Trial of Henry Elmstead, 1802

NOTE: Although this case involves the conviction of a man for extorting money from another man under threat of exposing him for sodomy, it is by no means the usual sort of blackmail case, and is not really a case of extortion. Henry Elmstead attacked John Boreham for ruining his reputatiion, and accused him of sodomy in front of other witnesses, and only later said he would stop making the charge if he was given 4 guineas. In fact he actually did stop making the charge after he received the money (and there is no indication that he would have made any further demands), but Boreham more than a week later decided to prosecute him for taking the money under threat. It transpired that both men knew each other, so it was not an opportunistic blackmail attempt, and Elmstead seems to have really believed that his reputation had been destroyed by something Boreham had done earlier, but the background to their story is never revealed. Though sentenced to death, Elmstead was granted a pardon on condition of his being transported to Australia for life.

705. HENRY ELMSTEAD was indicted for making an assault in the King's highway, upon John Boreham, on the 27th of July, putting him in fear and takng from his person, a guinea, and three Bank-notes, value 3l. the property of the said John.

(The case was opened by Mr.Knowlys.)
JOHN BOREHAM sworn.Examined by Mr.Knapp.
          Q. You are upper servant to Lady Lee, sister to Lord Harcourt? – A. I am.
          Q. How long have you lived in the service of Lady Lee? – Two years and a half.
          Q. Where does she reside? – In Harley-street, Cavendish-square.
          Q. Do you know the prisoner at the bar? – A. Yes.
          Q. Did you see him on the 27th of July last? – A. I did.
          Q. Where did you see him? – A He knocked at my Lady's door, and the footman went to open the door.
          Q. Were you present at the time? – A. I was informed some body wanted me; I went and found the prisoner; he told me I had injured his character, and that if I would give him all I had, I could not make him amends; I told him, I did not know what he could mean by that, I had never injured his character, and desired he would go about his business; I shut the door, and as soon as I had shut the door, he began knocking violently; the door was not opened, and he went down to the area door, and began knocking there; I went with the footman to the area door, and opened it; he began repeating again, that I had injured his character, and called me a sodomite and a buggerer, upon that I went for a constable.
          Q. Did you tell him you should go for a constable? – A. I did; I got a constable, and found the prisoner at a public-house over the way; I took him to the watch-house.
          Q. Did you tell the constable, in the presence of the prisoner, the nature of the charge? – I do not recollect that I did; we took him to the Justice's, and waited till the Justice sat, at seven o'clock in the evening.
          Q. You took him before Mr. Conant? – Yes.
          Q. He had not at that time got any money from you? – A. No.
          Q. Nor had he demanded any? – A. No.
          Q. He was afterwards discharged by Mr. Conant, I believe? – A. Yes.
          Q. When did you see the prisoner again? – A. About a mnute or two after; I had got home the same night, he knocked at the door again, and repeated the same kind of abuse; I took him again before the Justice, told him he had become troublesome again, and he discharged him again.
          Q. He had not, at that time, demanded any money? – A. He had not; the prisoner then went home with me, and kept threatening me all the way, that I was a sodomite and a buggerer, and he would proclaim it in the neighnbourhood where I lived; he said, he would tear my Lady's house down but he would get at me.
          Q. He kept threatening you in that manner all the way? – Yes; I was very much alarmed and frightened for my reputation, and for fear of losing my situation, in which I was very comfortable, and which I was sure I should, if he made a disturbance; he said, if I would make him a handsome present, he would not trouble me any more; I asked him what he meant; he said, if I would give him four guineas; after some hesitation, I consented to give him four guineas.
          Q. Why did you give him the four guineas? – A. Because I was so alarmed and frightened, I thought, in all probability, I should lose my situation if I did not.
