Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Curious Life and Disappearance of Elizabeth Canning

Another disappearance and supposed imprisonment which created considerable sensation was that of Elizabeth Canning. On New Year's Day, 1753, she visited an uncle and aunt who lived at Saltpetre Bank, near Well Close Square, who saw her part of the way home as far as Houndsditch. But as no tidings were afterwards heard of her, she was advertised for, rumours having gone abroad, that she had been heard to shriek out of a hackney coach in Bishopsgate-street. Prayers, too, were offered up for her in churches and meeting-houses, but all inquiries were in vain, and it was not until the 29th of the month that the missing girl returned in a wretched condition, ill, half-starved, and half-clad. Her story was that after leaving her uncle and aunt on the 1st of January, she had been attacked by two men in great coats, who robbed, partially stripped her, and dragged her away to a house in the Hertfordshire road, where an old woman cut off her stays, and shut her up in a room in which she had been imprisoned ever since, subsisting on bread and water, and a mince pie that her assailants had overlooked in her pocket, and ultimately, she said, she had escaped through the window, tearing her ear in doing so.

Her story created much sympathy for her, and steps were immediately taken to punish those who had abducted her in this outrageous manner. The girl, who was in a very weak condition, was taken to the house she had specified, one "Mother" Wells, who kept an establishment of doubtful reputation at Enfield Wash, and on being asked to identify the woman who had cut off her stays, and locked her up in the room referred to, pointed out one Mary Squires, an old gipsy of surpassing ugliness.

Accordingly, Squires and Wells were committed for trial for assault and felony; the result of the trial being that Squires was condemned to death, and Wells to be burned in the hand, a sentence which was executed forthwith, much to the delight of the excited crowd in the Old Bailey Sessions-house.

But the Lord Mayor, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, who had presided at the trial ex-officio, was not satisfied with the verdict, and caused further and searching inquiries to be made. The verdict, on the weight of fresh evidence obtained, was upset, and Squires was granted a free pardon.

On 29th April, 1754, Elizabeth Canning was summoned again to the Old Bailey, but this time to take her trial for willful and corrupt perjury. The trial lasted eight days, and, being found guilty, she was transported in August, "at the request of her friends, to New England." According to the "Annual Register," she returned to this country at the expiration of her sentence to receive a legacy of £500, left to her three years before by an old lady of Newington Green; whereas, later accounts affirm that she never came back, but died 22nd July, 1773, at Weathersfield, in Connecticut, it being further stated that she married abroad a Quaker of the name of Treat, "and for some time followed the occupation of a schoolmistress."

The mystery of her life—her disappearance from Jan. 1st to the 29th of that month, and what transpired in that interval—is a secret that has never been to this day divulged. Indeed, as it has been observed, "notwithstanding the many strange circumstances of her story, none is so strange as that it should not be discovered in so many years where she had concealed herself during the time she had invariably declared she was at the house of Mother Wells."

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

 Ladies who  are abducted and prevail...and those who do not, figure prominently in the plot of Shadows In A Timeless Myth.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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