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[Illustration: William Smith 1754 Pinx. Mac Ardell. Mezzo.

Elizabeth Canning.

London: Smith, Elder & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, S.W.]


These Essays, which appeared, with two exceptions, in _The Cornhill
Magazine_, 1904, have been revised, and some alterations, corrections,
and additions have been made in them. 'Queen Oglethorpe,' in which
Miss Alice Shield collaborated, doing most of the research, is
reprinted by the courteous permission of the editor, from _Blackwood's
Magazine_. A note on 'The End of Jeanne de la Motte,' has been added
as a sequel to 'The Cardinal's Necklace:' it appeared in _The Morning
Post_, the Editor kindly granting leave to republish.

The author wishes to acknowledge the able assistance of Miss E.M.
Thompson, who made researches for him in the British Museum and at the
Record Office.












X. QUEEN OGLETHORPE (_in collaboration with Miss
Alice Shield_) 214









Don't let your poor little
Lizzie be blamed!


'Everyone has heard of the case of Elizabeth Canning,' writes Mr. John
Paget; and till recently I agreed with him. But five or six years ago
the case of Elizabeth Canning repeated itself in a marvellous way, and
then but few persons of my acquaintance had ever heard of that
mysterious girl.

The recent case, so strange a parallel to that of 1753, was this: In
Cheshire lived a young woman whose business in life was that of a
daily governess. One Sunday her family went to church in the morning,
but she set off to skate, by herself, on a lonely pond. She was never
seen of or heard of again till, in the dusk of the following Thursday,
her hat was found outside of the door of her father's farmyard. Her
friend discovered her further off in a most miserable condition,
weak, emaciated, and with her skull fractured. Her explanation was
that a man had seized her on the ice, or as she left it, had dragged
her across the fields, and had shut her up in a house, from which she
escaped, crawled to her father's home, and, when she found herself
unable to go further, tossed her hat towards the farm door. Neither
such a man as she described, nor the house in which she had been
imprisoned, was ever found. The girl's character was excellent,
nothing pointed to her condition being the result _d'une orgie
échevelée_; but the neighbours, of course, made insinuations, and a
lady of my acquaintance, who visited the girl's mother, found herself
almost alone in placing a charitable construction on the adventure.

My theory was that the girl had fractured her skull by a fall on the
ice, had crawled to and lain in an unvisited outhouse of the farm, and
on that Thursday night was wandering out, in a distraught state, not
wandering in. Her story would be the result of her cerebral
condition - concussion of the brain.

It was while people were discussing this affair, a second edition of
Elizabeth Canning's, that one found out how forgotten was Elizabeth.

On January 1, 1753, Elizabeth was in her eighteenth year. She was the
daughter of a carpenter in Aldermanbury; her mother, who had four
younger children, was a widow, very poor, and of the best character.
Elizabeth was short of stature, ruddy of complexion, and, owing to an
accident in childhood - the falling of a garret ceiling on her
head - was subject to fits of unconsciousness on any alarm. On learning
this, the mind flies to hysteria, with its accompaniment of diabolical
falseness, for an explanation of her adventure. But hysteria does not
serve the turn. The girl had been for years in service with a Mr.
Wintlebury, a publican. He gave her the highest character for honesty
and reserve; she did not attend to the customers at the bar, she kept
to herself, she had no young man, and she only left Wintlebury's for a
better place - at a Mr. Lyon's, a near neighbour of her mother. Lyon, a
carpenter, corroborated, as did all the neighbours, on the points of
modesty and honesty.

On New Year's Day, 1753, Elizabeth wore her holiday best - 'a purple
masquerade stuff gown, a white handkerchief and apron, a black quilted
petticoat, a green undercoat, black shoes, blue stockings, a white
shaving hat with green ribbons,' and 'a very ruddy colour.' She had
her wages, or Christmas-box, in her pocket - a golden half guinea in a
little box, with three shillings and a few coppers, including a
farthing. The pence she gave to three of her little brothers and
sisters. One boy, however, 'had huffed her,' and got no penny. But she
relented, and, when she went out, bought for him a mince-pie. Her
visit of New Year's Day was to her maternal aunt, Mrs. Colley, living
at Saltpetre Bank (Dock Street, behind the London Dock). She meant to
return in time to buy, with her mother, a cloak, but the Colleys had a
cold early dinner, and kept her till about 9 P.M. for a hot supper.

