Thursday, 20 April 2017

The horrible murders, attempted suicides and frighful execution of William Bousfield

The 1856 Death Register for Quarter 2 (April to June) unusually records the demise of no less than 8 Bousfields, a surname one would have thought was reasonably rare.  The strong showing for such an uncommon surname was triggered by no less than 5 unnatural deaths in a single family; in the early hours of Sunday 3rd February Sarah Bousfield and her three children, Anne (6 years old), Eliza (4 years) and John William (a mere baby of 8 months) were murdered at their home, 4 Portland Street, in St James, Westminster. Later that morning their father William confessed to the killings. He was hung for his crimes on March 31st in front of Newgate prison, by the notoriously incompetent public hangman William Calcraft, in one his most famously bungled executions. Retribution was swift enough in the mid nineteenth century for a murderer and his victims to be recorded side by side in the death register.   

The Quarter 2 Death Register entry for Bousfield records the murder of William's family as well as his execution 

The Berkshire Chronicle of Saturday 9th February carried a full account of the murder of Sarah Bousfield and her children and the apprehension of the murderer. As the newspaper made clear, it did not require Sherlock Holmes to solve the horrific murder as “on Sunday morning, shortly after seven o'clock, a man, who is described by the police as being about 34 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches in height, and of repulsive aspect, presented himself at Bow-street Station, with a particular request that he might see the inspector on duty.” His request was made to Police Constable Alfred Fudge, badge number 68F, by whom he “was at once introduced to Inspector Dodd, to whom he stated, with the most perfect calmness and composure, that he had murdered his wife. He said that he had that morning killed her by stabbing her in the neck with a chisel, and that in consequence of that act he was now desirous of delivering himself into the hands of Justice. There was nothing in the man’s demeanour to induce the inspector to suspect that he was labouring under a delusion of any kind, and he determined therefore that he would take down his statement and then proceed to the locality mentioned in it for the purpose of inquiring into its truth….” After taking Bousfield’s statement Inspector Dodd and a couple of Constables made their way to Portland Street (now gone, but once a side street off Oxford Street, between Berwick Street and Soho Square). It took a long time of loud knocking to rouse anyone inside the house. Someone, probably a servant, eventually allowed them in and called the householder, Mr John James, Sarah Bousfield’s father, father-in-law to the murderer and, of course, grandfather to the slaughtered children. Mr James found Inspector Dodd on the stairwell with a bull’s eye lantern in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other. Dodd told him to come down at once as “'we have got the man who lives in the parlour; he looks very suspicious, as he is covered all over in blood.” John James opened the parlour door by putting his finger through a hole and pulling back the bolt. Inside the room his daughter lay on the bed with her throat cut, quite dead and cold already, along with the bodies of her two youngest children. On a separate bedstead lay the corpse of six year old Anne.  Almost immediately Mr James Hathaway the police surgeon arrived to examine the four bodies. The Morning Chronicle of 6th February gives an account of the inquest into the murders and details Mr Hathaway’s findings:

I found the deceased woman quite dead, with an incision in her neck from three to four inches in length. It was a clean cut wound. I found three incisions on the right arm, and four on the left, evidently to open the veins, but very little blood had flowed from them. There were two children on the bed quite dead. I then turned to a press bedstead in the room, and saw another child lying on it quite dead, with two incisions on the right side of the neck. Eliza Bousfield had two incisions on the right side of the neck. John William Bousfield, the infant, had two incisions on the right side of the neck and one on the lower part of the left ear. The bodies were quite cold, and I am of the opinion that they had been dead some hours. I made a post mortem examination of the body of Mrs. Bousfield. I found a punctured wound on the left cheek, and penetrating through the cheek. On the lower lip there was a lacerated wound.  I then came to the wound in the neck which was a clean incised wound about four inches in length dividing the skin integuments and all the soft parts. The carotid artery was nearly divided. There was also a small would above the larger one about an inch in length. On the front of the left shoulder was a clean cut would about an inch long. There was a cut through the nightdress corresponding with the wound. On the left elbow were two other punctures, and, also one at the back of the bend of the elbow. They were all superficial. On examining the right arm about two inches above the bend of the elbow inside there was another punctured wound, also superficial. There were no marks of wounds on the hands. The heart and other viscera were healthy. The cause of death was the division of the carotid artery.


