Home > History of Wine > “Murder and Thieves”: Part 3 “D-n my eyes, I am going out a house-breaking.”

“Murder and Thieves”: Part 3 “D-n my eyes, I am going out a house-breaking.”

Theft is frequently encountered in the Proceedings.  All forms of theft were considered felonies and there were many statutes which specified punishments for each particular type.  The types of theft were differentiated by the value of the goods stolen, the location, and the manner.[1]  In the cases of the sample set there is Burglary, Grand Larceny, Housebreaking, Petty Larceny, Theft from a Specified Place, and Other.  Burglary was defined as breaking into a dwelling house at night with the intent to commit a felony.  The house included outbuildings, offices, and warehouses.  Grand Larceny involved the theft of goods valued 1s. or greater without any aggravating circumstances like assault or breaking and entering.  Housebreaking involved breaking into a dwelling house during the day.  Petty Larceny involved the theft of goods value less than 1s. or 12d and the punishment never included death.  Theft from a Specified Place involved locations such as warehouses, ships, manufacturing places, churches, lodging houses, and dwelling houses where no breaking and entering took place.  For this sample set the distribution of the offenses are 62% Grand Larceny, 16% Theft From a Specified Place, 14% Burglary, 7% Other, and 2% Highway Robbery. All of the thefts in this analysis feature guilty verdicts with the resulting punishments represented by 46% Transportation, 19% Whipping, 14% Imprisonment, 14% Death, 3% Fined, 3% Military Discharge, and 2% Branding.

"The Industrious 'Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeach'd by his Accomplice", William Hogarth, 1747. Image from Wikipedia.

“The Industrious ‘Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeach’d by his Accomplice”, William Hogarth, 1747. Image from Wikipedia.

The history of crime and the legal system has been extensively written about by J. M. Beattie in Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800[2] and Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750[3].  In these books Mr. Beattie extensively analyzed the judicial records of Surrey and Sussex along with the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.  Any mention of legal history in these posts refers to these two books.  Excellent material is also available online at Historical Background to the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.  The small sample set used for these posts does not add anything new to the history of crime and the legal system.  However, the time span of the sample set does help illustrate the major changes in the concern about different types of crime, the policing of London, and the law itself.

There were several types of officers in charge of order in London.  Throughout the sample set the four types mentioned are City marshals, beadles, constables, and watchmen.  The beadles and marshals were paid and uniformed officers who typically maintained their positions for several years thus they were experienced.  There was typically one beadle, and two marshals per ward.  The beadle was a long established position, were elected annually, and expected to carry out the commands of the Ward.  The marshal was a new position which was appointed by the Lord Mayor and alderman.  The marshals and beadles typically patrolled during the daytime hours.  The marshal’s prime responsibility was handling vagrancy.  The marshal was supported by six marshalmen and was also responsible for managing the beadles, constables, and watchmen.  The main body of officers was formed by the constables.  They were neither paid nor experienced because they were ordinary citizens serving an obligatory one year position.  They served during the day but were not expected to patrol the streets.  Instead they were expected to answer to requests for help.  Their counter parts were the watchmen who served at night.  This was also an obligatory position filled by ordinary citizens.

There is one mention of a beadle who saw then detained Anthony Goddard and the hamper containing nine gallons of wine.  The Parish of St. Margaret New Fish Street was one of four parishes in Bridge Ward Within.  In 1730 there was one beadle and fifteen constables.  By 1767 this had been augmented by a night watch of one beadle, one constable, and twenty-five watchmen.  Some twenty years later this is near the same area where James Ellick stole four quarts of red port from Smart’s Quay.  In 1745 a City Marshal provided Miles Dalton with information that a group of rogues hiding out in the woods might be responsible for his theft.[4]

Due to their large numbers Constables are featured throughout the Proceedings.  They often worked together victim, neighbor, and friends.  Mr. Barnes was the neighbor of Thomas Bruin, cooper to William Dickswell Grimes from whom William Westwood and Thomas Coulson had stolen a cask of wine.  Mr. Barnes fetched Constable Gardner and together they detained Thomas Coulson.  Thomas Coulson tried to get away but Mr. Barnes held on to him.  Thomas Colson challenged Mr. Barnes, “You are no constable.”  This prompted Constable Gardner to hold his staff to Thomas Coulson’s nose with the warning, “Smell of this.”

