Home > History of Wine > “Murder and Thieves”: Part 2 “I tasted it, and found it to be red-port”

“Murder and Thieves”: Part 2 “I tasted it, and found it to be red-port”

The types of wine described in the indictments range from the generic Wine to the specific Old Hock.  These wines were primarily produced from grapes but fruit wines are found as well.  Over the sample set wine from seven specific countries was stolen.   The most common wine was from Portugal with some 133 gallons listed across 41 indictments.  Generic wine is ranked second with 86 gallons listed in 21 indictments followed by Spanish wine with 34 gallons listed in 14 indictments.  The wines of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Hungary round out the list.  While it is hard to draw any specific conclusions it is interesting to look at the wines stolen in the context of importation statistics, international affairs, and the individuals involved.

Claret Wine Bottle, 1645. Item 1887,0307,E.19. The British Museum.

Claret Wine Bottle, 1645. Item 1887,0307,E.19. The British Museum.

A wide variety of wine was available in London in the decades prior to the first conviction for theft.  In December 1647 Parliament enacted a subsidy on the tonnage of wine.[1]  French wine and those of its dominions, “Muskadels”, “Malmeseyes”, “Cutes”, “Tents”, “Allicants”, “Bastards”, “Sacks”, “Canaries”, “Malligoes”, “Maderaes”, Sweet Wines, The Levant, “Spaine”, Portugal, “Rhennish”, and Germany were explicitly listed.  This list of wine essentially continues into the 18th century.  Samuel Pepys noted in the summer of 1665 that his cellar contained Canary, Malaga, Sack, Tent, and white wine.[2]  In Lord Hervey’s diary entries through the end of the 17th century he noted purchases of Burgundy, Canary, Claret, Fayal, Galicia, Hermitage, Languedoc,  St. Laurent, Navarre,  Palm, Rhenish, and Sack.[3]  The wide variety of wine found in cellars and what was imported in any given year depended upon trade embargoes, wars, and vintage conditions.  The volume of wine stolen remained consistent at under 20 gallons per decade except for the 40 gallon peak of generic wine in the 1680s and the 80 gallon peak of Portuguese wine in the 1780s.  The first peak is due to Joel Gaischone stealing 40 gallons of wine out of the cellar of Robert Rawley.[4]    I suspect Robert Rawley must have been out of town in order for such a large quantity to be stolen away.  The even larger, later peak is also due to a single theft.  It occurred when the family of Thomas King, Esq was in the country on Christmas vacation.  During this period the cook Elizabeth Lee stole wine by the gallon.


Customs records shed light into what types of wines were imported into London at any given year and how they could vary wildly.  Customs returns for the total wine imports were not compiled before 1675.[5]  Prior to this point French wines were very popular along with Spanish wines.  In 1675 total imports into London consisted of 7,495 tuns of French wine, 4,012 tuns of Spanish wine, 538 tuns of German wine, 30 tuns of Italian wine, and 20 tuns of Portuguese wine.  Rhenish wines were imported by way of Holland and typically never exceeded 1,000 tuns through the end of the 18th century.  At the time the first returns were compiled the wines of Portugal were just gaining traction.  For the year 1669 Charles Davenant found no record of Portuguese wines in the Custom House Books and supposed that what was brought in came as presents. The imports of Portuguese wine in London increased from 43 pipes in 1668 to 378 pipes in 1678.  As a point of reference a total of 9,665 tuns of French wine were imported into England in 1677 along with 5,095 tuns of Spanish wine. By comparison the Portuguese merchants in London claimed in 1677 that 33 tuns of Portuguese wines were imported compared to 7,000 tuns of French wine.

Just prior to the first guilty verdict for the theft wine, Parliament imposed an embargo against French trade in 1678.  This embargo lasted until 1685, significantly changing the import statistics, and gave Portuguese wines favor.  Thus just prior to the embargo of 1678, 427 pipes of Portuguese wine were imported against 15,435 pipes of French wine into London.  There was no French wine officially imported during the embargo years of 1679 until 1686.  The total amount of wine imported in 1678 was at 14,000 tuns which then took a dip in 1679 to 9,000 tuns.  This rapidly returned to 14,000 tuns as the amount of Portuguese wine imported rapidly increased from 1,013 tuns in 1679 to 13,860 tuns in 1682.  Spanish wine imports increased in the years 1680 through 1684.  It is believed that some portion of these Portuguese and Spanish wine imports were actually French wine.  Even German imports wildly increased to 7,072 tuns in 1681.