Already, at 9 P.M., Mr. Lyon had sent to Mrs. Canning's to make
inquiries; the girl was not wont to stay out so late on a holiday.
About 9 P.M., in fact, the two Colleys were escorting Elizabeth as far
as Houndsditch.

The rest is mystery!

On Elizabeth's non-arrival Mrs. Canning sent her lad, a little after
ten, to the Colleys, who were in bed. The night was passed in anxious
search, to no avail; by six in the morning inquiries were vainly
renewed. Weeks went by. Mrs. Canning, aided by the neighbours,
advertised in the papers, mentioning a report of shrieks heard from a
coach in Bishopsgate Street in the small morning hours of January 2.
The mother, a Churchwoman, had prayers put up at several churches, and
at Mr. Wesley's chapel. She also consulted a cheap 'wise man,' whose
aspect alarmed her, but whose wisdom took the form of advising her to
go on advertising. It was later rumoured that he said the girl was in
the hands of 'an old black woman,' and would return; but Mrs. Canning
admitted nothing of all this. Sceptics, with their usual acuteness,
maintained that the disappearance was meant to stimulate charity, and
that the mother knew where the daughter was; or, on the other hand,
the daughter had fled to give birth to a child in secret, or for
another reason incident to 'the young and gay,' as one of the counsel
employed euphemistically put the case. The medical evidence did not
confirm these suggestions. Details are needless, but these theories
were certainly improbable. The character of La Pucelle was not more
stainless than Elizabeth's.

About 10.15 P.M. on January 29, on the Eve of the Martyrdom of King
Charles - as the poor women dated it - Mrs. Canning was on her knees,
praying - so said her apprentice - that she might behold even if it were
but an apparition of her daughter; such was her daily prayer. It was
as in Wordsworth's _Affliction of Margaret_:

I look for ghosts, but none will force
Their way to me; 'tis falsely said
That ever there was intercourse
Between the living and the dead!

At that moment there was a sound at the door. The 'prentice opened it,
and was aghast; the mother's prayer seemed to be answered, for there,
bleeding, bowed double, livid, ragged, with a cloth about her head,
and clad in a dirty dressing-jacket and a filthy draggled petticoat,
was Elizabeth Canning. She had neglected her little brother that
'huffed her' on New Year's Day, but she had been thinking of him, and
now she gave her mother for him all that she had - the farthing!

You see that I am on Elizabeth's side: that farthing touch, and
another, with the piety, honesty, loyalty, and even the superstition
of her people, have made me her partisan, as was Mr. Henry Fielding,
the well-known magistrate.

Some friends were sent for, Mrs. Myers, Miss Polly Lyon, daughter of
her master, and others; while busybodies flocked in, among them one
Robert Scarrat, a toiler, who had no personal knowledge of Elizabeth.
A little wine was mulled; the girl could not swallow it, emaciated as
she was. Her condition need not be described in detail, but she was
very near her death, as the medical evidence, and that of a midwife
(who consoled Mrs. Canning on one point), proves beyond possibility of

The girl told her story; but what did she tell? Mr. Austin Dobson, in
_The Dictionary of National Biography_, says that her tale 'gradually
took shape under the questions of sympathising neighbours,' and
certainly, on some points, she gave affirmative answers to leading
questions asked by Robert Scarrat. The difficulty is that the
neighbours' accounts of what Elizabeth said in her woful condition
were given when the girl was tried for perjury in April-May 1754. We
must therefore make allowance for friendly bias and mythopoeic
memory. On January 31, 1753, Elizabeth made her statement before
Alderman Chitty, and the chief count against her is that what she told
Chitty did not tally with what the neighbours, in May 1754, swore that
she told them when she came home on January 29, 1753. This point is
overlooked by Mr. Paget in his essay on the subject.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Puzzles and Paradoxes_, pp. 317-336, Blackwoods, 1874.]

On the other hand, by 1754 the town was divided into two factions,
believers and disbelievers in Elizabeth; and Chitty was then a
disbeliever. Chitty took but a few notes on January 31, 1753. 'I did
not make it so distinct as I could wish, not thinking it could be the
subject of so much inquiry,' he admitted in 1754. Moreover, the notes
which he then produced were _not_ the notes which he made at the time,
'but what I took since from that paper I took then' (January 31, 1753)
'of hers and other persons that were brought before me.' This is not
intelligible, and is not satisfactory. If Elizabeth handed in a paper,
Chitty should have produced it in 1754. If he took notes of the
evidence, why did he not produce the original notes?

