An Account of Four Persons Starved To Death in a Workhouse


Welfare was virtually non-existent for those fallen on hard times in the 1700s. As a last resort, some many ended up in locally administered poor houses, dependent on tiny sums raised through local taxes or charity. Many resented even this, believing it encouraged laziness and dependence. 

On 23 January 1769, James Eaves, his wife and two of their children were found starved to death, their naked bodies lying on straw, in a poor house in Datchworth, Hertfordshire. Their third child, a boy of about 11, was still alive but unable to stand. It transpired they had been taken ill three weeks before and had only been given 2s 6d – which even for a farm labourer was only two days’s wages – from the overseers during that time. 

Villagers tried to cover up the affair, but the Datchworth incident received wide publicity when the author and eccentric Captain Philip Thicknesse (1719 – 92) wrote an exposé in this pamphlet. There was an inquest, though in the event no one was punished. A plaque in the village now commemorates the family and their wretched fate.

Full title:
An account of the four persons found starved to death at D-------- [i.e. Datchworth] in Hertfordshire. By one of the jurymen on the inquisition taken on their bodies
estimated 1769, London
Pamphlet / Illustration / Image
Philip Thicknesse
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Poverty in Georgian Britain

Article by:
Matthew White

From the charitable relief of the Poor Law to the grim conditions of the workhouse, Matthew White examines attitudes to the poor in Georgian Britain.

The working classes and the poor

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard examines the social and economic lives of the Victorian working classes and the poor.

Oliver Twist: a patchwork of genres

Article by:
Claire Wood
The Gothic, The novel 1832–1880

Dr Claire Wood examines how Dickens blends multiple genres in Oliver Twist, including melodrama, the Gothic, satire and social commentary.

Related collection items

Related works

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...