So you’ve committed a murder in Regency England. Now what? You could just leave the body there and run. But if you really want a chance at escaping the hangman’s noose you might want to dispose of the body. Let’s look at some possibilities.



Louisa Cornell


Body disposal during the Regency era was just as varied and contained just as many problems for both the murderer and the person dedicated to solving the murder as it does today. The advantage for the person set to solve the murder during the Regency was the lack of a constant stream of television shows instructing a murderer on how to dispose of a body. The majority of murder victims during the Regency were found where the murder actually occurred with no attempt made to hide or otherwise manipulate the body to get rid of evidence. That does not mean, however, that some murderers during this era did not come up with some rather unique ways to dispose of a body.

Some things to know about Regency Era crime investigation

(1) Once a murder victim was discovered, no matter where the body might be, there was a good chance the body would be moved, covered, or otherwise tampered with before law enforcement and / or the coroner arrived. Wounds might be bound. Clothing might even be removed.

(2) Should the body be found at a place of business, there was little to no chance the business would close until the body was removed. Business was business and the added cache of a murder victim lying about brought in more customers. Regency era people were above all realists.

(3) Depending on where the body was found and how long it took for the coroner to arrive with instructions, the location might become a tourist attraction with some enterprising soul selling tickets to view the body. As a result, items could be stolen or sold from the body before anyone had the chance to collect them as evidence. And the crime scene would be destroyed as well. Yes, especially in large cities like London or Edinburgh this could happen in a matter of minutes.

(4) Should a body be found other than in the victim’s home there is the possibility the body might be carried home by friends and family. Often this meant the body was stripped, bathed, bound and redressed before the coroner and law enforcement arrived. This did not happen often, but it did happen. This was more likely to happen in rural locations.

(5) Often a body that was hidden in some way made things easier for the coroner and law enforcement. A body that was hidden was last touched by the murderer, not a cast of thousands.

(6) However hidden bodies presented an investigator with its own problems. There were no tests to ascertain time of death. Wounds were often obliterated by the process of disposal and decomposition. Identification was more difficult, but not impossible, although there were no such things as dental records per se.

Water Disposal

Water disposal of murder victims was quite common during the Regency era. In the modern age water disposal is used to destroy evidence and in the hope the body might never resurface. In the Regency era, the idea of water destroying evidence didn’t really come into play in the average murder. However, it would be foolish to assume there were not murderers smart enough to know that water might help.

The Thames was notorious for the number of bodies that showed up floating in its waters. Riverside and dockside murder victims were often discovered in the Thames. Unwanted babies often ended in the Thames as well. Most of these murder victims came under the jurisdiction of the Thames River Police (established 1798.) Their normal duties involved stopping thievery from ships and in the transfer of goods from ships to the docks. They covered a large area, and if a body was found in the river and it was closer to their offices and jurisdiction they would investigate. More about them when we discuss who investigates a murder.

Bodies were also disposed of in rivers outside of London, as well as lakes and ponds as well. If a body was found in a body of water, the investigator would be safe to assume the murder had taken place either in the body of water or nearby. Transporting a body a long distance away in order to dispose of it was not an easy thing to do. Whether by horse or some sort of carriage or cart, the idea of spending time with the body of someone one had killed held little appeal for a variety of reasons—superstitions, in most communities a stranger would be noticed, worse in most communities everyone knew everyone, unless a person knew to weigh a body down there was no guarantee the body would sink before the murderer risked being caught nearby.

Bodies might also be disposed of in a well or cistern. Of course, if the well or cistern were one in use by a family, a community, or a business a body would foul the water and might be discovered all the more quickly. Good for the investigator. Bad for the murderer. No fun for the people who used the well for water either.

Some things unique to water disposal during the Regency Era

(1) A murder victim pulled from a body of water might be considered a victim of accidental drowning. Even with obvious wounds, depending on the body of water, the coroner and coroner’s jury might decide a murder is simply a drowning.

(2) This would be more likely in a rural setting than in a larger city. By the Regency era most of the physicians who practiced in the cities and / or kept up with the latest medical treatises knew how to ascertain if a victim was dead before they went into the water. Even in a rural setting where there was a competent physician families might object to the test to discover if their loved one had drowned as it involved dissecting the body at least enough to remove the lungs and float them in water. If they floated the person was dead when they went into the water and likely ended up in the water after they were murdered. If they sank, they were full of water which indicated a person was alive when they went into the water. Then the coroner and coroner’s jury had only to decide if the drowning was an accident or murder.