Sarah Bousfield no doubt often sold newspapers with lurid headlines from the shop at 4 Portland Place,
never realising that she would be the subject of some of the most sensational stories of the 1850's
Dr Hathaway’s conclusion was that the perpetrator had, bizarrely, initially tried to bleed his victims to death, using a sharpened chisel to open veins on their arms and only when this did not work did he finish them off by slitting their throats with a razor. Both the chisel and the razor were recovered from the room. At the inquest neither the coroner nor the jury could understand how healthy adults or children could be killed by bleeding from the veins in the arms, surely they would put up a struggle or at the very least cry out? One of the jurors asked if there was any sign of chloroform having being used. Dr Hathaway eventually had to admit that he could not tell if the wounds of the arms of the victims had been made pre or post mortem. The modus operandi of the murderer was not the only puzzle, the motive for the killings was just as perplexing; “every one who is acquainted with the family is at a loss to account for the motive which prompted the brutal murder, as there was no poverty, and the murderer never evinced the slightest indication of mental aberration,” as one newspaper put it.  The man most likely to be able to shed light on the matter was John James and he was the first called to provide evidence at the inquest held just two days after the murders in the board room of St Ann’s workhouse Poland Street. The first grim business of the day was for the jury to view the bodies of the four victims. Once this was over the inquest proper convened. So strong was the public interest in the case that a temporary barrier had to be erected across the boardroom to keep the press of onlookers back from the jury and witnesses. The Coroner, Mr St Clair Bedford, called for John James who was led into the court in an ‘extremely agitated’ state. He was so distressed that the coroner called for a chair and allowed him to give his evidence sitting down. He told the coroner that his daughter “and her husband lived on very good terms” with their three young children in the parlour of 4 Portland Street where he occupied some upstairs rooms and lodgers occupied various other rooms. His daughter ran a shop, selling newspapers and tobacco,  from the front parlour and his son in law occupied himself occasionally as a supernumerary in the theatre earning a shilling or eighteen pence a night. Out of paternal solicitude Mr James, a carpenter and joiner, supplemented his daughter’s income as Bousfield’s wages in the theatre and her profits from the shop were not enough to keep the family. This dependence on her father caused tension between the couple “when she had two children she wished  him  to get work, and when the third child was born she begged him daily and hourly to get something to do, and be independent of me,” James told the inquest.  Nothing unusual had occurred on the Saturday night, James had popped downstairs to see his daughter at about 10.30pm and found Bousfield  “standing with his back to the fire. I said to him ‘Is Sarah in or out?’ and he answered ‘She has just gone out’. She came home at half-past eleven o'clock, with the boy, who had a new hat on, of which he appeared very proud.  I talked to her for some time and that was the last I saw of my daughter.”  One of the lodgers, Mary Ann Bennett, had a different story to tell the inquest about the relationship between the couple; she told the inquest that “Bousfield and his wife sometimes had words which was because he was out of employment.” She also told the court that the couple had not slept together since the birth of the baby eight months before and said “I have heard he was jealous and I have heard Bousfield say many times he did not like the young men who came to the shop. He also said he thought his wife was too free with them. .. She was a very pleasant woman in the shop, and many persons would come into the shop if she was there, but not if he was...He was not jealous of one particular young man.”   The jury’s verdict was wilful murder against William Bousfield.

Bousfield went on trial at the Old Bailey on March 6th. It was a swift affair in front of Mr Justice Wightman.  The newspaper coverage of the trial was perfunctory, partly because no exciting new details of the crime emerged and partly because the attention of the papers were occupied by a new and more fascinating murderer, Dr William Palmer of Rugeley, the Prince of Poisoners.  Bousfield  pleaded not guilty and according to the Yorkshire Gazette “appeared completely bowed down with grief, and being accommodated with a chair, buried his face in his hands, and remained in that  position during the entire trial.” The defence were keen to cross examine PC Verres who had watched over Bousfield after his arrest and who confirmed that the prisoner had thrown “himself forward to hit his head against the wall, and when pulled him back, said,  ‘Kill me at once.’ He then said, ‘Send for a doctor- send a doctor to my poor wife’ and afterwards said, ‘put me in a cell.’” Out of this poor evidence Bousfield’s counsel tried to construct a defence of insanity. The jury were not swayed, taking just a few minutes to reach a verdict of guilty to the charge of murder. Justice Wightman “then passed sentence of death in a most impressive manner, holding out no hope of mercy. The prisoner, on hearing the sentence, nearly sunk to the ground, and had to be assisted by two of the turnkeys from the dock.”
 Ironically 31st March was the date set for Bousfield’s execution; as it was also the day after the signing of the treaty of Paris which put an end to the Crimean War the London mob were out in force and in a jubilant mood engaging in impromptu celebrations. For the mob there was no better way to commemorate peace than by attending an execution and 5000 people got up early and walked to Newgate to the accompaniment of church bells tolling for the peace to make sure they had a good view of the 8.00am execution. Under the headline ‘Attempted Suicide and Frightful Execution of Bousfield’ the Examiner for Saturday 5th April carries a commendably well written and harrowingly detailed account of the events of that day (which I quote in full):