Watchmen appear several times in the sample set as well.  The first mention of a watchman was Thomas Rachey who happened to also steal a wooden runlet of Sherry in 1699.  In February 1779 Constable Patrick White spotted John Huddey with a bundle in Pall Mall.[5]  He followed him to Cockspur Street where he made John Huddey lay down the goods.  Constable Patrick White then rung his rattle which caused his partner Constable Hugh M’Kennon to come over.  These two watchmen took John Huddey to the watch-house between five and six in the morning.  The goods included a piece of soap, clothing, and three bottles of red port, Madeira, and claret.  John Huddey claimed he was moving the items because the owner kept a private still and feared seizure by an Excise officer.   Owning a private still was a serious offense.  Any Excise officer and a constable could break in to a building where they suspected a private still was located to seize it.  The owner had to pay £200 for every still or forfeit it.[6]

A constable or other officer had a duty to act when a crime was occurring.  Otherwise they typically reacted when the public brought in the name of an accused offender.  The discovery of the offender’s names and locations was up to the victim.  As a result rewards were given for certain types of crimes to gain the help of the public.  The reward in the case of the burglary of Thomas Lawrence at the Crown and Anchor Inn in 1795 was set at £40.  The unofficial position of thief-taker developed and referred to private citizens who operated for reward money in exchange for detecting and bringing in the offenders.  Henry Fielding was appointed a justice of the peace at the end of 1748.  Mary Ireland was brought up in front of him in 1752 for stealing a bottle of wine, tea, and other household items.[7]  In response to a surge in post-war crime Henry Fielding organized the Bow Street Runners which acted as an official sort of thief-taker.  This group of men were officially funded in 1753 and attached to the Bow Street magistrate’s office.  Their activities expanded under Sir John Fielding to serve writs and travel widely in search of offenders.

Sir John Fielding in "A bond and judgement" Matthew Darly, 1779. Item #1868,0808.4587, The British Museum.

Sir John Fielding in “A bond and judgement” Matthew Darly, 1779. Item #1868,0808.4587, The British Museum.

Private thief-takers in London continued to function in addition to the Bow Street Runners.  John Taplin had been an officer of the police for two and a half years but on hearing there might be grounds for a complaint against himself, he dismissed himself from service.  One week later he fashioned himself a thief-taker and detained Henry Helsing when he tried to sell stolen bottles at Thomas Burrows’ shop in 1795.


Not all offenders were captured with the stolen goods at the time of the theft.  Upon receiving information after a theft, the victim often obtained a warrant to search the suspect’s possessions.  Warrants first appear in the Proceedings in 1714 when Captain Samuel Moody lost a great deal of wine from his ship.  He was informed that his servant sold some of the wine to Samuel Green so he obtained a warrant then went to Samuel Green’s house.  Warrants are not mentioned again until 1773 when Robert Ireland was granted a warrant from Sir John Fielding.[8]  He then went with Constable Hutchninson to Richard King’s lodgings where they proceeded to search his possessions.  Several other Proceedings detail why a victim took out a search warrant, the times when the warrant was taken out and then subsequently served, and the constable who was present.


In looking at the types of theft over time the early decades reveal a small number of thefts actually involving wine.  After the decade of the 1710s there is an increase in the number of wine thefts which dips in the 1760s then peaks in the 1780s with the increase in Grand Larceny and Burglary.  These two crimes represent the strongest trends which involve the significant increase in Grand Larceny starting in the 1730s followed by an increase in Burglary in the 1770s over other types of theft.  There is a general correlation between the sample set and all of the Proceedings in that the minimum number of thefts occurred in the 1700s followed by a general increase to the peak decade of the 1780s.  Grand Larceny increasingly becomes the largest category of theft reaching over 2500 Proceedings per decade compared to less than 500 for the other categories.


