Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 03 December 2023), October 1768, trial of Elizabeth, wife of John Greaves (t17681019-17).

Elizabeth Greaves, Damage to Property > arson, Theft > grand larceny, 19th October 1768.

607. (M.) Elizabeth, wife of John Greaves , was indicted for that she on the 19th of September , about the hour of seven in the forenoon, a certain dwelling-house of the said John her husband, in a public street called South Park street , joining to divers other respective dwelling-houses, did feloniously and voluntarily set fire to, by which means it was burnt down and consumed . +

Colonel Edward Hamilton , Esq; I was out of town when this fire happened; I had taken a room in this house, I was informed there was an execution in the house; I came home on the 20th of September, I had gave her notice of my coming 8 days before; when I came she told me my clothes and things were burnt, except what was in the possession of Mr. Bolland; she told me a lamentable story, and seemed very sorry that my things were burnt.

Q. Did you ever meet with any of your things again?

Col. Hamilton. Yes, I found I believe thirty-three shirts and nine waistcoats at two pawnbrokers; I went to Mr. Bolland's the next morning, he gave me reason to think I had not fair play; I went to Sir John Fielding and got a search warrant, and went to Mr. Howard's a pawnbroker, and asked if Mrs. Greaves had pawned any linen there; he said she had, and shewed me some of my shirts, I think there I found seventeen, and three waistcoats; and at Mr. Jason's a pawnbroker, I found sixteen shirts and eight waistcoats; I found two shirts in the room where she lived, them I had left with her to be ruffled, she had told me they were burnt; when I taxed her with pledging them, I think she said it was necessity that made her do it.

Cross examination.

Q. How did you give her notice when you should be in town?

Col Hamilton. I sent word by a gentleman, and I have it under his hand-writing that did give her notice.

Q. Had you given any direction to her to have any thing made up for you or altered?

Col. Hamilton. When I left her house I locked up my room door and took the key with me, and left some neckcloths with her to be made up into stocks, and two shirts to be ruffled.

Q. Did you treat with her for this room?

Col. Hamilton. I did, and she herself delivered the key to me; I took that room in consequence of a gentleman that lived with her; she gave me the choice of three rooms; every thing was locked up except the chest of drawers; my shirts were all callico.

John Jason . I live in Oxford-road, I am a pawnbroker; the prisoner pawned sixteen shirts and eight waistcoats with me at different times; on the 3d of September four shirts, five on the 6th, and seven on the 7th, and eight waistcoats; they were all brought to me by the prisoner at the bar, I knew her eight months before this; I had a good deal of her property in my hands at the time, consisting of wearing apparel, all brought within five or six months.

Q. Whose did she say the shirts and waistcoats were when she brought them?

Jason. She said they belonged to a Colonel that lodged with her, and that he was short of money.

Q. Did she name his name?

Jason. No, she did not; when she brought the last parcel, she said the Colonel sent her in a coach.

Q. Did you see a coach?

Jason. I do not know that she came in one; (the shirts and waistcoats produced and deposed to by the Colonel)

A Witness. I am niece to Mr. Howard a pawnbroker; I was present when the prisoner brought these shirts and waistcoats to Mr. Howard's, and pledged them in her own name, she said they were her husband's, (producing 17. shirts and 3 waistcoats, deposed to by the Colonel.)

Robert Stainsby . I was put in possession in the prisoner's house the 5th of September, by a power of attorney which was made from her husband to her to sell the goods, and she did sell them to Mr. Bolland some time before the fire happened; Mr. Bolland sent word he would advertise the goods and sell them, this was I think the Monday before the fire, if she did not let him have the money he had lent upon them; she had said her husband was coming and coming, but before she would have her goods advertised and sold, she would set them on fire and burn them all; I heard her say that more than once or twice, and he that was in possession with me heard her say the same. The morning the house was set on fire between six and seven, she sent the maid out of an errand to Mr. Bolland, and while the maid was gone, she went up and came down again to me in the kitchen; I heard her go up and come down, her room was up two pair of stairs forward; she came down stairs to me, and said I must see and kill her cat, for her cat ran about the house with fire upon her back; then she said her cat was a witch and would haunt her, and I must not kill her; I said, madam, one day we must kill her, and another day we must not, we will kill her by and by; then she found fault with the fluttishness of her maid.