On Monday morning, in the midst of the public rejoicings for the announcement of peace, William Bousfield, who was convicted of the murder of his wife and three children at Soho, was executed in front of the Old Bailey. The scene was most horrifying – the unfortunate man was literally dragged to the scaffold, and struggled for his life with the executioner with the desperate energy of despair. Since his conviction the wretched man persevered in maintaining a sullen and morose appearance, pretending at times no recollection of the murder and that the whole was a dream to him; and, although repeatedly spoken to by the Rev. Mr Davis on the subject of his crime, who (says the reporter of the execution) to awaken some latent feeling of remorse and penitence in him, pictured the horrible scene that must have been present to him on the night of the murder, when he must have sat for hours with his lifeless and bleeding victims around him, before he gave himself up, all that could be got from him was, "Pray don't talk about it; it is a horrid dream." He moreover feigned that he committed the murders without the slightest knowledge of the atrocities of which he was guilty, but his previous profligate career, combined with a feeling of jealousy which he unjustly entertained in reference to his wife, lead to the conclusion that his conduct at the close of his life was hypocritical and deceitful.


On Saturday afternoon, after the culprit took his final leave of his two sisters, he continued to exhibit the same sullen demeanour he had exhibited throughout, and when visited by the sheriffs, and told he must prepare to undergo his sentence, made no reply. About four o'clock he was sitting on the end of his bed-stead, facing the fire, but at some distance off, watched closely by the turnkeys, who had been in constant attendance upon him; at the time he appeared dejected and lost, but suddenly he started up, rushed forward, and threw himself forward on the fire, his entire face being beyond the upper bar of the stove. His neckerchief catching fire assisted materially in burning him severely in the lower part of the face and neck. A turnkey seeing the movement, immediately pulled him from off the fire, and with assistance of other officers he was secured, and Mr Gibson, the prison surgeon, was sent for. He ascertained that the injuries Bousfield had thus inflicted upon himself were not of a dangerous character, although causing the face to be much swollen and burnt; remedies were immediately applied to reduce the wounds- lotions being constantly applied; but from that time the wretched man refused to speak or receive any food, exhibiting an utter prostration and helplessness, the only nourishment that he could be induced to swallow being some milk, and on Monday morning a glass of wine. All attempts to induce him to listen to religious instruction ceased, and during the whole of Sunday he exhibited the same state of helplessness. In that state he remained the entire night, watched by several turnkeys, and frequently visited by Mr Weather head. His appearance is described by the sheriffs and those in attendance upon him as truly hideous, the lower part of the face being swollen and burnt to a fearful extent. To reduce the swelling, the attendants, under the direction of Mr Gibson, constantly bathed the wounds with cold lotions, a piece of linen being placed round the lower part of the face.
Outside Newgate on execution day
At half-past seven the sheriffs, Messrs Kennedy and Rose, with their undersheriffs, arrived at the prison, and at a quarter to eight, accompanied by the governor and the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary, proceeded to the prisoner's cell. On entering the cell the wretched murderer was seen sitting on a chair supported by two men, in an entire state of prostration and apparently dying, the attendants from time to time wiping the froth that kept constantly oozing from his mouth, but not a sound or word escaped him. At a few minutes before eight o'clock Calcraft was introduced into the cell, and proceeded to pinion the arms of the prisoner. At this time he appeared so exhausted that Mr Sheriff Kennedy called upon Mr Gibson, the surgeon, to examine the state of the prisoner, who reported that his pulse was in a very low state. Restoratives were in consequence administered, but with no apparent effect, and the fatal moment having arrived, the sheriffs gave the signal for the procession moving towards the scaffold. The officers, who had up to this time supported the body of the wretched man on the chair, endeavoured to raise and induce him to stand on his legs, but without success, such was his apparent, but, as it subsequently turned out, assumed, utter helplessness that, but for being supported, he would have sunk in a mass to the ground; and it became evident that to get him to the scaffold he must be carried. One of the turnkeys took hold of his legs, and another carried him by the armpits, and in that listless state, nearly doubled up, he was carried to the foot of the scaffold, the sheriffs and undersheriffs heading the dismal procession, the Rev. Mr Davis, the ordinary reading the burial service, the prison bell tolling during the time. The signal of the approaching scene was caught up by the mob outside, amounting to some four or five thousand persons of the usual grade to be seen at executions.
On the procession arriving at the door, formerly known as the debtors' door, from which the steps are erected leading to the scaffold, a difficulty arose as to the manner in which the wretched man could be carried on to the scaffold and placed under the beam while the executioner was adjusting and fixing the fatal rope. A high-backed office chair was obtained from the office of the governor, upon which the wretched man was placed, up to the last moment exhibiting the same helplessness he had done throughout and in that state he was carried on to the scaffold by four of the officers belonging to the prison, and placed under the drop. Calcraft the executioner, who exhibited an unusual nervousness and terror, lost not an instant in putting on the cap, and adjusting the fatal noose and as soon as he had secured the rope to the chain, suspended by the beam, he ran down the steps, and, without any signal, withdrew the fatal bolt, the chair dropped from under the wretched man and the became suspended, but scarcely two seconds had elapsed before he exhibited a convulsive strength and power to the utter astonishment of all who had seen his apparent utter prostration for previous forty-eight hours. His shoulders and arms were raised upwards, his legs being thrown in various directions to obtain a footing in which he soon succeeded, by placing his right foot on the right edge of the scaffold, and by an extraordinary effort succeeded in placing his left foot close to it, and kept that position until one of the turnkeys went on to the scaffold and pushed down the legs, Calcraft, in apparent terror, running from under the scaffold. The sheriffs and other officials attempted to stop him, but he persisted in getting away, insisting the man was dead. His struggles at this moment became most fearful, and the crowd kept on yelling and hooting. In a few seconds more, for the second time the wretched man succeeded in placing both feet on the left side of the scaffold. The sheriffs, and particularly Mr Alderman Rose, became so horrified and indignant that they insisted on Calcraft being compelled to return and put an end to the fearful scene. The Rev. Mr Davis succeeded in allaying Calcraft’s terrors, and he went under and pulled the leg down and hung to them a short time; but on his letting go of them the wretched man for the third time succeeded in getting to his feet on to the edge of the scaffold; when on their being removed be dropt for the fourth time, and after a severe struggle, which had lasted upwards of ten minutes, he ceased to exist. 
William Calcraft - the man who couldn't hang


