Home > History of Wine > “Murder and Thieves”: The theft of wine in London 1685-1799

“Murder and Thieves”: The theft of wine in London 1685-1799


In September 2012 I received two emails from my mother, the first with a link to the Old Bailey Online website and the second with a link to the search results for the term wine from London Lives website.  We had watched the BBC One’s 2009 production “Garrow’s Law” for the first time that summer and in the Fall that she watched the extra features on the DVD which prompted her emails.  That winter I started to read the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.  Early in January I decided I would write a post about the theft of wine in London as described in the Proceedings and by the middle of February I had extracted my sample set of Proceedings.  I ended up spending many hours each week reading through the copious amounts of material I had gathered in addition to my regular blog postings and work schedule.  I have learned a lot in the process and am excited to share this information.  Undoubtedly there are omissions and mistakes but I believe the engaging nature of the subject still comes through.

"The New Sessions House in the Old Bailey" Thomas Winckworth, 1789. #1882,0311.161 The British Museum.

“The New Sessions House in the Old Bailey” Thomas Winckworth, 1789. #1882,0311.161 The British Museum.

Introduction

The very first mention of wine in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey revolves around a Dutch Gentleman who was drinking a glass of wine in the company of a Frenchman at a tavern in July 1675.  They subsequently fell into a fight and having been locked in the tavern by others, the Dutch Gentleman had no choice but to draw his sword in defense and kill the Frenchman[1].    Indeed the early years of the Proceedings make wine drinking appear deadly.  Several years later in 1678 a former member of the Guard met a new companion who desired him to share a pint of wine at a Tavern in Kings Street.  After drinking three pints the former Guard attempted to leave but his new found friend apparently would not let him go.  They started to quarrel.  The former Guard subdued his friend in his chair, holding on to the friend’s cravat in one hand and his own sword in the other, the friend stood up and the former Guard found his sword sticking five-inches in to the deceased.  He was found not guilty of murder[2].   In 1682 Robert Dod was tried for killing William Catling at a Tavern in Covent Garden.  Several bottles of wine later they began to discuss “Manhood” and fear of swords which resulted in Robert Dod thrusting his sword some eight or nine inches into William Catling.  Because of the malice between the two men Robert Dod was found guilty of Manslaughter[3].   In 1683 after Nicholas Welsh refused to drink to Henry Atkinson’s health, words were exchanged, then wine glasses were thrown, and finally Henry Atkinson’s companion John Ruth ran his sword into Nicholas Welsh thus killing him.  He was found guilty of Manslaughter[4].

Though the initial years of the Proceedings have deadly references to wine, it was often a simple aspect in the account.  Thus we find Nichols the Butcher having unknowingly picked up the notorious pickpocket Elizabeth Spark, alias Slouch, then repairing to a tavern for a glass of wine.  There she picked his pocket, was caught, and being an “ancient pickpocket” received the punishment of death[5].  It is three years later in 1683 that wine as property became an element of indictment when Katherine Sawyer and Thomas Summers were indicted for stealing two hogsheads of wine, sheets, and a hat.  They were found not guilty[6].

In this series of posts I will analyze the cases where defendants were found guilty of stealing wine.  This begins with the first conviction which occurred in 1685 when Joel Gaischone stole 40 gallons of wine from the cellar of Robet Rawley.  He was found guilty to the value of 10d. and punished to whipping [7].  My analysis is divided into posts which I will publish throughout the week.  First, I will focus on the theft of wine as it reflects the transportation, distribution, and storage in such locations as cellars, vaults, houses, ships, and even an officer’s mess.   This section will include where the wine was stolen from and the types of containers such as bladder, bottle, flask, and barrel.  In these various containers the quantities stolen ranged from a single pint bottle all the way up to 57 gallons taken away by Elizabeth Lee the cook of Thomas King, Esquire[8].  Second, I put the theft of wine into a broader context for the vinous contents of what was carried away and swallowed were shaped by changing trade agreements, international wars, and what was politically popular to drink.  In the 115 years which followed the first conviction 29 different wine descriptions were named in the indictment.  This ranged from the generic wine, red wine, and white wine to Lisbon, Canary, Old Hock, Claret, Florence Wine, and even English wine.  Third, I look at the thefts as a reflection of the developing criminal legal system.

The Sample Set

From "Farringdon Without Ward and Castle Baynard Ward" John Strype, 1720. Copyright Motco Enterprises Limited.

From “Farringdon Without Ward and Castle Baynard Ward” John Strype, 1720. Copyright Motco Enterprises Limited.

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey are accounts of trials which were held at the Old Bailey in London.   They were first published in 1674 and focused on a subset of the more sensational trials. Between 1678 and 1913 the Proceedings documented all of the trials at the Old Bailey.  Ten years ago the Old Bailey Online project first went online offering access to the fully-searchable collection for free.  The Proceedings which appear on the Old Bailey Online have been digitally scanned, hand-keyed, and tagged.  The tags include such information as Offence, Verdict, Punishment, and Date.  This allows the Proceedings to be searched through a combination of keywords and selectable criteria.   A Proceeding typically consists of the Trial Number and Defendant’s Name, the Indictment, the Witness Statements, the Defendant’s Statement, and the Verdict, Punishment, and Recommendation.

For this series of posts I have focused on the theft of wine from the earliest available records of 1674 through 1799.  To form my sample set I searched the Proceedings for various keywords using the criteria Offence with all subcategories of theft and violent theft combined with the criteria Verdict with all subcategories of guilty.  The keyword “wine” returned the largest set of Proceedings.  Wine was a common aspect of private and social lives so it frequently appears as part of the narrative instead of a stolen item listed in the indictment.   For instance, Edward Bird and a woman arrived by coach, with a bottle of Champagne, at Mr. Seeds well’s house.[8]   By reading through the indictments I manually reduced my set in size by eliminating such Proceedings.  Wine is a general term and does not reflect the diversity of choices available in London at the time.  To expand my set I searched for specific types of wine in my keywords such as Canary, Hock, and Claret.  In the end I found 58 convictions for the theft of wine spanning the years 1685 through 1799.  It is possible that I missed a few Proceedings due to variations in spelling, for example the instances of Claret and Clarret, but that should not reduce the nature of these posts.

The Indictment describes the nature of the crime, its date, the items stolen, and the name of the victim.  It typically contains the type of wine stolen, the quantity stolen, and the vessels it was contained in.  Both the wine and vessels are typically valued individually.  In some cases the Witness and Defendant’s Statements provide additional details about the wine.  I extracted all of this information into an Excel spreadsheet for my analysis.


[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), July 1675, trial of Dutch Gentlemen (t16750707-5).
[2] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), August 1678, trial of Gentleman (t16780828-4).
[3] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), July 1682, trial of Robert Dod (t16820712-12).
[4] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), October 1683, trial of Henry Atkinson John Fitz-James John Ruth (t16831010a-16).
[5] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), January 1680, trial of Elizabeth Spark, alias Souch William Abbot (t16800115-4).
[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 21 February 2013), January 1683, trial of Katherine Sawyer Thomas Summers (t16830117-32).
[7] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1685, trial of Joel Gaischone (t16850225-19).
[8] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1785, trial of ELIZABETH LEE (t17850223-68).
[9] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 10 July 2013), January 1719, trial of Edward Bird (t17190115-49).
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  1. July 16, 2013 at 8:01 am

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