Wednesday, February 20, 2019



Mr. Hunt's house, at Boxley, near maidstoen was attacked by a gang of seven men...[1a]

On Friday night, Mr. Hunt's house at Boxley near Maidstone, was attacked by a gang of seven men, who broke in through the back premises and ransacked the parlour. They were observed by a farmer in the neighbourhood, who was watching his turnips with three of his men... five of them have since been taken and brought before the Justices... [1].

When Mr Edward Hunt's home at Boxley, Kent in the District of Maidstone [2], was broken into on the night of March 4, 1836, [3] he was no stranger to burglary and theft. News items show that during the 1820's and 1830's, items such as 12 bushels of apples [4], 4 fowls [5], two ducks and a drake and some tame rabbits [6], (which were later mysteriously returned to Mr. Hunt) a fat sheep [7], and other items of produce were taken from Mr. Hunt's property. 

Numerous robberies occurred at the premises of Mr. Hunt during the 14 years leading up to the burglary in 1836 [8], for which William Fryer 19, John Carter 20, Thomas Lunnun 20, Daniel Sears 19 and James George Woodley 19  were charged and found guilty [9]. Indeed long after this burglary took place at Mr. Hunt's, he still remained the frequent victim of theft [10]

This is not the story of Mr. Hunt's misfortunes however, nor a narrative about the incidence of crime in Maidstone, Kent in the 1830's. This tale is an incredulous one of how a group of five alleged thieves were caught in circumstances which involved a hat! 

Four Fowls were stolen from Mr. Hunt's premises 1822 [6]

In most of the incidences of burglary or theft at Mr. Hunt's property, the culprits were never apprehended or brought to justice, and from all accounts in Kent newspapers [11], there occurred an extraordinarily high number of thefts in the Maidstone district during the 1830's. It was not just Mr. Hunt who was being targeted by thieves and an excellent article regarding crime in the early 19th century in the South of England explains the social and economic situation at the time, here. [A]

Two ducks and a drake were stolen from Mr. Hunt's property while tame rabbits were stolen and then mysteriously returned,1833 [5].

The burglary which William Fryer allegedly took part in, occurred around midnight on the 4th of March 1836, after Edward Hunt had retired to bed at 8 pm. At some time later, he was alarmed by someone calling him outside . In the morning he found his bureau broken open, and the property stated [sic two 5 pound notes of the Kentish Bank, six sovereigns, three half sovereigns, and about 2 pounds 10 shillings in silver and copper money] ...stolen [12].

The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's [12]

William Fryer, John Carter, Thomas Lunnun, Daniel Sears and James George Woodley were arrested and charged with the crime committed at Mr. Hunt's residence on the night of 4 March 1836 [13]. Their trial was held in the Kent Assizes where Edward Hunt's housekeeper, Alice Eaton gave the following testimony.

...was awoke about 12 o'clock on the night of the robbery by Mr. Barrow [sic a farmer at Boxley] [14]. Went downstairs and heard someone unbolt the back door and go out. The front door was open. On going upstairs found a chisel under the stairs door. The bureau was open, and the papers lying about [15].

The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's continued [16]

Mr. Barrow, on being examined, stated he was in an orchard near Mr. Hunt's house with [sic men named] Knight, Wright and Seager watching his turnips [1]. His testimony claimed that he heard some footsteps near the garden gate of Mr. Hunt, and heard it open and shut. Then he heard a noise at the front door, and heard some glass break at the back room, at the West end of the house. saw a light in the house, and the front door open, and immediately called his men. Heard some persons in the kitchen, and held the door, when the light was put out. The door was twice attempted to be opened [17]. 

Witness then went into the kitchen but no one was there. On going into the back room found the window had been taken out, and an opening made, through which anyone might enter. Saw three men on the road near Mr. Hunt's. The prisoners Sears, Fryer and Carter were the three men. Sears pretended to be drunk. It was a very moonlight night. When he came near them, Fryer dropped something, which on being taken up proved to be a mattock [18].

The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's continued [19].

Mr. Barrow went on to testify that he was certain that it was William Fryer that he saw drop the mattock.  Fryer, Sears and Carter were found to have nothing belonging to Mr. Hunt in their possession. He, Mr. Barrow, went to fetch the superintendant of the police and when they arrived back at Mr. Hunt's, Joseph Wright produced the mattock. The marks on the window were found to correspond exactly with the mattock [20]. The police superintendant had his first piece of evidence - a mattock allegedly dropped by William Fryer.

 One might wonder why William would have had in his posession an agricultural tool when his occupation was a brickmaker but this was seemingly not discussed. The mattock was discovered a short distance from Mr. Hunt's and Mr. Barrow asserted he had seen William Fryer walking leisurely along the road... twenty or thirty yards from the house [21].

A mattock, an agricultural tool, Grierson 1885, Image in the Common Domain.

Witness, Joseph Wright, who had been in the orchard with Mr. Barrow on the evening of the burglary, said that he heard some glass break at Mr. Hunt's, and on going up to the house, saw some men getting out at the window. Wright stated that he had seen Daniel Sears running across the yard at Mr. Hunt's property, dressed in a short frock, with his elbows out [22]. 

At this point in time, one might be wondering why so many men happened to be near Mr'. Hunt's home between 11 o'clock and midnight on the night of 4 March 1836. A news item concerning the stealing of sheep [23] could be the clue to solving this conundrum, because it places the Hunt property near Penenden Heath where it happened there was also an Inn by the name of The Bull [24] in the close vicinity of Mr. Hunt's home.  It seems a likely scenario  that the men involved in the burglarly had been drinking at their local tavern. This might be confirmed by Mr. Barrow's testimony in which he stated that he gave Sears a shilling to buy a drink [25].