During the whole of this horrible scene the tumult and yelling amongst the crowd were terrific. The body having hung the usual time, at nine o'clock it was cut down by Calcraft, who was received with groans and hisses. The features in death were truly horrible. To account in some manner for the extraordinary conduct of Calcraft it appears that on Saturday he received an anonymous letter advising him to go to the Horse Guards and get a helmet to wear on the occasion, as the Kent street roughs were determined to shoot him, to put an end to any more executions.-A Court of Aldermen was held on Tuesday, at which it was ordered that a statement made by Alderman and Sheriff Kennedy, confirming the above-described horrible details, should be referred to the Gaol Committee, for them to inquire into the circumstances and report to the Court.   

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Other Andrew Ducrow; Andrew Ducrow fils (1842-1863) Rangiriri Cemetery, North Island, New Zealand


Commemorated on the Ducrow Mausoleum, on the same panel as his father (and below the famous epitaph ‘Erected by a genius for the reception of his own remains’, generally read as a piece of self aggrandisement by the deceased showman himself but almost certainly the words of his wife Louisa) is his youngest son. The full inscription reads: 
 
Also of
Andrew Ducrow
Ensign 40th Regiment
Youngest son of the above
Who died of wounds received whilst gallantly leading his men
In the attack on Rangiriri New Zealand Nov 20th 1863
He is mentioned in despatches as being
If not the first certainly one of the first
To enter the enemy entrenchments
He died greatly beloved and deeply regretted by
His brother officers and all who knew him
This tablet is erected to commemorate his noble death
And as a small tribute of a great love by his sorrowing parents
Peace to the memory of the brave
Born 18th June 1843 died 23rd December 1863

