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Crime of the (18th) Century

In 1779, London was abuzz with the sensational murder of Martha Ray by the Rev. James Hackman, outside Covent Garden Theatre. Ray first met Hackman while she was mistress to the Earl of Sandwich (for whom she bore 9 children), and their affair was apparently intense but brief, ending when Hackman, then in the army, was reassigned to Ireland. Hackman later resigned his commission to join the church, and shortly after being ordained in 1779, went to London to find Ray. Certain that she had taken up with a new lover, he waited outside the theater with two pistols, shooting her in the head when she emerged. He then shot at himself, but only grazed his forehead, whereupon he unsuccessfully attempted to club himself to death with the now useless pistols, before being arrested. The defence pled temporary insanity, noting that Hackman had brought a love letter to Ray with him that night, and Hackman claimed, in a speech that may have been written by Boswell, to have planned to kill only himself. Johnson felt, however, that the fact that Hackman carried two pistols proved premeditation. The jury apparently agreed, finding him guilty, and Hackman was hanged on April 19th, 1779, less than two weeks after the murder.

Londoners seeking the juicy details of the sensational trial snapped up ten editions of this work, this copy belonging to the first. Sadly, the Hyde copy is missing the engraved portrait of Hackman which originally accompanied it, depicting a large black spot on his forehead, presumably the result of the unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Published in:John Overholt |on June 1st, 2005 |Comments Off on Crime of the (18th) Century

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