(3) Water disposal could erase a great deal of evidence from a body. However, the method of putting the body into the water might provide evidence of its own. People seldom considered that weighing a body down with items from their home, their farm, or a location associated with them might lead the authorities back to them.

(4) Any detritus associated with a specific body of water found on a suspect’s person or in a suspect’s home might lead the authorities back to them.

(5) Very few anatomists were able to distinguish between possible murder wounds and wounds brought about by the predation of aquatic animals.

(6) Unless a body was found in clothes or wore items of jewelry that could be identified by friends and / or family some murder victims found in water might never be positively identified.

(7) The longer a body stayed in the water the more difficult it was to determine time of death, cause of death, and identity. During the Regency era this level of decomposition was of a much shorter time than today.

An interesting method of discovering a body in the water.

An ancient method for finding a body in the water, which was still in use well into the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the use of quicksilver or mercury as we know it today. The quicksilver was inserted into a loaf of bread and floated as nearly as possible to where the body was supposed to have gone into the water. According to the superstition, the body would rise to meet the quicksilver. There is no scientific evidence to back this theory up. However, there are written records of the method being used.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, for April of 1767 contains a story about a search for the body of a child undertaken at Newbury in Berkshire where the one-year-old had fallen into the river Kennet and was drowned. The account states how the body was discovered by a very singular experiment—a two-penny loaf, with a quantity of quicksilver was put into the river and was set floating from the place where the child, it was supposed, had fallen. The loaf steered its course down the river before a great number of spectators. The loaf suddenly tacked about, and swam across the river, and gradually sank near the child, whereupon both the child and loaf were immediately brought up, with chained hooks ready for that purpose.


Louisa Cornell


The relationship between herding dogs and their masters is one of longest standing and in many ways the closest when it comes to dogs and humans during the Regency. Herding dogs were some of the hardest working dogs of the era, but they spent a great deal of time with their masters. It was not unusual for herding dogs to sleep with their masters, especially when they were out with their herds or flocks. The level of communication between herding dog and master was on a completely different level than that of a pet and master. This sort of relationship would certainly engender a level of mutual respect and affection between dog and master. There were, of course, exceptions. The life of a shepherd, a keeper of sheep and cattle, was a hard one. There were those who trained and used their dogs with tactics of fear and abuse. However, this did not always make for a willing and obedient dog. A master who appealed to a herding dog’s innate desire to please and instinct to herd was far more successful, and part of this sort of relationship had to involve love, loyalty, and affection between man and dog.

The artist Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) understood this relationship very well when he painted his famous work The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner.

The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner by Edwin Landseer.


Old English Sheepdogs

It is generally agreed that this breed, fairly closely to the way we know it, had its origins in the southwestern counties of England in the early 19th century. They were referred to as “drovers’ dogs” as they were used primarily to drive cattle and large breeds of sheep to market. Their tails were docked to show that they were working dogs. Companion dogs were taxed, working dogs were not.


Border Collies

Remember that the appearance of these dogs during the Regency would not match our vision of this breed today. Not to mention, a number of different sorts of dog fell under the label of sheep dog. The dog most like the sheep dogs of the Regency is the border collie.

Perhaps the earliest training manual for sheepdogs was written by William Ellis (ca. 1690-1759). Ellis was a farmer from Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, about 30 miles northwest of London. In 1732 he wrote The Practical Farmer or The Hertfordshire Husbandman. His book enjoyed popularity immediately upon publication. In this book, Ellis writes a description of the ideal sheepdog.

A Shepherd generally keeps a rough-coated Dog, partly, I suppose, for their being, as I said, better enabled by their fluffy warm Coat, to withstand the Violence of Frosts and cold Winds, or to become the more frightful to their Sheep, and for his closer Attendance on his Master, as he is somewhat slower than a smooth-coated one, therefore not so subject to hare and run the Sheep too fast; and is commonly the most sensible one of all others…One Thomas…has a has a brindle-colour’d, very shaggy-hair’d Dog, of the biggest Sort, so much at Command, as to lie down by a Fold all Night to guard the Sheep till next Morning; and for making haste on an emergent Occasion, when Sheep are pent in a narrow Place, will run over their Backs; and in several other Respects, makes himself an excellent Shepherd’s Dog…

Sheepdogs generally began their training at the age of 6 months. They were taught a number of basic and important commands, the first of which was “lie down.” This was an important command when dealing with sheep as a dog on its feet tended to intimidate and sometimes frighten sheep. Every shepherd had his own system of commands and signals that could be a series of whistles, short word commands or even hand signals.