 
Louisa Ducrow gave birth to her youngest son on 18 June 1842, four months after the death of her husband and named the baby after his recently deceased father, Andrew Ducrow. She baptised him in November at St Johns in Waterloo. The baptismal register gives no indication that Andrew Ducrow père was dead; in the Quality, Trade or Profession column he is listed as an equestrian (an unsuitably vigorous trade for a corpse). Andrew Ducrow fils did not however remain sans père for very long. With her husband buried for little more than two years Louisa Ducrow married John Hay, on 24 February 1844, and Andrew fils and his three siblings acquired a stepfather. Some sources say John Hay was a brewer, but it is far from certain that he had any money. When he moved his new family from Lambeth to the more upmarket Albany Street, an extension of Great Portland Street, on the Regents Park estate, he may well have been spending what was left of Andrew Ducrow’s £60,000 fortune (in the 1851 census his occupation was simply listed as Gentleman, a career involving little or no remuneration. A decade later in the 1861 census he had become an hotelier).  Certainly by 1847 John Hay was in dispute with the executors of Ducrow’s will; he was no longer willing to spend at least some of the money set aside in the will for the upkeep of the Mausoleum. Ducrow had left £500 to meet his funeral costs, £800  “to be expended in or about the erecting or enlarging, or adding to or altering the monument then erected over his vault and for the purpose of placing inscriptions on the said monument,” and a further £200 to be placed in trust in the 3% bank annuities, the dividends to be used in “repairing, renewing, and decorating his said vault, monument, and obelisks or columns, and the inscription thereon, and planting and keeping up, and spreading such shrubs and flowers about or upon the same.” The £500 for the funeral had presumably long been paid out but perhaps there was still something left of the £800 and certainly the whole of the £200 to be invested in the 3 per cents. Louisa, or more likely John, were reluctant to tie up good money for the purposes of providing flowers for Ducrow’s tomb and one of the other executors, Oscar Byrne, felt obliged to take the matter to law. In June 1847 the case was brought before the Court of Chancery and brought to a swift conclusion when the defendant’s counsel raised no objection to any of the provisions of the will, effectively conceding the case.

Andrew Ducrow baptism record from St Johns, Waterloo 
 
We know nothing about Andrew Ducrow fils life growing up in the household of John Hay at Albany Street. The marriage between his mother and the gentleman hotelier was childless but all four of the Ducrow offspring were still living at Albany Street according to the 1861 census.  We know that Andrew fils was already in the army by the beginning of 1861 as according to the London Gazette he was appointed ensign by purchase, taking the place of former ensign Henry Swanson, in the regiment of the 40th Foot on the 15th January. Shortly afterwards he travelled with his regiment to New Zealand where he saw active service in the land wars, taking part in the invasion of Waikato and losing his life at the key engagement of the campaign in Rangiriri, being shot in the left knee on 20 November and dying two days before Christmas after having his leg amputated.  

DEATH OF ENSIGN DUCROW - It is with great regret that we announce to our readers the death of Ensign Ducrow at the Queen's Redoubt, at a quarter to eleven o'clock yesterday morning. As our readers already know he was one of the brave fellows who were wounded at Rangiriri, and whose wound was so severe that his leg had to be amputated. It was at first thought that he would recover, but at last he sank under it, and is now no more. His remains will be brought into town to-day, and we presume they will be buried on Saturday. Ensign Andrew Ducrow entered the service in the 40th Regt. on the 18th January, 1861, and shortly after embarked from England for this colony. In May last he went to Taranaki, and returned with the rest of the troops. This as might be expected from his youth and rank, was the first active service he had seen, and unfortunately it is the last. He was generally respected by his brother soldiers. His death increases the number of officers lost to the British service, and their sorrowing relatives, by the attack on Rangiriri, to no less than six.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

 
St Johns, Waterloo
FUNERAL OF ENSIGN DUCROW - The remains of this unfortunate young officer, who was severely wounded at Rangiriri, and whose death we reported a few days ago, were interred yesterday in the Auckland cemetery. Although the rank of Ensign Ducrow did not entitle him to the same honours at his funeral as would be paid to those in a position above him, and whose services had made them more conspicuous for the part they had taken in the war, yet we are quite sure the attendance upon his obsequies was none the less sincere. It must, indeed, be a matter of regret that this gallant young gentlemen should have fallen at so early an age, as he was a promising officer; and might have achieved distinction for himself and done the state good service. Like Lieutenant Colonel, Austen, Ensign Ducrow had, through his relatives, just come into a very handsome income for his rank. From the enjoyment of this, however, he has been debarred; but he leaves behind him the name of being one of those who bravely fought for their country at Rangiriri and suffered.

It was arranged that the funeral procession should leave the Albert Barracks at half past 3 o'clock, and at that hour two or three hundred persons assembled there. This weather, although threatening, kept fine, and all the preliminaries; having been arranged, the procession started from the Albert Barracks about four o'clock, the band, of the 50th Regiment preceding it, and playing the Dead March. The following was the order of the procession:—

Firing party, consisting of forty men from the several detachments in garrison, under the command of Ensign Toseland.  Band of 50th Regt. The Coffin, drawn on a gun carriage, with six horses and drivers of the Royal Artillery. Pall Bearers; Mr Jones, Royal Engineers Department; Staff Assistant-Surgeon O'Connell; Ensign Green, 14th Regiment; Lieutenant Hobbs, 40th-Regiment; Chief Mourners. Lieutenant-Colonel Nelson, 40thRegiment; Lieutenant Burton, 40th Regiment; Staff Assistant-Surgeon Dempster, Detachment of troops in garrison,  Officers of Militia. Officers of the Regular Troops, 7 Officers of the Royal Navy, including Lieutenant Downes and Lieutenant Hotham, both wounded at Rangirirj.  Mr Whitaker, Premier. His Excellency the Governor, and General Galloway. &c, &c, &c.
 
