The Bluebeard of Peckham Rye
AUTHOR: KAREN ELLIS-REES
PUBLISHED: 14 JUNE 2020
A gaunt and wretched figure stood at the barred window of a ground-floor room, attempting nervously to attract the attention of anyone passing by. Laurel House was in an isolated position at the far end of Peckham Rye Common on the road leading down to Camberwell Old Cemetery, surrounded by market gardens and farmland and with few neighbouring houses. Using a pencil begged from a kind servant and scraps of wallpaper covertly peeled from the wall, the woman wrote a series of notes in which she explained her plight and asked that her brother-in-law, Thomas Morgan, be informed that she was being kept against her will. She had been estranged from her family for some two years. But she had no doubt that in spite of their disappointment and disapproval they would come to her rescue.
Her saviour was one Miss Jane Charlotte Barber, a single woman who resided two doors down from Laurel House in Piermont Cottage, and who was fully aware of the style in which Dr Hammond and his young family lived in their detached villa, where they were attended by a devoted housekeeper, two maids and a gardener. Miss Barber had also noticed the attractive young lady who would often drive out with the dashing doctor, dressed expensively in a black silk gown with a red velvet jacket and jaunty bonnet.
And it was Miss Barber who on this particular occasion — a Tuesday in September 1864 — saw the ragged note flying through the open window. Although alarmed, she summoned her courage and picked up the note. Horrified by what she read, she hurried to the local police. They had no hesitation in contacting the Mr Morgan mentioned in the note, having learnt that its author was Rosalind Hammond and that she was being held against her will by Dr Edward Hammond, her husband.
Thin and pale
Police Constable Spinks, accompanied by Mr Morgan, arrived at the house and demanded to see Mrs Hammond. The doctor said that it was not possible as she was sleeping and could not be disturbed. But after firm words from Spinks he relented, and with a show of reluctance he took them to her room, which was bolted from the outside. The room was dirty and meanly furnished, with just an iron bedstead and fusty linens.
The occupant was thin and pale and dressed in nightclothes. She explained that her husband kept her locked up and that he was aided and abetted by Elizabeth Allen, who was his housekeeper, and by Emily Wakeman, who had once been his maid and was now his mistress. But she appeared to be unbroken by her ordeal. The newspapers described her as an intelligent woman, and she had clearly retained her senses.
How had the wealthy Mrs Hammond come to such a pass? Aged thirty-seven, she was worth £600 per annum, which would be about £70,000 in today’s money. And yet she had to borrow a hat and a cloak in order to present himself decently at Lambeth Police Court. Her story is one of misfortune and cruelty meted out not only by her husband but also by Victorian society and its legal system.
Rosalind Hammond, née Buckley, was born at The Lawn in South Lambeth in one of the houses built by her grandfather, Philip Buckley. Her mother, Anne Wolfe, who was the only child of an East India House employee, had married the wealthy widower Henry Buckley, who made his living as a floor cloth manufacturer trading from premises adjoining King’s College in the Strand, and at 39 Westminster Bridge Road, where the manufactory was based.
Floor cloths, which were sold as alternatives to expensive carpets and elaborately tiled or marbled floors, were made of canvas protected by up to twelve coats of paint per side, with a stencilled or hand-painted design. Being both popular and expensive, they certainly contributed to Henry’s fortune.
He had two children by his first marriage and four much younger daughters with Anne. Rosalind, who was the youngest of the children, enjoyed a privileged childhood in Lambeth and at Riverhill, the family’s country house near Sevenoaks in Kent, which boasted nine indoor servants and gardens laid out in a Himalayan style.
An angel in the house
She was only fifteen when in 1841 her father died, leaving significant money and property, including four houses in Lambeth, the leasehold manufactory, the lease to Riverhill and thousands of pounds in stocks. His wife and children were all handsomely provided for: the daughters would inherit their share when they reached the age of twenty-one, or earlier if they married. The respectable and wealthy Miss Buckleys were eagerly sought as brides: Henrietta married the Reverend Cyril Custeis, Ellen married John T. Wright, a solicitor, and Fanny Alicia married Thomas Morgan, a wine merchant of Tower Hill.
