Thirteen Tales of Murder and Death in the Victorian Era

The Victorian Era is often remembered for its morality with women’s buttoned-up collars and high boots that prevented even the slightest hint of skin beneath. However, there were also many tales of murder and death during that era that captured the public’s imagination. Here are thirteen stories for Halloween.

Murder and Death in the Victorian Era

One unusual death happened in May of 1875. A miser between 60 and 70 years of age named Samuel Whitehead was found dead and there seemed to be no real reason for it. He lived for many years in Birmingham in a tenement off Moor Street and had been a recluse ever since his mother died twelve years earlier when she burned to death under rather mysterious circumstances. When Whitehead was found, according to newspapers: Continue reading

The Imaginary Prisoner of the Bastille known as Comte de Lorges

Storming of the Bastille in July 1789. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The imaginary prisoner of the Bastille, known as the Comte de Lorges, was thought to be a real person for many years. Yet, he was no more real than the implements of torture said to be inside the Bastille after it was stormed in 1789. In fact, when a search was conducted for the Bastille’s torturous devices, a printing press was the only thing found, having been mistaken for an implement of torture.

The beginnings of the man who would come to be known as Comte de Lorges began to circulate almost immediately after the Bastille fell. For instance, an English doctor named Dr. Rigby wrote in his journal that “two wretched victims of the detestable tyranny of the old Government had just been discovered and taken from some of the most obscure dungeons of this horrid castle.”[1] One of the two wretched victims he described as a little old feeble man: Continue reading

Laura Bell Courtesan and Preacher

Laura Bell Courtesan and Preacher
Laura Bell by Wallace Ernest-Joseph-Angelon Girard (1813 – 1898) c. 1850. Courtesy of The Wallace Collection.

Laura Eliza Jane Seymour Bell was born in 1829 in Glenavy in Northern Ireland to Captain R. H. Bell, who managed Hertford’s Antrim estates, and to the illegitimate daughter of Lord Hertford. Laura who supposedly had an unsupervised childhood, eventually moved to Belfast. There she worked as a shop assistant but was alleged to have earned extra money by occasionally working as a prostitute, although she denied it. She next moved to Dublin and was frequently spotted riding around in her own carriage in the tree-lined avenues of Phoenix Park. It was also while she lived in Dublin that she reportedly had a relationship with Dr. William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde.

In 1849, she moved to London where she became a well-known courtesan referred to as The Queen of London Whoredom because of her wealthy clientele of noblemen and dukes. Part of her success as a courtesan was that she was strikingly beautiful, so much so that on “one occasion at the opera the entire house rose simultaneously to look at her as she was leaving.”[1] In addition, as she had done in Dublin, she was often seen riding in her carriage, but this time it was in Hyde Park in a gilt one drawn by two magnificent white horses. Continue reading

The Famous French Actor François Joseph Talma

Talma. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In 1904, a marble statue was erected in Poix-du-Nord by the sculptor Fagel to one of the greatest actors of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The actor’s name was François Joseph Talma. Another statue had been sculpted by Pierre Jean David and erected to Talma in 1837 in the vestibule of the Theatre Français opposite the great Enlightenment writer Voltaire.

Talma was born on 15 January 1763 in Paris. His father was a dentist, and, for a time, Talma practiced dentistry, but the stage was too big of a draw for him. It might have begun when he was young, as he had his first theatrical performance when he was eight years old. He played a part in the story of Tamerlane and was to close the play by announcing to Tamerlane the death of his son. Continue reading

Napoleon’s 13-year-old Friend Betsy Balcombe on St. Helena

Napoleon looking out to sea on St. Helena. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Napoleon’s voyage into exile ended on 15 October 1815 at half past ten when the Northumberland anchored at St. Helena. That night he slept aboard the ship and on the morning of the 17th, he traveled to Longwood House, the residence of the lieutenant-governor that was designated as Napoleon’s future residence. He seemed satisfied with Longwood but because it needed to be repaired, refurbished, and enlarged, he needed to stay somewhere else temporarily.

