Peniston and Myers became aware people were in the property. Suddenly, as they watched, three men left the residence wheeling a box in the direction of Leeds. The pair followed all the way to the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn on Briggate.

Blue Plaque at Queens Arcade, Briggate, Leeds - the site of the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn

Blue Plaque at Queens Arcade, Briggate, Leeds – the site of the Rose and Crown Coaching Inn

The package was in the process of being placed onto the Courier coach heading north, when Peniston drew its suspicious nature to the attention of William Halton, the constable. He seized butcher James Norman, one of the men helping to load the package. The others involved melted away into the crowd. The package was addressed at one end to “Hon. Ben Thompson, Mail-Office, Edinbro’. To be kept until called for. Per Courier, Nov 7th 1831” and at the other “Hon Benjamin Thompson, Mail Office, Carlisle”. Opening it revealed the body of a young man.

July 1831 advert for the Courier Coach from the Rose and Crown Inn, Briggate

July 1831 advert for the Courier Coach from the Rose and Crown Inn, Briggate

Pickering was tentatively identified by some as one of the individuals who had brought the box to the Coach Office and paid for its transportation. So Halton went round to his Bond-Street rooms. Pickering was there with John Craig Hodgson and the pair were brought in to the Chief Constable. The room was also found to contain paraphernalia associated with body snatchers including wet, muddy clothing (obviously used), rope, spades, a saw, a gimlet and an implement that could be used for breaking coffin lids.

And Hodgson, an attorney’s clerk, did have history in this area. As recently as July 1831 he appeared before Leeds Borough Sessions, receiving a six week jail sentence for stealing a dead body.[4] At his trial he argued he too would be involved in its dissection to further his anatomical knowledge, which would be useful in his law employment; he had no intention of selling the body on. The leniency of his sentence owed something to the persuasiveness of the defence put forward, including that by Leeds surgeons, about the need for dead bodies for anatomical purposes to advance medicine. Solicitors also testified on his behalf.[5]

The increase in medical schools in this period combined with the reduction in supply of cadavers with the decrease in capital punishment sentencing[6] resulted in a growing shortfall of bodies for anatomical dissection. This in turn led to a criminal black-market trade in freshly-buried corpses. Providing only the body and no other grave contents were taken, including the burial garments, the crime was treated as a misdemeanour so would entail a lesser sentence.

Some did take it a step further and resorted to murder in order to supply the need. Burke and Hare are the most famous exponents of this. And in November 1831 the so-called “Italian Boy” case was hitting the headlines nationally. A teenage boy was murdered in London and an attempt was made to sell his body to an Anatomical School. On 8 November, a coroners’ jury found a verdict of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown“.[7] This then was the backdrop to the Leeds find and, as such, it added to the feverish excitement of the town’s populace.

The fascination only increased in the following days. Speculation mounted that foul means also accounted for the demise of the Leeds body, which was put on public display for identification purposes. Despite being seen by thousands this proved fruitless and on 10 November, as the suspicion of murder increased, an inquest was held. By this stage four individuals were in custody: Hodgson, Pickering, Norman and shoemaker John Wood.

The body was moved to Leeds Infirmary for a post-mortem prior to the inquest at the Griffin Inn. Leeds surgeon Thomas Chorley found that there was no sign of illness or disease in the body; the cause of death was strangulation; he also said that, due to its unwashed state, it did not appear the body had been buried. Suddenly things were getting very serious indeed for those suspected of involvement in the crime. Body snatching was one thing; murder took it to a whole new level…..

With his legal background Hodgson’s almost two-hour long questioning of Chorley, in an effort to prove there was no certainty about cause of death, demonstrated he was fully aware of the stakes.

The inquest was suspended until the following Wednesday and the body returned to the Court House for public viewing in the hope that identification would shed more light on the case.

To be continued…….

Sources:

  • Ancestry UK: Criminal Registers, HO 27 series
  • Find My Past Newspapers: “Leeds Intelligencer” – 10 & 17 November 1831 and 5 April 1832; “Leeds Mercury” – 12 & 19 November 1831; “Leeds Patriot & Yorkshire Advertiser” – 9 July 1831, 12 & 19 November 1831 and 7 April 1832; “Yorkshire Gazette” – 7 April 1832.
  • Pharos Tutors Course: Victorian Crime and Punishment, Courts, Police and Prisons http://www.pharostutors.com/

[1] Other reports suggest 5’3”
[2] Later that week when the cupboard was accessible, blood stains were visible on the floor.
[3] Some reports indicate the purchaser was due to view.
[4] Ancestry UK Criminal Registers: HO 27; Piece: 42; Page: 438
[5] “Leeds Patriot and Yorkshire Advertiser” 9 July 1831
[6] The bodies of those executed were given over for anatomical dissection.
[7] In December 1831 John Bishop and Thomas Williams were hung for the offence