The road to the burial ground was pretty thickly covered with spectators. On reaching the cemetery the usual funeral service was read by the Rev. Kinder, garrison chaplain, and three volleys having being fired over the grave the assemblage dispersed. The remains of Ensign Duerow were laid beside the rest of the dead heroes of Rangiriri, whose last resting place is now mournfully denoted by a row of fresh mounds of earth, unornamented as yet by those tokens with which the living seek to perpetuate the memory of the dead.  The following was the inscription on the coffin: ENSIGN ANDREW DTJCROW, 40th REGIMENT, DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION. 20th November, 1863, AGED 21 YEARS.

Daily Southern Cross, 24 December 1863

Most of his money went back to his mother and John Hay but he bequeathed his gold signet ring to his friend Lieutenant Burton who was still wearing it 33 years later as a prized souvenir of his departed friend.

Andrew Ducrow, probate register

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Colossus of Equestrians; Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842) Kensal Green Cemetery


WITH the exception of Philip and John, the two Astleys, equestrian annals cannot, we believe, furnish a finer instance of a more consummate horseman than the late Mr Ducrow. Those who are familiar with the feats of this description , which are recorded in ancient pages as having been performed by the Centaurs of Thessaly, the horsemen in the Campus Martius at Rome - the equestrian heroes of Olympic days—and, at a later period , the Arabs of the desert have, witnessing his performance, unequivocally acknowledged that the former, however marvellous, found themselves altogether surpassed in the perfect and masterly powers of skill and display exhibited by Mr Ducrow in handling the reins,  taming his steeds , and managing them with a control as absolute as it was extraordinary. (The Scotsman - Wednesday 09 February 1842)

FUNERAL OF MR. DUCROW. The funeral of Mr. Ducrow took place to-day. An immense crowd collected to witness the procession, and as early as 11 o'clock the York-road, in front of the deceased's residence, was nearly impassable. Six mutes were stationed at the door during the morning. At half-past 1 o'clock, the mournful procession moved on in the following order:— Undertakers and men on horseback, six mutes on horseback, plumes of black feathers carried by men on foot, three of the deceased's favourite horses, nearly- covered with black cloth, the hearse drawn by six horses, four mourning coaches drawn by four horses each, and eight mourning coaches drawn by two horses each, containing the relatives and friends of Mr. Ducrow, amongst whom we noticed Mr. Macready, Mr. Webster, and several others of the most celebrated individuals in the theatrical profession. Several private carriages followed in the procession. It was rather a remarkable circumstance that the state carriage of the Speaker and the carriages of the members of the House of Commons, who were going to Buckingham Palace with the Address, should have arrived at the end of Bridge -street exactly at the moment the funeral was passing. The number of persons was very great in Parliament street at the time, and it was ludicrously supposed by some that the state carriage of the Speaker, which followed immediately after the carriages in the funeral procession, was the one that belonged to the deceased, and used by him at Astley's Theatre. On arriving opposite Whitehall the horses in the Speaker's carriage became very restive, in consequence of the noise in the dense crowd, and it was with some difficulty that the police could preserve order. No accident, however, occurred, and the assemblage soon afterwards separated. (London Evening Standard - Saturday 05 February 1842)


Andrew Ducrow’s Graeco-Egyptian mausoleum was supposedly designed for his first wife Margaret who died in 1837 but the famous equestrian fully intended the extravagant memorial to receive his own mortal remains in due course. He remarried in 1838 and it was his second wife Louisa who was responsible for the epitaph says that he lies "within this tomb erected by Genius/for the reception of its own remains." The exuberant mausoleum does its best to exhaust the whole range of Victorian mortuary symbolism. Wreaths and inverted torches form the iron railings around the tomb, there are draped urns, broken columns (including one with a hat and a pair of gloves draped across it), Egyptian columns, angels, winged horses, a beehive (masonic symbol of industry), military colours lowered over an infantryman’s cap, sphinxes, seashells, and melancholic females in figure revealing drapery. Even in 1856 it was considered to be over the top. A critic in The Builder called it “a piece of ponderous coxcombry."