          Q. How far was this cnversation from your Lady's house? – A. About one hundred yars; I then went home and got a five pound note, and a one pound note; I went to the baker's to get change for the five pound note, and I could only get two one pound notes and a gunea in part; I then returned to him with the two one pound notes, the one I had before, and the guinea which I gave him.
          Q. That was three shillings short of four guineas? – A. Yes; I then went home, and mentioned it to my Lady's brother, and he advised me to prosecute him; I went to Mr. Conant again, and he issued a warrant to apprehend him; I did not know in what part of the town to look for him, and I deid not find him till the 9th; I met him in St. Paul's Church-yard; he said to me, you owe me three shillings; I took him by the collar, and he struck me several times with his hat; two young men came up to my assistance, and the prisoner was secured and taken before Mr. Conant.
          Q. Have you any doubt that the prisoner is the man who so conducted himself towards you? – A. I have not the least doubt.
          Q. Have you ever done any thing yourself to work an injury to this man, in his character, in any way whatever? – A. Never in my life.
          Q. I hardly need ask you – did you part with this money willingly, or did you do it from fear? – A. From the great apprehension and fear I had of losing my situation in life.
          Cross-examined by Mr. Gurney. Q. I believe you know the place from whence the prisoner came? – A. Yes.
          Q. Where is that place? – A. Bury St. Edmunds.
          Q. Besides knowing the place from whence he came – did you not know him personally? – A. I did know him slightly personally.
          Q. When he came, he enquired for you by name? – Yes.
          Q. And the first complaint he made was, that you had injured his character very much, and that if you were to give him all you had, you could not make him amends? – A. Yes.
          Q. Did he not say where it was you had so injured his character? – A. No.
          Q. How laely have you been at Norwich? – A. Not these seven years.
          Q. Did he not mention any place whatever, where he said you had been spreading reports injurious to his character? – A. He said, some person at Norwich had told him so.
          Q. You denied it? – A. Yes.
          Q. The prisoner became in a passion, and used the opprobrious expressions you have mentioned? – A. Yes.
          Q. Did he not, when he came down the area, repeat his charge, that you had injured his character? – Yes.
          Q. Have you any person here who heard what passed, besides yourself? – A. No.
          Q. The charge made by him was utterly false? – A. Yes.
          Q. However, he did not believe your denial?> – A. No.
          Q. In consequence of those expressions, he and you went to Mr. Conant? – A. Yes.
          Q. Did not Mr. Conant tell you to go out and settle it between yourselves? – A. No, he did not.
          Q. After he came back from Mr. Conant, did he not again repeat upon ou the charge of having injured his character? – A. Yes.
          Q. You still denied it? – A. I certainly did.
          Q. He told you still he did not believe you? – A. Yes.
          Q. After he came from Mr. Conant the second time, did he not repeat his charge upon you, that you had injured his character? – A. I cannot say whether he did at that time or not.
          Q. Did he not demand this money of you as a recompence for the injury you had done to his character? – A. No, he did not.
          Q. No person but yourself was present at that conversation? – A. No.
          Q. Therefore we must take your account of it entirely – one of the first things he said, was, if you were to give him all you had in the world, you could not make him a compensation for the injury you had done him? – A. Yes.
          Q. Did he not make this demand of four guineas, as a compensation for that injury? – A. He did not.
          Q. Did he not come to Clerkenwell Sessions last Saturday, in discharge of his bail, not in custody? – A. I saw him there.
          Q. He had given bail to answer your charge? – A. I did not enquire into the bail.
          Q. Do you mean to say there was any other charge against him? – A. No.
          Q. Was he not at Clerkenwell Sessions, perfectly at liberty? – A. I saw him there.
          Q. At large? – A. Yes.
          Q. When you first of all saw him, you knew him perfectly well?> – A. Yes.
          Q. You knew his name?> – A. Yes, I did.
          Q. You knew his connections at Bury? – A. Yes.
          Mr. Knowlys. Q. When he came to Clerkenwell, he was not aware he was to be called upon to answer a capital charge? – A. No.
          Q. Did you ever take away his character in any respect? – A. Never.

