19 April 1779 – the Reverend James Hackman

If you think a man of the cloth with an unhealthy imagination and lovesick delusions sounds like a recipe for murder, you’d be right. Cue the Reverend James Hackman, who was hanged on this day in 1779 for killing a woman he was besotted with.

Sandwich filling

Hackman was completely taken with a woman who was virtually double his age and he convinced himself she’d loved him back. But let’s face facts, Martha Reay was Lord Sandwich’s bit on the side and Sandwich was her bread and butter – she was a kept woman. Besides, she had a great thing going with him by all accounts – all the fun stuff with none of the ties of marriage. She never wanted for anything and got to go out on the town with him, go to the theatre and have copious amounts of sex too, if the nine children were anything to go by.

So, why would she dump her rich lover for the likes of Hackman – a poor clergyman in comparison?

Ok so Hackman was by no means bad. He was doing alright, moneywise and his parents had bought him a commission in the army which ironically saw him posted near Lord Sandwich’s stately pile and that’s how he was thrown in the path of Reay. It would appear that he fell in love at first sight.

It was never a likely coupling and yet Hackman had convinced himself that his love was reciprocated. And maybe it was. Sandwich was getting on a bit – as a result Hackman could have been her toy boy. But this remains unconfirmed. So, as his love grew the more he obsessed until it consumed him with jealousy.

Then there came a career change and he sacked off soldiery and moved into the clergy. So you can imagine his was a modest living, nothing like what Martha Reay was currently enjoying.

And she was definitely enjoying herself. Indeed it was en route to the theatre in Covent Garden that Hackman espied her with Sandwich. Gripped by impassioned jealousy, Hackman then ran home and got two pistols so he could lie in wait. Sure enough the play ended and the two lovers exited. He stepped forward as if to help her into the awaiting carriage and instead deposited the bullets into the back of the object of his affection.

Butt head

He then turned the guns on himself, but they failed him so he started beating his own head with the butt of the gun. Hackman was a bloody mess, but he was hauled into custody nonetheless.

When a number of witnesses came forward Hackman didn’t stand a chance and unsurprisingly at his trial, he gave a full and frank confession on the stand: ‘I stand here on this day the most wretched of human beings, and confess myself criminal in a high degree’. With that overwhelming display of guilt, the jury had but one thing to do – sentence him to death, which they duly did.

He was hanged at Tyburn aged roughly 30. As was the order of the day, his lifeless body was then handed over for dissection.

Get this for a bit of trivia. One source hypothesises that George Bernard Shaw based his story Pygmalion (which went on to be made into the musical ‘My Fair Lady’) on a 1920s novel about Martha Reay. But we’re not sure how that can happen as Pygmalion was written earlier, which casts a huge doubt on the supposition.

Also on this day

19 April 2000 – Robert Glen Coe
19 April 1650 – Anthony Mitchell and John Wilkinson
19 April 1996 – John Martin Scripps

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