"The Keswick Impostor." Executed at Carlisle, 3rd of September, 1803, for Forgery; with Particulars of the once celebrated "Beauty of Buttermere," a victim to his Villainy.
JOHN HATFIELD was born in 1759, at Mottram, in Longdale, Cheshire. Although of low descent, he possessed many natural abilities. His face was handsome, his person genteel, his eyes blue, and his complexion fair.
After some domestic depredations (for, in his early days, he betrayed an iniquitous disposition) he quitted his family, and was employed in the capacity of an agent to a linen-draper in the north of England. In the course of this service he became acquainted with a young woman who had been nursed, and resided, at a farmer's house in the neighbourhood of his employer. She had been, in her earlier life, taught to consider the people with whom she lived as her parents. When she arrived at a certain age the honest farmer explained to her the secret of her birth. He told her that, notwithstanding she had always considered him as her parent, he was in fact only her guardian, and that she was the natural daughter of Lord Robert Manners, who intended to give her one thousand pounds, provided she married with his approbation.
This discovery soon reached the ears of Hatfield. He immediately paid his respects at the farmer's, and, having represented himself as a young man of considerable expectations in the wholesale linen business, his visits were not discountenanced. The farmer, however, thought it incumbent on him to acquaint his lordship with a proposal made to him by Hatfield that he would marry the young woman if her relations were satisfied with their union, but on no other terms. This had so much the appearance of an honourable and prudent intention that his lordship, on being made acquainted with the circumstances, desired to see the lover. Hatfield accordingly paid his respects to the noble and unsuspecting parent, who, conceiving him to be what he represented himself, gave his consent at the first interview; and the day after the marriage took place he presented the bridegroom with a draft on his banker for fifteen hundred pounds. This transaction took place about the year 1771 or 1772.
Shortly after the receipt of his lordship's bounty Hatfield set off for London. He hired a small phaeton, and was perpetually at the coffee-houses in Covent Garden, describing himself to whatever company he chanced to meet as a near relation of the Rutland family, and vaunted of his parks and hounds; but he so varied in his descriptive figures that he acquired the appellation of "lying Hatfield."
When the marriage portion was exhausted he retreated from London, and was scarcely heard of until about the year 1782, when he again visited the metropolis, having left his wife, with three daughters she had borne him, to depend on the precarious charity of her relations. Happily she did not long survive; and the author of her calamities, during his stay in London, soon experienced calamity himself, as he was arrested, and committed to the King's Bench Prison, for a debt amounting to the sum of one hundred and sixty pounds.
The Duke of Rutland, on being appealed to, sent to inquire if he was the man who had married the natural daughter of Lord Robert Manners, and being satisfied as to the fact, dispatched a messenger with two hundred pounds and had him released.
In the year 1784 or 1785 his Grace of Rutland was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and shortly after his arrival in Dublin, Hatfield made his appearance in that city. He immediately on landing engaged a suite of apartments at an hotel in College Green and represented himself as being allied to the Viceroy, but that he could not appear at the castle until his horses, servants and carriages had arrived, which he had ordered, before leaving England, to be shipped at Liverpool. The easy and familiar manner in which he addressed the master of the hotel perfectly satisfied him that he had a man of consequence in his house, and matters were arranged accordingly.
At the expiration of one month the bill at the hotel amounted to sixty pounds and upwards. The landlord became importunate and arrested his guest, who was lodged in the prison of the Marshalsea. The Duke again came to his rescue, and he was released.
In 1792 he went to Scarborough, introduced himself to the acquaintance of several persons of distinction in that neighbourhood, and insinuated that he was, by the interest of the Duke of Rutland, soon to be one of the representatives in Parliament for the town of Scarborough. After several weeks' stay at the principal inn at Scarborough his imposture was detected by his inability to pay the bill. Soon after his arrival in London he was arrested for this debt and thrown into prison. He had been eight years and a half in confinement when a Miss Nation, of Devonshire, to whom he had become known, paid his debts, took him from prison, and gave him her hand in marriage.
Soon after he was liberated he had the good fortune to prevail with some highly respectable merchants in Devonshire to take him into partnership with them, and with a clergyman to accept his drafts to a large amount. He made, upon this foundation, a splendid appearance in London, and, before the General Election, even proceeded to canvass the rotten borough of Queenborough. Suspicions in the meantime arose in regard to his character and the state of his fortune. He retired from the indignation of his creditors, and was declared a bankrupt in order to bring his villainy to light. Having left his second wife and two infant children behind, at Tiverton, he visited other places; and at length, in July, 1802, arrived at the Queen's Head, in Keswick, in a carriage, but without any servant, where he assumed the name of the Honourable Alexander Augustus Hope, brother of the Earl of Hopetoun, and Member for Linlithgow. Unfortunately some evil genius directed his steps to the once happy cottage of poor Mary, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Robinson, an old couple, who kept a small public-house at the side of the beautiful lake of Buttermere, Cumberland, and by their industry had gained a little property. She was the only daughter, and probably her name would never have been known to the public but for the account given of her by the author of A Fortnight's Ramble to the Lakes in Westmorland, Lancashire, and Cumberland, in which she was referred to as the "Beauty of Buttermere." At length the supposed Colonel Hope procured a licence, on the 1st of October, and they were publicly married in the church of Lorton, on Saturday, the 2nd of October.