These notes, made when, and from what source, is vague, bear that
Elizabeth's tale was this: At a dead wall by Bedlam, in Moorfields,
about ten P.M., on January 1, 1753, two men stripped her of gown,
apron, and hat, robbed her of thirteen shillings and sixpence, 'struck
her, stunned her, and pushed her along Bishopsgate Street.' She lost
consciousness - one of her 'fits' - and recovered herself (near Enfield
Wash). Here she was taken to a house, later said to be 'Mother
Wells's,' where 'several persons' were. Chitty, unluckily, does not
say what sort of persons, and on that point all turns. She was asked
'to do as they did,' 'a woman forced her upstairs into a room, and cut
the lace of her stays,' told her there were bread and water in the
room, and that her throat would be cut if she came out. The door was
locked on her. (There was no lock; the door was merely bolted.) She
lived on fragments of a quartern loaf and water '_in a pitcher_,' with
the mince-pie bought for her naughty little brother. She escaped about
four in the afternoon of January 29. In the room were 'an old stool or
two, _an old picture_ over the chimney,' two windows, an old table,
and so on. She forced a pane in a window, 'and got out on a small shed
of boards or penthouse,' and so slid to the ground. She did not say,
the alderman added, that there was any hay in the room. Of bread there
were 'four or five' or 'five or six pieces.' '_She never mentioned the
name of Wells._' Some one else did that at a venture. 'She said she
could tell nothing of the woman's name.' The alderman issued a warrant
against this Mrs. Wells, apparently on newspaper suggestion.

The chief points against Elizabeth were that, when Wells's place was
examined, there was no penthouse to aid an escape, and no old picture.
But, under a wretched kind of bed, supporting the thing, was a
picture, on wood, of a Crown. Madam Wells had at one time used this
loyal emblem as a sign, she keeping a very ill-famed house of call.
But, in December 1745, when certain Highland and Lowland gentlemen
were accompanying bonny Prince Charlie towards the metropolis, Mrs.
Wells removed into a room the picture of the Crown, as being apt to
cause political emotions. This sign may have been 'the old picture.'
As to hay, there _was_ hay in the room later searched; but penthouse
there was none.

That is the worst point in the alderman's notes, of whatever value
these enigmatic documents may be held.

One Nash, butler to the Goldsmiths' Company, was present at the
examination before Chitty on January 31, 1753. He averred, in May
1754, what Chitty did not, that Elizabeth spoke of the place of her
imprisonment as 'a little, square, darkish room,' with 'a few old
pictures.' Here the _one_ old picture of the notes is better evidence,
if the notes are evidence, than Nash's memory. But I find that he was
harping on 'a few old pictures' as early as March 1753. Elizabeth said
she hurt her ear in getting out of the window, and, in fact, it was
freshly cut and bleeding when she arrived at home.

All this of Nash is, so far, the better evidence, as next day,
February 1, 1753, when a most tumultuous popular investigation of the
supposed house of captivity was made, he says that he and others,
finding the dungeon not to be square, small, and darkish, but a long,
narrow slit of a loft, half full of hay, expressed disbelief. Yet it
was proved that he went on suggesting to Lyon, Elizabeth's master,
that people should give money to Elizabeth, and 'wished him success.'
The proof was a letter of his, dated February 10, 1753. Also, Nash,
and two like-minded friends, hearing Elizabeth perjure herself, as
they thought, at the trial of Mrs. Wells (whom Elizabeth never
mentioned to Chitty), did not give evidence against her - on the most
absurdly flimsy excuses. One man was so horrified that, in place of
denouncing the perjury, he fled incontinent! Another went to a dinner,
and Nash to Goldsmiths' Hall, to his duties as butler. Such was then
the vigour of their scepticism.