          AMBROSE CAREY sworn. – Examined by Mr. Knowlys. Q. You are a footman in Lady Lee's service? – A. Yes.
          Q. Do you know the person of the man at the bar? – A. Yes.
          Q. When did you first see him? – A. I opened the door to him.
          Q. Did you hear what passed between him and the last witness? – A. I did not hear any thing till he went down to the area door, and I heard him call Mr. Boreham a sodomiting old buggerer.
          Q. Did you hear what he said to Mr. Boreham before that? – A. No, I did not, that was the first I heard; Mr. Boreham said, he would go and fetch a constable, I heard nothing else.
          Q. Did Mr. Boreham fetch a constable? – A. Yes,
          Q. Did you go with him to the Justice's? – A. No.
          Q. Did you see him afterwards? – A. Yes, he was standing in the street.
          Q. Did you see him with Mr. Boreham afterwards? – A. No.           ALBION SMITH sworn. – Examined by Mr. Knowlys. Q. Do you know the prisoner? – A. Yes.
          Q. Were you with Mr Boreham on the 9th of August? – A. Yes.
          Q. Where did you see the prisoner? – A. I frequently saw him in St. Paul's Church-yard and Cheapside, and I gave Mr. Boreham information of it; he went with me to take him with a warrant; we found him walking in St. Paul's Church-yard; Mr. Boreham was at a distance from me; the prisoner met Mr Boreham, and said, you owe me three shillings; I believe I do, said Mr. Boreham, and something more, and directly collared him; the prisoner began to fight then as hard as he could, and I got hold of him as quick as I could.
          Q. Was John Lee with you? – A. He was gone after a constable; we took him to a public-house, and they turned us out; then we had another scuffle.
          Q. Did you acquaint him with the cause of your taking him up?> – A. We told him we had a warrant against him; a constable came and took him to the Compter.

          JOHN LEE sworn. – Examined by Mr. Knowlys. Q. Did you go with Mr. Boreham with a warrant to apprehend the prisoner? – A. On the 9th of August I went with Mr. Boreham and Mr. Smith; we met him in St. Paul's Church-yard; the prisoner said something to Mr. Boreham, which I did not hear, and Mr. Boreham said, yes, and something more, and immediately collared him; we told him we had a warrant against him, and took him to a public-house; they turned us out, and then he rushed from us, but we caught him again.
          Prisoner's defence. I am not guilty of what I am charged with.
          The prisoner called three witnesses, who gave him a good character.
                              GUILTY, Death, aged 25.
First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Baron Hotham.

The Whole Proceedings on the King's Commission of the Peace, Oyer and Terminer, and Goal Delivery on Wednesday, the 15th of September, 1802 and following Days. Sir John Eamer, Lord Mayor. Seventh Session, 1802, pp. 447–449.)

Newspaper Reports

23 September 1802

                                        SEPT. 22.
          Henry Elmsted was indicted for a robbery, in extorting four pounds four shillings from John Boreham, under a threat of accusing him of an unnatural crime.
          Mr. KNOWLYS, who led the prosecution, told the Jury, that, by the law of England, if any man extorted money from another, by threatening to accuse him of practices which would render him subject to capital punishment, and if a person, under the terror of such threat, parted with his property, the law said, that such conduct amounted to a robbery. He then detailed the circumstances of the case as they afterwards were made out in evidence, and which were as follows:– The prosecutor, Boreham, lived as an uper servant in the family of Lady Elizabeth Lee. On the 21st of July the prisoner came to the house, and enquired for the prosecutor; he then told him, that he (the prosecutor) had done him great injury, and that all he was worth would not make him amends. He then proceeded to call him an old ——, and told him that he would pull the house down but he would have him out, and that he would let all the neighbours know what he had been guilty of. At length he said, if the prosecutor would give him four guineas, he would be quiet. He accordingly gave the four guineas, and he was induced to do it, because he feared that, if the prisoner put his threat in execution, it might be the means of his losing his place, and of blasting his reputaqtion. He afterwards told the circumstance to Lord Harcourt, his mistress's brother, and, under his advice, he prosecuted the prisoner. Upon cross-examination, he said he knew the prisoner; he lived at Bury St. Edmund's; he knew his friends, but he denied that he had done him any injury. Verdict – Guilty. (Morning Post)