Q. Had you heard her talk of killing the cat before that day?

Stainsby. I had, four or five days before the fire, she had mentioned it two or three times before; as she was busy in the kitchen blowing the fire, I took the bellows to blow, she said she believed some body knocked at the door; I went up, there was nobody at the door; I came down again and said, madam, your house is all of a smother; she said, it may be by the people washing at the next house; I said, is it usual to smoke so at such time, she made me no answer; I said I did not think that was the occasion, and I thought my blowing the fire could not make such a smother; she made no answer: soon after some body knocked at the door, and said your house is on fire, the fire comes out at a two pair of stairs window; it broke out in the maid's bed chamber, that was a two pair of stairs room; there had not been any fire in that room since I had been in the house, which was fifteen days; I ran up stairs in order to burst the door open, but I could not get nigh it, the smoke and sulphur came so strong; there was George Dundass in bed above, I called to him, he made no answer; I put my head out at the window and looked out, and saw him upon the top of the leads of the house; I hallooed to him to come down, he said he could not; I said; you can run through smoke, if you can't through fire; he did, and came down; the first words he said were, Lord, madam has set this house on fire on purpose.

Q. How do you know the fire began in the maid's room?

Stainsby. I saw the smoke come out at the maid's room door, and not out of the prisoner's room door; it could not break out in the prisoner's room first, they are both on the same floor; there was no other fire but in the parlour when I came down about six o'clock; the kitchen fire I light up myself.

Cross Examination.

Q. What are you?

Stainsby. I am servant to Mr. Bolland; I believe there was money lent by him to her on her goods.

Q. What money?

Stainsby. I do not know; I saw a power of attorney signed by the prisoner, and I heard her say Mr. Bolland had lent her 40 or 50 l.

Q. Do you know how the chimnies were situated?

Stainsby. No, I do not; the parlour fire is forward so is the kitchen, the maid's was backwards, I believe that is not in the same stack of chimnies.

Q. Is the house quite burnt down?

Stainsby. It is burnt down to the parlour, the roof of the house fell in; this house was next to the corner house, which is Capt. Townsend's.

George Dundass . I was in possession of these goods before the last evidence; I have heard the prisoner say she was afraid the cat would run about the house with fire on her back, and set the house on fire; we were going once to kill the cat, then she desired we would not kill her, saying she was afraid the cat would haunt her, I heard her several times talk thus; I was in bed in the top of the house when the fire happened, I think it was about seven o'clock in the morning; the sulphur came into the room, I opened the door to let it out, thinking the maid was lighting the fire below; I found it began to increase, I just got my clothes on; Stainsby called out fire, I heard the fire crack and saw it smoke more; I got out at a window to go out upon the top, and I could get no farther; I was obliged to come in at the window again, and come down through the fire.

Q. What room was it you heard the cracking in?

Dundoss. That was in the room where the prisoner used to sleep, up two pair of stairs forwards, I lay in the back garret; the cracking was immediately under my room.

Q. Did you know Col. Hamilton's room?

Dundass. I know he had a room in the house; I heard the prisoner say the sabbath-day before the fire happened she expected him home on the Tuesday; she was telling me that Sunday that she was burnt out once in Wapping.

Q. Who began to talk first about fire?

Dundass. She did.

Cross examination.

Q. Was there a cat in the house?

Dundass. There was.

Q. Did you ever see her by the fire?

Dundass. No, she was too wild to come near it; I have seen her in the garden, she never would come nigh the fire.

Q. Was there any chimney on fire?

Dundass. I saw none on fire.

Mary Lewis . I was servant to Mrs. Greaves at the time of the fire, she sent me out that morning about seven o'clock to Mr. Bolland's in Shire-lane, Temple-bar, to carry a letter; there was a fire in the fore parlour, which I had light, and no other in the house when I went out.

Q. Was there not a fire in your room?

M. Lewis. No, there was not, nor in my mistress's neither; I had been in the house about seven months, and in that time there had not been a fire in my room nor my mistress's; there are two rooms up two pair of stairs.

Q. Had Col Hamilton a room in the house?

M. Lewis. He had, to put his things in.

Q. Do you know any thing of any message from the Colonel about his coming home?

M. Lewis. I heard there was a message came that he should return the next week.

Q. When did that message come?

M. Lewis. That was the Tuesday or Wednesday before the fire?

Q. What time did you come back when your mistress sent you to Mr. Bolland's?

M. Lewis. I returned about nine o'clock, then the house was burnt down to the dining-room.

Q. About what time had your mistress used to rise?

M. Lewis. She sometimes arose by six.

Q. Had she used to open her chamber-windows?

M. Lewis. Sometimes she used to open all her windows, and sometimes only her own.

Q. Was there a candle left in your room?

M. Lewis. I went up into it about two minutes before I went out of her errand, there was no candle there at all.

Q. Did you then go into your mistress's room?

M. Lewis. No, I did not, the doors were both open; they opened one into the other; the doors were always open in the night-time, there was no candle in her room.