Rosalind too would have been expected to lead a life of respectability, either as the perfect Victorian wife — ‘the angel in the house’ — or as her widowed mother’s companion, which was often the fate of the youngest daughter. Then in 1848, when she was twenty-two, she was sent for a water cure at an establishment run by a homeopathic doctor, and things did not go quite to plan.
Taking the cure
The water cure — or hydropathy — gained popularity from the 1840s. Kate Summerscale in Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace describes it as
a popular treatment for the vague, anxiety-related sicknesses of the mid-nineteenth century … The theory was that immersion in hot and cold baths and showers could restore health to an unbalanced body.
Patients might include men who overworked or overindulged and women suffering from ‘female complaints’ or ‘hysteria’. Female hysteria was the diagnosis for a raft of symptoms that included fainting, insomnia, bad temper and an unmaidenly interest in sex. Enlightened doctors of the time believed that the cause was often unfulfilling lives centred on the needs of others. Women, they argued, were obliged to repress their natural desires, whether these were sexual or simply a yearning for something more interesting than needlework.
We do not know why Rosalind took the water cure. But we do know that she was seduced by her doctor at the hydro and that in 1850 she gave birth to a boy, who was christened at St John’s Church in Erith in Kent. The baptismal record declared that the boy was Stanley Ellis Buckley, that he was the son of James and Rosalind Buckley and that his father was a farmer.
That this was not entirely true was soon discovered, whereupon James and his occupation were expunged from the record and the blank space filled with the damning words ‘single woman’. We now find it hard to grasp how scandalous an illegitimate child born to an unmarried middle-class girl would have been in the nineteenth century.
A clutch of Jameses
It is interesting to speculate on the identity of Rosalind’s seducer, for which we have no other evidence than that his name was probably, but not necessarily, James. The proprietor of the Sudbrook Park Hydro in Petersham was James Ellis. But then again there was a clutch of homeopathic Jameses running water cure establishments in and around Malvern: James Manby, who seduced the future Florence Bravo when she was his patient, his partner, James Wilson, and a James Marsden.
I think we can assume that, whatever had brought it on, Rosalind was being treated for hysteria, for in the 1851 census she was living in Leytonstone in Essex at the home of Dr Stephen Mackenzie, along with the doctor’s family and a clutch of female patients. Mackenzie is described as ‘extensively known by his successful treatment of the most inveterate of hysterics’ in On the Pathology and Treatment of Hysteria, written by his assistant, Robert Brudenell Carter, in 1853. Sadly Carter also records that Mackenzie, who died tragically falling from his carriage, kept no patient records.
For the next ten years Rosalind remains a mystery, until on 20 August 1861 she married a man called Edward Hammond at St Nicholas Church in Brighton. At this point her sisters were probably relieved that a man who had full knowledge of her unfortunate past was willing to take Rosalind off their hands. He was not quite the addition they wanted for the family. He was a man of limited means, he had four young children and he was determined to have control of Rosalind’s generous annuity. But in light of her youthful lapse they knew that Rosalind was lucky to find a husband.
After a few months married life in Lower Clapham Road soured. Edward encouraged Rosalind to behave as a semi-invalid who stayed in bed all day and dosed herself with morphia and brandy. Numerous local doctors were brought in to treat her rather vague symptoms, and early in 1862 she suffered the double affliction of the death of twelve-year-old Stanley and a difficult confinement.
Rosalind was also beginning to entertain suspicions about the nature of her husband’s relationship with Emily the maid. In March she took the new baby to live with a wet nurse in Maidstone in Kent. She was accompanied by Emily, and in the course of the overnight stay she challenged her. The girl said that she had been raped by Dr Hammond, with a pillow pressed over her face to muffle her screams.
The problem of proof
Rosalind furiously rejected Emily’s story and wrote to her father, accusing her of being Edward’s mistress. She refused to go back to Clapham, instead asking her family for help. As they disliked Edward, they encouraged her to separate from him. But Rosalind capitulated, possibly because she loved the doctor, possibly because she was trapped.
If she left him, she also left her money — when they married all her assets became his — but she also had to have his agreement for any legal separation. A divorce might free her, but in 1864 she did not have sufficient grounds. Whereas a man only had to show that his wife had committed adultery, a woman had to prove not only that her husband was an adulterer but that he had also deserted her, or had committed sodomy or incest, or had been guilty of bigamy or cruelty. Cruelty was no easier to prove than adultery.
