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Mayhem: Post-War Crime and Violence in Britain, 1748-53

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    After the end of the War of Austrian Succession in 1748, thousands of unemployed and sometimes unemployable soldiers and seamen found themselves on the streets of London ready to roister the town and steal when necessary. In this fascinating book Nicholas Rogers explores the moral panic associated with this rapid demobilization.

    Through interlocking stories of duels, highway robberies, smuggling, riots, binge drinking, and even two earthquakes, Rogers captures the anxieties of a half-decade and assesses the social reforms contemporaries framed and imagined to deal with the crisis. He argues that in addressing these events, contemporaries not only endorsed the traditional sanction of public executions, but wrestled with the problem of expanding the parameters of government to include practices and institutions we now regard as commonplace: censuses, the regularization of marriage through uniform methods of registration, penitentiaries and police forces.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18906-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    “We have at last celebrated the peace,” wrote Horace Walpole to Horace Mann on 3 May 1749, “and that as much in extremes as we generally do everything, whether we have reason to be glad or sorry, pleased or angry.”¹ He was referring to the peace that concluded the War of Austrian Succession, or King George’s War as it is often known in America, and to the predominantly elite events that commemorated it. These included a masquerade at Ranelagh and a massive fireworks display at Green Park. The latter was fashioned by a Florentine, Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni, who had made...

  5. 1 The Trials of Admiral Knowles
    (pp. 13-34)

    As he drove to Deptford in December 1749, Admiral Charles Knowles must have wondered how he came to be in such a pickle. He had been charged by four of his subaltern officers of botching a battle off Havana some fourteen months earlier. In their estimation, Knowles had made an “un-officer-like Attack” on the Spanish squadron of Admiral Don Andres Reggio, allowing four ships to begin hostilities while others straggled behind. He had also not switched flagships when his own, theCanterbury, was severely disabled, which meant that he had virtually abdicated his command in the heat of the battle....

  6. 2 The Sailors’ Return
    (pp. 35-63)

    British sailors returned from war battered, bruised, and sometimes broken. The courts-martial of Admiral Knowles’s subaltern officers in the battle of Havana explicitly exposed the perils of battle, even in an engagement where the Spanish had sustained greater casualties. On the British side 59 sailors were killed and a further 120 were wounded in the encounter with Reggio’s squadron. Among those wounded were John Baker and marine sergeant Robert Middleton, both of whom lost their right legs while fighting on theLenox. Richard Dungan lost his right arm and had a large contusion on his right side, and John Day...

  7. 3 The Sailors’ Revenge
    (pp. 64-88)

    On 1 July 1749, three sailors from theGraftonman-of-war visited a brothel, the Crown tavern near St. Mary le Strand. We know nothing of their sexual encounters, but we do know that they lost their watches and a lot of money; according to contemporary accounts, 30 guineas, 4 moidores, and a bank note worth £20. In total about £60, probably a good deal of their wartime earnings. The sailors complained to the landlord that they had been robbed by the women. When they demanded restitution, the landlord had his bouncers toss them into the street. Promising vengeance, the seamen...

  8. 4 Fire from Heaven: The London Earthquakes of 1750
    (pp. 89-107)

    During a particularly stormy, turbulent spring, full of northern lights and gale force winds, London experienced two earth tremors, the first in February, the second exactly a month later. These tremors toppled a few teacups and dislodged a few chimneys, but no fatalities or serious injuries were reported. Even so, some forty pamphlets and poems recorded the event and sought to make sense of it, some offering naturalistic explanations of the quakes, others providential. As Horace Walpole remarked, Londoners were “swarmed with sermons, essays . . . poems and exhortations” on the subject.¹ The fear of a third, more devastating,...

  9. 5 Riots, Revels, and Reprisals
    (pp. 108-130)

    One of the great puzzles of the mid-century crime wave is why it engendered such a panic relative to the dimensions of demobilization. The number of servicemen who were actually demobilized was not especially large, in the region of 80,000 as opposed to 157,000 after the Treaty of Utrecht, 35 years earlier. In real terms, around 4 percent of the adult male population was discharged at the mid-century, less than half the number prior to the Hanoverian succession.

    Part of the reason for the public anxiety in 1748–53 was the conspicuous reporting of crime in the press. At the...

  10. 6 Tackling the Gin Craze
    (pp. 131-157)

    In 1734 a desperate act of violence, brought on by a craving for gin, sent a mother to the gallows.¹ In January of that year, a thirty-year-old woman of Huguenot extraction, one Judith Defour, also known as Leeford and Cullender, visited the Shoreditch workhouse to collect her illegitimate daughter. The workhouse wardens were officious, perhaps even suspicious, because the two-year-old girl, Mary Cullender, had recently been given a new set of clothes, and it was not uncommon for vulnerable children to be stripped for their clothing for the cash such items could bring in a thriving secondhand market. Consequently the...

  11. 7 Henry Fielding and Social Reform
    (pp. 158-187)

    Henry Fielding was at the center of the demobilization crisis of 1748–53. He became a magistrate first of Westminster and then of Middlesex as the crisis was breaking, and being at the center of things, briefly in Soho, then at Bow Street, he had to deal with much of the fallout. Within four months of taking office he was involved in the examination and committal of several members of the Hawkhurst gang, whose vulnerability had increased at the end of the war with the redeployment of troops to the coast. In July 1749 Fielding was called in to deal...

  12. 8 From Havana to Halifax
    (pp. 188-208)

    In March 1749 the Board of Trade offered land in Nova Scotia to demobilized soldiers and sailors. According to the terms, every soldier and sailor who agreed to go out to this maritime outpost was offered fifty acres of land, in fee simple, with no obligation to pay quitrents or taxes for ten years. A similar offer had been made in 1719, after the War of Spanish Succession, when Britain wrestled with the problem of what to do with Nova Scotia, which it had acquired under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. Few servicemen acted on that offer, perhaps...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-218)

    This book has been an exercise in micro-history, not in the conventional definition of the term, where a strange event is used to illuminate the social and cultural contexts of a particular moment by unraveling the rules and norms that were threatened by the exceptional. Rather I have tried to capture the anxieties of the period following the War of Austrian Succession in a series of specific interlocking narratives that, I hope, illuminate the complexities of that conjuncture. They begin with the last battle of the war, where the expectation of spoils was frustrated by officer ineptitude and rancor, and...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 219-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-258)