'May Morning' by John Collet c.1760. Courtesy of Museum of London

‘May Morning’ by John Collet c.1760. Courtesy of Museum of London

My introduction to the Old Bailey website resource was whilst researching the UK origins of a client’s descendant deported to Virginia in 1758 due to theft of goods.

From general searches I came across two cases which offered an insight into the lives of two black men in 1700’s England. They interested me because they were victims of crime as opposed to being accused.

The first was highway robbery victim Richard (no surname). Anne Smith and Jane Evans were charged with assault and robbery on 13th January 1716 of a silver collar; value 15 shillings; the goods of William Jordan.

The story was Richard on 6th December 1715 was sent on an errand by Jordan and had met Anne Smith along the way. He complained that as he been away a long time he feared going home. Smith told him his collar would betray him and advised him to take it off. They went to a fruit seller and Smith and Evans broke the collar off with their teeth and took it away.  Richard eventually went home and told his master what had happened.  Smith was arrested and confessed Jane Evans had taken the collar off and sold it.  Smith was found guilty of a lesser felony offence.

The facts of the case which stood out to me were Richard was a slave of William Jordan and the collar he wore round his neck would have identified him as his property. No evidence was heard by Richard only the sworn evidence of Jordan. Many questions came to mind.  Who were Richard and William Jordan? Did Richard want to escape and then got cold feet?  Fascinating case.

The second case was John Guy the victim of violent theft and robbery on 4th August with the trial held on 8th September 1736.  Sarah Jones and Mary Smith stood trial for taking goods from him that were a silk handkerchief; value 3 shillings and 17 guineas. He had just got paid from the Ship Newcastle and was walking along Rosemary Lane and met two women and asked them for lodging.  He went with them to Edward Whitcher’s house where they dined on salmon, punch and a quartern of brandy!

Guy stated “when he went to bed one of the women came to bed to me tho’ I would not let her.  The oldest prisoner pull’d up her coats and bid me look at – and told me it was as black as my face.  I would not do it, but went to sleep, and when I waked I found all my money gone. One of the girls own’d before Justice Farmer, that 8 guineas and 4s of my money was divided among them”

Prisoner Smith: Did not you swear your money on another woman?

Guy: Why Mary you know, you took my breeches from under my head.

The prisoners in their defence said that the black gave them the money. Both acquitted.

One of the things that interested me was prisoners had the right to question their victims.  What happened to John Guy and where did he come from?  Was he destitute as a result of losing his wages? As 17 guineas was a lot of money in those days.

Happy 10th Anniversary http://www.oldbaileyonline.org and here’s to many more hours of searching!


Sarah Jones, Mary Smith, Violent Theft > robbery, 8th September 1736.

Reference Number: t17360908-39
Offence: Violent Theft > robbery
Verdict: Not Guilty

Anne Smith, Violent Theft > highway robbery, 13th January 1716.

Reference Number: t17160113-18

Offence: Violent Theft > highway robbery
Verdict: Guilty > lesser offence