Ducrow was five feet eight inches in height, of fair complexion, and handsome features. Exceedingly muscular and of prodigious strength, his figure was yet graceful in outline and perfectly symmetrical. He was accomplished as a contortionist, and could twist his shapely limbs into the strangest forms. Doctor Barker, lecturing in the School of Surgery at Edinburgh during visit of Ducrow to that city, recommended his pupils use all means to see the great equestrian, “as they would then be able form a judgment of what the human frame was capable of as regards development, position, and distortion.” With all his impetuosity of temper and speech, Ducrow was yet thoroughly kind-hearted and liberal. (Leinster Independent - Saturday 02 March 1872)

Andrew and his brother John taking a pair of mares to dinner
Andrew Ducrow was born on the 10th October 1793 at the Nag’s Head in Southwark. His father Peter was a circus strong man from Bruges known as the Flemish Hercules who could “lying on his back…with his hands and feet support a platform upon which stood eighteen grenadiers.”  Andrew and his siblings were brought up to be performers (his brother John became a celebrated clown); they started learning the trade at the age of 3 moving from vaulting to tumbling, dancing on the slack and tight rope, balancing, riding, fencing, and boxing. By 1808 at the age of 15 Andrew was already chief equestrian and rope dancer at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre at a salary of £10 a week.  His rope dancing might have been good but it was for his innovative equestrian acts that he became famous. At the age of 19 he was performing the ‘Flying Wardrobe’; dressed in rags and behaving like a drunkard he cantered around the ring making false falls from the horse and gradually removing ripped jackets and torn waistcoats until he revealed himself as the star rider of the show. The frisson detectable beneath the laughter as Andrew removed his clothes perhaps inspired the later development of the act where Andrew and his sons would dress in flesh coloured body stockings and strike poses known as ‘plastiques’, designed to show off their physiques, whilst balancing on the rump of white stallions. Even the Queen was a fan; in the weeks preceding the coronation Ducrow had saved her life after her horse bolted in Hyde Park according to a quite possibly apocryphal story.


HOW DUCROW SAVED THE QUEEN. A SCENE IN HYDE PARK. According to a story told in the "Live Stock Journal," Andrew Ducrow, the circus performer, and proprietor and once leasee of Astley's, is credited with having saved her Majesty’s life, or at any rate with having rendered her valuable assistance. All the horses in the Royal stable destined to carry ladies are regularly ridden and schooled by a lady rider, and are never supposed to be used unless they are quite tractable and have had plenty of exercise. About a couple of months before her coronation, that is to say about May, 1837, the Queen was riding in Hyde Park, and so it happened was Andrew Ducrow, who was very fond of going there. On this particular occasion, the story goes, he was mounted on a very fine horse which he had just purchased, and proposed to use for circus purposes, and he was just riding it to see what its temperament was, and in what department it was likely to shine. Ducrow was going along, when his ear —accustomed to the beat of a horse's hoofs—at ones recognised the sound of a horse galloping behind him, and looking round he saw that a lady's horse had bolted with her. To guide his own horse into the line of approach to leap from his saddle and to seize the bridle of the runaway was but the work of a moment, and then the equerries and grooms came up. Ducrow "gentled" the horse, which remained quite quiet, while the lady, who was none other than the Queen, was assisted to dismount, and was taken away in a carriage to Buckingham Palace, as Ducrow subsequently discovered. After the Queen had been driven off Ducrow was, for the first time, made acquainted with the fact that the lady whose horse he had stopped was none other than the Queen of England. Ducrow, who was quite a cockney, having been born in Southwark towards the close of the last century, though his father, Peter Ducrow, was a Belgian, was in no wise disturbed by the information, but simply said, "Lawks, if the Queen wants a perfect hack, why don't she let me find her in 'osses?" A little later he was much astonished and gratified at receiving a scarf-pin representing a courier, while within a few days there arrived an order for Mr. and Mrs. Ducrow to witness the Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. (Blackburn Standard - Saturday 09 April 1898)

After travelling and working in France and Belgium Ducrow returned to England to create the spectacular horse shows that led to him being dubbed the Colossus of Equestrians. At Astley’s he staged equestrian dramas like his famous version of ‘Mazeppa’ and novel routines like ‘the Courier of St Petersburg’ (“A rider straddled two cantering horses while other horses bearing the flags of the countries through which a courier would pass on his way to Russia passed between his legs.”)

