The Murder Of Martha Ray


The Earl of Sandwich, grandson of Charles II's Earl of Sandwich, and first Lord of the Admiralty during the North administration, had for his mistress a Miss Ray, whom he had rendered as accomplished as she was handsome. Some say that she was the daughter of a labourer at Elstree, others of a stay-maker in Covent Garden. Her father is said to have had a shop in that way of business in Holywell Street in the Strand. Miss Ray was apprenticed at an early age to a mantua-maker in Clerkenwell Close, with whom she served her time out and obtained a character that did her honour. A year or two after the expiration of this period she was taken notice of by Lord Sandwich, who gave her a liberal education; rendered her a proficient in his favourite arts of music and singing; and made her his mistress. He was old enough to be her father.

Lord Sandwich was in the habit of having plays and music at his house, particularly the latter. At Christmas the musical performance was an oratorio, for, "to speak seriously," says Mr. Cradock, "no man was more careful than Lord Sandwich not to trespass on public decorum." This gentleman, in his Memoirs, has furnished us with accounts which will give a livelier idea of the situation of Miss Ray in his Lordship's house than any formal abstract of them.

"Plays at Hinchinbrook had ceased before I had ever been in company with Lord Sandwich, and oratorios for a week at Christmas had been substituted. Miss Ray, who was the first attraction, was instructed in music both by Mr. Bates and Signor Giardini. Norris and Champness regularly attended the meetings, and there were many excellent amateur performers; the Duke of Manchester's military band assisted, and his Lordship himself took the kettle-drums to animate the whole. 'Non nobis, Domine,' was sung after dinner, and then catches and glees succeeded; all was well conducted, for whatever his Lordship undertook he generally accomplished, and seemed to have adopted the emphatic advice of Longinus, 'always to excel.' Miss Ray, in her situation, was a pattern of discretion; for when a lady of rank, between one of the acts of the oratorio, advanced to converse with her, she expressed her embarrassment; and Lord Sandwich, turning privately to a friend, said, 'As you are well acquainted with that lady, I wish you would give her a hint, that there is a boundary line in my family I do not wish to see exceeded; such a trespass might occasion the overthrow of all our music meetings.'

"From what I have collected, Miss Ray was born in Hertfordshire, in 1742, and that his lordship first saw her in a shop in Tavistock Street where he was purchasing some neckcloths. This was all that Mr. Bates seemed to have ascertained, for both his lordship and the lady were equally cautious of communicating anything on the subject. From that time her education was particularly attended to, and she proved worthy of all the pains that were taken with her. Her voice was powerful and pleasing, and she has never been excelled in that fine air of Jephtha, 'Brighter scenes I seek above;' nor was she less admired when she executed an Italian bravura of the most difficult description."

Again:—"I did not know his lordship in early life; but this I can attest, and call any contemporary to ratify who might have been present, that we never heard an oath, or the least profligate conversation at his lordship's table in our lives. Miss Ray's behaviour was particularly circumspect. Dr. Green, Bishop of Lincoln, always said, 'I never knew so cautious a man as Lord Sandwich.' The Bishop came too soon once to an oratorio; we went to receive him in the dining-room, but he said, 'No; the drawing-room is full of company, and I will go up and take tea there.' Lord Sandwich was embarrassed, as he had previously objected to Lady Blake speaking to Miss Ray between the acts; and as the Bishop would go up, a consequence ensued just as I expected. Some severe verses were sent, which Mr. Bates intercepted.

"The elegant Mrs. Hinchcliffe, lady of the Bishop, attended one night with a party. She had never seen Miss Ray before, and she feelingly remarked afterwards, 'I was really hurt to sit directly opposite to her, and mark her discreet conduct, and yet to find it improper to notice her. She was so assiduous to please, was so very excellent, yet so unassuming, I was quite charmed with her; yet a seeming cruelty to her took off the pleasure of my evening.'"

While Miss Ray was thus situated, his lordship, through the medium of a neighbour, Major Reynolds, became acquainted with a brother officer of the major's, a Captain Hackman, and invited him to his house. The Captain fell in love with Miss Ray, and Miss Ray is understood not to have been insensible to his passion. He was her junior by several years, though the disparity was nothing like the reverse one on the part of Lord Sandwich. Sir Herbert Croft, who wrote a history of their intimacy and correspondence, under the title of "Love and Madness," represents the attachment as mutual. According to his statement, Hackman urged her to marry him, and Miss Ray was desirous of doing so, but fearful of hurting the feelings of the man who had educated her, and who is represented as a sort of Old Robin Gray. In this sentiment, Hackman with all his passion is represented as partaking.