An Act for the Better Prevention and Punishment of Aggravated Assaults upon Women and Children had been passed in 1853 , but it merely redefined what was or was not acceptable behaviour without banning violence outright. And so Rosalind returned home and retracted her accusation against Emily Wakeman, later saying that she had been coerced.
A prisoner in her own home
By September 1862 the family had moved to a property called Lanark House on Queen’s Road in Peckham. Where previously Edward had encouraged his wife to stay in bed for most of the day, he now employed Elizabeth Allen to stop her leaving the house. Rosalind was no longer treated with respect by anyone in the household, and on Christmas Eve her husband hit her around the head. He was the worse for drink and he was encouraged by Emily Wakeman. Even though the maid was now his acknowledged mistress, he continued to sleep with his wife, who gave birth early in January 1863 to a girl named Emily Rosalind.
If Hammond was to keep both Rosalind’s annuity and his paramour, it was important that no one in the neighbourhood begin to ask questions about his wife’s whereabouts. With this aim he moved the family in May 1863 to Laurel House on the edge of the much less densely populated Peckham Rye.
Here Rosalind was confined to a single room. Meals were brought to her by Elizabeth Allen and one or two of the children. To stop her making an escape, the window was barred and the door was kept locked. Her day clothes were removed, and she suffered the further indignity of seeing them on Emily Wakeman. Her jewellery box was pilfered by her husband, who then sent his gardener, Thomas Abrahams, to pawn the contents.
A self-made medical man
In fact Dr Edward Hammond was not a doctor at all. In contravention of the Medical Act of 1858, his medical title was self-awarded.
Born in Dartford in Kent in 1818, Hammond had not had the privileged upbringing that Rosalind had enjoyed and he was not a professional man. In 1843 when he married his first wife — another Emily — he was working as an oil merchant. Eight years later with Emily and their young family he was living in rural Lower Tooting — now Tooting Broadway — a few doors from the Mitre Public House.
He was a manufacturer of the gelatine used as a setting agent in many of the elaborate puddings loved by Victorians, which was in fact the decidedly unappetising result of boiling down connective animal tissue. By 1861 he was a widowed chemist and druggist living in East Wickham in Kent, which was only three and a half miles from Erith, where Rosalind‘s son Stanley was baptised.
Why I locked her up
Moving forward to September 1864, those attending Lambeth Police Court were horrified to see how unwell Mrs Hammond looked and how poorly she was dressed. But her husband’s lawyers were determined that she would receive no pity, and they set about demolishing her character by revealing that she had given birth to an illegitimate child and that she habitually stayed in bed all day imbibing brandy and morphia.
Hammond himself explained away the fact that she was kept locked up by claiming that she had threatened to murder him. The two knives hidden in her bed were evidence of her homicidal tendencies, the implication being that, if not quite mentally unstable, she was at least a degenerate woman who needed to be restrained for her family’s safety. Rosalind calmly countered all that was said about her, and a doctor was brought in to explain that she was sane. The magistrate was not sympathetic to Edward Hammond, and he sent the case to trial.
When the case came to court in November 1864, Hammond pleaded guilty, but sentencing was deferred to allow his lawyers time to negotiate a settlement with Rosalind’s legal team. The not guilty pleas submitted by Emily Wakeman and Elizabeth Allen were accepted because they had acted under Hammond’s orders. At the sentencing hearing in January 1865 Hammond was confident he would be returning to Laurel House for dinner with his faithful Emily, relying on his ‘generosity’ in agreeing to a legal separation from Rosalind and in allowing her half the annuity that she had brought to the marriage. But his munificence cut no mustard, and he was sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour in Wandsworth Prison.
So much lost
Hammond moved. With him went his children, and also Emily Wakeman, who remained with the family in some capacity for the rest of her life. Even if Hammond had wished to marry the girl, it would prove impossible, as Rosalind remained resolutely alive until 1896.
Rosalind lived alone in various lodging houses on the Isle of Wight and in South London. She was deprived of her child Emily Rosalind, who remained with her father. She also had to relinquish half her annuity, for it would not be until 1882 that a woman was legally entitled to keep the money that she had brought to a marriage.
On her death Rosalind was buried in the family grave in Norwood Cemetery, leaving a paltry £76 to a Reverend John Beresford.
Books you may enjoy
Please note that these are paid links and that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases