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Jealous Annie: continued

Murder Ballads
Secret London

You can almost hear Meyers fighting back the tears as the letter proceeds. She begs Ducker to meet her one last time so they can part on friendly terms and asks him to return a few modest possessions, but cannot bring herself to name frankly what Ducker's offence had been. He's clearly been leeching her for money, but it went further than that.
"It appeared that she had been seduced by Ducker, who was a very dissipated man and who had several mistresses, from whom he extorted large sums which he spent in debauchery," says The Annual Register. "The woman Meyers, who appears to have been otherwise respectable, refused to supply him with money, which he urged her to procure by infamous means, and he thereupon deserted her."
Put plainly, then, Ducker had discovered that Meyers had no more money to give him and suggested that she whore herself out to earn some more - just as the unnamed young woman seems to have done. When she refused, he wanted no more to do with her, and that's when the heartbroken Meyers decided she must have revenge.

One witness said even the judge could no longer restrain his feelings, and burst into tears

The contemporary reports of this range all the way from the most delicate euphemisms - The Times spoke only of "an odious suggestion" - to a bald statement of what Ducker had in mind. Ducker proposed that she "prostitute her person in order to raise money for him," writes one spectator at the trial. "He wanted means to sustain his debaucheries, and was willing to procure them by the poor girl's prostitution," adds the Victorian campaigner Thomas Beggs. Meyers' own defence lawyer said Ducker wanted her to "pawn her clothes and go upon the streets for him".
Meyers' trial began at The Old Bailey on February 28, 1848, with Mr Justice Coltman presiding. The most significant new witnesses were James Beattie, a Regent Street gunsmith, and a friend of Meyers called Anne Legge. Both had seen Meyers on the evening before the murder. She'd called at Beattie's shop a little before 8:00pm, and happened to meet Legge in Birdcage Walk an hour later.
"She said she wanted to purchase a pistol to shoot a Newfoundland dog that had bitten several of her friends," Beattie testified. "I said I had an old one in the back shop that I thought would do for her. She asked the price of it, and I replied ten shillings.
"She asked me to load it for her, and I did so." Beattie continued. "I loaded it with powder and a leaden bullet, putting in wadding both before and after the ball. I then put it in brown paper and tied up the lock so as to prevent accident, after which I placed it in a bag, and told her to be very careful with it. She paid the ten shillings, and then went away."
He confirmed that both the pistol and the pistol bag produced in court were the ones he'd sold Meyers, adding that she'd seemed quite calm throughout the whole transaction.
Meyers went from Regent Street to a house in Northumberland Walk, where Legge worked but today had an afternoon off. Finding Legge was out, she walked on towards her own home in Hyde Park Gardens, and ran into her friend as she passed along Birdcage Walk.
"She said 'Henry and me has parted'," Legge testified. "I knew who she meant, it was Ducker. She appeared to be very angry with him. She then drew a pistol from under her cloak, and said 'I have bought that for Henry'. I thought she had bought it as a present, and I asked her if he would not have it. She said 'No, he will not have it now: but he shall have it.'
"I then asked her if she was aware of the consequences. She said yes, she should suffer for it, and it would be a warning to others. [...] She said that he'd had £2 from her since Christmas [about £175 today], and that she had only nine shillings left out of her last quarter's wages. She then said she should call on me again on Sunday - she should do it then. I told her that her heart would fail her before then. She said 'No, it will not. I have bought it for him, and he shall have it'."
In the event, Meyers decided she couldn't wait until Sunday. Next morning - the Friday itself - she wrote a letter to Mrs Curtis, her employer, explaining that she must carry out a chore later that day. "Dear Madam," she wrote. "I am sorry to leave you this afternoon, but I can assure you it is all love that makes me do it. Revenge is sweet when you can have it, and you will know this evening what becomes of me. [...] I can assure you that my love is too great not to have my revenge. It will be a warning for other young men not to deceive a girl as this one has deceived me."
Later that day, Meyers took up her position outside Wellington Barracks, and we know what happened next. By 5:00pm, she'd completed her task, and Henry Ducker was dead.
The trial that followed must have been mortifying for Meyers. She knew all to well what a fool she'd made of herself - even sending Ducker postage stamps for the replies he refused to send her - and now all this was being publicly described in the pitiless forum of a packed courtroom. "The prisoner looked very pale and was evidently suffering severe mental distress," The Times reports. "She was seated in the dock during the trial, kept her handkerchief to her face nearly the whole time, and appeared to be crying."