In looking at the Punishment Type versus time there appear to be three distinct periods.  The first period includes the 1680s through 1710s when the punishment were primarily whipping, branding, and death.  The second period begins in the 1720s with the introduction and sustained high levels of transportation, a few cases of whipping, and the disappearance of branding and death.  The third period begins in the 1770s when transportation diminishes, imprisonment is introduced, and both branding and whipping reappear.  Though transportation returns to its former average levels it is imprisonment which becomes the prime punishment. 

Thus in terms of crimes the sample set shows an increase in Burglary during the 1780s as compared to the Proceedings.  In terms of punishment the sample set shows a larger increase in imprisonment and death.  Burglary was consistently viewed as a particularly heinous crime because it involved breaking into a house while the occupants were asleep and vulnerable.  There were eight Proceedings in the sample set which involved burglary.  Of these eight, six received the punishment of death and two of transportation.  Three of the cases of burglary occurred in the 1780s all resulting in the punishment of death.  In these burglary Proceedings a goal was to determine if the prisoner did actually enter and burgle the house.  Thomas Crow[9] in 1740 and John Nott in 1795 were found to have not entered the victims’ houses and thus found not guilty of the burglary charge.  Both were sentenced to transportation.  In John Nott’s indictment £7 8s of goods were listed but he was found guilty to the value of 39s.  This placed him below the 40s level at which death was required, thus escaping the death sentence twice.

Several of the Proceedings give insight as to why the crimes were committed.  In 1740 Thomas Crow was persuaded by his brother David Crow to rob the house of King Gold, Esq.  David Crowd was a former servant who knew the household.  In 1758 John Rhodes met a new companion and together they took up lodgings at Mrs. Briscoe’s house.  The companion threatened John Rhodes with death if he did not steal from the house.  In 1767 Joseph Barrow was approached by Eleazar Davis stating they both wanted money and watches.  Joseph Barrow stole the wine which Eleazar Davis then presumably sold.

In July 1771 Patrick Finley, Edward Flanagan, Matthew Polland known as Butterarse, and Thomas Jones set out for an evening of crime spurred on by Matthew Polland who explained, “D-n my eyes, I am going out a house-breaking.”  They were joined by an unnamed accomplice known as Greenapron.  After breaking into Lambert Taylor’s house they set out to knock people down so they could take their money.  The first person they encountered was Madhead so they let him go.  The second person they encountered was John Pagett who had originally refused to join them.  He cried out for help which brought a constable and an end to their spree.  In the case of Samuel Toomes and William Ellicot in 1787, Samuel Toomes asserted he was in the process of alarming the home owner, Captain Thomas Hindman, that his house had been burgled when he was caught.  He stated he was an out of work watchmaker with a wife and four small children.


Prior to the Hanoverian Succession it was believed that crime could be deterred through terror.  After the Revolution of 1689 a series of statues strengthened policing, prosecution, and the consequences of conviction. This “bloody code” expanded the range of capital crimes.  There were six indictments during this period for theft, theft from a specified place, and grand larceny.  Four of these cases were found guilty to the value of 10d. which resulted in a sentence of whipping. As is seen through these cases the value of the goods in the Indictment is often greater than what the prisoner was found guilty of stealing.  In 1698 Thomas Young, Henry Barton, and William Mees stole £8.5 worth of Claret, cherry wine, and pewter yet were found guilty of stealing 10d.[10]  In 1699 Thomas Rachey was indicted for grand larceny having stolen twelve gallons of Sherry wine in a wooden runlet (cask).  In the indictment the wooden runlet was valued at 2s. but the Sherry wine was not.  Being found guilty of a felony, he was sentenced to branding.  There were no more Proceedings involving the theft of wine for another 15 years.  There is a similar behavior with all of the thefts prosecuted at the Old Bailey.  This quiet period spans the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) when large numbers of men were overseas as soldier and sailors.

