Broadside on 'a cruel and inhuman murder'


Sarah Burton was a 17-year-old domestic servant found murdered near Weymouth in 1813. Burton had been in a relationship with fellow servant John Baker and had unexpectedly fallen pregnant, though fully expected that Baker would marry her. Despite his promises Baker had secretly fallen in love with another girl, whose father was purported to be in possession of a large fortune. Burton became an inconvenience to Baker, who lured her to a secluded spot and cut her throat ‘from ear to ear’.

This broadside was published by James ‘Jemmy’ Catnach who amassed a large fortune in the early 19th century through publishing explicit and blood-thirsty murder reports from his print works in London’s Seven Dials. Catnach’s style was bold and eye-catching: most of his broadsides were accompanied by striking images engraved from boxwood and were accompanied by memorable verses. Catnach was reportedly worth £10,000 when he died in 1842. 

Execution broadsides 

During the 19th century, gruesome murders and public executions were often reported in printed sheets such as the one displayed here. Known as ‘broadsides’ or ‘street literature’, they were sold by street peddlers, and purchased to paste on to walls or to read (or sing) aloud to others. Execution broadsides were produced on cheap paper and illustrated with crude woodcuts. They typically included an account of the crime committed, the conviction and punishment of the criminal, an illustration of the hanged offender and, often, a ballad or moralising hymn. Images of the gallows were frequently re-used, the printers filling in the appropriate number of dangling bodies depending on the number of criminals hanged. These macabre sources are a reminder of the sensationalism surrounding crime in this period. Public executions were still seen as a form of entertainment, often attracting crowds of thousands.

Full title:
Just published - a [t]rue and particular account of a cruel, and inhuman murder committed on the body of Sarah Burton, near Wyemouth [sic] in county of Dorset, by John Baker, her fellow-serva[nt] by whom she was pregnant, on Saturday night last. Together
estimated 1830, Seven Dials, London
Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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Murder as entertainment

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Judith Flanders
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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.

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