Sir Herbert's book, though founded on fact, and probably containing more truth than can now be ascertained, is considered apocryphal; and Mr. Cradock, who is as cautious in his way as his noble acquaintance, doubts whether any man was really acquainted with the particulars. All that he could call to mind relative to either party was, that for three weeks after the Captain's introduction, till his military pursuits led him to Ireland, he was observed to bow to Miss Ray whenever she went out; and that Miss Ray, during the latter part of her time at the Admiralty, did not continue to speak of her situation as before. "She complained," he says, "of being greatly alarmed by ballads that had been sung, or cries that had been made, directly under the windows that looked into the park; and that such was the fury of the mob, that she did not think either herself or Lord Sandwich was safe whenever they went out; and I must own that I heard some strange insults offered; and that I with some of the servants once suddenly rushed out, but the offenders instantly ran away and escaped.

One evening afterwards, when sitting with Miss Ray in the great room above stairs, she appeared to be much agitated, and at last said, 'she had a particular favour to ask of me; that, as her situation was very precarious, and no settlement had been made upon her, she wished I would hint something of the kind to Lord Sandwich.' I need not express my surprise, but I instantly assured her, 'that no one but herself could make such a proposal, as I knew Lord Sandwich never gave any one an opportunity of interfering with him on so delicate a subject.' She urged that her wish was merely to relieve Lord Sandwich as to great expense about her; for as her voice was then at the best, and Italian music was particularly her forte, she was given to understand she might succeed at the Opera-house, and as Mr. Giardini then led, and I was intimate with Mrs. Brooke and Mrs. Yates, she was certain of a most advantageous engagement.

I then instantly conjectured who one of the advisers must have been; and afterwards found that three thousand pounds and a free benefit had been absolutely held out to her, though not by the two ladies who managed the stage department. Whether any proposals of marriage at that time or afterwards were made by Mr. Hackman, I know not." Be this as it may, Hackman's passion was undoubted. He was originally an apprentice to a merchant at Gosport; was impatient of serving at the counter; entered the army at nineteen, but during his acquaintance with Miss Ray, exchanged the army for the church, "as a readier road to independence;" and was presented to the living of Wyverton in Norfolk.

Whatever was the nature of the intimacy between these unfortunate persons, a sudden stop appears to have been put to Hackman's final expectations, and he became desperate. By what we can gather from the accounts, Lord Sandwich, either to preserve her from her lover or herself, thought proper to put Miss Ray under the charge of a duenna. Hackman grew jealous either of him or of some other person; he was induced to believe that Miss Ray had no longer a regard for him, and he resolved to put himself to death. In this resolution a sudden impulse of frenzy included the unfortunate object of his passion.

On the evening of the fatal day, Miss Ray went with her female attendant to Covent Garden Theatre to see "Love in a Village." Mr. Cradock thinks she had declined to inform Hackman how she was engaged that evening. Hackman, who appears to have suspected her intentions, watched her, and saw the carriage pass by the Cannon Coffee-house (Cockspur Street, Charing Cross), in which he had posted himself. Singularly enough, Mr. Cradock happened to be in the same coffee-house, and says that he wondered to see the carriage go by without Lord Sandwich. This looks as if there was more in Hackman's suspicion than can now be shown. Hackman followed them.

"The ladies sat in a front box," says Mr. Cradock; "and three gentlemen, all connected with the Admiralty, occasionally paid their compliments to them; Mr. Hackman was sometimes in the lobby, sometimes in an upper side box, and more than once at the Bedford coffee-house to take brandy and water, but still seemed unable to gain any information; and I can add, as a slight circumstance, that in the afternoon I had myself been at the coffee-house (Cockspur Street, Charing Cross), and, observing the carriage pass by, had remarked to my friend that I wondered at seeing the ladies on their way to the theatre without Lord Sandwich; that I meant to have dined at the Admiralty, but had been prevented; so that it appears now that most of the circumstances must have been accidental. The dreadful consummation, however, was, that at the door of the theatre, directly opposite the Bedford coffee-house, Mr. Hackman suddenly rushed out, and as a gentleman was handing Miss Ray into the carriage, with a pistol he first destroyed this most unfortunate victim, and, though not at the time, fell a most dreadful sacrifice himself."

"Miss Ray," says the Introduction to 'Love and Madness,' "was coming out of Covent Garden Theatre in order to take her coach, accompanied by two friends, a gentleman and a lady, between whom she walked in the piazza. Mr. Hackman stepped up to her without the smallest previous menace or address, put a pistol to her head, and shot her instantly dead. He then fired another at himself, which, however, did not prove equally effectual. The ball grazed upon the upper part of the head, but did not penetrate sufficiently to produce any fatal effect; he fell, however, and so firmly was he bent on the entire completion of the destruction he had meditated, that he was found beating his head with the utmost violence with the butt-end of the pistol, by Mr. Mahon, apothecary, of Covent Garden, who wrenched the pistol from his hand. He was carried to the Shakspeare, where his wound was dressed. In his pocket were found two letters; the one a copy of a letter which he had written to Miss Ray, and the other to Frederic Booth, Esq., Craven Street, Strand. When he had so far recovered his faculties as to be capable of speech, he inquired with great anxiety concerning Miss Ray; and being told she was dead, he desired her poor remains might not be exposed to the observation of the curious multitude. About five o'clock in the morning, Sir John Fielding came to the Shakspeare, and not finding his wounds of a dangerous nature, ordered him to Tothill Fields Bridewell. The body of the unhappy lady was carried into the Shakspeare Tavern for the inspection of the coroner."