Once peace with France was established the disbanded soldiers and sailors returned to London.  Shortly thereafter the number of crimes starts to increase and wine was once again stolen in the Spring of 1714.  Later that year George I ascended to the throne.  In 1715 Anthony Goddard was indicted for grand larceny for stealing a hamper with six gallons of red wine, 6 quarts of Canary, and 6 quarts of white wine valued at £3.  Having been found guilty he was sentenced to death.  The theft of wine and crimes in general continued to rise.  With the jails of London overcrowded a solution was required to address the lack of alternatives to branding and the death penalty.  The Transportation Act was passed in 1718 as an alternative to the death penalty.  It allowed convicts to be sent to the Colonies of Virginia and Maryland.  In 1720 legislation was passed addressing the cost of transportation.  Together this gave the court an alternative to the benefit of clergy, whipping, branding, as well as those guilty of a capital offense who were pardoned by the king.  The first Proceeding involving the theft wine after the Transportation act received a sentence of transportation.

In 1751 a House of Commons Committee met to revise the criminal laws.  One of the recommendations was the use of imprisonment as an alternative to transportation.  In 1773 the last punishment of transportation to the American colonies occurred for the theft of wine.  In 1776 transportation halted with the start of the American War.  The first theft of wine during the war resulted in the punishment of imprisonment in 1777.  Transportation was still sentenced but it involved being sent to a hulk, a decommissioned ship repurposed as a prison, instead of a colony. During the American War the sample set reveals a dip in the number of thefts followed by resurgence afterwards.  During this resurgence punishment by imprisonment and transportation significantly increased.  Physical transportation resumed again in early 1787 with the location of New South Wales.   Both Elizabeth Lee in 1784 and John Calder in 1785 were sentenced to seven year transportation punishments.  They would have spent their initial sentence in a hulk followed by the remainder in New South Wales as evidenced by transport documents of 1787.

Over the course of the American War the English national debt almost doubled.  The smuggling of tea and wine had already been on the increase but the reduction of manpower during the war led to the continued increase of smuggling and reduction of revenue.[11] Through the Commutation Act of 1784 and Wine Excise Bill of 1786 Prime Minister Pitt succeeded in reducing smuggling and increasing revenue through making the legal importation of goods more attractive.  He transferred part of the duty on wine from Customs to Excise.  This meant the Excise officers could account for wine in the cellars of wine merchants even after it had cleared Customs.  The bill also included a provision that required persons who want to move any wine from one location to another had to apply to the Excise office to prove that all duties had been paid and obtain a pass which stated departure and arrival locations and dates.[12]

"The wine duty, -or- the triumph of Bacchus & Silenus; with John Bulls remonstrance" James Gillray, 1796.  Item #1868,0808.6520, The British Museum.

“The wine duty, -or- the triumph of Bacchus & Silenus; with John Bulls remonstrance” James Gillray, 1796. Item #1868,0808.6520, The British Museum.

This provision is evident two years later in a case involving the Honorable Martha Maria Hervey of Brompton.  She was the daughter-in-law of John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol whose wine cellar was quite famous and already cited in these posts.  Her husband the Reverend Honourable Charles Hervey passed away in 1783 and five years later in 1788 she had twelve bottles of red wine and twelve bottles of white wine stolen, along with several other items.  The items in question were to be moved from the Brompton house to the house in James Street, Westminster.  To do so she hired Thomas Twite a former hackney coachman who watered the horses at Buckingham Gate.  Elizabeth Sibley was the maid who packed up the wine in a hamper, left it in a house, and then gave Thomas Twite the key on a Thursday.  On Sunday Thomas Twite returned the key and claimed there had not been any wine to transport.  That evening Elizabeth Sibley took out a warrant against him and upon searching his apartment found thirteen bottles and several of the other stolen items.  At the trial there were several questions relating to the nature of the transportation request.  Here is the exchange between Mr. Garrow, the prisoner’s defense, and Elizabeth Sibley, servant to the Honourable Martha Maria Hervey.

