Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Extortion Ring, 1777–78

NOTE: Very brazen attempts at extortion by means of threatening to accuse the victim of sodomy are made by a small group of men for about a year. Initial confusion over the number of extortioners involved is cleared up when we realise that one of them goes by several names: Robert Hutton alias Robert Harold alias Sutton alias Jackson. His partner in the first case was Abraham Claxton; it looks as though Claxton's son was arrested a month earlier and was in prison awaiting trial for attempted sodomy, and that Claxton went up to London to get money from Dr Myonet to bail out his son. Oddly, Claxton was accompanied by Hutton and two or possibly four other men, who accused Dr. Myonet of sleeping with Claxton's son. Dr Myonet acknowledged that he had known his son, but denied having sex with him. Note that Claxton (and Hutton in this instance) was eventually acquitted of the charge of extortion. The legal records do not seem to survive, and it's difficult unravalling this case. But half a year later Hutton was involved in two similar cases of extortion (in May and in July 1778), together with some other associates, though not with Claxton. The possibility remains that Claxton really did request charity from the man who had had sex with his son, and that that case was not an example of extortion, but that Hutton was a kind of "ambulance chaser" whose design was to collect hush money whenever opportunities arose.

16–29 July 1777

On Friday . . . at the Rotation-office in Litchfield-street, one Claxton was charged by a young man, servant in a Gentleman's family in Charlotte-street, Tottenham-court-road, with attempting to commit an unnatural crime; the fact being well supported by the testimony of two other witnesses, he was committed for trial. (London Chronicle)

24–26 July 1777

. . . one Claxton was committed to Clerkenwell Bridewell, from the Office in Litchfield-street, for attempting to commit an unnatural Crime on a Lad of eighteen Years of Age. (St. James's Chronicle)

26–28 August 1777

Yesterday, at the Public-office in Bow-street, Abraham Claxton, Robert Hutton, and two other men, were put to the bar, charged with extorting money from the Rev. Dr. Mayonnett, an old gentleman of 80 years of age. The Doctor being sworn, delivered his evidence with so much incongruity (which we attribute to the debility of his age) that it is impossible for us to be minute in his narrative. The substance of his evidence was to the following effect: That a few days ago the prisoner, Claxton, came to his chambers in Gray's inn, and begged for charity for his son, who is in confinement; and after a very short conversation positively told him he would not go away unless he gave him a guinea; that immediately after the prisoner Hutton, and four men more, rushed into his chamber, where Hutton in particular behaved with the greatst insolence, and threatened to charge him with an unnatural crime with Claxton's son if he did not give them money; that not having more than half a guinea in cash, he requested one of them to go to Jacob Clements, a chandler, in Gray's-inn-lane, and desire him to bring him half a guinea, which one of them did; but before he arrived they decamped, and took away a ten pound Bank note, which lay on his desk. He swore to the identity of Claxton and Hutton, but could not be positive in respect to the others. Clements, the chandler, proved Claxton's going to him with the message from the old gentleman; and John Saunders and Thomas Barrell (the two porters of the inn) swore they saw Claxton and Hutton go towards Dr. Mayonnett's chambers; that they listened at the door, and heard Hutton make use of very indecent language to the Doctor. The evidence being thus close (which we must remark was the most inconclusive we ever remember in that office) Claxton and Hutton were remanded for trial, and the parties bound over to prosecute; but no substantial evidence appearing against the other two men, they were discharged. (General Evening Post)

Thursday, 28 August 1777

Dr. Myonnet, of Gray's Inn, charged Hatton, Claxton, and two other Men, with extorting several Sums of Money from him, by threatening to accuse him of an unnatural Crime. In the Course of the Examination a Number of Cicumstances were mentioned which are too indecent to be publickly related. The Fact being clearly proved against Hatton and Claxton, they were committed, and the other two discharged. (Daily Advertiser)