Mr. Edward Hunt near Penenden Heath [26]

The Bull Inn, Penenden Heath, Maidstone, Kent [27]

Athough the witness Mr. Barrow claimed to have seen William Fryer drop something, on which being taken up proved to be a mattock [28], the tool was never actually seen in his hands. William Fryer was a brickmaker whose trade would not have required the use of a mattock. Mr. Barrow further confirmed this when he stated that he had not seen any man working with a mattock in the sand pit [sic sand was extracted at Aylesford for the purpose of brickmaking in the Maidstone district ] [B]

It is entirely possible that the mattock found as evidence might not have been enough to convict the 19 year old William Fryer who had no previous convictions, especially in light of the character witnesses who came forward to testify to his honest nature. 

William was seen coming from near the cottages into the road [sic cottages which were  below the house of Mr. Hunt] [29]. No one witnessed William Fryer in the house or in the yard belonging to Mr. Hunt. He claimed his innocence throughout his trial despite being seen in the company of Sears [30] immediately following the burglary. 

This is not to say that William Fryer was innocent, however, since he went on to lead an exemplary life in NSW, becoming the first Mayor of Shellharbour Council, it appears that he was indeed an honest young man, as was indicated by his the witnesses called to testify to his character. It is entirely possible that he was not guilty of the crime he was charged with committing, but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, perhaps he simply learned from a mistake!

The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's [31]

Daniel Sears was seen running across Mr. Hunt's yard and John Knight testified that he had recognised Thomas Lunnun getting out of the window of Mr. Hunt's house and Lunnun was known to Knight so this seemed a credible enough testimony to establish that Sears and Lunnun were involved in the burglary[32]. 

James George Wordley leaves indisputable evidence at the scene of the crime [33]

Now comes the part, where the careless action of one of the burglars sealed the fate of the accused five men, Daniel Sears, William Fryer, Thomas Lunnon, John Carter and James George Wordley. Robert Seager, one of the witnesses who attended the scene of the crime from a nearby orchard on the night of the burglary, stated that Wordley came out the back door, and his hat fell off, which was taken into the house.[34]

Wordley's hat was the final straw! [35]


James George Wordley was apprehended on March 6th. The hat which had been dropped at the scene of the burglary had the pecularity of being marked with a "W". Richard Seager, one of the men from the orchard swore at the trial that The hat I hold in my hand is the one which fell from the head of Wordley. Seager further testified that he saw the letter (W.) marked in Wordley's hat when I was at Mr. Hunt's house. This was damning evidence for James George Wordley and firmly placed him a the scene of the crime at Mr. Hunt's [36]. 

Further sealing Wordley's fate was a constable Tuff who had taken Wordley to the shop of Mrs. Clark, at Rochestor, who is a hatter. Henry Briggs who was employed at the shop testified that he had sold a hat to Wordley, about three weeks ago, who marked it in the letter "W" while he was in the shop. Mr. Briggs also asserted that it was very uncommon for persons who buy hats to mark them in the shop. Stood behind Wordley when he marked the hat. It is quite evident that he was the person who bought the hat. [37]. 

The Burglary at Mr' Hunt's 

A sentence of death was handed down to the five men charged with the burglary at Mr. Hunt's. Carter, Lunnun and Wordley had prior convictions but since Daniel Sears and William Fryer both aged 19 had no such previous criminal history they were recommended to mercy by the prosecutor [38].

All five men had their death sentences commuted to transportation to NSW [39]. Sears and Fryer were given a 7 years sentence each and the remaining men were awarded life sentences. All were placed on the hulk Fortitude to await their voyages to Sydney [40]. William Fryer and James George Wordley arrived in NSW on August 4 1836, on the Bengal Merchant. The other three men arrived in September 1837 on board the convict ship John [41]. How James George Wordley must have cursed his hat!

Convict Indent for the ship John [42]

And all your future lies beneath your hat. John Oldham (1653-1683 Poet)


1.British Newspaper Archive, Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Adviser, 12 March 1836, p. 8.2. British Newspaper Archive,, accessed February 2019.
3. British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
4. British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, 16 October 1832, p. 4.
5. British Newspaper Archive, Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 15 February 1822, p. 2.
6. British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, 14 May 1833, p. 4.
7. British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, 10 Janaury 1837, p. 4.
8.British Newspaper Archive,, accessed February 2019.
9.British Newspaper Archive, Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advisor, Burglary at Boxley, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
10.British Newspaper Archive,, accessed February 2019.
12.British Newpaper Archives, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
23.British Newspaper Archive, West Kent Guardian, 11 February 1837, p. 8.
24.Photograph, The Bull Inn, Penenden Heath Maidstone, Male McDonald, Geograph, Creative Commons Licence,
25.British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
26.British Newspaper Archive, West Kent Guardian, 11 February 1837, p. 8.
27.Photograph, The Bull Inn, Penenden Heath Maidstone, Male McDonald, Geograph, Creative Commons Licence,
28.British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3. 
31.British Newpaper Archives, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
34.British Newpaper Archives, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
36.British Newpaper Archives, South Eastern Gazette, The Burglary at Mr. Hunt's, 22 March 1836, p. 3.
39. British Newspaper Archive, South Eastern Gazette, 10 May 1836, p. 4.
40. Ibid. Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007,Original data: Home Office: Convict Transportation Registers; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO11); The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England.
42. Ibid.


A. A Web of English History, Rural Unrest in the 1830's  
B. Kent Council, Exploring Kent's Past,

1 comment:

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