The whole of the circumstances connected with this catastrophe are painfully dramatic. "The next morning," says Mr. Cradock, "I made several efforts before I had resolution enough to see any one of the Admiralty; at last old James, the black, overwhelmed with grief, came down to me, and endeavoured to inform me, that when he had mentioned what had occurred, Lord Sandwich hastily replied, 'You know that I forbad you to plague me any more about those ballads: let them sing or say whatever they please about me!' 'Indeed, my lord,' I said, 'I am not speaking of any ballads; it is all too true.' Others then came in, and all was a scene of the utmost horror and distress. His lordship for a while stood, as it were, petrified, till, suddenly seizing a candle, he ran up-stairs and threw himself on the bed; and in an agony exclaimed, 'Leave me for a while to myself—I could have borne anything but this!' The attendants remained for a considerable time at the top of the staircase, till his lordship rang the bell and ordered that they should all go to bed. They assured me that at that time they believed fewer particulars were known at the Admiralty than over half the town besides; indeed all was confusion and astonishment; and even now I am doubtful whether Lord Sandwich was ever aware that there was any connection between Mr. Hackman and Miss Ray. His lordship continued for a day or two at the Admiralty, till, at the earnest request of those about him, he at last retired for a short time to a friend's house in the neighbourhood of Richmond."

Hackman was executed at Tyburn. He confessed at the bar that he had intended to kill himself, but he protested that but for a momentary frenzy he should not have destroyed her, "who was more dear to him than life." It appears, however, that he was furnished with two pistols; which told against him on that point.

"On Friday," says Boswell, "I had been present at the trial of the unfortunate Mr. Hackman, who, in a fit of frantic jealous love, had shot Miss Ray, the favourite of a nobleman. Johnson, in whose company I dined to-day, with some other friends, was much interested by my account of what passed, and particularly with his prayer for mercy of heaven. He said in a solemn, fervent tone, 'I hope he shall find mercy.' In talking of Hackman, Johnson argued as Judge Blackstone had done, that his being furnished with two pistols was a proof that he meant to shoot two persons. Mr. Beauclerk said, 'No; for that every wise man who intended to shoot himself, took two pistols, that he might be sure of doing it at once. Lord ——'s cook shot himself with one pistol, and lived ten days in great agony. Mr. ——, who loved buttered muffins, but durst not eat them because they disagreed with his stomach, resolved to shoot himself, and then he ate three buttered muffins for breakfast before shooting himself, knowing that he should not be troubled with indigestion; he had two charged pistols: one was found lying charged upon the table by him, after he had shot himself with the other.' 'Well (said Johnson with an air of triumph), you see here one pistol was sufficient.' Beauclerk replied smartly, 'Because it happened to kill him.'"

It is impossible to settle this point. The general impression will be against Hackman; but, perhaps, the second pistol, though not designed for himself, might have been for Miss Ray. His victim was buried at Elstree, where she had been a lowly and happy child, running about with her blooming face, and little thinking what trouble it was to cost her.

In Mr. Cradock's book we hear again of Lord Sandwich on whom this story has thrown an interest. On his return from Richmond, Mr. Cradock went to see him, and was admitted into the study where the portrait of Miss Ray, an exact resemblance, still hung over the chimney-piece. "I fear," says Mr. Cradock, "I rather started on seeing it, which Lord Sandwich perceiving, he instantly endeavoured to speak of some unconnected subject; but he looked so ill, and I felt so much embarrassed, that as soon as I possibly could, I most respectfully took my leave."

"His lordship rarely dined out anywhere; but after a great length of time he was persuaded by our open-hearted friend, Lord Walsingham, to meet a select party at his house. All passed off exceedingly well for a while, and his lordship appeared more cheerful than could have been expected; but after coffee, as Mr. and Mrs. Bates were present, something was mentioned about music, and one of the company requested that Mrs. Bates would favour them with, 'Shepherds, I have lost my love.' This was, unfortunately, the very air that had been introduced by Miss Ray at Hinchinbrook, and had been always called for by Lord Sandwich. Mr. Bates immediately endeavoured to prevent its being sung, and by his anxiety increased the distress, but it was too late to pause. Lord Sandwich for a while struggled to overcome his feelings, but they were so apparent that at last he went up Mrs. Walsingham, and in a very confused manner said, he hoped she would excuse his not staying longer at that time; but that he had just recollected some pressing business, which required his return to the Admiralty, and bowing to all the company, rather hastily left the room. Some other endeavours to amuse him afterwards did not prove much more successful."

His lordship afterwards lived in retirement, and died in 1792.

Further reading:
The Town by Leigh Hunt