Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hannah Herring tells a tale

Today's case at the Old Bailey is about a simple theft, of an apron, in 1745. What got my attention first was the name of the supposed victim of the crime - Hannah Herring. Really. You can't make this stuff up - or if you do, I can just see some snarky reviewer complaining.

Anyway, it seems Hannah and her aunt, who was pregnant, were just ambling down the street when Thomas Carter approached them. According to Hannah, he "gave her (the pregnant aunt) some ill language, and then he tore my apron off my sides, and d - d me, and carried the apron away with him; then I cried out murder and thieves, and some people came to my assistance."

She claims that after Thomas was apprehended, "He fell down on his knees, and asked pardon."

According to the aunt, Thomas approached them and "called me an imposturous B - h - I suppose it was, because I told him I was with child, and desired he would not meddle with me; then he laid hold of Hannah Herring , and she cried out, and the three men took him, and brought him back."

"Imposturous" means deceitful. I had to look it up and once again, I was impressed by the language people used in everyday speech back in the day.

Thomas's defence? "When I came up to her, I said, are not you a preposterous creature? and I went to kiss them, but I did not take the apron."

The constable produces the apron, but he doesn't say where it was found, a rather amazing lack of information, considering the charge and the evidence.

Three character witnesses are brought forward to testify to Thomas's honest reputation and we discover Thomas is a "dealer in hair" and sells it to a wigmaker.

Thomas was acquitted.

A few points this writer ponders about this case and testimony:

Whatever actually happened, the women clearly had a beef with Thomas Carter. What exactly was their relationship before the apparent apron-snatching? Specifically, I'd like to know about Thomas's relationship with the pregnant aunt.

I note the similarity of "imposturous" and "preposterous." Preposterous means absurd, so that's not exactly flattering, either. I don't think Thomas thought much of the aunt.

Hannah herself says she shouted "murder" after the alleged assault. That's a bit over the top, isn't it? She also claims he went down on his knees and begged pardon, although nobody else mentions this. Hannah sounds like a bit of a drama queen to me, and I think I'd be a loathe to convict a man (especially considering the severe penalties at this time) on her testimony. Although the constable produces the apron in question, Hannah has decided to press charges. Why? What does she hope to gain, except to see Thomas punished?

Thomas says he was going to kiss them. Why? As a simple greeting, or was there something else going on, especially if he was angry? Was he trying to kiss them against their will? Even based on his own testimony, he apparently said something like, "You're an absurd creature. Now give us a kiss." I wouldn't be impressed either, if I were Hannah and her aunt.

Where does a "dealer in hair" get the hair?

Although I have a lot of questions about the relationship between the accused and the accusors, I tend to side with the jury, in part because Hannah seemed to be a melodramatic witness and it's very much in doubt as to whether or not he absconded with the apron.

That said, I'd love to know what this was really all about, because I don't think it was about an apron.

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