Ex-Classics Home Page

The Newgate Calendar - JOHN SMITH, alias DAY; JOHN VARNHAM; and GEORGE TIMMS.

Executed For Murdering a Fortune-teller, 29th April, 1837.

            At the Norwich Assizes, on Thursday the 6th of April, 1837, John Smith, alias Day, John Varnham, and George Timms (all of whom were about the age of twenty-six), were indicted for the wilful murder of Hannah Mansfield, at Denver, in the County of Norfolk, on the night of Monday, the 1st of January, in the same year. The unfortunate object of this violence was a woman of about forty years of age, who resided alone in a house at Denver, adjoining a common, across which a path led from the high road to the residence of the deceased, and of a Mrs. Dungay, which was under the same roof. Being possessed of a small property, (of what nature it did not appear), this woman had eked out her subsistence by professing the mysterious trade and occupation of a conjuror and fortune-teller, in which she had gained much reputation among her neighbours and such was her success that she had become (unfortunately for herself), the possessor of a considerable quantity of silver plate, consisting of cream jugs, tankards, table and tea-spoons, sugar-tongs, and four salt-cellars. These articles she was wont to keep in a corner cupboard; and she had been known, on many occasions, boastfully to have displayed what, for persons in her class of life, was esteemed wondrous wealth; in addition to which her more intimate friends had frequently seen her take out her curious old leathern purse, and empty its precious contents in her lap, and count out her treasures. These latter consisted of various coins current in England at the beginning of this century, which the poor fortune-teller used to take an especial pride in burnishing, and keeping as bright as they had ever been on the day they first issued from the Mint.

            Such being the habits and situation of the deceased, Hannah Mansfield, it was shown that the prisoner Smith had, about fifteen months before, had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with them, for he was known to have called late one evening at Mrs. Dungay's house, when he asked, "for advice on some losses" but being advised of his mistake, he was conducted by Mrs. Dungay to the conjuror. There he held a conversation at the door of the house, while two men, by whom he was accompanied, stood aloof. Satisfied with the result of his visit he went away, and nothing more was seen of him till about eight o'clock of the evening preceding the night on which the murder took place, when it was proved that he was seen, with two other men described in a manner corresponding to the other two prisoners, by a boy, on the high road leading to Denver, at a spot about three miles from that place. Thence they proceeded to a public-house at Hilgay, where they remained till nearly eleven o'clock, drinking and spending the evening in the public room. This was the last time they were seen that day. During the night a noise was heard to proceed from the fortune-teller's door, by Mrs. Dungay, and she got up, and opening her window, listened. Nothing more being heard, no further notice was taken of the circumstance till next morning, when it was discovered, about ten o'clock, that the poor creature had been most foully murdered, and her property carried off. Suspicion rested on the prisoners; they were traced through the snow, and, upon the clearest testimony, the atrocious deed was fixed upon them. They were found guilty, and received sentence of death.

            During their subsequent imprisonment they confessed their guilt. They were all men of low station, and procured a livelihood as labourers; but occasionally employed themselves in the less creditable occupation of tramps. Lately before the murder they had been engaged as workmen on the railroad at Berkhampstead. Smith, it appeared, was the leader of the party, and he had persuaded his companions to assist him in the execution of his plot. He had obtained information of the riches of the deceased during a short residence at Downham, in the beginning of the year 1836. He then determined on robbing her, but was unable to put his design into execution until January 1837, when he procured the co-operation of his fellow-convicts. Both of them had expressed unwillingness to join in the enterprise, but Smith led them on, and he and Timms murdered the old woman, while Varnham kept watch. Varnham was respited, and his sentence commuted to transportation; but Smith and Timms were executed on Saturday the 29th of April, 1837.


Previous Next