Greenwich Hoax and a Love Gone Wrong

The Greenwich hoax involved Abraham Joseph Thornton, son of a respectable tradesman, who was charged with fraud all because of a love gone wrong. The story begins with another young man named Joseph Dale. He received an anonymous but elegantly written letter in a female hand signed with the initials E.B. Dale mentioned the letter to Thornton because they were friends and remarked that E.B. had confessed her ardent attachment towards him. She had also asked him to reply. As chance would have it, Thornton told Dale that he knew E.B. stating:

“I know the family well; I am going to tea with them; I’ll manage it, my boy.”[1]

Greenwich hoax

Greater London. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thornton then became the go-between for the two lovers. More letters of devotion were soon passed from E.B. to Thornton, who gave them to Dale. But the letters from E.B. always expressed the utter impracticality and impossibility of E.B. meeting Dale. Thornton did, however, repeatedly take Dale to Dartmouth Terrace and Lewisham Hill where E.B. lived and there he pointed out E.B.’s house and instructed Dale to “walk backwards and forwards, whilst he went in, in order that she might behold his person.”[2]

As the relationship grew, Dale became more enamored and smitten until eventually he sought an interview with E.B. who was by this point was known to him as Emma Elizabeth (Eliza) Baines. Unfortunately, according to Thornton, Eliza’s parents were vigilant and so no interview was forthcoming. Months passed during which time Dale sent Eliza some 100 letters, and, in return for Thornton’s kindness, Dale felt obliged to feed and cloth him. However, in early 1829, the same year that François Gérard produced a crayon noir of Madame Récamier, Dale began to lose interest in Eliza because the situation was so impossible. He then told Thornton he was tired of “making love by deputy to a girl whom he had never seen.”[3]

Greenwich hoax - Madame Recamier

Crayon noir by François Gérard of Madame Récamier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps that was why Eliza suddenly requested Dale’s portrait, and in good faith she gave him hers. It was “elegantly executed and in a morocco frame,”[4] and, of course, having this miniature of her renewed Dale’s zeal and affection for her. Around this time, Dale also learned some shocking news. Apparently, because he had been neglectful of Eliza and allowed his affections to wane, she had become so distraught she had swallowed laudanum and nearly died.

To prove this was so, Thornton showed Dale, Emma’s last will and testament. In it she left 4,000l. to Dale and 400l. to Dale’s brother, James. It was written on black-bordered paper and sealed with a black seal. There was also a directive given to Thornton, that upon the death of Eliza’s Aunt Mary, the remainder of Eliza’s property would be given to Thornton. Dale was now “fully impressed,” as was all his family, and he renewed his correspondence with Eliza with renewed vigor.

Every day Dale also looked at Eliza’s “charming countenance.” And everyday, Dale became more attached. Dale was also now solicitous in his wish that Eliza recover from her suicide attempt. To help improve her spirits Thornton recommended that Dale get his portrait done, which he did, paying five guineas for it. When Thornton delivered it to Eliza, she sent a note to Dale, calling him “My dear and beloved Boy.”[5] She also stated, “you cannot imagine what my emotions were on beholding your much loved miniature. Ten thousand kisses were imprinted on it before I retired for the night.”[6]

Dale’s correspondence continued with Eliza, but as no meeting could be arranged, Dale finally decided to end the relationship. Fortunately, Eliza reconsidered and a meeting was planned at Astley Theater. On the appointed night Thornton and Dale went to the theater’s pit, and Thornton pointed out Eliza. She was sitting in the dress circle some distance away. Dale tried to get her attention, and when she looked at him, he claimed there was no recognition and that Eliza seemed offended at him for looking at her. Thornton explained that Eliza behaved that way because she was with her family.

This satisfied Dale for time, and he sent a few more letters. But then Dale’s friends began telling him he should end the relationship if he could not meet Eliza. She then sent a sort of marriage settlement writing, “I was left in the possession of 4,000l. and … it is my intention and wish to transfer [it] to Mr. Joseph Dale, of Greenwich.”[7] There was also a second letter to a barrister named Mr. Hilton that introduced Dale and instructed Dale to visit the area of Temple in London. However, when Dale went there, he found no one named Hilton and returned to Greenwich disappointed.

Upon Dale’s return, he told Thornton that he would do no more unless he personally met Eliza. Thornton argued saying, “it would spoil all, as it was against her wish.”[8] Thornton told Dale, that Eliza wanted him to accept a “gold watch and seals, a check for 50l., and another miniature of herself, set in brilliants.”[9] Dale was supposed to receive the gifts the following Sunday, and although Dale was resolved about ending the relationship unless he could meet her, he agreed to wait until Sunday.

On Sunday, Thornton and Dale met. Thornton claimed he had Eliza’s gifts and a new letter. The two men went to dinner at a public-house and after dining, Thornton handed the letter to Dale and then suddenly “jumped out the parlour window and ran away.”[10] Dale pursued him, caught him, and demanded Eliza’s gifts. Thornton said he could not give them to him. Dale then grabbed Thornton by the collar and said he would thrash him if he did not.