The day previous to his marriage he wrote to Mr M--, informing him that he was under the necessity of being absent for ten days on a journey into Scotland, and sent him a draft for thirty pounds, drawn on Mr Crumpt, of Liverpool, desiring him to cash it, and pay some small debts in Keswick with it, and send him on the balance, as he feared he might be short of cash on the road. This Mr M-immediately did, and sent him ten guineas in addition to the balance. On the Saturday, Wood, the landlord of the Queen's Head, returned from Lorton with the public intelligence that Colonel Hope had married the "Beauty of Buttermere." As it was clear, whoever he was, that he had acted unworthily and dishonourably, Mr M--'s suspicions were of course awakened. Eventually a warrant was given by Sir Frederick Vane on the clear proof of his having forged and received several "thanks" as the Member for Linlithgow, and he was committed to the care of a constable. Having, however, found means to escape, he took refuge for a few days on board a sloop off Ravinglass, and then went in the coach to Ulverston, and was afterwards seen in Chester.
Though he was personally known in Cheshire to many of the inhabitants, yet this specious hypocrite had so artfully disguised himself that he quitted the town without any suspicion before the Bow Street officers reached that place in quest of him. He was then traced to Brielth, in Brecknockshire, and was at length apprehended about sixteen miles from Swansea, and committed to Brecon Jail. He wore a cravat on which were his initials, J. H., and which he attempted to account for by calling himself John Henry. His trial came on on the 15th of August, 1803, at the assizes for Cumberland, before the Honourable Alexander Thompson, Kt. He stood charged upon the three following indictments:-
1. With having assumed the name and title of the Honourable Alexander Augustus Hope and pretending to be a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and with having, about the month of October last, under such false and fictitious name and character, drawn a draft, or bill of exchange, in the name of Alexander Hope, upon John Crumpt, Esq., for the sum of twenty pounds, payable to George Wood, of Keswick, Cumberland, innkeeper, or order, at the end of fourteen days from the date of the said draft or bill of exchange.
2. With making, uttering and publishing as true, a certain false, forged and counterfeit bill of exchange, with the name of Alexander Augustus Hope thereunto falsely set and subscribed, drawn upon John Crumpt, Esq., dated the 1st of October, 1802, and payable to Nathaniel Montgomery Moore, or order, ten days after date, for thirty pounds sterling.
3. With having assumed the name of Alexander Hope, and pretending to be a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the brother of the Right Hon. Lord Hopetoun and a colonel in the army; and under such false and fictitious name and character, at various times in the month of October, 1802, having forged and counterfeited the handwriting of the said Alexander Hope, in the superscription of certain letters or packets, in order to avoid the payment of the duty of postage.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and he was sentenced to death. On the day of his execution, the 3rd of September, 1803, the sheriffs, the bailiffs, and the Carlisle volunteer cavalry attended at the jail door about half-past three, together with a post-chaise and a hearse. A prodigious crowd had assembled. It was market-day, and people had come from a distance of many miles out of mere curiosity. Hatfield, when he left the prison, wished all his fellow-prisoners to be happy. He then took farewell of the clergyman, who attended him to the door of the chaise, and mounted the steps with much steadiness and composure. The jailer and the executioner went along with him. The latter had been brought from Dumfries upon a retaining fee of ten guineas.
It was exactly four o'clock when the procession moved from the jail, Passing through the Scotch Gate, in about twelve minutes it arrived at the sands. Half the yeomanry went before the carriage, and the other half behind. Upon their arrival on the ground they formed a ring round the scaffold.
As soon as the carriage door was opened by the under-sheriff the culprit alighted with his two companions. A small dung-cart, boarded over, had been placed under the gibbet. A ladder was placed to this stage, which he instantly ascended. He immediately untied his neck-handkerchief and placed a bandage over his eyes. Then he desired the hangman, who was extremely awkward, to be as expert as possible about it, and that he would wave a handkerchief when he was ready. The hangman not having fixed the rope in its proper place, he put up his hand and turned it himself. He also tied his cap, took his handkerchief from his own neck, and tied it about his head also. Then he requested the jailer to step upon the platform and pinion his arms a little harder, saying that when he had lost his senses he might attempt to place them to his neck. The rope was completely fixed about five minutes before four o'clock; it was slack, and he merely said: "May the Almighty bless you all." Nor did he falter in the least when he tied the cap, shifted the rope, and took his handkerchief from his neck.
Great apprehensions were entertained that it would be necessary to tie him up a second time. The noose slipped twice and he fell down about eighteen inches. At last his feet almost touched the ground, but his excessive weight, which occasioned this accident, speedily relieved him from pain. He expired in a moment, and without any struggle.