Q. Did you ever find smoke in your house by any thing that was going forward in the next house?

M. Lewis. No.

Q. Do you know how the fire came?

M. Lewis. No, I do not, I left the house very safe when I went out; my mistress had a rush-light burning in her room in the night, but she said she got out of bed between five and six, and put it out, that she said on the Monday morning after the fire; I heard her get out of bed.

Q. How came she to mention that?

M. Lewis. I asked her whether it might not come by the watch-light; she said she got out between five and six, and put it out.

Q. Could it come by the soulness of the chimnies?

M. Lewis. The kitchen and parlour chimnies were both swept after I came there, it may be two or three months after I came there; I saw part of the shutters of her room open in her room when I went out.

Frances Parker . I live in the same street, directly opposite the prisoner's house, I used generally to see the windows open in a morning; when I got up that morning, I saw the windows shut about half an hour after seven; as I was putting on my clothes I saw the smoke come out at the two pair of stairs windows, there are two windows, both were shut; she was in general a very early riser, and the windows were generally open.

Cross examination.

Q. How could you see the smoke when the shutters were shut?

F. Parker. It came out at the crevices, they were inside shutters, and it came out between the brickwork; I came down, and told the prisoner, she was very much frighted.

Prisoner's defence.

I am quite innocent, I know nothing how it came; Col. Hamilton never took a room of me, I gave him leave for a few days to leave some things with me; that fellow Stainsby has said he would be revenged of me, he smoked tobacco in my house; all this is spite and malice entirely, there is none more cautious of fire than I am, by being dreadfully burnt out before at Wapping wall; this Bolland wanted to arrest my husband, he sent his bailiffs after me, and I was carried to his house; he heard I was going to sell my goods, I let him come and appraise my goods, he put in two fellows; I said to him, Mr. Bolland, take that man out of my house, he smokes so I cannot live in the house; Col. Hamilton desired me to recommend him to a workwoman to make him some stocks, I employed a woman in my house; I did not know he would take the key of the garret away, I had a key of the other garret that opened his room; I did surely make use of his things, but I intended to fetch them again in a few days; I never wronged man, woman, or child in all my days: and now I am upon my trial, by the confusion of my attorney, my witnesses are not here, I should have had 500 to my character, I can prove I have been a woman of an undeniable character, I have the best of characters that any poor woman has; this man has robbed my husband of his goods, and now he wants to take my life away; I know not how the fire came, unless by this cat, she used to be frighted out of the kitchen, and out of the parlour; as she used to lie under the grate, I told them to beat her away; that Stainsby threatened my life, he looks so like a thief I hated him, every word he has said is all false; Dundass said, Bolland offered him 20 l. to swear against me, and he answered he would go to the farthest part of the world before he would.

George Dundass . I never said any such thing, he never offered me the value of a halfpenny.

To her character.

Mr. Golding. I live in Rotherhithe, I have known her about ten years, she has a very good character as far as I know.

Mr. Perkins. I live in Piccadilly, I have known her twenty years, I have all the reason in the world to give her a good word; she has always had a good character.

John Hope . I live in Rotherhithe, I have known her between two and three years, she was my next door neighbour; she was brought up extremely gay, and was looked upon as a gentlewoman; she was honest and sober to the greatest degree, I believe she was too much of a gentlewoman to do any thing that is mean and piciful by her appearance and character; she lived in a gossiping place, and people of character do not care to be too much connected.

Richard Whitewood . I am master of a ship, and live in Rotherhithe; she lived in a house of mine, I have known her about two years, she always bore a very good character in the neighbourhood.

Alexander Edwards . I live at Wapping Old-stairs, I have known her twelve years, she bears a very good character.

Peter Martin . I live at Wapping Old-stairs, I never heard any thing amiss of her.

Constable Lamden . I live in Shadwell, I have known her about nine years, I never heard any thing of her but what was good and honest.

Francis Springle . I live at Wapping, I believe I have known her about three years, by what I have heard she bears a very good character.

Acquitted .

(M.) She was a second time indicted for stealing thirty-three callico shirts, value 16 l. 10 s. and eight waistcoats , the property of Edward Hamilton , Esq ; Sept. 12 . +

The prosecutor and the two pawnbrokers gave the same evidence as before, and the prisoner acknowledged she pawned them.

Guilty . T .