"The Imports of Great Britain from France" Louis Philippe Boitard, 1757. 1867,1012.827. The British Museum

“The Imports of Great Britain from France” Louis Philippe Boitard, 1757. 1867,1012.827. The British Museum

With the resumption of French wine imports in 1686, quantities of French wine rapidly increased in to London with 15,518 tuns in 1687.  It is this year that the types of wine are specified for the first time in an indictment after Joyce Fletcher, who stole five gallons of Rhenish wine and five gallons of Claret, a French wine.  Perhaps this reflects the new availability of French wines and large amounts of German wine imported during the embargo.  Rhenish and Hock are the only types of German wine listed in the sample set.  There was the one instance of Rhenish wine followed almost 90 years later by Old Hock which was stolen in 1775 and 1782.  The lack of stolen German wine may not be surprising as German wine imports on average appear to have peaked in 1700 at 1420 tuns followed by a steady decline to 160 tuns in 1775.

French wine imports dramatically reduced in 1691 when they were once again prohibited during the war with France in the Nine Years’ War.  With the end of the war French wine was once again imported in 1697 with stocks available in London because in 1698 Thomas Young, Henry Barton, and William Mees managed to steal and dispose of 10 gallons of Claret.  In 1702 the War of the Spanish Succession started followed two years later by the Methuen treaty.  During this century French wine imports continued to decline below 1,000 tuns per year as Portuguese wine, buoyed by the Methuan Treaty, stayed above 10,000 tuns per year.  French wine does not appear again until 1775 when both Claret and Champagne were stolen from the wine merchant Lewis Beauvais.  Claret is then found in three more indictments through 1785.

The wines of Portugal are represented in the indictments by Calcavella, Lisbon, Madeira, and Port.  Both Lisbon and Port were listed generically, as white, and as red.  As such the first Portuguese wine stolen was five gallons of Red Lisbon by John Hopkins and Joseph Green in 1714.  Within three years the imports of Portuguese wines maintained a level of over 10,000 tuns per year.  Lisbon does not fall in an indictment until some 50 years later when two glass bottles were stolen by Eleazar Davis in 1765.  It then appears over the next 30 years on five separate accounts.  Madeira was first stolen by Edward Brown and Alexander Campbell in 1742 off of the ship Peggy and Jenny.  Madeira is then listed some dozen times from 1765-1795.  Madeira was imported into England even in the 17th century but the levels in 1726-1730 only reached 231 tuns per year and did not exceeded 1,000 tuns until 1765.  A large quantity of port, some 39 quart bottles, was stolen by William Jones and Jeremiah Whitehurst in 1737.  There was a brief hiatus until 1752 after which it appears 19 times until 1798.  The importation of port jumped from some 7,000 tuns in 1740 to approximately 10,000 tuns in 1741-1743 before steadily declining to initially low levels by 1754.  In 1756 the Companhia Geral da Agricultura dos Vinhos do Alto Douro was established to maintain quality, price, and reputation of port. One year later port wine imports started to increase for decades and ultimately sky rocketed near the end of the century. There was one instance of Calcavella being stolen and that was by Peter Chalmers wine-cooper.  The frequency of which Portuguese wines were stolen increased towards the end of the 18th century.  This is understandable given that Portuguese wines represented 70% of the wines imported into England in 1750 and maintained a similarly high-percentage until the end of the century.


The wines of Spain are represented by Canary, Malaga, Mountain, Sack, Sherry, Tent, and Vidonia.  From the very first incidence of a 12 gallon runlet of Sherry in 1699 the wines of Spain were consistently stolen at low rates, no more than three indictments per decade.  Canary appears once in 1715.  Palm sack first appears in 1739 followed by sack stolen from the vaults of wine merchant John Bill in 1762.  Mountain wine appears in 1740 and 1752 followed by Malaga in 1762.  Sherry appears again in four instances between 1762 and 1795.  It was stolen from barrel on a quay, from a wine merchant, and two private individuals.  Once instance of Tent and Vidonia stolen by Peter Chalmers.

Italian wines were only stolen twice, both of which were Florence wine.  Half of a chest was stolen in 1745 and a single bottle in 1758.  Florence wine was only imported in to England is very small quantities.  It was known to not travel well.  The half-chest which was stolen by Cutler Sheffield, the sole servant of Miles Dalton, was from Dalton’s warehouse.  It turned out that this half-case and others in the warehouse were pricked.[6] A pricked wine has high levels of acetic acid and is in the process of becoming vinegar.

