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James Dearman 1801-1834  

Marriage again and a near miss

Enfield 1829

I just found the romantic picture by Toulouse Lautrec on the left, whilst searching for a painting of a peasant couple.  It is highly likely that it bears absolutely no similarity to anything that ever happened in James’ life, but I did like it so and it would be nice to think that he was happy, however, momentarily.  And maybe he did fall in love again - this time with Catherine Eves, an Irish girl, whom he married on March 1st 1829 in St. Andrew’s in Enfield.  Did he really love her, or was it just that he desperately needed someone to look after his children and she presented herself as a suitable candidate? 

Well we don’t know of course, and we never will, what this marriage was all about.  The only thing to be said really is that there appear to be no children until after James has left England, and she does not seem to have applied to go with him.   James was tried in December of 1830 and in the following May his last son, Robert was born.  Catherine has him christened in St. Andrew’s and does indeed give James’ name as the father - as I’m sure he was.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

1829 did not begin well for the Dearman clan.  Joseph was on a hulk off Portsmouth, waiting to be transported to Australia.  Then on January 27th on a snowy night,  John, with a friend and his girlfriend stole some pickled pork from a neighbour’s house.  This resulted in his capture and languishing in prison awaiting trial.


In February James steals a tub of butter (well he got off but I think he did) but he is not captured until the 9th of March - eight days after his wedding.  Not a good start to a marriage you would think.  And to make matters worse, whilst awaiting trial, his baby brother John, was sentenced to death at the same court session at which he was to appear.

James’ trial took place on the third day of the 9th April court sessions at the Old Bailey, John’s was on the first day in a different court before a different judge.   But what must James have been thinking?  The crime he was charged with was for stealing  a rather large tub of butter (100 lbs of it), and a cask, a crime which was committed in February - before his marriage.  I think we are looking at something like the tub in the picture above.  This time, however, he was lucky and got away with it. 

There are a couple of interesting things about the trial though.  Here is the transcript:


“JAMES DEARMAN was indicted for stealing, on the 7th of February, 100 lbs. weight of butter, value 4l., and 1 cask, value 8d. , the goods of Isaac Benton .

ISAAC BENTON . I am a waggoner . On the 7th of February, I had a tub of butter, which I had taken in at Ely - I lost it between Hoddesdon and London; I missed it when I got to the Catherine Wheel inn, Bishopsgate Street, Wilson shewed me this head of the cask at Ponder's-end - it could not have fallen out.

JOHN WILSON . On the 9th of March I had a warrant to search the prisoner's house at Enfield-highway. I found a tub of butter buried in the garden, with this head on it - I asked him where he got it; he said it was immaterial to me; there was about 20 lbs. of butter in it - no one lives in the cottage but him and his wife.

Cross-examined by MR. PHILLIPS. Q. What are you? A. A constable of Enfield; this was full five weeks after the tub had been lost.

EDWARD SANDERS . I was with Wilson, and found the butter, on the 9th of March; Enfield-highway is in the road from Hoddesdon to London.


As far as the crime itself is concerned it looks like Isaac Benton lost the tub on the road.  I suppose it is possible that James removed it from the waggon - how one wonders?  100lbs is pretty heavy and why did the driver not notice?  It is also possible that the tub fell off, and James found it and took it away - finder’s keeper’s (although Isaac Benton does claim that the cask could not have fallen out).  Again, it is pretty heavy, so you would think that James would have had to have had help and also again, wouldn’t Benton have noticed?  The transcript is frustratingly unclear really as they often are.  For why did suspicion fall on James (who obviously had the butter) a full five weeks after the disappearance?  Was he a known felon?  Is this why John Wilson, who must be some kind of policeman, had a warrant to search James’ property?  Whatever happened, the judge obviously thought that it was all pretty circumstantial and let James off.  I suspect he was actually guilty, so was really lucky.

And what of the brothers - Joseph languishing on a hulk in Portsmouth harbour and John under sentence of death (commuted to transportation for life after a petition was got up)  It would seem the Dearmans went into a frenzy of criminality all around the same time.  Why?  Were they trying to outdo each other in the stupid way that some young men do?  Whatever the reason, in John’s case it resulted in a death sentence!   So 1829 did not end well for the Dearman clan either. 

Some other things to note:  The crime was committed in February before James’ new marriage, and the search was carried out just eight days after his marriage to Catherine.  They appeared to be at home alone:  “No one lives in the cottage but him and his wife.”  So where were his two small boys?  John Newman was now five and James was three.  Were James and Catherine on some sort of honeymoon?  Were the children just temporarily with grandparents?  Or did children not count as people and therefore were not mentioned?  Or even worse, were they already in the Workhouse?  A narrow escape for James anyway.

It’s all a little unbelievable really that they should all have done such stupid things all at the same time.  Joseph and John do not seem to have been employed and were living in lodgings, but James seems to have had a longstanding job and a house.  Why would you want to throw that away?


The Old Bailey Online - A wonderful resource.  Your ancestor does not have to be a criminal for you to find him or her here.  As well as the trials themselves there is a wealth of background material.  One of my alltime favourite sites.

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