Victorian publishers of murder broadsides and ballads were sometimes forced to draw on old tales of death and crime when times were particularly ‘slow’. In this single sheet published by George Smeeton in Southwark (from around the late 1820s or early 1830s), the writer retells a story of murder that was probably committed over 200 years previously. In the piece readers are told the tale of a Cornwall family whose sailor son (long presumed dead) returns from sea after a 15-year absence. His mother is now dead and his father remarried, the latter of whom is visited by the son, but at first is not recognised. The old man offers a bed to his son who intends revealing his identity in the morning. Meanwhile the father and step-mother creep into his room at night and murder their sleeping guest for his money. Only when the sailor’s sister arrives at the house the next morning is the truth of the deed uncovered. Overcome with grief at the murder of his returned son, the old man kills himself, followed in turn by the step-mother’s own suicide.
- Full title:
- The father's crime; or Fatal curiosity. An affecting and true history of the unnatural murder of James Andrew Macauley, a young sailor, for his wealth, and who proved, on the morning after the fatal deed, to be the murderer's long-lost and only son! ...
- estimated 1834, Tooley Street, London
- Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
- Held by:
- British Library
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Popular culture, Crime and crime fiction
Looking at broadsides, cheap pamphlets and the works of Charles Dickens, Judith Flanders explores how crime in the 19th century – particularly gruesome murder and executions – served as entertainment in both fiction and real life.