Shepherd’s dogs were divided into three categories or types during this era: the Shepherd’s Dog or Colley; the English Sheep-Dog or Southern Sheep-Dog; and the Cur or Drover’s Dog, As you can see the “breed” names were a little ambiguous. These dogs tended to be bred by shepherds and sheep farmers. Their bloodlines were managed and tracked in hand-written records by each farmer. Dogs from one farmer might be loaned out to another for stud purposes. These dogs were bred for very distinct qualities.

Keen sight.

A keen sense of smell.





Athletically active.

Constant watchfulness.


Hardiness in all kinds of weather.

Devotion to duty.


The Shepherd’s Dog or Collie
The Cur
English Sheep Dog





Louisa Cornell

By the late 18th century, a new species of rat had invaded England. The brown or “Norway” rats were much larger and quite frankly more frightening than the common black rat indigenous to England. Catching and eliminating rats was considered the perfect job for the poorer citizens of England, especially those people born and bred in the poorer areas of larger cities like London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. After all, these were the people who spent their childhoods playing with rats in the floorboards of their meager homes.

The more successful rat-catchers used ferrets and dogs to catch rats. They were paid per rat and sending a dog into the sewers and less clean and accessible parts of homes and businesses was less work, for the rat-catcher at least. The dogs used for this task were mostly terrier-type dogs. Their prey drive, ferocity, small size and quickness made them perfectly suited for the task.

Some of the breeds used as ratters were:

Bull Terriers

Bedlington Terriers

Fox Terriers

Jack Russell Terriers

Rat Terriers

Black and Tan Terriers

Manchester Terriers

Yorkshire Terriers

Staffordshire Bull Terriers


Those who used and bred dogs for this purpose kept close track of their dogs’ pedigrees. They sought to bred in those traits best suited to ratters and the breed out unwanted qualities. Surprisingly, even those poorest and least educated breeders of rat-catching dogs took great pride in the breeding and pedigrees of their dogs. Having a dog related to some of the better-known ratters was a source of pride, not to mention a great selling point when seeking employment, especially in the more successful businesses and in the more exclusive homes in London.

How did dogs gain reputations as champion ratters? From the late 18th into the early 19th centuries word-of-mouth was a big part of spreading a dog’s fame. However, rat-catchers didn’t only breed dogs, they also bred rats. They bred rats for three purposes.

  1. Frankly, they bred them to encourage repeat customers or to persuade customers to avail themselves of the rat-catcher’s services. Yes, they bred rats to turn loose in businesses and houses to drum up business.
  2. They bred them to demonstrate their dogs’ prowess as rat catchers. They gave demonstrations and eventually, once other baiting sports were banned in 1835 by Parliament’s passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act, rat baiting contests took place in the facilities formerly used for cock-fighting, dog fighting and bear baiting. Thousands of rats were needed for these contests and ratters provided them.
  3. They bred rats for unique colors to sell them to the gentry and aristocrats as pets. Yes, even young Queen Victoria had pet rats, but people were keeping rats as pets long before she did. One of the most famous breeders of pet rats was also one of England’s most famous rat catchers. Jack Black styled himself as rat catcher to Queen Victoria. He was also written up in Henry Mayhew’s 1815 book London Labor and the London Poor. He dressed rather elegantly for a rat catcher in order to drum up business. He was the first recorded breeder of fancy rats and also provided rats for rat baiting contests.

Rat catching dogs made money for their owners both in catching and eliminating rats for customers and in participating in rat baiting contests which involved cash prizes for the winning dogs and, of course, wagering on the outcome of the contests.

These dogs were highly prized by their owners both for their ability to kill rats for customers and by 1835 for their ability in the rat baiting ring. I daresay their lot in life was better than that of turnspit dogs in spite of the very real danger of possible injury and even death when catching rats. These dogs were doing what they were born and bred to do.

One of the most celebrated ratters of his day was the 26-pound bull terrier, Billy, owned by Charles Dew.