Thursday, 28 August 1777

Yesterday, Abraham Claxton, and —— Hutton, were committed from the Public-office, in Bow-street, for robbing the Rev. Dr. Myonet in his chambers, in Gray's Inn, of about 10l. in money. Dr. Myonet deposed, that a few weeks ago Claxton, Hutton, and four other persons, came to him, and with the most dreadful threats and imprecations, insisted upon a sum of money to release Claxton's son out of prison, where he was condemned for a misdemeanor:– the Doctor, being very infirm, and almost in a state of dotage, sent a person to change a note of 10l. out of which he gave them a guinea, and they went away; but they were scarce gone, before he discovered they had taken the rest of the change. The person that was sent to change the note, corroborated the Doctor's evidence; and the porters of Gray's Inn, who saw a number of people assemble, and being moved by curiosity, went on the stairs leading to Dr. Myonet's room, swore positively to the persons of Claxton and Hutton, they were consequently committed, and Hudson and Gregory, two persons in custody for the same offence, were discharged through default of evidence. Humanity never appeared with such lustre in Sir John Fielding, as on this occasion. His attention to the age and infirmities of the prosecutor cannot be sufficiently commended. (Morning Post)

Thursday, 28 August 1777

Proceedings Yesterday at the Public Office in Bow-street.
Abraham Claxton, Robert Hutton, Richard Gregory, and John Hudson, were charged with robbing Dr. Myonnet, of Gray's-inn, of a 10l. Bank-note, and a Guinea, having come to his Chambers with a Charge of an abominable Nature. Dr. Myonnet deposed, that Claxton knocked at his Door and asked Charity, saying that his Son was in Prison, and that he wanted to bail him out. That this Deponent refused the advancing any Thing; on which Hutton rushed in, and said, "I won't take less than a Guinea." Three others now came into the Room, on which Hutton said that the Doctor had slept with Claxton's Son, &c. The Doctor having only Ten Shillings in the House, sent to Mr. Clements, of Gray's-inn-lane, who being sworn, said that Claxton and another came to him from the Doctor, on which he went to the Chambers, and gave Half a Guinea and Sixpence to make Myonnet's Money up a Guinea; and the Doctor swore, that when they were gone he missed his Bank-note and his Money. Dr. Myonnet, who is almost superannuated, thought at one Time that he had changed his Note for Cash; or is it quite clear whether he had changed it or not. John Saunders (Porter at Gray's-inn) swore that he saw Claxton, Hutton, and four others at the Doctor's Chambers, when one of them cried, "Pull the old Rogue out." Thomas Barrell (another Porter) proved that Claxton and Hutton were present at the Time; and Claxton owned he received a Guinea, in Charity, for his Son, and that Hutton was with him. Gregory and Hudson were discharged, and the proper Parties bound to prosecute and give Evidence against Claxton and Hutton at the Old Bailey. (Public Advertiser)

Tuesday, 16 September 1777

Yesterday Abraham Claxton, and Robert Hutton were tried at the Old Bailey for robbing Dr. John Myonet, at his chambers on the 22d of June, of a 10l. banknote, and 10l. in money. Dr. Myonet swore that he was distuirbed in his chambers by a loud knocking at the door; he open'd it, and the prisoners came in; Claxton said he came to solicit charity for his son, who was then in prison for a misdemeanor, and that he would not take less than a guinea:– alarmed at the bold manner in which the soliciting for charity was couched, he said he had not a guinea, but if they would fetch a Mr. Clements to him, he would see what was to be done. The prisoners went for Clements, and brought him to the chambers, and between them they made up a guinea, and gave it to Claxton, who signed a receipt which Clements wrote. When the men were gone, he told Clements he had a sum of money in the bureau, and he hoped they had not taken it from him; both Clements and himself look'd and searched for it, but it was not to be found. Being cross questioned, he owned his knowledge of Claxton's son, previous to the application for money, but could not account why he sent to Clements for to lend it him, when he had already 10l. in his bureau, nor where he had changed a note for which he had received the change in silver. In short, he appeared superanuated [sic], and very little to be depended on, as to any thing he said. John Clements corroborated the Doctor, as to Claxton, Huitton, and others being at the chambers, and saw them receive the guinea, but never saw the money specified in the indictment, nor did he observe Hutton or Claxton touch any thing at the time he was in the room. A porter of the Inn proved them being at the Doctor's chambers, and the evidence for the prosecution closed. Claxton called his master, an inn-keeper at Ingatestone, who gave him a good characer, and said to his knowledge, Claxton had not a shilling on his return from London, where he had asked leave to go, under pretence of seeing his son, then extremely ill, but in reality to extricate him from confinement, and that he borrowed money from an hostler to buy his children bread; this was confirmed by the hostler, – and the prisoners were acquitted. (Morning Post)