Meyers' defence counsel was a man named Clarkson. Faced with so much evidence of his client's guilt, and all the letters showing premeditated revenge as her motive, he concentrated on establishing that Ducker had been a thoroughly bad lot, and hoped the jury would take mercy on Meyers for that reason. He raised suggestions that Ducker had been a poor soldier, in and out of military prison all the time, frequently drunk, and riddled with venereal disease. He also hinted that he may have passed this disease to the innocent Meyers, made false promises that he intended to marry her, or left her deserted with his baby already on the way.
Of all these charges, the only one Clarkson could make stick involved an episode where Ducker had stayed away from camp for twice his allotted 14-days' leave, and was sent to the cells as a result.
The jury needed only what Paul's sheet calls "a short absence" to find Meyers guilty of murder, but that does not mean Clarkson's efforts were wasted. They delivered this verdict with a strong recommendation that she be treated with mercy "on account of the extraordinary provocation and ill-treatment that she had been the subject of".
A member of the jury later said they'd felt Meyer's purpose had not been truly fixed until the moment she pulled the trigger, but known also that the weight of evidence against her made a guilty verdict inevitable. Accordingly, they'd spent most of their discussion time making the plea for mercy as forceful as they could, describing Ducker's actions as ones of "deliberate cruelty and determined baseness".
Preparing to deliver his sentence, Judge Coltman said Meyers and Ducker had been carrying on "a licentious intercourse", and that her crime was motivated by "jealousy or revenge". This was no killing carried out in the height of passion, he added, but one she'd considered with a cool head. The jury had recommended mercy, but if crimes like these were not suppressed, society would not be safe. He reached for the black cap, and pronounced a death sentence.
Perhaps wondering if Meyers might be pregnant after all, Coltman asked if she had anything to say that would urge a stay of execution. "She replied in a faint voice that she had not," The Times reports. "The wretched woman, who appeared to be almost in a state of insensibility, was then led from the bar."
One witness at the trial later wrote a letter to The Times describing what he'd seen. "I never before witnessed so universal a sympathy evinced for a criminal," he wrote. "The tears, and audible sobs of many, in a court crowded to excess, showed the extent of the commiseration felt for the young woman who had been so cruelly betrayed." Even the judge, he added "could no longer restrain his feelings, and burst into tears."
This feeling was not confined to the courtroom. The Times ran an editorial calling for Meyers' death sentence to be commuted, and this produced a string of readers' letters backing the paper. On March 8, five days after the verdict, a public meeting was held at The London Tavern in Bishopsgate to campaign against capital punishment, with saving Annette Meyers' life as its first priority.
A Reverend Mortimer told this meeting that he'd met with Mrs Curtis, Meyers' employer, that morning. "She considers her a girl of most irreproachable character, very superior to the station which she occupied in life," he said. "She has prepared a petition, to be signed by her friends and herself, and to be presented to the Queen on behalf of the unhappy criminal."
Reverend Binnie added that he'd just spent an hour with Meyers herself. "All animosity, hatred and evil passion has disappeared from her mind," he said. "The generous devotion of the woman's love has returned, and all malice and revenge has died within her." Asked about her childhood, Binnie added, Meyers told him she'd been "a kind of foster child out in the country near Brussels", who had never known her own parents. Another speaker claimed Meyers was the illegitimate daughter of a Belgian nobleman, who had refused to accept any responsibility for the child.
The meeting agreed to submit a petition to Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, urging him to advise Queen Victoria that she should exercise the Royal Prerogative of mercy in this case. It must have worked because, on May 18, 1848, Meyers was removed from Newgate to Tothill Fields Prison to begin a two-year sentence there prior to transportation. A story in The Leeds Mercury of May 25, 1850, reports that her UK sentence had been completed and that she would be "amongst the next batch of convicts sent to Van Diemen's Land".

It suited reporters and balladeers to portray Meyers as a very beautiful young woman, but there's mixed evidence whether that was really true. Describing her appearance in the magistrates' court, The Times says: "The prisoner is of very short stature, small features and not so good-looking as represented. She was dressed more as a mistress than a servant, having a neat blue velvet bonnet, a puce Orleans dress, sable boa etc."
Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the essayist Thomas Carlyle, visited Meyers after her imprisonment at Tothill Fields. Writing to her cousin, Jeannie Welsh, in February 1849, Jane says: "I saw and received a courtesy from Annette Meyers, the sauciest-looking commonplace little creature that ever played the part of a heroic criminal". She mentions this as the final sentence of a letter she's rushing to get in the post, promising Jeannie she'll flesh out the story next time. Infuriatingly, she never does.