On the other hand, at the trial in 1754 the neighbours reported
Elizabeth's tale as told on the night when she came home, more dead
than alive. Mrs. Myers had known Elizabeth for eleven years, 'a very
sober, honest girl as any in England.' Mrs. Myers found her livid, her
fingers 'stood crooked;' Mrs. Canning, Mrs. Woodward, and Polly Lyon
were then present, and Mrs. Myers knelt beside Elizabeth to hear her
story. It was as Chitty gave it, till the point where she was carried
into a house. The 'several persons' there, she said, were 'an elderly
woman and two young ones.' Her stays were cut by the old woman. She
was then thrust upstairs into a room, wherein was _hay_, _a pitcher of
water_, and bread in pieces. Bread may have been brought in, water
too, while she slept, a point never noted in the trials. She 'heard
the name of Mother Wills, or Wells, mentioned.'

Now Scarrat, in 1754, said that he, being present on January 29, 1753,
and hearing of the house, 'offered to bet a guinea to a farthing that
it was Mother Wells's.' But Mrs. Myers believed that Elizabeth had
mentioned hearing that name earlier; and Mrs. Myers must have heard
Scarrat, if he suggested it, before Elizabeth named it. The point is

Mrs. Woodward was in Mrs. Canning's room a quarter of an hour after
Elizabeth's arrival. The girl said she was almost starved to death in
a house on the Hertfordshire road, which she knew by seeing the
Hertford coach, with which she was familiar, go by. The woman who cut
her stays was 'a tall, black, swarthy woman.' Scarrat said 'that was
not Mrs. Wells,' which was fair on Scarrat's part. Elizabeth described
the two young women as being one fair, the other dark; so Scarrat
swore. Wintlebury, her old master, and several others corroborated.

If these accounts by Mrs. Myers, Mrs. Woodward, Scarrat, Wintlebury,
and others are trustworthy, then Elizabeth Canning's narrative is
true, for she found the two girls, the tall, swarthy woman, the hay,
and the broken water-pitcher, and almost everything else that she had
mentioned on January 29, at Mother Wells's house when it was visited
on February 1. But we must remember that most accounts of what
Elizabeth said on January 29 and on January 31 are fifteen months
after date, and are biassed on both sides.

To Mother Wells's the girl was taken on February 1, in what a company!
The coach, or cab, was crammed full, some friends walked, several
curious citizens rode, and, when Elizabeth arrived at the house, Nash,
the butler, and other busybodies had made a descent on it. The officer
with the warrant was already there. Lyon, Aldridge, and Hague were
with Nash in a cab, and were met by others 'riding hard,' who had
seized the people found at Mrs. Wells's. There was a rabble of persons
on foot and on horse about the door.

On entering the doorway the parlour was to your left, the house
staircase in front of you, on your right the kitchen, at the further
end thereof was a door, and, when that was opened, a flight of stairs
led to a long slit of a loft which, Nash later declared, did not
answer to Elizabeth's description, especially as there was hay, and,
before Chitty, Elizabeth had mentioned none. There was a filthy kind
of bed, on which now slept a labourer and his wife, Fortune and Judith
Natus. Nash kept talking about the hay, and one Adamson rode to meet
Elizabeth, and came back saying that she said there _was_ hay. By
Adamson's account he only asked her, 'What kind of place was it?' and
she said, 'A wild kind of place with hay in it,' as in the neighbours'
version of her first narrative. Mrs. Myers, who was in the coach,
corroborated Adamson.

The point of the sceptics was that till Adamson rode back to her on
her way to Wells's house she had never mentioned hay. They argued that
Adamson had asked her, 'Was there hay in the room?' and that she,
taking the hint, had said 'Yes!' By May 1754 Adamson and Mrs. Myers,
who was in the cab with Elizabeth, would believe that Adamson had
asked 'What kind of place is it?' and that Elizabeth then spoke,
without suggestion, of the hay. The point would be crucial, but nobody
in 1754 appears to have remembered that on February 21, three weeks
after the event, at the trial of Mother Wells, Adamson had given
exactly the same evidence as in May 1754. 'I returned to meet her, and
asked her about the room. She described the room with some hay in it
... an odd sort of an empty room.'