Thursday, 21 May 1778

Yesterday at the Publick Office in Bow-Street, . . . George Hadley, Esq. accused one Hutton with feloniously obtaining from him five Guineas, in order to stop a Prosecution which he said he would bring against him for attempting an unnatural Crime upon him in St. James's Park, and afterwards demanding 20 Guineas more, pleading his Poverty in Extenuation of his Villainy. The Bench being clearly of Opinion, that the Charge was capital, committed him for Trial, and bound over Mr. Hadley to prosecute. The Prisoner was tried some Time ago at the Old Bailey, for obtaining Money from the Rev. Dr. Mayonett, on a similar Charge. (Daily Advertiser) (see reports for 26–28 August 1777)

Thursday, 21 May 1778

George Hadley, Esq; of Southampton-street, appeared against Robert Harold, alias Hutton, whom he charged with robbing him of near eleven guineas, in January last. This robbery being of rather a new species, we shall related some of the circumstances attending it, as they fell from the prosecutor in his information. On the sixth of January, about seven o'clock in the evening, the prisoner met Mr. Hadley as he was going into St. James's-park, at Spring-gardens gate, and having addressed him in most piteous terms for charity, continued to follow him towards the Horse-guards. Mr. Hadley being deaf to the petitions of the prisoner, the latter seized Mr. H. by the collar, and forcing his left hand into a particular situation, threatened, with dreadful imprecations, to accuse him of having attempted to commit a certain abominable crime, unless he gave him twenty guineas. Mr. H. impelled by a dread of losing his good name, and fearful, by the villain's misrepresentations, he should undergo the discipline of the canal, after a parley, gave the fellow half a guinea and some silver; and afterwards, at two other interviews, to which he had consented, through his timidity, he gave Harold ten guineas. Mr. H. at last resolved to consult his attorney relative to the affair, and was advised by him, should the prisoner again endeavour to extort money of him, to have him apprehended: an opportunity offered on Monday last, and Mr. H. having appointed to meet the prisoner in Lincoln's-inn, took with him two peace-officers, and had him secured. Harold in his defence, attempted to injure Mr. H. in his reputation by some inuendo's not much to be credited; but Sir John Fielding prevented his proceeding, and bound over Mr. Hadley to prosecute him at the next sessions. This is a capital offence, and the prisoner was tried the sessions before last at the Old Bailey, together with two others, for obtaining money of Dr. Myonet, of Gray's inn, by similar threats. Harold was yesterday dressed genteely, with a gold button and loop in his hat, silk stockings, Artois buckles, &c. and the peace-officers who apprehended him found on him several Bank notes, a purse, containing seven guineas, and a gold watch, chain, and seals. He was committed for trial. (Morning Chronicle)

Thursday, 21 May 1778

George Hadley, Esq; charged Robert Harrald, otherwise Hutton, with assaulting him in the Park, charging him with an Attempt to commit an unnatural Crime, and thereby extorting from him Half a Guinea and some Silver. Such was Mr. Hadley's Horror at the Nature of the Charge, that he gave Harrald Five Guineas the next Day, and a second Five Guineas on meeting him a Week afterwards; but reflecting on his own Folly, on thus submitting to the Threats of a Villain, he took the Opinion of a Gentleman of the Law, who advised him, when he saw the Fellow again, to appoint a Meeting, and take him into Custody. A few Days since he again met him, when he demanded Twenty Guineas, when he was apprehended agreeable to the concerted Plan. Harrald was committed to take his Trial for a Footpad Robbery, one Man having been already convicted on Circumstances exactly similar. (Public Advertiser)

