Harriet Parker – murder for revenge.

 

New Year’s Day 1847 was to be the last day that Amina and Robert Henry Blake would ever see.  They were brother and sister aged eight and five respectively and were suffocated in their father’ bed by his jealous partner, thirty eight year old Harriet Parker.

 

Robert Blake senior had begun a relationship with Harriet two years previously and had left his wife Esther and moved from Birmingham to London to live with her.

On New Year’s Eve Robert had been drinking heavily and came home in the afternoon and demanded that Harriet make him something to eat and boil some water for him to wash in before he went to the “Stump” in Old Street to meet a another woman, probably a prostitute.  Harriet followed Robert out but he told her that he was determined to meet the woman, however she stayed with him and they met up with a friend of his, Stephen Hewlett.  They arrived at the stump and Robert again said he was going to meet the other woman there and kissed the post.  A row erupted and Robert punched Harriet in the face.  They then went into a pub called the Duke of Bedford where Robert managed to lose Harriet.  She was alleged to have told Stephen “that it was a good job you didn’t go out with him. He’ll repent in the morning and I’ll die like a strumpet at Newgate”.  She continued “I’ll have my revenge on the children if I can’t have it on him”.  Stephen was concerned by Harriet’s threats and followed her home to Cupid’s Court.  He had noticed that she had a heavy object wrapped in her handkerchief with which she had presumably meant to use on Robert.  He asked if she was all right and Harriet responded “that she had something very black on her mind and that she would stop it before long.  You will hear of me before you see me.”  Stephen accepted these strange comments and left.  A little later Harriet put the children to bed and when she was sure that they were both asleep she suffocated them one at a time with the bed clothes.

 

At four o’clock the next morning Harriet woke her neighbour, Mrs. Moore to tell her what she had done and to pour her heart out to her over her treatment by Robert the previous evening.  The local constable, Constable Fowler, was called and having seen the bodies of the two children he arrested Harriet, who told him that she had been intending to kill them for ten months.  She also told him that “I knew well what I was about”.  Amina had a small abrasion on her throat but it was clear that both she and Robert had been suffocated.

 

Harriet was charged with both murders and remanded to Newgate to await trial.  She appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday the 4th of February 1848 and as was normal in multiple murder cases, the prosecution only proceeded with one of the two charges, that of the killing of Amina.  Robert Blake gave evidence which largely confirmed Harriet’s version of the New Year’s Eve events.  He also told the court of his unfaithfulness towards Harriet on previous occasions. The jury deliberated for ten minutes before finding her guilty but recommended Harriet to mercy on the grounds of Robert Blake’s provocation.  This was rejected by the judge who reminded them that it was not Robert Blake that she had killed but rather his defenceless children.  The judge asked Harriet if she had anything to say before he sentenced her to death and she shouted out “God forgive you Blake! You have bought me to this.” 

 

Harriet acknowledged the heinousness of her crimes and went to great lengths to avoid prison staff from touching her in Newgate because she feared that they be contaminated by her.  Through the ministrations of the Ordinary she seemed to have become truly penitent whilst waiting for her fate and read the bible a great deal.  In fact she wanted to send Robert Blake the bible with a personal inscription in it.

 

With the help of the Ordinary, Harriet wrote a letter to Robert Blake on the 7th of February saying :

“Dear Robert,

This is the last time you will ever receive advice from me. My days are numbered. This day fortnight I shall be silent in the grave. Take, therefore, these few lines into consideration; never again trifle with a woman as you have with me. Promise to forsake all others and cling once again to her who ought to hold the only place in your heart – the wife of your bosom. This, Robert, is what I sincerely wish. I have deeply injured her and so have you. Let her, then, after this have your best and purest affections.  I deserve my awful fate and God give me strength to go through it all.  I freely forgive you for all your wrongs to me.  Be warned, Robert, and remember that those who break the sacred tie pledged at the altar of God will never prosper; more than one within these walls can testify to the truth of this by bitter experience.”  She went on a little further asking him to settle several small bills for her. 

 

Harriet was hanged outside Newgate at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday the 23rd of February 1848 by William Calcraft.  The under sheriff claimed her body from the governor and she was led from the condemned cell to the Press Room where her hair was cut short to avoid fouling the noose and her arms and hands pinioned.  She was now led out through the Debtor’s Door and her thanked the governor and her jailers for their kind treatment, before ascending the gallows with a firm step, preceded by the Ordinary.  She was positioned on the trap and Calcraft placed the hood over her head and the noose around her neck while she prayed fervently.  The trap was released and Harriet dropped a foot or so, writhing and convulsing at the end of the rope for some moments before becoming still.  She was taken down after an hour and buried within Newgate under the flagstones in the passage that connects the prison to the Old Bailey in a cheap pine coffin with quicklime sprinkled over her corpse.  Her initials were later carved into the wall above her resting place to enable identification of the grave.  

The execution was widely reported in the press and a broadside was sold at her hanging which was attended by what one newspaper described as “a dense mass of human beings” who shouted, hooted and whistled at her.

 

Comment.
Was Harriet temporarily insane through jealousy and Blake’s abuse of her at the time of the killings?  It seems a reasonable proposition.  The McNaughten Rule as a legal test of sanity had been introduced five years earlier in 1843 and classified a prisoner as insane if they did not have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of their acts or that such acts were wrong.  Against this definition Harriet could have no defence of insanity as she clearly did know what she was doing and that it was wrong. Although the court might have accepted a defence of provocation if she had killed Robert Blake it was not really possible to extend this to the killing of the children as the judge pointed out to the jury.

 

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