Miss Woolford was almost as accomplished an equestrian as her husband 

Mr Ducrow's most celebrated and best acts of horsemanship were the "Moor defending his Standard," a "Tar’s Vicissitudes," the " Courier of St Petersburgh " the " Wild Indian," the "Peruvian," the "Tyrolean Shepherd and Swiss Milkmaid," which last character was performed on all occasions by Miss Woolford, who indeed, before she became Mrs Ducrow was for a long time the chief attraction of his theatre, and drew crowds by the accustomed gracefulness of her action, and the skilful management of her steed. The deceased has two children by her. Miss Woolford was very early a  debutante at Astley’s, and many theatrical people of about thirty years standing will remember her at the Amphitheatre under Astley s management as a little girl with a long crop, and of intelligent and pretty manners. She had two brothers also at the same time with her on the stage, who have since died in America; she hears an amiable and good character; her age is about twenty seven, and she had been married to Mr Ducrow about four years. (The Scotsman - Wednesday 09 February 1842)

Andrew working with the beguiling Miss Louisa Woolford before she became the second Mrs Andrew Ducrow
So successful was Ducrow that eventually he became co-proprietor of Astley’s; it was the responsibility of ownership that killed him. With a staff of 150 and weekly expenses of £500 when “on the 8th of June, 1841, the Amphitheatre was totally destroyed by a fire which broke out at five in the morning... Ducrow and his family narrowly escaped with their lives; a female servant perished in the ruins. The stud at this time consisted of some fifty horses, two zebras, and a few asses and mules; of these scarcely any were rescued. The total loss was estimated at thirty thousand pounds. Ducrow was ruined, or believed himself to be so. His mind gave way under the pressure of his misfortunes.” (Leinster Independent 1872).  According to the 1900 edition of the Dictionary of National Biography “Ducrow's mind gave way ...and he died at 19 York Road, Lambeth, on 27 Jan. 1842. His funeral, attended by vast crowds of people, took place on 5 Feb. in Kensal Green cemetery, where an Egyptian monument was erected to his memory. Notwithstanding his losses he left property valued at upwards of 60,000l.”



WILL OF ANDREW DUCROW. The testator appointed Mr. Oscar Byrne, Mr. Serle (boatbuilder), and Mr. Anderton (common-councilman), his executors, bequeathing to each £100. Amongst the legacies are, to Mr. D. W. Broadfoot, his brother-in-law, £300; to Mr. Joseph Hillier, £300; to Margaret and Louisa, his sisters, £200 each; to Master Chafe (commonly called Le Petit Ducrow), £200; there are a few other and smaller bequests. The residue of his property, consisting of £47,560, three-and-a-half percent’s, his household furniture, pictures, articles of vertu, and his stud and paraphernalia, to Mrs. Ducrow for life; after her death, to his son and daughter, Peter Andrew and Louisa. The will makes no provision for the possibility of posthumous issue; but as all is left in the power of Mrs Ducrow, the omission is immaterial. The sum of £800 is left for the decoration of the family tomb at Kensal Green; £200. in the three-and-a-half per cents, to remain, the interest being dedicated to the purpose of purchasing flowers to adorn his monument. It is a singular fact that Mr. Ducrow has not mentioned his mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, in his will, he has, in fact, relied upon the affection of his widow. The elder Mrs. Ducrow received a liberal annuity from her son, and that will continued. The stud are now at the Amphitheatre, Liverpool; it is understood that Messrs. Grisell and Peto will rebuild the theatre in the Westminster-road, and that Mr. Batty becomes the lessee; but the rumour that the stud of the deceased equestrian will be sold is wholly unfounded. On the contrary, it may confidently relied upon that the horses and company, under the direction of Messrs. Hillier and Broadfoot, will appear the metropolis on Easter Monday. Every groom has been given a suit of mourning; and Mrs. Ducrow has presented each executor with a splendid diamond ring. The melancholy anecdote connected with the parting between Ducrow and Le Petit Andrew: the boy bade him goodbye last October ere he started to join the company Liverpool. Mr. Ducrow gave the child a crown, kissed him, and said, Attend to your duty, be a good boy; you’II never see your papa again.” The prophecy was verified; the adopted son was summoned to town to attend the funeral. The number of individuals employed in the Amphitheatre, including actors, musicians, scene-painters, equestrians, grooms, helpers, &c., exceeded one hundred and fifty; the weekly expenses were seldom less than £600. How enormous, then, must have been the receipts that, in a few years, enabled the deceased to accumulate a property to the value of nearly £60,0001! The situation of Mrs. Ducrow renders it probable that her accouchement will take place in June. It understood to be her intention not to resume her professional exertions. The Amphitheatre has, therefore, lost, at one blow, its two brightest ornaments. A few days before his death, Mr. Ducrow's health appeared re-established; he determined to visit Liverpool to play for the performers’ benefit, and announced his intention of representing The Dumb Man of Manchester. He was persuaded to abandon this idea and appear in the Grand Russian Entree. The 7th instant was fixed for his debut; his dresses were packed, and everything prepared for the journey, but a few hours before the fatal blow came, the day which he had selected, he was a corpse and a tenant of the tomb.— Observer. (Dublin Morning Register - Tuesday 15 February 1842)

Reflections in the mausoleum's eye