The October 1822, edition of The Sporting Magazine provide us with descriptions of two rat pit matches with Billy.

Thursday night, Oct. 24, at a quarter before eight o’clock, the lovers of rat killing enjoyed a feast of delight in a prodigious raticide at the Cockpit, Westminster. The place was crowded. The famous dog Billy, of rat-killing notoriety, 26 lb. weight, was wagered, for 20 sovereigns, to kill 100 rats in 12 minutes. The rats were turned out loose at once in a 12-foot square, and the floor whitened, so that the rats might be visible to all. The set-to began, and Billy exerted himself to the utmost. At four minutes and three-quarters, as the hero’s head was covered with gore, he was removed from the pit, and his chaps being washed, he lapped some water to cool his throat. Again, he entered the arena, and in vain did the unfortunate victims labor to obtain security by climbing against the sides of the pit, or by crouching beneath the hero. By twos and threes, they were caught, and soon their mangled corpses proved the valor of the victor. Some of the flying enemy, more valiant than the rest, endeavored by seizing this Quinhus Flestrum of heroic dogs by the ears, to procure a respite, or to sell their life as dearly as possible; but his grand paw soon swept off the buzzers, and consigned them to their fate. At seven minutes and a quarter, or according to another watch, for there were two umpires and two watches, at seven minutes and seventeen seconds, the victor relinquished the glorious pursuit, for all his foes lay slaughtered on the ensanguined plain. Billy was then caressed and fondled by many; the dog is estimated by amateurs as a most dextrous animal; he is, unfortunately, what the French Monsieurs call borg-ne, that is, blind of an eye. This precious organ was lost to him some time since by the intrepidity of an inimical rat, which as he had not seized it in a proper place, turned round on its murderer, and deprived him by one bite of the privilege of seeing with two eyes in future. The dog BILLY, of rat-killing notoriety, on the evening of the 13th instant, again exhibited his surprising dexterity; he was wagered to kill one hundred rats within twelve minutes; but six minutes and 25 seconds only elapsed, when every rat lay stretched on the gory plain, without the least symptom of life appearing.’ Billy was decorated with a silver collar, and a number of ribband bows, and was led off amidst the applauses of the persons assembled.

Bill the Ratcatcher
Henry Alken


Billy’s best competition results are: (Yes, they kept meticulous records of this.)

Date              Rats killed         Time                                   Time per rat
1820–??-??        20               1 minute, 11 seconds                3.6 seconds
1822-09-03      100              8 minutes, 45 seconds             5.2 seconds
1822-10-24       100              7 minutes, 17 seconds             4.4 seconds
1822-11-13        100               6 minutes, 25 seconds            3.8 seconds
1823-04-22      100               5 minutes, 30 seconds            3.3 seconds
1823-08-05      120               8 minutes, 20 seconds            4.1 seconds

Billy’s career was crowned on 22 April 1823, when a world record was set with 100 rats killed in five and a half minutes. This record stood until 1862, when it was claimed by another ratter named “Jacko”. Billy continued in the rat pit until old age, reportedly with only one eye and two teeth remaining.


Louisa Cornell

These dogs were known by a number of names—Canis vertigus (Carl Linnaeus gave them this name in the 1700’s – “dizzy dog” because they were always spinning,) vernepator cur (Latin for “the dog that turns the wheel”) and more commonly, the turnspit dog. The first mention of them in written record was in 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written. Their existence is acknowledged from the 1500’s forward and they were considered an essential part of every British kitchen well into the 19th century.

The job of the turnspit dog, simply put, was to turn the meat roasting over the open hearth found in nearly all British kitchens from the 16th century forward. Cooking meat in an oven was frowned upon and roasting any meat, be it beef, lamb, pork or even turkey, over an open fire was the preferred method of doing so. Interestingly, have one’s meat turned by a turnspit dog was eventually considered a sign of poverty. In homes where a servant was given the task, it was usually done by the lowliest member of the kitchen staff, the potboy, for instance. If one could not afford to pay a servant to turn the spit, a dog was the least expensive way to get the job done.

How did turnspit dogs turn the meat on the spit? Anytime meat was to be roasted, one of these dogs was hoisted into a wooden wheel mounted high on the wall near the fireplace. But not too close as the heat might make the dog faint or even die. The wheel was attached to a chain which ran down to the spit. As the dog ran, the spit turned. Think hamster wheel. The turnspit dog was viewed as a kitchen utensil rather than a dog.