4–6 June 1778

The only trial worth observation yesterday at the Old-Baily, was the trial of Robert Herrald, alias Hutton, charged with feloniously assaulting George Hadley, Esq; on the King's Highway, putting him in fear,and taking from his person five guineas and upwards. He was capitally convicted. He was also detained for robbing Mr. Hadley of half a guinea and some silver, on the 20th of May last, in St. James's Park. – The mode of robbery exercised by this wretch, was by begging charity of Mr. Hadley, and upon refusal, charging him with an unnatural attempt. The half guinea and silver was delivered immediately, but the five guineas was given by Mr. Hadley to the prisoner the next day, when they met by appointment. The Judge who tried the prisoner, informed the Jury, that upon a similar case, about two years ago, the Judges solemnly gave their opinion; when they determined that to constitute a highway robbery, there was no occasion to use weapons, or real violence; for, to use his Lordship's words, "to take money from a man in such a situation as renders him not a free man, or that if a person so robbed was in fear of a confederacy; or afraid of the loss of his character, it was to all intents and purposes as much a highway robbery, as if the prisoner had put a pistol to the prosecutor's head and robbed him." – The Jury therefore without hesitation pronounced the prisoner guilty. Hutton was also tried the sessions before last, for robbing Dr. Myonnet, of Gray's-inn, in the same manner. (General Evening Post)

9–11 July 1778

Yesterday the report was made to his Majesty in Council of the Convicts under sentence of death in Newage, when they were all respited during his Majesty's pleasure, viz. . . . Robert Harrold, alias Hutton, alias Sutton, alias Jackson, for robbing George Hadley on the highway of half a guinea and four shillings; . . . (London Chronicle)

Saturday, 11 July 1778

Yesterday Mr. Recorder made his report to his Majesty of the convicts under sentence of death in Newgate, viz. . . . Robert Harold, alias Hutton, alias Sutton, alias Jackson, for feloniously assualting George Hadley, Esq; in St. James's Park, near the huighway, there putting him in fear, and feloniously taking from his person five guineas, &c. . . . – They all had the happiness to be respited during his Majesty's pleasure. (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser)