“Was there any permit for moving this wine, was not the man to carry the wine as he could so as to avoid the Excise officers? – He was to bring it to our house at his leisure; I do not know there was any particular time; I cannot tell whether he was to bring it two bottles at a time.

Were not these his instructions, to bring it a few bottles at a time? – No Sir, he was [not] instructed to bring it two bottles at a time, his instructions were to bring the wine there was two dozen.

Was not he told if he attempted to bring the two bottles at a time it was liable to seizure; was not he so told? – I do not know that.

Did you ever hear that? – No Sir.

Never in your life? – No Sir.

Do not you know he was expressly told so? – No Sir, I do not know that; my mistress gave him his orders to bring the things, she told him to bring the things; he was to bring them at his leisure, I suppose there was no particular time mentioned; it could not be a great while, because the key must be delivered up at such a time on quarter day.

When did you give it him? – This day fortnight, all the things were cleared out, and the key delivered up a fortnight ago almost.”

Mr. Garrow stopped questioning Elizabeth Sibley.  William Emmes was sworn in for testimony.  The inquiry into the legality of the transportation of the wine was not brought up again nor was it questioned by the court.  If the wine was illegally transported than Excise office could have seized the wine, bottles, and any livestock and carts involved in transporting the wine.

Mr. Garrow in "More miseries" Thomas Rowlandson, 1807-1808. Item #1869,0213.100, The British Museum.

Mr. Garrow in “More miseries” Thomas Rowlandson, 1807-1808. Item #1869,0213.100, The British Museum.

It is not documented how the valuation of stolen items in an indictments of the sample set were arrived at.  They were arrived at with regard due to the required punishment given the value of the stolen goods.  The prosecutor could exert influence over the indictment in terms of how the crime was described and the stolen property valued.  Even the victim could influence the value of the goods in the indictment.


In 1764 the first indictment to separately value the wine as distinct from the actual glass bottles lists nine glasses bottles valued at 18d. or 2d. each.[13] These bottles appear to be a mixture of pint and quart sizes.  In 1773 Richard King stole 30 bottles of wine of which the quart glass bottles were valued at 5s which is equivalent to 2d. per bottle.  The value of quart bottles varied between 0.9d. to 3.4d throughout the indictments.  The valuation of the bottles appears to be random across size and whether they were marked or not.  The six quart bottles of the Knowlys family were marked and valued at 2d. each in 1787.  Thomas Lawrence’s 12 case bottles were valued at 3d. each.  John Bedford’s seven quart bottles were valued at 3.4d. and were not marked.    John Allnut’s 13 glass bottles were valued at 2.8d. and were not marked.  In 1764 and 1765 Isaac Martin Rebow, Esq charged 2.5d per bottle and 2.3d per pint. [14]


The average valuation of wine in the indictment appears to show several cycles beginning with the first valuations in the 1690s.  In the 1700s there were no wine thefts and of the two thefts in the 1710s there were no valuations for wine.  The 1720s show a resumption of valuation which peaked in the 1730s, depressed in the 1740s, then peaked again in the 1750s.  The wine values depress further in the 1760s followed by a sharp increase in values in the 1770s which is maintained until the end of the century.