To hear Pete Morton sing his own setting of Jealous Annie, visit the Soundcloud music hosting page here.

For news of Annette Meyers' life after her transportation to Tasmania, please visit PlanetSlade's October 2013 letter page here.

Sources and Footnotes
* Trial and Sentence of Annette Mayers (sic) for the Murder of Henry Ducker, in St James's Park (Paul, 1848).
* The Proceedings of the Old Bailey (
* The Times, February 7, 1848.
* The Times, March 4, 1848.
* The Times, March 7, 1848.
* The Times, March 8, 1848.
* The Times, March 9, 1848.
* The Times, May 9, 1848.
* The Annual Register 1848, edited by Edmund Burke (F&J Rivington, 1849).
* An Inquiry into the Extent and Causes of Juvenile Depravity, by Thomas Beggs (Charles Gilpin, 1949).
* Letter from Jane Welsh Carlyle to Jeannie Welsh, February 5, 1849. (The Carlyle Letters Online,
* The Leeds Mercury, May 25, 1850.

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Songs menu: A feast of facts and all the lyrics

The menu below lists a few of my favourite ballads from the British Library's collection and elsewhere. Click on any title to find the full lyrics and my account of the case that inspired them. And, if you haven't already read it, do take a look at my background essay describing the London industry which produced these songs.

Part One (April 2010)

Mary Arnold, The Female Monster

The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs

Mrs Dyer, The Old Baby-Farmer

The Gallows Child

Part Two (June 2010)

The Life and Trial of Palmer

The Silent Grove

The Liverpool Lodger

The Unnatural Murder

Part Three (Oct 2010)

Murder at Westmill

Streams of Crimson Blood

The Murdered Maid

Cruel Lizzie Vickers

Part Four (Feb 2011)

Jones and Harwood

The Sister and the Serpent

Jealous Annie

The Foreigner's Downfall

Bonus songs

The Tyburn Jig

Corkery's Farewell

The Gallows Ballads Project: Musicians wanted
If you'd like to help PlanetSlade bring these gallows ballads back to life as fully-performed songs, why not set one of the 16 ballads' public domain lyrics to your own music and record yourself singing and playing it?
   Any music you write would remain your own property, of course, as would the recording itself, and I'll make sure that all writers and performers are fully credited.
   There's no money in this for anyone - least of all me - but I think it's a worthwhile project nonetheless. There are several ways to get your song heard:

1) Send a digital recording to me, and I'll post it online with the other free downloads listed in PlanetSlade Music, together with a link from your chosen song's page here.

2) Post the recording online at your own site or the hosting service of your choice. Let me know where it can be found, and I'll add a link telling people where to go. Please remember that some hosting sites allow access to members only.

3) Film yourself performing the song, and post the video to YouTube. Once again, I'd be delighted to add a link here telling people where to find it.

4) Write your own song from scratch, based on the true story that inspired one of the ballads, then follow whichever of the above options suits you.

   Check PlanetSlade Music for a taste of what I have in mind. I spent all of 2012 recruiting contributors for this little project, and I've now accumulated at least one new recording of each of the 16 original ballads I selected. You can find links to all this audio on the PlanetSlade page above, or hear the whole "album" in the Soundcloud set here.
   The styles people have chosen range all the way from unaccompanied traditional folk singing via acoustic guitar ballads to full-on rock workouts with a whole band.
   Contributors so far include Sean Breadin of Rapunzel & Sedayne, The Jetsonics, Pete Morton, Fred Smith, Tim Radford, Big Al Whittle and South County.
   Three continents are represented in all, and at least one of the songs has already made it into the contributing band's live set. None of the tracks have achieved a commercial release yet, but I dare say a couple will make that leap eventually.
   We've already got multiple versions of several songs up there, including Nathaniel Mobbs and The Murdered Maid, so please don't feel you're too late to make your own contribution.
   I'm all for people adding second, third or even fourth interpretations of a single song, using as many different musical genres as we can muster. Many, many thanks to all those who've already taken part.
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