From S. J. “The vineyard, a treatise, the observations made by a gentleman in his travels” 1727.

I have classified English wine to include both grape wine and that from fruits such as cherry, orange, and raisin.  There is one curious incidence of English grape wine being stolen.  In 1770 Richard Gee and William Price stole 36 quart bottles of English wine from Joseph Shipton.[7]  That English wine should be stolen and in such quantities was a great surprise to me.  There is a long history of vineyards and winemaking in England.  The Compleat Vineyard was published by William Hughes in 1665.  In his prolog he states there were vineyards at the time located in Essex, the West of England, and in Kent which “produce great store of excellent good Wine.”[8]  Robert Plot comments that the Right Whorshipfull Sir Henry Lyttleton produced an excellent wine from his vineyards at Over-Arley.[8]  It was “undistinguishable from the best French wines by the most judicious palates.”  Dr. Ralph Bathurst, President of Trinity College and Dean of Wells, made good Claret in the difficult year of 1685.   In 1708 John Mortimer recommends planting the Currant followed by the White-Muscadine, Parsley-Grape, Muscadella, and finally white and red Frontiniauqe.[10]  In making the best English Wine he recommends adding one pint or quart of red or white port per gallon of English Wine.  The resulting wine will be “as any French Wine without any adulteration.”   Some 20 years later S.J. in The Vineyard, A Treatise notes there have been instances of people producing wine from vines which were nailed upon brick walls.[11]  Having achieved “greater Maturity of Ripeness” these wines were “found to excel many foreign Wines, in their pleasant, brisk, and palatable Flavour.”   Hugh Barty-King details some seventeen 18th century vineyards in London alone.[12]  Thomas Hale comments in 1742 that he purchased wine from the vineyard at Hammersmith, London[13]. In 1769 a proprietor of English Wine was selling his 1763 vintage by the cask at the new low price of 9s per dozen or 9d per bottle.[14]  In 1780 Peter Foot notes that the 1780 vintage at Hammersmith produced some 100 gallons of wine per 100 yards of wine[15].  Unfortunately the Proceeding  for Joseph Shipton is limited to the indictment and the verdict.  In addition to the English wine he also had strong beer and rum.  With no other clues I could only guess as to which vineyard his wine came from.

The types of wine stolen appears to have been selected mostly by happenstance.   In such Proceedings as the cellar man Richard King who stole from Robert Ireland and wine-cooper Peter Chalmers, these men clearly picked which wines they took.  Three of the Proceedings do detail deliberate choices at a more common level.  In 1765 Eleazar Davis stole both liquor and wine from Joseph Wilkinson.[16]  Over the period of a month, typically on a Sunday, Eleazar Davis would bring a bladder or two to Joseph Barrow.  Joseph Barrow would fill up the bladders then Eleazar Davis would presumably sell the wine.  At one point Eleazar Davis’ mother was still ill and upon announcing she preferred Old Hock or Madeira, Joseph Barrow fill a bladder with some Madeira.  In 1799 John Spalding stole five bottles of wine and rum out of the vaults of wine and brandy merchants John Ewart and George Bell.[17]  John Ewart had just pulled into Black Raven Court, where they vaults were located, when he saw John Spalding exiting the vaults.  He carried him into the kitchen and sent for a constable.  Before the constable arrived John Ewart stated he was on the sick list and had got three bottles of wine which the doctor had prescribed him.  In 1799 Henry Helsing had known Thomas Burrows for approximately one year.  Thomas Burrows knew Henry Helsing was a gentleman’s servant and said he would buy anything he could get.   Henry Helsing started to steal candles along with red and white wine. Thomas Burrows said he preferred red wine because it was easier to sell.

Many of the indictments do not list the occupation of the victim such as with John and James Chalie who had both wine and Palm-Sack stolen from them.[18]  While we do not know Robert Ireland’s occupation he had a sizeable cellar from which Madeira, Port, white Port, Lisbon, and Hungary wine were stolen from in February 1773.  For those with stated occupations there was understandably a wide variety of wine stolen from wine merchants.  Such is the case of Lewis Beauvais in January 1775 who saw Claret, Champagne, Madeira, and old Hock stolen away.