There is one instance where the indictment value for wine can be compared directly against the value stated by the victim.  In 1782 George Hellegar lost 30 quarts of old Hock which were valued at £8 in the indictment.  This is the equivalent to 5s 4d. per quart.  In the testimony he states that he had sold the same wine at £3 and 3g. per dozen.  This is equivalent to 5s and 5s 6d. per quart so the value in the indictment falls within this range.  Earlier in 1775 the one quart bottle of Old Hock stolen from Lewis Beauvais was valued at 1s.  In 1719 Henry Plaistow at the King’s Arms in the Strand sold young Hock at 6s. per gallon and fine mellow Old Hock at 10s per gallon or 2s 6d. per quart, revealing the premium paid for old Hock.  The Vauxhall Gardens Wine List of 1762 lists Old Hock “with or without sugar” at 5s per bottle.  Fine Hock was sold by Priddy’s Foreign Warehouse and Vaults in 1793 at 30s. per dozen or 2s 5d. per bottle.  Fell Park sold Old Hock at 3s 10d per bottle in 1788.[15]

The majority of the Portuguese wines stolen were Madeira and Port.  Port is described in the indictments as Port, Red Port, and White Port.  These three categories of port were consistently valued less than that of Madeira.  During the height of the valuations in the 1780s Red Port was valued between 1s 3d per quarts to 1s 6d per quart.  In 1770, the Punch House on White Cross Street[16]  and Bill’s Wine Vaults  in Chandes Street, Covent Garden[17] sold red port at 6s. per gallon or 18s per dozen bottles.  In 1790, Bridges and Co. of Duke Street, Piccadilly sold five to seven year old red port at 21-23s. per dozen and seven year old red port at 26s per dozen.[18]  During the 1780s Madeira ranged from 1s 3d per quart to 3s per quart with Malmsey Madeira reaching the high prices of 3s 4d to 5s per quart.  Fell Parker of Commission Wine Vaults sold Fine old Malmsey Madeira at 3s per bottle and Rich Malmsey Madeira at 30s. per dozen or 2s. 6d. per bottle in 1788.[19] Thus the published prices of wine appear to be in alignment with the valuations in the indictments.


The Proceedings of the Old Bailey which describe convictions for the theft of wine form a very small part of the nearly 197,000 documented cases.  I originally hoped to provide a more in depth analysis of the types of wine stolen as compared to what was imported and fashionable drink.  I had also thought I could write a more robust legal analysis.  My sample set proved too small so the second and third posts are more illustrative.  What the sample set did provide is a very diverse look at the social history of wine.  I find this exciting because this wine blog allows me to detail all of my explorations regardless of their outcome.  My immersion into this material has led me to develop several themes for future posts.  One of which I have already started acquiring research materials for and hope to have published later this year.

[1] Clive Emsley, Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, “Crime and Justice – Crimes Tried at the Old Bailey”, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 11 July 2013 )
[2] Beattie, J. M. Crime and the Courts in England 1660-1800. Princeton University Press, 1986.
[3] Beattie, J. M. Policing and Punishment in London 1660-1750. Oxford University Press, 2001.
[4] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1745, trial of Henry Cutler (t17450227-20).
[5] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1779, trial of JOHN HUDDEY (t17790217-33).
[6] The Statues at Large, (25 Geo. III, c. 50 section II)
[7] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), September 1752, trial of Mary Ireland (t17520914-39).
[8] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1773, trial of RICHARD KING (t17730217-50).
[9] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), December 1740, trial of Thomas Crow (t17401204-60).
[10] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), February 1698, trial of Thomas Young Henry Barton William Mees (t16980223-19).
[11] Ashworth, William J. Customs and Excise.  Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003.
[12] The Statues at Large, (25 Geo. III, c. 59 section XXXIII)
[13] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 February 2013), October 1764, trial of William Robinson (t17641017-25).
[14] Simon, Andre. Bottlescrew Days. Boston, 1927.
[15] World (1787) (London, England), Wednesday, July 30, 1788; Issue 495.17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
[16] Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England), Thursday, April 12, 1770; Issue 12 828. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
[17] Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England), March 16, 1770 – March 19, 1770; Issue 1982. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
[18] World (1787) (London, England), Tuesday, January 5, 1790; Issue 940. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
[19] World (1787) (London, England), Saturday, February 23, 1788; Issue 360. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
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