Tuesday, 14 July 1778

At the geneal quarter-sessions of the peace holden at Guildhall, Westminster, Sir John Fielding, Knt. in the chair, which ended on Saturday last, one Goodchild was indicted for a conspiracy, with two others, Jackson and Hutton, (the latter being now under sentence of death in Newgate for robbing a gentleman in the Park, threatening to charge him with sodomitical practices, and Jackson not being yet apprehended) for extorting 20l. and one guinea from George Medley, Esq; of New Burlngton-street, Member of Parliament for Seaford, in Sussex.
          Mr. Howarth, council for the prosecution, opened the case with an address to the jury, which lasted near half an hour, in which that young barrister impressed the Court, jury, and hearers with every sensation that the power of words could afford.
          Mr. Medley being then sworn to the fact, he related the case as follows:– That about three months ago the prisoner came to his house in New Burlington-street, and sending in word to Mr. Medley that he had particular business to communicate, Goodchild was admitted; when introduced to Mr. Medley, Goodchild had a pen behind his ear, held a kind of warrant in his hand, and said he was clerk to Justice G— [i.e. Gretton], near Charing-cross. That out of pure friendship and regard to Mr.Medley, knowing him to be a gentleman of fortune and character, Goodchild came to acquaint him of a circumstance of a most alarming nature, and as he believed the charge against Mr. Medley to be founded on principles of villainy and extortion, he thought it his duty to come to Mr. Medley, and inform him, in order that he might be prepared to exculpate himself of so heinous an imputation. That two fellows had applied to Justice G—, to obtain a warrant against Mr. Medley, charging him with the act of sodomy; but that willing to do all in his power for a gentleman who was Member of Parliament, of so great an estate, and of so universal a good character, he came to advertise him of his dangerous situation, in order that Mr. Medley might save himself, by some means or other, from the public shame that was ready to overthrow him, and, on so saying, produced a warrant to apprehend Mr. Medley for the fact, the Justice's name only wanting to complete the instrument.
          Mr. Medley, fired with that honest rage and indignation which naturally inspires men of fair character and resolution, demanded in great anger to know his accusers, to be instantly carried before a Magistrate, where he might confront the authors of so diabolical a charge.
          When Mr. Medley's first storm of passion had subsided, Goodchild artfully threw in the common odium attending such a public proceeding, dwelt long on the different ideas entertained by different people, and that if the men were hardy and villainous enough to persist in so horrid a charge, it would, though he did not doubt Mr. Medley's innocence, embitter his future repose, and perhaps ruin the peace of his family for ever, for the justice would be obliged, however reluctantly, to commit him. Goodchild therefore advised Mr. Medley to see the men, to stop their mouths with money, as he thought that was their only aim, and he might by that means enjoy his peace and good character unsullied.
          Mr. Medley, agitated by a thousand ideas, then asked where the men were; to which Goodchild answered, "They are, Sir, just in the neighbourhood, and if your honour pleases I'll bring them to you directly." To this Mr. Medley consented. Goodchild instantly went out, and soon returned with Hutton and Jackson, when Mr. Medley asked, "Which of you is villain enough to charge me with so abominable a crime?" – "I do, said Hutton, and will swear it."
          All courage and resolution then forsaking Mr. Medley (and no wonder, exclusive of his years), the hush money was again proposed by Goodchild; Jackson said, if it was his case he would not compromise it for 5l. For 5l.! replied Hutton, hardly for 500l. Mr. Medley said, it is a transaction of such a nature, that I am not master of myself; but, Sir, addressing himself to Goodchild, mention what will do: Sir, said Goodchild, there is such a difference between them, that I hardly know how to moderate it; but, your honour, I should think about 20l. would do. To this all consented. Mr. Medley said he should give them a draft on his banker, and desired their names, as he might know to whom to make it payable. Here all were silent; when Goodchild interposed, and, in order to prevent detection said, Oh, your honour, there is no occasion for that, make it payable to BEARER. This Mr. Medley did, and Goodchild asking Mr. Medley to remember him for his friendly services, obtained a grant, and they all went away. Hutton was taken up soon after for robbing Mr. Hadley in the Park, and Goodchild was apprehended by Mr. Medley's description, in the prison with Hutton. After Sir John Fielding had summed up the evidence with all the force of language he was master of, stating with what compunction of mind a man must prosecute, the jury instantly found Goodchild GUILTY. His only defence was, that he got his bread by writing letters, petitions, &c. and knew nothing of the men; that they applied to him to write a letter to Mr. Medley, and he acquainted Mr. Medley of it.
          The Bench, after some hesitation, passed on him the following sentence: To be imprisoned three years, to stand three times in the pillory, once in Palace-yard on the 1st of August, 1778, once at the end of Bond-street, Piccadilly, 1st of August 1779, and once in Covent-garden, on Midsummer-day, 1780, and to find security for his good behaviour for seven years. (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser)

31 July – 1 August 1778

This day [Saturday] at noon, Goodchild, convicted at the last general quarter sessions at Westminster, for a conspiracy with Jackson and Hutton for extorting from —— Medley, Esq; 20l. and one guinea, udner pretence of charging the above gentleman with unnatural practices, stood in the pillory in Palace-yard, and was afterwards carried back to prison, being to stand twice more, and find security for his good behaviour for three years. He was most severely treated by the populace. (London Chronicle)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Extortion Ring, 1777–78", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 27 February 2021 <>.

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