At that point, Thornton fell to his knees and produced “a pin-cushion, an old snuff-box, and two metal seals.”[11] Dale was so indignant, he knocked Thornton down and demanded the gifts. Thornton cried:

“Don’t hurt me, and I ‘ll confess it is all a hoax; there is no such lady; I cannot tell how I came to do it, or carry it on, but it is all a hoax from beginning to end.”[12]

Dale was so astonished, he claimed he thought it was all a terrible dream and immediately sent for a constable. Thornton was arrested on the spot. In court having been charged with the Greenwich hoax, Thornton said how sorry he was for his behavior. He also stated:

“I cannot tell myself how I could have done it; it is very wrong … I will return the miniature, and make a pubic apology to Dale and his family, whose feelings I have so much hurt.”[13]

Thornton then returned the miniature, but he was also severely reprimanded by the magistrate for his actions, after which Thornton again expressed his willingness to offer a public apology and then the magistrate discharged him. But that was not the end of the humiliation that Dale would suffer for the Greenwich hoax.

Instead of apologizing to Dale, Thornton supposedly “presented himself in the [Greenwich] streets, as if well pleased with the maneuver by which he had humbugged a young townsman.”[14] This did not sit well with some of the young men of Greenwich. They became so incensed at Thornton’s Greenwich hoax, they decided to get even with him, and when Thornton went out for one of his usual evening walks, they punished him by tossing him violently in a blanket.

The story of Dale and Eliza and the Greenwich hoax also got good press just as the Cardiff giant hoax or the Berners Street Hoax did. The Greenwich hoax also resulted in a humorous poem being printed in John Bull titled, “The Loves of Joseph Dale and Eliza Baines.” The long poem was also reprinted in several newspapers with several stanzas provided here:

  • Come listen to a mournful tale
  • All ye who feel for tru-Love’s pains!
  • Just twenty-two was Joseph Dale
  • Fifteen he deem’d Eliza Baines.
  • A heart more tender or more true
  • Ne’er throbb’d with passion than the Swain’s’
  • And though she ne’er had met his view,
  • That heart adored Eliza Baines.
  • One Abraham Thornton, (not the youth
  • Who dash’d out Mary Ashton’s brains,
  • But one, alas! as void of truth),
  • First told him of Eliza Baines.
  • And how her roseate cheek grew pale,
  • And how salt tears, like wintry rains,
  • In torrents flow’d for Joseph Dale.
  • All heedless of Eliza Baines.
  • And why must Fortune cruel prove?
  • Why still delight in morals pains?
  • Why rouse him from his dream of Love:
  • Why cry, ‘There’s no Eliza Baines!’
  • The fatal truth revealed, his breast
  • Dire thoughts of vengeance entertains,
  • False Thornton owns, a knave confest,
  • ‘Tis all my eye about Miss Baines!’
  • At once his eye turn darkly blue,
  • His nose the spouting claret stains;
  • Fierce Joseph strikes so swift, so true,
  • Thus hoaxed about Eliza Baines.
  • Bound to the ever whirling wheel,
  • Ixion’s fault, Ixion’s chains.
  • He shares like him, condemn’d to feel
  • He clasp’d a cloud in Betty Baines.[15]

People also began to poke fun at Dale, and so he decided to exact his own revenge. One day, he and his brother appeared at the shop owned by Thornton’s father. Thornton was working when they appeared, and as Thornton was waiting on a customer, without saying a word, Dale’s brother aimed a blow at Thornton but missed. Fearful, Thornton jumped over the counter and ran to a bakehouse, with his pursuers close behind. They caught him, blackened his eye, and bloodied his nose.

After the beating, Thornton applied for a warrant against Dale and his brother. When he appeared before the magistrate, he told the magistrate that after receiving a blackened eye and a bloodied nose he was afraid to move, “lest they [the Dale brothers] would offer further violence.”[16] The magistrate hearing the evidence, decided Thornton through “his own folly had brought … the difficulty, and … would not grant the warrant.”[17] Thus, in the end Dale received some good old satisfaction for Thornton’s scheme.


Thomas Rowlandson’s, “A Counciller,” 1801. Courtesy of Yale University Library.


  • [1] “Greenwich Petty Sessions,” in London Standard, 29 July 1829, p. 3.
  • [2] “Most Extraordinary Hoax,” in the Leicester Chronicle, 8 August 1829, p. 4.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “Greenwich Petty Sessions,”p. 3.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] “Most Extraordinary Hoax,” p. 4.
  • [15] “The Loves of Joseph Dale and Eliza Baines,” in Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 13 August 1829, p. 4.
  • [16] “The Greenwich Hoax,” in Morning Post, 7 August 1829, p. 4.
  • [17] Ibid.

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