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The Liverpool Lodger (1849)

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Evil lodger slaughters family and robs them. Victims include pregnant mother and two very young boys.

The Broadside
The Devon printer of this ballad headlined it with the sober title An Account of the Murder of Mrs Henrichson in Liverpool, but I've given it a slightly snappier alternative. The killer's portrait - reproduced here - is captioned "Correct LIKENESS of the MURDERER", and matches the written description of his features in the Liverpool Journal.

The Ballad
Of all the crimes that guilty man,
Hath wrought since murd'rous Cain,
No monster hath nor ever can,
Create more lasting pain,
Than him at Liverpool of late,
Who a whole family slayed,
A mother and two children's fate,
Besides the servant maid.

A Captain Henrichson, abroad,
Bound from Calcuta home,
Some months ago left his abode,
To plough the ocean's foam,
In order to maintain his wife,
And two young childen dear,
Who tender loved them as his life,
For them did persevere.

And she, as frugal as her sire,
Took lodgers now and then,
The last, a fiend of darkness dire,
Turned out the worst of men,
Of good appearance first he took,
A bedroom and a parlour,
Nor did they take him by his look,
A villian or a brawler.

One day he struck the boy a blow,
The servant's head bewilderin',
She said her mistress won't allow,
Such men to beat her children,
With that the ruffian was enraged,
With poker smashed her pate,
He struck her while she was engaged,
In cleaning out the grate.

He next attacked the eldest child,
Which likewise lifeless lay,
Then killed the little infant mild,
That backward ran away,
He cut its throat from ear to ear,
The others seeming dead,
When Mrs Henrichson appeared,
The poker beat her head.

The police were called: a horrid deed,
These mangled victims showed,
Three of them were not wholly dead,
Although much blood had flowed,
The killer at a clothier's shop,
Was into capture given,
And will perhaps be on the drop,
While they inhabit Heaven.

They took him to the hospital,
Where those poor sufferers lay,
Ann Parr the servant knew him well,
Swore what she had to say,
Her agonising mistress gave,
Birth to a little boy,
And soon was fitted for the grave,
With Ann he did destroy.

Now he's committed to his cell,
Till summer's next assizes,
And Kirkdale Jail is where he'll dwell,
To wait till law chastises,
And so the funeral moves along,
The mother and two boys,
And mourners fifty thousand strong,
Lament departed joys.

Remember all that stand above,
Their awful early tomb,
You soon as well might victim prove,
Be called to your last home,
When you will have to stand before,
The Judge of Earth and Heaven,
Take care to make election sure,
And have your sins forgiven.

The Facts
Maurice Gleeson was born in 1823 to a Blacksmith's family in Brurie, near Limerick - a family which, according to the Liverpool Journal, was "noted for their idleness and vicious propensities". In 1847, then just 24 years old, he fled Ireland after being charged with robbery there and came to England. He lived for a while in Plymouth, Bristol and London's Limehouse, then moved to Birkenhead towards the end of 1848.

By January 1849, he was beating his new wife and had even threatened to murder her

Now calling himself John Gleeson Wilson, he took lodging with a young widow in Sparling Street and soon persuaded her to marry him. He claimed to be an engineer fitter on Liverpool's steam packets, but never actually worked. By January 1849, he'd begun to beat his new wife and even threatened to murder her. She told her father about this, who insisted a month or so later that she move back in with her parents. He told Gleeson that, if he ever saw him again, he'd have him arrested.
Meanwhile, across the Mersey in Liverpool, a sea captain called Henrichson was preparing to leave for the six-month voyage to Calcutta. He'd be away for a year in all, and that meant leaving his pregnant wife Ann and his two young sons, Henry and John, alone in their Leveson Street home. The household was completed by Mary Parr, the family's live-in maidservant, who was then in her late twenties.
Captain Henrichson left England on board the Duncan in the Summer of 1848, arriving in Calcutta the following February. With another six months to wait before her husband would be home, Ann decided to take in a lodger to boost the family's finances. She placed a card in the house's front window, and this soon produced a response.
On March 27, 1849, a polite, respectable-looking young man knocked at Ann's door and asked if the lodging was still available. He said he was a carpenter at the docks, earning 2 10 shillings a week, and that his luggage would be following him in a couple of days. Impressed by his manners, Ann agreed to let him the house's back parlour and top front bedroom. His name, the new lodger said, was John Gleeson Wilson.
Next morning, Gleeson arose early and stopped a lad in the street to ask if he wanted to earn three-halfpence. His name was Edward McDermott. Gleeson gave him a letter, pointed out the Henrichsons' house, and told McDermott to let him get back inside, wait five minutes, and then knock at the door announcing he had a letter for Mr Wilson from his - Wilson's - employer. McDermott did as he was told, Mary called Gleeson with news a letter had arrived, and he read it gravely. After paying McDermott the balance of his fee, Gleeson announced the letter contained news he would not be needed at the docks that day, and that he therefore planned to stay in the house.

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.
   You can reach me with any questions here