These dogs were bred to this purpose. The breeding had far less to do with bloodlines than it had to do with size, tenacity, and athleticism. They tended to be “long-bodied, crooked legged, and rather ugly little dogs.” This description appeared in Edward Jesse’s book Anecdotes of the Dog, published in 1846. They were bred primarily for two qualities:

  1. They had to be able to run for hours without stopping. An average piece of meat took three hours to roast. How were these dogs motivated and conditioned to run for three hours? Generally, during their early training, a hot coal would be tossed in the wheel to motivate them. Some were trained by a piece of meat hanging before the wheel, just out of reach.
  2. They had to fit in the wheel. Therefore, only dogs with short, stubby legs and stout bodies were bred to achieve the right form for the job. This often resulted in dogs with bandy legs and sometimes due to inbreeding these qualities were almost deformities.

In addition to these physical attributes, it was often said of these dogs that they had a morose disposition and “suspicious” and “unhappy” expressions. One can scarcely begin to wonder why!

The dogs were afforded one day off, Sunday, if one could call it a day off. They were normally taken to church with the family to act as foot warmers. There is the story from Bath that claims the Bishop of Gloucester set off a turnspit dog rampage when, in the middle of his sermon he said the words “It was then that Ezekiel saw the wheel.” The story goes, when the turnspit dogs in attendance at their masters’ feet heard the word “wheel” they fled the church, afraid they were being sent back to work.

The life of a turnspit dog was one of monotony and control. They were confined to keep them from running away. They were trained from an early age to run for hours on end. They were fed well enough to sustain their muscles, but not enough to ever be fully sated. A dog with an appetite for meat could be tempted to run longer. They were not confined to the wheel save for the hours they had to work. They were likely some of the few dogs in poorer households who were completely house-trained. It is likely they were confined to small boxes when they were not working. Several records report that the dogs were owned in pairs so as not to overtax one dog.

By 1750 there were turnspits everywhere. By 1850 they were scarce and by 1900 they had disappeared completely, replaced by machines. The breed essentially became extinct as it was said that people did not want to keep ugly little morose dogs as pets. Interestingly enough, Queen Victoria is said to have kept three retired turnspit dogs as pets. There are some who say the Welsh Corgi is actually descended from the turnspit dogs of the 19th century.

Follow this link to see what many consider the last turnspit dog, Whisky, preserved by a taxidermist and held at the Abergavenny Museum in Wales.

REGENCY BOSS LADIES – Hester Bateman, Silversmith

Hester Bateman (1708-1794)

The mark of Hester Bateman registered in 1761 (1708–1794). Mrs. Bateman, a silversmith of household silverware in London, used her special initials along with the standard hallmarks; the crown signifying a tax is paid to the crown, a lion which identifies the type of metal (sterling silver) and the h, a “date letter” which notes the year of production.


By Louisa Cornell


Born Hester Needham in 1708 (perhaps 1709) in London

She married John Bateman (sometime between 1730-1732) He worked in silver and gold and his primary business was thought to be watch chains. Hester learned everything about the silversmith business from him that she could, but also studied the work of others.

Bateman left his business in its entirety to his wife when he died in 1760.

By 1761 she had registered her mark at Goldsmiths Hall in London.

By 1774 hers was one of the most successful shops in London.

Unlike other silversmiths she didn’t specialize in one area. Her shop made a wide variety of tableware as well as inkwells, trophies, and religious items.


Hester Bateman, George III cake basket, 1788;

Her simple but elegant designs were popular among the new rising middle class. Her integration of the newest technology into production enabled her to charge lower prices for quality work.

Her work was characterized by bright-cut engraving, beading around the edges, and piercing.

She retired in 1790 and turned her business over to her sons as her daughter, Letitia Clarke, had opened her own business as a jeweler and goldsmith.

Hester died in 1794. Her sons continued the business and it was passed down as a successful concern to her male and female descendants until it closed in 1843.

Hester Bateman is considered one of England’s finest silversmiths, male or female. Pieces with her mark are highly prized (not to mention highly priced) today.

Her business acumen and willingness to experiment with new technology took a small silver shop and turned it into a thriving and profitable concern able to support her family and a number of employees as well.

Not bad for a woman who learned her craft in spite of no formal education whilst married to a man ill with tuberculosis and raising six children.