Thursday, January 9, 2014

Joseph Hunt and the Radlett Murder of 1823

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Probert's Cottage
 Occasionally I get a question where there is an impossibly large amount of information linking someone to Hertfordshire - but the vast bulk is irrelevant to trying to unpick their genealogy. Francis, who live's in Bathurst, New South Wales, has asked such a question relating to the murder of William Weare by John Thurtell. 
John Thurtell's accomplice Joseph Henry Baine Hunt, is my gr gr great grandfather. I was just wondering if there is any information about his direct family in the Hertfordshire area, before he was transported to Australia in 1824. His story means so much to me, for my family's existence was literally hanging by a thread in the courts at Hertford in 1823/24. I would like to know if anything is known about his life before the terrible crime. (Joseph died in 1861 at the age of 67, He was a district constable in Bathurst at the time of his death "Noted on his Death Certificate",and his drinking habits got the best of him in the end.)
I have replied as follows:
The murder was the first significant murder case that was covered extensively in the newspapers, and as a result raised important legal issues as to the possibility of pre-trial reporting about the accused making it difficult for the accused to have a fair trial. During 1823 there may well have been as many as 10,000 reports of the crime and subsequent trial published nationwide - of which about 600 are already accessible online on the British Newspaper Archive (also accessible on FindMyPast). A number of books devoted to the trial have been published, including 5 different titles currently listed for sale on, one or more of which may include significant information on Hunt's background. Many other publications include articles on the subject and there is much information to be trawled using Google, including Wikipedia.
The important thing you need to know is that the records relating to his transportation put his age at 26 - suggesting that he was born in about 1797.  A quick spot-check in the British Newspaper Archive revealed the following quote from the Worcester Journal of 13th November 1823: 
It is not a little singular that on the day of the murder, the father of Thurtell was re-elected Mayor of Norwich, and the brother of Hunt, who we understand, possesses a very respectable character, made his first appearance at Macheath in Dublin Theatre. [Macheath is a character in the Beggar's Opera.]
Following this up I find a long letter, published in The  Examiner of 23 November 1823 about how Joseph's brother, Mr Blaine Hunt, had been vilified because of what Joseph had done. I also note that the National Portrait Gallery has a picture of a Mrs H. Blaine Hunt drawn in 1824 and who is described elsewhere as a professor of music (possibly singing). I also found a reference to a Henry Blaine Hunt born in Dublin in 1796, and who married in London in 1820. Another reference takes him to the USA where he was divorced before 1848.
It would seem almost certain that Joseph Hunt was born in Dublin and I am sure that at least some of the books on the trial will tell you far more than I can. I get the impression that while the murder took place in Hertfordshire, Hunt may have had no other permanent connection with the county, having traveled to Hertfordshire from London at the time of the murder. I don't really think I can help you further at this stage, but if you find some pre-1823 links with the county please let me know, and I may be able to comment further.  
I post this here in full because, while I cannot help, there may be someone reading this newsletter who could advise Francis by means of a comment below.


  1. Hi Chris, could you possibly put me in touch with Francis, we share a common ancestor in our Joseph Hunt, on whom I have substantial research, which is too much to post on this forum......the family came from Calcutta in India


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