23 September 1802

Henry Elmsted [sic] was capitally indicted for robbing John Boreham of three one pound notes and a guinea.
          John Boreham stated, that he is an upper servant, living in the family of Lady Leigh, in Harley-street, Cavendish-square. On the 27th of July the prisoner knocked at the street door, and inquired for the prosecuctor. He went up stairs to him, when he said that he had injured his character, and that were he to give him every thing he possessed it would not make him amends. The prosecutr told him he did not understand what he meant, desired him to go about his business, and then he shut the door. The prisoner began to knock violently, and finding there was no attention paid him from the street door, he descended to the area door, where he abused the witness, charging him with the commission of an unnatural and shocking crime. The witness got a constable, and took the prisoner before Mr. Justice Conant, who discharged him. The same evening he came to the door of Lady Leigh's house, where he repeated his abuse. He took him a second time before this Justice, and he was again discharged. When the witness left the justice room, the prisoner followed him, and said that if the prosecutor would make him a handsome present he should trouble him no more, but if he should refuse he would expose him and pull down his lady's house to get at him. He demanded 4l. 4s. which, after some hesitation he agreed to give him. He went home, brought out a five-ound note, which he changed, and gave the prisoner three one pound notes and a guinea. He did not give this sum as a compensation for injury done to the prisoner's character, which he denied ever having been guilty of dong, but for the purpose of getting free of such an infamous charge, in order to retain the situation he held in Lady Leigh's family. He afterwards was advised to prosecute the prisoner, and for that purpose he got a warrant and apprehended the prisoner on the 9th of August in St. Paul's Church-yard. When he saw the witness the prisoner said, "You owe me three shillings." The witness collared him, and after some difficulty secured him.
          Two witnesses confirmed the statement of the prosecutor.
          The prisoner called several witnesses who gave him a very good character.
          The Jury found him Guilty – Death. (Morning Chronicle)

4 October 1802

At the Old Bailey, on Wednesday, sixteen prisoners were tried, two of whom were capitally convicted, viz. Henry Elmstead, for extorting the sum of 4l. 1s. from John Bonham [sic], under a threat of charging him with an unnatural crime; and John Oliver, for a highway robbery. Eight were found guilty of felony, and six were acquitted. (Hampshire Chronicle)

4 November 1802

Yesterday the COMMON SERJEANT made a Report to HIS MAJESTY of the following Prisoners under sentence of Death in Newgate, viz.–
          . . . HENRY ELMSTED, for feloniously assaulting John Boreham on the King's highway, putting him in fear, and robbing him of a guinea, and other articles. . . .
          When Benjamin Harper and Henry Elmstead were ordered for execution on Friday the 12th November instant. (Oracle and the Daily Advertiser)

13 November 1802

. . . Henry Elmsted, convicted in last September Sessions, of feloniously extorting money from BONHAM [sic], a servant to Lady LEE, under a criminal threat, and ordered for execution yesterday morning, was on Thursday reprieved. HARPUR, the other felon, ordered for execution, suffered according to his sentence. (Morning Post)

15 November 1802

Yesterday was executed at the front of Newgate, B. Harper, convicted of a burglary, at a late Old Bailey sessions. He demeaned himself in a manner becoming his melancholy situation. No great crowd was drawn together on this occasion. Henry Elmsted, who was to have been executed with him, is reprieved during his Majesty's pleasure. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)

Prison Registers

Warrant from Whitehall, 8 November 1802:
I am commanded to signify to you the King's pleasure that the examination of the sentence of Death passed upon Henry Elmstead now in the Gaol of Newgate be respited until further signification of His Majesty's Pleasure.
(Correspondence and Warrants, HO13, pc no. 15, p. 83)

Elmstead was formally pardoned by King George:
We in consideration of some favorable circumstances humbly represented unto Us in his behalf are graciously pleased to Extend our Grace and Mercy unto him and to grant him our Pardon for his said Crime on Condition of his being Transported to the Eastern Coast of New South Wales on some one or other of the Islands adjacent for and during the Term of his natural Life. . . . 26 November 1802. (Correspondence and Warrants, HO13, pc no. 15, p. 102; He was transported on 19 February 1803: Respites for New South Wales, 1803, Prison Registers, PCOM2, pc no. 184)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to Paul Taylor for bringing my attention to this case.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Trial of Henry Elmstead, 1802", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 30 November 2021 <>.

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