Arriving at Mother Wells's, Elizabeth, very faint, was borne in and
set on a dresser in the kitchen. Why did she not at once say, 'My room
was up the stairs, beyond the door at the further end of the room'? I
know not, unless she was dazed, as she well might be. Next she, with a
mob of the curious, was carried into the parlour, where were all the
inmates of the house. She paid no attention to Mrs. Wells, but at once
picked out a tall old woman huddled over the fire smoking a pipe. She
did this, by the sceptical Nash's evidence, instantly and without
hesitation. The old woman rose. She was 'tall and swarthy,' a gipsy,
and according to all witnesses inconceivably hideous, her underlip was
'the size of a small child's arm,' and she was marked with some
disease. 'Pray look at this face,' she said; 'I think God never made
such another.' She was named Mary Squires. She added that on January 1
she was in Dorset - 'at Abbotsbury,' said her son George, who was

In 1754 thirty-six people testified to Mary Squires's presence in
Dorset, or to meeting her on her way to London, while twenty-seven, at
Enfield alone, swore as positively that they had seen her and her
daughter at or near Mrs. Wells's, and had conversed with her, between
December 18, 1752, and the middle of January. Some of the Enfield
witnesses were of a more prosperous and educated class than the
witnesses for the gipsy. Many, on both sides, had been eager to swear,
indeed, many had made affidavits as early as March 1753.

This business of the cross-swearing is absolutely inexplicable; on
both sides the same entire certainty was exhibited, as a rule, yet the
woman was unmistakable, as she justly remarked. The gipsy, at all
events, had her _alibi_ ready at once; her denial was as prompt and
unhesitating as Elizabeth's accusation. But, if guilty, she had
enjoyed plenty of time since the girl's escape to think out her line
of defence. If guilty, it was wiser to allege an _alibi_ than to
decamp when Elizabeth made off, for she could not hope to escape
pursuit. George Squires, her son, so prompt with his 'at Abbotsbury on
January 1,' could not tell, in May 1754, where he had passed the
Christmas Day before that New Year's Day, and Christmas is a notable
day. Elizabeth also recognised in Lucy Squires, the gipsy's daughter,
and in Virtue Hall, the two girls, dark and fair, who were present
when her stays were cut.

After the recognition, Elizabeth was carried through the house, and,
according to Nash, in the loft up the stairs from the kitchen she
said, in answer to his question, 'This is the room, for here is the
hay I lay upon, but I think there is more of it.' She also identified
the pitcher with the broken mouth, which she certainly mentioned to
Chitty, as that which held her allowance of water. A chest, or nest,
of drawers she declared that she did not remember. An attempt was made
to suggest that one of her party brought the pitcher in with him to
confirm her account. This attempt failed; but that she had mentioned
the pitcher was admitted. Mrs. Myers, in May 1754, quoted Elizabeth's
words as to there being more hay exactly in the terms of Nash. Mrs.
Myers was present in the loft, and added that Elizabeth 'took her
foot, and put the hay away, and showed the gentlemen two holes, and
said they were in the room when she was in it before.'

On February 7, Elizabeth swore to her narrative, formally made out by
her solicitor, before the author of _Tom Jones_, and Mr. Fielding, by
threats of prosecution if she kept on shuffling, induced Virtue Hall
to corroborate, after she had vexed his kind heart by endless
prevarications. But as Virtue Hall was later 'got at' by the other
side and recanted, we leave her evidence on one side.

On February 21-26 Mary Squires was tried at the Old Bailey and
condemned to death, Virtue Hall corroborating Elizabeth. Mrs. Wells
was branded on the hand. Three Dorset witnesses to the gipsy's _alibi_
were not credited, and Fortune and Judith Natus did not appear in
court, though subpoenaed. In 1754 they accounted for this by their
fear of the mob. The three sceptics, Nash, Hague, and Aldridge, held
their peace. The Lord Mayor, Sir Crispin Gascoyne, who was on the
bench at the trial of Squires and Wells, was dissatisfied. He secured
many affidavits which seem unimpeachable, for the gipsy's _alibi_, and
so did the other side for her presence at Enfield. He also got at
Virtue Hall, or rather a sceptical Dr. Hill got at her and handed her
over to Gascoyne. She, as we saw, recanted. George Squires, the
gipsy's son, with an attorney, worked up the evidence for the gipsy's
_alibi_; she received a free pardon, and on April 29, 1754, there
began the trial of Elizabeth Canning for 'wilful and corrupt perjury.'

Mr. Davy, opening for the Crown, charitably suggested that Elizabeth
had absconded 'to preserve her character,' and had told a romantic
story to raise money! 'And, having by this time subdued all remains of

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