Wine was stolen from Esquires, naval Captains, tavern owners, widows, and even a hop merchant.  The Esquires form a small group which drank diversely.  A large quantity of Elder Wine was stolen from Lewis Delafay, Esquire in December 1725.  Mountain wine was stolen from King Gold, Esquire in December 1740.  A vast quantity of wine was stolen from Thomas King, Esquire in 1785. His cook took red Port, white Port, Malmsey Madeira, Claret, Raisin Wine, Orange Wine, and many different spirits.   Forty two bottles of port wine were stolen from Thomas Lewis, Esquire in April 1797.  Red port wine was stolen from Richard Corral, Esquire in April 1798.

Wine was stolen from naval Captains both from ship and home.  In April 1714, Red Lisbon Wine was stolen from on board Captain Samuel Moody’s ship.  White wine was stolen from the boat of George Matson in 1721.  Five hundred weight of sugar and two elephant teeth were stolen from Captain Martin Long’s ship the Peggy and Jenny in December 1742.  The profit from these goods was to be split amongst the thieves so they also took wine and rum to simply drink.  Four cases of Madeira wine were stolen from Thomas Hindman, a captain in the East India Service in May 1787.

The publican Lambert Taylor of Brick Lane saw a bottle of red wine stolen from his house in 1771.  In 1790 Joseph Marriott stole a bottle of Lisbon wine from the cellar of John Bedford who kept the King’s Head at Longford.  Thomas Lawrence kept the Crown and Anchor in Staines.  He was burgled one night in October 1795 by John Notts, Samuel Clarke, and James Wingrove.  Amongst a few other items he lost a cask of gin and a case of port wine.  Samuel Clarke turned King’s evidence after constable Samuel Dale found the dozen port bottles at his house.  Having been responsible for the burglary he would have been sentenced to hanging.  James Wingrove disappeared so only John Notts was sentenced to transportation.  Almost three years later in September 1798 James Wingrove was spotted in Staines and brought in. He was sentenced to death.

The property of women was stolen as well, albeit representing only 10% of the victims.  Florence wine was stolen from Elizabeth Briscoe, Widow in February 1758.[19]  A hamper of wine was stolen from Sarah Graston, Widow in December 1781.  The sisters Hester, Anne, and Elizabeth Blackhall saw a quart of red wine amongst other items stolen away in October 1785.[20] Both red wine and white wine were stolen from the Honourable Martha Maria Hervey in June 1788.[21]  She was related to John Hervey the 1st Earl of Bristol whose magnificent cellar I have already mentioned.

I should like to think that even those in the business related to beer drank wine.  Forty two bottles of wine were stolen from the hop merchant Edward Railton in October 1795.

[1] Journals of the House of Lords. Vol IX. H.M. Stationery Office, 1646.
[2] Pepys, Samuel.  Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume 1. 1906. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=a7MyAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Hervey Bristol (1st Earl of), John. The diary of John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol. Wells, 1894. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=lb4xAQAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1685, trial of Joel Gaischone (t16850225-19).
[5] For all statistics in this post please reference Francis, Alan David.  The Wine Trade. 1972.
[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1745, trial of Henry Cutler (t17450227-20).
[7] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), December 1770, trial of Richard Gee William Price (t17701205-22).
[8] Hughes, William, A Compleat Vineyard. London, 1665. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=QzNcAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] Plot, Robert. The Natural History of Stafford-shire.  Theater, Oxford, 1686. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=T03JVJkdC9gC&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q&f=false
[10] Mortimer, John.  The Whole Art of Husbandry.  H. Mortlock, London, 1708. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=9nxZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=false
[11] J., S. The Vineyard: Being a Treatise. W. Mears, London, 1727. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=KRIAAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[12] Barty-King, Hugh. A Tradition of English Wine. Oxford Illustrated Press, Oxford, 1977.
[13] Hale, Thomas. A Compleat Body of Husbandry, Volume 4. 1759. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=H_ATAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false
[14] Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England), Tuesday, June 20, 1769; Issue 12 573.
[15] Foot, Peter. General view of the agriculture of the county of Middlesex. John Nichols, London, 1794. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=qpVPAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[16] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), September 1765, trial of Eleazar Davis (t17650918-70).
[17] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), October 1799, trial of JOHN SPALDING (t17991030-10).
[18] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), May 1739, trial of Thomas Owen , alias William Freeman (t17390502-21).
[19] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1758, trial of John Rhodes (t17580222-3).
[20] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), October 1785, trial of MICHAEL SMITH (t17851019-9).
[21] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), June 1788, trial of THOMAS TWITE (t17880625-78).
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  1. July 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

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