It was decided he would stay at the Briar’s homestead with William Balcombe, an English merchant and superintendent of Public Sales for the East India Company. William was married to Jane Cranston and they had two daughters and two sons: Jane (1779), Lucia Elizabeth “Betsy”(1803), Thomas Tyrwhitte (1810), and Alexander Beatson (1811). Jane and Betsy had been educated in England and taught the French language. Continue reading

Van Hare the Ultimate Showman of the 1800s

G. Van Hare. Public domain.

G. Van Hare was the ultimate showman of the 1800s and traveled to nearly every European country during his fifty-year career. In his travels he experienced an endless string of odd adventures and unusual experiences that included interesting incidences with not only people but also dogs, lions, and a gorilla.

One interesting story about Van Hare is after he purchased a nearly 1-year-old Newfoundland pup in 1857 It became known as Napoleon the Wizard Dog and eventually ended up in his show. Napoleon was said to be as smart as he was handsome, and the Illustrated Sporting Times and Theatrical and Music-Hall Review wrote an article about him on 20 September 1862 stating: Continue reading

The Early Days of Frenchman Emmanuel Barthelemy and the Last Fatal Duel in England

Friend of Emmanuel Barthelemy
Louis Auguste Blanqui. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Emmanuel Barthélemy was born in 1823 and came from Sceaux Hauts-de-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris. He had a magnetic personality and revolution in his blood practically from birth. He became a member of a society that existed during the reign of Louis Phillipe I known as the Blanquist, which was based on a theory by Louis Auguste Blanqui that socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organized and secretive conspirators.

While involved with Blanqui, the hot-tempered teenager was arrested in 1839 for his involvement in a coup led by Blanqui and Armand Barbès with the Société des saisons (Society of Seasons). Barthélemy shot sergent de ville (a new national guard) in an attempt to kill him but didn’t succeed. He was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to forced labor as a galley convict. Some eight years later, in 1847, he was released from prison during a general amnesty. Continue reading

The Sex of Chevalier d’Eon

Chevalier d'Eon
Chevalier d’Eon dressed as a woman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The sex of Chevalier d’Eon (or if you want his actual name Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont) was of great interest to people in the eighteenth century. D’Eon claimed that he was born female but had been raised as a boy so that his father could inherit from his in-laws. When he was older, he joined the dragoons and habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, even though rumors constantly circulated that he was a woman. There were also rumors that he had assumed the role of a woman while operating as a spy in Russia.

“Some faint rumours had spread at various preceding periods, that M. D’Eon was a woman, and, in addition to certain feminine appearances in his voice and person, still stronger surmise was indulged, especially at Petersburg, on account of the total indifference, and even aversion as to all affairs of gallantry constantly exhibited by D’Eon towards the females of that voluptuous court, where amorous intrigue is well known to have mixed itself on most occasion with political events.”[1] Continue reading

The Tragic 1897 Charity Bazaar Fire or the Bazar de la Charité in Paris

Front elevation of the Bazaar and layout inside. Courtesy of

An annual charity event known as the Bazar de la Charité was organized by the French Catholic aristocracy in Paris from 1885 onward. However, the best known or infamous of these charitable events was the tragic charity bazaar fire that occurred in May of 1897. It had been organized by Henry Blount, the son of Sir Edward Blount and opened on Monday, 3 May 1897. It was scheduled to last four days and was held in the 8th arrondissement at Rue Jean-Goujon 17 that lead from the Avenue d’Antin to the Place de l’Alma in the Champs Elysées quarter. Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin’s Popularity with French Women

Benjamin Franklin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Benjamin Franklin’s popularity with French women happened long before he was appointed Ambassador of France. When he landed on French soil in December of 1776, having set sail on 26 October as agent of a diplomatic commission, women (and probably men too) wanted to catch a glimpse of the experimenter with lightning and the defender of the American cause. When they did, they were not disappointed.

Women in particular thought the 71-year-old Franklin was electrifying as they had never met anyone quite like him. He had a rustic appeal when he appeared wearing his marten fur cap, the same one that he had worn to protect himself as he crossed the freezing waters of the Atlantic. In the fashion capital of the world, Franklin stood out. He stood out even more so, when he appeared in his cap at the court of Versailles that was known for its strict court protocol. Continue reading